20 February 2018
Chilean whale hunts depicted in ancient rock art
Using makeshift harpoons and rafts, a hunter spears a large whale. It would have been a welcome kill for hunter-gatherers living in one of the world's driest regions, Chile's Atacama Desert, 1,500-years ago.
The moment was frozen in time by ancient artists nearly 1,500 years ago. In bright red rock art, painted in iron-oxide, the ancient hunting tradition can still be seen. Whales, swordfish, sea lions, and sharks are among the depictions, say archaeologists
Rock art was first found in this part of Chile by anthropologists in the early 20th century in a valley called El Médano, where the first rock art in this region was catalogued.For over a thousand years the rock art's existence was known only to local Paposo people who live in the region.
The new study focuses on cave art found several miles north of El Médino, in the Izcuña ravine, where 328 different paintings were found on 24 different blocks of rock. Many have been degraded by moisture brought by camanchacas, or cloud banks that form over the Chilean coast and move inland. But enough of the art has been preserved to date it to the other El Médino art.
The most common type of art shows the silhouettes of large fish. Other images show hunting scenes with rafts and weapons. The study's author, Benjamín Ballester, notes that the fish or whales are always drawn oversized to the hunters and their rafts, making the prey a daunting antagonist. "Overall, hunting is represented as a specialized, solitary, individual practice, led by a selected few people," the study notes.
During previous excavations, archaeologists have found makeshift harpoons constructed from 10-foot wooden shafts, with detachable arrowheads dating as far back as 7,000 years ago.
Edited from National Geographic (15 February 2018)
Oldest Dutch artwork discovered in the North Sea
The oldest Dutch work of art is a 13,500 year-old carved bison bone dredged up from the bottom of the North Sea, according to a study published in Antiquity magazine.
Late Ice Age hunter gatherers roamed the area that became the North Sea but very little evidence of their presence has been found. However, in 2005 a Dutch fishing vessel caught a bison bone in its nets on the border of the Dutch part of the continental shelf. The bone, which had a distinctive zigzag pattern carved in it, ended up in the hands of a collector who agreed to let experts at the Leiden archaeological museum take a look at it.
Carbon isotope analysis showed the bone to be 13,500 years old and part of a culture that decorated animal bones with zigzag and herringbone motives. Only three other similarly carved objects have been discovered so far: a horse's jaw in Wales, deer antlers in Northern France and moose antlers in Poland.
Main author of the article and prehistory curator at the Leiden museum Luc Amkreutz thinks these objects were not used as tools but belong in a ritualistic context. "I wouldn't know what else you would do with a decorated horse's jaw", he said. According to Amkreutz the carving is "very precise to start with but a bit haphazard towards the end, as if the person doing the carving lost interest." What the carvings mean is unclear. Some have interpreted the zigzags as symbols of movement, rhythm, water or a need for symmetry. "But we will never really know," Amkreutz said.
The article also describes a piece of a human skull that was fished up from the North Sea in 2013 and which dates from roughly the same period. The parietal bone, which may have belonged to a woman, is 13,000 years old and one of the earliest examples of Homo Sapiens remains found on Dutch territory. The scientists have also found tiny indentations which may point to anaemia or a lack of vitamins, which would lead to scurvy or rickets. The search is now on for DNA in the skull fragment so more tests can be done.
Edited from DutchNews.nl (14 February 2018)
8,000-year-old heads on stakes found in underwater grave
The discovery of a burial containing 8,000-year-old human skulls, including two that still have pointed wooden stakes through them, has left archaeologists baffled, according to a new study from Sweden.
During the Stone Age, the grave would have sat at the bottom of a small lake, meaning that the skulls would have been placed underwater. Moreover, of the remains of at least 11 adults placed on top of the grave, only one had a jawbone, the researchers said. The burial did contain other jawbones, although none of them, except for an infant's, were human.
While excavating the site, archaeologists found various animal bones, said study co-lead researcher Fredrik Hallgren, an archaeologist at the Cultural Heritage Foundation in Västerås, Sweden. "Here, we have an example of a very complex ritual, which is very structured," Hallgren said.
It was difficult to identify the sex of some of the adults buried at the site, but at least three of the adults were female and six or seven were males, the researchers said. Seven of the adults, including two of the females, showed signs of 'blunt-force trauma' on their skulls, the researchers wrote in the study. But this trauma didn't kill them, at least not immediately, because all of the skulls showed signs of healing, Hallgren said. "This trauma is the result of violence between humans," the researchers wrote, and the men tended to have trauma on top of and on the front of their heads, while the women's injuries were located on the backs of their heads.
Even more astounding were the wooden stakes found in two of the skulls. One stake had broken, but the other was long, about 1.5 feet (47 cm) in length, and both likely served as handles or mounts for the skulls, Hallgren said. They found a piece of brain tissue inside the skull with the broken stake through it. The fact that the 8,000-year-old brain didn't decompose suggests that the individual was placed in the water soon after death, Hallgren said. However, some of the other skulls may have been placed there long after death, as it's possible the site may have served as a second burial for them, he added.
This strange burial site would have been hidden from view during the Stone Age, except for a few wooden stakes that may have poked above the water's edge, Hallgren said. Whoever made the grave began by tightly placing large stones and wooden stakes together at the lake's bottom, making a flat structure measuring about 39 feet by 46 feet (12 by 14 m). The bones were placed on top of these stones in a particular order; archaeologists found the human remains in the center of the structure, brown bear bones on the southern part and, finally, big game animals on the southeastern part of the stone packing."It's a very enigmatic structure," Hallgren said. "We really don't understand the reason why they did this and why they put it under water."
Though mysterious, the underwater burial had an upside: it preserved the remains for posterity. The bottom of the lake was a low-oxygen environment, and limestone in the region's bedrock made the soil more alkaline. Over time, the lake turned into a bog. Eventually, a forest grew over the bog, but the area is still watery.
"The people who were deposited like this in the lake, they weren't average people," Hallgren said, "but probably people who, after they died, had been selected to be included in this ritual because of who they were, because of things they experienced in life."
The discovery is "very interesting, but also very perplexing," said Mark Golitko, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. "Most of the sites you can look at and get a rough sense of what's going on, but this is one of those where it's, like, I really don't know. It's a very strange site," Golitko said.
Edited from LiveScience (13 February 2018)
18 February 2018
Iron Age underground chamber unearthed in the Outer Hebrides
A 2,000-year-old underground chamber has been uncovered during work to build a house on the Isle of Lewis (Western Isles, Scotland). The Iron Age souterrain was revealed during the digging of the foundations for the property in Ness. Local archaeologists, husband and wife team Chris and Rachel Barrowman, are recording the souterrain.
Dr Barrowman said theories on the purpose of the stone-lined, flat stone-roofed structures included storing food. "They are usually associated with what are known as Atlantic roundhouses, or wheelhouses, of the later Iron Age. If this one was associated with a roundhouse it is likely to have been cleared away by now," he said.
Dr Barrowman, who was asked to check the site by the contractor building the house, said the souterrain was well preserved. The archaeologist said he understood it to be the sixth to be recorded in the area.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar's regional archaeologist is expected to liaise with the islander building the house on what happens next. Dr Barrowman said it was likely that, following a full examination and recording of the site, the souterrain would be filled in and covered over to preserve the archaeology and then the construction of the new home would continue as planned.
Edited from BBC News (8 February 2018)
Decapitated skull is likely evidence of Iron Age ritual sacrifice
The head of a middle-aged woman who likely died more than 2,200 years ago during the Iron Age - and may have been decapitated as part of a prehistoric ritual - has been found in England.
A man named Roger Evans found the skull while walking his dog by the Sowy River in Somerset in March. After the skull was discovered, the government worked to get the water levels down to see if there was anything else hiding out, and they didn't find any other human remains. But there were wooden posts; samples are currently been analyzed.
The water levels have been raised again "to provide a measure of protection to the timber posts and any other archaeological remains still in the channel," according to a press release from the U.K. Environment Agency.
The life of thar ancient woman, who archaeologists believe was older than 45 when she died, appeared to have been difficult by modern standards. She had severe gum disease and had lost a few teeth and wore down the rest. She also had serious arthritis in her jaw. "The woman's head appears to have been deliberately removed at, or shortly after death," the press release stated.
Severed heads "are not an unusual discovery for the Iron Age, but the placement of the skull in a wetland beside a wooden structure is very rare, possibly reflecting a practice of making ritual offerings in watery environments," according to Richard Brunning, an archaeologist with the South West Heritage Trust. Indeed, another Iron Age skull found in York nearly 10 years ago was also thought to have been a ritual sacrifice; that skull came with some brain tissue still intact.
Edited from Newsweek (23 January 2018)
11 February 2018
Earliest tomb of a Scythian prince found in Siberia
Swiss archaeologist Gino Caspari of Bern University discovered a circular structure on high-resolution satellite images of the Uyuk River valley in Siberia, and a test excavation has confirmed the structure is a kurgan, a Scythian princely tomb.
Working with a Swiss-Russian team, Caspari has shown the burial mound is similar in construction to a kurgan located 10 kilometres to the northeast, which had long been regarded as the earliest Scythian princely tomb in the region, known as the "Siberian Valley of Kings". Consisting of a stone packing with a circular arrangement of chambers, the earliest princely tombs have walls made of larch logs. Scythian burial objects typically include weapons, horse harnesses, and objects decorated in the 'animal style'.
Wooden beams found during the test dig date to the 9th century BCE, predating the previously known nearby tomb, excavated in the 1970s and dating from the turn of the 9th to the 8th centuries BCE.
"We have a great opportunity here," says Caspari, "Archaeological methods have become considerably more sophisticated since the 1970s. Today we have completely different ways of examining material to find out more about the transition from the Late Bronze Age to the Iron Age."
The newly discovered mound's location amid swampy terrain makes it difficult for grave robbers to reach. Possibly undisturbed, it may contain treasures similar to another of its neighbours. Between 2001 and 2004, a German team discovered an undisturbed 7th century BCE Iron Age burial chamber containing the richest collection of burial artefacts ever found in the Eurasian steppe. Over a thousand gold objects had been placed with the two corpses in the tomb's main chamber, including a solid gold necklace weighing 2 kilos, along with magnificently adorned weapons, pots, and horses with exquisite harness.
Climatic conditions add to the researchers' hopes; permafrost in the valley mostly begins just a few metres below the surface. Beneath the thick stone packing of the kurgans, sunlight is unable to thaw the earth. "Very rarely ice lenses form directly beneath the kurgans," Caspari explains; the ice prevents the decay of organic matter and preserves sensitive material. Caspari expects further discoveries: "If we're lucky, we might even find some well-preserved wood carvings or carpets under the stones, or perhaps an ice mummy."
Edited from ScienceDaily (11 January 2018)
Scottish Iron Age broch is full of mysteries
In the remote Highland Region of Scotland, hidden inside a dense forest, lies the remains of an ancient broch, believed to be over 2,400 years old.
Although it was first identified approximately 80 years ago, it was not until the Forestry Commission were clearing this section of the forest that the dun-house was rediscovered. It lay hidden in an area known as Comar Wood, near Inverness, and a team of archaeologists from AOC Archaeology carried out a two week investigation. What they found left them slightly puzzled.
The site had obviously been burnt to the ground twice and rebuilt, after which it appeared to have been abandoned. Very few artefacts were uncovered in the ruins, leading to the assumption that it had only been used spasmodically, as a place of refuge in times of trouble or it may simply have been stripped of anything useful when it had been eventually abandoned. What little had been found in the shape of metal working and grinding stones yielded very little further information.
A member of the investigating team, archaeologist Mary Peteranna, is quoted as saying "Where the Dun-house was built suggests it was maybe the house of a chief and it would have been visible from quite a way off as it sits above the valley. We don't know why it was used in the way it appears to have been, and more excavation would be needed to further investigate the site".
Edited from The Herald (12 January 2018)
Paleolithic finds in Arabian Gulf lead to massive investigation
As is common in a lot of countries, archaeological investigations are carried out on major construction sites prior to any construction groundworks commencing, to see if there is anything of interest which may need to be protected, removed or recorded. Such is the case for the proposed route of a new highway in Iran, referred to locally as the Kerman-Bandar Abbas Freeway, in the Hormuzgan Province.
Some Palaeolithic sites have been identified and the Iranian Research Institute of Archaeology has proposed that the full length of the proposed road (130 kilometres) should be surveyed, with a site width of 2 kilometres. That equates to a staggering 260 square kilometres archaeological dig! The purpose of the investigations is to identify, study and protect anything that may be found within this area but no timescale was given to carry this out.
Edited from Islamic Republic News Agency (10 January 2018)
Early Scandinavians descended from Europeans and Russians
There has been a long term discussion on the origins of the peoples of Scandinavia but now modern DNA research has put some facts behind the theories.
A genetics research team from Uppsala University (Sweden) has been extracting the DNA from skulls and skeletons which date back to the time when the ice was retreating after the end of the last great Ice Age and hunters were moving into the region.
Mattias Jakobsson, a professor in genetics at the University is quoted as saying "The genetic pattern shows how Scandinavia was colonised after the Ice Age, both by migrants from southwest Europe directly up into Scandinavia and shortly afterwards by a second migration from what is now Russia. The latter went north of the ice-cap and along the Atlantic coast".
The Russians brought with them more advanced hunting tools and this DNA analysis helped to solve another discussion as to how they were found there. One interesting point from this discovery is that these genes are still present in modern day Scandinavians which may explain their ability to survive the harsh winter climate.
Edited from Copenhagen Post Online (10 January 2018)
Ancient history being remembered in a new Welsh school
The area of South Wales previously known as West Glamorgan and now forming the administrative area of Neath Port Talbot, is rich in ancient archaeology and history. So it may come as no surprise that when Neath Port Talbot Council ran a competition amongst local primary schools, to come up with a name for the new 420 pupil primary school being built in Briton Ferry, the name chosen reflected that heritage.
There were 98 entries in the competition and the name that was chosen was Ysgol (school) Carreg Hir (Long Stone). Carreg Hir is actually a 2.8 metre high menhir, made of Pennant sandstone, which happens to be located within the school grounds.
This standing stone dates back to the Bronze Age and is a Scheduled Monument. Although it has been placed on a concrete plinth it is believed that it is still in its original location although that has not been proven. The surrounding area, although not excavated, is believed to contain intact burial and ritual deposits as the stone was believed to be associated with prehistoric funerary rituals.
The new head teacher, Lesley Hynes, is quoted as saying "All the pupils within the three primary schools had the opportunity to be involved in this process and the school council used their voting rights to express their preference. We are all very pleased with the final name and are eagerly awaiting for the next phase of development of our new school".
Edited from NeathPortTalbotBoroughCouncil (9 January 2018)
2 February 2018
Hoard of Bronze Age gold found in northwest England
A hoard of Bronze Age gold is the subject of a treasure inquest. Following the discovery of several items by a metal detectorist, one of Cumbria's assistant coroners will rule on who is the legal owner. If he rules that the hoard is treasure, the British Museum is given the opportunity to acquire the find for its collection, and the finder and landowner may receive a reward based on the market value.
The magnificent collection of gold jewellery was found early 2017 in Urswick, about 360 kilometres northwest of London. The items include a bracelet, three lock rings, and a segment from a copper cauldron, estimated to date from between 1150 BCE and 800 BCE. Lock rings are normally found in pairs. It is supposed they were used as hair decorations or earrings.
Ulverston archaeologist Dan Elsworth, director of Greenlane Archaeology, says gold items were not uncommon during this period, with the peninsula having links to gold mining areas in Wales and Cornwall. Analysis shows they were laid in a small hollow under the prehistoric sub-soil and clay, and then covered with stones.
A Viking hoard of 92 silver coins was discovered in the area in 2011 - at the time the largest cache of Viking artefacts found in the region.
Edited from The Mail (19 January 2018)
Discoveries beneath ancient Greek 'pyramid'
More than 4,000 years ago, a naturally pyramid-shaped promontory now separated from the tiny Greek island of Keros, about 200 kilometres southeast of Athens, was shaped it into terraces and covered with 1,000 tonnes of specially imported gleaming white stone, giving it the appearance of a giant stepped pyramid - the most imposing manmade structure of the Cyclades archipelago in the Aegean Sea. Keros was a major sanctuary where complex rituals were enacted in the third millennium BCE. 4,500 years ago it was connected to the promontory by a narrow causeway.
Archaeologists excavating an imposing staircase in the lower terraces have now found evidence of a complex of drainage tunnels, and traces of sophisticated metalworking. The water works predate by 1,000 years the famous indoor plumbing of the Minoan palace of Knossos on Crete, 200 kilometres further south.
The first evidence of metal-working was found in excavations 10 years ago. New finds include two workshops full of metalworking debris. Artefacts include a lead axe, a mould for copper daggers, dozens of ceramic fragments from metalworking equipment, and an intact clay oven.
Soil samples reveal traces of pulses, grapes, olives, figs and almonds, and cereals, including wheat and barley. Evi Margaritis of the Cyprus Institute says much of the food was imported: "in the light of this evidence we need to reconsider what we know about existing networks to include food exchange."
Earlier excavations by the team uncovered thousands of marble Cycladic sculptures - stylised human figures which appear to have been deliberately broken and brought to the island for burial.
Lord Renfrew, joint director of the excavation, believes the promontory may originally have become a focus for development because it guarded the best natural harbour on the island, with wide views across the Aegean.
The excavations are being recorded digitally using the iDig app on iPads for the first time in the Aegean, creating 3-dimensional models of the digging process, giving everyone involved access to all data in real time.
Edited from The Guardian (18 January 2018)
Study shows Europe's forests halved over 6,000 years
Farming practices during the Neolithic period initiated a gradual decline in European forests which accelerated towards the end of the Bronze Age and has largely continued until the present day.
Using pollen analysis from more than 1,000 sites, researchers have shown that more than two thirds of central and northern Europe would once have been covered by trees - suggesting that increased demand for agricultural land and the use of wood as a source of fuel has eliminated more than half of those woodlands over the past 6,000 years.
In more western and coastal regions, including the UK and Republic of Ireland, the decline has been far greater with forest coverage in some areas dropping below 10 percent, but the discovery of new types of fuel and building techniques, as well as ecological initiatives, have begun to reverse the downward trend.
Lead author Neil Roberts, Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Plymouth, says: "Most countries go through a forest transition and the UK and Ireland reached their forest minimum around 200 years ago. Other countries in Europe have yet to reach that point, and some parts of Scandinavia - where there is not such a reliance on agriculture - are still predominantly forest. But generally, forest loss has been a dominant feature of Europe's landscape ecology in the second half of the current interglacial, with consequences for carbon cycling, ecosystem functioning and biodiversity."
Combining three methods of analysing data from the European Pollen Database, the research sought to establish precisely how the nature of Europe's forests has changed over the past 11,000 years, and shows that forest coverage actually increased from around 60 percent 11,000 years ago up to as much as 80 percent 6,000 years ago.
Professor Roberts says this was one of the more surprising findings of the research, because 20 percent of Britain's forests had gone by the end of the Bronze Age 3,000 years ago. "Around 8,000 years ago, a squirrel could have swung tree to tree from Lisbon to Moscow without touching the ground. Some may see that loss as a negative but some of our most valued habitats have come about through forests being opened up to create grass and heathland. Up until around 1940, a lot of traditional farming practices were also wildlife friendly and created habitats many of our most loved creatures."
The data could reveal how future forestry initiatives might influence habitat change.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (16 January 2018)
Hill fort brambles to be removed for the first time since 1824
Worlebury Hill Fort, an Iron Age site beside the Severn Estuary near Weston-super-Mare, 200 kilometres west of London, suffered from vandalism and was classified as being 'at risk' by Historic England at the end of 2016. North Somerset Council has received a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to pay for surveys to determine what preservation work needs to be done. Meanwhile some important work is being carried out by volunteers.
Worlebury Hill Fort Group Chairman William Fraher says: "There are 4,000 or so hill forts in Britain but this period in our pre-history is substantially undervalued. We have made a great deal of progress but we do not underestimate the great deal of work which remains. We intend the glade should be cleared of undergrowth - mainly brambles - which have stopped appreciation in summer of the important archaeological features."
The group hopes the council will apply for a £200,000 grant later in the year and create a new management plan to ensure the fort is looked after.
The site was first described by the Reverend A Catcott in 1758, but major excavations were not carried out until the 1800s.
Councillor John Crockford-Hawley, whose ward includes the hill fort, says: "There's tremendous visitor potential at this site, but we don't have even the most rudimentary display panels telling its story. Hopefully the work of the civic society and Hill Fort Group along with renewed council interest and Historic England support will lead to the full revelation of this ancient Weston gem."
Councillor Peter Bryant, executive member responsible for parks and green spaces thanked the Hill Fort Group for its hard work: "We are keen to build on this community involvement and, working with local interest groups, volunteers and local schools, aim to improve understanding and enjoyment of the hill fort by developing better access, signage and interpretation. We want to take the site off the at risk register by implementing a long term plan which will involve the local community in managing the site and safeguarding the future of this outstanding monument."
Edited from Weston, Worle & Somerset Mercury (16 January 2018)
21 January 2018
Neolithic ritual cave site discovered in Mayo
A cave-like chamber discovered by a hill walker in north west Mayo (Ireland) has been confirmed as a Neolithic site used in highly complex burial practices over 5,000 years ago.
Scientific analysis for the Department of Heritage indicates that at least 10 people, both adults and children, were placed in the chamber over a period of up to 1,200 years. One of the adult bones in the natural boulder chamber dated to 3,600 BCE while a bone from a child's skeleton dated to 2,400 BCE.
Minister for Heritage Josepha Madigan praised local hillwalkers for reporting the find and described it as a "fascinating archaeological discovery". Ms Madigan said "such vigilance is extremely important to us in helping to protect and understand our archaeological heritage".
Local hillwalker Michael Chambers came across the rock-cut chamber among massive boulders in August 2016 while walking on Bengorm Mountain in the Nephin Beg range of west Mayo. Human bones were scattered over the rock floor.
Chief archaeologist of the National Monuments Service Michael McDonagh said the area was a "very remote location and the site would have been deliberately chosen for this remoteness".
"Large pieces of quartz had been placed in and around the bones," said Dr Marion Dowd of IT Sligo who led the excavation. "When the radiocarbon dates came through it was very exciting. Not only were the bones Neolithic, but the dates showed the site had been used for over 1,000 years."
It was not a burial site as such, but a ritual place where bodies were placed to decompose, according to the osteoarchaeologist who examined the human bones Dr Linda Lynch. "Only a very small proportion of each skeleton was found, with the majority of bones apparently deliberately removed. The discovery indicates highly complex processing of the dead."
The chief archaeologist said the bones would be deposited with the National Museum after all scientific analysis was completed but were unlikely to go on display.
Edited from The Irish Times (19 January 2018)