2 May 2016
5,000-year-old rock shrine discovered in Bulgaria
Orlovi Skali - Eagles' Rocks - a beautiful rock formation located near the town of Sarnitsa, in Southern Bulgaria, has been identified as a prehistoric rock shrine from the 4th millennium BCE, after the accidental discovery by a young photographer of huge human faces hewn into the rocks on the northern slopes of the Rhodope Mountains.
His discovery has been examined and verified by Professor Ana Raduncheva, and Associate Professor Stefanka Ivanova - two archaeologists from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences specialising in the study of the numerous prehistoric rock shrines in Bulgaria's mountains. They are certain that the natural rock formation was fashioned into a major rock shrine by humans during the Copper Age, between 3500 BCE and 3000 BCE.
Raduncheva and Ivanova have found prehistoric ceramics at the site dating to the second half of the 4th millennium BCE. During their three-day exploration, the archaeologists and the photographer made further discoveries: two more half face human profiles - one which appears to be female, another one which appears to be male but is not as well preserved. Each measures about 7 to 10 metres in height, and stands 30 to 40 metres above the ground.
It is possible that the shrine had an entire gallery of faces, not all of which have been preserved.
Opposite the female profile, the photographer and the archaeologists found what appears to have been an altar or astronomical observatory hewn into the rocks, which resembles nearby altars at well-known ancient shrines.
Raduncheva, who has been studying the prehistoric rock shrines in Bulgaria for several decades - including as part of international teams - says the culture's pantheon was based on the constellations, and that all shrines were used as astronomical observatories.
Raduncheva and Ivanova emphasise the Eagles' Rocks formation was part of an entire system of a holy prehistoric territory far along the northern ridges of the Rhodope Mountains.
"The [holy territory] starts somewhere near Mount Kupena, and goes along the entire ridge of the mountain. There are similar rock structures that were hewn there, and which appear connected to the shrine at Eagles' Rocks. Similar shrines can also be found in [other mountains in Bulgaria] such as the Sredna Gora Mountain and the Balkan Mountains," Raduncheva says.
Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (27 March 2016)
Fossils from Spain earliest genetic evidence of Neanderthals
Previous analyses of the hominins from Sima de los Huesos, a cave site in the Sierra Atapuerca in the north of Spain, showed that their mitochondrial DNA was distantly related to Denisovans, extinct relatives of Neanderthals in Asia. This was unexpected since their skeletal remains carry Neanderthal-derived features. Researchers have since worked on sequencing nuclear DNA from fossils from the cave. The results show that the Sima de los Huesos hominins were indeed early Neanderthals.
Until now it has been unclear how the 28 individuals found at Sima de los Huesos were related to Neanderthals and Denisovans.
"Sima de los Huesos is currently the only non-permafrost site that allow us to study DNA sequences from the Middle Pleistocene, the time period preceding 125,000 years ago", says Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Juan-Luis Arsuaga of the Complutense University in Madrid, Spain, who has led the excavations at Sima de los Huesos for three decades, says: "We have hoped for many years that advances in molecular analysis techniques would one day aid our investigation of this unique assembly of fossils."
The nuclear DNA sequences recovered from two specimens show that they belong to the Neanderthal evolutionary lineage and are more closely related to Neanderthals than to Denisovans. This finding indicates that the population divergence between Denisovans and Neanderthals had already occurred when the Sima de los Huesos hominins lived.
According to Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology "these results provide important anchor points in the timeline of human evolution. They are consistent with a rather early divergence of 550,000 to 750,000 years ago of the modern human lineage from archaic humans".
Consistent with the previous study, the mitochondrial DNA of the Sima de los Huesos hominins is more closely related to Denisovans than Neanderthals. Mitochondrial DNA seen in Late Pleistocene Neanderthals may thus have been acquired by them later in their history, perhaps as a result of gene flow from Africa.
Edited from Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (14 March 2016)
11,000-year-old pendant is earliest known Mesolithic art in Britain
An 11,000 year old engraved shale pendant discovered by archaeologists during excavations at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire is unique in the UK, according to new research.
The artwork on the tiny fragile pendant is the earliest known Mesolithic art in Britain. Crafted from a single piece of shale, 3-millimetre thick and 31 by 35 millimetres. Engraved motifs on Mesolithic pendants are extremely rare and no other engraved pendants made of shale are known in Europe.
When archaeologists uncovered the pendant last year, the lines on the surface were barely visible. Researchers used a range of digital microscopy techniques to generate high resolution images to help determine the style and order of engraving. They also carried out scientific analysis to try to establish if the pendant had been strung or worn, and whether pigments had been used to make the lines more prominent.
It is the first perforated artefact with engraved design discovered at Star Carr, though shale beads, a piece of perforated amber, and two perforated animal teeth have been recovered previously.
Star Carr is one of a number of archaeological sites around what was a huge lake in the Mesolithic era, and the pendant was discovered in lake edge deposits.
Dr Chantal Conneller, from The University of Manchester and co-director of the excavations, said: "This was a time when sea-level was much lower than today. Groups roamed across Doggerland and into Britain. The designs on our pendant are similar to those found in southern Scandinavia and other areas bordering the North Sea, showing a close cultural connection between northern European groups at this time."
Edited from EurekAlert! (25 February 2016)
23 April 2016
3,000-year-old bison hunting site found in Arizona
Researchers have made a surprise discovery at the well-known Cave Creek Midden site in the desert upland of southeast Arizona, close to the border with Mexico - a 3,000-year-old bison kill site featuring hundreds of bones and bone fragments, along with dozens of cobblestones and flaked and ground stone tools.
First investigated in 1936, the site revealed stone tools and other artefacts typifying a critical phase in Southwestern history, from about 4000 BCE to 500 BCE, when humans first started to re-settle the desert Southwest and develop farming methods for maize. Very little has been found and little is known from this phase of Southwestern history, which is thought to be ancestral to the Mogollon culture.
Study co-leaders Dr Jesse Ballenger and Dr Jonathan Mabry and their colleagues began investigating Cave Creek Midden in the fall of 2014, uncovering what previous excavations had either missed or dismissed - a deep layer of dark soil about 45 centimetres thick, rich with cobbles, bison bones, and a few stone artefacts. The dark soil marked the boundaries of what had been a spring-fed wetland, and has been radiocarbon dated to about 1,300 BCE.
Shaped hand tools were also present in large numbers. What seems to be absent are the butchering and cooking tools usually associated with bison kill sites - the projectile points, choppers, knives, and pounders.
Out of the 83 bison-bones that contained marrow, only two were found to have been broken open. It could be that at least some of the bison simply got stuck in the muck. Nonetheless, the fact that bison have been found here at all is surprising.
Edited from Western Digs (21 March 2016)
Uncovering the mystery of very early humans in New Mexico
Between 9,000 and 13,000 years ago, bison were attracted to extensive wetlands to the west of what is now the city of Socorro, in central New Mexico USA.
In the year 2000, archeologist Robert Dello-Russo and his team discovered a major archaeological site while surveying part of a 36 square kilometre field laboratory belonging to an explosives research company which has hosted several episodes of the Myth Busters television series.
Since then, Dello-Russo and his colleagues have returned to the Water Canyon site repeatedly. Finds include spear and/or atlatl points from the Clovis people, who hunted here more than 13,000 years ago, from the Folsom people who hunted here more than 12,000 years ago, from the Cody Complex hunters who butchered bison and left the bones around 10,800 years ago, and from the late Paleo-Indian people around 9,200 years ago. Dello-Russo and his collaborators have also found gypsum points from the Middle to Late Archaic people.
Blackwater Draw, the Clovis Site in eastern New Mexico, is the first in the state where it could be documented that generations of Paleo-Indian hunters killed their prey and returned to the place again and again. Water Canyon appears to be the second.
The site may offer the opportunity to understand how bison evolved. "There is this evolutionary trajectory from the late Pleistocene where bison go from being Bison antiques, which is a species that was 10 to 20 percent larger than modern day bison, to the Holocene when they became the smaller, modern bison or Bison bison," says Dello-Russo.
Dello-Russo also found something at the Water Canyon site called a "black mat" - a buried layer of sediment with a high degree of organic matter that represents the remains of the prehistoric wetland.
"Today this land is what's called a juniper savannah. A very dry grassland. It gets about 8 inches [20 centimetres] of rain a year, maybe," Dello-Russo said. "Back then they probably got triple that amount of moisture. There was probably standing water in some places, flowing in other places. The vegetation included things that we don't have there today, such as versions of maple trees and birch, cherry. We used to think it was like a forest of actual trees, but we are beginning to think it was a more shrub-like environment."
Edited from PhysOrg (18 March 2016)
Untouched Bronze Age burial mound discovered in England
Archaeology crowdfunding platform 'DigVentures' has launched a campaign to excavate a rare unexplored Bronze Age barrow in the northwest of England, in what will be the first scientific excavation of an undisturbed burial mound from the period in the region in over 50 years.
Preliminary investigations suggest the monument was in use for 1,500 years from the Late Neolithic period to the Middle to Late Bronze Age.
The site was found when an amateur metal detectorist found a Bronze Age knife and a chisel in a small field and reported them to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Both artefacts are rare for the area, and remarkably well preserved.
Supporters of the project will be given training by recognised experts, get exclusive digital access to project data and the chance to participate in the expedition, scheduled for the 4th to the 7th of July.
A seaside 'pop-up museum' will broadcast the excavations live, and display finds to the public.
Edited from Culture24 (14 March 2016)
13 April 2016
Neanderthals infected by diseases carried by humans?
A new study suggests that Neanderthals across Europe may well have been infected with diseases carried out of Africa by waves of anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens. As both were species of hominin, it would have been easier for pathogens to jump populations, say researchers. This might have contributed to the demise of Neanderthals.
Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford Brookes have reviewed the latest evidence gleaned from pathogen genomes and DNA from ancient bones, and concluded that some infectious diseases are likely to be many thousands of years older than previously believed.
Dr Charlotte Houldcroft, from Cambridge's Division of Biological Anthropology, says that many of the infections likely to have passed from humans to Neanderthals - such as tapeworm, tuberculosis, stomach ulcers and types of herpes - are chronic diseases that would have weakened the hunter-gathering Neanderthals, making them less fit and able to find food, which could have catalysed extinction of the species.
"Humans migrating out of Africa would have been a significant reservoir of tropical diseases," says Houldcroft. "For the Neanderthal population of Eurasia, adapted to that geographical infectious disease environment, exposure to new pathogens carried out of Africa may have been catastrophic."
"However, it is unlikely to have been similar to Columbus bringing disease into America and decimating native populations. It's more likely that small bands of Neanderthals each had their own infection disasters, weakening the group and tipping the balance against survival," says Houldcroft.
The longstanding view of infectious disease is that it exploded with the dawning of agriculture some 8,000 years ago, as increasingly dense and sedentary human populations coexisted with livestock, creating a perfect storm for disease to spread. The researchers say the latest evidence suggests disease had a much longer "burn in period" that pre-dates agriculture.
There is as yet no hard evidence of infectious disease transmission between humans and Neanderthals; however, considering the overlap in time and geography, and not least the evidence of interbreeding, Houldcroft and co-author of the study and Dr Simon Underdown, a researcher in human evolution from Oxford Brookes University, say that it must have occurred.
Neanderthals would have adapted to the diseases of their European environment. In turn, the humans, unlike Neanderthals, would have been adapted to African diseases, which they would have brought with them during waves of expansion into Europe and Asia.
The researchers describe Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, as a prime candidate for a disease that humans may have passed to Neanderthals. Another candidate is herpes simplex 2, the virus which causes genital herpes.
Recent theories for the cause of Neanderthal extinction range from climate change to an early human alliance with wolves resulting in domination of the food chain. "It is probable that a combination of factors caused the demise of Neanderthals," says Houldcroft, "and the evidence is building that spread of disease was an important one."
Edited from Popular Archaeology (10 April 2016)
6,000-year-old village uncovered in Iran
Archaeologists in Kurdistan (Iran) have uncovered remains of a village, probably settled during sixth millennia BCE, located in the Sanandaj area.
Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization Research House public relations office said that Mr. Amir Saed Moucheshi, the head of expedition, and his team members had carried out investigations in Sarcham site and they found the remains of a settlement dating back to Chalcolithic age.
"The exploration uncovered pottery, stone tools, animal bones, and architectural structures in the site; the earthenware shows crimson paintings and embossed shapes and other basic geometric designs, and possibly belong to Dalma ceramic tradition and a few others to She-Gabi Tepe pottery design," Moucheshi said.
According to the head of expedition, before the exploration, settled regions in Uraman of Mesolithic and Chalcolithic periods; "This is the oldest village uncovered in the region; explorations would provide valuable information as to the lifestyle, cultural traditions, and modes of communication of ancient people of the region; the site also reveals remains of settlement during Iron Age," he detailed.
"The current dig is part of larger scale of archeological excavations led by Dr. Fereidoun Beiglari in the Valley of Sirvan River; during a year of explorations, different sites belonging to Paleolithic, aneolithic, Iron Age, and Islamic period have been uncovered," Moucheshi concluded.
Edited from Mehr News (9 April 2016)
Traces of ancient humans found in Vietnam
In what has been described as a breakthrough, Vietnamese and Russian archaeologists have found valuable artifacts in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai that they say belonged to ancient humans around 800,000 years ago.
The traces of homo erectus, including fossils and more than 200 stone tools, were discovered at 12 locations around An Khe Town, according to the findings announced by the scientists. It was "the biggest and most important" archeological discovery not only for Vietnam but Asia, Dr. Nguyen Giang Hai, chief of Vietnam's Institute of Archeology, said.
The Russian team worked with the Vietnamese institute on the two-year excavation. The archaeologists are expected to organize an international conference to publish the findings. Huynh Nu Thu Ha, vice chairwoman of the People's Committee of Gia Lai, said the Vietnamese province will launch a project to preserve the ancient sites.
Edited from Tanh Nien News (4 April 2016)
Smashed skulls suggest large European battle 3,200 years ago
In 1996, an amateur archaeologist found a human arm bone sticking out of a steep bank of the Tollense River in northern Germany. Firmly embedded in one end was a flint arrowhead. A test excavation revealed more bones, a smashed skull and a club. Radiocarbon dating indicated they came from a single episode around 1250 BCE - in other words, some kind of fight.
A series of excavations between 2009 and 2015 revealed carnage on a scale no one had expected: 10,000 bones, including those identifiable as coming from five horses and 130 men. Because the researchers have thus far excavated less than 10 percent of what they call the 'find layer', one of them speculates that they will eventually find 750 dead men. If 1 in 5 of the warriors were killed and left on the battlefield, they are seeing evidence of a battle involving almost 4,000 fighters. That would be a battle "of a scale hitherto completely unknown north of the Alps" in that era, archaeologist Thomas Terberger said.
Sophisticated techniques have enabled scientists to piece together a picture of the event: Geomagnetic imagery indicates it took place around a 120-yard-long bridge. Isotopes in the victims' teeth, which reflect food and water ingested in childhood, suggest that many of the warriors had been born hundreds of miles away. Evidence of wounds that had healed years before imply that these were professional soldiers, not primitive farmers caught up in a single squabble. Standardized metal weapons show organization, as does the sheer size of the combatant forces.
Ironically, the huge scale of the conflict is seen as evidence that civilization in northern Europe was much more advanced than previously thought. The area has long been seen as a backwater, nothing like the developed civilizations of the Bronze Age in the Middle East or Asia. But the scene on the Tollense River suggests an unexpectedly widespread social structure: "To organize a battle like this over tremendous distances and gather all these people in one place was a tremendous accomplishment," archaeologist Detlef Jantzen says.
Edited from The Washington Post (1 April 2016)
Ancient DNA sheds new light on early Americans
The first large-scale study of ancient DNA from early American people has confirmed the devastating impact of European colonisation on the indigenous American populations of the time. Led by the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), the researchers have reconstructed a genetic history of indigenous American populations by looking directly into the DNA of 92 pre-Columbian mummies and skeletons between 500 and 8600 years old.
"Surprisingly, none of the genetic lineages we found in almost 100 ancient humans were present, or showed evidence of descendants, in today's indigenous populations," says joint lead author Dr Bastien Llamas, Senior Research Associate with ACAD. "This separation appears to have been established as early as 9000 years ago and was completely unexpected, so we examined many demographic scenarios to try and explain the pattern."
"The only scenario that fit our observations was that shortly after the initial colonization, populations were established that subsequently stayed geographically isolated from one another, and that a major portion of these populations later became extinct following European contact. This closely matches the historical reports of a major demographic collapse immediately after the Spaniards arrived in the late 1400s."
The ancient genetic signals also provide a more precise timing of the first people entering the Americas-via the Beringian land bridge that connected Asia and the northwestern tip of North America during the last Ice Age. "Our genetic reconstruction confirms that the first Americans entered around 16,000 years ago via the Pacific coast, skirting around the massive ice sheets that blocked an inland corridor route which only opened much later," says Professor Alan Cooper, Director of ACAD. "They spread southward remarkably swiftly, reaching southern Chile by 14,600 years ago."
"Genetic diversity in these early people from Asia was limited by the small founding populations which were isolated on the Beringian land bridge for around 2400 to 9000 years," says joint lead author Dr Lars Fehren-Schmitz, from UCSC. "It was at the peak of the last Ice Age, when cold deserts and ice sheets blocked human movement and limited resources would have constrained population size. This long isolation of a small group of people brewed the unique genetic diversity observed in the early Americans."
Edited from Popular Archaeology (1 April 2016)
2 March 2016
Tortoises in the diet of early humans
A team of researchers, headed up by the Tel Aviv University (Israel), has recently been studying animal remains fund in a cave known as the Qesem Cave, located 12 km from Tel Aviv.
Human occupation of the cave was first identified in 2010 and is recorded as having started approximately 400,000 years ago and covered a span of 200,000 years. Whilst it is widely known that early humans captured, cooked and ate large game (in addition to a vegetarian diet), the discovery made by the team indicates that turtles also formed a significant part of their diet. Whilst not being as nutritious as larger game, the turtles nevertheless provided substantial calorific value, enough to warrant the time and effort needed in their capture, transport and preparation.
Studies of the remains found indicate that there were two main ways of cooking these heavily armoured creatures, either by roasting whole within the shell or by splitting the shell open with flint tools and roasting the flesh on its own. As turtle remains were found at most levels throughout the cave it is thought that they must have been part of the diet throughout the 200,000-year human occupation.
Doctor Ruth Blasco, a leading member of the team, is quoted as saying "In some cases in history, we know that slow-moving animals like tortoises were used as preserved or canned food. Maybe the inhabitants of Qesem were simply maximising their local resource. In any case, this discovery adds an important new dimension to the knowhow, capabilities and perhaps taste preferences of these people"
Edited from EurekAlert! (1 February 2016)
Humans were responsible for extinction of Emu ancestor
A team of archaeologists from the University of Colorado at Boulder (USA) have been investigating one of the reasons why the giant flightless ancestor of the Emu may have been driven to extinction. The bird in question is the Genyornis newtoni, which grew to over 2 metres high an d weighed between 220 and 240 kilogrammes.
It roamed the Australian continent 50,000 years ago, at a time when it is believed that the early humans arrived. It would appear that these early humans had developed a taste for the unfortunate bird's eggs, thus playing a significant part in their decline by restricting their reproduction.
The evidence for this claim was found in the analysis of burnt eggshell fragments. First the eggs were dated using optical stimulated luminescence dating technique, which was corroborated by radiocarbon dating. Then the burnt sections were analysed by studying the amino acid decomposition, which proved that the burning could not have been caused by natural wildfire, but was more concentrated and deliberate.
Professor Gifford Miller, Associate Director at Colorado University, is quoted as saying "We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly praying on now-extinct Australian megafauna. We have documented these characteristically burned Genyornis eggshells at more than 200 sites across the continent".
Edited from Popular Archaeology (29 January 2016)
Statistical technique used to find Paleoarchaic sites
Archaeology in the United States of America is sometimes conducted in an unusual way. In this instance the archaeologists were working for a commercial organisation known as Logan Simpson who, in addition to specialising in landscape architecture and environmental services, also employ cultural resource consultants who carry out what they call, Historic Archaeology.
Using a technique known as Predictive Modelling they identified an area in Southern Nevada (known as the Great Basin) which was found to house 19 separate sites from the Paleoarchaic Period, which stretched from 10,000 BCE to 5,000 BCE, marking the transition from Pleistocene to Holocene Eras. By studying already known sites from this period they predicted where others might be found.
Previous usage of this technique resulted in uncovering previous unknown human settlements in Wyoming. Predictive Modelling utilises statistical data to predict outcomes and has been successfully deployed to detect crimes and identify the criminals, as well as many other fields, although there have been some spectacular failures in the financial sector, particularly in 2008.
Jesse Adams, the archaeological team leader for Logan Simpson, is quoted as saying "The Pleistocene-Holocene Transition is a fascinating, yet under represented, time period in the Great Basin. Through the creation, and later revision, of a predictive model using GIS technology, we are able to successfully identify archaeological sites from this time period on the landscape."
Edited from Western Digs (25 January 2016)
12 February 2016
Seminar explores the importance of ancient hillfort in Wales
Heritage experts will examine the complex role of Old Oswestry's landscape through the ages at a forthcoming seminar dedicated to one of Britain's most spectacular and impressive early Iron Age hill forts in the Welsh Marches near Oswestry in north west Shropshire.
Entitled 'A Wider Understanding of Old Oswestry and its Setting', this is the second seminar organised by campaign group HOOOH as it continues to fight development targeting the hillfort's ancient landscape. Speakers include hillfort and prehistory specialist, Dr Rachel Pope of the University of Liverpool, who will make the case that the setting of hillforts should now be recognised as a heritage protection concern.
Prehistoric finds in North Shropshire, as reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), are the focus of Peter Reavill's presentation as he discusses what they reveal of the County's wider archaeological landscape. Hillfort researcher, David Matthews, will provide analysis of the intervisible links and tribal connections between Old Oswestry and the hillforts of the Northern Marches. Heritage planning expert, Tim Malim, will examine how location, ancient routes and trading links helped define the importance of Old Oswestry in the Medieval period. Folktales and legends of the landscape come under the scrutiny of archaeologist, Caroline Malim, as she asks whether archaeology can unlock the truth or fiction behind them.
Free to attend, the day-long seminar takes place on February 13 from 10am to 4.15pm in Oswestry's Memorial Hall in Smithfield Street. It forms the keynote to a weekend of activities devoted to Old Oswestry running February 13 and 14, culminating with a hillfort hug on Valentine's Sunday. Space is limited, so pre-registration is essential at www.eventbrite.co.uk
Source: HOOOH PR (1 February 2016)