17 December 2014
Submerged Neolithic village found in the Mediterranean
Sea levels have been rising for tens of thousands of years. Today we have technology to help us combat the effects, but even so, a small increase can have a devastating effect on coastal habitats. Unfortunately this technology was not available in the prehistoric era and coastal settlements had to be abandoned as the sea levels rose. Such is the case with a 7,500 year old Neolithic village, recently discovered under the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Haifa (Israel).
Investigations are being carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority, under the guidance of maritime archaeologist Ehud Galili. The research is centred on a well, which is currently under 5 metres of water. Team member Jonathan Benjamin is quoted as saying "Water wells are valuable to Neolithic archaeology because once they stopped serving their intended purpose, people used them as big rubbish bins. At the Kfar Samir site the water well was probably abandoned when sea levels started to rise and the fresh water became salty, so people threw food scraps and animal bones down the well instead."
Mr Galili went on to add "As they were a pre-metal society we expect to find stone tools, perhaps weapons made of flint, and needles made of bone. We are also hoping to find organic material such as plant fibres, seeds and evidence of domestic crops such as olive stones, which we can date".
Edited from International Business Times (10 December 2014)
Dolmens under threat in India
Thrissur is currently the third largest populated city in Kerala (India) and is known as the Cultural Capital of the region. Megalithic dolmens were quite prevalent in the area, dating from between 1,000 BCE and 500 CE. These ranged in size and type from menhirs to Mushroom stones and Umbrella stones. Despite being declared as protected monuments they have been under severe threat due to quarrying permits being granted in the forested areas where they are found. These Forest 'pattayam' (title deeds) are increasingly being used to allow widespread indiscriminate quarrying and these activities have resulted in only one of the eleven dolmens in the area remaining intact. A group called the Muniyattukunnu Protection Forum are lobbying the Kerala authorities to put a stop to what it is referring to as violations of the protected monument status of the area.
Edited from The Hindu (10 December 2014)
More ancient rock art found in Southeast Asia
Back in October 2015 research results were published by Griffith University (Australia) documenting the discovery of rock art in Sulawesi (Indonesia), dated at approximately 35,000 to 40,000 years old. At the time it was thought that rock art of this antiquity was rare, if not unique.
Now further research by Griffith University, led by Rock Art Professor Paul Tacon, has revealed that it was not unique at all and was in fact widespread across Southeast Asia. This type of rock art mainly comprises simple animal images and hand stencils. The team used various techniques to date their findings, including numerical dating and analysis & comparison of various styles.
Professor Tacon is quoted as saying "As with the early art of Europe, the oldest Southeast Asian images often incorporated, or were placed in relation to, natural features of rock surfaces. This shows a purposeful engagement with the new places early peoples arrived in for both symbolic and practical reasons. Essentially they humanised landscapes wherever they went, transforming them from wild places to cultural landscapes. This was the beginning of a process that continues to this day". He went on to add that "The research supports the idea suggested by the early Indonesian rock art dates that modern humans brought the practice of making semi-permanent images in rocky landscapes to Europe and Asia from Africa".
Edited from Griffith University PR (26 November 2014)
16 December 2014
Rare gold strap unearthed in Cornwall
A treasure hunter who found a rare piece of Bronze Age gold strap in a farmer's field in Roche (Cornwall, England) thought he'd initially unearthed a worthless piece of brass.
Shane Swanson uncovered the jewellery in a gully in gravelly clay in a field, around 8in below the surface. Mr Swanson found it in March 2013 but an inquest to decide whether it was indeed treasure was only held at Truro Coroners' Court.
He said he had been scanning the field for around two and a half hours when he came across the gold strap: "I thought it was a piece of brass," he said. "I put it in my pocket and carried on. I took it home later and washed it and wondered exactly what it could be." He then contacted Anna Tyacke, finds liaison officer at the Royal Cornwall Museum, who confirmed that it was gold and it was then sent off to the British Museum for further analysis.
The strap is around 95mm in length and around 10mm wide. It is 86 to 88 per cent gold and weighs just over 5g. The inquest heard the British Museum was interested in acquiring it, although it has yet to be valued. The owner of the land is entitled to 50 per cent of any money received by Mr Swanson once a price is agreed. However, Mr Swanson said the money was not important and he would rather have kept it for his collection. "If it just gets put away in a drawer and is never seen then that would be a shame," he said.
Dr Emma Carlyon, coroner for Cornwall, concluded that the item should be classified as treasure.
Edited from Cornish Guardian (14 December 2014>)
Ancient settlement and burial ground found in Greece
Excavations in Platamonas, Pieria, northern Greece, have unearthed an ancient settlement and burial ground that belongs in the late Bronze Age, around 1500 BCE. The discovery was made in parallel to the construction of the new national highway and was officially announced by archaeologist Sofia Koulidou, head of Pieria's Ephorate of Antiquities.
Archaeologists found 19 graves, some of them containing several objects such as Mycenaean style clay pots, bronze hoops, bone beads, bronze knives, clay flywheels, engraved stones and others. Some of the graves were very small and probably belong to children.
The remains of two arched buildings were also discovered, as suggested by the surrounding walls and the holes where the support beams used to be. The buildings were next to each other and it appears that there was a settlement next to the burial ground. The discovery of various household objects reinforces the archaeologists' assumption.
Archaeologists say that this type of rectangular, oblong, arched building belongs to the middle Bronze Age, early 2000 BCE, and are rare in the particular area. The Mycaenean style objects suggest that the settlement was part of the Thessaly-Euobea cultural circle.
The first arch, along with the outbuilding, will be transferred to be highlighted in the Livithra Archaeological Park on east Mount Olympus.
Edited from Greek Reporter (13 December 2014)
Possible Bronze Age site spotted on Google Maps
A metal detectorist has discovered a possible Bronze Age burial site while browsing on an aerial mapping website. Gary Campion was using Google Maps when he noticed dark circles and lines in a field near Wattisham in Suffolk (England). Suffolk County Council's archaeological service confirmed the markings were 'very likely'to be prehistoric mounds. The site is on private land and there were no excavation plans at the moment.
Mr Campion said the aerial photograph showed what appeared to be two circular burial mounds within a larger ring ditch of about 100ft (30m) diameter. "I was doing aerial research online to look for interesting places to get permission to go detecting when I spotted the darker circle," he said. "I assumed it had been seen before, but I approached the Suffolk archaeological service and they were unaware of it. It was exciting, but we've got to wait to see if we can ever go on site and investigate further."
Dr Richard Hoggett, county senior archaeological officer, said: "The dark round feature is very likely to be the ploughed-out remains of a Bronze Age burial mound/barrow dating from 2300-700 BCE. The surrounding enclosure is also likely to be prehistoric and may also be Bronze Age. It would be usual for there to have been a single central burial, which may have been accompanied by copper alloy, pottery or flint grave goods and very occasionally barrow burials contain precious metal objects."
Dr Hoggett added: "Although we are involved in a number of English Heritage funded projects to map archaeology from air photos, large parts of the county remain unexplored and we are always keen to hear from people who have spotted possible archaeological sites on Google Earth, Bing mapping or other online images. We would encourage people who think that they have found sites like this to look at the area on the Suffolk Heritage Explorer to see if we already have record for the site, and, if not, they should contact us through the website or by emailing email@example.com".
Edited from Ipswich Star (10 December 2014), BBC News (11 December 2014)
13 December 2014
Stonehenge road tunnel plan revisited
Reaction to the UK government's proposal to bury the A303 carriageway in a tunnel within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site is deeply split, with English Heritage and the National Trust accused of accepting a tunnel far too short to solve any problems.
Kate Fielden, an archaeologist and member of the Stonehenge Alliance which represents conservation, archaeology, and other groups says: "The short tunnel plan will create serious damage to the landscape on each side, within the world heritage site which the government is ignoring its commitment to protect."
Fielden accuses English Heritage, which cares for the stone circle and owns the visitor centre opened last year, and the National Trust, which owns thousands of acres of surrounding farmland, of abusing their responsibility to care for the site. The Alliance has launched a petition for a tunnel at least twice the length the government proposed.
Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology, has said a tunnel with both entrance and exits within the world heritage site, "would have major implications for the archaeology - we should be asking whether a major expansion of the roads network at Stonehenge just to meet traffic needs is the most appropriate way to deal with such a site."
Mike Birkin of Friends of the Earth said UK transport policy was heading in the wrong direction: "There is nothing to celebrate about a proposal that would inflict at least a mile of massively damaging road building on the surface of our most iconic world heritage site. We have a global duty to safeguard the whole site. The international bodies who hold legal responsibility for world heritage sites have not even been consulted - and there are grave concerns about the damage a short tunnel could cause."
Arguments over what to do about the road, a crucial route from London to the south-west, stretch back more than half a century.
Edited from The Guardian (1 December 2014)
Man in USA finds spearhead dating back thousands of years
The ancient Native American artefact was found last month, deep in the sand near Concord, New Hampshire, about 100 kilometres north-northwest of Boston, in the northeast USA.
Harry Lewis was using an excavator to extract fine sand more than 3 metres beneath the surface, to make adobe for a building project.
Soon after he began sifting the sand, he found a rock which someone ages ago had worked to a well-crafted point. "I knew it was too big, too long to be an arrowhead, so it had to be a spearhead," he said. "You can see where they sharpened it with one rock beating on another one." Local experts say it is from the end of the Archaic Period, and between 4,000 and 7,000 years old.
The spot where Lewis was digging is in a valley, which Lewis says was formerly the heart of a giant lake. He thinks that it would have been a safe spot to catch fish, since it would have offered a distant view in either direction.
Nancy Chabot, curator of the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum, notes that the area has been home to natives for at least 10,000 years, and guesses the spearhead would have been used in fishing, but said it also could have been a knife on a wooden handle,
Lewis said he'd like to have experts check out the site, thinking that he'd perhaps be able to discover more pieces of interest. He said he has four daughters and one of them tried to stake a claim to the spearhead. He told her that wouldn't be fair to her sisters, and she replied, "Keep digging."
Edited from Concord Monitor (1 December 2014)
Earliest known systematic use of fire for cooking
For years, archaeologists have been digging their way through prehistoric layers of Qesem Cave, near the town of Rosh Haayin 12 kilometres east of Tel Aviv (Israel).
After 14 years, archaeologists have penetrated about 10 metres below what was the original ceiling. They have found thousands of recycled tools, including bone hammers and reworked flints.
Life in the region dates back at least 1.5 million years, but Professor Barkai says a dramatic change occurred 400,000 years ago, when the elephants that had served as a main food source disappeared. In the quest for survival, the cave dwellers began hunting fallow deer instead of elephants, and cooking the meat. Their ancestors probably ate their elephants raw.
The cave was occupied on and off from about 400,000 to 200,000 years ago. In a patch that once served as a hearth, layers of hardened ash date back 300,000 years. Here the earth is packed with bone fragments, including a horse's jaw with two front teeth. Though sporadic use of fire existed much earlier, Qesem Cave has been established as the site with the earliest evidence of the systematic use of fire for roasting meat on a daily, domestic basis.
On average, 80 deer were needed to make up the food provided by one elephant. The cave dwellers also gathered small fruit and nuts and collected wood for fires.
The cave was organised with different areas serving as a kitchen, a workshop, and an area where children appeared to have practiced making flint tools of their own. The hearth also appears to have served as a kind of central campfire.
Professor Barkai said that evidence of some of the same behaviour, technologies and methods had been found as far away as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, and that there must have been communication between the early humans in the region.
Edited from The New York Times (1 December 2014)
12 December 2014
The origins of symbolic thought
Three years ago on an expedition to Sulawesi, one of the larger islands in the Indonesia archipelago, archaeologist Adam Brumm visited a cave decorated with ancient art: hand stencils, paintings of corpulent pig-deer and midget buffalo, and silhouettes of human hands speckled with growths of calcite known as "cave popcorn."
A year later, Brumm returned with his colleague Maxime Aubert, a specialist in using trace amounts of uranium in calcite deposits to determine precise dates for ancient rock art. Researchers had long assumed that Sulawesi's cave paintings were less than 10,000 years old, but Brumm and Aubert's analysis revealed that one hand stencil is at least 39,900 years old - the oldest hand stencil on record. A nearby painting of a female pig-deer was estimated to be 35,400 years old - one of the most ancient examples of figurative art.
Brumm says: "There has always been the belief that a light switched on in Europe, and there was this efflorescence of creativity. That's not the case. On the other side of the world, the same thing was going on at the same time."
The use of symbolism appears to have emerged early on in Africa and spread from there. Christopher Henshilwood of the University of Bergen, Norway, has found compelling evidence of pre-European symbolism in South Africa's Blombos cave. When he first started excavating there in 1991, few researchers believed that symbolism might have emerged before 50,000 years ago. At Blombos, Henshilwood and his team unearthed a 100,000-year-old animal-bone paintbrush, and abalone shells in which prehistoric humans mixed pulverised red ocher with bone marrow, charcoal and water to form a colourful paste. The cave also contained an ocher slab with 75,000-year-old geometric engravings and 41 sea-snail shells drilled through with holes so they could be strung as beads.
To make hand axes - the oldest of which date to 1.76 million years ago - early hominins had to imagine a finished tool in a lump of rock. A few ancient hand axes are so handsome, large, and heavy, that some researchers argue they were not intended for practical use.
Three million years ago in South Africa, an ancient hominin stumbled onto a red jasperite pebble resembling a face, carrying it back to a home base several kilometres away where it was found by modern researchers. Palaeolithic hominins also collected fossilised coral, snails and shellfish.
Edited from The New York Times (5 December 2014)
23,000-year-old 'Venus' statuette dug up in France
A 23,000-year-old limestone statue of a woman with large breasts and buttocks has been discovered in a small heap of rocks during the second day of a dig at a Palaeolithic site in Renancourt, west of Amiens in northern France, archaeologists piecing together more than 20 fragments to reveal a 12 centimetre long statuette that matches the characteristics of so called 'Venus' figurines.
The Venus of Renancourt does not have any hands or feet, and the head is virtually featureless, much like other similar Venus statues.
Venus figurines are usually carved from bone, ivory, or a soft stone such as limestone. Some examples have also been shaped from clay. Around 100 such figures have been found in Europe, mostly in settlements in caves or open air sites around Russia and central Europe. They all depict curvaceous women with large breasts, bottoms, abdomens, hips and thighs, while their heads are often small and usually faceless.
There have been many attempts to explain what their importance was to the prehistoric cultures who made them. Some appear to represent pregnant women.
Experts have described this statue as 'exceptional' - one of only 15 similar figures to be found in France, and the first in around 50 years. It is likely to be prized among the country's most precious relics.
The oldest Venus statue was uncovered in 2008 in Germany. Known as the 'Venus of Hohle Fels', it was carved from a mammoth's tusk and is thought to be at least 35,000 years old.
The discovery of a Venus in northern France is seen as being particularly unusual as most of the Venus figures found in the country so far have been in the south west.
Edited from PhysOrg (27 November 2014) Mail Online (1 December 2014)
11 December 2014
Danish Bronze Age glass beads traced to Egypt
An international collaboration between Moesgaard Museum in Aarhus, the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, and Institut de Recherche sur les Archéomatériaux (IRAMAT) at Orléans, France, has resulted in a striking discovery about the trade routes between Denmark and the ancient civilisations in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the Bronze Age 3,400 years ago. The discovery also gives us new knowledge about the sun cult in the Nordic Bronze Age.
Archeologists Jeanette Varberg from Moesgaard Museum and Flemming Kaul from the National Museum, and Bernard Gratuze, director of IRAMAT, analysed the composition of some blue glass beads found on buried Bronze Age women in Denmark. The analyses revealed that the glass originate from the same glass workshops in Egypt that supplied the glass that the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutankhamun took with him to his grave in 1323 BCE.
Twenty-three glass beads from Denmark were analysed using plasma-spectrometry. Without destroying the fragile beads, this technique makes it possible to compare the chemical composition of trace elements in the beads with reference material from Amarna in Egypt and Nippur in Mesopotamia, about 50 km south east of Baghdad in Iraq. The comparison showed that the chemical composition of the two sets of trace elements match.
The researchers' first object for comparison was a bead from a wealthy woman's grave at Ølby, about 40 km south of Copenhagen. The woman had been buried in a more extravagant fashion, lying in a hollowed-out oak trunk and wearing a beautiful belt disc, a smart string skirt with tinkling, shining small bronzes tubes, and an overarm bracelet made of amber beads, and a single blue glass bead. The glass bead turned out to be Egyptian. This is the first time that typical Egyptian cobalt glass has been discovered outside the Mediterranean area.
The archaeologists can now also substantiate that there is a connection between the amber beads and the glass beads. It has been known for a long time that amber was exported in the Bronze Age from Nordic latitudes and southwards. Several Egyptian pharaohs had large amber chains in boxes in their burial chambers. It appears that glass and amber beads have been found together on sites from the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Germany to the Nordic latitudes.
Now the researchers are linking amber and glass together in an unexpected way. One property that both glass and amber have is that sunlight penetrates their surface. The archaeologists believe this could be proof of a link between the Egyptian sun cult and the Nordic sun cult.
When a Danish woman in the Bronze Age took a piece of jewellery made of amber and blue glass with her to the grave, it constituted a prayer to the sun to ensure that she would be re-united with it and share her fate with the sun's on its eternal journey. The old amber route to the countries in the Mediterranean thus now has a counterpart: the glass route to the North. So far, the researchers have shown that there was a trade connection to Egypt and Mesopotamia in the years 1400-1100 BCE. Finding out whether the route continued in the later Bronze Age is a future task for the Danish-French research team.
Edited from Science Nordic (8 December 2014)
Stone age axe found with wood handle
Archaeologists in Denmark have uncovered an incredibly rare find: a stone age axe held within its wooden handle. The 5,500-year-old Neolithic axe was found during archaeological surveys ahead of a multi-billion euro tunnel project. The axe seems to have been jammed into what was once the seabed, perhaps as part of a ritual offering. The lack of oxygen in the clay ground helped preserve the wooden handle.
The find was made in Rodbyhavn on the Danish island of Lolland, which is to be connected to the German island of Fehmarn via the tunnel link. "Finding a hafted [handle-bearing] axe as well preserved as this one is quite amazing," said Soren Anker Sorensen, an archaeologist at the Museum Lolland-Falster in Denmark.
Archaeologists have found other similarly well preserved organic material in the area during their excavations. These include upright wooden stakes, a paddle, bows and other axe shafts. Earlier this month, archaeologists working on the Fehmarn Belt Tunnel scheme announced that they had uncovered 5,000-year-old footprints along the edge of an ancient fish trap excavated at Rodbyhavn.
Edited from BBC News (25 November 2014)
4,500 year-old skeleton show signs of bone cancer
More than 4,500 years ago, a Siberian man succumbed to a disease that left telltale signs on his bones. By the time it took him, the cancer had riddled his bones with holes from head to hip, including his upper arms and upper legs and virtually all points between.
Angela Lieverse, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Saskatchewan worked with Baikal-Hokkaido Archaeology Project colleagues Daniel Temple from the United States and Vladimir Bazaliiskii from Russia to examine the skeleton of this Early Bronze Age man. "This represents one of the earliest cases of human cancer worldwide and the oldest case documented thus far from Northeast Asia," said Lieverse.
The man was exhumed from a small hunter-gatherer cemetery in the Cis-Baikal region of Siberia, and he was not in good shape. When he passed away, his community buried him in a fetal position in a circular pit. Unlike most men of this period, who would have been buried lying on their back with fishing or hunting gear, he was laid to rest with an ornamental bone and a bone spoon, intricately carved with a winding serpent handle. The researchers estimate he would have been between 35 and 40 years old.
"It's clear the disease had progressed considerably, metastasising far beyond its original location in the body and contributing to his death," Lieverse said. "His age and sex and the lesions on his bones point to lung cancer or possibly prostate cancer." Lieverse explained that ancient skeletons exhibiting signs of cancer are quite rare, sparking the hypothesis that the disease is mostly a recent phenomenon, reflecting various aspects of our modern lifestyle.
These latest findings provide evidence that may help refute this hypothesis, Lieverse said. She suspects that, taking into account variables such as longer life expectancies, cancer may have been considerably more common in antiquity than is generally presumed. "As we become more familiar with what metastatic carcinoma looks like in the skeleton, the number of cases identified by bioarchaeological research is likely to increase," she said.
Edited from Past Horizons (6 December 2014)
10 December 2014
Evidence of ancient earthquake found in China
Scientists have found evidence of a powerful earthquake 3,000 years ago in central China, apparently the earliest known in the country's history. The earthquake, which hit an area now part of Henan province, was of magnitude 6.8 to 7.1, archaeologists said.
Signs of the quake were first found in 2005 in seriously damaged ash pits, residences and graves that lay buried under a village in the province, the researchers said. Carbon dating indicated the earthquake struck the area sometime between 1500 BCE and 1260 BCE, they added. China did not start keeping seismological records until 843 BCE.
Scientists also found a human skeleton whose pelvis and leg bones were found in a pit 1.5 metres (five feet) away from his upper body. "The skeleton couldn't have been damaged by human force," said Chu Xiaolong, associate researcher with the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology. "It had been apparently torn apart under the impact of the quake," he concluded.
The discoveries were made on the central route of the south-to-north water diversion project, a huge scheme to transport water from central provinces to Beijing that is due to open this month. Researchers also found intact skeletons of cattle, pigs and other domestic animals at the site that were believed to be sacrifices made to ward off future quakes.
Edited from The Star Online (5 December 2014)