20 August 2014
British schoolboy archaeologists make amazing discovery
It shows that you can never start a love of archaeology too early. On a site in Kirkhaugh, Northumberland (England) a local group with the lengthy title of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership's Altogether archaeology Project, had encouraged local school children to take part.
This particular group of youngsters, ranging from 7 to 10 years old, uncovered what they thought was just a plain piece of plastic. On closer examination it actually proved to be made of gold! The piece they found is known as a hair tress and was worn as an ornament in the hair. as well as being identified and dated at approx. 2,300 BCE, it is also very rare to find, with only 10 other examples in the UK.
One of the young archaeologists, Sebastian, was quite excited "We did some work on the Copper Age at school, which was really interesting. But to take part in the actual excavation, and to find things, was awesome!" Paul Frodsham, leader of the project, put the find into a bit more perspective "All archaeological sites are important in their own way, but this is exceptional. It can be regarded as marking the very start of mineral exploitation in the North Penninnes, leading in due course to Roman exploitation of lead and silver".
Edited from Express, Daily Mail (4 August 2014)
Illegal landscaping threatens Bronze Age burial site
In Plymstock, a suburb of Plymouth (Devon, England), lies an ancient woodland, which is subject to a Protection Order, to prevent unauthorised felling of trees.
Added to this, evidence has been previously uncovered to show that the area has also been a Bronze Age burial ground and was the location for an unexplored long barrow. Reason enough to protect our heritage you may think. But none of this seems important to the new land owner, RPB Vehicle Solutions, who have already cut down a large number of protected trees.
Local residents alerted Plymouth City Council's planning department to the dangers any they have told the owner, in no uncettain terms, to stop removing trees without the Council's permission.
This area has already proved to be quite productive in terms of artefacts , one of which, known as the Elburton Urn, dates to between 2,050 and 1,500 BCE and has prided of place at the city museum.
Win Scutt, a former lecturer at Plymouth College, is very concerned about the burial site and also the barrow, the location of which has been kept secret t prevent looting. He is quoted as saying "In my view the site is at risk of what the owner is doing, but until it's scheduled as an ancient monument there is no way to protect it. It's not about artefacts, it's about what information it can reveal to us. I stringly feel it could be the most important early Bronze Age site in Plymouth, if not the South west".
Edited from The Herald (2 August 2014)
Finland's love of milk dates back to the Stone Age
Evidence has been found to prove that animal domestication occurred in one of the earth's harshest environments much earlier than previously thought. A combined team from the Universities of Bristol (England) and Helsinki (Finland) have been examining examples of Corded Ware pottery found in the northern parts of Finland.
The pieces examined were cooking pots dated at 3,900 to 3,300 BCE and also approx. 2,500 BCE. Astonishingly the pots from 2,500 BCE contained traces of milk fats. This proved that the inhabitants at that time, despite a climate where it can snow for up to four months of the year, had domesticated animals.
This evidence is in line with research in other, milder, climates to mark the transition from hunter/fisher culture. The Team Leader, Dr Lucy Cramp, from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Bristol University, is quoted as saying "This is remarkable evidence which proves that four and a half thousand years ago Stone age people must have been foddering and sheltering domesticated animals over harsh winters, in conditions that even nowadays we would find challenging".
Her colleague, Dr Volker Heel, went on to add "Our results show a clear link between an incoming pre-historic population, milk drinking and the ability to digest milk in adulthood, still visible in the genetic distribution of modern Finland, which remains one ogf the highest consumers of dairy products in the world".
Edited from ScienceDaily (29 July 2014)
11 August 2014
Citizen archaeologists help rediscover British Bronze Age
The British Museum's Bronze Age Index - an illustrated card catalogue containing over 30,000 records of Bronze Age tools and weapons - complements the current Portable Antiquities Scheme Database of metal object finds. Begun in the early 20th century, it was the first catalogue of its kind, and probably the first British archaeology initiative to call on public help with documenting British prehistory.
Following in the footsteps of creators of the Index, the museum is once again calling on the public to help research this extremely important resource. Since late 2013, the digitisation of the entire Index has been undertaken by the MicroPasts project, employing help from 'citizen archaeologists' to assist in transcribing the information contained on these cards. By undertaking these transcriptions, it will be possible to incorporate the Index's 30,000 records rapidly into the PAS database, which on its own includes nearly one million objects collected by the public, usually by metal-detectorists. Additionally, people are helping create 3D models of objects, many of which are recorded by the Index.
The result will be the largest national database of prehistoric metal finds anywhere in the world, and a near-comprehensive view of what we currently know about such finds in the UK. Metal finds are not only crucial forms of evidence for dating Britain's prehistoric past, but also tell us a great deal about prehistoric society and economy. The creation of this database will allow for the rethinking of almost everything we currently know about the use of metal in Bronze Age Britain, giving us a more comprehensive view of our prehistoric past.
To find out out more about MicroPasts, or help with the research, visit the project's web site at micropasts.org
Edited from The British Museum (4 August 2014)
Technology boom 50,000 years ago correlated with less testosterone
Modern humans appear in the fossil record about 200,000 years ago, but it was only about 50,000 years ago that we find widespread evidence of bone and antler tools, heat-treated and flaked flint, projectile weapons, grindstones, fishing and birding equipment and a command of fire.
Scientists have shown that, at around the same time that culture was blossoming, human skulls changed in ways that indicate a lowering of testosterone levels. The study is based on measurements of more than 1,400 ancient and modern skulls.
"The modern human behaviours of technological innovation, making art and rapid cultural exchange probably came at the same time that we developed a more cooperative temperament," said lead study author Robert Cieri, a biology graduate student at the University of Utah USA.
Heavy brows were out, rounder heads were in, and those changes can be traced directly to testosterone levels acting on the skeleton, according to Duke anthropologist Steven Churchill, who supervised Cieri's early work on the subject. What they can't tell from the bones is whether these humans had less testosterone in circulation, or fewer receptors for the hormone.
The research team included animal cognition researchers Brian Hare and Jingzhi Tan, who say this argument is in line with what has been established in non-human species. In a classic study of Siberian foxes, animals that were less wary and less aggressive toward humans took on a different, more juvenile appearance and behaviour after several generations of selective breeding.
"If we're seeing a process that leads to these changes in other animals, it might help explain who we are and how we got to be this way," says Hare, who also studies differences between aggressive chimpanzees - our closest ape relatives - and mellow, free-loving bonobos. Their social interactions are profoundly different and, relevant to this finding, their faces are different, too.
"If prehistoric people began living closer together and passing down new technologies, they'd have to be tolerant of each other," Cieri says. "The key to our success is the ability to cooperate and get along and learn from one another."
Edited from ScienceDaily (1 August 2014)
Ancient fragment of ivory is missing piece of animal figurine
Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have found a fragment of mammoth ivory belonging to a 40,000 year old animal figurine. The figurine depicting a lion was discovered during excavations in 1931. The new fragment makes up one side of the figurine's head. Both were found in the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany, which has yielded a number of remarkable works of art dating to the Ice Age.
"It is one of the most famous Ice Age works of art," says Professor Nicholas Conard of Tübingen University's Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology, and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeo-environment Tübingen. "and until now, we thought it was a relief. The reconstructed figurine clearly is a three dimensional sculpture."
"We have been carrying out renewed excavations and analysis at Vogelherd Cave for nearly ten years," says Conard. "The site has yielded a wealth of objects that illuminate the development of early symbolic artefacts dating to the period when modern humans arrived in Europe and displaced the indigenous Neanderthals."
Vogelherd Cave has provided evidence of the world's earliest art and music, and is a key element in the push to make the caves of the Swabian Jura a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Vogelherd is one of four caves in the region where the world's earliest figurines have been found. Several dozen figurines and fragments have been found in the Vogelherd alone, and researchers are piecing together thousands of mammoth ivory fragments.
<em>Edited from Universitat Tubingen, ScienceDaily (30 July 2014)</em>
6 August 2014
Schoolboy finds evidence of ancient conflict in Wales
Evidence of an ancient conflict has been discovered at Caerau hill fort, on the outskirts of the present day city of Cardiff, in southeast Wales. Volunteers from the CAER Heritage Project began digging at the site in early July, expecting to recover only Roman and Iron Age finds. A six-year-old schoolboy was the first to spot what turned out to be a Neolithic arrow head, dating to 3,600 BCE.
As the excavation of prehistoric ditches proceeded, volunteers unearthed a plethora of early Neolithic finds, including flint tools and weapons, arrowheads, awls and scrapers, as well as fragments of polished stone axes and pottery.
A dig last year revealed that the fort had been the site of a powerful Iron Age community pre-dating the arrival of the Romans. The latest discovery pushes its history back a further 4,000 years.
"Nobody predicted this," said dig co-director Dr Dave Wyatt, from Cardiff University. "Our previous excavation yielded pottery and a mass of finds including five large roundhouses showing Iron Age occupation, and there's evidence of Roman and medieval activity, but no one realised the site had been occupied as far back as the Neolithic - predating the construction of the Iron Age hill fort by several thousand years."
Oliver Davis, co-director of the CAER project, explained: "The ditches appear to date to the early Neolithic, when communities first began to settle and farm the landscape. The location and number of Neolithic finds indicate that we have discovered a causewayed enclosure; a special place where small communities gathered together at certain important times of the year to celebrate, feast, exchange things and possibly find partners. Such sites are very rare in Wales, with only five other known examples, mostly situated in the south."
"What's fascinating is that a number of the flint arrowheads we have found have been broken as a result of impact - this suggests some form of conflict occurred at this meeting place over 5,000 years ago."
Edited from Wales Online (3 August 2014)
Spain tests limited visits to Altamira cave
The cave of Altamira in northern Spain contains some of the world's finest examples of Palaeolithic art - bisons, horses and mysterious signs painted and carved into the limestone as much as 22,000 years ago.
In 2002, when algae-like mould started to appear on some paintings, the cave was closed to the public, but this year Altamira has been partially reopened. Since late February, five random visitors per week, clad in protective suits, have been allowed inside the cave. However, some scientists who studied Altamira and supported its closure have been upset by this experiment and the possibility of the cave's reopening, regarding both as politically motivated.
Altamira was first discovered in 1879 by an amateur botanist and archaeologist, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, during an exploratory visit with his daughter. For decades, his find was mostly dismissed as fake. But in 1902 a French study confirmed that its striking black-and-red paintings were prehistoric, turning the cave into a major tourism destination. By the 1970s, Altamira was attracting more than 150,000 people per year.
The site was closed in 1979, and later reopened to just 8,500 visitors per year. In 2002, the cave was completely closed, and visitors sent to a nearby museum containing an exact replica of part of the cave, including its main chamber. In 2013, the replica cave welcomed 250,000 visitors.
The scientists who oppose any kind of reopening argue that the presence of people alters temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide levels, helping spread microbial colonisation on the walls and ceiling, while the added air currents erode wall and sediment surfaces.
Lascaux, in southwestern France, was long ago closed to the public after suffering serious fungal damage. Muriel Mauriac, the curator of Lascaux, said she was following developments at Altamira. "I trust the Spanish authorities will ultimately take the right decision," she said.
Both Altamira and Lascaux are on Unesco's list of World Heritage sites.
Edited from The New York Times (30 July 2014)
3 August 2014
Earlier Stone Age artefacts found in South Africa
Excavations at Kathu in the Northern Cape province of South Africa have produced tens of thousands of Earlier Stone Age artefacts, including hand axes and other tools estimated to be between 700,000 and one million years old - a massive deposit of Acheulean artefacts. The site is around 56 km west of Wonderwerk Cave, where a sequence of Earlier Stone Age occupation has produced early evidence of fire.
Kathu Townlands shows high-intensity stone tool production, interspersed with exposures of bedrock, calcium carbonate concretions, and sand. Calcium carbonate concretions - calcretes - are a common feature in the area, and figure significantly in the deposits in the vicinity of the site. The bedrock outcroppings are dominated by chert - ideal for stone tool manufacture - and the availability of high quality raw material is likely a major reason for repeated exploitation of the resource, and the high density of stone tool and knapping debris.
The site is one of a grouping of prehistoric sites known as the Kathu Complex. Other sites include Kathu Pan 1, which has produced fossils of animals such as elephants and hippos, and - from a level dated to half a million years ago - the earliest known evidence of tools used as spears.
The Townlands site was brought to the attention of archaeologists in 1980 by the manager of the property, who had observed workmen using gravel composed primarily of artefacts to repair roads. Excavations were first conducted in 1982. In August 2013 excavations were undertaken to mitigate the destruction caused by building work on a portion of the known deposit.
These dense and broadly distributed archaeological deposits pose methodological and management challenges. The town is rapidly expanding, and development is directly threatening deposits beyond the declared National Heritage site area.
Together with the other parts of the complex, this site presents a challenge to reconstructions of hominin adaptations during the Early-Middle Pleistocene. Michael Chazan, Director of the Archaeology Center at the university, emphasises the scientific challenge posed by the density of the traces of early human activity in this area: "We need to imagine a landscape around Kathu that supported large populations of human ancestors, as well as large animals like hippos. All indications suggest that Kathu was much wetter, maybe more like the Okavango than the Kalahari. There is no question that the Kathu Complex presents unique opportunities to investigate the evolution of human ancestors in Southern Africa."
The occurrence of a low density Acheulean occupation at Wonderwerk Cave suggests significant differences in the intensity of hominin activity between the two flanks of the Kuruman Hills. The density of archaeological remains within the Kathu Complex is likely related to local availability of water. It is intriguing to consider the possibility that the hominin occupation of Wonderwerk Cave during the Acheulean may be the result of seasonal mobility of small groups of hominins dispersing from the core occupation area on the western flanks of the Kuruman Hills.
Edited from PlosOne, Science Daily (24 July 2014), Popular Archaeology (25 July 2014)
Romanian cave holds some of oldest human footprints
Human footprints found in Romania's Ciur-Izbuc Cave represent the oldest such impressions in Europe, and perhaps the world, researchers say.
About 400 footprints were first discovered in the cave in 1965. Estimates of their age was based partly on their association with cave bear footprints and bones, and the belief that cave bears became extinct near the end of the last ice age. Scientists initially attributed the impressions to a man, woman, and child who lived 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, but recent radiocarbon measurements of two cave bear bones excavated just below the footprints indicate that Homo sapiens made these tracks around 36,500 years ago.
Analyses of 51 footprints that remain indicate that six or seven individuals, including at least one child, entered the cave after a flood had coated its floor with sandy mud. In some cases the heel, arch and even toes could be identified. Two cases of bears apparently overprinting humans help establish antiquity, and Carbon-14 dates suggest a much greater age than originally thought.
Unfortunately, insufficient footprints remain to measure movement variables such as stride length. However, detailed three-dimensional mapping of the footprints does allow a more precise description of human movements within the cave.
Published ages for other Homo sapiens footprints in Europe and elsewhere go back no more than 33,000 years. Scientists believe the footprints are evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe, previously only revealed through the discovery of animal bones and stone tools.
The Romanian footprints are one of the oldest to be described in a peer-reviewed journal, but a number of researchers believe they have found footprints that are much older.
Edited from ScienceNews (17 July 2014), The Blaze (18 July 2014), The Daily Mail UK (22 July 2014)
2 August 2014
Ancient astronomy in northern Peru
Archaeologists in Peru found what they believe is a stone altar containing petroglyphs dating to 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. Researchers say the engravings record star patterns and rain forecasts.
The discovery was made at the archaeological complex of Licurnique, in Peru's northern region of Lambayeque - known for its archaeological finds, and rich Moche and Chimú historical past. The name Lambayeque is a Spanish derivation of the god Yampellec, said to have been worshipped by the first Lambayeque king, Naymlap.
Researchers explain that the Licurnique archaeological site is unique because it combines prehistoric, Hispanic, and Andean influences.
According to legend, a great float of balsa rafts arrived at the beaches of the San José cove. Formed by a brilliant cortège of nine foreign warriors, this float was led by a man of great talent and courage called Naymlap, the mythical founder of the first northwest civilisation. Among the descendants of Naymlap were the Moche, the Wari', and the Chimú peoples.
The Lambayeque region has become an archeological gold mine. Just last year, a religious centre from pre-Incan Chavin culture was discovered in the area. The find was made while trying to test a hypothesis that each valley in the region has a temple dedicated to the water and fertility cult.
Edited from Andient Origins (27 July 2014), Peru This Week (23 July 2014), Latin Times (28 July 2014)
Road improvements lead to finds in Philadelphia
In the course of upgrading a junction on the main American Interstate 95 highway in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA) some interesting archaeology has been uncovered. Artefacts dating from such diverse periods as 3,000 BCE and 1800 CE have been found. The earliest finds comprise tools, weapons and cooking utensils, which are similar to finds dated at 3,650 BCE uncovered along the Delaware River.
Excavations have been completed on 2/3 of the 3-mile construction zone; the remaining 1/3 of this $342 million improvement project should be completed in the next two years.
The Senior archaeologist working on the site, Douglas Mooney, is quoted as saying "There was this general sense that Native Americans have been gone (from this area) for years, but we found intact Native American sites - they never left. In a very real sense they have a presence here in Philadelphia".
The finds will be exhibited at the First Presbyterian Church in Kensington, Philadelphia. In the meantime, it is possible to browse through the rich contents of the Digging i95 website.
Edited from NBC (18 July 2014)
Prehistoric henge found in Austria
Burgenland is located in the most easterly part of Austria and remains, even today, a very sparsely populated area. Until now it had been believed that the area was first settled around 3,300 BCE with the arrival of Indo-European peoples and then more permanently settled by the Celts around 500 BCE. But now a team of archaeologists, lead by Klaus Locker, have uncovered the remains of a large henge, dating back to 5,000 BCE.
The circular complex comprises concentric circular trenches - some up to four metres deep - with defensive walls and several entrances. The large circular area is located in a field on the southern outskirts of Rechnitz, and was surrounded by wooden poles. It was only after aerial photographs were taken of the district that remnants of an ancient trench system became visible.
The find has proved to be unique in the area and one of the archaeologists, Franz Sauer, is quoted as saying that the henge is "roughly equivalent to Stonehenge, only about 2,000 years older!"
Edited from The Local (17 July 2014)
Early Clovis hunting ground discovered in Mexico
Have you ever heard of a gomphothere? You would be forgiven if you haven't as this remarkable animal was about the same size and appearance as a modern elephant but was actually a cousin to the extinct mammoth.
Back in 2007/2008 archaeologists from the University of Arizona (USA) were excavating in the Sonora Desert in northwest Mexico, when they uncovered the bones of a very large mammal. It was not until later, when they found a jaw bone, that they fully realised what they had found. They had actually uncovered the remains of two gomphotheres, which were radio carbon dated at 11,390 BCE.
As their excavations progressed they also uncovered evidence of human activity, including weapons and tools from the Clovis Culture. These were in juxtaposition to the bones of the gomphotheres, leading to the conclusion that the animals had been hunted.
Vance Halliday, the leader of the team, is quoted as saying "This is the first Clovis gomphothere, it's the first archaeological gomphothere found in North America, it's the first evidence that people were hunting gomphotheres in North America, and it adds another item to the Clovis menu".
The team discovered much more associated with this Clovis settlement and the full findings were published in July 2014, in the 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences', with the summary statement "These data expand our understanding of the age range for Clovis, Clovis diet, raw material preference, and the late Pleistocene mega fauna assemblage of North America and provide evidence for a southern origin of the Clovis techno complex."
Edited from Popular Archaeology, Western Digs (14 July 2014)
1 August 2014
Archaeologists find bizarre burials in Iran
A 10-centimetre-long ruler with an accuracy of half a millimetre, an artificial eyeball, and an earthenware bowl bearing the world's oldest example of animation, are among many artefacts discovered in the ruins of Burnt City, a 5200-year-old archaeological site near the Afghan border in eastern Iran, where researchers have also found a number of bizarre burials.
"From 1200 graves, which have been discovered in the Burnt City since 1975 during various archaeological excavations, there are several burials which are very odd and mysterious," says team director Seyyed Mansur Sajjadi.
Grave 1003 is one of these. In it, the skeleton of 45-year-old man was found in the centre of a circular pit, with the skulls of two dogs above his head, and 12 human skulls on the north side. No other example of such a burial has been discovered in the Burnt City.
According to Sajjadi, "The grave undoubtedly belongs one of the peoples who had migrated from the Central Asia to the Iranian Plateau. This kind of burial indicates strong relations between the people of the region and Central Asia."
Grave 2810 features another strange burial. "This grave belongs to a man who died sometime between the ages of 25 and 30. The head of the man was buried in the lower part of his right side and two daggers or cutting tools were also placed on his right side," Sajjadi says. The archaeologists guess that the man was beheaded with these same cutting tools.
"In the grave, there are some pottery bowls and vases, which were used during formal funerals in ancient times. Therefore, we surmise that the man was executed for some offence, but due to the evidence of the formal funeral that was held for the man, he must have been a respected member of the community," Sajjadi said.
Grave 609 contains a further odd burial - six skulls, with a large number of long human bones. "All these burials raise a number of questions", Sajjadi says.
Edited from Tehran Times (21 July 2014)