Thursday, April 30, 2020

Study traces spread of early dairy farming across Western Europe

Pottery from the Verson archaeological site (France), analyzed in the research
[Credit: Annabelle Cocollos, Conseil Departemental du Calvados]

A study has tracked the shift from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to early farming that occurred in prehistoric Europe over a period of around 1,500 years. An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the University of York, analysed the molecular remains of food left in pottery used by the first farmers who settled along the Atlantic Coast of Europe from 7,000 to 6,000 years ago.

The researchers report evidence of dairy products in 80% of the pottery fragments from the Atlantic coast of what is now Britain and Ireland. In comparison, dairy farming on the Southern Atlantic coast of what is now Portugal and Spain seems to have been much less intensive, and with a greater use of sheep and goats rather than cows.

The study confirms that the earliest farmers to arrive on the Southern Atlantic coast exploited animals for their milk but suggests that dairying only really took off when it spread to northern latitudes, with progressively more dairy products processed in ceramic vessels.

Prehistoric farmers colonising Northern areas with harsher climates may have had a greater need for the nutritional benefits of milk, including vitamin D and fat, the authors of the study suggest.

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The British Museum is displaying 4 million items from its collection online

Photograph: The Lewis Chessmen. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Got some browsing time on your hands? Load up the British Museum’s website. Yesterday the museum decided to do an earlier-than-planned unveil of its revamped online collection. It’s now the biggest database of any museum in the world, with more than 4 million objects to click through. 

The collection features the museum’s most famous artefacts, like the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Sculptures, along with every item the institution holds from Ancient Egypt. 

But there are some new additions too – including 280,000 new object photographs that are being published for the first time. Among them are images of 73 portraits by Damien Hirst and a watercolour by the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti that until recently had been thought lost. You can also look for works by Kara Walker, William Hogarth and Rembrandt in a digital archive of 75,000 art prints. If you’re more into coins, they have about 50,000 of those – medieval, Tudor, the works. Fill your boots. 

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Archaeology breakthrough: 'Impossible discovery of world's oldest shipwreck' exposed

Archaeology news: The world’s oldest shipwreck dating from 400BC of ancient Greek origin

ARCHAEOLOGISTS were stunned when they stumbled across the world's oldest intact shipwreck in the Black Sea - a find the historians "couldn't believe was possible".

The researchers discovered what they believed to be the world's oldest intact shipwreck at the bottom of the Black Sea where it appeared to have lain undisturbed for more than 2,400 years. The vessel was 23 metres in length and was likely from ancient Greece. In the mast of the ship, researchers found rudders and rowing benches all present just over a mile below the surface. What enabled the ship to remain in such good condition was the lack of oxygen so deep in the sea, the researchers claimed at the time

The ship was found in October 2018 by Professor Jon Adams – the principle investigator – and the rest of his team at the Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project

Professor Adams said after the find: “A ship surviving intact from the classical world, lying in over 2km of water, is something I would never have believed possible.

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Evidence of Late Pleistocene human colonization of isolated islands beyond Wallace's Line

Maps showing the location of the sites studied within Wallacea. Asitau Kuru, Lene Hara, Matja Kuru 1 and 2 (Timor), Makpan, and Tron Bon Lei (Alor). Credit: Roberts, et al., (2020), Australian National University CartoGIS 19-282 KD

A new article published in Nature Communications applies stable isotope analysis to a collection of fossil human teeth from the islands of Timor and Alor in Wallacea to study the ecological adaptations of the earliest members of our species to reach this isolated part of the world. Because the Wallacean islands are considered extreme, resource poor settings, archaeologists believed that early seafaring populations would have moved rapidly through this region without establishing permanent communities. Nevertheless, this has so far been difficult to test.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Skeletal damage hints some hunter-gatherer women fought in battles

Skeletons of two people buried in an ancient tomb in Mongolia include a woman (left) who may have been a horse-riding, bow-and-arrow-wielding warrior, scientists say.

Traditional views of females being largely responsible for gathering food may be too simplistic

Women’s reputation as nurturing homebodies who left warfare to men in long-ago societies is under attack. Skeletal evidence from hunter-gatherers in what’s now California and from herders in Mongolia suggests that women warriors once existed in those populations.

Two research teams had planned to present these findings April 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. That meeting was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The results have been provided to Science News by the scientists.

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Iron Age jewellery found in Shropshire declared treasure

The medieval brooch dates from 1200 - 1300AD

An Iron Age ring and a Medieval brooch, both found in Shropshire, have been declared as treasure.

The gold ring, which dates from 400 to 200BC, was only the sixth of its kind found in Britain.

Coroner John Ellery declared the items treasure during inquests believed to be the first in the county to have been held via video link.

Shropshire Museums has expressed an interest in acquiring both items to put on display.

The ring was discovered by metal detectorist Christopher Mussell in Frodesley in south Shropshire.

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Alte Genome deuten auf Parallelgesellschaften in der Schweizer Steinzeit hin

Der Dolmen von Oberbipp im Kanton Bern von oben: Dort befindet sich eine der großen, in die Untersuchung einbezogenen Fundstätten. 
Foto © Urs Dardel, Archäologischer Dienst des Kantons Bern

Altansässige und neue Einwanderer lebten bis zur frühen Bronzezeit der heutigen Schweiz vermutlich nebeneinander – Auch wurde einer der frühesten laktosetoleranten Menschen in der Schweiz entdeckt

Durch die Einwanderung von Nomaden aus der eurasischen Steppe kam es in Europa zum Ende der Jungsteinzeit, rund 2.800 Jahre v. Chr., zu einer umfassenden Bevölkerungsumwälzung. Das haben umfangreiche genetische Analysen ergeben. Bisher war jedoch über den genauen Zeitpunkt dieser Änderungen und den Ablauf der Vermischung der verschiedenen Bevölkerungsgruppen in Zentraleuropa wenig bekannt. In einer neuen Studie, die in der Fachzeitschrift Nature Communications veröffentlicht wird, hat ein Forschungsteam 96 alte Genome analysiert, die neue Einblicke in die Abstammung heutiger Europäer geben.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Late Bronze Age Copper Discs Recovered from Black Sea

(Courtesy Miroslav Klasnakov)

Archaeology in Bulgaria reports that disc-shaped copper ingots have been recovered from a Late Bronze Age shipwreck located near the Maslen Nos cape on southeastern Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast. Archaeologist Miroslav Klasnakov said Late Bronze Age ingots unearthed inland are shaped like a stretched-out ox skin. These ingots, however, are similar to those recovered from ancient shipwrecks along southern Anatolia’s Mediterranean coastline. The shape of the copper ingots indicates that ancient Thracians had maritime trade contacts with peoples living near Turkey’s southern coast, Klasnakov explained. 

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Monday, April 27, 2020

Could bringing Neanderthals back to life save the environment? The idea is not quite science fiction

A Neanderthal tomb burial near the village of La Chapelle-aux-Saints in France. Author James Bradley asks: what would it mean if the deep past were to come to life? 
Photograph: The Art Archive/Alamy

The climate emergency is unsettling our future, and erasing what we thought was certain about the past

In 2015, flooding exposed the frozen bodies of two cave lion cubs in the Yakutia region of Russia. Members of a species that vanished at the end of the last Ice Age, the pair were buried approximately 12,000 years ago when the roof of their den collapsed and trapped them in the frozen ground. In photos, their faces are so well-preserved one might almost believe they are only sleeping.

Yet despite their unusually perfect condition, the cubs are not the only such relics to have appeared in recent years. Throughout the Arctic and subarctic, animals and artefacts buried for thousands of years are reappearing, liberated from their frozen graves by the rapid warming in the region. In the Alps and elsewhere, bodies of people lost for decades in the mountains are emerging from the ice as glaciers melt. In Australia, towns submerged for generations are resurfacing as dam levels fall due to drought and heat.

As British author Robert Macfarlane has observed, these uncanny emergences or “Anthropocene unburials” are part of a larger process of unsettlement and unhinging. As human time and geological time collapse into one another, the deep past is erupting into the present all around us with terrifying and uncanny consequences. What was fixed is now in flux, what was settled is being swept away faster than we can save it. Nor is it just the past that has become unstable. The climate emergency is unsettling our future as well, erasing what we thought was certain, what we thought we knew.

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Diverse livelihoods helped resilient Iron Age Levanluhta people survive a climate disaster

Levanluhta is among the most unique archaeological sites, even on a global scale. Bones belonging to nearly a hundred individuals who died in the Iron Age have been discovered in the middle of the Southern Ostrobothnia plains in western Finland since the 17th century. Today, three springs and their ferrous red water serve as reminders of this ancient burial site [Credit: Anna Wessman]

A multidisciplinary research group coordinated by the University of Helsinki dated the bones of dozens of Iron Age residents of the Levanluhta site in Finland, and studied the carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios. The results provide an overview of the dietary habits based on terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems, as well as of sources of livelihoods throughout the Levanluhta era.

Ever since the 17th century, human bones have been emerging from the spring-containing lake burial site at Levanluhta in Southern Ostrobothnia, western Finland. The secrets of these Iron Age remains are now beginning to be revealed through measuring isotopes of atomic nuclei. A recently published study offers an overview of a diverse community that relied on an extremely broad range of livelihoods, which matches well with the understanding provided by archaeological discoveries.

The carbon and nitrogen in human food end up in the skeletal system and soft tissues as building blocks for the human body. There are three isotopes of carbon and two of nitrogen, and information pertaining to past events is recorded in the contents and ratios of these isotopes.

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Scientists Have Recreated Medieval Battles to Solve Debate Over Ancient Bronze Swords

(Hermann et al., Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 2020)

Bronze swords made from copper and tin aren't the most robust of weapons, which has led to some uncertainty about whether they were originally used for battle or just for show.

Now, a group of archaeologists has tried to settle the debate by quite literally coming to blows with each other.

Researchers commissioned the creation of seven bronze swords using traditional methods, then tested them out with the help of local experts used to setting up medieval combat reconstructions, applying techniques from the Middle Ages.

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A famous hillside chalk figure has been adorned with a face mask.

The ancient figure is thought to have been unofficially altered on Friday

A famous hillside chalk figure has been adorned with a face mask.

The Cerne Abbas Giant is thought to have been given the unauthorised addition on Friday.

Local resident Kevin Knight, who tweeted a picture of the alteration earlier, said it had "really lifted villagers' spirits".

The National Trust, which manages the protected Dorset site, said it did not encourage defacements.

The 180ft (55m) ancient naked figure is not normally accessible to the public, in order to avoid damage and erosion.

It has been unofficially altered several times before.

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Controversial Discovery Says Origins of Human Language Existed 25 Million Years Ago

(SolStock/E+/Getty Images)

A structure critical to our brain's core language pathway, found only in humans and apes, has now also been identified in monkeys, according to a controversial new study - suggesting the origins of language may have appeared 20 to 25 million years earlier than previously thought.

Compared to other animals, the human brain is uniquely adapted to language. Our ability to produce speech, listen, and communicate with one another is unparalleled, and to understand why, we need to know how we got here.

Unfortunately, brain tissue doesn't survive over evolutionary timescales, so it's hard to know when the first building blocks for language appeared in our distant past. Today, if we want to locate this missing brain 'fossil', scientists must largely rely on our living cousins.

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Saturday, April 25, 2020

300,000-year-old throwing stick documents the evolution of hunting

Hunters on the Schöningen lakeshore likely used the throwing stick to hunt waterbirds.

Homo heidelbergensis used wooden weapons to hunt waterbirds and horses

Ice Age hunters in northern Europe were highly skilled and used a wide range of effective weapons. A wooden throwing stick found by the team of the University of Tübingen and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment in Schöningen, Lower Saxony, Germany, highlights the complexity of early hunting. The discovery is presented in a new paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Research at Schöningen demonstrates that already 300,000 years ago Homo heidelbergen-sis used a combination of throwing sticks, spears and thrusting lances. Prof. Nicholas Conard and Dr. Jordi Serangeli, who lead the research team, attribute the exceptional dis-covery to the outstanding preservation of wooden artifacts in the water saturated lakeside sediments in Schöningen. 

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Neanderthal DNA Tracked in Icelanders’ Genomes

(Astrid Reitzel, Aarhus University)

According to a statement released by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, a team of scientists from Aarhus University, deCODE Genetics, and the Max Planck Society looked for fragments of Neanderthal DNA in the genomes of more than 27,000 Icelanders, combined what they found, and reconstructed at least 38 percent of a Neanderthal genome. When the researchers compared this DNA with other Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes, they found that the Neanderthal DNA in modern Icelanders is more similar to Neanderthal DNA found in Croatians than to Neanderthal DNA found in Russians.

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Archaeologists Had a Sword Fight for Science, Also Because Sword Fights Are Fun


After decades of debate and assumptions, archaeologists have picked up their Bronze Age swords to find out whether these soft metal weapons could really hack it in combat.

For a long time, archaeologists have assumed the countless bronze swords they’ve found were almost definitely for ceremonial use only. After all, bronze is super soft compared to almost any metal that came after in humankind’s development. But that’s the thing: If all you have right now is bronze, you’re going to find a way to stab someone using bronze. YouTube has taught us all that you can make a knife from anything.

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Your guide to Britain’s prehistoric stone circles

Did you know that Stonehenge is undeniably a stone circle – but it’s not a henge. How do you tell the difference? David Musgrove talks to Richard Bradley about when and why henges and stone circles were built across Britain…

Stonehenge is, for many of us, the one place that represents Britain’s prehistory. The celebrated stone circle standing proud on Salisbury Plain with its trademark lintel-topped sarsens has been an enduring source of fascination for millennia. The first monument there, a circular ditch and bank, was dug in c2900 BC, and a timber or stone circle erected inside it. Then, much later, in c2400 BC, the first monoliths of local rock were brought in. Over the course of the next several hundred years, stones were put up, taken down, moved around, added to, and then finally re-erected to the shape we see today.

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Study Suggests Tooth Shapes Can Track Genetic Relationships

(Photo: Peter Jammernegg/© Katerina Harvati/ University of Tübingen)TÜBINGEN

According to a statement released by the University of Tübingen, Hannes Rathmann and Hugo Reyes-Centeno suggest that certain aspects of inherited tooth shape such as the groove pattern in crowns, the relative size of cusps, the number of roots, and the presence and absence of wisdom teeth can be used to track genetic relationships among human populations. Teeth are made up of the hardest material in the human body, and are often well preserved when other parts of the body have decomposed. The researchers compared DNA data with dental traits, and combinations of dental traits, and identified a set of dental combinations associated with genes likely to have evolved by chance, and not in response to chewing behavior or environmental factors.

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Friday, April 24, 2020

Unearthed Ancient British chieftain and probable shaman reveal secrets about old burial rituals

Historic England

Exclusive: The key evidence for his high status is the unusually fine material buried with him for his journey to the next life, writes David Keys

The once monumental final resting place of a probable prehistoric chieftain and, potentially, his shaman has been discovered in southwest England.

It’s one of the most fascinating archaeological discoveries in southern Britain in recent years. Significantly, the duo formed part of a remarkable social and political process which changed human history – and still shapes our world today.

The probable chieftain or prestigious leader – a man in his thirties or forties – had been interred underneath the centre of a large funerary mound which had been constructed specifically for him inside his own personal 20m diameter ditched enclosure.

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Scaredy Cats

(blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo)Lioness

Imagine a scene where a troop of ape-like human ancestors a little more than four feet tall, with brains roughly equal in size to those of their evolutionary cousins chimpanzees, come upon a pack of large carnivores—say, lions or hyenas—feeding on a fresh carcass. Rather than run in fear from these predators, the hominins approach them screeching, waving their arms, and trying to be as frightening as possible. The carnivores, perhaps baffled or intimidated by this display, run away, leaving the hominins to feast on the fresh meat.

According to research by a team of European biologists, this type of scene may have been common enough to cause the extinction of large carnivores across East Africa. These extinctions became more frequent as early hominin brain size began to increase, perhaps about three million years ago. 

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Melting Ice Exposes Mountain Pass Used by Vikings, Including Ancient Dog and Leash

Glacial archaeologists performing fieldwork at Lendbreen, Norway.
Image: L. Pilø et al., 2020/Antiquity

Archaeologists in central Norway have uncovered evidence of a heavily traveled mountain passageway that was used during the Viking Age. Hundreds of beautifully preserved items were found atop a melting glacier, in a discovery that was, sadly, made possible by global warming.

New research published today in Antiquity describes a forgotten mountain pass at Lendbreen, Norway, that was in use from the Iron Age through to the European medieval period.

Located on Lomseggen Ridge, the passageway is absolutely littered with well-preserved artifacts, including mittens, shoes, horse snowshoes, bits of sleds, and even the remains of a dog still attached to its collar and leash. Radiocarbon dating of these artifacts is painting a picture of how and when this pivotal mountain pass was used, and its importance to both local and outside communities.

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Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Hunt for the Lost Mountain Pass

Viking Age spear, originally found in one piece in front of the Lendbreen ice patch. 
Photo: Vegard Vike, Museum of Cultural History.

Global warming is leading to the retreat of mountain glaciers. Surprisingly, this has created a boon for archaeology. Incredibly well preserved and rare artifacts have emerged from melting glaciers and ice patches in North America, the Alps and Scandinavia. A new archaeological field has opened up – glacial archaeology. The archaeological finds from the ice show that humans have utilized the high mountains more intensely than was previously known – for hunting, transhumance and traveling. New important discoveries are made each year, as the ice continues to melt back.

As glacial archaeologists, our dream discovery is a site where an ancient high mountain trail crossed non-moving ice. On such sites, past travelers left behind lots of artifacts, frozen in time by the ice. These artifacts can tell us when people travelled, when travel was at its most intense, why people travelled across the mountains and even who the travelers were. This information has great historical value.

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'Spectacular' artefacts found as Norway ice-patch melts

A horse snowshoe found during 2019 fieldwork at Lendbreen. 
Photograph: Espen Finstad/

Discoveries exposed by retreating ice include snowshoe for horses and bronze age ski

The retreat of a Norwegian mountain ice patch, which is melting because of climate change, has revealed a lost Viking-era mountain pass scattered with “spectacular” and perfectly preserved artefacts that had been dropped by the side of the road.

The pass, at Lendbreen in Norway’s mountainous central region, first came to the attention of local archaeologists in 2011, after a woollen tunic was discovered that was later dated to the third or fourth century AD. The ice has retreated significantly in the years since, exposing a wealth of artefacts including knitted mittens, leather shoes and arrows still with their feathers attached.

Though carbon dating of the finds reveals the pass was in use by farmers and travellers for a thousand years, from the Nordic iron age, around AD200-300, until it fell out of use after the Black Death in the 14th century, the bulk of the finds date from the period around AD1000, during the Viking era, when trade and mobility in the region were at their zenith.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Like Lego: rare photo shows Stonehenge construction technique

The uprights and lintels of Stonehenge were locked together by means of a joint more commonly used in woodwork – the mortise and tenon. 
Photograph: Christopher Ison/English Heritag/PA

Like Lego: rare photo shows Stonehenge construction technique Prehistoric builders used method of locking together giant stones familiar to toy fans

A construction technique that links Stonehenge with one of the modern world’s most beloved children’s toys has been displayed in an image of the ancient temple taken from an unusual angle.

The rare photograph, which is believed to have been snapped from a hot air balloon, shows the prehistoric builders of Stonehenge used a method of locking together the giant stones familiar to every fan of Lego.

On the top of the towering upright stones, Stonehenge’s clever and determined craftspeople fashioned smooth knobs that fitted snugly into corresponding holes carved into the weighty lintels that were placed on top of them: just like huge pieces of Lego.

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Monday, April 13, 2020

Chislehurst Caves – The 35km Cave City in London

Chislehurst Caves art Sculpture – Credit : barclakj

Chislehurst Caves is an extensive complex of subterranean tunnels of uncertain origin that stretch up to 35km in the suburbs of south London in Chislehurst, Bromley.
Despite being called caves, they are entirely man-made and were probably first constructed as a mine to extract the flint deposits in the London chalk layers.

It has been suggested that part of the cave system dates from up to 8000 years ago, but the first recorded mention was actually noted in medieval documents of circa 1250AD and in post-medieval church records of 1737AD.

The last known date of active mining in the caves was around the mid 19th century. An Ordnance Survey map of 1862–63 describes the place as a “chalk pit” and marks an “engine house” and two remaining kilns used for the extraction of flint and lime.

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Seafood full of poison in the Stone Age, because of climate change

The excavation and the view towards the west in Varanger. During the settlement, the shoreline was approximately 10 meters below the edge of the excavation. The land has risen a lot since the settlement was in use, some 12 meters. (Photo: Hans Peter Blankholm)

Large amounts of toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and lead made cod and Greenland seals into harmful food in Northern Norway during the Younger Stone Age. Constantly rising sea temperatures and sea-level rise due to climate change can cause seafood to become equally unhealthy in the future.

This is what archaeology researchers are warning about in a recent study published in the journal Quaternary International.

"The discovery of so much toxic heavy metals in the seafood was very surprising, and we found very high values", says professor of archaeology at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Hans Peter Blankholm.

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Who lived near Pommelte, the 'German Stonehenge'?

The reconstructed ring-shaped sanctuary at Pommelte
[Credit: Picture-Alliance/DPA/P. Gercke]

Starting in April, an about-4,000-year-old settlement will be excavated to provide insights into Early Bronze Age life. Settlements of this size have not yet been found at the related henges in the British Isles.

Pommelte is a ring-shaped sanctuary with earth walls, ditches and wooden piles that is located in the northeastern part of Germany, south of Magdeburg. The site is very much reminiscent of the world-famous monument Stonehenge, and it is likely that the people there performed very similar rituals to those of their counterparts in what is now Britain 4,300 years ago.

In the immediate vicinity of the sanctuary, archaeologists from the State Office for Monument Conservation and Archaeology, together with fellow experts from the University of Halle, have found numerous remains of a settlement going back thousands of years during their last two excavation campaigns there. Starting in April, this settlement is to be uncovered as completely as possible.

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50,000-year-old string found at France Neanderthal site

A scanning electron micrograph of the cord fragment showed the twisted fibres

A piece of 50,000-year-old string - the oldest yet discovered - found in a cave in France has cast further doubt on the idea that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans.

A study published in Scientific Reports said a tiny, three-ply cord fragment made from bark was spotted on a stone tool recovered from the Abri du Maras.

It implies that Neanderthals understood concepts like pairs, sets and numbers.

Twisted fibres provide the basis for clothes, bags, nets and even boats.

Neanderthals - whose species died out about 40,000 years ago - are already known to have made birch bark tar, art and shell beads.

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Stunning archaeological find reveals London 3,000 years older than previously thought

Stock image of archaelogists working in East London (Image: GETTY)

An archaeological find just 15 metres outside the boundary of the northern edge of the historic City of London has unearthed evidence of a prehistoric ceremonial site. The city might have been home to a popular assembly for major events and rituals in the fourth millennium BC. Jon Cotton, a consultant prehistorian working with charitable company Mola told the Independent: “This remarkable collection helps to fill a critical gap in London’s prehistory.

“Archaeological evidence for the period after farming arrived in Britain rarely survives in the capital.”

London was already occupied at the time of the Roman conquest of the mid-first century, but this find puts its existence back 37 centuries.

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Direct evidence of Neanderthal fibre technology and its cognitive and behavioral implications

Map showing location of Abri du Maras. (Map by S. Puaud).

Neanderthals are often considered as less technologically advanced than modern humans. However, we typically only find faunal remains or stone tools at Paleolithic sites. Perishable materials, comprising the vast majority of material culture items, are typically missing. Individual twisted fibres on stone tools from the Abri du Maras led to the hypothesis of Neanderthal string production in the past, but conclusive evidence was lacking. Here we show direct evidence of fibre technology in the form of a 3-ply cord fragment made from inner bark fibres on a stone tool recovered in situ from the same site. Twisted fibres provide the basis for clothing, rope, bags, nets, mats, boats, etc. which, once discovered, would have become an indispensable part of daily life. Understanding and use of twisted fibres implies the use of complex multi-component technology as well as a mathematical understanding of pairs, sets, and numbers. Added to recent evidence of birch bark tar, art, and shell beads, the idea that Neanderthals were cognitively inferior to modern humans is becoming increasingly untenable.

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Tie game: Ancient bit of string shows Neanderthal handiwork

Part of a Neanderthal cord from Abri du Maras, France. Photo / AP

It looked like a white splotch on the underside of a Neanderthal stone tool. But a microscope showed it was a bunch of fibres twisted around each other.

Further examination revealed it was the first direct evidence that Neanderthals could make string, and the oldest known direct evidence for string-making overall, researchers say.

The find implies our evolutionary cousins had some understanding of numbers and the trees that furnished the raw material, they say. It's the latest discovery to show Neanderthals were smarter than modern-day people often assume.

Bruce Hardy, of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and colleagues report the discovery in a paper released Thursday by the journal Scientific Reports. The string hints at the possibility of other abilities, like making bags, mats, nets and fabric, they said.

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Leap of faith: ancient Britons viewed hares and chickens as gods

The brown hare was considered too special to eat, as were chickens. 
Photograph: Chris Upson/Getty Images/Flickr RF

Iron age research reveals modern Easter festivals not first to celebrate chicks and bunnies

Brown hares and chickens were revered as gods rather than reared for food when they were first introduced to Britain in the iron age, archaeological analysis suggests.

In research that shows modern-day Easter festivals were not the first to celebrate chicks and bunnies, a team of experts from the universities of Exeter, Leicester and Oxford have found evidence that the animals were buried with care and intact in the period that preceded the Roman invasion of Britain.

Historical evidence suggests Britons of the period associated the animals with deities and considered them too special to eat. Commentarii de Bello Gallico, Julius Caesar’s firsthand account of the Gallic wars, says “the Britons consider it contrary to divine law to eat the hare, the chicken or the goose. They raise these, however, for their own amusement or pleasure.”

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Thursday, April 9, 2020

New discovery suggests London’s story goes back more than 3,000 years longer than previously thought

An aerial view of MOLA archaeologists excavating at Principal Place in Shoreditch - the site of the new Amazon HQ 

The evidence for very early organised human communal activity in what would later become London is the discovery of a substantial amount of early Neolithic pottery – 436 fragments in total.

In terms of quantity, nothing like it has ever been found in central London before.

The fragments, found in Shoreditch, come from between 25 and 35 cooking and other pots.

What's more, scientific analysis, carried out by the University of Bristol, shows that there were two basic types of pot usage - and has therefore been able to reveal the nature and scale of what was happening at the site.

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Evidence of Ancient Surgery Unearthed in Greece

According to a statement released by Adelphi University, researchers led by Anagnostis Agelarakis examined the remains of four women and six men who were buried between the fourth and seventh centuries A.D. at the site of Paliokastro on the Greek island of Thasos. As part of the Eastern Roman Empire, they were part of a group of mounted archers and lancers who were buried in elaborate graves near a monumental church.

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Mysteries of decorated ostrich eggs revealed

Two ostrich eggs found in the "Isis tomb", an elite burial at Etruscan Vulci (Italy)

If you wanted to give an extravagant gift 5,000 years ago, you might have chosen an ostrich egg.

Now some of these beautiful Easter egg-sized objects are in London's British Museum.

The eggs were found in Italy but their origins have long been a mystery - ostriches are not indigenous to Europe.

Now, research into the museum's collection by an international team of archaeologists reveals new insights into their history.

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Elaborately decorated eggs predate Easter by thousands of years

If you wanted to make an impression on a high-ranking Bronze or Iron Age chieftain, mere jewelry or gems wouldn’t cut it. Instead, you’d present them with an egg—an elaborately carved and embellished ostrich eggshell, to be exact. Such oologic offerings have been found inside the tombs of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern elites who lived from about 2500 to 500 B.C.E., equally thrilling and perplexing archaeologists. Who made them, and how did they wind up in the hands of ancient nobility?

To crack the case, a team of archaeologists and museum curators took a closer look at decorated eggshells in the collection of the British Museum, which includes five prized eggs in outstanding condition. The intact eggs were all discovered in a burial site known as the Isis Tomb in Vulci, Italy, that was uncovered in 1839 by Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Prince Lucien. The tomb dates to about 600 B.C.E. and was filled with other luxury items, including gold jewelry and bronze dinnerware. All five of the ostrich eggs were painted, and four were engraved with repeating geometric patterns (as seen above), animal motifs, and chariots and soldiers.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Three human-like species lived side-by-side in ancient Africa

The remains recovered from the cave complex include the earliest example of Homo erectus - a direct human ancestor

Two million years ago, three different human-like species were living side-by-side in South Africa, a study shows.

The findings underline a growing understanding that the present-day situation, where one human species dominates the globe, may be unusual compared with the evolutionary past.

The new evidence comes from efforts to date bones uncovered at a cave complex near Johannesburg.

The research has been published in the journal Science.

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New Dates Obtained for Homo heidelbergensis Skull

Homo Heidelbergensis Skull(Natural History Museum London)

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—According to a statement released by Griffith University, scientists led by Rainer Grün of Australian National University have used radiometric dating methods to obtain new dates for the Broken Hill (Kabwe 1) skull discovered by miners in Zambia in 1921. The site where the Homo heidelbergensis remains were found has since been destroyed by quarrying. The analysis indicates that the remains, which had been estimated to be 500,000 years old, are only between 274,000 and 324,000 years old. Grün said the new timeline for Homo heidelbergensis challenges the idea that all stone tools dating to Africa’s Middle Stone Age were crafted by modern humans. 

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Ancient tooth proteins reveal our relation to mysterious human species

A digital recreation of one of the main samples of Homo antecessor, which has now been placed on the family tree thanks to studies of ancient proteins in its teeth
Professor Laura Martín-Francés

It’s hard to piece together the full history of human evolution from piles of old bones. But now, scientists have made use of a new method to study proteins in dental enamel of an 800,000-year-old human species, helping place it in the family tree.

Although Homo sapiens is the only human species still alive today, the road to get here is paved with extinct relatives. And untangling how they’re all related to each other is a task that scientists continue to wrestle with. The timeline is usually determined through various dating processes, both on the bones themselves and the sediment layers they’re found in. Relationships between species are then determined from this timeline, and by examining the structures and features of the bones to track the progress of evolution.

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Tree rings could pin down Thera volcano eruption date

The Santorini Caldera is what's left behind from the Thera eruption
[Credit: Steve Jurvetson]

Pearson, a University of Arizona assistant professor of dendrochronology and anthropology, is lead author of a paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which she and her colleagues have used a new hybrid approach to assign calendar dates to a sequence of tree rings, which spans the period during which Thera erupted, to within one year of a calendar date. This allows them to present new evidence that could support an eruption date around 1560 B.C.

Filling the Gaps

"In every tree ring, you have this time capsule that you can unpack," Pearson said.

Trees grow in accordance with the conditions of their local environment. Each year, trees produce a new layer of concentric growth, called a tree ring, which can record information about rainfall, temperature, wildfires, soil conditions and more. Trees can even record solar activity as it waxes and wanes.

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Homo erectus much older than previously thought

Scientists first thought the rare skull belonged to a baboon - but it was a small child's

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The new Neolithic site that’s been discovered in Blaenau Gwent

(Image: Aberystruth Archaeological Society)

More Neolithic discoveries have been made in the Cwmcelyn valley in Blaenau Gwent in what has been described by locals as a significant historical find.

Ancient cairns, used to bury neolithic tribes people over 4,500 years ago, were found near the Milfraen mountainside overlooking Blaina by the Aberystruth Archaeological Society last month.

The find is the latest in a string of unearthings made by the local historical group, and is part of an overall project considered one of the biggest of its kind in Wales.

It comes after a group of huts used by the prehistoric people known as Beaker people, were found on the adjacent hillside in the valley in 2015, and is yet another insight into the activity of people in the area during the Neolithic period.

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Overwhelmed Archaeologists Struggling To Keep Pace With Glut Of Early Humans Thawed Out By Climate Change

OXFORD, ENGLAND—Noting that the steady rise in global temperatures was beginning to have a significant impact on their work, anthropologists at Oxford University told reporters Tuesday that they were struggling to keep up with the abundance of early human remains being thawed out due to climate change. “It seems like every other day a hunter in North Canada or some unsuspecting hikers in Siberia are stumbling across the perfectly preserved remains of a 2,000-year-old human ancestor emerging from melting glaciers or receding permafrost; we can barely keep up,” said lead researcher Adam Daly, adding that as climate change has become more severe, his team has had to take drastic measures to fast-track some of their processes, such as performing CT scans on more than one mummified carcass at once and skipping hair analysis altogether.

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Fossil skull casts doubt over modern human ancestry

The Broken Hill (Kabwe 1) skull is one of the best-preserved fossils of Homo heidelbergensis. Credit: Natural History Museum London.

Griffith University scientists have led an international team to date the skull of an early human found in Africa, potentially upending human evolution knowledge with their discovery.

The Broken Hill (Kabwe 1) skull is one of the best-preserved fossils of the early human species Homo heidelbergensis and was estimated to be about 500,000 years old.

Professor Rainer Grün from the Environmental Futures Research Institute led the team which analysed the skull and other fossil human remains found in the vicinity including a tibia and femur midshaft fragment. The material is curated at the Natural History Museum in London, where collaborators Professor Chris Stringer and Senior Curator Michael Rumsey work.

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