30 September 2014
Earliest sign of human habitation in Canada
Researchers using a robotic submarine off British Columbia's northern coast believe they may have found the earliest evidence of human habitation in Canada. The site, which could date back almost 14,000 years, lies beneath hundreds of metres of water in the ocean around the Haida Gwaii archipelago, south of Ketchikan, Alaska.
Archaeologist Quentin Mackie from the University of Victoria has studied the area for 15 years, and believes ancient residents would have harvested salmon near the coast of what was then a single island that stretched well across the strait toward the mainland. At the time, the sea level was about 100 metres lower than it is today, and the main island twice as large. He and his team used an autonomous underwater vehicle to scan 25 kilometres of what were once riverbeds. "We're not quite ready to say for sure that we found something," Mackie said.
Mackie is hopeful the images show at least one stone weir - a man-made channel used to corral fish. The scan suggests a wall of large stones in a line at a right angle to the stream - a fishing technique used by many other ancient cultures. Based on radiocarbon dating from another archeological site on the island, the weir could date back 13,800 years.
A geologist will now study the images to ensure the rocks are not a natural formation, then the team will return next summer to take samples of the sediment near the site and to look for stone tools.
Ernie Gladstone, the superintendent of Gwaii Haanas, says Mackie's theory matches up with the oral history of the First Nations.
Edited from CBC News (23 September 2014)
Chinese boy discovers 3,000-year-old bronze sword
An 11-year-old boy discovered the sword in July while playing near the Laozhoulin River, northwest of Shanghai. While washing his hands in the river, he touched the tip of something hard and fished out the metal sword. He took it home and gave it to his father, who sent the sword to the Gaoyou Cultural Relics Bureau.
Initial identifications found the 26 centimetre long yellow-brown sword could be dated back more than 3,000 years, around the time of the Shang and Zhou dynasties, said Lyu Zhiwei, head of the cultural relics office of the bureau. "There was no characteristic or decorative pattern on the exquisite bronze sword. The short sword seems a status symbol of a civil official. It has both decorative and practical functions, but is not in the shape of sword for military officers."
It is the second bronze artefact found in the region, after a bronze instrument was excavated in the nearby Sanduo Township.
The Laozhoulin River crosses the course of the ancient Ziying River, which was excavated in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE). It also connects with the ancient Han Ditch, the predecessor of China's Grand Canal - the world's longest artificial waterway, with a history of more than 2,400 years. The 1,794-kilometre canal forms an 'artificial Nile' from Beijing to Hangzhou in China's eastern Zhejiang Province, and is China's only north-south waterway.
The city government has prepared a further archeological dig into the river and in the nearby areas.
Edited from Xinhuanet (6 September 2014)
3,900 year old bone armour unearthed in Russia
Archeologists are intrigued by the discovery of a complete set of well-preserved bone armour, buried separately from its owner. Analysis is expected to determine its exact age, but Siberian archaeologists say it dates from 3,900 to 3,500 years ago.
No other examples of such battle dress have been found around Omsk, which is just north of Kazakstan, in south central Russia. Nearby archeological finds are from the Krotov culture - a people who lived in The forest steppe area of Western Siberia - but this bone armour more closely resembles that of the Samus-Seyminskaya culture, which originated in the area of the Altai Mountains some 1,000 kilometres to the south east, and migrated to the area.
Boris Konikov, curator of excavations, said: "It is unique first of all because such armour was highly valued. Secondly, it was found in a settlement, and this has never happened before."
Experts say they do not yet know which creature's bones were used in making the armour.
Scientist Yury Gerasimov, a research fellow of the Omsk branch of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, said: "While there is no indication that the place of discovery of the armour was a place of worship, it is very likely. Armour had great material value. There was no sense to dig it in the ground or hide it for a long time, because the fixings and the bones would be ruined. Such armour needs constant care. Now we need to clean these small fragments of bone plates, make photographs and sketches of their location, and then glue them in a full plate. We hope to reconstruct an exact copy."
Gerasimov is certain that the armour belonged to an elite warrior, and would have given good protection from weapons used at the time - bone and stone arrowheads, bronze knives, spears tipped with bronze, and bronze axes.
The archeological site where the armour was found includes a complex of monuments belonging to different epochs. There are settlements, burial grounds, and manufacturing sites. Burials have been found here from the Early Neolithic period to the Middle Ages.
Edited from The Siberian Times (6 September 2014)
26 September 2014
Underground scans show 17 new sites around Stonehenge
Archaeologists have unveiled the most detailed map ever produced of the earth beneath Stonehenge and its surrounds. They combined different instruments to scan the area to a depth of three metres, with unprecedented resolution. Early results suggest that the iconic monument did not stand alone, but was accompanied by 17 neighbouring shrines.
Among the surprises yielded by the research are traces of up to 60 huge stones or pillars which formed part of the 1.5km-wide 'super henge' previously identified at nearby Durrington Walls. "For the past four years we have been looking at this amazing monument to try and see what was around it," Prof Vincent Gaffney, from the University of Birmingham, said at the British Science Festival.
The team new three-dimensional map, which covers an area of 12 sq km, was created using six different techniques to scan the whole site at different depths below the surface. Amongst their instruments was a magnetometer, a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and a 3D laser scanner.
Under one of the numerous mounds, they identified a 33m-long timber building about 6,000 years old, probably used for ritual burials and related practices, possibly including excarnation (stripping flesh from bones). "[The building] has three rows of roof-bearing posts. It is around 300 square metres and slightly trapezoidal, which is interesting because in the same period on the continent, about 100 to 200 years earlier, we also find this type of trapezoidal building related to megaliths [giant stones]," said Prof Wolfgang Neubauer, director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute, which was also involved in the research.
Another 17 mounds revealed previously unseen ritual monuments about the same age as Stonehenge itself. The dating was done based on their shape. "We know what some of these things look like, so we can classify them," Prof Gaffney explained.
A first inspection of the Cursus and the Durrington Walls, located north and north-east of Stonehenge, also revealed new insights. The work unveiled two additional pits inside the prehistoric Cursus, which is aligned in the East-West direction, and the pits were found one in each end, pointing to dusk and dawn. This particular alignment is closely related to the position and orientation of Stonehenge, which was built as we know it some 300 to 500 years later. The large separation in time indicates that both monuments were not conceived or planned as a whole. "The structures guide the builders. Once you have some things in place, other things happen because those already exist," explained Prof Gaffney.
He and his team also found evidence of huge stones or timber posts lying three metres below the mounds that form the Durrington Walls. "[These solid blocks] completely redefine the development of the Durrington Walls," he said. All of these preliminary findings reflect the complexity of the landscape's history and evolution, which will be slowly uncovered once the researchers start the in-depth analysis of the data. "We are starting to see the growth of fields encroaching on it. That's important because it tells us about changing relationships to Stonehenge," Prof Gaffney said.
Edited from BBC News (10 September 2014)
Massive 5,000-year-old stone monument discovered in Israel
A lunar-crescent-shaped stone monument that dates back around 5,000 years has been identified in Israel. Located about 13 km (8 miles) northwest of the Sea of Galilee, the structure is massive - its volume is about 14,000 cubic meters (almost 500,000 cubic feet) and it has a length of about 150 meters (492 feet). Pottery excavated at the structure indicates the monument dates to between 3050 BCE and 2650 BCE.
Archaeologists previously thought the structure was part of a city wall, but recent work carried out by Ido Wachtel, a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, indicates there is no city beside it and that the structure is a standing monument. "The proposed interpretation for the site is that it constituted a prominent landmark in its natural landscape, serving to mark possession and to assert authority and rights over natural resources by a local rural or pastoral population," Wachtel wrote in the summary of a presentation given recently at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East.
An ancient town called Bet Yerah (which translates to 'house of the moon god') is located only a day's walk from the crescent-shaped monument Wachtel noted. As such, the monument may have helped mark the town's borders. While the monument is located within walking range of the city it is too far away to be an effective fortification.
The structure is about 150 m (492 ft) long and 20 m (ft) wide at its base, and is preserved to a height of 7 m (23 ft), Wachtel's research found. "The estimation of working days invested in the construction [of] the site is between 35,000 days in the lower estimate [and] 50,000 in the higher," Wachtel said. If the lower estimate is correct, it means a team of 200 ancient workers would have needed more than five months to construct the monument, a task that would be difficult for people who depended on crops for their livelihood.
Other large rock structures have been found not far from the crescent-shaped monument. One structure, called Rujum el-Hiri, is in the Golan Heights and has four circles with a cairn at its center. The date of this structure is a matter of debate; recent research by Mike Freikman, an archaeologist with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggests it may predate the crescent-shaped structure by several centuries.
Another stone monument, a giant cairn that weighs more than 60,000 tons, was discovered recently beneath the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Its date is unknown, but like the crescent-shaped structure, it is located close to Bet Yerah.
Edited from LiveScience (15 September 2014)
Neolithic necropolis unearthed in Northern France
A team of archaeologists is currently conducting excavation work on 20 hectares of land in Fleury-sur-Orne (northwestern France), which is earmarked for residential development. This site has revealed an important Middle Neolithic (4500 BCE) necropolis containing twenty monuments and some intact burials.
During the Middle Neolithic new types of monuments appear: constructions of earth and wood, varying in length from a few dozen to several hundred metres. These monumental tombs, the first of their kind are called 'Passy' - named after the eponymous site found in Yonne (Burgundy). These large, elongated structures are bounded by ditches which may be associated with fences, and a mound entombs the deceased. In a break with past traditions, these large monuments suggest that a type of hierarchy has been introduced into society.
At Fleury-sur-Orne, twenty of these monumental tombs have been identified by archaeologists. Their size and morphology are varied from 12 m to 300 m in length, enclosed by ditches from 20 cm to more than 15 m wide. One of the tombs at Fleury was exceptionally well preserved and features the original constructional walls of stacked grass turves which would have been built up to at least 2 m in height.
Each construction was designed to house a few burials, but often there is only one. The most characteristic burial mounds are very large - 3.50 to 4 metres long - and contain a male individual along with a number of arrow tips. Whole sheep were also interred; a good example being Monument 19 which had seven accompanying the deceased.
Contemporaneous with the large dolmens appearing on the shores of the Atlantic, the monumental tombs of Fleury mobilised considerable energy to benefit the few and therefore appears to signal the emergence of a social hierarchy.
Edited from Past Horizons (12 September 2014)
Ancient boat and settlement found off Denmark's coast
Archaeologists are currently recovering and examining what is considered the oldest boat ever found in Denmark. The ancient six to seven metre long vessel is estimated to be 6,500 years old and although it is damaged, archaeologists found it very interesting.
"It split 6,500 years ago and they tried to fix the crack by putting a bark strip over it and drilling holes both sides of it," Jørgen Dencker, the head of marine archaeology at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, said. "That two-millimetre wide strip has been preserved. The most exciting thing is that there is sealing mass in the holes. We have found sealing mass before - such as bits of resin that children have chewed on and made flexible."
The historic find was made when the energy company SEAS-NVE was replacing sea cables by Askø Island in the Smålandsfarvandet Sea north of Lolland in the southern part of Zealand. In connection with the boat find, archaeologists also found an entire submerged Stone Age settlement that they are checking for more archaeological gems.
The archaeologists hope to find more organic material - such as wood, bone or antlers - which could have been preserved underwater. Meanwhile, the underwater settlement can help map coastlines from thousands of years ago.
Edited from The Copenhagen Post (3 September 2014)
13 September 2014
Possible Pre-Clovis artefacts found in Kansas
The Central great Plains is a semi-arid Eco region of North America, covering large parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. A team from the University of Kansas, lead by Professor Rolfe Mandel, have been excavating in an area of Kansas, within this Eco region, to try ad find evidence of settlements by Clovis, and even Pre Clovis peoples.
The excavations are part of a project run by the University to give their undergraduates and graduates field experience. The team has concentrated its efforts in an area known as Tuttle Creek and several artefacts have been discovered, including projectiles and drills, The team is currently awaiting the results of the analysis of the sediment the artefacts were buried in. They are hoping that the official results will confirm their belief that these artefacts could be older than 13,500 years, which would make them the earliest finds so far within the Central Great Plains area.
The sediment tests use a technique which tries to determine when the layer was last exposed to light. They also take into account the orientation of any object found within it, to determine whether the object was originally deposited in the sedimental layer or accidentally added later.
Professor Mandel is quite excited by his team's finds and is quoted as saying "We all have inherent interest in history, so this tells us something about the early occupants of the Great Plains and this part of the Great Plains. It will tell us a lot about the history of the peopling of the Americas and in particular the peopling of the Great Plains, where it's been pretty much a black hole in terms of unravelling that story".
Edited from PhysOrg (29 August 2014)
Modern Man is not responsible for decline of Neanderthals
The story of the inter-action and inter-breeding of Modern Man with Neanderthals is an ever changing one. As analytical techniques become more sophisticated and accurate then the picture becomes clearer. The latest technique to be applied uses ultra-filtering of samples, to eliminate any form of contamination, thus making the subsequent analysis more accurate.
Using this technique on analysis of samples of bone and charcoal from several Russian sites seems to shift the evidence to show that Neanderthals were actually starting to die out, before they inter-acted with Modern Man, who was not therefore, on this evidence, the cause of their extinction.
The decline started between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, with Modern Man appearing on the scene only 35,000 years ago. there was an overlapping period of about 2,500 years when both species co-existed and inter-bred. It is now hoped to widen the research to eastern Europe and Eurasia, to corroborate these findings.
Edited from LiveScience (20 August 2014)
5 September 2014
Archaeologists discover Bronze Age wine cellar in Israel
In 2013, while excavating within the palace ruins of Tel Kabri, a 30-hectare ancient Canaanite city site in what is now northern Israel which dates to 1700 BCE, archaeologists uncovered a metre-long jar, which they later dubbed 'Bessie.' Suddenly, Bessie's friends started appearing - 40 jars packed in a 5 by 8 metre storage room. The jars, each of which could have held 50 litres, were the equivalent of nearly 3,000 bottles wine, making this one of the largest ancient wine cellars in the world.
The finds were made while were digging an area adjacent to a monumental building first excavated in 2011, a one-of-kind structure lined with precisely-shaped standing stones. The cellar was located near a hall where banquets took place. The cellar and hall were destroyed during the same violent event, perhaps an earthquake, which covered them with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster.
The jars held traces of tartaric and syringic acids - both key components in wine - as well as compounds suggesting the presence of ingredients popular in ancient wine-making, including honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins. The recipe is similar to medicinal wines used for 2,000 years in ancient Egypt.
Now, further analysis confirms that all of the jars contained chemical compounds indicative of wine. Researchers detected subtle differences in the ingredients or additives, including honey, storax resin, terebinth resin, cedar oil, cypress, juniper, and possibly mint, myrtle, and cinnamon. They suggesting that humans at the time had a sophisticated understanding of plants, and the skills necessary to produce a complex beverage balancing preservation, palatability, and psycho-activity.
Wine production, distribution, and consumption played a role in the lives of those in the Mediterranean and Near East during the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1600 BCE), but until now little archaeological evidence was available to support ancient depictions and documentation.
Edited from PlosOne, Popular Archaeology (27 August 2014)
Kennewick Man looked Polynesian and came from far away
Kennewick Man died 9,000 years ago in the Columbia River Valley of northwestern North America, a seal hunter who rambled far and wide with a projectile point lodged in his hip, five broken ribs that never healed properly, two small dents in his skull and a bad shoulder from throwing spears. He came from somewhere far up the Pacific Northwest coast, possibly Alaska or the Aleutian Islands. He might even have come all the way from Asia.
So say the editors of a 688-page peer-reviewed book, "Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton," that will be published this autumn.
"He could have been an Asian," says co-editor Richard Jantz, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee, USA. "One of the things we always tend to do is underestimate the mobility of early people." His co-editor, Douglas Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, agrees with that assessment of Kennewick Man: "He was a long-distance traveler."
The book, which includes contributions from more than five dozen authors, researchers and photographers, describes many kinds of research on the skeleton, which was discovered in 1996.
The chemical analysis of the molecular isotopes in the bones and the clues they provide to Kennewick Man's origin suggests he lived off a diet of seals and other large marine mammals and drank glacier melt water. His wide-set body is akin to that generally seen in cold-adapted human populations.
Kennewick Man's skull is large and narrow with a projecting face, and doesn't look like the skulls of later Native Americans. Its dimensions most closely match those of Polynesians, specifically the inhabitants of the Chatham Islands, near New Zealand. According to the scientists, Kennewick Man and today's Polynesians - as well as the prehistoric Jomon and contemporary Ainu of northern Japan - have a common ancestry among a coastal Asian population.
Genetic evidence points to a common ancestry among Native Americans to a population that remained isolated for a long period of time in the now-drowned land known as Beringia, and that then migrated, possibly in several pulses, after the ice sheets began to recede.
Edited from The Washington Post (25 August 2014)
2 September 2014
Neolithic site discovered in central China
Archaeologists in central China's Henan province have excavated a large neolithic settlement complete with moats and a cemetery.
The Shanggangyang Site covers an area of 120,000 square metres, beside a river in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital. The site dates 5,000 to 6,000 years back to the Yangshao culture, widely known for its advanced pottery-making technology.
The site features two defensive moats surrounding three sides. Researchers have found relics of three large houses as well as 39 tombs, suggesting several generations resided there.
Excavation has offered a glimpse into the life in the tribe, including the use of pits to store food or bury rubbish. Researchers also found a variety of crockery wares, including pots, kettles, cups and other tools.
Edited from China Daily (29 August 2014)
Genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic peoples
Many studies and discoveries focus on searching for the first Americans. Less popular but equally important has been research into how and when the Arctic was settled - the last region of the Americas known to have been populated.
Archaeological and cultural evidence points to migrations of several different groups into the region, going back as far as 6,000 years for the earliest arrivals of the Palaeo-Eskimos from across the Bering Strait from Siberia.
Maanasa Raghaven of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues have analysed 169 ancient human bone, teeth and hair samples from Arctic Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, comparing them to samples from two present-day Inuit from Greenland, two Nivkhs, one Aleutian Islander, and two Athabascans. Their conclusions support the model of the arrival of Palaeo-Eskimos into North America as a separate migration from those which gave rise to Native Americans and Inuit, but suggest they shared a common Siberian ancestor.
"We show that Palaeo-Eskimos (approximately 3000 BCE to 1300 CE) represent a migration pulse into the Americas independent of both Native American and Inuit expansions," the authors write. "Furthermore, the genetic continuity characterising the Palaeo-Eskimo period was interrupted by the arrival of a new population, representing the ancestors of present-day Inuit, with evidence of past gene flow between these lineages. Despite periodic abandonment of major Arctic regions, a single Palaeo-Eskimo meta-population likely survived in near-isolation for more than 4000 years, only to vanish around 700 years ago."
The researchers show evidence for gene flow between the Palaeo-Eskimos and the Neo-Eskimo Thule culture - likely among a common ancestral population in Siberia, and not in the Arctic, where these two groups were largely separated.
The study suggests a complex interplay between genes and culture, helping to provide a clearer picture of how the Arctic was settled.
Edited from Popular Archaeology (28 August 2014)
Finds from Avebury's West Kennet Avenue
Archaeology students mostly from Southampton and Leicester universities have re-opened one trench from last year's dig, plus another major area of investigation, moving tons of turf and soil to reach a level that has never been ploughed. This part of the Avenue was where, in the 1930s, Alexander Keiller located a gap in the row of stones.
Among this year's finds are several flint arrowheads - including one tiny barbed and tanged arrowhead which the project's experts say was deliberately miniaturised, and the workmanship is extraordinary.
The dig is part of the long term "Between the Monuments" collaborative research programme, which aims to find out more about the routine lives of the people who built and used Avebury's henge and avenues, understand why these monuments were made and why the site was chosen.
Soil samples may reveal signs of plant life, what animals were about, and other details. The soil is so acidic that snail shells and bones are not found, but pollen and chemical residues will be preserved.
A recently developed technique allows scientists to tell what different sizes and shapes of flint cutting tools were used for. This high-magnification process has shown one tool found last year was used to cut nettles - from which string and cords were made.
Another exciting find in one of last year's trenches is what looks like the remains of a hearth, near twelve stake-holes in a pattern suggesting part of a dwelling.
If sufficient funding is available, a third year's dig may reveal even more evidence of the human lives that flourished between Avebury's stones.
Edited from Marlborough News Online (5 August 2014)
30 August 2014
Stonehenge 'complete circle' evidence found
Evidence that the outer stone circle at Stonehenge was once complete has been found - parch marks in the grass, in an area that had not been watered, have revealed places where two 'missing' huge sarsen stones may once have stood. Previous scientific techniques such as geophysics failed to find any evidence.
Historians have long debated whether Stonehenge was a full or incomplete circle, with some arguing a lack of stones in the south-west quadrant is proof it was never complete. A scientific paper which adds weight to the 'complete' theory has been published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity. The parch marks - areas where the grass does not grow as strongly as in other areas during hot, dry weather - were first noticed in July last year.
Susan Greaney, from English Heritage, said the discovery seemed to indicate the positions of missing stones. "If these stone holes actually held upright stones then we've got a complete circle," she said. "A lot of people assume we've excavated the entire site and everything we're ever going to know about the monument is known. But actually there's quite a lot we still don't know and there's quite a lot that can be discovered just through non-excavation methods," Ms Greaney added.
Ms Greaney said a high resolution geophysical survey conducted a few years ago had failed to pick up evidence of the holes. "It's great that people who know the site really well and look at it every day were able to spot these parch marks and recognise them for what they were. We maintain the grass with watering when it's very dry in the summer, but our hosepipe doesn't reach to the other side of the stone circle. If we'd had a longer hosepipe we might not have been able to see them," she concluded.
Tim Daw, the English Heritage steward who spotted the parch marks, said: "I was standing on the public path looking at the grass near the stones and thinking that we needed to find a longer hosepipe to get the parched patches to green up. A sudden lightbulb moment in my head, and I remembered that the marks were where archaeologists had looked without success for signs that there had been stone holes, and that parch marks can signify them. Not being archaeologists we called in the professionals to evaluate them. I am still amazed and very pleased that simply really looking at something, that tens of thousands of people had unwittingly seen, can reveal secrets that sophisticated machinery can't."
Edited from BBC News (30 August 2014)