Monday, August 6, 2018

Experts ask if there was a tsunami in ancient Orkney

Maesehowe is Orkney's most famous burial cairn, and a popular tourist attraction

A new academic paper has suggested it is possible neolithic mass burials in Orkney and Shetland contain the bodies of tsunami victims.

The authors said archaeologists should test remains to see if the bones show the distinctive signs of drowning in sea water.

Prof James Goff said the work was based on findings from the southern hemisphere.

It is published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

Prof Goff, from the University of New South Wales, told BBC Radio Orkney there are sites in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu where there are "known tsunamis that have happened in prehistory at the times that these mass burials date to".

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Stonehenge: Origins of those who built world-famous monument revealed by groundbreaking scientific research

Experts have discovered act of cremation actually crystallises a bone’s structure and allows its origins to be detected – something previously thought to be impossible


A new scientific research collaboration is, for the first time, revealing who built Stonehenge. The cutting-edge study sheds a remarkable light on the geographical origins of the Neolithic community that first constructed the ancient site.

Complex tests carried out on 25 Neolithic people who were buried at or following the time of the initial construction of the now world-famous monument, have revealed that 10 of them lived nowhere near Stonehenge, but in western Britain, and that half of those 10 potentially came from southwest Wales (where the earliest Stonehenge monoliths came from).

The other 15 could be local to Stonehenge, Wiltshire-origin individuals, or the children of other descendants of migrants from the west. All the remains were cremations.


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Small height evolved twice on 'Hobbit' island of Flores

Liang Bua cave, where the Hobbit remains were found
ROSINO / CREATIVE COMMONS

A new study has shown that small height evolved twice in humans on the Indonesian island of Flores.

Scientists decoded the DNA of modern-day "pygmy" people to find out if they might be partly descended from the extinct Hobbit species.

The remains of these Hobbits were found during an archaeological dig on Flores 15 years ago.

The new analysis, published in the journal Science, found no trace of the Hobbit's DNA in the present-day people.

This is important because some scientists had wondered whether modern humans (Homo sapiens) could have mixed with the Hobbit population when they first arrived on the island thousands of years ago. In theory, this could have led to Hobbit genes being passed down into living people on the island.

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Stonehenge: First residents from west Wales

Researchers have shown that cremated humans at Stonehenge were from the same region of Wales as the stones used in construction.
The key question was to understand the geographic origin of the people buried at Stonehenge.
The key innovation was finding that high temperatures of cremation can crystallise a skull, locking in the chemical signal of its origin.
The first long-term residents of Stonehenge, along with the first stones, arrived about 5,000 years ago.

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Roadworks reveal remains of Iron Age village in York

An enclosure measuring 16 metres across is believed to date from the Iron Age 
[Credit: City of York Council]

The earliest find – a large ring ditch which could have been an enclosure or roundhouse – appears to date from the Iron Age, around 2,500 years ago. At around 16 metres in diameter, it is one of the biggest to be unearthed in York.

Pits and what looks to be a hearth have been found alongside, during roadworks at the roundabout of the junction with the road to Wetherby, on York’s outer ring road

A nearby ditch has produced a series of related finds, including decorated pottery fragments, a piece of quern-stone and industrial waste material in the form of molten slag.

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Treasure found across Northern Ireland


More than 40 objects found across Northern Ireland between 2009 and 2016 have been officially categorised as "treasure" by a coroner.
The items include a variety of precious rings, jewellery and Viking coins.
They were found by members of the public through metal-detecting, as well as by archaeologists on excavation.
After examination both by the coroner and the British Museum, some of the treasured items are now being held at the Ulster Museum in Belfast.
In Northern Ireland, any search for archaeological material that involves disturbing the ground requires a licence in advance from the Department for Communities' Historic Environment Division (HED)

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Lessons From A Real Atlantis

Before it was lost to the bottom of sea, Doggerland was made up of woodland, meadows, marshes and rivers,  as shown by simulations [Credit: Philip Murgatroyd]

The discoveries, both on land and underwater, are helping to fill in some of the blanks about Europe’s prehistory and are offering insights into how our species responded to global climate change in the past.

Around 8,500 years ago, after the end of the last ice age, global warming triggered huge rises in sea levels due to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets that had covered much of the northern hemisphere.

An area of land twice the size of the European Union was lost to the rising seas, prompting mass migration across the continents.

Much of the human experience of this cataclysm, however, has remained buried out of reach of even the most assiduous investigator, leaving a huge gap in the story of our ancestors.

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Research on British teeth unlocks potential for new insights into ancient diets

Skeleton sampled for the study, dating to the post-medieval period in Britain. The analysis suggests the Victorians were partial to a bowl of porridge, while in modern diets potatoes, soybeans and peanuts are flavour of the day 
[Credit: Camilla Speller, University of York]

Dental plaque accumulates on the surface of teeth during life and is mineralised by components of saliva to form tartar or "dental calculus", entombing proteins from the food we eat in the process.

Identifying evidence of many foods, particularly plant crops, in diets of the past is a challenge as they often leave no trace in the archaeological record. But proteins are robust molecules that can survive in tartar for thousands of years.

Archaeological tooth tartar has previously been shown to preserve milk proteins, but the international study, led by researchers at the University of York and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, has proved for the first time that it can also reveal more precise information about a wider range of food proteins, including those from plants.

The discovery could provide new insights into the diets and lifestyles of our ancestors, adding to the value of dental remains in our understanding of human evolution.

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Hidden landscapes the heatwave is revealing


As the summer sun continues to beat down on the British Isles, ghosts are appearing in the yellowing fields.

Normally kept hidden by lush grasses and crops, old and prehistoric features are making themselves known through imprints on fields and lawns, some for the first time in known memory.

It's hard to see these features from the ground - but with the rise of drones for aerial photography, they can be captured where they may have remained unidentified in previous heatwaves.

The marks are revealed when grass or crops on top of wood or stone still in the ground flourish or deteriorate at different rates to surrounding material in the unusually hot weather.

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The real cabbage soup diet: What Britons ate down the ages


Ancient Britons were eating dairy, peas, cabbage and oats, according to gunk trapped in their teeth.
Scientists analysed dental plaque found on the teeth of skeletons from the Iron Age to post-Medieval times.
They found evidence of milk proteins, cereals and plants, as well as an enzyme that aids digestion.
In modern samples, they found proteins that reflect a more cosmopolitan diet, including potatoes, soya and peanuts.
The research gives a picture of what people have been eating through the ages, including food that leaves no trace in the archaeological record.

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Brú na Bóinne: Megalithic tomb discovered in Meath

One kerbstone is heavily decorated with Neolithic carvings

The discovery of a 5,500-year-old megalithic tomb in County Meath has been described as the "find of a lifetime" by archaeologists.

Two burial chambers, six kerbstones and two suspected satellite tombs have been found during the dig.

The find was made at the 18th Century Dowth Hall, within the Brú na Bóinne complex, a Unesco World Heritage site.

The project is being carried out by the agri-technology company Devenish and University College Dublin (UCD).

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Unsere weitverzweigten afrikanischen Wurzeln

Artefakte aus der Mittleren Steinzeit, die im Norden und Süden des afrikanischen Kontinents gefunden wurden. Bild: Eleanor Scerri/Francesco d»Errico/Christopher Henshilwood

Während allgemein anerkannt ist, dass der moderne Mensch seinen Ursprung in Afrika hat, wurde der Frage, wie sich der Mensch innerhalb des Kontinents entwickelt hat, bislang wenig Aufmerksamkeit geschenkt. Vielfach ging man davon aus, dass die frühen Vorfahren des Menschen als eine einzige, relativ große Bevölkerungsgruppe entstanden sind, welche Gene und Technologien, wie die Herstellung von Steinwerkzeugen, mehr oder weniger zufällig untereinander austauschten.

In einer diese Woche in Trends in Ecology and Evolution veröffentlichten Studie eines wissenschaftlichen Expertenteams unter der Leitung von Eleanor Scerri, Wissenschaftlerin an der British Academy der Universität Oxford und am Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte in Jena, wird diese Sichtweise nicht nur durch die Untersuchung von versteinerten Knochen (Anthropologie), Steinwerkzeugen (Archäologie) und Genen (Populationsgenetik) in Frage gestellt, sondern auch durch neue und detailliertere Rekonstruktionen von Afrikas Klimazonen und Lebensräumen während der letzten 300.000 Jahre

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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Power company project becomes one of Europe's largest archeological digs

The site included the skull of an auroch, an extinct species of cattle.

A Neolithic trackway dating to 2300 B.C. was uncovered in a nondescript field in Suffolk, on the east coast of England, thanks to a power company.

Among the findings at the site were the skull of an auroch -- an extinct species of wild cattle dating to about 4000 B.C. -- as well as pottery, building structures, bones, coins and poles to designate the route of the ancient trackway, the centerpiece of this particular excavation. Trackways are ancient roadways that formed when people or animals repeatedly tread the same path.

"Undoubtedly this is a site of international archaeological significance. It is exceptionally rare to find preserved organic materials from the Neolithic period, and we will learn a great deal from this discovery," said Richard Newman, associate director at Wardell Armstrong, the company overseeing the dig.

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'German Stonehenge' Yields Grisly Evidence of Sacrificed Women and Children

A reconstruction of the 4,300-year-old Pömmelte enclosure.
Credit: Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt” (State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt); photographer Juraj Lipták

The broken, battered bones of children, teenagers and women discovered at the newly excavated "German Stonehenge" may be evidence of ancient human sacrifice, a new study finds.

Archaeologists found the fractured skulls and rib bones buried in pits alongside axes, drinking vessels, butchered animal bones and querns (stone mills) at an archaeology site near Pömmelte, a village in Germany about 85 miles (136 kilometers) southwest of Berlin.

The victims' last moments were gruesome; it appears they were thrown or pushed into the pit, and that at least one of the teenagers had their hands bound together, said study lead researcher André Spatzier, an archaeologist at the State Office for the Preservation of Historic Monuments at Baden-Württemberg, a state in southwest Germany. 

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Archaeologists stumble on Neolithic ritual site in Suffolk

A 4,300-year-old stake discovered in a field in Suffolk. Photograph: Scottish Power

As diggers began to strip the daisies and buttercups and carve down through the parched clay of a field near Woodbridge in Suffolk that sloped down to a riverbank, with archaeologists watching over the pretty but apparently featureless site, something extraordinary began to emerge. Clear spring water came bubbling from the ground, and with it came massive timbers preserved so perfectly that tool marks were still visible and stake posts were sharply pointed.

The archaeologists first thought the timbers must be medieval or even Victorian, and were puzzled to find them so deeply buried. But as 30 metres of timber track were exposed, alongside other unexpected objects too, such as the massive horns and skull of an aurochs, an extinct breed of giant cattle, they realised they were dealing with something far more ancient. The timbers were 4,300 years old, according to the first carbon-14 tests, and underlying ones may be much older.

The Neolithic trackway, which had evidence of being repeatedly restored and renewed over decades and probably generations, seems to have led up to a level timber platform, with spring water deliberately channelled to surround it. From the platform, objects were dropped into the running water, including metal, pottery and the horned aurochs skull. The skull had been carefully shaped either to fix to a pole or use as part of a headdress – and as the archaeologists who had to lift and carry it down the hill could testify, lugging it to the site would have taken considerable effort.

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Mycenaean vessels among finds at Dromolaxia, Cyprus

Chariot krater from Tomb RR, Dromoloaxia-Vyzakia 
[Credit: Cyprus Department of Antiquities]

The Department of Antiquities in Cyprus announced that, during five weeks in April and June 2018, a Swedish team, headed by Professor Peter M. Fischer from the University of Gothenburg, carried out excavations at the Late Cypriot harbour city of Dromolaxia-Vyzakia (Hala Sultan Tekke). The team consisted of 27 students and specialists. Amongst the latter were those trained in osteology, botany, conservation, Aegean and Near Eastern ceramics, and geophysical prospecting.

In June 2017, the site was surveyed with a magnetometer with ten sensors mounted on a 5 m wide cart. This arrangement allowed the mapping of 23 hectares within a week, demonstrating stone structures and “pits” down to a depth of roughly 1.5 m.

The architectural remains point to numerous man-made structures in the entire area of the survey, demonstrating the vast extent of the city. In 2018, 0.6 hectares of the magnetometer-surveyed area were re-investigated with georadar in order to see details of the buried features which facilitates the subsequent excavations.

However, the results of the georadar survey were of limited value: the strong radar attenuation at the site, due to clay-rich soil, did not allow electromagnetic waves to penetrate deeper than a few decimeters from surface.

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Four hundred-year-old fort discovered in County Tyrone


A 400-year-old fort has been discovered in Brockagh, County Tyrone.

Students from Queen's University in Belfast have taken part in the dig over the past month.

Evidence of a settlement going back thousands of years has also been found.

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Ötzi – a new understanding of the holy grail of glacial archaeology

Reinhold Messner (right) looking at Ötzi after more ice had melted or been hacked away. Notice the wooden stick in his companion’s right hand. It was used during the first attempts to hack Ötzi out of the ice. It is in fact part of the frame for Ötzi’s backpack. In the upper right corner, we can see Ötzi’s bow resting against the rock. 

Ötzi the iceman is the holy grail of glacial archaeology, nothing less. The discovery of the 5300-year-old mummified body and the associated artefacts created a media frenzy and great public interest. Today, 250000 people visit the Ötzi Museum in Bolzano each year to get a glimpse of Ötzi and the exhibited artefacts. A wealth of scientific papers, popular books and documentaries have been published.

Ötzi was discovered in 1991 in a gully at the Tisenjoch pass close to the Italian/Austrian border. The original interpretation by the Innsbruck-based archaeologist Konrad Spindler was that Ötzi froze to death in the gully. He was quickly covered by a glacier and remained encased in ice until he melted out in 1991. How else could the body and artefacts be so well preserved?

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

New technique provides accurate dating of ancient skeletons


EUROPEAN SOCIETY OF HUMAN GENETICS—Milan, Italy: Interest in the origins of human populations and their migration routes has increased greatly in recent years. A critical aspect of tracing migration events is dating them. However, the radiocarbon techniques*, that are commonly used to date and analyze DNA from ancient skeletons can be inaccurate and not always possible to apply. Inspired by the Geographic Population Structure model that can track mutations in DNA that are associated with geography, researchers have developed a new analytic method, the Time Population Structure (TPS), that uses mutations to predict time in order to date the ancient DNA.

Dr Umberto Esposito, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Dr Eran Elhaik, Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK, will tell the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics today (Monday) that TPS can calculate the mixtures of DNA deriving from different time periods to estimate its definitive age. “This introduces a completely new approach to dating. At this point, in its embryonic state, TPS has already shown that its results are very similar to those obtained with traditional radiocarbon dating. 

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Enigmatic Stone Balls from 5,000 Years Ago Continue to Baffle Archaeologists

The 3D models of the carved balls of stone, including the spiral-carved Towie ball (center), are now posted online.  Credit: National Museums Scotland

Some of the most enigmatic human-made objects from Europe's late Stone Age — intricately carved balls of stone, each about the size of a baseball — continue to baffle archaeologists more than 200 years after they were first discovered.

More than 500 of the enigmatic objects have now been found, most of them in northeast Scotland, but also in the Orkney Islands, England, Ireland and one in Norway.

Archaeologists still don't know the original purpose or meaning of the Neolithic stone balls, which are recognized as some of the finest examples of Neolithic art found anywhere in the world. But now, they've created virtual 3D models of the gorgeous balls, primarily to share with the public. In addition, the models have revealed some new details, including once-hidden patterns in the carvings on the balls.

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Anger at bird hide damage to Neolithic burial site

The hide, which has toppled over, was constructed on an ancient burial cairn
PAUL CAMPBELL

A makeshift bird hide has been built on the site of a Neolithic burial cairn, damaging the 3,000-year-old archaeological site.

Made from the canopy for a pick-up truck and a wooden pallet, it was constructed on one of three ancient cairns at Carn Glas, near Inverness.

Police Scotland said it was aware of the structure at Essich.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said it was taking enforcement action to have the hide removed.

Turf and stones were moved at the cairn, one of three at the site which are of a design usually found further north in the Highlands and also in Orkney.

The hide, which has toppled over, had been fixed in place by heavy metal pins.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Possible discovery of prehistoric settlement near Thurso

Archaeologists are to make further investigations of the structures found
ORKNEY RESEARCH CENTRE FOR ARCHAEOLOGY

A community archaeology event may have uncovered a previously unknown prehistoric settlement in the Highlands.

Led by a team of archaeologists, more than 40 people, including children, dug a series of trenches at Thusater Burn near Thurso.

A geophysical survey had suggested the remains of a building beneath the soil.

The dig revealed rubble, a hearth constructed from stone slabs, a hammer stone and other tools.

A "wonderfully preserved" pig's tooth was also found. Archaeologists said such a find was usually associated with high status sites.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Detection of invisible elements in ancient rock engravings

Detailed picture of a bovine animal after applying the methodology 
[Credit: Aroa Gutiérrez Alonso]

Two researchers from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) in collaboration with a researcher from Czech University of Life Sciences Prague (CULS) have developed a methodology to detect archaeological elements invisible to the naked eye.

Starting from photographs taken with common digital cameras and the range of the visible spectrum, a team of researchers from School of Land Surveying, Geodesy and Mapping Engineering at UPM and Faculty of Environmental Sciences from CULS suggest a new non-invasive methodology of archaeological documentation and analysis to show digital elements that are invisible to the naked eye. The method consists of applying techniques of both remote sensing and spectral treatment in order to uncover hidden elements and later carry out their morphometric analysis.

Mercedes Farjas, Aroa Gutiérrez and José Antonio Domínguez started by studying a limestone mold in the lab. The first goal was to assess the influence of the angle of the light of the photographs.

Later, after studying the effect of diverse filters on the mold, the researchers carried out combination tests of the filters in order to create a protocol of sequential application that allowed them to obtain conclusive results. As a result of these tests, they selected a set of filters and established an order of application.

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