12 February 2020
Oldest known tree-ring dated wood structure
Oak wood used to build a box around a water well has been dated to about 7,275 years ago, making it the oldest known tree-ring dated wooden structure. The well was discovered near the Czech Republic town of Ostrov in 2018. Ceramic fragments found inside the well dated the site to the early Neolithic, but no evidence of any settlement structures were found nearby.
Consisting of four oak poles, one at each corner of a roughly 80 by 80 centimetre square with flat planks between them, it stood 140 centimetres above ground. The preservation is exceptional, showing marks from the polished stone tools used to shape each piece with great precision.
Parts were made from trees were felled in 5255 and 5256 BCE, but two of the poles were felled earlier - one around 7,278 or 7,279 years ago and the other around nine years before that - and must have been used previously. One of the side planks also had a different age - quite a bit younger, felled between 7,261 and 7,244 years ago - likely because of repairs to the well.
There are over 40 such wells known in Europe dating to a similar period. Some are thought to be earlier, and two of those are in Hungary. One is suspected to be from between 5400 and 5200 BCE and another between 5600 and 5400 BCE, but these have not been tree-ring dated.
Edited from Science Alert (3 February 2020)
Modern Africans have some Neanderthal DNA
Africans have more Neanderthal ancestry than previously thought - though still less than most people outside of Africa. Neanderthals were our closest evolutionary relatives, inhabiting parts of Europe and Asia from possibly more than 800,000 years ago until around 40,000 years ago.
People who migrated out of Africa around 60,000 to 80,000 years ago interbred with Neanderthals, and some human groups carrying Neanderthal genes returned to Africa. Neanderthal gene variants inherited by modern Africans include those involved in bolstering the immune system and modifying sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation. On average Neanderthal DNA accounts for about 0.5 percent of individual Africans' genetic inheritance - far more than reported in earlier studies. Most present-day people outside Africa carry about three times that amount. More than 94 percent of Neanderthal DNA sequences detected in today's Africans have also been observed in non-Africans.
Other DNA evidence suggests that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals interbred in Europe and Asia at least 50,000 years ago, but Neanderthals didn't mate with ancient people in Africa. Low levels of human migration from Europe to Africa over roughly the past 20,000 years introduced Neanderthal DNA into African populations.
The new study also found comparable proportions of Neanderthal DNA in modern Europeans and East Asians - about 1.7 percent and 1.8 percent respectively. Earlier studies estimated East Asians would have substantially more Neanderthal ancestry than Europeans. Africans share 7.2 percent of their Neanderthal ancestry with Europeans, 2 percent with East Asians. That makes Europe a more likely source of back-to-Africa migrations by humans carrying Neanderthal genes.
The report best fits a scenario in which human evolution after around 300,000 years ago featured hybridization between genetically different Homo populations and back-to-Africa migrations.
Researchers also detected a human migration out of Africa roughly 100,000 to 150,000 years ago that introduced human genes into Neanderthals. Some African DNA that appeared to have been inherited from Neanderthals actually came from those ancient humans.
Edited from ScienceNews (30 January 2020)
8,000-year-old figurine at Catalhoyuk
A human-like bone figurine around 8,000 years old has been found in Catalhoyuk, a proto-city settlement that existed from roughly 7500 BCE to 5700 BCE in what is now south central Turkey. A rare example of a well-preserved Neolithic settlement, it shows evidence of the transition from life in villages to an urban agglomeration which preceded cities as we know them. Its smost famous artefacts to date have been female figures made of clay.
Just 6 centimetres high, the newly discovered figurine is made from a bone from a donkey's hoof, with cuts that look like eyes. The first bone figurine found at the site, it had been placed in a clay container in a room where food was stored. Though ancient bone figures with human features have been found in the region before, most are much later - around 4300 to 3300 BCE. The clay pot in which this one was found was made around 6500 to 6300 BCE.
Stone tools reveal Neanderthal travels
Similarities between Neanderthal tools in Siberia and eastern Europe suggest Neanderthals crossed the Eurasian continent about 60,000 years ago - 40,000 years after an earlier migration.
Unlike the more famous Denisova Cave which was occupied at various times over about 250,000 years by Neanderthals, anatomically modern humans, and Denisovans, the Chagyrskaya Cave 100 kilometres to the west in the foothills of the Altai Mountains seems to have been occupied only by Neanderthals. There archaeologists have found 74 Neanderthal bones - the most of any cave in the region - as well as around 90,000 artefacts including stone and bone tools.
More than 3,000 stone blades from the cave resemble flaked stone tools from Central and eastern Europe known as Micoquian blades, suggesting the Neanderthals who occupied the Chagyrskaya Cave descended from groups more than 3,000 kilometres to the west who may have been following migrating herds of bison or horse through central Asia.
Some geneticists have previously suggested that Neanderthals migrated to Siberia twice, because late Neanderthal occupants of the Denisova Cave are more closely related to their European relatives than to the cave's earlier occupants.
Peruvian monument revealed after 2,000 years
In a high jungle in what is now northern Peru researchers have made a detailed 3D scan of a 2,000 yeae old stone monolith decorated with swirls, circular patterns, and fangs belonging to a deity archaeologists call a "feline feathered figure".
In danger of being lost to erosion, the abstract and ornate images and patterns are difficult to describe. Archaeologists wanting to record the carvings hiked and rode horses from 1,800 metres to a remote village 4,000 metres above sea level.
The monolith is made of a sedimentary stone that is not found locally. Around one ton in weight, the rock is about 3 metres wide, 75 centimetres high, and 150 centimetres long.
The engraving of the feline feathered figure indicates the carvings were created during what archaeologists call the 'formative period' between 200 BCE and 200 CE. There was no writing in Peru during this period, but studies of other archaeological sites show the feline feathered figure was popular at the time.
The Inca who flourished in the area during the 15th century CE built two baths not far from the monolith.
Edited from LiveScience (24 January 2020)
Prehistoric sheep-hunting camp in the Levant
Anthropologists have confirmed the existence of a more than 10,000-year-old hunting camp in what is now northeastern Lebanon, straddling the period marking the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural settlements at the onset of the last stone age.
Analysis of data from Nachcharini Cave, high in mountains forming the border between Lebanon and Syria, shows that sheep were the primary game at a short-term special purpose camp which served as a temporary outpost to developing and more substantial villages elsewhere in the region.
Radiocarbon dating of animal bones place the main deposits at the cave securely in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), a period from about 10,000 to 8,000 BCE during which the cultivation of crops, the construction of mud-brick dwellings, and other practices of domestication began to emerge. The stone tools found at the sites are mostly tiny arrowheads used for hunting.
It was already known that sheep hunting was practised in this region throughout periods that preceded the PPNA, and the evidence from Nachcharini Cave reinforces that understanding.
Edited from University of Toronto News (23 January 2020)
7 February 2020
Bronze Age cannibalism revealed in a Cheddar cave
There is a cave in Cheddar, Somerset (UK), known as Gough's Cave, which is believed to have had human occupation for over 9,000 years.
Now a team of scientists, comprising researchers from the London Natural History Museum, the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology & Social Evolution and Virgili University of Tarragona (Spain) have been examining the marks found on human skull remains uncovered in the cave. So far the marks point towards a form of cannibalism, possibly for ritualistic purposes.
One of the leaders of the research team, Francesc Marginedas, from the Virgili University, is quoted as saying "This practice [use of human skulls] could be related to decapitations for obtaining war trophies, to the production of masks as decorative elements, even with engravings, or to what is known as skull cups. In fact, some ancient societies considered that human skulls possessed powers or life force, justifying sometimes its collection as evidence of superiority and authority during violent confrontations".
Evidence of this type of cannibalism has been found on other sites, dating back over 15,000 years
Edited from Fox News (20 January 2020)
Indian Copper Age site seriously damaged by roadworks
The Chalcolithic, or Copper Age, flourished in India during the period 5,000-800 BCE. The most important sites at this time were centered around the Indus Valley, although sites have been found in other parts of the sub-continent, with variations occurring in the Central, Eastern and Southern Regions. One site in particular, in the State of Maharashtra, has recently suffered some catastrophic damage.
The site was first discovered in a village called Hatnur, famed for its earthfill dam) in 2015, when examples of Chalcolithic pottery were found. Archaeological excavations were due to start in February 2020.
A senior official from the State Department of Culture is quoted as saying, in September 2018, when talking about the planned excavations "This will enhance our understanding of Maharashtra's prehistory and evolution. For instance, the history of Aurangabad, which is believed to have begun with the Saravahana dynasty, will go back from about 200 BCE to around 2,000 BCE".
This makes it a very unfortunate misunderstanding when the local highways department started their own excavations first, using soil scooped from the site to form the base for a new road. Now a blame game has started between the State Archaeological Department and the Revenue Department, with both sides blaming each other for the misunderstanding.
Edited from The Tribune - India (8 January 2020)
1 February 2020
'Alien' graffiti defaces Neolithic Quoit in West Cornwall
On the West Penwith moors, in the far west of Cornwall (Great Britain) can be found several Neolithic Quoits. Prominent amongst those is Mulfra Quoit, the remains of a collapsed single chamber megalithic tomb. The Quoit is one of several Neolithic monuments ranging from quoits to stone circles to standing stones and holy wells which are care for by CASPN, the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network.
The graffiti takes the form of the outline of what appears to be two alien figures and was first spotted by Cheryl Straffon of CASPN. Cheryl is quoted as saying, on the CASPN Facebook page, "The new year has started with the first graffiti on an ancient site. These figures have been painted on one of the uprights of Mulfra Quoit. Fortunately it is grey paint that can be removed, but one wonders at the mentality of people who will disrespect an ancient site in this way".
Further speculation on the nature of the graffiti points towards images of Cloud and Rain spirits from Australian aboriginal folklore. After discussions between Historic England, Penwith Landscape Partnership and CASPN it appears the images were drawn using charcoal and so will need specialist treatment to be removed.
Edited from Cornwall Live (8 January 2020)
New evidence found for timing of human migration from Asia to America
During the Pleistocene Epoch (2,600,000 BCE to 9,700 BCE) there were various times when there was a land bridge between the continents of Asia and North America. These were commonly known as the Beringia Land Bridge. This link is believed to have been at its largest (i.e. sea levels at their lowest) in approximately 18,000 BCE, during the last Pleistocene Glacial Stage.
There has been speculation that this land link allowed for large scale human migration into North America. Weight has been added to this argument by recent studies carried out by Yakut scientists (Russian Federation), led by Doctor Albert Protopopov.
On the island of Kotelney, located in the East Siberian Sea, the remains of a woolly mammoth had been found, which is now housed in the Mammoth museum in Yakutsk. The mammoth has been radiocarbon dated to approximately 19,000 BCE by the Jikei University School of Medicine in Tokyo (Japan).
Whilst the mammoth find in itself may not be all that remarkable, the method of its death proved to be more interesting. Extensive evidence was found to suggest that the mammoth had been systematically and comprehensively butchered by humans who, Dr Protopopov believes, were part of the great migration across the continents and he is quoted as saying "Recent DNA research suggests that the split in the populations [Asia and America] happened from around 25,000 years ago". He went on to add "This is one of the most interesting things in the discovery of this mammoth, as it will add more information to our knowledge of how people gradually moved towards America".
Edited from The Siberian Times (3 January 2020)
30 January 2020
Mounds in the USA could be older than previously thought
Earlier research concluded that earthen mounds on what is now the Louisiana State University campus in Baton Rouge were built 5,500 to 6,000 years ago, but LSU geology professor Brooks Ellwood claims bone fragments scarred in a super-heated fire suggest the mounds could be 11,300 years old.
Researchers found what appeared to be tiny remnants of mammal bones surrounded by high concentrations of reed and cane material. Because reed and cane burn too hot for cooking, the material may have been used for incineration.
Native American mounds have increasingly attracted the interest of researchers, but it wasn't until the past 30 or 40 years that archaeologists realised how old they were. Many are scattered along or near the Mississippi River, with several in Louisiana, including those at the Poverty Point World Heritage Site in the northeastern part of the state. Baton Rouge is on the Mississippi River about 120 kilometres west-northwest of New Orleans.
Little is known about the people who built the mounds. Ellwood speculates they were descendants of Clovis people, the Paleo-American culture known from their distinctive stone points. What researchers find remarkable about sites like the LSU campus mounds and Poverty Point is that people at the time didn't have agriculture, livestock, or metal tools. If Ellwood's calculations are correct, the age of the mounds could provide important clues about humans throughout the Americas.
Researchers at LSU have long tried to preserve the mounds from further deterioration, and the university is exploring options to further protect them. The latest findings may lead to more support for a plan.
Edited from The Advocate (19 January 2020)
Neanderthals could swim and dive?
Over 100,000 years ago at the Grotta dei Cavalli (Cave of Horses) on what is now the northwestern tip of Sicily, a group of Neanderthals made tools from clamshells - one of only three sites in the world where strong evidence has been found of systematic shell scraper manufacture by Neanderthals, another being the Grotta dei Moscerini (Cave of Gnats), a large seaside cave at the base of a cliff on the tip of Italy's boot-heel about 500 kilometres to the northeast.
The tools were found throughout multiple archaeological layers dating from 106,000 to 74,000 years ago, but were not distributed evenly throughout the Neanderthal-associated sequence; where shell tools were common, stone tools were not.
Neanderthals made stone tools, but their shell-based toolmaking is less well-known. In 1949, archaeologists found 171 at Moscerini. Another 136 were separately found at Cavalli, and much smaller numbers in other Neanderthal sites such as Kalamakia Cave in Greece.
The assumption had been that the Neanderthals picked up shells on the beach, but between a fifth and a quarter of the specimens found at the two sites in Italy seem to have been collected alive. All were made from the smooth clam, Callista chione. The shells are almost evenly thin from the bulge of the half-shell to its edge. Edges were shaped with stone hammers, and experiments demonstrate that unlike stone the cutting edges of the shells can be retouched two to three times without changing the cutting angle.
Studies show that Neanderthals preferred meat but also caught fish in shallow freshwater and ate shellfish. Neanderthals 115,000 years ago in what is now Spain bored holes into shells and coloured and decorated them. Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St Louis, USA, reports evidence of "surfer's ear" in Neanderthal skulls - bony growths in the ear canal prevalent among humans who swim in cold water. Interestingly, surfer's ear seems to have become less common in Upper Palaeolithic Neanderthal communities although signs of marine resource use remain.
Edited from Haaretz (15 January 2020)
Ancient metalworking in Dubai
Now at the northern edge of the Rub al-Khalil desert in southern Dubai, the town of Saruq Al Hadid specialised in copper smelting until the pre-Islamic period, about 300 CE. Archaeological teams began digging in 2002, and the site has yielded 3,000 year-old artifacts made from copper, bronze, iron, gold, and silver. Recent excavations revealed 2,600 metal objects including weapons, decorations, jewelry, and iconic or magical items like figurines of snakes. The majority are thought to have been made about 3,000 years ago, but mining and smelting metals had been conducted there as long as 1,000 years earlier.
53 distinctively patterned clay seals represent the largest collection of Iron Age seals in the Arabian Peninsula. Animal, figurative, crescent, pyramid, and star designs demonstrate links with Mesopotamia, the Indo-Iranian area, and Egypt. Another collection of seals and pottery link the site with the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, while carnelian beads point to links with the Indus Valley.
A three year program of archaeological fieldwork begun on the site in 2014 found early Iron Age artefacts carved in local woods such as acacia, ghaf , and sidr, but also items made from olive and pine wood, pointing to early trade with the Levant.
The Saruq Al Hadid Archaeology Museum in the Shindagha heritage district of Dubai features collections associated with each of the items - metalwork, animal bones, snake symbols, and jewelry.
Edited from Ancient Origins (13 January 2020)
Homo erectus may not have evolved in Asia
Indonesia is hugely important for understanding human migration and settlement patterns in Asia during the Early Pleistocene - a period that ended around 780,000 years ago. According to new research, Homo erectus reached the Indonesian island of Java about 1,400 kilometres west-northwest of Darwin, Australia, sometime between 1.3 million and 1.5 million years ago - around 300,000 to 500,000 years later than previously estimated. The revised time frame may settle a longstanding debate about the geographical origin of the species.
Since 1936 over 100 different hominin fossils have been recovered from thick sedimentary layers in a large volcanic dome on the island of Java, but the complex geology has prevented anyone establishing an accepted chronology. Previous attempts to date the volcanic deposits relied solely on argon-argon dating of materials extracted from pumice. For the new study, Shuji Matsu'ura of Japan's National Museum of Nature and Science and his colleagues relied upon two different techniques - uranium-lead dating and fission-track dating - to examine the sediments in and around which the fossils were found. The new dates indicate an arrival of Homo erectus to the region around 1.3 million years ago, and no earlier than 1.45 million years ago. Later physical changes could have been the result of a major global cooling trend around 1.2 million years ago or the arrival of a separate population to the region when sea levels dropped and dry land connected the archipelago.
Archaeological evidence suggests Homo erectus emerged in Africa. Coincidentally, new dates were very recently published for the extinction of Homo erectus both in Indonesia and the world. Homo habilis likely emerged in Asia many hundreds of thousands of years later as a sister species to Neanderthals and Denisovans.
Edited from Gizmodo (9 January 2020)
Ancient humans engineered stone tools at Olduvai Gorge
Early Stone Age people engineered stone tools in complex ways between 1.8 and 1.2 million years ago, based on evidence from Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania - one of the world's most important sites for understanding human origins. New research shows Palaeolithic hominins selected raw materials for tools based on sharpness, durability, and efficiency, according to the length of time the tools would be used and the force applied - previously unseen complexity in the design and production of stone tools during this period.
Experimental methods more commonly used in modern engineering research reveal that Hominins preferentially selected quartzite - the sharpest but least durable stone type at Olduvai - for flake tools thought to have been used for expedient, short-lived cutting activities. Chert - highly durable and nearly as sharp as quartzite - was favoured for a variety of stone tool types due to its extended cutting performance, but was only available to hominins for a 200,000 year period. Some stone types such as including lavas and quartzite were always available.
Previous research has demonstrated that Early Stone Age populations in Kenya selected highly durable stone types for tools, but the new study is the first to find evidence of cutting-edge sharpness being considered. The team hopes researchers at other sites will apply similar tests and techniques to help understand the behaviour of Stone Age populations.