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Five thousand years ago, as now, it may be that the solstice marked the passing of time – the death of the old year and the birth of the new one. In the dark depths of an Orkney winter today, the solstice remains a welcome indicator that the sun is returning. Read the rest of this article...
STENLØSE, DENMARK—Live Science reports that human and animal bones, as well as an unpolished flint ax head, were recovered from what was once a bog on Denmark’s island of Zealand during an investigation conducted before a construction project. The style of the ax suggests that the bones date to the early Neolithic period, more than 5,000 years ago, according to Emil Struve of the ROMU museums. “We know that traditions of human sacrifices date back that far—we have other examples of it,” he said. The human remains include leg bones, a pelvis, and part of a lower jaw with some teeth still attached. The rest of the body probably lay outside the protective layer of peat and was not preserved.
Archaeologists at the University of Leicester have just re-examined five 4,000-year-old tools like flint cups and Neolithic axes that have puzzled experts since their discovery 220 years ago in a Bronze-Age burial near Stonehenge. Four were examined for the first time.
Based on the bones, cups, and cobbles surrounding two bodies at the grave—most recently dated 1850–1700 B.C.E.—researchers have hypothesized over the past century that these grave goods belonged to a costumed shaman, or a goldsmith of status.
Applying contemporary technologies including microwear analysis and scanning electron microscopy to the tools’ surfaces, researchers have revealed their owner was more likely a gold worker who coaxed the precious metal into sheets to gild other items.
Scientific study of human evolution historically reassured us of a comforting order to things. It has painted humans as as cleverer, more intellectual and caring than our ancestral predecessors.
From archaeological reconstructions of Neanderthals as stooped, hairy and brutish, to “cavemen” movies, our ancient ancestors got a bad press.
Over the last five years discoveries have upended this unbalanced view. In my recent book, Hidden Depths: The Origins of Human Connection, I argue that this matters for how we see ourselves today and so how we imagine our futures, as much as for our understanding of our past.
Six revelations stand out.
1. There are more human species than we ever imagined
Species such as Homo Longi have only been identified as recently as 2018. There are now 21 known species of human.
Flint artifacts from the Tunel Wielki cave, made half a million years ago possibly by Homo heildelbergensis. Image credit: M. Kot
The findings suggest humans crossed into central Europe earlier than previously thought.
Stone tools created half a million years in what is now Poland were probably the work of an extinct hominid species called Homo heidelbergensis, thought to be the last common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans. Previously, researchers were unsure if humans had made it to central Europe by this point in history, so the new discovery may shed new light on the chronology of our expansion across the region.
“Peopling of Central Europe by Middle Pleistocene hominids is highly debatable, mainly due to the relatively harsh climatic and environmental conditions that require cultural and anatomical adjustments,” explain the authors of a new study on the artifacts. In particular, they note that evidence of human occupation north of the Carpathian Mountains during this period is extremely scarce, primarily thanks to the difficulty that ancient hominids would have faced when attempting to cross the range.
Neanderthal is an insult still lobbed about to suggest someone is dim-witted and out of touch.
The more we learn about our Stone Age cousins, however, the more it appears the opposite is true. Neanderthals weren’t brutish cave dwellers — they made sophisticated tools, yarn and art, and they buried their dead with care.
A new discovery in a Siberian cave this week reveals an intimate portrait of Neanderthal family life and shows it may be time for Homo sapiens to ditch that superiority complex once and for all.
Scientists have uncovered the oldest known family group, using ancient DNA from Neanderthals who lived in Chagyrskaya Cave in southern Siberia in Russia.
Recent studies on Arab DNA confirmed what researchers have believed for many years, but hadn’t been able to prove definitively. Testing suggests that ancient Arabia indeed served as a “cornerstone” for early human migration out of Africa.
In the largest-ever study of human genomes in the Arab world, the study was able to pinpoint the most ancient of all Middle Eastern populations, allowing researchers to trace very early human migration patterns, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
In the study, published online in the journal Nature Communications, the findings state that the area served as a key crossroads in the migration of people out of Africa.
The Eurasian steppes reach from the Ukraine in Europe to Mongolia and China. Over the past 5000 years, these flat grasslands were thought to be the route for the ebb and flow of migrant humans, their horses, and their languages. de Barros Damgaard et al. probed whole-genome sequences from the remains of 74 individuals found across this region. Although there is evidence for migration into Europe from the steppes, the details of human movements are complex and involve independent acquisitions of horse cultures. Furthermore, it appears that the Indo-European Hittite language derived from Anatolia, not the steppes. The steppe people seem not to have penetrated South Asia. Genetic evidence indicates an independent history involving western Eurasian admixture into ancient South Asian peoples.
The ancient Celts are commonly viewed as primitive barbarians, at least in comparison to the Greeks and the Romans. One of the reasons for this is that they are commonly thought to have been illiterate. However, this is not true. Numerous pieces of Celtic writing have been discovered across Europe. But what type of writing did they use, and where did it come from?
In the ninth century BCE, the alphabet used by the Phoenicians in the Levant was adopted by the Greeks. From the Greeks, it was adopted by the Etruscans and then the Romans in Italy in the seventh century BCE.
In about 600 BCE, the Greeks established a trading colony in the south of Gaul called Massalia, where the modern city of Marseille is now. This was Celtic territory. The Celts occupied almost the entirety of Gaul, as well as parts of Iberia to the west. Thus, with the founding of Massalia, the Greeks and other Mediterranean nations began to build a close trading relationship with the Celts. The Etruscans in particular exerted a strong cultural influence over the Celts by means of trade, especially from the fifth century BCE onwards. This influence was primarily seen in artwork, but it also became evident in writing.
New light on Stonehenge: Archaeological investigations in the area surrounding the famous ancient temple have discovered that prehistoric people were creating other ritual monuments by cutting into the landscape’s bedrock
Archaeologists investigating Stonehenge’s ancient prehistoric landscape have discovered a series of previously unknown mystery monuments.
By using a special detection method to analyse the ground, they have, for the first time, revealed how prehistoric people were hacking vast circular holes in the Stonehenge landscape’s chalk bedrock.
Around 100 of these mysterious newly discovered rock-cut basins and pits were between 4m and 6m in diameter and in some cases, at least 2m deep.
Some of the holes would have required the systematic removal of at least 25 cubic metres (around 60 tonnes) of solid chalk – a time-consuming task for prehistoric people, equipped only with stone and wooden tools, deer antler pickaxes – and possibly fire (to help fracture the chalk).
Human figure (1.81m tall). (photograph by S. Alvarez; illustration by J. Simek/ Antiquity journal
In terms of dating the findings, ancient people rejuvenated a light in the cave (a flaming torch of American bamboo) by stubbing it against the cave’s wall. This left a residue that the researchers were able to date with radiocarbon to 133-433 AD. This was also in accord with the age of pottery fragments ancient artists left in the cave.
The problem is seeing the paintings. The cave ceiling is only 60cm high, which makes stepping back to view the large images impossible. They were revealed only through a technique called photogrammetry, in which thousands of overlapping photographs of an object or place are taken from different angles and digitally combined in 3D. Photogrammetry is a cheap technique increasingly used in archaeology to record artefacts, buildings, landscapes and caves. It allowed Professor Simek’s team to “lower” the cave floor up to 4 metres, enough for the complete motifs to come into view for the first time.
Researchers are discovering new information about the earliest inhabitants of Ireland and some data suggests that the first settlers were Black people with blue eyes, according to the Irish Times.
In April 2021, Geneticist Dr. Lara Cassidy told the publication that forensic data revealed surprising information about Black prehistoric Irish people, who were known to be hunters and gathers. They lived on the island for nearly 4,000 years before settled farmers took over. The discovery was largely explored in a documentary called The Burren: Heart of Stone last year, where scientists developed a large genetic database of Irish genomes to help uncover more information about Ireland’s first natives.
“We know now from ancient genomes that farming was accompanied by a whole group of people moving into the continent from the region now known as modern Turkey, ” Cassidy explained.
The Black settlers were known to gather shellfish along the Burren, a karst landscape of bedrock incorporating a vast cracked pavement of glacial-era limestone located in the region of County Clare, which is southwest of Ireland. They eventually moved inland to hunt wild boars and gather hazelnuts. Scientists believe that farmers who migrated into the region during the neolithic period may have driven the original settlers out as they brought “cattle, sheep and goats, pottery” and new housing structures. Dr. Cassidy believes they may have had lighter skin than the hunter-gathers.
A team of researchers affiliated with the University of Huddersfield in England reports evidence suggesting that large numbers of women from the European continent migrated to the Orkney Islands during the Bronze Age. In their paper published in the journal Antiquity, the group describes their study of the remains of people buried in a Bronze Age cemetery on the island of Westray, one of the northernmost islands of Orkney.
Approximately 4,500 years ago, during the Bronze Age in Europe, people living on the Orkney Islands built a number of stone structures and burial chambers. Prior research has shown that the community of people that lived there made up a farming settlement. Such work has revealed multiple houses and other structures and also a cemetery. In this new effort, the researchers conducted DNA analysis of the bones in the cemetery to learn more about the people who lived there.
the Ōyu Stone Circles in northern Japan. Photograph: handout
They were separated by thousands of miles and the two sets of builders could not conceivably have met or swapped notes, but intriguing parallels between Stonehenge and Japanese stone circles are to be highlighted in an exhibition at the monument on Salisbury Plain.
The exhibition will show that ancient people in southern Britain and in Japan took great trouble to build stone circles, appear to have celebrated the passage of the sun and felt moved to come together for festivals or rituals.
Circles of Stone: Stonehenge and Prehistoric Japan will flag up similarities between the monuments and settlements of the middle and late Jōmon period in Japan and those built by the late neolithic people of southern Britain – and point out some of the differences.
The exhibition will feature 80 striking objects, some of which have never before been seen outside Japan. Key loans announced on Wednesday include a flame pot, a highly decorated type of Jōmon ceramics, its fantastical shape evoking blazing flames. Such pots were produced in Japan for a relative short period, perhaps only a few hundred years.
The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae is a highlight of any trip to Orkney. PIC: HES.
Visitors to the Orkney Isles can now immerse themselves in more than 5,000 years of history on a digital tour that takes them deep into the story of the islands and the people and stories that shaped them.
The fascinating past of islands is being retold for the digital age with an app that combines drone footage and 3D scans with tales of the historic events that create the island’s mesmerising timeline.
Interviews with the archaeologists who have helped illuminate millennia of human activity in the far north are also included.
Scythian golden gorytos, 4th century BC. Credit: VoidWanderer, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0/Wikipedia
Officials in Ukraine say that Russia has looted a number of museums and has removed valuable exhibits, including ancient Greek gold artifacts given by the Greeks to the Scythians.
The Scythians were a nomadic people that founded a rich, powerful empire centered in the Crimean Peninsula; the empire endured from around the eighth century B.C. to the second century A.D.
“Russia has taken hold of our Scythian gold,” declared Melitopol’s mayor, Ivan Fyodorov. “This is one of the largest and most expensive collections in Ukraine, and today we don’t know where they took it.”
The Melitopol Museum of Local History is home to 50,000 exhibits, but its prized collection was a set of rare gold ornaments from the Scythians.
Of 14 people buried at the monumental cemetery at Fleury-sur-Orne during the early Neolithic period whose ancient DNA was tested, only one was a woman. (Image credit: Pascal Radigue; CC BY 4.0)
The mysterious 6,500-year-old burial of a woman and several arrowheads in northern France may reveal details of how women were regarded in that society during the Neolithic period, or New Stone Age, a new study finds.
The researchers investigated giant graves known as "long barrows" — large earthen mounds, often hundreds of feet long and sometimes retained by wooden palisades that have since rotted away. Of the 19 human burials in the Neolithic cemetery at Fleury-sur-Orne in Normandy, the team analyzed the DNA of 14 individuals; but only one was female.
The woman was buried with "symbolically male" arrows in her grave, and the researchers argue that she may have had to be regarded as "symbolically male" to be buried there.
The Greek origins of Marseille. Credit: Christophe.Finot, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons
The huge port city of Marseille in southern France was founded by Greeks back in 600 BC when the first immigrants arrived in the area and established a trading colony.
The Greeks are well known for their ancient tales of glory and tragedy, as well as their civilization’s innumerable contributions to the very foundations of our modern world.
However, what is lesser-known is that throughout the centuries, they founded scores of cities across the Mediterranean which not only exist today but thrive and play a crucial role in their region’s affairs.
BOLOGNA, ITALY—According to a statement released by the University of Bologna, Leonardo Vallini, Luca Pagani, and Telmo Pievani of the University of Padova and Giulia Marciani and Stefano Benazzi of the University of Bologna compiled genetic and archaeological data to produce a picture of the movements of modern humans in East Asia and Europe. The researchers suggest that there were several waves of expansion and local extinction from a theoretical population hub where the ancestors of all Eurasians lived after migrating out of Africa some 60,000 to 70,000 years ago. In this scenario, the location of the population hub is unknown. The researchers suggest that more than 45,000 years ago, a group of modern humans, represented by remains discovered in the Czech Republic at the site of Zlatý kůň, eventually died out. This group is not related to modern Europeans or Asians.
The fossil of a child’s tooth is the earliest known evidence of modern humans in western Europe researchers say.
The discovery of the molar was made in a cave – known as Grotte Mandrin – in France’s Rhone Valley.
Researchers say the area also documents the first clear alternating occupation of a site by Neanderthals and early modern humans (Homo sapiens).
Apart from a possible indication in Greece during the Middle Pleistocene – approximately 760,000 to 126,000 years ago – the first settlements of modern humans in Europe have been constrained to around 45,000-43,000 years ago.
But the new evidence – the fossil of an upper molar from a modern human baby – pushes this date back by about 10,000 years, scientists say.
An archaeological site in Dublin with an unusually large collection of cattle remains could potentially change the understanding of beef and cattle herding in Middle Neolithic Ireland and Europe.
Data collected from the N2 Kilshane excavation in north county Dublin near Finglas by researchers from the UCD School of Archaeology and Queen's University Belfast suggests that the multipurpose use of cattle for milk, meat and as draft animals was far more complex in later 4th millennium BC Atlantic Europe than previously thought.
The remains of at least 58 individual cattle were recovered from the ditches of an enclosure excavated at Kilshane dating back some 5,500 years, and the site is one of the few with large faunal assemblages to be unearthed in Ireland.
More than three millennia ago, across the Mediterranean and Near East, society collapsed. Previously stable dominant empires and civilizations were brought to their knees, entire languages disappeared, and what had been pastoral and nomadic communities were replaced with imposing and fortified citadels run by a paranoid elite.
Life was violent and cruel. People were forced to take up arms to defend themselves and their kin. But while we’re used to the idea of men saddling up and waging war, a new paper, published recently in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, has found the remains of two female warriors – horse-riding women who fought for their people with bows and arrows.
“Previously, it was common knowledge that the injuries on males' skeletons testify to military clashes, whereas on females' – to … raids or domestic violence,” lead author Anahit Khudaverdyan told IFLScience.
LULEÅ, SWEDEN—Evidence of metalworking some 2,000 years ago by hunter-gatherers has been discovered at two archaeological sites in northeastern Sweden, according to a Science News report. At Sangis, Carina Bennerhag and Kristina Söderholm of Luleå University of Technology and their colleagues uncovered a rectangular iron-smelting furnace with a frame of stone slabs and a clay shaft. Holes in the frame may have allowed air to be pumped inside with a bellows placed on flat stones. Byproducts of heating iron ore at high temperatures were found within the structure, which has been radiocarbon dated to between 200 and 50 B.C. Pottery dated from 500 B.C. to A.D. 900, fish bones, and items made of iron and steel, knives made of two or more layers, and a molded bronze buckle were also found in the area. Evidence at Vivungi, the second site, dates to around 100 B.C. and includes fire pits and the remains of two iron-smelting furnaces containing iron ore, byproducts of iron production, and pieces of ceramic wall lining.