Sunday, January 31, 2010

Archaeologists unearth Iron Age settlement in Kent

The remains of an Iron Age settlement have been unearthed by archaeologists working along the route of a new £1.3m water pipeline in Kent.

Evidence of a dwelling, postholes, pits, ancient hearths and pieces of pottery were found on land in Pembury.

South East Water plans to lay a 4.6km (2.9 mile) pipe between Kipping's Cross Service Reservoir and Pembury.

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Horizontal and vertical: The evolution of evolution

JUST suppose that Darwin's ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth's history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe. Darwin's explanation of evolution, they argue, even in its sophisticated modern form, applies only to a recent phase of life on Earth.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Evidence of Stone Age amputation forces rethink over history of surgery

The surgeon was dressed in a goat or sheep skin and used a sharpened stone to amputate the arm of his patient.

The operating theatre was not exactly Harley Street — more probably a wooden shelter — but the intervention was a success, and it has shed light on the medical talents of our Stone Age ancestors.

Scientists unearthed evidence of the surgery during work on an Early Neolithic tomb discovered at Buthiers-Boulancourt, about 40 miles (65km) south of Paris. They found that a remarkable degree of medical knowledge had been used to remove the left forearm of an elderly man about 6,900 years ago — suggesting that the true Flintstones were more developed than previously thought.

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fears over M-way near ancient site

The ancient Bru na Boinne site around Newgrange may lose its World Heritage status if the proposed M2 motorway goes ahead, it is claimed.
The National Monuments Forum warned if changes are not made to the new motorway plans, the area near the Boyne in Co Meath is likely to lose recognition from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Dr George Eogan, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at University College Dublin (UCD), said the new motorway is too close to the monuments and will have a considerable impact on the surrounding landscape.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Slane bypass would run close to Newgrange

The National Roads Authority has given details of plans for the new Slane bypass, which would be built 500m from the World Heritage Site at Newgrange.

While the plan has been welcomed locally, it is expected that there will be controversy.

The bridge and the road through the village of Slane, Co Meath, is one of the most dangerous stretches of roads in Ireland.

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Bypass will run 500 metres from Newgrange complex

THE proposed route of the Slane bypass in Co Meath will run just 500 metres from the edge of the ancient Newgrange complex.

The National Roads Authority (NRA) yesterday released an environmental impact study for the route which shows that although it skirts the perimeter of the Bru na Boinne complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it would be almost 3km from the famed burial chamber at Newgrange.

Planning permission for the 3.5km dual carriageway has been sought from An Bord Pleanala, and the NRA said the proposed route would have the "least impact" on the archaeology and heritage of the area.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Tools point to early Cretan arrivals

Evidence for the world’s earliest seafaring has emerged from an archaeological survey in Crete. Tools of Lower Palaeolithic type, at least 130,000 years old, have been found on the Greek island, which has been isolated by the Mediterranean Sea for at least the past five million years, so that any human ancestors must have arrived by boat. At this date, they would have been of a pre-modern species: the earliest Neanderthalers or even Homo heidelbergensis, the species to which Boxgrove Man belonged, are among possible contenders, but no such remains have so far been found on Crete.

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Genome Study Provides a Census of Early Humans

From the composition of just two human genomes, geneticists have computed the size of the human population 1.2 million years ago from which everyone in the world is descended.

They put the number at 18,500 people, but this refers only to breeding individuals, the “effective” population. The actual population would have been about three times as large, or 55,500.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Radiocarbon Daters Tune Up Their Time Machine

It took nearly 30 years and a lot of heated debate, but a team of researchers has finally produced what archaeologists, geologists, and other scientists have long been waiting for: a calibration curve that allows radiocarbon dating to achieve its full potential. The new curve, which now extends back 50,000 years, could help researchers work out key questions in human evolution, such as the effect of climate change on human adaptation and migrations.

The basic principle of radiocarbon dating is fairly simple. Plants and animals absorb trace amounts of radioactive carbon-14 from carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere while they are alive but stop doing so when they die. The steady decay of carbon-14 from archaeological and geological samples ticks away like a clock, and the amount of radioactive carbon left in the sample gives a reproducible indication of how old it is. Most experts consider the technical limit of radiocarbon dating to be about 50,000 years, after which there is too little carbon-14 left to measure accurately.

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Ancient arrowhead a 'chance find' at Sutherland school

Archaeologists have made what they described as a "chance discovery" of a stone arrowhead in the garden of a ruined schoolhouse in Sutherland.

Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (Guard) said it may have been dropped by a hunter.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

If it turns out the Neanderthals weren't numbskulls, who can we look down on?

Archaeology is exploding the comforting myths and yardsticks against which we measure our supposed progress

These are about the only two archaeological truths anyone knows, and they've been blown apart in the same week: Neanderthal man was not stupid; and Egyptian pyramids were not built by slaves. It's hard to think of a historical revelation that would have so much impact: Henry VIII not the instigator but actually the victim of divorce proceedings; Richard I did not have the heart of a lion, but a small sheep.

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Neanderthals Enjoyed Surf and Turf Meals

Recently at Discovery News I told you about Neanderthal-made shell jewelry that suggests these hominids were as smart and creative as modern humans were at the time the jewelry was made, 50,000 years ago.

University of Bristol archaeologist Joao Zilhao, who led the project, told me about some other interesting discoveries he and his team made about Neanderthals. One concerns how they harvested shellfish for consumption.

"The Neanderthals harvested live mollusks on the rocks for eating, transported them to their living sites in wet algae bundles, and discarded their shells after eating the flesh," he said. "They did this with limpets, mussels and topshells."

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

In praise of… Neanderthal man

It seems we have all been guilty of defaming Neanderthal man. Research by a team based at the University of Bristol suggests that, far from being a lumbering, witless no-hoper, he was capable, 50,000 years ago, of producing forms of cosmetic adornment and even of primitive jewellery. In 1985, finds in Murcia, Spain, had suggested that this might be so; and now an expedition led by Professor João Zilhão of Bristol has uncovered a shell which shows "a symbolic dimension in behaviour and thinking that cannot be denied".

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Stonehenge on 'most threatened' world wonders list

Britain's failure to deal with road traffic around the prehistoric stone circle is condemned as 'a national disgrace'

The traffic-choked roads still roaring past Stonehenge in Wiltshire have earned the world's most famous prehistoric monument a place on a list of the world's most threatened sites.

The government's decision to abandon, on cost grounds, a plan to bury roads around Stonehenge in a tunnel underground and the consequent collapse of the plans for a new visitor centre, have put the site on the Threatened Wonders list of Wanderlust magazine, along with the 4x4-scarred Wadi Rum in Jordan, and the tourist-eroded paths and steps of the great Inca site at Machu Picchu in Peru.

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Museums and English Heritage unite for Stonehenge show to "draw on all the senses"

A plan to actively encourage Stonehenge visitors to understand the wider archaeological landscape of Wiltshire through surrounding museum collections has been given the go-ahead.

The new Stonehenge visitor centre at Airman’s Corner (above) will tell the story of the stones in a dedicated exhibition space after English Heritage, the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and the Wiltshire Heritage Museum agreed a joint project under a Memorandum of Understanding today (January 11).

Important artefacts including Wiltshire Heritage’s Bush Barrow Treasures – the Bronze Age burial described as "Britain's first crown jewels" when it was found at Stonehenge in 2009 – will be loaned to English Heritage for the dedicated display, which aims to entice visitors to explore the wider region as well as the famous stones.

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Seahenge set to be complete for the first time in 10 years

An iconic ancient monument uncovered by the tides on a Norfolk beach will soon be complete for the first time in a decade.

Scientists have been studying and preserving the Seahenge timber circle since it was excavated at Holme, near Hunstanton, in early 1999.

There were protests after archaeologists decided to remove the upturned oak stump and ring of 55 posts from the sands.

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Because they were worth it? Research finds Neanderthals enjoyed makeup

For decades, our low-browed Neanderthal cousins have been portrayed as dim savages whose idea of seduction was a whispered "ug" and a blow to the cranium.

But analysis of pierced, hand-coloured shells and lumps of pigment from two caves in south-east Spain suggests the cavepeople who stomped around Europe 50,000 years ago were far more intelligent – and cosmetically minded – than previously thought.

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Use of body ornamentation shows Neanderthal mind capable of advanced thought

The widespread view of Neanderthals as cognitively inferior to early modern humans is challenged by new research from the University of Bristol published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Professor João Zilhão and colleagues examined pigment-stained and perforated marine shells, most certainly used as neck pendants, from two Neanderthal-associated sites in the Murcia province of south-east Spain (Cueva de los Aviones and Cueva Antón). The analysis of lumps of red and yellow pigments found alongside suggest they were used in cosmetics. The practice of body ornamentation is widely accepted by archaeologists as conclusive evidence for modern behaviour and symbolic thinking among early modern humans but has not been recognised in Neanderthals – until now.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Did We Mate Or Murder Neanderthals?

Aiming his crossbow, Steven Churchill leaves no more than a two-inch gap between the freshly killed pig and the tip of his spear. His weapon of choice is a bamboo rod attached to a sharpened stone, modeled after the killing tools wielded by early modern humans some 50,000 years ago, when they cohabited in Eurasia with their large-boned relatives, the Neanderthals. Churchill, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, is doing an experiment to see if a spear thrown by an early modern human might have killed Shanidar 3, a roughly 40-year-old Neanderthal male whose remains were uncovered in the 1950s in Shanidar Cave in northeastern Iraq. Anthropologists have long debated about a penetrating wound seen in Shanidar 3's rib cage: Was he injured by another Neanderthal in a fight-or was it an early modern human who went after him?

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Ancient hominids may have been seafarers

Human ancestors that left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago to see the rest of the world were no landlubbers. Stone hand axes unearthed on the Mediterranean island of Crete indicate that an ancient Homo species — perhaps Homo erectus — had used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between, says archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island.

Several hundred double-edged cutting implements discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete date to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier, Strasser reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology. Many of these finds closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus, he says. It was around that time that H. erectus spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe.

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Prehistoric Jewelry Reveals Neanderthal Fashion Sense

Pigment-stained seashells, likely worn as necklaces by Neanderthals, suggest these early Europeans were not only stylish, but that they were also just as smart and crafty as humans in Africa were, according to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The colorful mollusk shells, which date to 50,000 years ago, were recently found in Murcia Province, Spain. Since the shells were painted 10,000 years before modern humans are believed to have settled in Europe, this leaves little doubt that Neanderthals made the still eye-catching pieces.

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Neanderthal 'make-up' containers discovered

Scientists claim to have the first persuasive evidence that Neanderthals wore "body paint" 50,000 years ago.

The team report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that shells containing pigment residues were Neanderthal make-up containers.

Scientists unearthed the shells at two archaeological sites in the Murcia province of southern Spain.

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