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)
11,000-year-old baby tomb found in China
Archaeologists in southwest China's Guizhou Province have confirmed a tomb dating back 11,000 year contains the remains of a toddler.
The tomb is located in a cave in Yankong Village, Gui'an New Area in central Guizhou. Researchers are working to determine whether it is the oldest known tomb in the province. DNA studies identified the remains contained in the tomb to be from a child under two years old, according to the provincial institute of cultural relics and archaeology.
The cave, which is believed to have been used by humans as early as the late Paleolithic Age, was found in March 2016. The tomb was found in July 2017. Researchers found a large number of stone implements from the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages, as well as bone objects and tools for hunting, said Zhang Xinglong, associate researcher with the institute.
Edited from Xinhua.net (19 January 2018)
Norwegian houses reused for over 1000 years during Stone Age
We've always heard that Stone Age people lived in caves. It turns out that they often lived in earthen huts, which they reused for centuries and kept up rather than building new ones. Small, simple earthen huts found in Norway appear to have been used for 1000 years. They may have stood empty for 40-50 years at a time before being maintained and reused - again and again.
Archaeologist Silje Fretheim at NTNU's Department of Archaeology and Cultural History finds that incredible. "Few buildings today have lasted for as long as 1000 years. Their use for that long tells us there was a point to maintaining the homes," she says.
The Mesolithic period in Norway spans approximately 5500 years, starting about 9500 BCE, when people were nomadic hunters and gatherers. At the beginning of the period, people lived in tents believed to have been made from animal hides, although no tent coverings have been found from this time. Eventually the homes became more permanent.
Fretheim analysed information from 150 excavated Stone Age dwellings, extending from the northernmost county of Finnmark to southern Norway. The amount of relatively well-preserved Mesolithic dwellings in Norway is unique to Northern Europe, and Fretheim's dissertation thus gives a new picture of the Stone Age population that also reaches beyond Norway's borders.
"In Norway, Stone Age remains have been preserved because the areas along the coast rebounded from the glacial weight of the last Ice Age. Another reason is that agriculture in Norway has been less extensive, and so it hasn't covered the traces of the Stone Age. In Finnmark, where cultivated land is the least prevalent, it's possible to see many traces of the oldest dwellings", says Fretheim.
Not surprisingly, finding traces of 10.000 to 11.500 year old homes of people from the Mesolithic period is pretty limited. Fretheim says archaeologists have found tent rings, which are stones that were placed on the tent flaps. They've also found cleared surfaces, with clearly defined concentrations of tool remains. Producing stone tools created a lot of debris.
The floor area of these early dwellings "is almost always between five and ten square metres", says Fretheim, "which may indicate that nuclear families moved around with portable tents. I think the tents were probably part of the mobile lifestyle 'package' that people travelled with."
When the forest spread into new areas, the sea level along the coast stabilized and the final ice sheets from the last ice age retreated from the interior, 9500 years ago, dwellings then became larger. Instead of pitching a tent on the ground, the floor was partially dug down into the ground of so-called pit houses. The rest of the house was built up with a framework of wood and turf. The largest pit houses were up to 40 square metres. "Several families may have lived together, or perhaps hunting teams shared houses", says Fretheim.
As the sea level stabilized, Fretheim believes people came to prefer living in areas with fishing and hunting conditions that were stable and varied. The pit houses were kept up and reused to a great extent, with the most used ones being maintained for over 1000 years. Fretheim thinks it's fascinating to think about how these house remains affected people in the Stone Age and somehow kept drawing them back to those places. "I imagine that the pit sites that were visible in the landscape at the time helped to create the first cultural landscape. These were the first visible traces left behind, so people recognized those places and chose to rebuild there rather than in new locations", Fretheim says.
Edited from ScienceNordic (17 January 2018)
15 January 2018
Ice Age artefacts found in northern England
Volunteers in the small town of Thornton-le-Street, about 300 kilometres north-northwest of London, have found more than 2,500 artefacts - many dating from the last Ice Age. Another major dig will happen between ythe 21st of May and the 1st of June, in a partnership between the Thornton-le-Street History group and archaeology company Solstice Heritage. The project which will continue until November.
History group secretary Anne Stockdale says the village is part of a rich archaeological and historical landscape: "People have lived in the surrounding area since the last Ice Age - one of the major arteries of Roman Yorkshire passed through or close by the village - and the scheduled earthworks of medieval Thornton-le-Street can still be seen around the modern houses. We have been astonished at the sheer number of objects we have found - over 1,200 in one field area alone - and by the amount of flint and by the lack of metal finds."
Over the summer 12 test pits were dug in gardens and on open space around the community - home to fewer than 100 people - to find out more about the medieval village, and a large trench was opened in one garden to uncover the remains of road front medieval properties and to see if a Roman road had also run along it.
A geophysical survey was also done, and volunteers have been working with the North Yorkshire county records office examining archives.
Saturday, February 10 from 10am to 3pm the public are invited to an Open Day of free displays and talks on some of the artefacts at Thornton-le-Street Village Hall, with experts on hand to answer questions. Further information on the project and volunteer opportunities can be found at https://roadstothepast2018launch.eventbrite.co.uk/ and http://www.thorntonlestreetbigdig.com/
Edited from The Northern Echo (12 January 2018)
Bronze Age mounds at risk in the North York Moors park
Burial mounds dating back thousands of years are at risk from hikers erecting stone cairns to mark routes across the North York Moors National Park, about 400 kilometres north-northwest of London. Efforts to protect prehistoric monuments in the park from stone-robbing goes back more than a decade.
Archeological consultant Linda Smith, commissioned by the park as part of its campaign to raise public awareness of the problem with cairn-building, says other ancient remains are at risk of being disturbed and some prehistoric monuments were being vandalised: "Placing a plaque to commemorate a loved one adds a modern intrusion or it may be fixed to a stone with prehistoric carvings. Modern graffiti is sometimes carved into the stones of a prehistoric monument."
The park is home to 842 protected sites and scheduled monuments. While only a small number are affected by walkers building modern cairns on top of them, work is ongoing to ensure ancient monuments are protected and remedial work to burial mounds was carried out to repair the worst damage last year. Rambler's cairns have been from two monuments, and erosion damage to areas of earthworks repaired. A sign has been posted at a Bronze Age burial mound explaining what it is and asking people not to add stones to it.
The park's monument management scheme officer, Mags Waughman Waughman, says two more cairn removals will take place this winter, and walkers will be encouraged to follow the official routes. Ms Waughman adds: "A third project is at the planning stage and will involve repair of the damaged earthworks, but this is unlikely to take place before the summer."
Edited from The Yorkshire Post, The Northern Echo (10 January 2018)
14 January 2018
Neolithic girl's face unveiled in Greece
A reconstruction of the head and face of an 18-year-old girl who lived 7,000 years ago in the Mesolithic era will make its public debut on the 19th of January. Known as Avgi - Greek for 'Dawn' - her remains were found in Theopetra cave, near what is now the city of Trikala, about 260 kilometres northwest of Athens. Named after "the Dawn of civilisation", she lived at the time human beings transitioned from food collectors to food cultivators.
According to Athens University professor Manolis Papagrigorakis, the reconstruction of Avgi's face involved several medical specialists, including an endocrinologist, an orthopedic surgeon, a neurologist, a pathologist, and a radiologist. His team collaborated with Swedish sculptor Oscar Nilsson, whose studio specialises in historical body reconstructions. Given the lack of substantial evidence, the work presented challenges - especially her clothes and hair.
The team is also working on a reconstruction of the skull of a 5th century BCE girl who was about five and a half years old when she died.
Edited from Tornos News (10 January 2018)