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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:

Experiment to build a partial replica of Stonehenge
Possible Paleolithic site in Northeastern China
Stone Age board game found in India
Double infant burial discovered in Alaska
Huge Jordanian stone circles baffle archaeologists
Ancient art and architecture influenced by sound
Highest altitude Ice Age settlement discovered
Small clue to Neolithic Cham flint traders
Bog material reveals 11,500 years of Scottish history
Ancient Danish burial sites plundered
Bronze Age find in Outer Hebrides dig
Neolithic village found underwater in Poland
Surprising discovery at Ness of Brodgar
Earliest human genome ever analysed
Palaeolithic settlements discovered in the Nefud Desert


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25 November 2014

  Experiment to build a partial replica of Stonehenge

Twenty years ago a life-size replica of the three largest stones at Stonehenge were made for a television documentary, Secrets of Lost Empires - Stonehenge. The three stones weighing more than 90 tonnes and were moved and erected by hand, but since the programme they have been left in a field just outside of Larkhill, one mile from the monument.
     Julian Richards, the original archaeologist behind the experiment, and farmer Tim Daw, who is a steward at Stonehenge, have rescued them. Mr Daw said: "I am always interested in doing mad things like this, so when Julian asked I thought 'why not?'"
     It is hoped the experiment to see how the stones of Stonehenge were moved and erected by ancient man will be repeated next summer for a television programme using updated knowledge of the times. Mr Daw said: "There are a lot different theories about how the stones were moved so it will be intriguing to recreate them."
     The stones were delivered to Mr Daw's Cannings Cross farm on Monday by a fleet of heavy haulage specialists, along with a 200 tonne crane, and will be stored near the Long Barrow. After the TV show Mr Daw said he hopes to leave the stones standing permanently. He said: "It would be a fantastic experience for people to see them up close as you can't actually go up to the Stonehenge stones anymore."
     This is not the first time Mr Daw has worked on something archaeological, as in September of this year he opened the first Neolithic-style Long Barrow burial site in over 5,000 years, where people can store created human remains.

Edited from This is Wiltshire (20 November 2014)

  Possible Paleolithic site in Northeastern China

Chinese archeologists have recently discovered an ancient human occupation site in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning province. Animal skeletons were first discovered at a quarry in Luotuoshan Mountain last December, by Guo Chengwan, a retired mine worker. After several field investigations by the Dalian Museum of National History, the experts proved that the finds were of great scientific value.
     A joint archeological team of experts from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Pale anthropology of Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Dalian Museum of Natural History was established in August to carry out a another dig at the site. So far more than 1000 important specimens and over ten thousand fragment samples have been discovered. According to the preliminary research, the characteristics of fauna composition at Luotuoshan Mountain site resembled those found at the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian in Beijing. The team estimated that the specimens at Luotuoshan Mountain can be traced back to 50,000 or 30,000 years ago.
     "We have also found dozens of stone artifacts and objects made of horn, as well as skeleton fossils of large-scale herbivores with human cutting and chopping traces," paleoanthropologist Huang Wei said. "It proves that the spot was a very important ancient human activity site." From the evidence collected, experts said that the site may be the oldest in northeastern China.

Edited from China.org.cm (18 November 2014)

  Stone Age board game found in India

Thavasimuthu, and Indian archaeologists, is claiming that a series of holes carved in a rock at Pannamparai village could be the prehistoric version of a traditional 'mancala' board game known locally as Pallanguzhi. The holes were discovered during a ground study by Thavasimuthu and his students.
     Pallanguzhi is a traditional game played in rural areas. It is normally played on boards and before boards emerged, people played the game by making holes in rocky areas. Thavasimuthu claimed that the holes represent several things, including the earliest human settlements, the impact that the game had on human lives and also the adjacent trade routes. He further said that the game was even used to settle disputes between kings and had avoided several wars as the winner of the game was considered the winner of the dispute.
     After examining the holes, Thavasimuthu said, "The Pallanguzhi holes should be at least 10,000 years old." He added that the holes would normally be made with axes but in the case of holes found at Pannamparai village, the holes were made using stones. He added that similar holes were earlier found in Pazhani hills and they date back 25,000 years.

Edited from The New Indian Express (16 November 2014)

  Double infant burial discovered in Alaska

A decorated grave discovered in Alaska holds the remains of two infants dating back 11,500 years, the youngest Ice Age humans yet found in the Western Hemisphere, archaeologists say. Interred together, one child was about 12 weeks old at the time of death, the other, a late-term fetus - the first known instance of a prenatal burial in the Americas.
     Researchers say that the babies were memorialized with an array of goods that was, by Paleoindian standards, rather lavish. The grave was ornamented with a coating of red ochre and a complement of hunting tools, including two large stone points and four long foreshafts fashioned out of carved elk antler. The hunting tools, known as hafted bifaces, are the earliest examples of their kind found in North America. "This mortuary treatment is the first of its kind in the New World - no other Paleoindian burials share this feature," said Dr. Ben Potter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
     Potter and his team found the grave last year at a site known as Upward Sun River in central Alaska, and they discovered the grave directly beneath a similarly grim feature that the team found in 2010: the cremated remains of a 3-year-old boy. Why one body was cremated while the other two were not is one of the many mysteries posed by the find, Potter said. The discrepancy could relate to the ages of the dead, or to their sex, as the two infants appear to have been female, and possibly twins.
     "This is the first evidence of multiple individuals [buried] within a single feature with fundamentally different treatments, which may reflect situational factors, [such as] who was present or absent at each event, or the expectedness or unexpectedness of the deaths, or age-grade differences," Potter said. "It is most likely that all three children are part of a single community that used this exact feature. Since this appears to be a summer residential base camp, it is plausible that both burial events occurred during the same summer or during subsequent summers," he added.
     The stratigraphy around the remains is the clearest indicator of this, suggesting a rather rapid series of somber events, Potter explained. The infants were buried first, their grave having been dug under the camp's main cooking hearth. They were then covered with  the hearth's original contents - soil, charcoal, and animal bones, mostly fragments from salmon and ground squirrels. But with the subsequent death of the toddler, anywhere from a few weeks to a full year later, the boy's remains were cremated in the hearth itself, and the site was abandoned.
     "The grave goods give us a rare window into ideology or belief systems of these ancient peoples," Potter said. "There is a clear importance ascribed to hunting implements, and they may reflect the importance of terrestrial hunting within the culture."
     The four antler shafts are 'significantly longer' than others known from this era in North America, and Potter noted that they are similar in size to shafts found in eastern Siberia. Three of the foreshafts were also carved with multiple X patterns, a design that's 'unprecedented' in North American hunting tools, he and his team say. Four spear shafts, fashioned out of elk antler, and the two-side stone points that were attached to them together comprise the oldest examples of these hunting tools found in the Americas, experts say. But the most significant aspect of the tools may simply be that all of their components were found together, in a setting dated farther back than any others yet found.
     Even the contents of the hearth, which separated the burials, retain clues to Paleoindian life, Potter said. "The presence of salmon before the earlier burial and before the later burial indicate multiple episodes of salmon fishing, providing evidence for broader diets than just big-game for this early period," he noted. "While we caution that the sample size is small, the evidence of deaths of three very young individuals at a time of year when we expect the least amount of resource stress - that is, the highest abundance of resources - may indicate that nutritional stress was higher than our models indicate," Potter said.
     Future research may provide more details about the very short life-stories of those buried at Upward Sun River.

Edited from Western Digs (10 November 2014)

10 November 2014

  Huge Jordanian stone circles baffle archaeologists

Archaeologists in Jordan have taken high-resolution aerial images of 11 ancient "Big Circles," all but one of which are around 400 meters in diameter. The similarity seems "too close to be a coincidence" said researcher David Kennedy, a professor at the University of Western Australia.
     The Big Circles were built with low stone walls, little more than a metre high, and originally contained no openings. Their purpose is unknown, and archaeologists are unsure when they were built. Analysis of the photographs, as well as artefacts found on the ground, suggest the circles date back at least 2,000 years, but may be much older.
     First spotted by aircraft in the 1920s, little research has focused on these structures.
     In addition to the 11 photographed circles, researchers have identified another similar circle in Jordan, which appears to have been only partially completed. Old satellite imagery also reveals two destroyed circles, one in Jordan and another in Syria.
     Constructed mainly with local rocks, Kennedy thinks a dozen people working hard could potentially complete a Big Circle in a week, however their precise shape would have required planning.
     Archaeologists Graham Philip and Jennie Bradbury, both with Durham University in England, examined a Big Circle they found near Homs in Syria, positioned in such a way that it could give someone standing inside it a "panoramic" view of a basin that would have held crops and settlements. While the circle was "badly damaged" when the researchers found it, they completed their fieldwork before land development completely destroyed the structure.
     Kennedy's team has found thousands of stone structures in Jordan and the broader Middle East. They come in a variety of shapes, including "Wheels" (circular structures with radiating spokes); Kites (stone structures that forced animals to run into a kill zone); Pendants (rows of stone cairns aligned with burials); and walls (mysterious structures that meander across the landscape for up to several thousand meters, and have no apparent practical use).

Edited from LiveScience (30 October 2014)

  Ancient art and architecture influenced by sound

During a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in October, Steven J. Waller of Rock Art Acoustics described how prehistoric people may have interpreted sound phenomena as supernatural occurrences: "Ancient mythology explained echoes from the mouths of caves as replies from spirits, so our ancestors may have made cave paintings in response to these echoes and their belief that echo spirits inhabited rocky places such as caves or canyons. Many ancient cultures attributed thunder in the sky to 'hoofed thunder gods,' so it makes sense that the reverberation within the caves was interpreted as thunder and inspired paintings of those same hoofed thunder gods on cave walls. This theory is supported by acoustic measurements, which show statistically significant correspondence between the rock art sites and locations with the strongest sound reflection."
     When Waller set up an interference pattern in an open field with two flutes droning the same note, the quiet regions of wave cancellation "gave blindfolded subjects the illusion of a giant ring of rocks or pillars casting acoustic shadows," Waller says. He demonstrated that Stonehenge radiates acoustic shadows that recreate the same pattern. "My theory that musical interference patterns served as blueprints for megalithic stone circles - many of which are called Pipers' Stones - is supported by ancient legends of two magic pipers who enticed maidens to dance in a circle and turned them all into stones," Waller notes.
     There are several important implications of Waller's research. Perhaps most significantly, it demonstrates that acoustical phenomena were culturally significant to early humans, and that the natural soundscapes of archaeological sites should be preserved for further study and greater appreciation.
     Waller's observations and conclusions are among a number of other research findings by scientists exploring this phenomena. In a massive 6,000-year-old subterranean stone complex on the island of Malta, low voices create reverberating echoes, and sounds made in certain places can be clearly heard throughout all of its three levels. Some scientists have suggested that certain frequencies may have actually altered human brain functions.
     Another study found that acoustic behaviour at sites such as Newgrange in Ireland and Wayland's Smithy in England was characterised by a strong sustained resonance, or "standing wave", between 90 and 120 cycles per second. "When this happens," says Linda Eneix, President of the Old Temples Study Foundation, "what we hear becomes distorted, eerie." At the 10,000 BCE site of Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey, a massive T-shaped standing limestone pillar in the centre of a circular shrine "sings" when smacked with the flat of the hand. Obviously made to represent a human with a decorated belt and hands carved in relief at its waist, it bears unexplained symbols in the area of the throat."

Edited from EurekAlert!, Popular Archaeology (28 October 2014)

  Highest altitude Ice Age settlement discovered

At two sites high in the southern Peruvian Andes, scientists have discovered remains that suggest human settlement about 12,000 years ago. More than 4,000 meters above sea level, they are now the highest sites for continuous human occupation ever recorded, predating the earliest known settlements by almost 900 years.
     Led by Kurt Rademaker, a University of Maine (USA) visiting assistant professor in anthropology, the team investigated one site that yielded 260 stone tools such as projectile points, bifaces and scrapers, as much as 12,800 years old. The other site, the Cuncaicha rock shelter, contained stone tools made from locally available obsidian, andesite and jasper, as well as plant remains, bones of llama-like vicunya and guanaco, and the taruca deer, and featured sooted ceilings and rock art, indicating it was likely a base camp.
     The Cuncaicha cave shelter was big enough to fit 20 or 30 people and had been occupied multiple times over thousands of years. The site is more than 2,000 metres higher than the famous Inca archeological site Machu Picchu, and just 880 metres lower than the Mount Everest base camp in the Himalayas.
     "We don't know if people were living there year round, but we strongly suspect they were not just going there to hunt for a few days," says archaeologist and research team member Sonia Zarrillo of the University of Calgary. "There were possibly even families living at these sites, because we've found evidence of a whole range of activities. In Cuncaicha we found remains representing whole animals, indicating they were living close to where the animals were killed. And the types of stone tools we've found are not only hunting tools but also scraping tools used for processing hides to make things like clothing, bags or blankets."
     Zarrillo specialises in identifying edible plants at archeological sites. There are no edible plants growing in the area surrounding the cave, yet Zarrillo found bits of edible roots and tubers from lower elevations, suggesting the cave dwellers were either trading with other groups, or at times moving to lower elevations.
     Rademaker stumbled upon the cave a few years ago while trying to locate the source of obsidian found at archeological sites on the Peruvian coast, and "instantly recognised that it was an archeological site."
     The cave is located in a cold and dry area of the Andes that Zarrillo describes as "a moonscape," but the nearby Pucuncho Basin appears to have been a rich hunting ground 12,000 years ago, when the climate was just a little bit cooler and wetter. Today, the area is used by local Andean herders to graze thousands of llamas and alpacas. The locals have genetic adaptations that allow them to live comfortably at high altitude, such as unusually large lung capacities, high metabolic rates and the ability to carry more oxygen in their blood. Those adaptations were thought to have taken thousands of years to evolve.
     The fact that humans were living at these altitudes for long periods of time just 2,000 years after entering South America raises scientific questions. In addition, Zarrillo said, it's possible that there are even older settlements in deeper layers of the cave floor or other sites in the area.

Edited from Popular Archaeology, CBC News (23 October 2014)

6 November 2014

  Small clue to Neolithic Cham flint traders

Weighing a few grammes and only 25 millimetres long, a tiny flint scraper discovered by an amateur archaeologist on the Schlogen loop of the Danube in Upper Austria tells a story of trade and society in Central Europe over 5,000 years ago, and helps piece together a long forgotten way of life.
     An ongoing study of flint artefacts imported into Upper Austria places the origins of this scraper 200 kilometres away, in the mines of Arnhofen in Lower Bavaria. Arnhofen is one of the largest sources of this quality Jurassic flint in Europe and was exploited for over 2,500 years. The flint was mined at a depth of up to 8 metres via more than 20,000 shafts, many of which can still be seen.
     Found on one of the broad flat terraces that form around the Danube loop, the scraper is of a type created by the Late Neolithic Cham culture (3400-2700 BCE), which stretched along the waterways of the Danube from Austria to Bavaria in southern Germany.
     Though most of their settlements are represented by only a few stray finds on later sites, they must have had a sophisticated network of trade and transportation. Up to 50 per cent of the tools from the Cham culture were made of flint imported from the Bavarian mines.
     It is easy to imagine flint traders in dugout canoes landing on this piece of land beside the broad river loop, where a tiny clue to their passage will be discovered thousands of years later.

Edited from Past Horizons (30 October 2014)

  Bog material reveals 11,500 years of Scottish history

Peat from a bog near Edinburgh contains 11,500-year-old vegetation and glimpses of the impact made by humans on the landscape from as far back as the Neolithic period.
     Ravelrig bog contains two hill forts. Kaimes Hill shows evidence of human activity from the Mesolithic period. Dalmahoy Hill is thought to have been occupied during the pre-Roman Iron Age and early medieval times.
     "The bog started out as a small lochan [lake] within a rocky hollow that was formed at the end of the last glacial period," says archaeo-botanist Susan Ramsay. "Aquatic plants gave way to marshland and finally raised Sphagnum [peat] bog as natural succession progressed. During the early Holocene, the woodlands of the area were dominated by birch, hazel and willow but developed into mixed oak, elm and hazel woodlands by the mid-Holocene."
     An initial survey in 2007 revealed the scientific potential of a core deposit covering more than 10,000 years.
     "Previous studies have suggested that the first major woodland clearances in central Scotland occurred in the pre-Roman Iron Age, with the cleared agricultural landscape being maintained throughout the Roman period," says Ramsay. At Ravelrig, human impact on the landscape is recorded from the Neolithic period onwards, with increasing woodland clearance and agricultural activity in the Bronze Age and a peak in activity in the pre-Roman Iron Age. These periods of agricultural intensification appear to correspond with known periods of occupation at the nearby hill forts."
     Ramsay says that between 250 BCE and 150 CE, "Birch pollen levels increased significantly, suggesting that land that was previously farmed was abandoned and was gradually colonised by birch woodland. It is not clear what the cause of this agricultural decline might be but further work may be able to determine a more precise date range for this event," believes Ramsay.

Edited from Culture24 (21 October 2014)

4 November 2014

  Ancient Danish burial sites plundered

Grave robbers have dug up and plundered four ancient burial sites in Mangehøje north of Grindsted near Billund in Jutland (Denmark). It is believed the sites date back to some 4,000 years ago.
     Lars Bjarke Christensen, an archaeologist from the Culture Ministry, is gutted over the theft and the loss of Danish history. "It's a disaster. The grave robbers have ruined part of Denmark's history," Christensen said. "The things we could have learned from the burial mounds have now been erased from history. We can no longer investigate how ancient life was in this area of Jutland," he added.
     The archaeologists have not excavated the burial mounds either since they are protected, but they do know that other mounds from the same era contained artefacts - such as stone axes, jewellery and pottery - that were buried with the dead for use in the afterlife.
     According to Christensen, the last time graves were plundered in Denmark was back at the end of the 1890s. He estimates the plundered artefacts won't net more than 2000 euros  on the black market. The police in southeast Jutland are investigating the incident.

Edited from The Copenhagen Post (24 October 2014)

  Bronze Age find in Outer Hebrides dig

A significant Bronze Age pottery find has been made during an archaeological dig on the east side of Lewis (Outer Hebrides, Scotland). Pieces believed to date from between 1500 and 1000 BEC were unearthed in the Point district of the island.
     Scottish Water had been working on a new line when a saddle quern, used for grinding corn, was spotted. The site was initially thought to be an Iron Age dwelling but experts now believe they are dealing with something older.
     Archaeologist Alastair Rees said: "The pottery that we first found initially seemed to be from the Iron Age. But since then we have found much more pottery and it is definitely Middle Bronze Age, which is much older in date. So we have had to rethink the site considerably."

Edited from BBC News (32 October 2014)

3 November 2014

  Neolithic village found underwater in Poland

Under the surface of a lake in Northern Poland, known as lake Gil Wiekli, archaeologists have found evidence of what could prove to be the first Stone Age settlement found in Polish waters. The team carrying out the investigations comprises members from the Scientific Association of Polish Archaeologists and the Department of Underwater Archaeology from the Nicolaus Copernicus University of Torun (Poland).
     Several scanning techniques were used to map the underwater contours of the lakes, which were then studied to identify areas which could be of archaeological interest. Once these had been identified then penetrating radar was employed to further examine the sediment, prior to any excavation being carried out.
     Dr Andrzej Pydyn, leader of the research team, is quoted as saying "In shallow water in the reservoir we found a large amount of animal bones, renmains of tools made of antler and numerous fragments of pottery, used at various times by ancient communities. Among them, the framents that caught our attention relate to tradition of late Neolithic, probably associated with the so-called Corded Ware culture".
     This is only one of several underwater sites being investigated and the results of the analyses of the latest finds are eagerly awaited.

Edited from Science & Scholarship in Poland (15 October 2014)

  Surprising discovery at Ness of Brodgar

A giant-sized Neolithic Era cow found as archaeologists excavated at the famous Ness of Brodgar site in Orkney (Scotland). "It is so big that there was an immediate need for an expert opinion," reported the Dig Diary blogger for the Ness of Brodgar Excavations project. So archaeologists called upon Jen Harland, an expert at identifying faunal remains. "She has confirmed that the bones belong to an enormous cow - so big indeed that it is probably off the scale for the biggest known modern cow and into the range for an aurochs."
     The aurochs, a huge, prehistoric ancestor to the modern day cow, is now extinct, the last one having died in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland in 1627. But even during Neolithic times, they had already become relatively rare.
     Thus far, the animal's massive horn core has been revealed, along with part of the skull. But much more work needs to be done when the excavators return for the next season.  "Further identification will be needed and this will have to wait until next year when the contexts can be properly excavated without the need to rush," continues the blog report. "However, it will have important implications for our understanding of the agricultural economy of the Neolithic in Orkney, and for the range of animals present at that time."
     Archaeologists have been excavating at this now famous Neolithic Era site ever since a geophysical survey in 2002 revealed anomalies that indicated a buried settlement complex, and then ploughing turned up a large, notched stone slab in a field in 2003. Radiocarbon dates from excavations have since shown that the site was a prehistoric complex that was used for 1,000 years - from at least 3200 BCE to 2300 BCE.
     The animal remains are among the latest of a string of remarkable finds. Other discoveries have revealed a sequence of Neolithic structures, including a large oval structure enclosed by a monumental wall, a symmetrical building, and a structure measuring 25 metres (82 feet) long by 20 meters (65 feet) wide, with the remains of five-meter-thick outer walls still standing at a height of about one meter (three feet).
Edited from Popular Archaeology (14 October 2014)

2 November 2014

  Earliest human genome ever analysed

Scientists have reconstructed the genome of a man who lived 45,000 years ago - by far the oldest ever obtained from modern humans. The research provides new clues to the expansion of modern humans from Africa into Europe and Asia, adding support to a provocative hypothesis: Early humans interbred with Neanderthals.
     The discoveries were made by a team of scientists led by Svante Paabo, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Comparing Neanderthal to human genomes, Dr Paabo and his colleagues found that we share a common ancestor, which they estimate lived about 600,000 years ago.
     In 2008, a fossil collector searching for mammoth tusks along the Irtysh River in Siberia found a thighbone near a settlement called Ust'-Ishim, and brought it to scientists at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Researchers identified the bone as a modern human, and determined it to be about 45,000 years old - the oldest modern human fossil found outside of Africa and the Near East.
     Dr Paabo and his colleagues used a number of genetic fragments to create a high-resolution copy of the man's complete genome, which they compared to those of ancient and living people. They found his DNA was more like that of non-Africans, but no more closely related to ancient Europeans than to East Asians. He was part of an earlier lineage - a group that eventually gave rise to all non-African humans.
     Homo sapiens, our own species, appeared in Africa around 200,000 years ago. Previous studies, both on genes and on fossils, suggest they then expanded through the Near East.
     Ust'-Ishim man's genome suggests he belonged to a group of people who lived after the African exodus, but before the split between Europeans and Asians. Dr Paabo and his colleagues also found pieces of Neanderthal DNA in his genome.
     Fossils indicate that Neanderthals spread across Europe and Asia before becoming extinct an estimated 40,000 years ago. By comparing the Ust'-Ishim man's long stretches of Neanderthal DNA with shorter stretches in living humans, Dr Paabo and his colleagues estimated how long ago Neanderthals and humans interbred. Previous studies based only on living humans had yielded an estimate of 37,000 to 86,000 years. Dr Paabo and his colleagues narrowed that down: Humans and Neanderthals interbred 50,000 to 60,000 years ago.
     The findings question research suggesting that humans in India and the Near East date back as far as 100,000 years ago. Some scientists believe that humans expanded out of Africa in a series of waves.
     Christopher Stringer, a palaeo-anthropologist at the Natural History Museum, says the new study offers compelling evidence that living non-Africans descended from a group of people who moved out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. Any humans that expanded out of Africa before then probably died out.

Edited from The Washington Post, Examiner.com, The New York Times (22 October 2014)

  Palaeolithic settlements discovered in the Nefud Desert

The Nefud Desert is an oval depression in the northern Arabian Peninsula, known for its red sand, sudden violent winds, and large crescent-shaped dunes. It is 290 kilometres long, 225 kilometres wide, and sees rain only once or twice a year. But in antiquity, there were lakes.
     Dr Eleanor Scerri of the University of Bordeaux and her colleagues call them 'palaeo-lakes'. Today these ancient lakes are only sediments and other features that tell us that there was once water, but scientists have also found fossil flora, fauna, and archaeological features and artefacts.
     Scerri and her colleagues detail their discovery of 13 sites associated with palaeo-lake basins dated to Lower and Middle Palaeolithic times - from 2.5 million all the way to 30,000 years ago. "One of the sites, T'is al Ghadah, may feature the earliest Middle Palaeolithic assemblage of Arabia," they write.
     According to Scerri and her colleagues, ancient humans came and went in this region, following the rivers and settling around the lakes during wet periods, bringing stone tool cultures that differed depending upon their culture, and perhaps origin. Who were they? Thus far, no human fossils have been found at any of the sites.
     Despite the diversity, the researchers suggest that there was at least one common characteristic among these various ancient groups - a rarity of formal tools, but strong similarities in production techniques. How they produced their tools could give clues to their relationship and origins.
     The survey is one of a number of efforts to research human dispersal and habitation from northeastern Africa through Arabia and beyond. For Scerri, early modern humans may have arrived at various times from northeastern Africa, traversing what is called the 'Saharo-Arabian belt' via land routes - perhaps more than 100,000 years ago.
     It is a theory based on years of research, that may help to explain the presence of early modern humans in Southwest Asia in prehistory. Considered controversial by some scholars, it contrasts with one widely-held theory that early modern humans dispersed rapidly out of Africa primarily along the coasts about 55,000 years ago. The evidence for this shows up in small blade technologies - very similar to stone tools made in what is called the 'Howiesons Poort' industries of southern Africa - and symbolic items such as beads, incised and decorated items and bone tools.
     Scerri and others suggest a different scenario. "Human movements across Southern Asia would have been slow, continental advances during humid periods, and contractions (and even extinctions) during arid periods. Mapping of environments from Arabia to Southeast Asia indicate dramatic variability in habitats." Major revisions in genetic studies "suggest that 'Out of Africa' movements may date to 120,000 years ago, which would correspond with fossils of Homo sapiens in the Levant, and Middle Palaeolithic technologies in southern Asia."
     Evidence thus far suggests an ancient human presence in the Nefud that may bear significantly on the study of prehistoric human dispersal.

Edited from Popular Archaeology (20 October 2014)

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