Thursday, January 31, 2013

Snail shells yield ancient climate clues

An old wives' tale that snails can be a sign of changing weather should not be dismissed out of hand, European researchers say, as they may give climate clues.

Snails climbing a plant or post supposedly means rain is coming, the tale goes, but a study led by the University of York in Britain goes one better: It shows snails can provide a wealth of information about the prevailing weather conditions thousands of years ago.

Analysis of the chemistry of snail shells recovered from Mediterranean caves, and dating back as far as 9,000 years, shows the western Mediterranean was not the hot dry place it is now but warmer, wetter and stickier, a university release reported Wednesday.

Archaeological sites around the Mediterranean basin from the time when the first farmers arrived in Italy and Spain contain an abundance of land snail shell remains, the researchers said.

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Harvard Uses 3-D Printing to Replicate Ancient Statue

Joseph Greene, (right) Assistant Director, Semitic Museum and Adam Aja, Assistant Curator of Collections, Semitic Museum discuss the creation of a digital 3-d model of a lion statue dating to the Nuzi period inside the Semitic Museum at Harvard University.

3-D printing may be the wave of the future, but the technique—which is shaking up how architects, scientists, arms manufacturers and countless others go about their trade—will also now redeem the past.

Our story begins some 3,300 years ago, when a rampaging army ransacked the town of Nuzi whose ruins now lie southwest of the modern day Iraqi city of Kirkuk. The conquerors—the Assyrians, one of the more bullying empires of Mesopotamian antiquity—overran the town’s defenses, burned down its buildings, slaughtered or enslaved its inhabitants and looted its temples. What was not plundered was left, in many instances, smashed, tossed down wells and discarded in the smoldering wreck of the city. And there it lay for millennia until a team of archaeologists spearheaded by a number of American universities excavated the site in 1930 and unearthed its broken treasures.

Among the finds at Yorghan Tepe (the modern day name for the site where Nuzi once stood) were a set of lions thought to have flanked an installation of a statue of the goddess Ishtar. These and other objects were, under the colonial administration of the time, divided between local authorities and foreign archaeologists. The remains of one lion—fragments of its hindquarters and front paws—were claimed by Harvard’s Semitic Museum, while another more intact one made its way to the University of Pennsylvania. A decade ago, the two lions were reunited when Penn allowed their statue to be sent to the Semitic Museum on loan; it’s believed the lions were once mirror images of each other (their tails move in opposite directions).

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Delancey Park Neolithic grave protection plan submitted

A Neolithic grave in Guernsey could be half-buried in soil and grassed-over to preserve it.
Guernsey Museums and Art Galleries has asked for planning permission to conduct the work in Delancey Park and put up an information sign.
States Archaeologist Dr Philip de Jersey said covering part of the stones would hopefully protect them.
He said: "People have lit fires in between them so they crack... there's been graffiti... we want to stop that."
The grave was discovered and excavated in 1919, 1932 and in the summers from 2009-2011.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Oldest stone hand axes unearthed

Scientists have unearthed more than 350 ancient tools in Konso, Ethiopia that were used by humans' ancient ancestors. The tools, which span roughly 1 million years of evolution, show a gradual progression to more refined shaping.

Scientists have unearthed and dated some of the oldest stone hand axes on Earth. The ancient tools, unearthed in Ethiopia in the last two decades, date to 1.75 million years ago.

The tools roughly coincided with the emergence of an ancient human ancestor called Homo erectus, and fossilized H. erectus remains were also found at the same site, said study author Yonas Beyene, an archaeologist at the Association for Research and Conservation of Culture in Ethiopia. Collectively, the finding suggests an ancient tool-making technique may have arisen with the evolution of the new species.

"This discovery shows that the technology began with the appearance of Homo erectus," Beyene told LiveScience. "We think it might be related to the change of species."

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Ancient grave with gold wreath found in Thessaloniki

One of the eight gold wreaths which came to light during the Thessaloniki subway works
[Source: ΑΠΕ-ΜΠΕ]

Excavation work during construction of a new subway network in Greece's second largest city has discovered an ancient wreath made of gold that was buried with a woman some 2,300 years ago.

Archaeologists say Friday's find in Thessaloniki occurred on the site of an ancient cemetery in the west of the northern port city.

A total 23,000 ancient and medieval artifacts have been found during archaeological excavations connected with the construction since 2006.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Meet the Hobbit

Modern humans can now look their recently discovered relative, Homo floresiensis, in the face thanks to a new reconstruction unveiled at an archaeological conference in Australia.

This species of early human was first identified in 2003 when researchers led by Professor Mike Morwood and Thomas Sutikna found the remains of nine individuals in Liang Bua, a large limestone cave on the remote island of Flores, Indonesia (CWA 22).

Among these was the almost-complete skeleton of a 30-year-old woman, popularly known as ‘Hobbit’ because of her short stature and large feet, whose appearance has now been recreated by Dr Susan Hayes, an anthropologist at the University of Wollongong who specialises in facial approximation. Referring to CT scans and the remains themselves, Dr Hayes digitally rebuilt the woman’s anatomy layer by layer.

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Research Team Investigates Demise of Neanderthals in Spain

La Roca dels Bous, a Paleolithic site located near the southeastern Pyrenees of Spain, has been cited by archaeologists as a key location with Neanderthal-related remains that may shed light on the changes that may have contributed to the demise of the Neanderthals in Europe. Now, a team led by Dr. Rafael Mora of the University Autonomous of Barcelona will be returning to the site in 2013 to excavate and explore lithic assemblages, fossil bone, and other remains that may date as far back as 50,000 BP. The excavations may help research efforts focused on constructing a better understanding of the factors that may have contributed to the decline and eventual disappearance of humanity's most closely related extinct human species. 

The project, part of the European project POCTEFA, combines the efforts of the University Autonomous of Barcelona, ArchaeoBarcelona and resources from three countries -- France, Spain and Andorra -- and will employ innovative digital technology for collecting, organizing and storing data, in part through hand-held tablet devices. In this way a large body of information can be more efficiently and accurately collected and then more easily used for analysis and reporting of finds. The results should also provide a valuable reference for further study by researchers and students worldwide.  "It is the first archaeological site in Spain that has been turned into a museum exhibition with digital technology", reports the team leadership. "Using an iPad you can take an interactive tour through videos, photos and 3D applications. Furthermore, the exact location of the findings is mapped via laser triangulation to provide an unparalleled experience."[1]

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Pre-Roman decapitated skeleton unearthed in UK

The skeleton found on the old allotment land at Soham [Credit: Cambridge News]

Archaeologists have unearthed decapitated human remains beneath former allotment land in Soham.

Experts from the Hertford-based firm Archaeological Solutions are currently excavating a Roman settlement on land off Fordham Road, before 96 homes are built on the site.

Among the wealth of artefacts found are a number of human burials thought to predate the Roman settlement, including one where the person was decapitated before being put in the ground.

Andrew Peachey, a specialist in prehistoric and Roman pottery at the company, said: “Prior to the Roman settlement, the margins of the Fen and island [of Ely] were heavily exploited by prehistoric settlers, including one who appears to have been decapitated before being placed in a crouched burial in a circular pit. 

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Dates for the Bronze Age

When I was an undergrad in 1990 we were taught that all six periods of the Scandinavian Bronze Age were 200 (or in one case 300) years long. The most recent radiocarbon work shows that they all had different lengths and were more likely 130-280 years long. And the periods with the most abundant metalwork finds, II and V, are the two shortest. So their previously known status as metal-rich eras looks even more pronounced now, and the intervening periods look even poorer.

Per I. 1700-1500 cal BC (200 yrs)
Per. II. 1500-1330 (170 yrs)
Per. III. 1330-1100 (230 yrs)
Per. IV. 1100-950/20 (165 yrs)
Per. V. 950/20-800 (130 yrs)
Per. VI. 800-530/20 (275 yrs)

Each of these periods translates to a list of artefact and monument types that are commonly found together. Their relative ordering through time has been known since the 1880s. Current work looks at the absolute dates at which these typological laundry lists were current. It uses a new technology, radiocarbon dating of cremated bone, and new applications of Bayesian statistics, which allow us to constrain the uncertainty of the radiocarbon results using stratigraphical observations. The latter means that if we know that grave B was later than grave A because one sat on top of the other, then we can tell the software to disregard parts of the probability distributions that gainsay this observation.

Neanderthal cloning chatter highlights scientific illiteracy

Harvard geneticist George Church speaks to Reuters reporters about cloning during an interview in Boston, Massachusetts January 23, 2013.
Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

After spending the weekend reading blog posts claiming that he was seeking an "extremely adventurous female human" to bear a cloned Neanderthal baby - which was news to him - Harvard geneticist George Church said it may be time for society to give some thought to scientific literacy.
Church became the subject of dozens of posts and tabloid newspaper articles calling him a "mad scientist" after giving an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel.
In the interview, Church discussed the technical challenges scientists would face if they tried to clone a Neanderthal, though neither he nor the Der Spiegel article, which was presented as a question and answer exchange, said he intended to do so.

Dog evolved 'on the waste dump'

Wolves that coped best with cereals in their diet may be part of the story of domestication

Anyone who owns a dog knows that it will rummage around in the kitchen bin looking for food, given half a chance.

But this annoying behaviour may have a more profound undercurrent than we realise, according to scientists.

A new study of dog genetics reveals numerous genes involved in starch metabolism, compared with wolves.
It backs an idea that some dogs emerged from wolves that were able to scavenge and digest the food waste of early farmers, the team tells Nature journal.

No-one knows precisely when or how our ancestors became so intimately connected with dogs, but the archaeological evidence indicates it was many thousands of years ago. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

UK dig discovers 9,000-year-old remains

Archaeologists have proved for the first time that people started living in the Didcot area as early as 9,000 years ago.

Oxford Archaeology has been excavating land at Great Western Park, where more than 3,300 homes are being built, to detail the site’s history.

The two-and-a-half-year dig has uncovered the remains of a Roman villa, and early Bronze Age arrowheads which will now go on display.

Rob Masefield – director of archaeology at RPS Planning, which is managing the investigation – said one of the most important discoveries was hundreds of flints dating back over 9,000 years to the Mesolithic period.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Have a Neanderthal baby and save humanity

The life of a Neanderthal family, as depicted by the Neanderthal Museum in Krapina, Croatia. Photograph: Nikola Solic/Reuters

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – simply rent your womb out to Prof George Church, Harvard, and a Nobel prize is yours

If you're a young, single and adventurous female human and wondering what to do with the womb you have just lying around inside you collecting dust, an opportunity has arisen. You can bear a Neanderthal baby.

This is a once in an aeon chance to have your very own bundle of fur; a little Ug Jnr with your eyes and smile but the back hair of its great-great-great-great-great (etc) grandfather.

Prof George Church of Harvard Medical School believes that he can reconstruct Neanderthal DNA, and is seeking a volunteer have the "neo-Neanderthal" embryo implanted into her uterus. Church believes that a new race of human could be beneficial if we end up facing an apocalypse at some point, so the lending of your womb could potentially save humanity. Or at the very least produce a subspecies that would be good at heavy lifting and killing the DNA-reconstructed mammoths we will inevitably recreate as well.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mesolithic people adapted their environment in Severn Estuary

Mesolithic footprint from Goldcliff. Image: Reading University

New and exciting evidence has been found at a threatened archaeological site on the Severn Estuary that seems to show Mesolithic  people knew how to adapt their environment to suit their needs.

Encouraging specific plants

Researchers from the University of Reading found 7500 year-old worked flint tools, bones, charcoal and hazelnut shells while working at Goldcliff, near Newport, south Wales, in September 2012.

Charcoal remains discovered on the site suggest these people used fire to encourage the growth of particular plants, such as hazelnuts, crab apples and raspberries. This evidence may indicate that Mesolithic people were deliberately manipulating the environment to increase their resources, thousands of years before farming began.

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War was central to Europe’s first civilisation - contrary to popular belief

Dr Barry Molloy

Research from the University of Sheffield has discovered that the ancient civilisation of Crete, known as Minoan, had strong martial traditions, contradicting the commonly held view of Minoans as a peace-loving people.
The research, carried out by Dr Barry Molloy of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology, investigated the Bronze Age people of Crete, known by many as the Minoans, who created the very first complex urban civilisation in Europe.

“Their world was uncovered just over a century ago, and was deemed to be a largely peaceful society,” explained Molloy. “In time, many took this to be a paradigm of a society that was devoid of war, where warriors and violence were shunned and played no significant role.

“That utopian view has not survived into modern scholarship, but it remains in the background unchallenged and still crops up in modern texts and popular culture with surprising frequency.

“Having worked on excavation and other projects in Crete for many years, it triggered my curiosity about how such a complex society, controlling resources and trading with mighty powers like Egypt, could evolve in an egalitarian or cooperative context. Can we really be that positive about human nature? As I looked for evidence for violence, warriors or war, it quickly became obvious that it could be found in a surprisingly wide range of places.”

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Storms expose iron age skeleton

2,000 years old human remaions were exposed by the storms - Photos: Shetland Amenity Trust

SHETLAND’S pre-Christmas storms have revealed remains of an iron age building and a human skeleton believed to be 2,000 years old.
Archaeologists said a structure was briefly exposed at Channerwick before being buried again by a rockfall over the festive period.

Before it disappeared from view, police officers and archaeologists were able to investigate the site and take a bone sample for radiocarbon dating.

Shetland Amenity Trust assistant archaeologist Chris Dyer said: “The skeleton, initially reported by a local resident, looked as if it were contemporary with the Iron Age remains.

“The original burial now lies under several tons of fallen bank and the Iron Age structures have also disappeared from view.”

County archaeologist Val Turner added that during the investigation she and freelance colleague Samantha Dennis discovered evidence of at least one, and possibly two other burials.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Indians inhabited Australia 4 000 years ago, study shows

New research shows ancient Indians migrated to Australia and mixed with Aborigines 4 000 years ago, bringing the dingo's ancestor with them.

The research re-evaluated the continent's long isolation before European settlement.

The vast southern continent was thought to have been cut off from other populations until Europeans landed at the end of the 1700s, but the latest genetic and archaeological evidence throws that theory out.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, reported "evidence of substantial gene flow between Indian populations and Australia about 4 000 years ago".

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Ancient poop tells story of how urbanisation changed the intestine

Image by: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Research by US scientists into the composition of dried human faeces from archeological sites shows that the increasingly urban and cosmopolitan way of modern life has led to dramatic changes in the make-up of human intestinal flora.

Raul Tito and his colleagues from the University of Oklahoma analysed the microbial composition of coprolite samples (faeces retrieved from archaeological contexts) from three locations in the Americas.

The sites were chosen because they provided a broad range of environmental conditions.

The samples taken from Hinds Cave in the southwestern United States were the oldest, at around 8,000 years, while those recovered from Rio Zape in northern Mexico were 1,400 years old.

The samples taken from naturally preserved mummies in Caserones in northern Chile were 1,600 years old.

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Neolithic remains discovered in Istanbul

A team of Turkish archeologists has unearthed ruins of a Neolithic settlement dating back over eight millennia in Pendik district in Istanbul.

The relics were uncovered during the construction process of a project in Istanbul’s Marmaray railway.

The findings include ancient houses, skeletons, cemeteries and various tools such as spoons, needles and axes that indicate a history of 8,500-year-old settlement at the area.

Most of the found skeletons were buried in a fetal position, where the arms are embracing the lower limbs.

As thousands of mussel shells were discovered in the area, the experts suggest that the residents of the ancient village must have consumed large amounts of mussels.

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Clay pot fragments reveal early start to cheese-making, a marker for civilization

The presence of milk byproducts found in clay fragments from central Europe provides compelling evidence that farmers used the perforated pots to separate cheese curds from whey, said Bogucki, whose early theory was substantiated by recent research in Europe. Credit: Mélanie Salque

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The presence of milk byproducts found in clay fragments from central Europe provides compelling evidence that farmers used the perforated pots to separate cheese curds from whey, said Bogucki, whose early theory was substantiated by recent research in Europe. Credit: Mélanie Salque

Read more at:
The presence of milk byproducts found in clay fragments from central Europe provides compelling evidence that farmers used the perforated pots to separate cheese curds from whey, said Bogucki, whose early theory was substantiated by recent research in Europe. Credit: Mélanie Salque

While working as director of studies at one of Princeton University's residential colleges in the 1980s, Bogucki theorized that the development of cheese-making in Europe—a critical indicator of an agricultural revolution—occurred thousands of years earlier than scientists generally believed. His insight, based on a study of perforated potsherds that Bogucki helped recover from dig sites in Poland, promised to change the scientific understanding of how ancient Western civilization developed. 

Bogucki published his theory in a 1984 article in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology. Although his detective work was extensive, it was impossible to prove the bits of pottery were the remains of a cheese maker, rather than some other type of strainer. 

There the matter lay, until researchers at the University of Bristol used a new type of test to measure ancient molecular remnants embedded within the pottery.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Neolithic remains unearthed in Istanbul

Workers helping to upgrade Istanbul’s Marmaray railway project have discovered the priceless ruins of a Neolithic settlement dating back well over eight millennia in the city’s Pendik district.

The 8,500-year-old foundations of ancient houses, cemeteries and various tools such as spoons, needles and axes were found during the construction process of the Gebze-Haydarpaşa section of the Marmaray. The Istanbul Archaeology Museum is currently leading a dig to shed light on the district’s past inhabitants.
Culture and Tourism Provincial Manager Ahmet Emre Bilgili said discovering the ancient history of Istanbul, which dates back thousands of years, was a cause for great joy, adding that a new museum was required for the discoveries belonging to the Neolithic period.

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Ancient Olympia to get a facelift

A further 50-70 m of the Gymnasium at Olympia are expected to be revealed [Credit: To Vima]

The face of global symbol and most sacred place of ancient Greece, Ancient Olympia, is changing, after the decisions made by the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) about the excavations in the area and the approval of proposed studies.  

The project which was unanimously approved by the members of KAS is structured in three parts:

  • Unearthing and enhancement of the East Arcade of the Gymnasium (new entrance and facilities for audience services).
  • Conservation of the retaining wall of the Treasuries.
  • Conservation of the excavation slopes at the Sanctuary of Demetra Chamyne.
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Friday, January 11, 2013

Silbury Hill trespassers causing 'spectacular' damage

Floodwater surrounding Silbury Hill is nothing to worry about, says English Heritage 
[Credit: BBC]

Trespassers on a rain-soaked monument in Wiltshire are causing "spectacular" damage, an archaeologist has warned.

Heavy rain has led to standing water around Silbury Hill in Avebury and very soft ground which is being eroded by people climbing the monument.

Jim Leary, an archaeologist for English Heritage, said that illegal climbers on the sodden hill were "leaving some really rather hideous scars".

The hill dates back to 2400 BC and is the largest man-made mound in Europe.

Mr Leary said access to the mound had been prohibited for a number of decades and people should not be attempting to climb it.

"They are going up and it is very wet and they are eroding the side of the hill," he added.

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Stone Age hunters liked their carbs

The Stone Age hunter’s food contained large amounts of protein from fish, lean mean, herbs and coarse vegetables and has formed the basis of one of today’s hottest health trends: the paleo diet.

The modern version of the Stone Age diet excludes foods rich in carbohydrates. This exclusion of carbs is based on the idea that Stone Age hunters didn’t have access to bread, rice or pasta.

But is it true that Stone Age hunters and gatherers didn’t eat any carbohydrates at all?

Sabine Karg, an external lecturer at Copenhagen University’s Saxo Institute, specialises in archaeobotany. She says that Stone Age hunters, unlike many followers of the modern Stone Age diet, joyfully munched away at carbs when the opportunity presented itself.

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Ancient floor not seen for 10,000 years

AN ANCIENT floor which has not seen the light of day for 10,000 years has been uncovered at the Ayia Varvara-Asprokremmos site, the antiquities department said yesterday.

The department said new finds during the latest excavations had redefined the understanding of the kind of human occupation that existed at the Neolithic site in the Nicosia district, which has been radio-carbon dated to between c. 8,800-8,600 BC.

The excavations took place in November 2012 and were run by Dr Carole McCartney on behalf of the University of Cyprus working in partnership with Cornell University and the University of Toronto.
According to an announcement, the floor which “was exposed for the first time in 10,000 years” exhibited a dished form, raised above the central area providing a rough bench that ran along the circumference of the interior wall.

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Prehistoric clay figurines unearthed in Greece

Archaeologists from the University of Southampton studying a Neolithic archaeological site in central Greece have helped unearth over 300 clay figurines, one of the highest density for such finds in south-eastern Europe.

The Southampton team, working in collaboration with the Greek Archaeological Service and the British School at Athens, is studying the site of Koutroulou Magoula near the Greek village of Neo Monastiri, around 160 miles from Athens.

Koutroulou Magoula was occupied during the Middle Neolithic period (c. 5800 - 5300 BC) by a community of a few hundred people who made architecturally sophisticated houses from stone and mud-bricks. The figurines were found all over the site, with some located on wall foundations. It's believed the purpose of figurines was not only as aesthetic art, but also to convey and reflect ideas about a community's culture, society and identity.

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