6 March 2014
Cup marked stone discovered in Wales
Prehistoric rock art which could be more than 4,000 years old has been discovered in the Brecon Beacons, a mountain range in Wales. The Bronze Age discovery was made late last year by national park geologist Alan Bowring.
The stone is about 1.45m (4ft 9in) long and half a metre (1ft 8 in) wide, with 12 cup (hollow) marks of various shapes and sizes on the face. It now lies flat on the ground but experts say it could have once stood upright. Its exact location in the Brecon Beacons is being kept a secret; similar stones have been found in other parts of Britain but they are thought to be rare in mid Wales.
Mr Bowring was working on land maintained by the National Trust when he spotted the rock. Sensing it was unusual, he sought advice from national park archaeologist Natalie Ward, who had experience of recording similar artefacts in the north of England. The National Trust's own archaeological survey had already highlighted Bronze Age features in the area, giving some context to the stone's past.
Dr George Nash, archaeologist and specialist in prehistoric and contemporary art at Bristol University, confirmed Mr Bowring had discovered the first prehistoric rock engraved panel recorded in the Brecon Beacons. Dr Nash added that the cup marked stone probably came from the early to middle Bronze Age period - 2500 BCE to 1500 BCE - and it probably served as a way marker.
"We might have been able to predict a discovery of this kind considering the large amount of prehistoric ritual sites in the Brecon Beacons but this is the first evidence of prehistoric rock art to be ever recorded [in the Beacons]," Dr Nash said. "There are no other later prehistoric standing stones within this part of Wales that are cup marked, making this one rather unique." He said the cup marks were the most common later prehistoric rock art form in Britain and Europe, but their occurrence in mid Wales was rare.
Edited from BBC News (6 March 2014)
Iron Age Scandinavian settlement uncovered
As is common practice in most European countries, an archaeological evaluation and investigation is made on any land that is to be developed or built on. Such was the case with a 58 Hectare site in the Aalborg region of Northern Denmark. The area had been earmarked for a new hospital. During the archaeological investigations the remains of a large Iron Age settlement were found.
Normally in a find of this nature only post holes remain to mark out the buildings within the settlement. This find, however, had been well preserved as it had been covered by a thick layer of soil, allowing elements such as the chalk floors to remain undisturbed. So far evidence has been found of an ongoing settlement with buildings being repaired, extended and added over a long period.
One particularly exciting find was that of the remains of a domestic cat, making it one of the earliest examples of its kind in Denmark, dating to when the Romans had brought cats to the area during the Iron Age. The remains of several horses have also been found, raising the wealth and status of the settlement.
Edited from Past Horizons (17 January 2014)
Firefighter's persistence leads to Paleolithic find
A retired firefighter, aged 88, has had his persistence rewarded. Ron Settle was a firefighter in Guildford (UK) over 40 years ago. In his spare time, when he had previously lived in Dorking, he had studied archaeology at an evening institute. Ron put this knowledge to the test when he was transferred to Guildford Fire Station and he spotted what he thought were Stone Age flints around the fire service housing, where he lived.
Although the finds were lodged with the Surrey Archaeological Society and exhibited in a local museum, the discoveries were never followed up. He did not give up, however, and when the fire station recently came up for demolition and rebuild, a dig was organized. Not only did they confirm the original Stone Age, Mesolithic finds but they also uncovered earlier Paleolithic flints.
William Mills, from Oxford Archaeology, is excited about the finds and is quoted as saying "Most of the time you find it [the material] in caves, or in very disturbed environments, whereas here it's a very fine sand deposit, and therefore its quite pristine - what we call in situ - it hasn't moved much". He went on to say that the site was "quite exceptional. In Europe there are a handful of sites, not very many. In England this is one amongst two, maybe three, if that".
Edited from BBC News (14 January 2014)
5 March 2014
Neolithic bones discovered in Irish cave
Human skeletal remains of a child and an adult dating to the Neolithic period have been recovered from a tiny cave on Knocknarea (co Sligo, Ireland). Radiocarbon dating has shown that they are some 5,500 years old, which makes them among the earliest human bones found in the county. The find represents important fresh evidence of Knocknarea's Neolithic links and a prehistoric practice known as 'excarnation'.
Archaeologists discovered a total of 13 small bones and bone fragments in an almost inaccessible cave last November. Three were from the child and 10 from the adult. They included foot bones and fragments of skull. The adult was aged 30 to 39 and the child of 4 to 6 years. It was not possible to establish gender.
It was a chance discovery by IT Sligo archaeology graduate Thorsten Kahlert while he was investigating a series of little known caves on the slopes of Knocknarea. "I was surveying one small cave when something on the cave floor caught my eye," he said. "I took a closer look and realised it was a human foot bone." Further examination revealed other bones strewn on the cave floor.
Dr Catriona McKenzie of Queen's University Belfast, who is an archaeologist specialising in the analysis of human bones, examined the remains. After Thorsten's initial discovery, Dr Marion Dowd of IT Sligo immediately contacted the National Monuments Service. It then funded a rescue excavation by the two IT Sligo researchers who braved wet and windy weather as they retrieved the exposed bones to protect them from possible environmental damage.
Thorsten explained: "It is an entirely natural cave but you have to crouch down. For the most part it is not possible to stand upright". Dr Dowd said: "Significantly, too, it seems the adult had been placed there about 300 years before the child, who died about 5,200 years ago."
Dr Dowd says that the small number of bones and their small size suggest that the cave was an excarnation site. Dr Dowd said: "When people died in prehistory, their corpses were sometimes laid out in caves. After one or two years, when the flesh and soft tissue had decomposed, the dry bones were collected and removed to another location. We can imagine, therefore, that Stone Age people in Sligo carried the corpses of their dead up the mountain. After an arduous climb, they then squeezed through the narrow cave entrance, and laid the dead person on the cave floor. Sometime later, maybe after one or two years, people returned to the cave and collected the bones and took them to another location."
Dr Dowd colcuded: "Where they took them, we don't know. But the monuments on the summit of Knocknarea are one likely possibility. All that was left behind in the cave were some small bones that had been overlooked".
Edited from Irish Mirror (28 February 2014)
Ancient stone decorated on two sides found in Scotland
A rare example of prehistoric rock art has been uncovered in the Scottish Highlands. Archaeologists made the discovery while moving a boulder decorated with ancient cup and ring marks to a new location in Ross-shire. When they turned the stone over they found the same impressions on the other side of the rock. It is one of only a few decorated stones of its kind.
Susan Kruse, of Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands (ARCH), first discovered the stone at Heights of Fodderty several years ago when out walking. The second set of cup and ring marks were uncovered recently when archaeologists were moving the stone to a new site at nearby Heights of Brae Neil Gunn Viewpoint. From the Neolithic or Bronze Age, the art was created between 4,000 and 5,000 years ago.
Ms Kruse said: "Finding cup and ring decoration on the opposite side has raised a number of tantalising questions. Was the decoration meant to be viewed from both sides or was one decorated side deliberately placed face down? Or was the stone carved at different times?" John Wombell, of North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS),, who is leading a project to record rock art in the Highlands and Grampian, said: "Although some stones are decorated on different faces, I only know of a few other stones with decoration on opposite sides." The archaeologist said most boulders with markings were too heavy to turn over to find out if they were decorated on the reverse side.
There is a cluster of rock art in the local area. A Neolithic chambered burial cairn and round houses dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages have also been found. Another major discovery in the area was the Heights of Brae hoard, the largest surviving late Bronze Age gold find in Scotland.
Edited from BBC News (27 February 2014)
4 March 2014
Development danger to Iron Age hillfort
An interesting battle is in progress in North Shropshire (England) between local residents and their elected Town Council. The contention centres around a proposed housing development abutting two Scheduled Monuments. The monuments in question are Wat's Dyke and Oswestry Hillfort. The Iron Age hillfort is second only in size to Maiden Castle (Dorset, UK) and is closely linked to the Anglo-Saxon defense line known as Wat's Dyke.
This is not the first proposed development to threaten the site. A previous application for housing had been rejected by Shropshire Council Planners as having "significant detrimental impact on the hillfort's setting". This second application is, however, even closer to the site.
The local objections (voiced by the campaigning group Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort [HOOOH]) have been endorsed by John Creighton, who is Director of the Society of Antiquaries of London and who is quoted as saying "Old Oswestry is without doubt one of the best preserved multi-vallate hillforts. Its setting in the landscape makes it visually stunning and crowding its fringes with buildings would be very detrimental to this. More housing is desperately needed in the UK but balance and careful curation of the unique assets of our landscape are the responsibility of the planning committee and council. Please reflect on how you are discharging them." Mr Creighton added: "The people have made their feelings very clear through consultation and the petition. Oswestry's community want the historical legacy and beauty of the hillfort preserved and that rules out housing. The pressure is now on Oswestry Town Council to respect and not betray their electorate."
The area around the hillfort is packed with artifacts, prime amongst which is a piece of rock art known as the Pegasus stone, as it bears the clear outline of a horse. The stone was found lying in a mature hedge, near the main entrance to the hillfort and was probably the victim of a field clearance. Several scars are visible across the face of the horse outline and these were probably caused by ploughing. The hillfort itself is dated at approximately 1,000 BCE and the stone is believed to be either Celtic or Celto-Roman and may well be attributed to the Cornovii.
Edited from Past Horizons (21 January 2014)
1 March 2014
Bronze Age skeleton removed from school playground
The 4000-year-old remains of the skeleton of a small Bronze Age man were recently removed from his grave a metre beneath the playground of Victoria Primary School in Newhaven, Edinburgh (Scotland), by archaeologists surveying ahead of a proposed school extension.
The archaeologists stumbled upon the well-preserved bones in late January while looking for evidence of the village's medieval harbour. The body was curled up in a foetal position common in the Bronze Age, alongside a pottery vessel.
Archaeologists who excavated the site initially thought there were two skeletons, but the remains belonged to one person, thought to be a male around 160 centimetres in height and 50 years of age. His worn teeth show he had a high grain diet of stone-ground bread. Further analysis will now be undertaken in a bid to discover more about his life, and death.
John Lawson, Edinburgh City Council's archaeology officer, said: "It is a remarkable discovery as we know very little about prehistoric burials in Edinburgh."
Project manager Rob Engl, of Edinburgh-based AOC Archaeology, said: "You don't get many crouched inhumations in school yards so this was very unexpected. Being so close to the sea we were looking for the harbour, but this shows people were living here in prehistoric times."
Victoria Primary Head teacher Laura Thomson said the children had been inspired by the work and had taken part in workshops arranged by the archaeologists.
Edited from Edinburgh Evening News (13 February 2014)
Move to reunite Mungo Man with his Lady
The 43,000-year-old Mungo Man, whose discovery in the far west of New South Wales in 1974 dramatically up-ended the dominant view of Australia's history, could finally be heading home 40 years after he was removed from his burial place.
The skeleton remains the oldest human discovered in Australia, doubling the known anthropological history of the continent and revealing Aborigines as belonging to the oldest surviving culture in the world.
Mungo Man is kept under lock and key in a box at the Australian National University. Researchers have long since stopped studying him. The university has been waiting for Aboriginal elders to formally request his return, expected in the coming weeks, coinciding with the discovery's 40th anniversary on 26 February.
Former ANU professor Jim Bowler, now in his 80s, discovered a female skeleton, known as Mungo Lady, in 1968. It had been cremated. In 1974 Bowler returned to the site and discovered Mungo Man, separated from Mungo Lady by 450m in distance and 20,000 years in time.
Bowler has long called for the return of Mungo Man to a temporary keeping place at Lake Mungo National Park where the bones of Mungo Lady are locked away, awaiting reburial. She was returned by former ANU archeologist Alan Thorne in 1991.
A spokeswoman for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage told The Australian it was "still early days" in any attempt to repatriate the skeleton. "OEH and the Aboriginal community at Mungo are having discussions about how to best manage the repatriation of remains to Mungo National Park, including those of Mungo Man," she said.
Edited from Cueva de la Pileta (19 February 2014)
28 February 2014
Neolithic altar discovered in China
Archaeologists have discovered altar relics outside the walls of the Shimao Ruins - a Neolithic city in Shenmu County, in the north of Shaanxi province, northwest China.
Shimao Ruins were discovered in 1976, but archaeologists did not conduct a thorough survey until last year, when they excavated over 80 human skulls.
An initial survey showed the eight-meter-high altar had a three-tiered structure with a stone base 90 meters long. Jade relics and pits for offerings as deep as three meters were found nearby. Archaeologists have collected some jade for further research.
The city was found to have inner and outer structures, and the walls surrounding the outer city extend over four square kilometers. The city was built about 4,300 years ago and abandoned roughly 300 years later.
Shanghai Daily (20 February 2014), China Daily (22 February 2014)
Bronze Age woman found in Highland woods
Aged between 40 and 44 at the time of death, the remains found in a cist at Cullaird Wood in West Torbreck near Inverness (Scotland) two years ago are believed to be those of a woman who died between 1982 and 1889 BCE and was ritually buried in a Highland funeral.
The grave goods aimed at assuaging her path to the afterlife included seven fragments of flint and a beaker unusual in its lack of decoration.
Maureen Fitzgerald, of the investigating team, said: "Despite the use of cists spanning a period of at least 300 years, many similarities exist such as location, orientation of burial and material used, suggesting that local traditions may have existed which continued over many decades. However, each cist is unique in some way and the West Torbreck burial is no exception. For instance, pottery vessels are not always included in cists. In this case, a beaker found in the West Torbreck cist was evidently part of the burial rites and its function was to accompany the individual to the afterlife. Although a few others have been found in north-east Scotland, they are generally rare in Scotland and Britain as a whole."
The area appeared important for prehistoric groups from early times. The cist is located within an area rich in prehistoric remains, many of which have only been discovered within the past few years.
The nearest archaeological site is the Torbreck stone circle, approximately 200 metres east. This small stone circle consists of nine upright stones and two outliers, which are thought to be the remains of an outer circle.
Edited from The Scotsman (14 February 2014), Culture24 (18 Februaty 2014)
Ancient Britons 'loved dairy food'
A large-scale investigation of British archaeological sites dating from about 4600 BCE to 1400 CE reveals the ancestors of modern Britain embraced a 'convenience food' lifestyle about 6000 years ago when they replaced hunting and fishing with dairy farming.
Researchers examined millions of fragments of bone and analysed more than 1000 cooking pots to ascertain how ancient Britons ate. Early hunters feasted on venison and wild boar and ate large quantities of seafood, but when experienced immigrants introduced domestic animals 6000 years ago, Britons quickly gave up wild foods and fishing was largely abandoned.
Seafood was shunned for the next 4000 years, reappearing in the British diet during the Iron Age and becoming a significant part of it only with the arrival of the Vikings.
"Whilst we like to think of ourselves as a nation of fish eaters, with fish and chips as our national dish, it seems that early British farmers preferred beef, mutton and milk," says Dr Jacqui Mulville, of Cardiff University, who was among the researchers.
The ability to milk animals was a revolution in food production for our early ancestors, as it was the first time they did not have to kill animals to obtain food.
Edited from The Australian (13 February 2014)
23 February 2014
11,000-year-old settlement found under Baltic sea
Evidence of a Stone-Age settlement that may have been swallowed whole by the Baltic Sea has resurfaced near Sweden, revealing a collection of well preserved artifacts left by nomads some 11,000 years ago.
Buried 52 feet below the surface at Hanö, a sandy bay off the coast of Skane County in Sweden, the newly discovered site was in fact some sort of a dump in which ancient nomadic Swedes discarded objects. The items include wood pieces, flint tools, animal horns, ropes, a harpoon carving made from an animal bone and the bones of an aurochs and an ancient cattle which became extinct in the early 1600s.
"There's wood and antlers and other implements that were thrown in there," project leader Björn Nilsson, archaeology professor at Södertörn University, said. Amazingly, the artifacts have been perfectly preserved because of the abundant oxygen-consuming 'gyttja' - a black, gel-like sediment which is formed when peat begins to decay.
"Around 11,000 years ago there was a build up in the area, a lagoon or sorts ... and all the tree and bone pieces are preserved in it. If the settlement was on dry land we would only have the stone-based things, nothing organic," Nilsson said. "What we have here is maybe one of the oldest settlements from the first more permanent sites in Scania and in Sweden full stop," Nilsson colcuded.
Archaeologists are continuing to excavate the area, looking for a potential burial site.
Edited from Discovery News (22 February 2014)
3D modeling of Welsh megalithic sites
HeritageTogether is project run by Bangor, Aberystwyth and Manchester Metropolitan Universities in conjunction with Gwynedd Archaeological Trust and funded by British Arts and Humanities Research Council. The aim of this project is to use photographs to create 3D digital models using a process called photogrammetry, so to create an online library of British heritage, preserved digitally and accessible to everyone.
The project aims to incorporate research by members of the public; it is hoped that people will contribute to the project by uploading digital photographs of sites that they visit. Provided that the photos are taken in the correct way, from the images that people load up, 3D models will be generated.
The 'citizen science' aspect of the project will allow to produce 3D models from a wide range of monuments from across North Wales. The organizers hope that this way of gathering data will help them produce a representative (and perhaps comprehensive) catalogue of the heritage of North Wales, provide new research into the state of monument preservation, provide new views of monuments, and provide new evidence for monument use (in the form of rock art for example).
At the end of the project, the 3D models will be freely and publicly available to provide a research resource for members of the public and researchers, though the Historic Environment Record and via the Archwilio platform. The contributions of all individuals to the project will be acknowledged, and contributors will be invited to the project exhibition, which will present the 3D modelling results.
For additional information: heritagetogether.org
Edited from Heritage Together, The Modern Antiquarian (20 February 2014)
17 February 2014
Clovis skeleton reveals origins of Native Americans
Clovis skeleton reveals origins of Native Americans
The remains of a one-year-old Ice Age boy who died 12,600 years ago were discovered near a rock cliff on the Anzick ranch in central Montana in 1968, along with a multitude of distinctive burial artefacts, such as spear points and antler tools. The skeleton and burial artifacts were covered with powdered red ochre, a type of mineral.
An international team of researchers a have now sequenced the genome of the "Clovis boy" and compared it with genetic information of modern Native Americans across the Americas, as well as with that of ancient Europeans, Asians and Greenlanders. Their results show that approximately 80 percent of today's Native Americans are direct descendants of the boy's contemporaries - particularly the indigenous people who today live in Mexico and South America. The remaining 20 percent are found among some of Canada's First Nations, who - while not direct descendents - are still more closely related to Clovis than any genetic group from any other continent.
The Anzick Clovis boy also shares about a third of his genome with another ancient youth, a 24,000-year-old Siberian child known as the Mal'ta boy, whose remains were also recently analysed.
"The genetic findings mesh well with the archaeological evidence to confirm the Asian homeland of the First Americans... and is consistent with occupation of the Americas a few thousand years before Clovis," said Dr Michael Waters, Director of the Center for the Study of First Americans at Texas A&M University, and lead archaeologist on the team.
The similarities and differences among these native groups suggest a genetic "split" took place within the boy's lineage thousands of years before his time. From one branch came the ancestors of some Canadian First Nations, while the other branch led to the Clovis boy and his family, and their descendants who make up the majority of Native Americans today.
"The genetic information provided by the Anzick boy is part of the larger story of modern human dispersal across the Earth and is shedding new light on the last continent to be explored and settled by our species," Dr Waters said.
Source: Western Digs, Bio News Texas (12 February 2014)
Plants used in Middle Eastern prehistoric rituals
Cavemen in ancient Israel not only buried their dead with flowers, they apparently had an advanced culture of plant use.
The earliest evidence of using flower beds for burial, some 13,700 years ago, was reported in Raqefet Cave in Mount Carmel in 2013. In four different graves from the Natufian period, 13,700 to 11,700 years ago, dozens of impressions of salvia and other mint species were found beneath human skeletons.
Professor Dani Nadel from the University of Haifa and his colleagues argue that use of plants in the cave was much wider than for just burial rituals. They describe how Carmel dwellers of that time processed grains and used plants in day to day living, based on phytoliths found in the cave.
Phytoliths are rigid, microscopic particles formed by plants that continue to exist long after the plant decomposes. Their distinct shapes enable scientists to identify the kinds of plants used thousands of years ago.
The Raqefet dwellers were part of the Natufian culture, which existed in the Middle East between 15,000 and 11,500 years ago. The Natufians are believed to be among the first humans to settle in permanent locations, and are among the first known to establish graveyards. Raqefet was a burial site: 29 skeletons of babies, children and adults were discovered inside the cave.
The researchers also found about 100 features carved into the bedrock, in different sizes and shapes - from holes 2 to 5 centimeters wide, to cupmarks, small bowls, and mortars. Some of these holes were used to prepare food - notably to grind or pound cereals, the scientists believe - based on samples of phytoliths taken from the graves, from mortars, and from other locations in and around the cave.
The highest phytolith concentrations were found in sediments related to human activity, and the main plant category found in the cave was grasses.
Of particular interest were phytoliths extracted from sediments near the abdomen of two of the humans buried in the cave. Professor Nadel and his colleagues think they may represent a food offering to the dead. They evidently ate wheat and barley seeds, as well as smaller-seeded grasses. The grasses could have been consumed in the cave as a final meal. This would be consistent with another finding from the same site - that the inhabitants held wakes with animal meat, especially gazelle, after burying their dead.
There is evidence of other symbolic acts in the cave - elongated stone slabs on edge near the head of the dead, and flat stones placed horizontally above several graves. With the flowers in some of the graves and the plant offerings to the dead, a more detailed picture of ritual and symbolic behavior regarding burials about 13,000 years ago is emerging.
Edited from Haaretz (23 January 2014)