4 March 2015
Traces of a new stone avenue found at Avebury
The traces of a new stone avenue has been located by photographic evidence at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Avebury in Wiltshire (England). Previously, two other stone avenues known as the 'West Kennet Avenue' and the 'Beckhampton Avenue' are known to archaeologists as they still have some of the massive stones that line these avenues.
Robert John Langdon, an author and cartographer had been mapping the area over the last six years and has published a series of books and maps, based on his hypothesis that most of Britain was flooded directly after the last ice age and consequently, these ancient sites were built on the shorelines of the 'wetlands'.
"The maps I have produced," says Langdon, "indicated that Avebury was a trading place for our ancestors. My assumption is that the nearby monument of Silbury Hill would have been used as a harbour, once the waters had eventually receded from the main site of Avebury. Therefore, a direct pathway would have been used from Silbury Hill to Avebury for goods, which according to archaeologists doesn't exist."
Silbury Hill is the largest man-made monument of prehistoric Europe and has always been a mystery to archaeologists throughout history as it doesn't seem to have a real purpose. Langdon insists that this ancient civilisation did not spend millions of man hours building a monument without a very good practical reason.
"We now know through recent excavations that this mound was built in stages," says Langdon. "You only change the height of this monument if it serves as a beacon to attract ships and boats to the trading place of Avebury, for the higher you build, the greater the visible range," he adds.
Langdon's findings will need to be confirmed by excavation, although in 2011 at the top of this newly discovered stone avenue, dowsers found a series of stone holes in the same location as the new photographic evidence.
Edited from SourceWire (2 March 2015)
The oldest Norwegian skeleton
The Stone Age skeleton found in Norway last summer could be as much as 8000 years old, archeologists now believe, making it by far the oldest ever discovered in the country. 'Brunstad man', whose remains were found in Stokke, south of Oslo, is now believed to be from the Mesolithic period, which spans from 10,000 BCE-4000 BCE.
"The discovery is sensational in Norwegian, and indeed even in a north European context," said Almut Schülke, an archaeologist working for the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo.
Archaeologists hope to learn the age of the man, his diet and the extent to which the people who found their way so far north had contact with other settlements around the Skagerrak and the Baltic Sea. The skeleton was found lying in the fetal position, a typical stone-age burial position, in a pit which had been bricked in on the inside.
Schülke said she hoped to find further evidence of human activity at the same site. "We do not know if Brunstad was a fixed settlement or whether it was a place people went to pick up special resources, such as different types of stone. We do not know of other major tombs nearby, but it was not uncommon to add a single grave so close to a settlement, as they have done here."
Edited from The Local (16 February 2015)
3 March 2015
Hunting with wolves helped humans outsmart Neanderthals
According to a leading anthropologist, early dogs played a critical role in the modern human's takeover of Europe 40,000 years ago.
"At that time, modern humans, Neanderthals and wolves were all top predators and competed to kill mammoths and other huge herbivores," says Professor Pat Shipman, of Pennsylvania State University. "But then we formed an alliance with the wolf and that would have been the end for the Neanderthal." If Shipman is right, she will have solved one of evolution's most intriguing mysteries.
Modern humans are known to have evolved in Africa. They began to emigrate around 70,000 years ago, reaching Europe 25,000 years later. The continent was then dominated by our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals, who had lived there for more than 200,000 years. Within a few thousand years of our arrival, however, they disappeared.
Most argue that modern humans were responsible. Shipman believes we had an accomplice.
"Early wolf-dogs would have tracked and harassed animals like elk and bison and would have hounded them until they tired," says Shipman. "Then humans would have killed them with spears or bows and arrows. "This meant the dogs did not need to approach these large cornered animals to finish them off - often the most dangerous part of a hunt - while humans didn't have to expend energy in tracking and wearing down prey."
At the time, the European landscape was dominated by large herbivores. Both Neanderthals and modern humans hunted them.
"Even if you brought down a bison, within minutes other carnivores would have been lining up to attack you and steal your prey," says Shipman. Once humans and wolves joined forces, they dominated the food chain in prehistoric Europe.
The idea is controversial because it pushes back the origins of dog domestication. Most scientists had previously argued the domestication of dogs began with the rise of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Shipman places it before the last Ice Age, pointing to recent discoveries of 33,000-year-old fossil remains of dogs in Siberia and Belgium, which show clear signs of domestication: shorter snouts, wider jaws, and more crowded teeth.
By contrast, there is no evidence of any kind that Neanderthals had any relationship with dogs.
Edited from The Guardian (1 March 2015)
Ancient wheat points to Stone Age trade
Britons may have discovered a taste for bread thousands of years earlier than previously thought, conclude scientists who discovered that samples from a now-submerged prehistoric camp in southern England contained traces of ancient wheat DNA.
The findings suggest that Stone Age hunter-gatherers co-existed with early agriculturalists for lengthy periods of time. Other archaeological assumptions based on bones or fossil study could be called into question by a thorough analysis of previously overlooked genetic material.
It is known that the practice of planting and harvesting cereals arose about 12,000 years ago in the region where Europe meets Asia, and slowly spread across Europe. Britons didn't adopt agriculture until 6,000 years ago, though - something many archaeologists have put down to the rising sea levels that filled what is now the English Channel. This natural barrier was believed to have explained the delayed the start of the Neolithic, when farmers replaced hunter-gatherers in Britain.
Researchers analysing sediment samples from the Bouldnor Cliff underwater site off the Isle of Wight found wheat to have been present there 8,000 years ago - two millennia before any cereals were planted in Britain, concluding that: "sophisticated social networks linked the Neolithic front in southern Europe to the Mesolithic peoples of northern Europe."
"There was a real cultural link between the ancient Britons and Europe," says study leader Robin G Allaby of the University of Warwick, England. "So Mesolithic people were not simply and quickly replaced by Neolithic peoples. Instead there was a long period - thousands of years - of interaction between the two." Allaby said that since no grains were found in the sediment, it's likely the wheat DNA came from flour.
Greger Larson, an expert in ancient DNA at the University of Oxford who wasn't involved in the study, said the findings provided the first strong evidence for trading between hunter-gatherers and farmers.
Simone Riehl, an archaeologist at Tuebingen University in Germany who also wasn't involved in the study, said extracting DNA from sediment had the potential to revolutionise scientists' understanding of ancient flora and fauna, adding that: "The interpretation of ancient DNA signatures from such sediments however will probably remain debatable for a long time."
Edited from Phys.org (26 February 2015)
24 February 2015
Neolithic skeleton returned to its home in Wales
In 1891 a civil engineer from Bacup, Lancashire (England) was excavating in the Little Orme: one of two promontories which flank the town beach at Llandudno, on the coast of North Wales. What he discovered was a Neolithic female skeleton, dated at approximately 3,500 BCE.
For whatever reason, the skeleton returned with the engineer to Bacup and it has remained there ever since. Affectionately titled 'Blodwen', paying respect to her native Wales, research of her bones suggests she died between the age of 54 and 63 - which was remarkable for its time - was about 5ft (1.52m), of robust build, and probably from a farming community. She had arthritis in both her spine and knees and at the time of her death she was also suffering from secondary cancer.
For several years a Welsh historian, Frank Dibble, campaigned for the return of the ancient remains but sadly he passed away before he could achieve his ambition. Now the Stone Age skeleton is returning home after spending 120 years in England.
Although the return is a permanent donation from the Bacup Natural History Society, there is still quite a cost involved in housing the exhibition. Fortunately the funds needed have been raised from a variety of sources and it is expected that a permanent exhibition will be opened to the public in April 2015, and will depict Llandudno in Neolithic times, with the skeleton as a centrepiece.
The Chair of the Trust, which runs the Llandudno Museum, the home of the exhibition, is quoted as saying "We are delighted with the response that we have received for the Blodwen appeal. It demonstrates just how much our community values Blodwen and the story she can tell about our local heritage. Frank Dibble worked tirelessly to bring Blodwen home and his family have been most supportivde of the appeal. We hope that the exhibition will be a fitting tribute and legacy to Mr Dibble's hard work".
Edited from Daily Post (16 February 2015)
20 February 2015
Security threats delay research into Nok Culture
The on-going research into the Nigerian Nok Culture has recently received some good news but also suffered bad news also.
The 12 year old project, headed up by the Institute for Archaeological Sciences in Frankfurt (Germany), has been on-going since 2005. The project recently enjoyed a 1.6 million Euro cash injection from the German Research Foundation, which is sufficient to allow continuance of the project for a further 3 years.
However, the current unrest in Nigeria, including attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram, has halted all research and efforts have been focused on finds already in the team's possession.
One of the main features of the Nok Culture was the production of large terracotta figures, some of which have been dated at over 2000 years old. The abandonment of the current 79 sites is further bad news, as these are now vulnerable to looters.
Professor Peter Breuing, a member of the research team, is quoted as saying "The sculptures are very highly sought after on the international art market. In their search for these treasures the looters systematically destroy one site after another".
Other areas of research undertaken by the team include investigations into the Culture's economy and environment, including analysis of crops grown and the change from small isolated groups to larger, more cohesive communities, as evidenced by the widespread finds of terracotta figures. It is hoped, when the security situation improves, that the research can continue into the history of iron smelting by the Culture, centred on a major settlement area.
Edited from Past Horizons (8 February 2015)
Retired policeman convicted of damage to a protected site
In a rare case of prosecution in the case of criminal damage to a listed monument, a court in County Wicklow (Ireland) found a retired policeman guilty of criminal damage to a Bronze Age burial mound at Carrig, Blessington. The site in question was the recipient of a Preservation Order, under the National Monuments Act in 2005.
There were several witnesses to the alleged vandalism, and in his defence the policeman had said he had bought the land to plant and nurture trees but the witness, seeing him moving barrow loads of stones, said "He wasn't planting potatoes"!
Archaeologist Chris Corlett, was called as a witness for the prosecution as he was very familiar with the site and its layout. He stated when questioned "There is a strong likelihood that human remains have been removed and disturbed and that artefacts may have been removed. The whole understanding of the monument was compromised". The ex-policeman was remanded on bail pending sentencing.
Edited from thejournal.ie (30 January 2015)
19 February 2015
Stones discovered in Israel suggest ancient fertility cult
Prehistoric sites are generally known for the representation of female fertility symbols - male fertility objects are far more unusual.
In one area in the arid Eilat Mountains of the Negev Desert, archaeologists discovered 44 such ancient cult sites. According to their report: "Taking in[to] consideration the topography, environmental conditions and the small number of known Neolithic habitations in the general southern Negev, the density of cult sites in this region is phenomenal."
Theories of what was happening there include death and fertility rituals, and "Combinations of both are actually well-known in anthropological studies as relating to ancestral cult," according to the archaeologists.
Death is "signified by the burial of stone objects and by setting them upside down," according to one of the team. A human-shaped stone carving was found interred "with only the very top visible on the surface."
It's believed there are many more sites remaining to be investigated in the area. According to Uzi Avner, a researcher with the Arava-Dead Sea Science Center and the Arava Institute, a survey of a larger area yielded to date 349 cult sites, and "Many more may be found on the mountains of the Negev, southern Jordan and Sinai."
Archaeologists are working on theories of "a vast phenomenon, of hundreds of mountain cult sites in the desert."
Edited from International Business Times (10 February 2015)
Neanderthals disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula earlier than elsewhere
Neanderthals could have disappeared between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, according to fossil remains found at sites located from the Black Sea in Russia to the Atlantic coastline of Spain. A new study shows that they could have disappeared closer to 45,000 years ago in the Iberian Peninsula.
"Both conclusions are complementary and not contradictory," confirms Bertila Galvan, lead author of the study, and researcher at the Training and Research Unit of Prehistory, Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of La Laguna, Tenerife.
Until now, there was no direct dating in Spain on the Neanderthal remains which produced recent dates. "The few that provided dates were before 43,000 and 45,000 years ago in all cases," Galvan explains.
The study proposes that the point of departure was 40,000 years, but recognises that the process is complex and regionalised.
The study questions the existence of the Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula later than 43,000 years ago, referring specifically to the final occupations in El Salt, in Valencia - "A very robust archaeological context" in terms of the reliability of the remains, says the scientist.
The new timeline for the disappearance of the Neanderthals allows for a regional reading, limited to the Iberian Peninsula, and coincides with remains found at other Spanish sites.
The ample record of lithic objects and remains of fauna, as well as the extensive stratigraphic sequence of El Salt, have allowed the disappearance of the Neanderthals to be dated at a site that covers their last 30,000 years of existence.
Together with this new dating is the discovery of six teeth that probably belonged to a young Neanderthal adult, and "could represent an individual of one of the last groups of Neanderthals which occupied the site, and possibly the region.
Cristo Hernandez, another of the study's authors, says their analysis points to "a progressive weakening of the population... which must have been drawn out over several millennia."
Anatomically modern humans had no role in this gradual disappearance, which coincided with colder and more arid conditions.
The new dating has been proven in a sedimentary hiatus also found in other sites on the Iberian Peninsula.
Edited from PhysOrg (5 February 2015)
17 February 2015
Earliest example of death during childbirth
A prehistoric cemetery in Irkutsk, near the southern tip of Lake Baikal in eastern Russia, is partially covered by city development and has not been fully excavated. All 101 of the bodies found so far were members of a hunter-gatherer community that roamed the area between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago. It is rare to find transient hunter-gatherer communities who buried their dead in formal cemeteries, yet archaeologists have documented this practice at several other sites in northeastern Asia.
An archaeologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, Angela Lieverse studies these ancient communities. In 2012, Lieverse was revisiting some of the bones which were in storage at Irkutsk State University. These had been interpreted as a mother, 20 to 25 years old, and a single child, but Lieverse realised there were duplicates of four or five of the fragile bones.
The finding may be the oldest confirmed evidence of twins, and one of the earliest examples of death during childbirth.
Lieverse says that one of the twins might have been positioned with its feet down and was partially delivered, possibly trapped or locked with its sibling, leading to a fatal obstructed birth.
Cases of death during childbirth and instances of twins tend to be invisible in the archaeological record. There have been some cases of babies of a similar age buried in the same grave, but it would be difficult to tell how they were related.
Maternal death would have been common in prehistory, yet it's hard to find archaeological evidence of a woman dying during childbirth. Fetal bones are also quite fragile and less likely to survive than adult bones.
The young mother was buried lying on her back with several marmot teeth adorning her corpse - quite typical of the graves at the site.
Edited from LiveScience (4 February 2015), CTV News (9 February 2015)
16 February 2015
New algorithm could reveal oldest spoken words
A team of scientists has developed a mathematical technique that can work out how and when changes occurred to words in different languages, giving researchers the potential to turn the clock of human speech back thousands of years.
A leading evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading (UK) working with colleagues from the Santa Fe Institute (USA), professor Mark Pagel has detected these 'concerted sound changes', where a specific sound changes to another sound simultaneously in many different words.
His team use statistical estimates of rates of lexical replacement for a range of vocabulary items in the Indo-European languages. The variation in replacement rates makes the most common vocabulary items promising candidates for estimating the divergence between pairs of languages.
The model was tested on the evolution of Turkic, a family of at least 35 languages spoken by peoples from southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China, identifying more than 70 regular sound changes that occurred throughout the 2000 year history of the language group.
Pagel says: "Intriguingly, this concerted linguistic change has a parallel in genetics where the same changes can happen to several different genes simultaneously."
Pagel's research offers a fascinating picture of how our 7,000 living idioms have evolved, documenting shared patterns in the way we use language, and exploring the reasons why some words succeed and others become obsolete. His results suggest that forms of some common words used by Ice Age people living in Europe 15,000 years ago could still be recognised today.
Edited from PhysOrg (10 February 2015)
Canadian dam will flood 12,000 years of human history
More than 30 years ago archaeologist Jonathan Driver was part of the team that uncovered one of the rarest finds in Canadian history - evidence of human occupation in northern British Columbia dating to the end of the last ice age.
Charlie Lake cave contained some of the oldest human remains in western Canada, as well as specialised weapons used to hunt large mammals, and animal skeletons suggesting ceremonial practices. The cave itself is not threatened by the planned construction of a dam and 83 kilometre long reservoir on the Peace River, starting in the summer of 2015, however hundreds of other sites will be flooded.
Dr Driver, a professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser University, says: "The Peace River was a well-travelled route between the lowlands and the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains. It goes down deep, so you can follow the history of people in the Peace River just as the ice age is ending and the first animals and plants and then people are moving into a brand new land, and at this site you can follow that for 12,000 years."
Field work to create a heritage inventory in 2010 found 26 Class 1 palaeontology finds - rare or especially well-preserved and diverse fossils - as well as almost 300 archaeological sites, plus heritage sites of the earliest European settlers. Sites and artefacts which cannot be saved will be studied.
The prehistory of the area is still being pieced together. Recently, a local farmer donated boxes of artefacts including 8,000-year-old pieces of obsidian from faraway quarries, indicating a vast trading network.
The province has approved construction knowing that what it terms 'heritage resources' will disappear. With construction set to begin in June, there is little time left to preserve this part of British Columbia's history.
Edited from The Globe and Mail (1 February 2015)
13 February 2015
Embracing corpses from 3,800 BCE found in a Greek Cave
A rare Neolithic-era find of the skeletons of a couple embracing was found in excavations by the northern entrance of the Alepotrypa ('Foxhole') cave in southern Greece, on the Peloponnese peninsula.
The Greek Culture Ministry now informs that DNA analyses show that the remains belong to a young couple, a man and a woman, both aged between 20 and 25, dating back almost 6,000 years and discovered next to numerous arrow heads.
The find is significant due to the corpses' antiquity and the fact that the man and woman were found entwined in an interlocking embrace, a very unusual position in archeological remains from this era. The researchers do not know how the couple died, but the fact they were buried together in this way suggests they died either at the same time, or during a similar time frame.
Both burials are part of a Neolithic cemetery in the greater area of the Neolithic Diros Cave, in western Mani, where excavations have yielded burials of children, embryos and adults dated from 4200 to 3800 BCE. According to most recent data and analyses, the cave appears to have been in use from Early to Final Neolithic (6000-3200 BCE) and served throughout as settlement and cemetery. At the end of the Final Neolithic (3200 BCE), a severe earthquake sealed the entrance of the cave and the remains of its inhabitants inside. The site has previously been linked with sparking myths about the Greek underworld god Hades.
Excavations began after an accidental discovery by speleologists Yiannis and Anna Petrocheilos in 1958. Excavations in the area were continued in 2014 under the honorary ephor of antiquities George Papathanassopoulos heading a committee of the Paleoanthropology Ephorate of Antiquities and the Speleological Society of Northern Greece
Commenting on the finds, Dr. Papathanassopoulos said: "The type of burial in the foetal position is common in the Neolithic era, but the specific double burial in embrace is one of the earliest known examples. At some point, they will be exhibited in the museum."
Edited from Latin American Herald Tribune, EuroNews, Mail Online, Greece Reporter (13 February 2015)
12 February 2015
Ancient child remains unearthed in Orkney
Last 3 February, Carrie Brown of See Orkney tours was walking along the coast in the north end of the Sanday island (Orkney, Scotland) when she spotted part of a rib-cage exposed in the sandy part of the banks. She and her partner Ali Thorne looked a little more closely, and suspected that they might have found human bones. Having first protected and marked the area, they then notified resident Sanday archaeologists who took a closer look in the afternoon.
Further careful investigation the same afternoon revealed the back of the skull. Very quickly Historic Scotland was alerted to the human remains, and they arranged for two experts to come to Sanday. During the weekend they exposed more of the site by working downwards from the top of the section, revealing what may be the burial site of a child of perhaps 10-12 years of age.
The grave - which it is believed could be up to 4,000 years old - was surely exposed by winter storms and high tides. The skeleton will be analysed by an osteoarchaeology team in more suitable climatic conditions.
Edited from Sanday Ranger, BBC News (9 February 2015)
Bronze Age body found near Loch Ness
Following the discovery of an early Bronze Age burial cist in Drumnadrochit, on the west shore of Loch Ness (Highland, Scotland), archaeologists have found shards of pottery and a wrist guard on the same site. The earliest-known resident, who lived around 4500 years ago, wore a stone guard on his wrist when using a bow and arrow and favoured geometric designs on his kitchenware.
The cist and artefacts were uncovered during works preparing the site of the NHS Highland's replacement Drumnadrochit Health Centre. Heather Cameron, senior project manager with the health board, said: "We are particularly excited to have uncovered the pottery and wrist guard in what appeared to be a second grave next to the first, and I think we will be looking to mount a display on the finds somewhere in the new building when it opens at the end of the year."
Mary Peteranna, of AOC Archaeology Group, said: "The shards are of around two-thirds of a beaker pot which will probably have been around 20-30cm high. What makes them particularly interesting is that there is some organic material adhering to the base of the pot, so we may find out something about its contents. The shards have a distinctive decoration which may have been made on the clay before firing in a stabbing movement with something like a feather quill. The wrist guard is also particularly exciting. It has holes so that it could be tied to the wrist with a leather strap, and may have been ornamental or functional."
The skeletal remains, which may be of an adult or near adult, comprise of most of a person's long bones along with part of the skull and a number of teeth. It is hoped to be able to determine scientifically the sex of the person, and perhaps even the cause of death.
Archaeologists have investigated a 4m x 4m area on the site, which lies just off the A82. It is not planned at this stage to carry out further archaeological work there. However, with more construction work planned on the other side of the main road, where houses and retail units are to be built, further finds have not been ruled out.
Edited from The Inverness Courier (3 February 2015)