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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:

A great app for Megalithomaniacs
Huge prostrate menhir discovered in northern Italy
Possible henge discovered around an ancient Welsh burial chamber
Bronze Age weapons found in Scotland
Scarcity of resources led to violence in prehistoric California
Clovis culture, Ice Age fauna, and Cosmic impact
Horsemen swept into Bronze Age Europe 5,000 years ago
Ancient skulls suggest multiple migrations into Americas
Pointillist technique on engravings discovered in France
Flint sickles prove grain cultivation in Galilee 23,000 years ago
A prehistoric labyrinth in Denmark?
Hundreds of ancient earthworks found in the Amazon
Rare Stone Age house found in Abu Dhabi
38,000 year old rock art discovered in France
Wyoming wildfire reveals ancient artefacts


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8 March 2017

  A great app for Megalithomaniacs

It's been many years since we started walking on parallel roads with our longtime friend Andy Burnham, the creator of the Megalithic Portal. Recently, he put the gigantic effort of his well known community of 'megalithomaniacs' on a tiny, useful app that runs on Apple iPhones and iPads. Simply titled 'Pocket Guide Megaliths', it is part of a larger series of touristic gudes created by the UK firm Senet Mobile.
     The strong point of this guide is the huge database of almost 50,000 worldwide sites created thanks to the collaboration of thousands of contributors of the Megalithic Portal. To keep its database as up-to-date as possible, after the first launch of the app a large dataset from the Portal is getting downloaded and stored on the device, which is a rather unusual - but clever - task for a self-contained app. Doing so, the app does allow later navigation to the sites without a data connection.
     The map view takes you directly to the UK - it should be better to display the user's current location, but this is an option available on a separate menu anyway - and clearly shows all the ancient sites as pins with different icons related with any kind of monument or museum. Of course, users can drag the map to any other country to see the distribution of all the sites stored in the database.
     Descriptions and the main photos are taken from the Megalithic Portal and there is a wide selection of filters - by type, by country and by properties, including access, accuracy and condition - so to pinpoint exactly the kind of ancient monuments we are looking for. Text searches are fast; there are useful functions as weather forecasts, torch and compass (using the device's own hardware), solar/lunar phases and rising/setting times and the possibility to add custom notes and bookmark sites. Of great help is also a nice range and height finder, useful to calculate the height of a monument knowing its distance from the observer or the distance knowing its height.
     The Megaliths app may not look exceedingly polished, as it seems to be based on a template shared by other apps of the 'Pocket Guide' series, but it's easy to use and navigate. Its best selling point is the extensive database of sites and the convenience to keep all the information in a tiny package that is easy to carry around, without the need of a constant data connection.
     Members of the Megalithic Portal Society are entitiled to a free copy of the app, that is also available on the Apple iTunes store for £ 1.99/1,99 €/$ 1.99.
Stone Pages (8 March 2017)

  Huge prostrate menhir discovered in northern Italy

Andrea Eremita, Bruno Calatroni, Stefano Albertieri, Paolo Ciarma e Aldo Ummarino of the 'Archeonervia' research group have announced the discovery of a 5-meter tall menhir hidden under the vegetation around the Seborga area, near Imperia (Liguria, Italy).
     According to the discoverers, the huge monument - that now lies on the ground - was cut from a single block of quartz sandstone rock and it should weigh at last 6 tons. Measuring 5,22 meters by 1,25 at the base, the gigantic stone fell from the original erect position possibly due to natural causes. On the side that now is facing up there is a pair of cupmarks, and the discoverers believe these have been carved in prehistoric times to assess the sacrality of the stone.
     The base of the rock was slightly tapered, with signs of carving, so to ease its insertion on a holding socket.
     On the same area many other standing stones have been found, but the vast majority was discovered lying on the ground due to both the action of local Benedictine monks that in historical times used to knock down what they considered pagan symbols, and the fact that the ground in the area is very hard and steep, so it's difficult to create a hole deep and strong enough to keep a stone in a standing position.
Edited from Sanremo News (25 February 2017)

  Possible henge discovered around an ancient Welsh burial chamber

A team of archaeologists, led by a researcher from the University of Bristol, has uncovered the remains of a possible Stonehenge-type prehistoric earthwork monument in a field in Pembrokeshire (Wales).
     Members of the Welsh Rock art Organisation have been investigating the area around the Neolithic burial chamber known as Trellyffaint, dating back at least 6,000 years and in the care of Welsh heritage agency Cadw.
     The site comprises two stone chambers - one of which is relatively intact. Each chamber is set within the remains of an earthen cairn or mound which, due to ploughing regimes over the centuries, have been slowly uncovered. On the capstone that covers the south-eastern chamber are at least 50 engraved cupmarks, that make this site one of only nine Neolithic burial-ritual monuments in Wales with prehistoric rock art.
     Dr George Nash, lead project director from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol and his team have conducted a series of non-intrusive surveys in and around the monument. These included a magnetometry study which covered 80 square metres around the monument and a detailed earthwork survey of the monument itself.
     The geophysical survey uncovered a number of anomalies which are considered to be more than likely buried prehistoric features. Dr Nash said: "To the south and southwest of the stone chamber and appearing to run underneath the southern section of the Trellyffaint mound are two clear circular anomalies. It is regarded that this feature may possibly be a henge (otherwise referred to as a hengiform) measuring around 12 metres in diameter. It is not clear if this feature possesses an accompanying ditch, however, a circular anomaly extends around this feature, again we are unclear of the relationship (if any) with the smaller circle - only excavation will tell."
     Other subsurface features of a probable later prehistoric date occur around the Trellyffaint monument. Dr Nash said: "The next stage of the project will include targeted excavation over recognised anomalies identified from the magnetometry survey. Before we do this, we will be widening the geophysics area and apply resistivity as well further magnetometry over a wider area."
     This fieldwork will take place between April 21 and 23. For details on how to get involved, visit the Welsh Rock Art Organisation's Facebook page.

Edited from University of Bristol PR (24 February 2017)

6 March 2017

  Bronze Age weapons found in Scotland

Excavations during the construction of two football fields in Scotland uncovered a rare a Bronze-Age weapon hoard, including a bronze sword and a gold-decorated spearhead. The weapons, likely dating from between 1000 BCE and 800 BCE, were found in a pit alongside a Bronze Age roundhouse, which had been dug into the remnants of a much older Neolithic structure - a rectangular timber hall, the largest ever found in Scotland.
     Excavations first revealed pits and postholes in the soil - signs of ancient construction. The cache was found late in the day, so the archaeologists removed an 80 kilo clod of earth from the ground with the artefacts inside, then spent a week working on it in their laboratory. Inside was the decorated bronze spearhead, bundled with a bronze sword with a lead-and-tin pommel, a bronze scabbard mount, a chape - the metal fitting at the end of a scabbard - and a bronze pin. The sword has notches in its blade, and the socket of the spearhead looks as if it were used with multiple wooden shafts. Typically, weapon hoards of this type are found not under the ground, but in rivers or bogs, where they were placed as sacrifices.
     Very few similar spearheads have been discovered - a couple from Ireland, one in England, and one other gold-decorated spearhead in Scotland in 1963 about nineteen kilometres from this latest find. The team will analyse the metals to learn where the materials originated. The lead may have come from the south of Scotland, the gold from Ireland, and the tin from Cornwall, in the extreme southwest of England - the opposite end of the island.
     The new discovery is more unusual for containing organic materials - remnants of fur-bearing skin around the spearhead, microscopic fragments of textiles around the bronze pin, as well as pieces of the sword's wooden scabbard - all of which can be radiocarbon dated.
     Researchers do not yet know whether the twelve Bronze Age buildings were a village, or single homes occupied and abandoned over a period of time. Most Bronze Age dwellings are single homes, so the discovery of a village would be of great importance.

Edited from The Scotsman (15 February 2017), LiveScience (22 February 2017)

  Scarcity of resources led to violence in prehistoric California

Study leader and archaeology Professor Mark Allen says there are two views related to the origins of violence and warfare in humans - one that earlier humans were peaceful and lived in harmony, and another that there has always been competition for resources, war, and violence. This second view is confirmed in Allen's study of prehistoric hunter-gathers in central California.
     Using an archeological database of human burials of remains from thousands of individuals going back more than 1,000 years, Allen and his colleagues looked at the marks from physical traumas, comparing that evidence with the palaeo-environment and the way those communities were organised socially. They found that California had the highest population density in all of North America, with lots of small groups living in close proximity. There were approximately 100 different languages spoken in California at the time.
     Allen says that: "When people are stressed out and worried about protecting the group, they are willing to be aggressive. Violence is about resources for the group."
     The data show how the scarcity of resources and violence correlate. On average about 7 percent of the population at that time had evidence of forced traumas: 5 percent for females, and 11 percent for males - according to Allen, a level of violent trauma not even reached during World War 2.
     Allen says his research on the origins of violence and warfare speaks to what is happening in modern times: "It's important to study it because if we are ever going to have hope of stopping it, we have to know the cause. If we want to reduce conflict, we need to figure out what to do about resource stress."

Edited from ScienceDaily (17 February 2017)

  Clovis culture, Ice Age fauna, and Cosmic impact

Studies of rock samples from sites spanning a portion of North America from the Channel Islands of Pacific California to the Midwestern creeks of Oklahoma failed to turn up any evidence of the 'Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis', says Doctor Tyrone Daulton of Washington University in Saint Louis USA. The missing evidence? Diamonds.
     For a decade, the impact theory has posited a period of sudden cooling around 12,900 years ago (known as the Younger Dryas event), caused by dust in the atmosphere resulting from widespread wildfires after the impact of a meteorite, comet, or other celestial object, leading to the extinction of animals such as the mammoth and the mastodon, and the decline of the Clovis culture.
     Experts don't dispute that the cold snap occurred. The most widely held theory is that it was caused by changes in ocean currents and climate patterns following a rapid influx of fresh water from the melting of glaciers at the end of the Ice Age.
     Supporters of the impact hypothesis argue that proof can be found at a microscopic scale, in the form of nano-sized diamond crystals, produced by the energy of the impact.
     Dr Daulton - known for his research into the formation of diamonds in space (such as during the birth of stars) - decided to do his own research, concluding that the "nano-diamond" evidence reported by impact proponents is not true diamond, but hypothetical phases of carbon called "n-diamonds" or "i-carbon" whose very existence is controversial.
     Daulton says his observations of the tiny spheres may explain why they may have been misidentified. Rather than being made of pure carbon, they contain nanoparticles of copper and copper oxide which can scatter light and electrons into diffraction patterns nearly identical to those attributed to the hypothetical carbon structures.

Edited from Western Digs (9 February 2017)

3 March 2017

  Horsemen swept into Bronze Age Europe 5,000 years ago

Early Bronze Age men from the vast grasslands of the Eurasian steppe swept into Europe on horseback about 5000 years ago, and this mostly male migration may have persisted for several generations.
     Europeans are the descendants of at least three major prehistoric migrations. Hunter-gatherers arrived about 37,000 years ago. Farmers began migrating from Anatolia 9000 years ago, bringing their own families. Finally, nomadic herders known as the Yamnaya - an early Bronze Age culture from modern-day Russia and Ukraine - swept in 5000 to 4800 years ago, bringing metallurgy and animal herding skills, and possibly Proto-Indo-European; the ancestral language from which all of today's 400 Indo-European languages descended. They immediately interbred with descendants of both the farmers and hunter-gatherers. Within a few hundred years, the Yamnaya contributed to at least half of central Europeans' genetic ancestry.
     Researchers analysed differences in the ratio of inherited DNA, finding that roughly equal numbers of men and women took part in the migration of Anatolian farmers into Europe, but between five and fourteen men for every one woman in the Yamnaya migration.
     Some researchers warn that it is notoriously difficult to estimate the ratio of men to women accurately in ancient populations. If confirmed, one explanation could be that the Yamnaya men were warriors who arrived on horses, or drove horse-drawn wagons. The Yamnaya men could also have been more attractive mates than European farmers because they had horses and new technologies such as copper hammers.
     The finding that Yamnaya men migrated for many generations may suggests that all was not right back home in the steppe, or it could be that bands of men were being sent to establish new politically aligned colonies in distant lands, as did later groups of Romans and Vikings.

Edited from Science, Popular Archaeology (21 February 2017)

  Ancient skulls suggest multiple migrations into Americas

Researchers affiliated with institutions in the USA, Europe, and South America have found evidence that suggests the native people of South America likely arrived from more than one place. For many years, it was believed that a single wave of ancient immigrants made their way from Asia to North America and eventually to South America.
     To learn more about the ancestry of some of the earliest settlers to South America, the researchers examined skulls found in Lagoa Santa, Brazil. Prior research had dated the skulls back 7,000 to 10,000 years - near the time when scientists believe South America was first populated by humans. The researchers report that the skull shapes of the ancient people differed markedly from those of modern indigenous South Americans.
     One of the group was also part of another team that recently imaged 500 to 800-year-old (pre-Conquest) skulls from two of three distinct regions in Mexico, two of which matched one another but not the third.
     Most experts in the field believe that at least one wave of immigrants came across the Bering Strait. Some have suggested other immigrants may have arrived from Australia.
     The nature and timing of the peopling of the Americas is a subject of intense debate. It is unclear whether high levels of diversity in South America result from multiple migrations. Previous hypotheses largely focused on alternative gene flow models, with conflicting or inconclusive results. This latest effort shows that Palaeo-Americans share a last common ancestor with contemporary Native American groups outside the Americas, suggesting that the continents were populated by multiple waves from northeast Asia throughout the late Pleistocene and early Holocene.

Edited from PhysOrg (23 February 2017)

2 March 2017

  Pointillist technique on engravings discovered in France

Aurignacian artists who decorated several newly rediscovered limestone blocks 38,000 years ago used small dots to create the illusion of a larger image - the same technique employed by Pointillist painters in the late 19th century.
     Images on the stones include mammoths and horses, adding to previous isolated discoveries from the Grotte Chauvet, such as a rhinoceros formed by the application of dozens of dots first painted on the palm of the hand and then transferred to the cave wall.
     Earlier this year, excavation team leader and New York University anthropologist Randall White and his colleagues reported finding the image of an aurochs - some of the earliest known graphic imagery found in Western Eurasia. Now they have found a woolly mammoth in the same style in a rock shelter of the same period known as Abri Cellier, near the previous find-site of Abri Blanchard.
     Abri Cellier has long been on archeologists' list of major rock art sites attributed to the European Aurignacian. Excavations in 1927 yielded 15 engraved and/or pierced limestone blocks - a key point of reference for the study of Aurignacian art in the region.
     In 2014 White and his colleagues returned to Abri Cellier seeking a better understanding of its archaeological sequence and relationship to other Aurignacian sites, but nothing prepared them for the discovery of the 16 stone blocks, 15 of which had been left behind by the 1927 excavators in case they might have something inscribed on them.
     With these and other finds, White and his team have increased our known sample of the earliest graphic arts in southwestern France by 40 percent over the past decade.

Edited from EurekAlert!, PhysOrg, Popular Archaeology (24 February 2017)

28 February 2017

  Flint sickles prove grain cultivation in Galilee 23,000 years ago

Agriculture is believed to have dawned around 12,000 years ago, in the Levant or southern Turkey. Now remains of a 23,000-year-old camp, including flint sickle blades and extraordinarily preserved botanical remains, found on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (Israel) throws back the start of cereal cultivation by thousands of years.
     Analysis of the sheen on the flint blades and of the seeds proves that the Paleolithic inhabitants of the site called 'Ohalo II' lived a chiefly hunting-gathering-fishing lifestyle, but were indeed growing wheat and barley.
     "Most people feel that agriculture is much more complex, that it is central to the economy, that everybody was geared into it. Here we have evidence for small-scale auxiliary cereal growing," said Prof. Dani Nadel of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology. The Ohalo inhabitants clearly collected a lot from nature, both plants and animals, he elaborates. "These grains they grew would have augmented their hunter-gatherer diet, which consisted mainly of fish from the lake, animals they hunted or scavenged, birds,especially water fowl, and plants," says Nadel. "Cereal cultivation was just one of many strategies they had. Their eggs were not all in one basket. They would have tried all sorts of things."
     The prehistoric camp was discovered by archaeologists when the water level in the Sea of Galilee fell to a low point in modern times. Immersion in the lakewater and protection by silt preserved the oldest-known remains of brush huts and grass bedding known in the world, wooden tools, food remains, and beads made of shells from the Mediterranean Sea. The excavators also found a lot of stone tools, including sickle blades that were used to harvest grain. It is the carbon-14 dating of the charred grains and plant remains that led to the date of around 23,000 years.
     The five sickle blades found at Ohalo II have a sheen created by their use to cut grasses, and from the hands holding them, says Dr. Iris Groman-Yaroslavski of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. Use-wear analysis of the veneer indicates that while they were used, they were not used much, she explains: That supports the thesis that cultivated, harvested grain was a supplement to their main diet of hunted and gathered foods and fish. We do know though that their cultivation of grain was not a one-off event.
     At Ohalo II, the archaeologists found the remains of six brush huts, the fireplaces, a shallow grave with the complete body of a disabled man, who had to have been cared for, and what seems to be a garbage dump. The huts had burned down before the camp was submerged, but their charred remains remain. They were not small - one was oval in shape and almost 15 feet long; some were kidney-shaped. The base of the hut floors were some 20 to 40 centimeters below ground level: analysis of the charred wall remains shows they were made of grasses and branches, including salt cedar, oak and willow.
     The archaeologists found no evidence of post-holes in or near the huts; they seem to have been constructed by sticking long branches into holes in the ground. Their floors were littered with bones, mainly of fish and gazelle but of birds too, ground stone tools and fragments, and thousands of flint flakes, blades and well-shaped tools, indicating that knapping happened there.
     Among the litter on the floor were remains of seeds and fruits - and in one case a large basalt stone that had been used to grind wild grasses, based on starch-grain analysis and the seeds found around it.
     So did cereal cultivation begin at least 23,000 years ago, not more recently as thought? Was the Galilee aswarm with early farmers? We still don't know, but we can say that hunter-gatherers living on the shores of the Sea of Galilee occupied their camp on a year-round basis, and cultivated cereals.

Edited from Haaretz (20 February 2017)

  A prehistoric labyrinth in Denmark?

Archaeologists have discovered a large enclosure from the Neolithic period near Stevns in Denmark, but the purpose of the site is a mystery. Discovered by archaeologists from the Museum Southeast Denmark, the site seems to frame an oval area of nearly 18,000 square meters.
     "It was actually somewhat overwhelming to experience that it is possible to reveal the traces of such a huge building from the Neolithic period. There are many suggestions for what they could've been used for, but to put it simply, we just don't know," says archaeologist Pernille Rohde Sloth who leads the excavation.
     One of the most remarkable things about the fencing at Stevns is the way the entrances have been constructed. The fence is in fact built in five rows that extend outwards, and the opening in each row appears to be offset from the others. Sloth suspects the uneven design was deliberate. "The openings don't seem to sit next to each of the post rows, and we're slightly amazed by that. But maybe it functioned as a sort of labyrinth - at least that's how we imagine it. That way you weren't able to look inside the common space, which may have been an advantage," she says.
     Archaeologists have not yet found any structures or construction in the area that could point them towards any possible purpose for the enclosure. So far, they have only discovered single pits of various sizes containing flint tools, waste, and some ceramic fragments. "A palisade construction is typically built for protection, but we don't think that that is what the construction at Stevns is. The rows of poles would have been around two metres high and weren't very close together, so you could probably squeeze through them if you wanted to. We believe that it was some kind of fenced gathering area, but it's difficult to say what it was used for," says Sloth.
     Sloth is still waiting for precise dates on the Stevns site, but some of the scraps of broken pottery found on site suggest that it could date to the latter part of the Middle Neolithic Funnel Beaker Culture from 2900 BCE to 2800 BCE.
     The archaeologists have not been able to excavate the whole area. The excavation is happening alongside the construction of a new sports hall and there could be many secrets hidden away in this unexplored area.
Edited from Science Nordic (17 February 2017)

  Hundreds of ancient earthworks found in the Amazon

The Amazonian rainforest was transformed over two thousand years ago by ancient people who built hundreds of large, mysterious earthworks. The ditched enclosures, in Acre state in the western Brazilian Amazon, were concealed for centuries by trees. Modern deforestation has allowed the discovery of more than 450 of these large geometrical geoglyphs.
     The function of these mysterious sites is still little understood - they are unlikely to be villages, since archaeologists recover very few artefacts during excavation. The layout doesn't suggest they were built for defensive reasons. It is thought they were used only sporadically, perhaps as ritual gathering places.
     The structures are ditched enclosures that occupy roughly 13,000 km2. Their discovery challenges assumptions that the rainforest ecosystem has been untouched by humans.
     The research was carried out by Jennifer Watling, post-doctoral researcher at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, University of São Paulo, when she was studying for a PhD at the University of Exeter. Dr Watling said: "The fact that these sites lay hidden for centuries beneath mature rainforest really challenges the idea that Amazonian forests are 'pristine ecosystems'.
     Using state-of-the-art methods, the team members were able to reconstruct 6000 years of vegetation and fire history around two geoglyph sites. They found that humans heavily altered bamboo forests for millennia and small, temporary clearings were made to build the geoglyphs.
     Instead of burning large tracts of forest - either for geoglyph construction or agricultural practices - people transformed their environment by concentrating on economically valuable tree species, creating a kind of 'prehistoric supermarket' of useful forest products. The team found evidence to suggest that the biodiversity of some of Acre's remaining forests may have a strong legacy of these ancient 'agroforestry' practices.
     Dr. Watling said: "Despite the huge number and density of geoglyph sites in the region, we can be certain that Acre's forests were never cleared as extensively, or for as long, as they have been in recent years.
     To conduct the study, the team extracted soil samples from a series of pits dug within and outside of the geoglyphs. From these soils, they analysed 'phytoliths', a type of microscopic plant fossil made of silica, to reconstruct ancient vegetation; charcoal quantities, to assess the amount of ancient forest burning; and carbon stable isotopes, to indicate how 'open' the vegetation was in the past.

Edited from EurekAlert! (6 February 2017)

10 February 2017

  Rare Stone Age house found in Abu Dhabi

Archaeologists have revealed the discovery of a 7,500-year-old, well-preserved three-room house on Marawah Island, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi, at what was once one of the region's largest Stone Age settlements.
     Mohamed Al Mubarak, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, says: "These important discoveries signify Abu Dhabi's advanced construction methods from the Neolithic and the influential role it had in early long-distance maritime trade."
     Abdulla Al Kaabi, coastal heritage archaeologist, says: "This style of architecture is unique for this period and has never been found before in the region."
     Doctor Mark Beech, head of coastal heritage and palaeontology, says: "It's a stunning find because there are no parallels to it anywhere else in the Gulf coast region. You can see the back yard and small walls projecting out, which is where the cooking was carried out, just like traditional Arabian houses. We knew it was a Stone Age site but did not expect it to be so well preserved."
     The walls of the home are up to 70 centimetres thick, and would have had corbelled roofs - a dome shape made by placing stones on top of each other in narrowing courses.
     The site was excavated at the smallest of seven mounds on the island. Archaeologists predict that a complete Stone Age village could be unearthed.
     Artefacts found on the island reveal that the people herded sheep and goats, and used stone tools to hunt and butcher other animals, such as gazelle. Small beads made from shell and a small shark's tooth were also found, with holes very carefully drilled through them. One of their most significant finds was a decorated ceramic jar from Iraq - the earliest evidence of sea trade during that period, when the climate was quite different to now, with freshwater lakes and more vegetation.
     Dr Beech reveals that: "The recent excavations have clarified a lot of questions we had about this period. It tells us about life in the Stone Age and that people had domestic animals, but they also relied a lot on marine life. It also shows that they had a varied diet and were involved in long-distance trade, as we see with the pottery."
     Excavations on the island will continue for many years. Marawah Island is a marine protected site and not open to the public.
     A different side of ancient life in the emirate has been revealed by excavations at Baynunah, about 50 kilometres southwest of the island, on the mainland. The desert surface of that site is littered with bones of wild camels hunted and killed 6,500 years ago - the earliest evidence in the Middle East for the mass killing of wild camels. Research is being conducted on the near-complete skeletons that will allow experts to discover more about their biology.

Edited from The National (1 February 2017)

  38,000 year old rock art discovered in France

In the summer of 2012, a group of archaeologists discovered what could be one of the oldest examples of art in Europe when they turned over a broken block of limestone on the floor of a rock shelter in southwestern France.
     The slab comes from a partially collapsed rock shelter called Abri Blanchard. It reveals the image of an aurochs and dozens of small dots, and was decorated by Aurignacians - the first Homo sapiens to arrive in Europe. The engraving is about 38,000 years old.
     The 20 metre long shelter is near the small town of Sergeac, about 500 kilometres south-southwest of Paris, in a region famous for some of Europe's oldest examples of cave art. Several other carved slabs were discovered at Abri Blanchard a century ago.
     New York University anthropologist Randall White, a co-author of the study who led recent excavations at the site, says the discovery sheds light on regional patterning of art and ornamentation at a time when humans were just starting to spread across the continent.
     Many early artistic representations from this region have been interpreted as vulvas, but the artists at Abri Blanchard chose an array of artistic subjects, from horses and cats to geometric designs.
     In addition to the aurochs carving, the researchers found hundreds of stone tools and tool fragments, as well as animal bones, mostly from reindeer. They also found an ivory bead and a pierced fox tooth.
     Aurignacian images of aurochs have been found at other sites, such as Chauvet Cave, about 350 kilometres east-southeast of Abri Blanchard. Aligned dots have also been seen before on Aurignacian objects such as mammoth-tooth plaques and ivory pendants, but researchers describe the combination of this design with an animal figure as "exceptional".
     The discovery of fits into the patterns researchers usually see in the earliest European art: broad shared features, with some regional quirks.
     White says: "This pattern fits well with social geography models that see art and personal ornamentation as markers of social identity at regional, group and individual levels."

Edited from LiveScience (30 January 2017)

  Wyoming wildfire reveals ancient artefacts

A wildfire in 2011 high in the alpine forests of northwestern Wyoming, USA, revealed a vast, centuries-old Shoshone [sho-SHO-ne] campsite. The site had likely been used intermittently for as much as 2,500 years, but most of the artefacts indicate a prolonged presence by the Mountain Shoshone some 300 to 400 years ago.
     Doctor Laura Scheiber, an archaeologist at Indiana University, who reported the find, says: "This time period is significant, because a massive campsite of this age is extremely rare in the mountains, without evidence of historic trade goods but with a wide variety of activities implied by the range of materials. We have documented small arrow points, pottery sherds, bone tools, distinctive bifacial knives, grooved mauls, and hundreds of thousands of tiny chipped stone flakes."
     Some of the projectile points are in a style at least 2,500 years old, Scheiber adds. The bulk of what remained were stone tools and ceramics made and used by the Mountain Shoshone, likely a few centuries before contact with Europeans.
     The site provides a view into the history of the Tukudika people, once known as the Lemhi or Mountain Sheepeaters, whose modern descendants include members of the Shoshone-Bannock and Eastern Shoshone tribes.
     Scheiber continues: "The site did indeed prove to be a late period Mountain Shoshone campsite, with triangular arrow points, beveled knives, sherds from at least three different ceramic vessels, large grooved mauls, ground stone, and dozens of bifaces in different stages of production and use."
     Thousands of years of use have made it difficult to discern one period of occupation from another, but a few areas of the campsite stand out. Scheiber notes: "For instance, on the other side of camp is another incredibly complex site, where people left behind thousands of pieces of chipped stone in a primary reduction area, reducing locally-available chert cobbles into manageable pieces. In the middle of one of the large clusters of thousands of flakes was a perfectly preserved complete Mountain Shoshone tri-notched arrow point." Upstream from there, a series of hearths was found, along with a Shoshone knife and what appears to be a grinding rock.
     The site also included hundreds of fragments of Intermountain Ware - thick, flat-bottomed pottery distinctive of pre-contact Shoshone culture.
     Scheiber reveals: "The recovery of more than 1,000 ceramic sherds is especially exciting, since this robust dataset effectively triples the number of high-altitude ceramics in the region and will allow us to explore a number of fine-grained temporal and spatial questions about late pre-contact Shoshone life in the mountains."

Edited from Western Digs (24 January 2017)

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