1 April 2015
Excavation of an ancient Indian mound along Tennessee River
Hunter Johnson and Travis Rael have been excavating around the now-closed Florence Indian Mound Museum (Alabama, USA) in anticipation of a new facility being built later this year. They work for Tennessee Valley Archaeological Research, which is under contract with the city to perform the work.
The mound is from the Native American Woodland period, Johnson said, which dated from 1,000 BCE to 250 CE. The Florence mound is believed to be from the Middle Woodland period, Johnson said, with radio carbon dating at the top of the mound showing it in use about 250 CE, leading to the conclusion lower portions of the mound are older.
Pieces of flinty stone, along with bits of broken pottery, is evidence of habitation around the ancient mound on the north bank of the Tennessee River, Johnson said: "The pottery helps us tell the period people were here," he said. "The clay was mixed with something that kept the pottery from exploding when it was fired. That material tells us when it was made."
The city has earmarked $1.25 million to build a new museum to replace the existing building, which was acquired in the late 1960s. "We're moving as fast as we can possibly move with this," Mayor Mickey Haddock said, and now officials are awaiting the result of the archaeological excavations. "We have not found any artifacts that would prevent us from using that site," Haddock said.
Edited from SFGate (24 March 2015)
Unearthing an Iron Age Sanctuary in the Mediterranean
In the summer of 2015 a team of archaeologists will begin excavation of a cyclopean sanctuary on the western Mediterranean island of Menorca - a monumental type of building exclusive to this island. The sanctuary of Sa Cudia Cremada ('The Burnt Farm') is a Talayotic cultural site on the outskirts of the island's capital.
Menorca is the easternmost of the Balearic Islands. More than 1500 archaeological sites have been found on the island, which has a total area of just 700 square kilometres. The majority of sites date to the Bronze and Iron Age, a period known there as the Talayotic, in reference to the society who lived on the island from approximately the 2nd millennium BCE to the Roman conquest in 123 BCE.
Formed by a community of indigenous peoples confined to the neighbouring islands of Menorca and Majorca, their society evolved from relatively egalitarian to hierarchical from the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE, although many other aspects did not change, such as their construction technique, pottery production, farming and stock-breeding, and complex funerary rituals and practices. The society developed unique cultural manifestations while at the same time acquiring some traits from other Mediterranean peoples.
Sa Cudia Cremada preserves a talayotic settlement along with its necropolis. The most visible structures are three monumental towers called talayots, which could have served several functions.
The site also features a hypogeum - an artificial cave which served as a collective inhumation cemetery for all the inhabitants of the settlement, regardless of age, sex and social status. Funerary practices included storing locks of hair dyed red in containers made of bull horns, usually heaped in hidden corners of the caves.
The most important building is the taula sanctuary, a horse-shoe shaped building with walls composed of large stone blocks, defined by a large monolithic standing pillar with a lintel forming a T-shape - called taula, meaning 'table' - usually in the central part. There are 32 taula sanctuaries on the island, and this is the only one which has not been excavated.
As in many other Mediterranean cultures, the talayotics worshipped the bull. Bronze bull statuettes and bronze bull horns have been found in several sanctuaries, and scholars have suggested the T-shape monuments were emblematic of this animal.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (16 March 2015)
31 March 2015
Bronze Age bones evidence of political divination
Coloured stones and dice-like knucklebones used for divination were found deep within the ruins of the fallen citadel of Gegharot, a hilltop fortress on the Tsaghkahovit Plain in central Armenia. Implements discovered in one of three shrines also point to another form of fortune-telling: 'Aleuromancy' refers to divination with freshly ground flour.
Cornell archaeologist Adam T Smith, a professor of anthropology, studies the role that the material world plays in the political lives of ancient and modern people, and offers an interpretation of the evidence from those 3,300-year-old Bronze Age shrines.
Excavations conducted at Gegharot since 2002 have turned up a variety of ceremonial, iconic and fortune-telling objects, including censers and basins for burning aromatic plant materials that could induce a trance state, covered clay storage containers where pollen analysis found evidence of wheat, drinking vessels, sculpted clay idols "with vaguely anthropomorphic features and hornlike protrusions", stele which "likely served as focal point for ritual attention", grain-grinding implements and stamp seals to make impressions in dough, dozens of knucklebones of cattle, sheep and goats with certain sides blackened like the markings on dice, and polished stones in colours ranging from black and dark grey, to red, green, and white.
The Tsaghkahovit Plain was sparsely populated until around 1500 BCE, when a nameless people began to build strongholds and new institutions of rule there. "It was a time of radical inequality and centralised practices of economic redistribution," Smith says.
"We call them 'shrines' because of two distinctive qualities of the spaces: They were quite intimate in scale, with not much room for public spectacle," Smith explains, "yet they appear to have been religiously charged places, designed and built to host esoteric rituals with consecrated objects - secretive rites focused on managing risks by diagnosing present conditions and prognosticating futures."
The Bronze Age people who rolled those bones appear to have abandoned the site after about three centuries, around 1150 BCE, leaving their divination paraphernalia in place.
Edited from PhysOrg (13 March 2015)
Saharan 'carpet of tools' earliest known man-made landscape
A new intensive survey of the Messak Settafet escarpment in southern Libya, a massive outcrop of sandstone in the middle of the Saharan desert, has shown that stone tools occur everywhere across the entire landscape, averaging 75 artefacts per square metre, in an area 350 kilometres long, and on average 60 kilometres wide - approximately 21,000 square kilometres.
Researchers say this vast assemblage of stone-age tools were extracted from and discarded onto the escarpment over hundreds of thousands of years - the earliest known example of an entire landscape being modified by hominins: the group of creatures that include us and our ancestral species.
"The Messak sandstone, now in the middle of the vast sand seas of Libya, would have been a high quality rock for hominins to fracture - the landscape is in effect a carpet of stone tools, most probably made in the Middle and Upper Pleistocene," said Dr Robert Foley, from the University of Cambridge, who conducted the research with colleague Dr Marta Mirazon Lahr.
At the simple end, large flakes of stone would have been opportunistically hacked from boulders. At the more sophisticated level, researchers found evidence that specific tools had been used to wedge into the stone in order split it.
Clusters of small quarrying pits dot the landscape, ranging up to 2 metres in diameter, and 50 centimetres in depth. These pits would have retained moisture, and the small pools would have attracted game. In many of these pits, the team found 'trapping stones': large stones used for traps and ties for game and cattle during the last 10,000 years.
Although stone tool manufacture dates back at least 2.5 million years, the researchers limited their estimate to one million years. Based on their and others research, they standardised population density, tool volume, the number of tools used by one person in a year and the amount of resulting debris per tool. They estimate an average density of between 0.5 and 5 million stone artefacts per square kilometre of Africa.
Edited from Univeristy of Cambridge PR (11 March 2015), Mail Online (11 March 2015)
30 March 2015
Prehistoric stone tools bear 500,000-year-old animal residue
Professor Ran Barkai and two graduate students from the Tel Aviv University Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures recently confirmed that stone tools found among elephant remains at a Lower Palaeolithic site in Israel held traces of animal remains - the first scientifically verified direct evidence for the precise use of Palaeolithic stone tools to process animal carcasses and hides.
"Fracturing rocks in order to butcher and cut animal meat represents a key biological and cultural milestone," Professor Barkai says. "At the Revadim quarry, a wonderfully preserved site a half-million years old, we found butchered animal remains, including an elephant rib bone which had been neatly cut by a stone tool, alongside flint hand-axes and scrapers still retaining animal fat. It became clear from further analyses that butchering and carcass processing indeed took place at this site. Archaeologists have until now only been able to suggest scenarios about the use and function of such tools."
Hand-axes and scrapers found at prehistoric sites all around the world were distinct implements, used for specific purposes. By comparing replicas with their prehistoric counterparts, the researchers determined that the hand-axe was prehistoric man's sturdy "Swiss army knife," capable of cutting and breaking down bone, tough sinew, and hide. The slimmer, more delicate scraper was used for skinning carcasses and preparing hides.
According to Professor Barkai, "The knowledge of how to make these tools was precious, and must have been passed along from generation to generation, because these tools were reproduced the same way across great territorial expanses and over hundreds of thousands of years.
Edited from EurekAlert! (19 March 2015)
Late Mesolithic finds in the Scottish Borders
During the Scottish Lithic Scatters Project in the 1990s, an early prehistoric site was discovered by Chris Barrowman at Garvald Burn, near Dolphinton, in the Scottish Borders. Subsequent investigation yielded a chronologically mixed assemblage of 1,562 stone artefacts.
The site as a whole revealed almost no features, but in one specific area a number were uncovered, including a hearth and a windbreak. This area also yielded 587 pieces of worked stone, dominated by chert. This assemblage indicate a Late Mesolithic date, and radiocarbon-dating of a charcoal sample from a post-hole within the windbreak supports this, returning a date between 4350 and 4000 BCE.
The settlers were hunter-gatherers, and sites would have been selected based on where prey could be encountered, vegetable matter gathered, and the proximity of river courses and small streams for drinking water, fishing, and transport.
A small domestic hearth was identified, associated with a relatively 'flimsy' structure thought to be an expedient windbreak. Sheltered by this, and immediately next to the hearth, a relatively dense knapping floor was identified, associated with primary production, retooling and the production or repair of implements in wood, bone or antler. The character of the features, as well as the small size of the lithic assemblage and its composition, suggests this may have been a transit camp for one or two hunters, or at most a small group.
Within Late Mesolithic southern Scotland, the composition of assemblages vary depending on location. Chert was abundantly available throughout the region, but there are no indications of chert having been exchanged outside the immediate territory. The same seems to have been true for coastal flint, which was transported along rivers to groups living relatively near the coasts. Where flint was readily available, it was favoured.
Flint dominates the eastern and western seaboards, and chert the central parts of southern Scotland. At the mid-point, such as at Starr and Smittons in the interior parts of East Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway, chert and flint were used in roughly equal measures. The assemblage from Garvald Burn, approximately 80 to 100 kilometres from the eastern and western shores, and roughly 30 kilometres from the Firth of Forth, is almost exclusively chert, probably gathered from the banks of the burn.
Edited from Past Horizons (10 March 2015)
27 March 2015
Survey of a Neolithic henge in Northern Ireland
Archeologists are probing a Neolithic henge in the middle of Aghagallon which they believe dates back more than 4,500 years. The name of this small village in County Armagh (Northern Ireland) comes from the Gaelic 'Achadh Gallan', meaning 'field of the standing stone', and it was just a few years ago that its true significance was uncovered when they discovered the giant ringed site.
For many years it was unclear where this standing stone might be, however when the local community association made plans to extend its building on the Aghalee Road, it was discovered that they were right beside the standing stone.
The ringed site which is in the townland of Derrynaseer was designated as a scheduled historic momunent in 2003. It is formed by a large earthen bank which encloses a domed area some 180m in diameter and is clearly visible on Google Earth.
Archeologists from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) have been on-site recently and are carrying out non-invasive investigations to try and discover what lies beneath this site.
A spokesperson for the NIEA said: "Based on the physical form of the surviving remains of the earthwork we believe that it is probably a henge, a prehistoric ritual monument, which would have been built some 4,500 years ago by local early farming communities. There are only eight surviving examples of this type of monument in Northern Ireland, the most famous being the Giant's Ring, which is located just outside Belfast."
"NIEA has commissioned a geophysical survey of the south-western part of the enclosure, and also part of the surrounding land, to try and get a sense of what lies below the ground here," the spokeperson added. "We hope to get evidence for features or structures that would be associated with the henge's original use."
Edited from LurganMail (3 March 2015)
Prehistoric rock art discovered in County Mayo
A rare sample of prehistoric rock art has been found on an ancient pilgrimage route to Croagh Patrick in Co Mayo (Ireland). The prehistoric engravings resemble that found in Lough Crew, Co Meath, and is one of just of two rock art samples of its type to be identified west of the Shannon, according to archaeologist Michael Gibbons.
The panel had been concealed behind the outcropping at the Boheh townland known as St Patrick's chair, which has some 250 petroglyphs or carvings on its surface. The carvings are believed to have been inspired by the 'rolling sun' phenomenon, where the setting sun appears to glide down the flank of Croagh Patrick during the months of April and August.
The new panel was found by Michael Moylan of Ardmore, Co Galway and Mr Gibbons during field work they were doing for a series of educational programmes for Connemara Community Radio.
The panel has spiral engravings, which are not as weathered as those on the chair due to the shelter afforded by its concealment. Mr Gibbons said that the site dates back about 5,800 years. "Rock art is more frequent in the southwest, in Donegal and in Wicklow, but is very elusive in the west," he said. It has been identified at Lochán na Sídhe near Tourmakeady in Co Mayo.
Edited from The Irish Times (27 February 2015)
22 March 2015
The demise of the Neanderthals wasn't triggered by a volcanic cataclysm
A new study by Benjamin A. Black and colleagues tests if the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption in Italy 40,000 years ago contributed to the final extinction of the Neanderthals. The event was one of the largest volcanic cataclysms in Europe and injected a significant amount of sulfur-dioxide (SO2) into the stratosphere.
Black and colleagues point out that the decline of Neanderthals in Europe began well before the CI eruption: "Radiocarbon dating has shown that at the time of the CI eruption, anatomically modern humans had already arrived in Europe, and the range of Neanderthals had steadily diminished. Work at five sites in the Mediterranean indicates that anatomically modern humans were established in these locations by then as well."
In their climate simulations, Black and colleagues found that the largest temperature decreases after the eruption occurred in Eastern Europe and Asia and sidestepped the areas where the final Neanderthal populations were living (Western Europe). Therefore, the authors conclude that the eruption was probably insufficient to trigger Neanderthal extinction.
However, the abrupt cold spell that followed the eruption would still have significantly impacted day-to-day life for Neanderthals and early humans in Europe. Black and colleagues point out that temperatures in Western Europe would have decreased by an average of 2 to 4 degrees Celsius during the year following the eruption. These unusual conditions, they write, may have directly influenced survival and day-to-day life for Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans alike, and emphasize the resilience of anatomically modern humans in the face of abrupt and adverse changes in the environment.
Edited from EurekAlert! (20 March 2015)
Prehistoric stone tool site discovered in suburban Seattle
Archaeologists surveying the waterways of suburban Seattle (Washington, USA) have discovered an ancient tool-making site dating back more than 10,000 years. The find includes thousands of stone flakes, an array of bifaces, scrapers, and hammerstones, plus several projectile points.
The site was discovered along a creek in Redmond, Washington, under a layer of peat that was radiocarbon dated to about 10,000 years ago. And in the layer with the artifacts were burned bits of willow, poplar, and pine, which were themselves dated between 10,000 and 12,500 years ago. Together, these materials frame a period of prehistory in coastal Washington which archaeologists have not been able to explore before.
"It's the oldest artifact assemblage from western Washington, and the excellent context in which we were able to do our excavations and sampling is now providing a picture, much clearer than ever before, of the environment these people were living in during the transition out of the Ice Age," said Dr. Robert Kopperl, lead researcher of the find.
Kopperl, from the firm SWCA Environmental Consultants, and his colleagues first made the find in 2008 while surveying a waterway known as Bear Creek. Initial work turned up some stone artifacts above the layer of peat, which was carbon dated between 8,000 and 10,000 years old. "when we did our 2009 test excavations, all of the artifacts we found were below that peat instead of above the peat, indicating that they pre-dated 10,000 years before the present," saud Kopperl.
Once they picked up traces of human habitation older than any other found in the region, the researchers hoped to encounter artifacts that had never been found there before. "We found two projectile point fragments that were concave-based - something not seen at any time in the local projectile point sequence," said Kopperl.
In all, six projectile points and base fragments were found at Bear Creek. The two points with concave bases somewhat resembled Clovis points, which have been found elsewhere in the region but without clear archaeological contexts, Kopperl said. But rather conspicuously, both newfound artifacts lacked the distinctive fluting that's typical of the Clovis style. Meanwhile, he added, a third point fragment was 'reminiscent' of a style known as the Western Stemmed Tradition, which is typically found farther inland.
As for the lifeways of the people who made and used these tools ten millennia ago, the clues are scant. Residue analysis of several fragments, for instance, turned up traces of plants like beeweed, and proteins from bear, bison, deer, sheep, and salmon. Beyond that, there's not much context to draw on in western Washington, Kopperl said, because no other artifacts have been found that date this far back in time.
"There are probably other Late Pleistocene-Holocene sites preserved in similar modern settings in the Lowlands, and we should be on the lookout for them. Also, this is confirmation that these kinds of sites do actually still survive in a rapidly developing place such as suburban Seattle," Kopperl concluded.
Edited from Western Digs (18 March 2015)
Neanderthals crafted earliest jewellery from eagle talons
Neanderthals may have manipulated white-tailed eagle talons to make jewellery 130,000 years ago, before the appearance of modern human in Europe, according to a study published by David Frayer from University of Kansas and Davorka Radovcic, Ankica Oros Srsen and Jakov Radovcic from Croatia.
Researchers describe eight mostly complete white-tailed eagle talons from the Krapina Neanderthal site in present-day Croatia, dating to approximately 130,000 years ago. These white-tailed eagle bones, discovered more than 100 years ago, all derive from a single time period at Krapina. Four talons bear multiple edge-smoothed cut marks, and eight show polishing facets or abrasion. Three of the largest talons have small notches at roughly the same place along the plantar surface.
The authors suggest these features may be part of a jewelry assemblage, like mounting the talons in a necklace or bracelet. Some have argued that Neandertals lacked symbolic ability or copied this behavior from modern humans, but the presence of the talons indicates that the Krapina Neandertals may have acquired eagle talons for some kind of symbolic purpose. They also demonstrate that the Krapina Neandertals may have made jewelry 80,000 years before the appearance of modern humans in Europe.
The Krapina site, some 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Zagreb, has yielded the world's richest collection of Neanderthal fossils. The site containing the remains of some 80 individuals, and including the talons, was discovered in 1899 by Croatian palaeontologist Dragutin Gorjanovic-Kramberger. But it took 115 years to establish that the talons and phalanx at the Zagreb museum were jewellery, and therefore used for a symbolic purpose.
Up until now early jewellery was linked to anatomically modern humans - estimated to be up to 110,000 years old - and consisting of shell beads found at prehistoric sites in Israel. The researchers also say the Krapina jewellery indicates that contrary to long-held beliefs, Neanderthals possessed the capacity for complex cognitive thinking.
"This is an example of abstract thinking. It proves that Neanderthals possessed a symbolic culture some 80,000 years before the appearance of more modern human forms in Europe," Radovcic emphasised.
Edited from EurekAlert! (11 March 2015), PhysOrg (21 March 2015)
11,000-year-old shaman's mysteries are unravelled
Some fascinating findings are coming out of a study by the Smithsonian Institution (USA) into the mysteries surrounding the practices and rituals of an 11,000 year old shaman. Shaman is general term for a person who acts as a link between the natural and supernatural worlds. In Native American culture the tribal shaman was more of a priest, or healer.
The site in question located in Central Texas (USA), at a place known as the Horn Shelter site, adjacent to the Brazos River. The site has been investigated by archaeologists since the late 1960s, with evidence of both Clovis and Folsom cultures having been found.
This latest discovery (actually discovered in 1970 but only just revealed) is the remains of a 40 year old man and an 11 year old young girl. It is not known if the two were related, or she was just a companion, until full DNA testing has been carried out. What is of more interest is the wealth of artefacts found with the remains.
Study of the adult male bones shows higher than normal development of hands and forearms, which can be equated to that of a modern day drummer. More interesting though was the contents of a bundle containing the shaman's tools of his trade, including hawk talons, badgers claws (representing day & night), shells and pigments. His head was also resting on, and covered by, turtle shells, with the grave also being turtle shell shaped. In Native American cultures the turtle is often associated with the earth.
Pegi Jodry, a researcher from the Smithsonian, is quoted as saying "What I found was beautiful in working with the medicine bundle is how vividly it expressed how immersed people were within the natural world" She went on to add "There's a tendency sometimes to look back down the road 11,000 years ago and think people were less sophisticated in their behaviour and cosmology. It takes quite a while to walk all those ideas back. Those stereotypes are deeply rooted".
Edited from WacoTrib.com (22 February 2015)
13 March 2015
Ancient stone tool uncovered in Oregon
Archaeologists have uncovered a stone tool at an ancient rock shelter in the desert of Oregon (USA) that could turn out to be older than any known site of human occupation in western North America.
University of Oregon archaeologist Patrick O'Grady, who supervises the dig, says the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter outside Riley has not been fully excavated. But the tool, a hand-held scraper chipped from a piece of orange agate not normally found in eastern Oregon, was found about 8 inches (20 cm) below a layer of volcanic ash from an eruption of Mount St. Helens that has been dated to 15,800 years ago.
Bureau of Land Management archaeologist Scott Thomas said that if the age of the site holds up to scrutiny, it would be the oldest west of the Rockies, and another site predating the so-called Clovis culture, once generally believed to be the first people to migrate from Asia into North America. The earliest Clovis artifacts, known for distinctive and elegant stone points, are dated to about 13,000 years ago.
O'Grady called the find 'tantalizing,' but he added that they want to continue digging this summer to see whether the volcanic ash covers the entire area.
Donald Grayson, professor of archaeology at the University of Washington, said the scientific community would be skeptical. "No one is going to believe this until it is shown there was no break in that ash layer, that the artifact could not have worked its way down from higher up, and until it is published in a convincing way," he said. "Until then, extreme skepticism is all they are going to get."
Edited from NBC News (6 March 2015)
Bronze Age burial discovered in Kenilworth
Kenilworth is a small Warwickshire (UK) town famed in the 16th Century for its connections with Queen Elizabeth I and her frequent visits to Kenilworth Castle to see her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. It would appear though, that its history goes back much further than that.
Whilst foundation trenches were being dug for a new housing development in Clinton Lane, on the fringes of the town, Bryn Gethin, project officer with Archaeology Warwickshire, was surprised with what was uncovered. Mr Gethin is quoted as saying "I was looking for evidence of medieval settlement and was surprised to see what looked like cremated bone fragments in the side of a trench. Further investigation revealed the bones were underneath a type of prehistoric pot known as a collared urn".
The pot fragments have been dated at between 2,5000 BCE and 1800 BCE, putting them squarely in the Early Bronze Age. They will shortly be displayed in the town museum, within the walls of the castle.
Stuart Palmer, also from Archaeology Warwickshire, said "Although a few flint tools that are potentially older than this have previously been discovered in Kenilworth, this is certainly the earliest known human inhabitant of the area. It is possible the burial was originally covered by a mound that would have been prominent on the skyline but which has long since disappeared"
Edited from BBC News (26 February 2015)
9 March 2015
Prehistoric burial mound excavated in Poland
Researchers analysing the results of laser scanning from aircraft are able to virtually remove trees and other obstacles, and obtain terrain elevation data. This makes it possible to discover old man-made structures, including mounds.
"It turned out that the recorded object was in fact an ancient burial mound," explains Professor Piotr Wlodarczak. "Importantly, the mound is the first known structure of this type in the Lublin Upland, as well as throughout Malopolska, probably dating back to the turn of the third and second millennium BC[E]".
The barrow measures around 13 metres in diameter. Inside, archaeologists discovered four skeletal graves belonging to a community whose material remains are referred to as the 'Strzyzow culture', and who were engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry.
All burials were similarly equipped. Archaeologists discovered hundreds of beads made from clam shells, along with copper jewellery, animal fang pendants, and flint tools.
On the basis of three Carbon-14 tests for bones from three of the burials, the structure was raised between 2100 BCE and 1900 BCE, in the beginning latter stages of the early Bronze Age.
According to the researcher, mound burial was reserved for a selected, privileged group. The rest of the dead were interred in flat cemeteries. The appearance of barrow graves about four thousand years ago coincided with contacts between the communities inhabiting upland areas with those from the steppes on the border of Europe and Asia.
The archaeologists will continue the study this year, and then reconstruct the mound.
Edited from Science & SCholarship in Poland (20 February 2015)