13 September 2014
Possible Pre-Clovis artefacts found in Kansas
The Central great Plains is a semi-arid Eco region of North America, covering large parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. A team from the University of Kansas, lead by Professor Rolfe Mandel, have been excavating in an area of Kansas, within this Eco region, to try ad find evidence of settlements by Clovis, and even Pre Clovis peoples.
The excavations are part of a project run by the University to give their undergraduates and graduates field experience. The team has concentrated its efforts in an area known as Tuttle Creek and several artefacts have been discovered, including projectiles and drills, The team is currently awaiting the results of the analysis of the sediment the artefacts were buried in. They are hoping that the official results will confirm their belief that these artefacts could be older than 13,500 years, which would make them the earliest finds so far within the Central Great Plains area.
The sediment tests use a technique which tries to determine when the layer was last exposed to light. They also take into account the orientation of any object found within it, to determine whether the object was originally deposited in the sedimental layer or accidentally added later.
Professor Mandel is quite excited by his team's finds and is quoted as saying "We all have inherent interest in history, so this tells us something about the early occupants of the Great Plains and this part of the Great Plains. It will tell us a lot about the history of the peopling of the Americas and in particular the peopling of the Great Plains, where it's been pretty much a black hole in terms of unravelling that story".
Edited from PhysOrg (29 August 2014)
Modern Man is not responsible for decline of Neanderthals
The story of the inter-action and inter-breeding of Modern Man with Neanderthals is an ever changing one. As analytical techniques become more sophisticated and accurate then the picture becomes clearer. The latest technique to be applied uses ultra-filtering of samples, to eliminate any form of contamination, thus making the subsequent analysis more accurate.
Using this technique on analysis of samples of bone and charcoal from several Russian sites seems to shift the evidence to show that Neanderthals were actually starting to die out, before they inter-acted with Modern Man, who was not therefore, on this evidence, the cause of their extinction.
The decline started between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, with Modern Man appearing on the scene only 35,000 years ago. there was an overlapping period of about 2,500 years when both species co-existed and inter-bred. It is now hoped to widen the research to eastern Europe and Eurasia, to corroborate these findings.
Edited from LiveScience (20 August 2014)
5 September 2014
Archaeologists discover Bronze Age wine cellar in Israel
In 2013, while excavating within the palace ruins of Tel Kabri, a 30-hectare ancient Canaanite city site in what is now northern Israel which dates to 1700 BCE, archaeologists uncovered a metre-long jar, which they later dubbed 'Bessie.' Suddenly, Bessie's friends started appearing - 40 jars packed in a 5 by 8 metre storage room. The jars, each of which could have held 50 litres, were the equivalent of nearly 3,000 bottles wine, making this one of the largest ancient wine cellars in the world.
The finds were made while were digging an area adjacent to a monumental building first excavated in 2011, a one-of-kind structure lined with precisely-shaped standing stones. The cellar was located near a hall where banquets took place. The cellar and hall were destroyed during the same violent event, perhaps an earthquake, which covered them with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster.
The jars held traces of tartaric and syringic acids - both key components in wine - as well as compounds suggesting the presence of ingredients popular in ancient wine-making, including honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins. The recipe is similar to medicinal wines used for 2,000 years in ancient Egypt.
Now, further analysis confirms that all of the jars contained chemical compounds indicative of wine. Researchers detected subtle differences in the ingredients or additives, including honey, storax resin, terebinth resin, cedar oil, cypress, juniper, and possibly mint, myrtle, and cinnamon. They suggesting that humans at the time had a sophisticated understanding of plants, and the skills necessary to produce a complex beverage balancing preservation, palatability, and psycho-activity.
Wine production, distribution, and consumption played a role in the lives of those in the Mediterranean and Near East during the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1600 BCE), but until now little archaeological evidence was available to support ancient depictions and documentation.
Edited from PlosOne, Popular Archaeology (27 August 2014)
Kennewick Man looked Polynesian and came from far away
Kennewick Man died 9,000 years ago in the Columbia River Valley of northwestern North America, a seal hunter who rambled far and wide with a projectile point lodged in his hip, five broken ribs that never healed properly, two small dents in his skull and a bad shoulder from throwing spears. He came from somewhere far up the Pacific Northwest coast, possibly Alaska or the Aleutian Islands. He might even have come all the way from Asia.
So say the editors of a 688-page peer-reviewed book, "Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton," that will be published this autumn.
"He could have been an Asian," says co-editor Richard Jantz, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee, USA. "One of the things we always tend to do is underestimate the mobility of early people." His co-editor, Douglas Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, agrees with that assessment of Kennewick Man: "He was a long-distance traveler."
The book, which includes contributions from more than five dozen authors, researchers and photographers, describes many kinds of research on the skeleton, which was discovered in 1996.
The chemical analysis of the molecular isotopes in the bones and the clues they provide to Kennewick Man's origin suggests he lived off a diet of seals and other large marine mammals and drank glacier melt water. His wide-set body is akin to that generally seen in cold-adapted human populations.
Kennewick Man's skull is large and narrow with a projecting face, and doesn't look like the skulls of later Native Americans. Its dimensions most closely match those of Polynesians, specifically the inhabitants of the Chatham Islands, near New Zealand. According to the scientists, Kennewick Man and today's Polynesians - as well as the prehistoric Jomon and contemporary Ainu of northern Japan - have a common ancestry among a coastal Asian population.
Genetic evidence points to a common ancestry among Native Americans to a population that remained isolated for a long period of time in the now-drowned land known as Beringia, and that then migrated, possibly in several pulses, after the ice sheets began to recede.
Edited from The Washington Post (25 August 2014)
2 September 2014
Neolithic site discovered in central China
Archaeologists in central China's Henan province have excavated a large neolithic settlement complete with moats and a cemetery.
The Shanggangyang Site covers an area of 120,000 square metres, beside a river in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital. The site dates 5,000 to 6,000 years back to the Yangshao culture, widely known for its advanced pottery-making technology.
The site features two defensive moats surrounding three sides. Researchers have found relics of three large houses as well as 39 tombs, suggesting several generations resided there.
Excavation has offered a glimpse into the life in the tribe, including the use of pits to store food or bury rubbish. Researchers also found a variety of crockery wares, including pots, kettles, cups and other tools.
Edited from China Daily (29 August 2014)
Genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic peoples
Many studies and discoveries focus on searching for the first Americans. Less popular but equally important has been research into how and when the Arctic was settled - the last region of the Americas known to have been populated.
Archaeological and cultural evidence points to migrations of several different groups into the region, going back as far as 6,000 years for the earliest arrivals of the Palaeo-Eskimos from across the Bering Strait from Siberia.
Maanasa Raghaven of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues have analysed 169 ancient human bone, teeth and hair samples from Arctic Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, comparing them to samples from two present-day Inuit from Greenland, two Nivkhs, one Aleutian Islander, and two Athabascans. Their conclusions support the model of the arrival of Palaeo-Eskimos into North America as a separate migration from those which gave rise to Native Americans and Inuit, but suggest they shared a common Siberian ancestor.
"We show that Palaeo-Eskimos (approximately 3000 BCE to 1300 CE) represent a migration pulse into the Americas independent of both Native American and Inuit expansions," the authors write. "Furthermore, the genetic continuity characterising the Palaeo-Eskimo period was interrupted by the arrival of a new population, representing the ancestors of present-day Inuit, with evidence of past gene flow between these lineages. Despite periodic abandonment of major Arctic regions, a single Palaeo-Eskimo meta-population likely survived in near-isolation for more than 4000 years, only to vanish around 700 years ago."
The researchers show evidence for gene flow between the Palaeo-Eskimos and the Neo-Eskimo Thule culture - likely among a common ancestral population in Siberia, and not in the Arctic, where these two groups were largely separated.
The study suggests a complex interplay between genes and culture, helping to provide a clearer picture of how the Arctic was settled.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (28 August 2014)
Finds from Avebury's West Kennet Avenue
Archaeology students mostly from Southampton and Leicester universities have re-opened one trench from last year's dig, plus another major area of investigation, moving tons of turf and soil to reach a level that has never been ploughed. This part of the Avenue was where, in the 1930s, Alexander Keiller located a gap in the row of stones.
Among this year's finds are several flint arrowheads - including one tiny barbed and tanged arrowhead which the project's experts say was deliberately miniaturised, and the workmanship is extraordinary.
The dig is part of the long term "Between the Monuments" collaborative research programme, which aims to find out more about the routine lives of the people who built and used Avebury's henge and avenues, understand why these monuments were made and why the site was chosen.
Soil samples may reveal signs of plant life, what animals were about, and other details. The soil is so acidic that snail shells and bones are not found, but pollen and chemical residues will be preserved.
A recently developed technique allows scientists to tell what different sizes and shapes of flint cutting tools were used for. This high-magnification process has shown one tool found last year was used to cut nettles - from which string and cords were made.
Another exciting find in one of last year's trenches is what looks like the remains of a hearth, near twelve stake-holes in a pattern suggesting part of a dwelling.
If sufficient funding is available, a third year's dig may reveal even more evidence of the human lives that flourished between Avebury's stones.
Edited from Marlborough News Online (5 August 2014)
30 August 2014
Stonehenge 'complete circle' evidence found
Evidence that the outer stone circle at Stonehenge was once complete has been found - parch marks in the grass, in an area that had not been watered, have revealed places where two 'missing' huge sarsen stones may once have stood. Previous scientific techniques such as geophysics failed to find any evidence.
Historians have long debated whether Stonehenge was a full or incomplete circle, with some arguing a lack of stones in the south-west quadrant is proof it was never complete. A scientific paper which adds weight to the 'complete' theory has been published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity. The parch marks - areas where the grass does not grow as strongly as in other areas during hot, dry weather - were first noticed in July last year.
Susan Greaney, from English Heritage, said the discovery seemed to indicate the positions of missing stones. "If these stone holes actually held upright stones then we've got a complete circle," she said. "A lot of people assume we've excavated the entire site and everything we're ever going to know about the monument is known. But actually there's quite a lot we still don't know and there's quite a lot that can be discovered just through non-excavation methods," Ms Greaney added.
Ms Greaney said a high resolution geophysical survey conducted a few years ago had failed to pick up evidence of the holes. "It's great that people who know the site really well and look at it every day were able to spot these parch marks and recognise them for what they were. We maintain the grass with watering when it's very dry in the summer, but our hosepipe doesn't reach to the other side of the stone circle. If we'd had a longer hosepipe we might not have been able to see them," she concluded.
Tim Daw, the English Heritage steward who spotted the parch marks, said: "I was standing on the public path looking at the grass near the stones and thinking that we needed to find a longer hosepipe to get the parched patches to green up. A sudden lightbulb moment in my head, and I remembered that the marks were where archaeologists had looked without success for signs that there had been stone holes, and that parch marks can signify them. Not being archaeologists we called in the professionals to evaluate them. I am still amazed and very pleased that simply really looking at something, that tens of thousands of people had unwittingly seen, can reveal secrets that sophisticated machinery can't."
Edited from BBC News (30 August 2014)
Famous Utah rock art may be much recent than was thought
Since the original Barrier Canyon rock art panel, known as the Great Gallery, was first discovered by scientists in Utah's Canyonlands National Park (USA), experts have debated how old the images are, and what culture created them. Some archaeologists have theorized that the rock art may be as much as 4,000 to 7,000 years old. But new chemical analysis, combined with some other geological detective work, suggests it was painted much more recently, and may even be little more than 1,000 years old.
"The painting of the Great Gallery occurred during a window between late Archaic time, around 1 CE, through the introduction of maize and the bow and arrow to Utah, and on to the peak of the Fremont culture ca.1100 CE," writes a team of archaeologists in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Rock art is notoriously difficult to date, but paintings on rock, or pictographs, like those found at the Great Gallery, usually offer an advantage, because they have pigments that can be tested. But previous research at Barrier Canyon had found that the pigments contained no organic materials, and couldn't be radiocarbon dated. However, new technology - known as optically stimulated luminescence dating - has proven extremely useful in determining when mineral deposits that have been buried were last exposed to sunlight, and for how long.
An international team of researchers, led by Utah State University archaeologist Joel Pederson, first set about setting a maximum age for the Great Gallery, by using luminescence to date the layers of sediment on the canyon floor. The team found two strata that revealed important geological events. The first was a thick layer of flood-driven sediment that filled the canyon high above the level of the Great Gallery, up until about 8,000 years ago. Over the following 5,000 years, most of this layer eroded away, eventually exposing the sandstone panel in the canyon for the first time. Therefore, the team writes, "the art is incontrovertibly younger than the top" of that layer. Then, their analysis showed, a second, newer layer of sediment was laid down between 3,000 and 800 years ago. This became the modern canyon floor. Taken together, these dates seem to disprove the oldest proposed dates for the gallery, the archaeologists say. "This reasoning alone makes an early Archaic (>5000 BCE) origin for the Great Gallery improbable, and any older hypotheses are ruled out," they write.
But then there was the matter of how young could the artwork be. To find a minimum date, Pederson's team focused on that remnant of the Great Gallery that had collapsed in an ancient rockfall. The researchers tested quartz grains from the face of the fallen rock, as well as the sediment that the boulder landed on. Both of the luminescence dates returned the same date range: about 900 years old. Since the Great Gallery must have been painted before the rockfall, the scientists conclude, "these three convergent dates provide a very solid minimum age constraint of 1100 CE, the height of the Fremont culture."
Finally, the luminescence technique provided one last data point that allowed the team to determined that the face of the rockfall had been exposed to sunlight for at least 700 years before it collapsed, putting the approximate date of the artwork's creation in the 5th century. Judging conservatively, the team concludes that Canyonlands' Great Gallery was created between 900 and 2,000 years ago.
This is the period, Pederson's team points out, when immigrant groups from the Four Corners region were thought to have first moved into the area north of the Colorado River, introduced local foragers to the game-changing practices of agriculture and village settlement patterns. Some experts suspect that this interaction gave rise to the Fremont culture, which in time developed its own distinctive, more geometrical rock art style. So rather than being the signature of a single, elusive group, the Barrier Canyon Style may be the artistic expression of multiple cultures as they mingled to form a larger and more enduring society, they say.
Edited from Western Digs (August 2014)
Neolithic oven discovered in Croatia
Prehistoric experts in Croatia have found a 6,500-year-old oven. It was unearthed in a ancient home during an archeological dig at a Neolithic site in Bapska, a village in eastern Croatia. Experts say the oven provided cooked food, hot water and central heating for their dwelling, just like a modern-day Aga cooker.
Marcel Buric - from the Department of Prehistoric Archaeology at Zagreb's Faculty of Philosophy - said the find was significant because the kiln was covered to protect the rest of the building from fire.
Mr Buric said: "This discovery is important. Because the houses of this period are made of wattle and daubed with a roof made of hay using an open fireplace was dangerous. But a roofed fireplace, like the one in Bapska, besides being safer, also had other advantages. It was permanently heated all day long and as the residents came home after a day in the fields they ate hot food cooked by the oven, washed in warm water, and went to sleep in a room heated by the same kiln. Just like some kitchen ovens today."
Archaeologists also found a smelted piece of iron ore by the kiln, thought to date back thousands of years before man learned to smelt and work iron. But elsewhere in the same prehistoric house, scientists found the scene of a more sinister fire. The cremated remains of a baby aged around 15 months are believed to be the result of a human sacrifice. Mr Buric said: 'We know that such sacrifices were made to ensure the growth of crops by giving a life and putting it back into the earth. The more treasured the life, say a baby, the better the result, or so they thought.'
Earlier excavations on the site had revealed a set of deer antlers on the walls of one home, believed to be the world's first known hunting trophy.
Edited from Mail Online (25 August 2014)
28 August 2014
Unique figurines found in Turkey
Excavations ongoing in the ancient city of Patara in the southern province of Antalya have revealed two figurines dating to approximately 3,000 and 7,000 BCE. According to reports, the stone figurines reveal the connection between the Bronze Age and Anatolian cultures.
One figurine is made of earthenware, and highlights the importance of the Patara Port in ancient times. The figurine from the eastern Mediterranean depicts the goddess Astarte, goddess of fertility. Although it reflects the artistic features of Ionian civilisation, the Astarte figurine was found along with Cypriot ceramics.
The head of the excavations, Professor Havva İşkan Işık at Akdeniz University’s Archaeology Department, said the history of Lycia would be rewritten with these new findings.
Edited from Hurryiet Daily News (19 August 2014)
27 August 2014
Oldest metal object found to date in Middle East
A copper awl, the oldest metal object found to date in the Middle East, was discovered during excavations at Tel Tsaf. The tool dates to the late 6th or early 5th millennium BCE, moving the date that people of the region are known to have used metals back by several hundred years.
Tel Tsaf, a Middle Copper Age village dated to about 5200-4600 BCE, is near the Jordan River, south of the Sea of Galilee. The site was first documented in the 1950s, and excavations began at the end of the 1970s, revealing mud-brick buildings, and a large number of silos in which wheat and barley were stored. In the courtyards, many roasting ovens filled with burnt animal bones were discovered, along with numerous other artefacts - among them items made of obsidian from Anatolia or Armenia, shells from the Nile River in Egypt and other areas around the Mediterranean, figurines of people and animals, and pottery unlike that found almost anywhere else in the region.
The awl is only 4 centimetres long - a cone-shaped piece of copper, which would originally have been set in a wooden handle. It was found during a previous excavation, in the sealed grave of a woman about 40 years old, dug inside of a silo. Around her waist was a belt made of 1,668 ostrich-egg shell beads. The burial has been described as one of the most elaborate seen in the region from that era.
While the grave, the woman's skeleton, and the beaded belt were all previously reported in scientific journals, the little awl was only reported on recently, after its chemical components were analysed. This artefact is important, because until now researchers believed that area residents began to use metals only in the Late Chalcolithic period - the second half of the 5th millennium BCE. Chemical examination shows the copper may have come from the Caucasus, some 1,000 kilometres from Tel Tsaf. The processing of a new raw material coming from such a distant location is unique to Tel Tsaf, and provides additional evidence of the importance of this site in the ancient world.
Edited from Science Daily (21 August 2014)
Humans were eating snails 30,000 years ago
Palaeolithic humans of present-day Spain were eating snails as much as 30,000 years ago - 10,000 years earlier than inhabitants of other Mediterranean regions, according to Javier Fernández-López de Pablo and colleagues from the Catalan Institute of Human Palaeo-ecology and Social Evolution.
The researchers discovered land snail shell remains dating to about 30,000 years ago at the site of Cova de la Barriada, a pair of rock shelters near Benidorm, in south-eastern Spain. Groupings of complete shells from a large species were found in three levels of the site, along with stone artefacts and other animal remains.
The snails appear to be associated with prehistoric human-constructed structures that may have been used to cook the snails, which were likely roasted in embers of pine and juniper. This points to previously undiscovered patterns of invertebrate use, and may highlight a broadening of the human diet in the Upper Palaeolithic in the Mediterranean basin. Land snails are common in the Late Pleistocene and Holocene archaeological record, but it is still unknown when and how they were incorporated into human diets.
Diet change is a widely debated research topic of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition. Studies suggest that, in many areas of Europe, the first anatomically modern humans had a broader diet than Neanderthals, however, this view has been called into a question by the increasing body of evidence indicating that Neanderthals also relied on a varied range of resources. Unlike the increasing evidence for the consumption of marine molluscs amongst the Neanderthals, there is a no clear signal of land snail exploitation during the Middle Palaeolithic.
In the Mediterranean, such an early occurrence contrasts with the neighbouring areas of Morocco, France, Italy and the Balkans, where the systematic nutritional use of land snails appears approximately 10,000 years later. The appearance of this new subsistence activity in the eastern and southern regions of Spain coincides with other demographically driven transformations in the regional archaeological record, such as the significant increase of the number of sites and beginning of the production of portable art.
Edited from PLOS One, Popular Archaeology (20 August 2014)
23 August 2014
Stone tools point to diversity of traditions among early humans
The biggest ever comparative study of stone tools dating to between 130,000 and 75,000 years ago found in the region between sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia shows marked differences in the way stone tools were made, reflecting a diversity of cultural traditions. The study identified at least four distinct populations, each relatively isolated from each other with their own different cultural characteristics.
Researchers took over 300,000 measurements of stone tools from 17 archaeological sites across North Africa, including the Sahara, and combined the stone tool data with a model of the North African environment during that period which showed that the Sahara was then a patchwork of savannah, grasslands and water, interspersed with desert. They also mapped out known ancient rivers and major lakes. They were then able to draw new inferences on the contexts in which the ancient populations made and used their tools, showing how early populations of modern humans dispersed across the Sahara along the ancient rivers and watercourses.
Lead researcher Dr Eleanor Scerri, visiting scholar at the University of Oxford, says: "This is the first time that scientists have identified that early modern humans at the cusp of dispersal out of Africa were grouped in separate, isolated and local populations. Stone tools are the only form of preserved material culture for most of human history. These stone tools reveal how early populations of modern humans dispersed across the Sahara just before they left North Africa. While different populations were relatively isolated, we were interested to find that when connected by rivers, they share similarities in their tool-making suggesting some interaction with one another."
Dr Scerri continues: "Not much is known about the structure of early modern human populations in Africa, particularly at the time of their earliest dispersals into Eurasia. Our picture of modern human demography around 100,000 years ago is that there were a number of populations, varying in size and degree of genetic contact, distributed over a wide geographical area. This model of our population history supports other theories recently put forward that modern humans may have first successfully left Africa earlier than 60,000-50,000 years ago, which had been the common view among scholars. Our work provides important new evidence that sheds light on both the timing of early modern human dispersals out of Africa and the character of our interaction with other human species, such as Neanderthals."
Co-author Dr Huw Groucutt says: "The question of whether there was an early successful exit from Africa has become one of whether any of the populations discovered in this paper went in and out of Africa for some or all of this time. A crucial next step involves fieldwork in areas such as the Arabian Peninsula to understand how these populations spread into Eurasia."
Edited from PhysOrg (18 August 2014)
Earliest human burial site uncovered in Cyprus
Archaeologists have discovered what they believe could be one of the earliest documented formal human burials found on the island of Cyprus. The burial of an adult individual, probably a male, was found in a tightly flexed position in a grave cut into a larger, somewhat earlier pit.
Similar sites in Cyprus have shown that the island was in early and consistent contact with the mainland Neolithic, and was colonised far earlier than previously believed. Human remains, however, had been elusive at all early Neolithic sites.
Previously, parts of an infant burial were recovered, and elements representing several individuals were recovered from Neolithic wells. At one site numerous human remains were recovered in a large pit, and a flexed individual adjacent to a cat burial also was documented.
The newly-discovered site was especially rich in stones, animal bones and chipped stone, compared with the fill of the larger pit. The site is in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains in the Paphos region, in the very west of the island - rather than near the coast, which is a more common Neolithic pattern.
Many unique features are present, including circular plastered platforms, a huge chipped stone assemblage, and well-preserved palaeo-economic data, including cattle, which previously had not been documented on Cyprus until the Bronze Age. Animal bones include a predominance of deer, followed by pig. The partial remains of two other structures have been revealed, making a total of six. Over 300,000 items have been recovered to date.
Edited from Cyprus Mail (14 August 2014)