12 October 2015
Petroglyph in Spain marks when Atlantic and Mediterranean cultures met
A unique petroglyph near the Atlantic coast of northern Spain provides evidence that ancient Atlantic and Mediterranean cultures were in contact earlier than previously thought.
The Auga dos Cebros rock art panel, on the Costa dos Castros in the extreme northwest Spain, is one of the greatest archaeological treasures on the Atlantic seaboard. The most famous petroglyph depicts a boat with a combination of oars and sails. Researcher Javier Costas Goberna searched archaeological records throughout Europe, discovering evidence of very similarly designed vessels in the Mediterranean roughly 4,000 years ago. Equivalent Atlantic boats of the time were primarily without sails, and of a different form.
Fellow researcher Maria Ruiz-Galvez Priego identified the Auga dos Cebros boat as being remarkably similar to Aegean vessels of approximately 2000 BCE, particularly as depicted on ancient Cretan stamps. Like the Auga dos Cebros boat, those vessels featured outwardly-opened bows and sterns, masts and rigging that held sails as the primary means of propulsion, and lines that are interpreted to represent oars and/or oarsmen.
The Auga dos Cebros petroglyph represents the only depiction of this type of seafaring vessel in the Atlantic/European region characteristic of the Bronze Age period. The researchers propose that the Auga dos Cebros boat likely originated in the Mediterranean, suggesting contact or trade with Atlantic cultures as much as 4,000 years ago.
The rock art is located in a very delicate area, subject to erosion due to the fluctuating course of the river Vilar. There are plans to clear vegetation and record new rock art in the area this year, and to carry out more ambitious conservation in the near future.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (5 October 2015)
8 October 2015
Stonehenge (used to be) sold to the highest bidder!
Amesbury in Wiltshire (England) is the oldest continuously inhabited site in the UK, dating back to approximately 8,800 BCE. In 1824 the Antrobus family bought the vast Amesbury Abbey Estate and administered it until October 1914 when the last remaining heir, Sir Edmund Antrobus, was killed in battle in Belgium in one of the first actions of World War I. There was no option but to put the whole estate up for sale. Part of the estate was the area surrounding and including Stonehenge.
Although this ancient site had been placed under the protection of the Ancient Monuments Act of 1883, it had not prevented one of the sarson stones from falling over or one of the lintels from breaking in two, so despite a fence being erected to protect it, there was still deep concern about its future.
On 21 September 1915 the entire Antrobus estate was put under the hammer at an auction at the New Theatre, Salisbury. Present at that auction was a local man, Cecil Chubb. He had been born in the nearby village of Shrewton and had, through his own efforts, risen from a lowly background to become a wealthy barrister. Legend has it that Cecil's wife Mary had sent her husband to the auction to buy some curtains. Instead he bid £6,600 (£680,000 in today's money, or around 923,000 euros) to purchase the stones, in his own words "on a whim".
Three years later, in October 1918, he gave the monument to the Nation as 'a deed of gift'. The rest, as they say, is history. Chubb's generosity was recognised by the then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, and he was created Sir Cecil Chubb, First Baronet of Stonehenge.
Few people now remember Chubb and his generosity (although there is a plaque to his memory in his native village) one person who does is Heather Sebire, curator of Stonehenge. She believes that Chubb's impulse purchase and subsequent generous donation to the Nation is "as mysterious as Stonehenge itself".
Edited from The Guardian, BBC News (21 September 2015)
Were Stone Age rituals really signs of witchcraft?
A team of archaeologists have been working on the uninhabited island off the east coast of Sweden, known as Bla Jungfrun. The name translates in English as The Blue Virgin, given to the island by sailors to appease the evil spirits it was believe lived there. The island has been a National Park since 1926 and is currently home to a large colony of black guillemots. Visitors are allowed but cannot stay over night or disturb anything.
It is not known how long the island has been associated with evil spirits and witchcraft but evidence has been uncovered by the team which points to at least the Stone Age and maybe further back in time. The island shows signs of intense human activity during the Mesolithic Age and the team has been concentrating their research around two caves which have provided substantial evidence of ritualistic behaviour.
The first cave has a strange hollow which has been hammered out of one of its vertical walls, accompanied by a fireplace at its base. Whilst it is believed that the hollow is man-made, its purpose is purely conjectural, but the layout of the rest of the cave may provide a clue.
Papmehl-Dufay, team member and an archaeologist from Kalmar County Museum (Sweden) is quoted as saying "The entrance to the cave is very narrow and you have to squeeze your way in. However once you are inside only half of the cave is covered and you can actually stand above the cave and look down into it, almost like a theatre or stage below." The hollow and fireplace stand at the centre of this stage like area. Other caves and shelters have provided further evidence such as a hammerstone, grinding area, stone tools and the fossilised bones of 9,000 year old seals. Are these seals the remains of a ritual feast or simply the evening meals of fishermen? More information may be revealed as the site investigations continue
Edited from LiveScience (22 September 2015)
4 October 2015
Iron Age settlement revealed in Devon
Experts believe they have unearthed one of Britain's biggest and best-preserved prehistoric settlements near Plymouth (Devon, England). Evidence of several families living and working on the land more than 3,000 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists in preparation for major building work on the site.
The excavation is one of the largest investigations of its type undertaken due to the sheer scale of the site. Andy Mayes, who is leading the project, said: "What's fantastic is we're looking at an unusually large area showing a whole prehistoric landscape. There hasn't been a great deal of disturbance on the site previously, and it's in pretty good condition under the surface, so it's a question of targeting those areas of significance.
Recent findings including Iron Age roundhouses, pottery and bone, potentially dating as far back as between 700 BCE - 43 CE and possibly earlier. Andy said: "We found three roundhouses which are likely to be Iron Age in date. We can see from geophysics alone that there were communities living and working on the site probably from the Bronze Age."
The team of archaeologists is expected to spend around ten weeks at the site and hope the results will provide a valuable insight into the lives of the people that lived and worked at Sherford in the later prehistoric and Romano British periods.
Edited from Western Morning News (2 October 2015)
Mesolithic artifact discovered on Skye
A piece of bone possibly handcrafted into a shape for use as a toggle or bead has been uncovered during an archaeological dig on Skye (Inner Hebrides, Scotland.). Archaeologists hope further analysis of the find will connect it to Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who lived on the island 8,000 years ago. Flints were also found during September's dig above Staffin Bay.
Dan Lee, of University of the Highlands and Islands' (UHI) Archaeology Institute, said the site may have been one of several along Staffin Bay where hunter-gatherers gathered and worked stone and bone. These people may also have hunted fish and mammals at the mouth of the nearby Kilmartin River. He said: "Hopefully we have enough material for radiocarbon dates and further excavation would be useful to better define the extent of the site.
Trust director Dugald Ross added: "The excavation has given us the opportunity of adding to our knowledge of early habitation of Staffin and although the circular foundation now appears to be a later date than initially thought, the lower levels have yielded material which is typical of the first groups of people to have arrived in Scotland after the last Ice Age."
Edited from BBC News (1 October 2015)
Bronze Age Britons mummified their dead
Ancient Britons may have intentionally mummified some of their dead during the Bronze Age (c. 2500 - 800 BCE), according to archaeologists at the University of Sheffield. The study is the first to provide indications that mummification may have been a widespread funerary practice in Britain.
Working with colleagues from the University of Manchester and University College London, Dr Tom Booth analyzed skeletons at several Bronze Age burial sites across the UK. The team found that the remains of some ancient Britons are consistent with a prehistoric mummy from northern Yemen and a partially mummified body recovered from a sphagnum peat bog in County Roscommon, Ireland.
Archaeologists widely agree that the damp British climate is not favorable to organic materials and all prehistoric mummified bodies that may be located in the UK will have lost their preserved tissue if buried outside of a preservative environment such as a bog.
"To help address this," said Dr Booth, "Our team has found that by using microscopic bone analysis archaeologists can determine whether a skeleton has been previously mummified even when it is buried in an environment that isn't favorable to mummified remains. We know from previous research that bones from bodies that have decomposed naturally are usually severely degraded by putrefactive bacteria, whereas mummified bones demonstrate immaculate levels of histological preservation and are not affected by putrefactive bio-erosion."
The researchers did a microscopic analysis on the bones of 301 people, retrieved from 25 European archaeological sites. In most cases, they looked at the femur, a long bone in the leg, Booth said. Of these, 34 individuals were from the Bronze Age. More than half of the samples showed evidence that the person had been buried immediately, but 16 had "excellent bone preservation," compared with mummies from Ireland and Yemen, indicating that these Bronze Age people were mummified after death, the researchers wrote.
The research team also found that Bronze Age Britons may have used a variety of techniques to mummify their dead. Dr Booth added, "Our research shows that smoking over a fire and purposeful burial within a peat bog are among some of the techniques ancient Britons may have used to mummify their dead. Other techniques could have included evisceration, in which organs were removed shortly after death.
The study is the first time researchers have used this type of analysis to identify specific funerary treatments in archaeological bones, he said. It also reminds other scientists that "even if you don't have preserved soft tissue at a site, it doesn't mean that people weren't mummifying at the site," Booth said.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (30 September 2015), CBS News (2 October 2015)
3 October 2015
Prehistoric 'sauna house' unearthed in Orkney
Archaeologists in Orkney (Scotland) have uncovered the remains of over 30 buildings dating from around 4000 BCE to 1000 BCE, together with field systems, middens and cemeteries. The find includes a very rare Bronze Age building which experts believed could have been a sauna or steam house, which may have been built for activities such as rites of passage or spiritual ceremonies. It's also possible that the building could have been used as a sweat house or sauna, for a number of activities ranging from basic healing and cleansing, or as a place where women could come to give birth, the sick and elderly could come to die, or where bodies were taken before burial.
Rod McCullagh, Deputy Head of Archaeology Strategy at Historic Scotland said: "This is a beautifully preserved site with lots of tantalising clues pointing to its use as an important building, central to the community who built it. We know this was a large building, with a complex network of cells attached to it and a sizeable tank of water in the central structure which would likely have been used to produce boiling water and steam - which could have been used to create a sauna effect. What this would have been used for we don't know exactly but the large scale, elaborate architecture and sophistication of the structure all suggest that it was used for more than just cooking. Whether its purpose was for feasting, rituals, important discussions, or maybe just for the same reasons we use saunas for today, is something we don't yet know. This is just the start of an exciting but painstaking process of analysis and research work but one which gradually adds to our understanding of what activities occurred here 4000 years ago."
The early analysis work suggested that the building is likely to be a 'burnt mound', which generally comprises of a fireplace, water tank and a pile of burnt stone. Through experimentation and reference to medieval Irish literature, experts have been able to deduce that stones were roasted on a hearth before being placed into the tank of water, bringing the water to a boiling point and producing lots of steam. The hot water could then be used to cook large quantities of food or for bathing, brewing, textile working, or any other of a range of activities.
The hidden nature of the Orcadian building together with its restricted access and tightly packed cells, suggest that it served a more specialised function than most burnt mounds and that rather than being a gathering place for the many, it would have been used by a more select group, and likely used a sauna or steam house.
In the cold windy conditions in which the Bronze Age people at Noltland, the concept of an underground building, filled with fire and steam, is likely to have stirred the imagination. It may even have been consciously designed as a stage for ritual activity- perhaps in the form of a cult house or sanctuary.
The site will now be carefully backfilled in order to best protect it from the harsh Orkney winter, before potentially re-excavating again in Spring 2016.
Edited from Historic Scotland, Past Horizons (29 September 2015)
Bronze Age burial site discovered in Omsk
Two graves dating back 2,700 years believed to date from the Bronze Age have been discovered in Omsk (southwestern Siberia, Russia) and could be part of an ancient necropolis still lying under the city centre.
Archeologists are still inspecting the find but they grave is believed to be from the Irmen culture and dates to approximately 700 BCE to 800 BCE. Workmen called in police and archeologists after discovery of the remains of the ancient human remains. One skeleton was buried with a knife and buckle.
The experts believe the graves are part of the same Bronze Age necropolis that was disturbed 103 years ago when the site was previously excavated during construction of a building that is now being renovated. At this time, five skulls were found along with an arrowhead, knife and buckle.
In 1959 well-known local historian Andrei Palashenkov claimed this site on a high bank of the Om River was likely the site of an ancient necropolis or settlement, or both.
The excavations are held by the employees of Omsk branch of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography SB RAS, headed by Dr Mikhail Korusenko.
Edited from The Siberian Times (29 September 2015)
Another sign of Neanderthal intelligence and resourcefulness
It has long been thought that Neanderthals did not possess either the intelligence or the equipment to catch and kill large, fast flying birds. Recent findings, some going back to 2011, show evidence to the contrary.
The birds in question can be classed in two categories, raptors (birds of prey) and corvids (carrion scavengers), although some raptors also have corvid habits. The evidence centres around four European sites where talons have been found with marks of working, leading to the assumption that they had been fashioned into jewellery.
So how did the Neanderthals catch them? Well, the answer may be simpler than you would think. The evidence that Neanderthals hunted large mammals is undisputed. What probably happened after a kill would be that the carcass of the animal, adorned with tasty morsels of flesh etc., would be abandoned at the kill site. After the hunters had left the corvids would gather, to pick over the remains, joined by some of the raptors (two common day raptors, the Red and Black Kites demonstrate these traits).
Who knows when this behaviour was first spotted but we can conjecture that one day a hunter stayed behind, hidden, and whilst the corvids were concentrating on the feast before them, he crept up and either speared or clubbed them. This hunting technique, along with other recent evidence of Neanderthal genetics and behaviour is the theme of the Calpi Conference, held in September in Gibraltar, in the hope of redefining this enigmatic species.
Edited from BBC News (23 September 2015)
28 September 2015
Huge ritual arena discovered near Stonehenge
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a massive stone monument buried under a thick, grassy bank only 3 kilometres from Stonehenge (Wiltshire, England). The hidden arrangement of up to 90 huge standing stones formed part of a C-shaped Neolithic arena that bordered a dry valley facing directly towards the river Avon.
Researchers used ground-penetrating radar to image about 30 intact stones measuring up to 4.5 metres tall. The fragments of 60 more buried stones, or the massive foundation pits in which they stood, reveal the full extent of the monument.
"What we are starting to see is the largest surviving stone monument, preserved underneath a bank, that has ever been discovered in Britain and possibly in Europe," said Vince Gaffney, an archaeologist at Bradford University who leads the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape project.
The stones are thought to have been hauled into position more than 4,500 years ago to form the southern edge of a ritual arena centred on a natural depression. The stones appear to have joined up with a chalk ridge that had been cut into, to accentuate the natural border.
Gaffney believes the stones were pushed over when the site was redeveloped by Neolithic builders. The recumbent stones became lost beneath a huge bank and were incorporated as a somewhat clumsy linear southern border to the otherwise circular "super-henge" known as Durrington Walls.
1600 metres in circumference, Durrington Walls is one of the largest known henge monuments. It is surrounded by a ditch, and a 40 metre wide, 1 metre tall outer bank, built about a century after the Stonehenge sarsen circle. Archaeologists believe the newly discovered stone row could have been put in place at the same time or even earlier.
The rise and fall of the newly discovered monument at Durrington Walls suggests that buildings were modified and recycled since the first stones were laid around 3100 BCE.
Paul Garwood, an archaeologist and lead historian on the project at the University of Birmingham, said the the new discoveries at Durrington Walls changed fundamentally how researchers understood Stonehenge and the world around it. "Everything written previously about the Stonehenge landscape and the ancient monuments within it will need to be rewritten," he said.
Edited from BBC News, The Guardian (7 September 2015)
Common origins of Neolithic farmers in Europe
An international team of researchers has sequenced the first complete genome of an Iberian farmer, which is also the first from the Mediterranean. This opens a window on understanding the distinctive genetic changes that map Neolithic migration in southern Europe, which possibly led to the abandonment of the hunter-gatherer way of life.
A prevailing theory suggests that the first farmers entered Europe about 8,000 years ago from the Near East, and spread through the continent following two different routes: one to central Europe via the Danube, the other toward the Iberian peninsula following the Mediterranean coast. These latter farmers developed their own cultural tradition: the Cardium Pottery, so-called for its characteristic incised decoration made with the edges of cockle shells.
So far, only genomic data of various individuals belonging to the inland route have been available. This is partly due to the climatic conditions in southern Europe, which hinder the conservation of genetic material.
The team, led by Carles Lalueza-Fox from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, has sequenced the complete genome of a Neolithic woman from a tooth dated to 7400 years ago, recovered from the Cardial levels of the Cova Bonica cave in Vallirana, near Barcelona (Spain). Thanks to this, researchers have been able to determine that farmers from both Mediterranean and inland routes are very homogeneous, and clearly derive from a common ancestral population, that most likely were the first farmers who entered Europe through Anatolia.
Analysis of the genome from Cova Bonica has made it possible to determine the appearance of these pioneer farmers, who had light skin and dark eyes and hair. Modern Iberians mostly derive from those farmers, with Sardinians and Basques preserving the farming genetic component to the largest extent. This contrasts with previous Mesolithic hunters who had blue eyes and a darker skin than current Europeans.
According to Carles Lalueza-Fox: "the Iberian Peninsula is crucial to understanding the final impact of population movements such as the Neolithic, or the later steppe migrations that entered Europe from the East."
Edited from Popular Archaeology (3 September 2015)
Remarkable decorated stone found in Scotland
At the Neolithic site called the Ness of Brodgar, on the Orkney mainland off the northernmost tip of Scotland, within the area of Structure Eight (and possibly within Structure Seventeen which underlies it), an archaeologist recently found herself uncovering one of the most remarkable decorated stones yet seen there.
The edge of a slab about 5 centimetres thick displays deeply incised bands of carved parallel lines, infilled with decorations including lattice and saltire-like patterns. There are also very fine incised lines, that may have been "guidelines" which were then incised over more deeply - though some have not been used, perhaps giving indications of an earlier plan for the stone.
The new stone also occurs early in the history of the site.
This latest find is strikingly similar to the incised stone removed from the northeast corner of Structure Eight in 1925, now in the National Museum in Edinburgh. It is also similar, although far superior, to another stone from Structure Eight, found in 2009, which can currently be seen in the Stromness Museum on Orkney.
One of the many intriguing elements in this discovery is that, at least in one period of its life, the stone may have been hidden within the wall of the structure. This is a recurring theme, and raises the prospect that the walls of the Ness structures may hide many more astonishing examples of decorated stone.
Site director Nick Card says this latest example is certainly one of the top five decorated stones discovered thus far, out of more than 700.
In the backfill of the robber trench to the southwest of Structure Ten, more dressed sandstone blocks are appearing. Some may be in their original position and, again, may have been hidden from view. Others may be associated with a Phase Two re-arrangement of the building. It now seems that some of the stones were being extracted to be used elsewhere, but that some were then dumped back in. This is puzzling, and raises the question of what the stones were being extracted for. So many have been removed that researchers are wondering where is this magnificent structure built from Ness stone?
Edited from The Ness of Brodgar Excavations (17 August 2015)
27 September 2015
Bronze Age Greek city found underwater
A team of Greek and Swiss archaeologists have discovered what appears to be a significant coastal settlement now covered by the Mediterranean Sea and within sight of the nearby Lambayanna beach, in Kiladha Bay, on the Peloponnese Peninsula south of Athens. The remnants of an ancient Greek village of the 3rd millennium BCE were found by divers just under the surface of the bay that forms part of the Argolic Gulf of southern Greece.
Professor Julien Beck of the University of Geneva says, "The importance of our discovery is partly due to the large size of the establishment: at least 1.2 hectares were preserved," adding that the discovery is important also because of the quantity and quality of the artefacts.
The team of underwater archaeologists discovered stone defensive structures that are of a "massive nature, unknown in Greece until now," says Beck. The walls precede by one thousand years the first great Greek civilisation, the Mycenaean (1650-1100 BCE).
The buildings are characteristic of the Greek Bronze Age, which tend to be built on a rectilinear plan and circular or elliptical in shape. Paved surfaces, which could be streets or the remains of structures, were also found. Connected to the exterior fortifications were three significant stone structures - probably towers. Structures of this sort are unknown elsewhere in Greece. The team also found tools, including obsidian blades dating to the Helladic period (3200 to 2050 BCE).
A map and drawings of the newly discovered village have yet to be drafted because of the sheer size of the find.
Along the shore near the site, archaeologists have found more than 6,000 objects, including fragments of the red ceramics that are characteristic of the area. Based on the style of the pottery, researchers believe that the site dates to the Early Helladic II phase, contemporaneous with the building of the famous Egyptian pyramids. Beck called the area an "archaeologist's paradise."
The researchers expect that future research at Lambayanna will shed new light on a dense network of coastal settlements throughout the Aegean Sea.
Edited from Spero News (27 August 2015)
Scientists uncover pattern of mass murder in Neolithic
Scientists have uncovered mass graves at sites in Central Europe, representing a Neolithic people who lived about 7,000 years ago in what is now Germany and Austria.
Anthropologist Christian Meyer of the University of Mainz and colleagues suggest an entire Neolithic community of people may have been massacred and dumped into mass graves at the site in Germany known as Schoeneck-Kilianstaedten, sometime between 5207 and 4849 BCE.
The site is near an ancient border between different communities. Unlike their ancestors, these people settled into a farming lifestyle, cleared forests to farm crops, and lived in timber longhouses alongside their livestock.
In a seven metre-long, V-shaped pit were found the remains of 26 people - half adults and half children - who had been bludgeoned in the head. In addition, more than half had their shin bones smashed before or after their deaths. Two arrowheads made of animal bone were also found, thought to have been inside bodies when they were placed in the pit.
Meyer and colleagues came to their conclusions after intense analysis of the bones, initially excavated in 2006.
With the exception of the bone leg mutilation, similar mass grave finds were made at two other sites dated to the same time period and affiliated with the same culture - one in Talheim, Germany, and the other in Asparn/Schletz in Austria.
All three sites are identified with what is called the Linearbandkeramic culture, or LBK, referring to the group's distinctive style of ceramic decoration - a major archaeological horizon of the European Neolithic, which flourished from about 5500 to 4500 BCE. Together, the finds at the three sites present implications for the later phases of the culture.
In the Linear Pottery culture, each person was given their own grave within a cemetery, the body carefully arranged and often buried with grave goods such as pottery and other possessions. By contrast, in the mass grave the bodies lay scattered.
Meyer and colleagues also report that, "the significant absence of younger women in the Kilianstaedten mass grave may indicate that these were taken captive by the attackers, as also has been suggested for the Asparn/Schletz site in Austria."
Edited from Popular Archaeology, The Guardian (17 August 2015)
Petroglyphs in Siberia thought to be up to 10,000 years old
A new expedition to the Ukok plateau, some 2,500 metres up in the Altai Mountains, near the Russian borders with Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan, has found evidence that a set of intriguing petroglyphs are far older than previously thought.
Stylistically, the drawings match the Palaeolithic era, some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. If true, they will be the oldest in Siberia by several millennia.
The Ukok petroglyphs are drawn onto glacier-polished rhyolite, a volcanic rock, usually on horizontal planes. Normally archeologists could obtain dates from surrounding sediments forming in clear layers, but the exceptionally windy conditions on this exposed plateau mean excavations around the petroglyphs do not reveal a clear stratigraphy.
Siberian specialist Dr Lidia Zotkina, from Novosibirsk State University, says: "According to the preliminary data, the glacier retreated as early as between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. So that is when ancient people could access this place and create the petroglyphs."
The rock with the petroglyphs is exceptionally tough. The glacier polished them, forming a lacquer-like crust, almost impossible to engrave.
The scientists tried using the technique they believe was employed by ancient man. "We made an experiment and found that first we need to scratch the stone to prepare the surface and only then to make the engravings. We checked the traces of our scratching with the microscope and they coincided with the ancient ones."
Dr Zotkina said: "Some big Palaeolithic sites where people must have lived were not found yet. The climate on Ukok does not help to preserve such sites, so we do not know who could make these Petroglyphs, if it is correct that they are Palaeolithic. But I think that it is a matter of the time. Sooner of later Palaeolithic sites will be found and we will get more information about the people who could engrave these images."
Edited from The Siberian Times (3 August 2015)