Friday, February 28, 2014

Prehistoric rock art found in Scottish Highlands

A rare example of prehistoric rock art has been uncovered in the Highlands. Archaeologists made the discovery while moving a boulder decorated with ancient cup and ring marks to a new location in Ross-shire. 

The rock decorated with cup and ring marks [Credit: BBC] 

When they turned the stone over they found the same impressions on the other side of the rock. It is one of only a few decorated stones of its kind. 

John Wombell, of North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS), said: "This is an amazing discovery."

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Jersey site that was last Neanderthal home studied

An ice age site said to be one of the last known places Neanderthals lived is being studied to assess storm damage. 

More Neanderthal artefacts have been found at La Cotte de St Brelade than in the rest of the British Isles [Credit: BBC] 

La Cotte in St Brelade, Jersey, was hit by south-westerly storms including winds of up to 100mph in February. A British archaeological team commissioned by the Societe Jersiaise will examine the storm damage. 

Dr Matt Pope, from the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, said it needed to consider the best solution for long-term preservation.

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Didcot dig: MP Ed Vaizey supports history trail plans

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey is supporting a campaign for a history trail through a new housing estate.
Archaeologists discovered hunter-gatherers lived on the site of the Great Western Park development in Didcot, Oxfordshire, 9,000 years ago.
About 3,300 homes, schools and shops are being built on the 180-hectare site east of the town.
A petition in favour of installing a history trail has been signed by nearly 1,100 people.
The Didcot Dogmile group wants the archaeology found at the site marked and displayed through a trail with information boards and a reconstruction of an Iron Age roundhouse.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Source of rocks used to build Stonehenge identified

A new study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, suggests that the site researchers had previously thought was the starting place of many of Stonehenge's rocks may not have been the source after all. Instead, it looks like the rocks actually come from a different site three kilometres away. 

Carn Goedog [Credit: Richard Bevins] 

The findings, bring into question the long-standing theory that people transported the rocks from Wales to Wiltshire in order to build the monument. 

The research focused on the smaller stones at Stonehenge, called bluestones. The chemistry of these rocks varies, but they all originate from the Preseli Hills in Wales and are thought to have been transported to the Stonehenge site over 4000 years ago. 

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The Oldest Human Infectious Disease? MD Anderson Researcher Uncovers Some Ancient Mysteries Of Leprosy

New research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has unearthed some of the ancient mysteries behind leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, which has plagued mankind throughout history. The new research findings are published in the current edition of journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. According to this new hypothesis, leprosy disease may well be the oldest human-specific infection, with roots that likely stem back millions of years.

The PLOS NTG paper, entitled “On the Age of Leprosy” (doi/10.1371/journal.pntd.0002544) is co-authored bHanXYy Xiang Yang Han of the MD Anderson Center, and Francisco J. Silva of the Universitat de València’s Evolutionary Genetics Unit in Valencia, Spain.

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Dozens of prehistoric burials found in West Pomerania

Dozens of prehistoric burials have been discovered by archaeologists during excavations in Nowy Łowicz in the biggest Polish military training area near Drawsko Pomorskie in West Pomerania. The study leaders were Dr. Adam Cieśliński of the Institute of Archaeology of the University of Warsaw and Andrzej Kasprzak of the Museum in Koszalin. 

Double grave of the Lusatian culture community [Credit: A. Cieślińsk/PAP] 

In the last three seasons, explored graves were mostly cremation graves of the Lusatian culture communities of the Bronze Age, from before 3 thousand years. Their number reaches 90. Last year, archaeologists found nearly 30 burials.

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Sunday, February 16, 2014


Scotland’s hillforts are amongst the most visible ancient monuments in the landscape; they are often large, in very prominent locations and are both physically and intellectually accessible. The majority of these hillforts are recognised to be of national significance, yet most of them remain under researched.

Murray Cook, Stirling Council’s Archaeology Officer is on a mission to raise their profile through key-hole excavation and community engagement. In September 2011, Murray, along with Claire Bird of the Stirling Council Rangers Service and the Cowane’s Hospital Trust undertook four days of excavation on the hillfort at Abbey Craig. The site is better known for the iconic 150 year old National Wallace Monument, which commemorates Sir William Wallace’s achievements at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297) and the Wars of Independence

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Dating the Uluzzian

Researchers have securely dated a prehistoric human stone tool industry that is thought to have been used by early modern humans, or possibly late Neanderthals, around the time when early modern humans were beginning to emerge in Europe, arguably sometime between 40,000 to 50,000 years B.P. 
Scientists have long debated questions surrounding when the first modern humans entered Europe and what tools they first used upon entering. The Uluzzian, a prehistoric stone tool techno-tradition represented by lithic artifacts unearthed by archaeologists at cave locations primarily in Italy and Greece, has been a central contender as a possible "transitional" industry between the typical stone tool types (the Mousterian) used by late European Neanderthals and those (AurignacianChâtelperronian) of the earliest modern human newcomers to Europe. 
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‘Active’ Bronze Age woman found in Highland woods

A BRONZE Age grave uncovered in the Highlands has revealed the remains of a woman in her forties who was suffering from toothache before she died 4,000 years ago.

Archaeologists from Glasgow-based Guard Archaeology were called in when a cist – a stone burial chest – was inadvertently disturbed by construction workers during landscaping of an access track through Cullaird Wood in West Torbreck, south-west of Inverness.

The team undertook a rescue excavation and found the human remains had been part of a burial.

Osteoarchaeologist Maureen Kilpatrick analysed the bones and discovered that they belonged to a woman aged between 40 and 44.

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Archaeologists and chemists trace diets of ancient Britain

The change by our ancestors from hunter-gathers to farmers is one of the most intensively researched aspects of archaeology. Now a large-scale investigation of British archaeological sites dating from around 4,600 BC to 1,400 AD has examined millions of fragments of bone and analysed over 1,000 cooking pots. 

Early Neolithic Carinated Bowl from Knocknab, Dumfries & Galloway, one of several analyzed by researchers from the University of Bristol for a study which found that ancient Britons abandoned a fish diet for one based around milk and meat [Credit: © Alison Sheridan, National Museum of Scotland] 

The team, led by Professor Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol's School of Chemistry, developed new techniques in an effort to identify fish oils in the pots. Remarkably, they showed that more than 99 per cent of the earliest farmer's cooking pots lacked sea food residues. 

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Bronze Age skeleton removed from school playground

THE SKELETON of a small Bronze Age man with worn-away teeth was today removed from his grave a metre beneath a primary school playground.

The 4000-year-old remains were found by archaeologists surveying Victoria Primary School in Newhaven, Edinburgh, ahead of a proposed school extension.

The archaeologists stumbled upon the well-preserved bones in late January while looking for evidence of the village’s medieval harbour.

The body was curled up in a foetal position common in the Bronze Age, and positioned alongside a pottery food or drink vessel to sustain them in the journey to the next world.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014


The Out-of-Africa model currently holds that anatomically modern humans (AMH) evolved and dispersed from Africa into Asia from about 50,000 years ago, and then continued on later into Europe. For this reason, palaeoanthropological evidence from the Near East assumes great importance, but remains of these early modern humans are extremely scarce.

Doubt over Palaeolithic migration route

The study published in PLOSone in September 2013  suggests they may have arrived in the Near East much later than previously theorised with a concurrent knock on effect that this region was not the single crossroads through which all early humans passed on their way to colonising the Eurasian landmass.

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A 'smoking gun' on the Ice Age megafauna extinctions

Gut content

It was climate that killed many of the large mammals after the latest Ice Age. But what more specifically was it with the climate that led to this mass extinction? The answer to this is hidden in a large number of sediment samples from around the Arctic and in the gut content from permafrozen woolly rhinos, mammoth and other extinct ice age mammals.

It is a bit of a shift in paradigme Willerslev and co-workers publish in this week's edition of the journal Nature. The common image of a light-brown grass-steppe dominating the northern hemisphere during the Ice Age does not hold any longer. The landscape was far more diverse and stable than today, and big animals like woolly rhino and mammoth fed on grasses and particularly on protein-rich forbs. But at the Last Glacial Maximum 25,000 – 15,000 years ago, at a time when the climate was at its coldest and driest, a major loss of plant diversity took place. The animals barely survived.

After the Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago it became warmer again. After the large reduction of plant diversity during the Last Glacial Maximum another kind of vegetation now appeared. One of the key food sources of the large mammals– the protein-rich forbs – did not fully recover to their former abundance. This likely proved fatal for species like woolly rhino, mammoth, and horse in Asia and North America. Even though it became warmer again after the end of the Ice Age the old landscapes did not return.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Earliest human footprints outside Africa found – in Norfolk

Archaeologists have found the earliest human footprints known outside Africa, at Happisburghon the Norfolk coast.
Dating back 800,000 years, the prints are thought to have been made by five individuals, including both adults and children.
They were identified by a team of scientists led by the British Museum, Natural History Museum, and Queen Mary University of London, after heavy seas removed beach sands to reveal a series of hollows in the silt at low tide.
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900,000 year old footprints of earliest northern Europeans discovered

Footprints left behind by the earliest known human ancestors to live in northern Europe have been discovered after stormy seas swept sand off a beach in Norfolk

Footprints left behind by what may be one our first human ancestors to arrive in Britain have been discovered on a beach in Norfolk.
The preserved tracks, which consisted of 49 imprints in a soft sedimentary rock, are believed to be around 900,000 years old and could transform scientists understanding of how early humans moved around the world.
The footprints were found in what scientists have described as a "million to one" discovery last summer when heavy seas washed sand off the foreshore in Happisburgh, Norfolk.
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Earliest footprints outside Africa discovered in Norfolk

Scientists have discovered the earliest evidence of human footprints outside of Africa, on the Norfolk Coast in the East of England.
The footprints are more than 800,000 years old and were found on the shores of Happisburgh.
They are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe.
Details of the extraordinary markings have been published in thescience journal Plos One.
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When was Britain first colonised by early humans?

When was Britain first colonised by early humans? The famous Boxgrove bones, found in the 1990s, date back about 500,000 years, and are still the earliest hominin fossils yet found on these shores. Flints from the Cromer Forest Bed, Norfolk, though, are increasingly pointing to a much longer duration. We explore how the story of early human activity in Britain, currently the subject of a major Natural History Museum exhibition, has come to span almost one million years

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Dartmoor tomb treasure hoard uncovered by archaeologists

Archaeologists from around the UK have been examining a hoard of treasures unearthed in a 4,000-year-old tomb on Dartmoor.
Prehistoric jewellery, animal pelts and beads made of amber were among the finds about two years ago in the burial chamber.
The chamber, known as a cist, was found on Whitehorse Hill, near Chagford.
Dartmoor National Park archaeologists have called it the most important ancient find on the moor.
When they levered off the chamber's lid they discovered an intact burial of cremated remains.
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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Rabbits unearth a trove of New Stone Age treasure at Land's End

Burrowing bunnies have uncovered an 8,000-year old treasure trove buried near Land’s End.
The family of rabbits are believed to be responsible for unearthing the archaeological “gold mine” less than 200 yards from the Cornish landmark.

Archaeologists said that the animals had uncovered arrow heads, flint tools and hide scrapers dating back to the Neolithic Age.

Although a formal excavation of the 150-acre site hasn't started yet, the discovery suggests there could also be a large Neolithic – or New Stone Age -  cemetery, Bronze Age burial mounds and an Iron Age hill fort buried there.
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Edinburgh Bronze Age bodies ‘part of burial sites’

Two Bronze Age bodies discovered beneath an Edinburgh primary school could be part of a nationally significant network of burial plots, archaeologists said. 

Janitor Robert Murray shows the area where prehistoric bones were uncovered [Credit: Phil Wilkinson] 

The discovery of the adult-sized figures, from about 4,000 years ago, has stunned local archaeologists. The dig was carried out as part of a routine survey ahead of the extension of Victoria Primary, in Newhaven. 

Dr Alison Sheridan, principal curator of early prehistory at the National Museums of Scotland, said: “It’s wonderful and very exciting. It’s not unique – in Merrilees Close, in Yardheads, in the 19th century, they found a cist stone box grave with two skeletons who were crouched like this. They were from around 1600BC.”

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Ancient site hope after airborne scanner used in Surrey

LiDAR has revealed a possible Iron Age hill fort (circled in blue) on a promontory of Black Down

A new form of airborne laser scanning used in an archaeological survey near Haslemere may have revealed an ancient hill fort and burial mound.
The scanner, known as LiDAR, uses infra-red laser to see beneath trees and map inaccessible landscapes.
The survey, carried out by the National Trust at Black Down, has found evidence that people may have lived there from 10,000 years ago.
An exhibition about the findings opens on Wednesday.
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More about the exhibition...

Greenhouse 'time machine' sheds light on corn domestication

Smithsonian archaeologist, Dolores Piperno, measures a teosinte plant growing under past climate conditions.

By simulating the environment when corn was first exploited by people and then domesticated, Smithsonian scientists discovered that corn's ancestor; a wild grass called teosinte, may have looked more like corn then than it does today. The fact that it looked more like corn under past conditions may help to explain how teosinte came to be selected by early farmers who turned it into one of the most important staple crops in the world.

The vegetative and flowering structures of modern teosinte are very different from those of corn. These and other differences led to a century-long dispute as to whether teosinte could really be the ancestor of corn.

But new findings reported in the journal Quaternary International show that teosinte may have looked very different in the past. "We grew teosinte in the conditions that it encountered 10,000 years ago during the early Holocene period: temperatures 2–3 degrees Celsius cooler than today's with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at around 260 parts per million," said Dolores Piperno, senior scientist and curator of archaeobotany and South American archaeology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, who led the project. "Intriguingly, the teosinte plants grown under past conditions exhibit characteristics more like corn; a single main stem topped by a single tassle, a few, very short branches tipped by female ears and synchronous seed maturation.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Summer Courses in Archaeology

The Oxford Experience Summer School

Courses in Archaeology

The Oxford Experience Summer School is held at Christ Church, Oxford

The Oxford Experience Summer School offers a number of one-week courses in archaeology as part of its programme.

Participants live in Christ Church - the largest of the Oxford Colleges - and take their meals in the Great Hall, which is the hall that inspired the Hogwarts Hall in the Harry Potter films.

Courses are limited to a maximum of twelve participants and tend to fill up rather quickly, so early application is advised.

Youcan find out more about the Oxford Experience here...

Training Digs for 2014

Now is the time to start thinking about training digs for the summer.

If you are planning to go on a training dig, take a look at our list here...

If you would like to submit details of a training dig (or any other archaeological event), please use the contact form here...

Blue-Eyed Hunter-Gatherers Roamed Prehistoric Europe, Gene Map Reveals

Apologies to Frank Sinatra, but the real Ol' Blue Eyes has been found—a 7,000-year-old Spaniard whose fossil genes reveal that early Europeans sported blue eyes and dark skin.
Mapping the blue-eyed boy's genes is part of ongoing effort to uncover the DNA of ancient humans. The new study in the journal Nature, led byInigo Olalde of Spain's Institut de Biología Evolutiva in Barcelona, reports the genetic map of a skeleton found in a Spanish cave. (See also: "Modern Europe's Genetic History Starts in Stone Age.")
Why It Matters
Scholars had suspected that blue eyes arrived as an import into Europe, brought by late-arriving farmers who invaded the continent more than 5,000 years ago. Contrary to the conventional picture of a blue-eyed, fair-haired northern European, the study suggests that blue eyes were already common among the continent's early hunter-gatherers, along with darker skin.

The Neanderthals' genetic legacy

Remnants of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans are associated with genes affecting type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease, lupus, biliary cirrhosis and smoking behavior. They also concentrate in genes that influence skin and hair characteristics. At the same time, Neanderthal DNA is conspicuously low in regions of the X chromosome and testes-specific genes. 

Many of the Neanderthal genes that live on in people today are involved in making keratin, a protein used in skin, hair and nails [Credit: Jose A Astor/Alamy] 

The research, led by Harvard Medical School geneticists and published Jan. 29 in Nature, suggests ways in which genetic material inherited from Neanderthals has proven both adaptive and maladaptive for modern humans. (A related paper by a separate team was published concurrently in Science.) 

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