21 July 2014
13,000-year-old Saharan remains - evidence of first race war?
French scientists working in collaboration with the British Museum have been examining the skeletons of dozens of persons, the majority of whom appear to have been killed by archers using flint-tipped arrows. Discovered at Jebel Sahaba, on the east bank of the Nile in northern Sudan, the remains represent the contents of an entire cemetery found in 1964, during excavations carried out prior to construction of the Aswan High Dam - the oldest burial ground discovered in the Nile Valley.
Over the past two years, anthropologists from Bordeaux University have found dozens of previously undetected arrow impact marks and flint arrowhead fragments on and around the bones of the victims, adding to the many arrow heads and impact marks found in the 1960s. This suggests that the majority - men, women and children - were killed by enemy archers, then buried by their own people. The research demonstrates that the attacks - in effect a prolonged low-level war - took place over many months or years.
British Museum scientists are planning to learn more about the victims - gender, disease, diet, and age at death. Research over recent years indicates they were part of the general sub-Saharan originating population - the ancestors of modern Black Africans - and it is conceivable that their attackers were from a totally different racial and ethnic group, part of a North African/Levantine/European people who lived around much of the Mediterranean Basin.
The two groups would have looked quite different from each other, and were also almost certainly different culturally and linguistically. The sub-Saharan group had long limbs, relatively short torsos and projecting upper and lower jaws along with rounded foreheads and broad noses, while the North African/Levantine/European group had shorter limbs, longer torsos and flatter faces. Both groups were very muscular and strongly built.
Certainly the northern Sudan area was a major ethnic interface between these two different groups around this period. The remains of the North African/Levantine/European group has even been found 300 kilometres south of Jebel Sahaba, suggesting that the conflict took place in an area where both populations operated. The time was one of huge competition for resources - a severe drought.
The period had been preceded by much lusher, wetter, and warmer conditions which had allowed populations to expand. When conditions worsened during the Younger Dryas period, water holes dried up, vegetation wilted, and animals died or moved to the only major year-round source of water still available - the Nile. Humans of all ethnic groups in the area were forced to follow suit, migrating to the banks - especially the eastern bank - of the great river. Competing for finite resources, groups would have inevitably clashed.
Edited from The Independent (14 July 2014)
Prehistoric 'bookkeeping' continued long after invention of writing
Recent excavations at Ziyaret Tepe - the site of the ancient city Tushan, a provincial capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, in what is now southeast Turkey - have uncovered a large number of clay tokens dating to the first millennium BCE, believed to have been used as records of trade until the advent of writing. Surprisingly, the new finds date from a time when writing was commonplace - 2,000 years after the tokens were presumed to been made obsolete. They range from basic spheres, discs, and triangles, to shapes that resemble ox hides and bull's heads.
One theory is that different types of tokens represented units of various commodities such as livestock and grain. These would be exchanged and later sealed in more clay as a permanent record of the trade - essentially, the world's first contract. The system was used up to around 3000 BCE, at which point clay tablets filled with pictorial symbols drawn using triangular-tipped reeds begin to emerge.
"Complex writing didn't stop the use of the abacus, just as the digital age hasn't wiped out pencils and pens," says Dr John MacGinnis, of Cambridge's MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, who led the research. "In fact, in a literate society there are multiple channels of recording information that can be complementary to each other."
The tokens were discovered in the main administrative building in Tushan's lower town, along with many cuneiform clay tablets, as well as weights and clay seals. Over 300 tokens were found in two rooms near the back of a building MacGinnis describes as having the character of a delivery area. "We think one of two things happened here. You either have information about livestock coming through here, or flocks of animals themselves. Each farmer or herder would have a bag with tokens to represent their flock. The information is travelling through these rooms in token form, and ending up inscribed onto cuneiform tablets further down the line."
While cuneiform writing was a more advanced accounting technology, by combining it with the flexibility of the tokens the ancient Assyrians created a record-keeping system of greater sophistication. "The tokens provided a system of moveable numbers that allowed for stock to be moved and accounts to be modified and updated without committing to writing; a system that doesn't require everyone involved to be literate."
MacGinnis believes the new evidence points to an empire-wide system stretching right across what is now Turkey, Syria and Iraq. In its day, roughly 900 to 600 BCE, the Assyrian empire was the largest the world had ever seen. "The inventions of recording systems are milestones in the human journey, and any finds which contribute to the understanding of how they came about makes a basic contribution to mapping the progress of mankind."
Edited from EurekAlert! (13 July 2014)
Ritual burials of children by ancient Alpine lake dwellers
Since the 1920s, archaeologists have known that Bronze Age villages dotted Alpine lakes in Switzerland and Germany, however, it wasn't until the 1970s and 1980s that many of the sites were excavated. Finds included hunting tools, animal bones, ceramics, and jewelry, as well as the remains of watchtowers, gates and more than 160 dwellings. Tree ring studies suggest people lived there at different periods between 3,800 and 2,600 years ago.
The ancient lake-dwellers regularly faced flooding, moving back and forth as levels rose and fell. They built houses on stilts or sturdy wooden foundations, and made palisades from bog pine. Archaeologists unearthed children's skulls and skeletal remains encircling the villages at the palisade edges. Many of these ancient skulls were placed there long after their initial burial, at a time when the settlements experienced the worst inundation.
An archaeologist at Basel University and co-author of the current study, Benjamin Jennings and his colleagues took a closer look at the fossil skeletons. Most were from children under age 10. The skulls showed evidence of head trauma from battle-axes or clubs, though the injuries don't have the uniformity associated with ritual killing. It is more likely the youngsters were felled in warfare, rather than killed as a sacrifices.
Either way, these weren't ordinary burials, Jennings says. "Across Europe as a whole there is quite a body of evidence to indicate that throughout prehistory human remains, and particularly the skull, were highly symbolic and socially charged. The remains are found at the perimeter of the settlement - not inside and not outside, but at a liminal position on the border between in and out," At one site, the remains were found at the high-water mark, suggesting they may have been placed there as an offering to protect against flooding.
"There are very few instance or examples of burials in the vicinity of the lake settlements, and so we really do not know where the majority of the lake dwellers are buried, or how they treated their dead," Jennings admits.
Edited from LiveScience (9 July 2014)
20 July 2014
Ancient log boats found in Irish lake
For up to 4,500 years, sunken dug-out canoes have been lying on the bottom of Lough Corrib in County Galway, in the far west of Ireland. The lake's shores and its hundreds of islands are speckled with known archaeological sites, but until recently few had explored beneath its surface.
Thanks to a project to produce up-to-date navigation charts of the lake's relatively shallow waters, sonar highlighted a number of previously undetected sites. It was the appearance of a long, slender anomaly that prompted marine surveyor Trevor Northage to contact Ireland's National Monuments Service.
A dive team headed by Karl Brady was sent to investigate that feature, as well as around 20 other suspected sites, over half of which have proven to be the remains of boats of various ages. Five log boats have been securely dated so far.
The oldest and largest vessel yet identified is a 12 metre long dugout, found near Annaghkeen, and radiocarbon dated to 2500 BCE. The craft is so well preserved that a distinctive spine 2 to 3 centimetres tall can still be seen running the length of its floor. Four cross-ridges extend from this at right angles, dividing the boat into sections. The boat's size suggests it would have required a crew of perhaps 10 to 12 persons.
One vessel reveals traces of Bronze Age construction techniques: ancient repairs performed on a 3,400-year-old log boat discovered off Lee's Island show signs of experimentation with methods that were only just beginning to arrive in Ireland during this period. Although only the base and lower parts of the hull remain, details of its construction have survived, including a series of cleats - wooden loops set into its floor, anchoring the slender rods that held two sections of the hull together - the earliest known example of this technique being used in Ireland.
A later Bronze Age vessel was found near Killbeg. Only the craft's base remains, but within the boat the team found a socketed bronze spearhead containing fragments of wood that were radiocarbon dated to the 9th century BCE, as well as a complete spear carved from yew, which lay beside the hull.
Spears have proven a common feature of several of the log boats: two iron spearheads were recovered from the 11th-century CE wreck, while a vessel found near Rabbit Island produced four.
The presence of weapons could indicate that the boats sank while on active service, although spears are sometimes associated with wrecks where a vessel at the end of its life has been ritually 'killed'.
The boat which gives the clearest insights into its construction is the 11th-century CE Carrowmoreknock boat. This craft is remarkably well preserved, its sides rising almost to full height around over three quarters of the hull, while four of its five thwarts - seats made from planks - are still in place. Unlike the Bronze Age craft, this boat was not paddled, but rowed, as evidenced by the remains of four pairs of thole-pin holes, which would have held the oars.
"This is probably among the best-preserved logboats ever found in Britain and Ireland, designed for travelling around the lake at speed," Brady said. "It is just beautifully crafted, probably made for a high-status individual."
The discovery of weapons inside the boat, including three battle axes, an iron work-axe, two iron spearheads, and a curious piece of metal provisionally interpreted as a copper-alloy dagger pommel, suggests the crew were also warriors. One blade is so large, its owner would likely have needed both hands to wield it. Sections of all three axes' cherrywood handles have also survived, and the complete haft of the largest axe is 80 centimetres long. These are classic Viking-style weapons, Brady says, though by the 11th century they are more likely to have been in the hands of Irish warriors than Norse raiders.
Edited from Current Archaeology (23 June 2014)
19 July 2014
8,000-year-old skull found in Norway
Archaeologists in Norway have found what could be an 8,000 year old human skull containing traces of brain matter. The finding at a site in Stokke, Vestfold, was among a number of discoveries unearthed during the excavation. It is too early to tell whether the bone remains are those of a human child or an animal, but early tests have dated the skull to around 5,900 BCE.
Gaute Reitan, dig site leader, said that the 'one of a kind' skull contained a grey substance that appeared to be brain matter. "When we dug out some sample squares here, very early on we came down to masses of soil, rich in carbon. We sent samples of this soil for fast dating in order to find a little more out of what we were dealing with. The bones in the pit are just as old," Retian said.
Edited from The Local (10 July 2014), The Independent (15 July 2014)
Discoveries shed light on Mesolithic and Early Neolithic in Denmark
In 1999 the bones of several elk were excavated from Lundby bog, in the south of Denmark's largest island - Zealand. Archaeologists then dated some of the remains to between 9,400 and 9,300 BCE. Recently, new carbon dating on some of the bones revealed a date between 9,873 and 9,676 BCE - a wider range, and about 400 years earlier.
Kristoffer Buck Pedersen, an archaeologist and chief curator at Museum Southeast Denmark, says that "so far we've not found settlements that are as old as the elk bones, so the identity of the people who put the bones in the bog is something of a mystery."
The way the bones were buried indicates the remains of each animal had been wrapped in a fur.
"Back then people believed that everything in nature had a soul and to ensure balance they gathered the bones from the animals they had eaten and sacrificed them," Pedersen says, adding that ancient people thought animals buried in the bog would be resurrected.
Mikkel Sorensen, an associate professor at the Saxo Institute of the University of Copenhagen agrees with that interpretation. "There is a definite selection of the bones buried in the bog and this can clearly be interpreted as a ritual act," says Sorensen, who wasn't a part of the new study.
The archaeologists have not yet learned whether people lived close to the bog, or simply passed by it many times.
An important clue to who buried the elk comes from an axe made from an elk antler found in the bog - a kind of tool known only from the Maglemosean culture that existed between 9,000 and 6,400 BCE.
"There are plenty of settlements in the vicinity of the bog from the Mesolithic period around 12,800 and 3,900 BCE, but none of these settlements are as old as the oldest elk bones," says Pedersen. "We've examined the bog many times and we've not been able to localise any settlements, but we assume they are there - somewhere."
Pedersen explains that finding the settlement may be difficult, because a later settlement in the same place which would hide any traces.
Around the Early Neolithic (circa 4000 to 3500 BCE in this region) technologies came to Denmark from Central Europe, via what is now Germany. During this period, Mesolithic style hunting and fishing continued being practised in parallel with the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry.
Most new tool types that characterise the early Neolithic in Denmark were made from local materials and exhibit a smooth evolution from late Mesolithic forms. Among the best known tools that are definitely 'foreign' and of central European origin are the chert 'skolastokser' (shoe-last celts), named after their characteristic shape. This type of axe or adze dates from the period just prior to the Neolithic in Denmark.
A recent find from the current excavation could reinforce a German connection. Archaeologist Soren Anker Sorensen from the Museum Lolland-Falster says that a heavy red-deer antler axe which still contains a small fragment of the original wooden handle, "can not be directly attributed to a German origin from the raw material, but the design of the artefact nevertheless gives an indication of the direction of cultural exchange".
Although antler axes were made throughout the Mesolithic, and continued into the Bronze Age as rarer tools, this unique type of T-shaped antler axe is common only in Jutland and Northern Germany towards the end of the Mesolithic period.
Edited from Past Horizons (24 June 2014), ScienceNordic (1 July 2014)
18 July 2014
Prehistoric circle dated to same Seahenge neighbour
A second prehistoric circle on a Norfolk beach (England) has been dated to the same summer more than 4,000 years ago as its famous neighbour, Seahenge. Archaeologists believe the two circles, which originally stood inland in boggy freshwater but are now being eroded gradually by the tides, were part of the same monumental complex connected with rites to honour the dead.
In Norfolk, because the salty silt preserved the wood, the two circles at Holme Beach are the only ones in Britain to have been dated precisely, to 2049 BCE. The circles were discovered at the same time in 1999, but while some of the conserved Seahenge timbers are now on display in the museum at Lynn, the other was never excavated.
Norfolk county archaeologists monitoring its decay have just released the dating evidence, obtained by dendrochronology - counting the growth rings in the timbers - which shows it was built from trees felled in the spring or summer of 2049 BCE, exactly the same time as the Seahenge timbers. The tests were carried out over the last year, before decay would have made the dating impossible.
The 55 oak posts of Seahenge surrounded a gnarled oak stump, but the second ring, known as Holme II, was centred on two oak logs laid flat. When it was found these were surrounded by an oval of oak posts with smaller branches woven between them, then an outer ark of split oak timbers, and finally a fence of closely set split oak timbers. Within four years the woven branches were gone, and in storms in October 2003 and March 2004, both the logs were washed away. More timbers have been eroded or lost completely every winter since.
The Seahenge timbers revealed the oldest marks of metal axes ever found in Britain, showing that bronze tools were being used for complex woodwork within a century of the introduction of bronze smelting. The marks of at least 36 separate axes were found, suggesting that its construction was a major communal project.
David Robertson, historic environment officer at Norfolk county council who ran the Holme II dating project, said he believed the circle may originally have been covered by a burial mound, with the central logs supporting a coffin. "As the timbers used in both timber circles were felled at the same time, the construction of the two monuments must have been directly linked. Seahenge is thought to have been a free-standing timber circle, possibly to mark the death of an individual, acting as a cenotaph symbolising death rather than a location for burial. If part of a burial mound, the second circle would have been the actual burial place."
The inevitable destruction of the monument will be monitored, but there are no plans for further excavation.
Edited from The Guardian (3 July 2014)
Ancient erotic graffiti found on Aegean island
Four years ago Dr Andreas Vlachopoulos, a specialist in prehistoric archaeology, began fieldwork on the Aegean island of Astypalaia (Greece). On that remote island he found a series of inscriptions and large phalluses carved into a rocky peninsula at Vathy. The inscriptions, both dating to the fifth and sixth centuries BCE, were 'so monumental in scale' - and so tantalisingly clear - he was left in no doubt of the motivation behind the artworks.
"They were what I would call triumphant inscriptions," said the Princeton-trained professor who found them while introducing students to the ancient island world of the Aegean. "They claimed their own space in large letters that not only expressed sexual desire but talked about the act of sex itself," he said. "And that is very, very rare."
Chiselled into the outcrops of dolomite limestone that dot the cape, the inscriptions have provided invaluable insight into the private lives of those who inhabited archaic Greece. "We know that in ancient Greece sexual desire between men was not a taboo," added Dr Vlachopoulos. "But this graffiti is not just among the earliest ever discovered. It clearly says that these two men were making love over a long period of time, emphasising the sexual act in a way that is highly unusual in erotic artwork. "
Found at the highest point of the promontory overlooking the Bay of Vathy on the island's north-western tip, the inscription has led the archaeologist to believe that soldiers may once have been garrisoned there. Two penises engraved into limestone beneath the name of Dion, and dating to the fifth century BCE, were also discovered at lower heights of the cape.
"Whoever wrote the erotic inscription was very well trained in writing," said Angelos Matthaiou, for more than 25 years the general secretary at the Greek Epigraphic Society. "The letters have been very skillfully inscribed on the face of the rock, evidence that it was not just philosophers, scholars and historians who were trained in the art of writing but ordinary people living on islands too."
Other rock art found at the site include carvings depicting oared ships, daggers and spirals - all still discernible despite exposure to the erosive effects of wind and sea. As the best-known motif of early Cycladic art representing the waves of the sea, spirals symbolised perpetual motion as the driving force in the life and thought of island communities. "We know that Greek islands were inhabited by the third millienium BCE, but what we have found is evidence that, even then, people were using a coded language of symbols and imagery that was quite sophisticated," said Dr Vlachopoulos.
Edited from The Guardian (6 July 2014)
Meteorite fragment discovered in a 9,000-year-old hut
Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology (IAE) PAS in Szczecin discovered a meteorite fragment inside the remains of a hut dating back more than 9,000 years in Bolków by the lake Świdwie in Western Pomerania (Poland). It is a natural pyrite meteorite fragment with cylindrical shape and porous, corrugated side surface. It has a height of 8 cm, width of 5.3 cm at the base and 3.5 cm at the top. The meteorite discovery was made during last year's work, but only now, thanks to specialized studies, researchers were able to determine the origin of the unusual object.
"The meteorite was brought to the shelter as a special object, 'not of this world', which must have been obvious to the contemporary men, knowledgeable of stone raw materials. The thing became an object of belief, and maybe even shamanic magic" - said Prof. Tadeusz Galiński of IAE, head of the research project. According to the professor, the discovered fragment is surprisingly heavy. "In addition, the side profile shape suggests various associations; the original finder millennia ago probably saw in it shapes of a mysterious world of spirits" - added the scientist.
Along with the meteorite fragment, archaeologists also found numerous tools made of flint, wood, bone and antler, and a rich group of objects associated with the spiritual culture: an amulet, bone spear tip with engraved ornament and so-called magic stick made of antler, decorated with geometric motifs.
In addition to the remains of the pole hut, which contained the meteorite, archaeologists discovered a second, almost identical structure. In both of them, excavated in peat layer, in the central part there were preserved traces of hearths.
Edited from Science & Scholarship in Poland (25 June 2014)
1 July 2014
Neanderthals may have had plants in their diet
Traces of 50,000-year-old poop found at a caveman campground in Spain suggest that Neanderthals may have had a healthy dose of plants in their diet, researchers say. The findings are based on chemicals lingering in bits of fossilized feces, perhaps the oldest known to science.
Recent research has upended the image of Neanderthals - the closest extinct relatives of Homo sapiens that roamed Eurasia from about 230,000 to 40,000 years ago - as dim-witted bruisers. These long-gone cousins may have controlled fire, made tools, buried their dead in graves, adorned themselves with feathers and tidied their caves. Some studies in the past few years have also suggested that Neanderthals probably had well-rounded diets. Archaeologists found residues of fish scales, bird feathers and starchy plants at a Neanderthal cave in the Rhone Valley in France. Another group of researchers discovered seal, dolphin and fish bones near a Neanderthal hearth on the Rock of Gibraltar, located on the Iberian Peninsula. A 2010 study identified microfossils of plants, such as date palms, legumes and grass seeds, stuck in Neanderthal teeth.
For the new study, researchers looked for telltale biomarkers in bits of fossilized feces (often called coprolites) found in the soil at El Salt, an archaeological site in Alicante, Spain, which Neanderthals occupied at various times between 60,000 and 45,000 years ago. All samples indicated that Neanderthals ate animals; evidence came in the form of coprostanol, a lipid created when the body metabolizes cholesterol, but two samples also had a dash of 5B-stigmastanol - a chemical produced when the gut breaks down phytosterol, a cholesterol-like compound that comes from plants. The researchers billed their study as the first direct evidence that Neanderthals had an omnivorous diet.
Ainara Sistiaga, a graduate student at the University of La Laguna in Spain, who led the investigation as a visiting student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the results aren't all that surprising, as Neanderthals are primates and most primates are omnivores. "We cannot say anything about what kind of plants they were actually eating, but some scientists have suggested that in this area they probably had access to berries, nuts or tubers," Sistiaga said.
Other experts were skeptical about whether the samples in question even belonged to Neanderthals. In pointing a finger at these human cousins, the authors of the paper may have been too quick to rule out bears, wild boars and other omnivores that could have wandered onto the site and left a present. "It is notoriously difficult to identify the species of coprolites, so it is far from secure that the coprolites they worked on are from humans," said Michael Richards, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, who was not involved in the study.
Another researcher noted the questionable placement of the feces - found right next to the fire. "How would human feces end up close to the cooking place?" asked Hervé Bocherens, of the University of Tübingen in Germany. "We know that modern bears are attracted by abandoned hearths, and they would probably leave droppings behind without any afterthoughts," Bocherens said.
Edited from Live SCience (25 June 2014)
Iron Age hillfort in Britain open to tourists
This summer, archaeologists are welcoming tourists to explore an ancient British hillfort full of prehistoric artifacts, as the researchers wrap up an excavation at the site. The fort, called Burrough Hill, was carved into the side of a 690-foot (210 meters) mound in the modern-day English county of Leicestershire during the Iron Age, around 500 BCE, and was used until the third or fourth century CE of the Roman period.
A five-year excavation of the site yielded bones, jewelry, pottery and even game pieces. Archaeologists will open the hillfort to visitors on June 29, hosting guided tours that allow people to touch some of the artifacts, and offering Iron Age combat lessons before the dig comes to a close at the end of the summer. Last year, the team discovered a collection of stone tools and pottery that dates back to 2800 BCE. In the final stage of the excavation, archaeologists will investigate what they believe could be a second entrance into the fort.
"We have been surprised by the quantity and quality of the information we have uncovered," John Thomas, co-director of the excavation and archaeologist at the University of Leicester, in England, said in a statement. "It has really painted a new picture of life at Burrough Hill and helped to fit the hillfort into a wider view of Iron Age life across the county that we have steadily developed through other excavations over several decades."
The whole fort system discovered at Borough Hill spans 523,000 square feet (48,600 square meters) and includes several ramparts that stand 10 feet (3 m) tall. After the Iron Age, the fort was abandoned as a defense post and then used as a farmstead. Later, it hosted a large medieval festival. The team of archaeologists hopes the discovery of artifacts, such as pottery and quern stones used for grinding corn, will shed light on the lives of humans living in the Iron Age and help historians better understand the transition from the Iron Age into the Roman period.
Edited from Live Science (24 June 2014)
Bronze Age bling: black stone, amber and shells
A 4,200-year-old necklace made of alternating black and white disc-shaped beads has helped British researchers devise a new method for the identification of shell species in archaeological artefacts.
Mollusc shells appear to have been among the first durable materials used for personal ornaments and building tools, but their often degraded condition makes it hard to identify the species with traditional analysis. York University's Beatrice Demarchi, Julie Wilson, and their colleagues used statistical pattern recognition methods and amino acid analysis to distinguish shells taxonomically.
The new approach was tested on a necklace which has intrigued archaeologists ever since its discovery in 2009 at an early Bronze Age site near Suffolk in eastern England, in the grave of a young adult woman, radiocarbon-dated to around 2200 BCE. The necklace consisted of strings of tiny disc beads of shells and black jet, possibly carved out of the fossils of monkey puzzle trees from Whitby, 260 kilometres to the north.
Alison Sheridan, principal curator of Early Prehistory at National Museums in Scotland, says "The necklace had not been worn on the body, but was found near the head. Beads of jet and shell alternated in a zebra design. Interspersed with these - and I am currently trying to work out exactly how the arrangement worked - were a number of amber beads, some perforated straight through, some with cross-shaped perforations."
"The necklace design is unique, although a lot of Early Bronze Age jet jewellery, and some amber jewellery, is known," Sheridan adds, "However, the use of sea shells for jewellery during the Early Bronze Age in Britain is incredibly rare."
It appears that Bronze Age craftspeople used local shells like dog whelk and tusk shells to make the necklace. Conical, curved and open at both ends, tusk shells resemble miniature elephant tusks, hence the name. Dog whelks are predatory, carnivorous sea snails often found on rocky shores. While dog whelks are abundant around the Suffolk coast today, tusk shells are less widespread, but present along the southern coast.
Edited from Discovery News (19 June 2014)
30 June 2014
Ancient burial with chariots discovered in Caucasus
An ancient burial containing chariots, gold artifacts and possible human sacrifices has been discovered by archaeologists in the country of Georgia, in the south Caucasus. The burial site, which would've been intended for a chief, dates back over 4,000 years - the Early Bronze Age, said Zurab Makharadze, head of the Centre of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum.
Archaeologists discovered the timber burial chamber within a 39-foot-high (12 meters) mound called a kurgan. When the archaeologists reached the chamber they found an assortment of treasures, including two chariots, each with four wooden wheels. The team discovered ornamented clay and wooden vessels, flint and obsidian arrowheads, leather and textile artifacts, a unique wooden armchair, carnelian and amber beads and 23 golden artifacts, including rare and artistic crafted jewelry, wrote Makharadze in his study recently presented at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, held at the University of Basel in Switzerland.
While the human remains had been disturbed by a robbery, which probably occurred in ancient times, and were in a disordered position, the archaeologists found that seven people were buried in the chamber. "One of them was a chief and others should be the members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants," Makharadze said. The burial dates back to a time before domesticated horses appeared in the area, Makharadze said. While no animals were found buried with the chariots, he said, oxen would have pulled them.
Other rich kurgan burials dating to the second half of the third millennium BCE have also been found in the south Caucasus, said Makharadze. The appearance of these rich burials appears to be connected to interactions that occurred between nomadic people from the Eurasian steppes and farming communities within and near the south Caucasus, Makharadze added. These interactions appear to have led to some individuals, like this chief, getting elaborate burials. The newly discovered armchair symbolizes the power that individuals like the chief had. "The purpose of the wooden armchair was the indication to power, and it was put in the kurgan as a symbol of power," Makharadze concluded.
Edited from Live Science (25 June 2014)
Archaeo-astronomy steps out from shadows of the past
A developing field of research that merges astronomical techniques with the study of ancient man-made features and the surrounding landscapes was highlighted at the recent National Astronomy Meeting in Portsmouth UK, with archaeo-astronomers revealing evidence that Neolithic and Bronze Age people were acute observers of the Sun, Moon, and stars, and embedded astronomical references within their landscapes.
"There's more to archaeo-astronomy than Stonehenge," says Dr Daniel Brown of Nottingham Trent University. "Modern archaeo-astronomy encompasses many other research areas such as anthropology, ethno-astronomy, and even educational research. It has stepped away from its speculative beginnings and placed itself solidly onto the foundation of statistical methods."
In response to this, some researchers are proposing to rename the field 'Skyscape Archaeology'. Dr Fabio Silva, of University College London and co-editor of the recently established Journal for Skyscape Archaeology, says, "It is no longer enough to simply collect orientation data for a large number of monuments spread over vast regions and look for broad patterns. Dr Silva's studies of European megaliths focus on 6000-year-old winter occupation sites and megalithic structures in the Mondego valley in central Portugal. He has found that the entrance corridors of all passage graves in a given necropolis are aligned with the seasonal rising over nearby mountains of the star Aldebaran, the brightest star of the constellation Taurus. This link between the appearance of the star in springtime and the mountains where the dolmen builders spent their summers echoes in local folklore about how the Serra da Estrela or 'Mountain Range of the Star' received its name from a shepherd and his dog following a star.
Pamela Armstrong, of the University of Wales Trinity St David, integrates the idea of skyscape in her work on the finest stone chambered tombs in Britain, on the northern Cotswolds. Her work sheds light upon whether these Neolithic settlers practiced a different astronomy to that of the Mesolithic hunter gatherers who preceded them in this landscape.
Brian Sheen and Gary Cutts of the Roseland Observatory have worked together with Jacky Nowakowski, of Cornwall Council's Historic Environment Service, to explore an important Bronze Age astro-landscape extending over about a thousand hectares on Bodmin Moor. At its heart lie Britain's only triple stone circles, The Hurlers, two of which are linked by a 4000-year-old granite pavement. The team has confirmed that Bronze Age inhabitants used a calendar controlled by the movements of the Sun. Sheen says, "We also think the three circles that comprise The Hurlers monument may be laid out on the ground to resemble Orion's Belt. Far from being three isolated circles on the moor they are linked into one landscape."
Edited from Science Daily (23 June 2014), PhysOrg (24 June 2014)
Scientists find 6,200-year-old parasite egg in ancient skeleton
In what is now northern Syria, researchers have found the earliest known evidence of infection with a parasitic worm that now afflicts more than 200 million people worldwide.
Archaeologists who discovered a 132-micrometer-long parasite egg near the pelvis of a child's skeleton in a Mesopotamian graveyard say it dates to a time when societies first used irrigation systems to grow crops. The Ubaid people who lived in Tell Zeidan between 6500 and 6000 years ago are known to have pioneered the use of irrigation to grow food on their arid land. Living near and working in those canals could have put them in the parasite's path, allowing it to jump from its temporary hosts - freshwater snails - to people's intestines, as it continues to do in Africa, Asia, and South America.
Before this discovery, the oldest confirmed case of schistosomiasis was a 5200-year-old mummy in Egypt.
According to team leader and palaeo-pathologist Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge UK, "A lot of different parasites - roundworms, hookworms, whipworms - find it difficult to infect you if you are moving a lot of time." Nomadic groups remain small, don't stick around long enough to contaminate any one water source, and tend not to keep domestic animals such as sheep and dogs, which can be sources of parasites. When humans turned to agriculture, populations grew past the critical thresholds that infectious diseases require to sustain themselves.
Gil Stein, a professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Chicago and one of the report's authors, said that irrigation might have also spurred outbreaks of other diseases such as malaria. Other experts agree it was likely that irrigation spread parasitic diseases beginning in ancient times.
Scott Lawton, a parasitologist from Kingston University London, cautions against drawing too many conclusions from a single egg. "It could have been through irrigation, it could have been through natural waterways, it may have even been an infection picked up from travelling elsewhere in the Middle East or North Africa. There is certainly more work to be done to disentangle the causes of infection in the Syrian gravesite."
Edited from Science Magazine (19 June 2014), The News International (21 June 2014)