Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Evidence for world’s first horse riders found in eastern Europe, dating back nearly 5,000 years

Grave of a horse rider discovered in Malomirovo, Bulgaria. Credit: Michał Podsiadło.

Using horses to get around was a critical juncture for development of human society.

Human skeletons found in 4,500-5,000-year-old burial mounds in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia show the six distinct signs that the people were horse riders.

Using horses was a critical juncture for development of human society.

The earthen burial mounds, called kurgans, belonged to the Yamnayan culture – migrants from the Pontic-Caspian steppes which stretch across from what is now Romania, Moldova and Ukraine in the west to western Kazakhstan and the lower Volga regions of Russia in the east.

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Details Of Ice Age Hunter-gatherers Revealed

Prehistoric hunters and gatherers from various archaeological societies had their genomes studied.

The arrival of Ice Age hunter-gatherers in Western Europe over 30,000 years as they sought warmer climes has been revealed in “astonishing” detail for the first time.

Researchers analyzed the genomes of 356 prehistoric hunter-gatherers from different archaeological cultures – including new details of 116 individuals from 14 different European and Central Asian countries.

The team explained that modern humans began to spread across Eurasia around 45,000 years ago, but previous research showed that the first modern humans that arrived in Europe did not contribute to later populations.

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

Dwarfie Stane: Mysterious 5,000-Year-Old Rock-Cut Tomb On Dark Enchanted Island Of Hoy, Scotland

The Dwarfie Stane with the entrance to the tomb. Credit: Grovel - CC BY 3.0

A. Sutherland- AncientPages.com - The "Dwarfie Stane" is a remarkable ancient and massive piece of red sandstone. This 5,000-year-old block is surrounded by mystery, which has not been solved until today.

There is no record of who, in what manner, and for what purpose or purposes, created this great tomb.

Known as the Dwarfie Stane, the curious stone lies in a steep-sided and remote valley between Quoys and Rackwick on the island of Hoy in Orkney, Scotland, and is believed to be Britain's only example of a rock-cut tomb.

The chamber was carved out between the Neolithic and the Early Bronze Age, probably around 3,000 BC. This estimation is based on similar tombs discovered in the region of the Mediterranean.

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Modern Humans With Bows and Arrows Invaded France 54,000 Years Ago

Reproduced arrowheads made using the same flint and shot from a bow, to compare fracturing with the points found in Grotte Mandrin. Experiments by Laure Metz, Toomaï Boucherat, Christian Trubère and Ludovic Slimak show they were indeed arrowheads.Credit: Ludovic Slimak

But they didn’t stay long. New finds in southern France indicate protracted struggle: Neanderthals and humans replacing one another, more than once

Around 54,000 years ago, a group of anatomically modern humans forayed into southern France, intruding deep into the stamping ground of Neanderthals. And they came prepared, bearing the first bow and arrow technology to reach Europe – a good 10,000 years earlier than we assumed. Not that it helped them survive.

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Grave of Elite Bronze Age Brothers With Mystery Disease Discovered

Photo of Tel Megiddo National Park in modern-day Israel. This was the site of the ancient city of Megiddo.  JAVAX/GETTY

The bodies of two Bronze Age brothers have been discovered in an ancient tomb in Israel, and they bear a mysterious disease that has left scientists puzzled.

The bones of the brothers—whose relation was confirmed by DNA analysis—both show signs of developmental abnormalities and extensive bone remodeling, characteristic of a chronic infectious disease. The identity of the disease, however, remains a mystery.

"There is no one infectious disease that seems to fit all of the lesion patterns perfectly," Rachel Kalisher, who led the study, told Newsweek. "Paleopathology is an extremely complex field of study that has to not only study modern clinical manifestations of a disease, but also think about how it could have manifested in the past."

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54,000-Year-Old Stone Points Are Oldest Signs of Bow and Arrow Use in Europe

The site of Grotte Mandrin, in France

Artifacts discovered in a rock shelter suggest Homo sapiens was launching stone projectiles in Europe 40,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Hundreds of stone artifacts and 54,000-year-old human teeth have been found in a rock shelter in the south of France, pushing back evidence for Homo sapiens wielding the bow and arrow in Europe by 10,000 years.

The shelter—Grotte Mandrin, near the Rhône River valley—has yielded 852 artifacts, including cut stone points, blades, and flakes, which indicate to researchers that projectile weapons were being used by ancient humans there. The team’s study is published today in Science Advances, and it builds on a paper published last year that established the ancient human presence based on 54,000-year-old teeth.

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This Man Underwent Brain Surgery 3,500 Years Ago

Two brothers’ remains were found buried together under the floorboards of their home. One had a hole in his skull consistent with surgery. Kalisher et al., 2023, PLOS One, CC-BY 4.0

While excavating a 3,500-year-old tomb in Tel Megiddo, Israel, scientists discovered a skull with a surprising feature: a square hole that’s clear evidence of an ancient brain surgery.

Nobody knows whose steady hands performed the operation, or what experience made the surgeon feel prepared to remove part of a living human’s cranium. Was the patient administered some anesthesia or a mind-altering substance? Or was he left to experience the operation in excruciating pain? And what desperate straits or last-ditch hopes led to such an extreme step?

“I can only hypothesize based off of the amount of pathological evidence that is on this individual that this was an intervention because of deteriorating conditions,” says Rachel Kalisher, a bioarchaeologist at Brown University. “But we don’t really have a clear answer.”

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Centuries Before Stonehenge, This Settlement Housed the First European Stone Monument Builders

Whether its Stonehenge, the pyramids, or a myriad of other ancient places, we’ve long been fascinated by impressive monuments from the distant past. But more often than not, the stories of the people who built these ancient marvels are lost to the mists of time.

It’s rare to get a glimpse into the lives of the laborers whose handiwork still towers over landscapes today. But a newly-described site in France reveals the likely home base of some of Europe’s first stone monument builders, dating back to the Middle Neolithic period (4700-3700 BC).

Described this week in the journal Antiquity, researchers reconstructed a 6500-year-old settlement where a group of workers may have lived just a few kilometers from their job site. They pieced together the details of life at the settlement, including how it met a destructive fate.

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Neanderthals spread diverse cultures across Eurasia (before we came along)

This artist's conception shows how Neanderthals might have faced down the mammoth task of butchering a freshly-killed elephant.

Two recent studies of Neanderthal archaeological sites (one on the coast of Portugal and one in central Germany) demonstrate yet again that our extinct cousins were smarter and more adaptable than we’ve often given them credit for. One study found that Neanderthals living on the coast of Portugal 90,000 years ago roasted brown crabs—a meal that’s still a delicacy on the Iberian coast today. The other showed that 125,000 years ago, large groups of Neanderthals came together to take down enormous Ice Age elephants in what’s now central Germany.

Individually, both discoveries are fascinating glimpses into the lives of a species that's hauntingly similar to our own. But to really understand the most important thing these Neanderthal diet discoveries tell us, we have to look at them together. Together, they show that Neanderthals in different parts of Europe had distinct cultures and ways of life—at least as diverse as the cultures that now occupy the same lands.

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Thursday, February 16, 2023

Stunning reconstruction reveals 'lonely boy' with deformed skull who died in cave in Norway 8,300 years ago

Here we see a gif of a skull that gets muscles, eyes and finally hair and coloring added to it in 10 steps.It took Oscar Nilsson, a forensic artist based in Sweden, months to complete a reconstruction based on the boy's skull. (Image credit: Oscar Nilsson)

About 8,300 years ago, a teenage boy with an unusual skull and short stature may have scampered along the rocky coast of what is now Norway, pausing to regain his balance as he clutched a fishing rod. Now, a new full-body reconstruction of the Stone Age teenager — nicknamed Vistegutten, Norwegian for "the boy from Viste" — is on display at the Hå Gamle Prestegard museum in southern Norway.

The boy's reconstruction was a months-long project, but researchers have known about Vistegutten since 1907, when archaeologists found his remains in a Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, cave in Randaberg, along Norway's western coast. 

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Monday, February 13, 2023

Never-Before-Seen Minoan Artifacts Exhibited in Oxford Museum

Minoan ladies women artifact Never-Before-See Minoan Artifacts Exhibited in Oxford’s Museum. Credit: ArchaiOptix / Wkimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 

Over a hundred Minoan artifacts that have never left Crete and Greece before -including some which have never been displayed anywhere- launched on February 10 at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

Labyrinth – Knossos, Myth and Reality is the first UK exhibition focusing on Knossos, the center of the Minoan civilization, which had been excavated by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans in the early 20th century.

The selection of Minoan artifacts, many of which were discovered after World War II, has been lent by the Archaeological Museum and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Heraklion, Crete, and will be exhibited until July 30, 2023, alongside discoveries from the Ashmolean’s Sir Arthur Evans Archive.

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Sunday, February 12, 2023

Skegriedösen (Skegrie Dolmen) – 5,000-Year-Old Stone Chamber Tomb In Southern Sweden


Skegrie megalith grave in Skåne, Sweden. Image credit: Jorchr - CC BY-SA 3.0

Megalithic graves appeared more or less simultaneously in southern Sweden and were first used around 3500–3300 cal BC.

In comparison with other countries, Sweden has only about a hundred dolmens, mainly in Skåne, Halland, and Bohuslän. From the beginning, Sweden certainly possessed many more of them. Today, the existing number of these structures constitutes only a tiny part of what once existed.

No one knows precisely how these massive stones were moved and laid in their place.

Today we visit Skegriedösen (Skegrie Dolmen), located in Skegrie Parish in Trelleborg, Skåne, Sweden's most southern county. This dolmen (in Swedish - 'dös') is a stone chamber grave from the Neolithic times.

What we see today are the large boulders. All organic building materials such as reeds, birch bark, cloth, animal skins, and wood have disappeared over time.

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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Nearly 600 obsidian handaxes from 1.2 million years ago found in Ethiopia show early humans were smarter than we think

Credit: FrankvandenBergh / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A trove of nearly 600 obsidian handaxes, dating back at least 1.2 million years, has been unearthed in Ethiopia, indicating the presence of a prehistoric “knapping workshop”.

Knapping is the technique used to create handaxes, which are often referred to as humanity’s “first great invention.”

Made by chipping shards off a piece of stone to make a sharp edge, handaxes were not attached to handles, but held in the hand. They have a distinctive teardrop or pear shape. They were made out of flint or, later, obsidian – a type of volcanic glass.

The first handaxes in the palaeontological record date back to at least 1.5 million years ago and were found in Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge. Handaxes are believed to have spread throughout Africa, south Asia, the Middle East and Europe around 500,000 years ago. They were still being made as recently as 40,000 years ago.

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Did Humanity Really Arise in One Place?

San hunter-gatherers—descended from the oldest distinct lineage of Homo sapiens—are one of many communities helping to rewrite the story of humanity’s origins.Martin Harvey/Getty Images

New evidence is prompting researchers to rethink Homo sapiens’ origin story—and what it means to be human.

AS A UNIVERSITY STUDENT in the early 2010s, I recall how beautifully simple our origin story was: Homo sapiens evolved in East African savannas around 150,000 years ago. Then, sometime around 70,000 years ago, a mutation occurred that endowed these individuals with the capacity for complex, symbolic behavior. This set them apart from any other species and allowed them to leave Africa and take over the world, replacing all other humans they encountered.

This “East Side Story” made sense, based on major finds in the 20th century. The oldest fully modern H. sapiens skulls, dating to at least 233,000 years ago, were found in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. “Lucy,” the 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, was also unearthed in Ethiopia. The earliest stone tools, dated to 3.3 million years old, were discovered in Kenya.

Neanderthals hunted enormous elephants that fed 100 people for a month

The extinct straight-tusked elephant was even larger than modern African elephants, making it unclear if Neanderthal hunters could take one down, but a newly analysed trove of bones suggests it was possible

Neanderthals regularly hunted and butchered elephants in Europe thousands of years ago, according to an analysis of marks made by stone tools on a trove of bones.

The find suggests the ancient humans either lived in larger groups than previously suspected or that they had ways of processing the flesh so it didn’t spoil, says Wil Roebroeks at Leiden University in the Netherlands, given the amount of meat involved. “These elephants are really big calorie bombs.”

There has long been debate over whether Neanderthals, distant cousins of modern humans, could have hunted the straight-tusked elephants (Palaeoloxodon antiquus). These extinct giants stood 4 metres tall, making them larger than modern African elephants and woolly mammoths.

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Perception versus reality: Implications of elephant hunting by Neanderthals

Reconstruction of Pleistocene hominins exploiting an elephant.

Neanderthals hunted elephants at Neumark-Nord 1 (Germany), a finding that has major implications for our understanding of social and cultural aspects of Neanderthal behavior.

Few members of the hominin lineage have been more maligned in popular culture than Neanderthals. From their discovery and the earliest depictions of Neanderthals at the turn of the 20th century, there has been an “othering” of our closest hominin cousins, to the extent that calling someone a cave man or Neanderthal is taken as an insult that implies being stupid or backward. Scientists have not been immune to this, and, indeed, many have pushed aspects of the incompetent Neanderthal trope through much of the 20th century [e.g., (1)]. However, some researchers voiced the need to moderate the conversation, and by the 1990s, many archaeologists began to characterize Neanderthals as successful big game hunters (2). This view, though, did not seem to extend beyond standard large game on the European landscape (e.g., horses, cattle, and deer).

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Oldest Rune Stones in the World

The Svingerud Stone is the oldest rune stone, created almost two thousand years ago

There are many things that come into mind when thinking of Vikings – horned helmets, which are historically inaccurate, longships that brought terror to Europe, Norse gods that have been turned into Hollywood super heroes and, the subject of this article, their unique way of writing.

The runic alphabet developed among the early Germanic people of Northern Europe almost 2,000 years ago. How it was created it still not fully understood, though it is widely believed that contact with Mediterranean civilisations – Greeks, Etruscans and Romans – influenced the creation of this writing system.

Some of the best preserved examples of this script can be found on rune stones, including the lions-hare located in Sweden. They had many varied purposes ranging from marking territory to memorialising fallen kinsmen. Rune stones used to be highly colourful, though hundreds of years of being out in the open means very little is left for modern observers.

Here were look at some of the oldest rune stones found by archeologists.

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Lasers Are Mapping Scotland’s Mysterious Iron Age Passages

A laser scan of Cracknie souterrain, capturing every detail in 3D

In February 2022, Graeme Cavers and his team of archaeologists set off in search of a mysterious underground passage called a souterrain. There are around 500 of these Iron Age structures scattered throughout the Scottish Highlands, but nobody knows what they were built for, and no one has ever discovered one intact.

“Perhaps they were for storage, such as grain in sealed pots or dairy products like cheese,” says Matt Ritchie, resident archaeologist at Forestry and Land Scotland. “Perhaps they were for security, keeping valuables safe, or slaves or hostages secure. Or perhaps they were for ceremonial purposes, for household rituals, like a medieval shrine or private chapel.”

Site surveys can help shed light on the condition and structure of souterrains, but they can take at least a week using traditional methods, says Cavers, whose company AOC Archaeology was enlisted by Ritchie to help map the Cracknie Souterrain in Scotland’s Borgie Forest.

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Enigmatic Ale’s Stones – Sweden’s Megalithic Ship-Like Formation


Ales stones, Hesten and others (Valleberga 20:1). Image credit: Jorchr - CC BY-SA 4.0

Myths, legends, and mystery surround this fascinating megalithic formation consisting of 58 (59) upright boulders and one vertical (weighing up to 1.8 tons each) - placed in a gigantic ship formation, 67 meters in length and 19 meters wide.

The largest stones are almost 3.5-meter and are called "bow" and "stern." They are directed towards the sunrise at the time of the summer solstice, and the sunset at the time of the winter solstice.

The Ales Stenar - Sweden's largest stone complex dates back to the Bronze or Iron Age. From a bird's eye view, it resembles the shape of a boat. It is not known who and for what purpose built it. Not even experts know why this complex was built.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Found the world's oldest rune stone

Photo: Alexis Pantos/KHM, UiO.

During the first few centuries of the Common Era, during the period that archaeologists call the Roman Iron Age, Scandinavians came into contact with Roman society by trading goods and through their encounters with the Roman army. Archaeological material testifies to the fact that this is how they acquired knowledge about new customs and forms of organisation, and not least a written culture. 

Inspired by the classical alphabets, such as the Roman alphabet, the Germanic peoples created their own characters – runes. But exactly how old is the runic alphabet, and when were the first rune stones made? These are questions that researchers have been seeking to answer for many years. 

A new archaeological find is attracting international attention among runic scholars and archaeologists: the world's oldest dated rune stone was discovered during the autumn of 2021 when archaeologists at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, investigated a grave field in Hole near Tyrifjorden, Eastern Norway. Radiocarbon dates show that the age of the grave and thus the inscriptions on the stone probably date back to 1-250 CE. This rune stone is thus one of the very earliest examples of words recorded in writing in Scandinavia, and the inscriptions provide new insights into the development and use of runic writing during the early Iron Age. 

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Norway reveals stone tablet providing clues to origins of Western writing

The ancient rune stone found by Norwegian researchers is believed to be between 1,800 and 2,000 years old. It was found buried beneath a later grave.
Photo courtesy of Museum of Cultural History

Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Norway is set to unveil an ancient rune stone found in the east of the country dating back as much as 2,000 years that is providing the missing pieces to the puzzle of the origins of writing in northern Europe.

Researchers from the University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History found the block of sandstone on an Iron Age grave site dig near Tyrifjorden, northwest of Oslo, in late 2021. They now believe it is the world's oldest rune stone and that the characters on the stone are one of the earliest examples of writing in Scandinavia because radiocarbon dating shows the grave dates back to 1-250 CE.

The stone, which is creating a stir internationally among runologists and archaeologists, is going on display to the public as the centerpiece of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the Historical Museum in Oslo.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Wishing well used for Bronze Age 'cult rituals' discovered in Bavaria

The wooden wishing well discovered by archaeologists in Bavaria, Germany.
(Image credit: The Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection)

Archaeologists in Bavaria, Germany, have unearthed a 3,000-year-old wooden wishing well overflowing with more than 100 artifacts dating to the Bronze Age.

Unlike modern-day wishing wells, where people toss in coins and make a wish, the items in this well were placed there for "ritual purposes" in what is now the Bavarian town of Germering. The artifacts included more than 70 well-preserved clay vessels, including numerous decorative bowls, cups and pots that were used for special occasions and not "simple everyday crockery," according to a translated statement(opens in new tab). 

Archaeologists also found more than two dozen bronze robe pins, a bracelet, four amber beads, two metal spirals, a mounted animal tooth and a wooden scoop. 

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Brutality of prehistoric life revealed by Europe’s bog bodies

At Alken Enge in Denmark, the remains of at least 380 individuals were deposited in a wetland almost 2,000 years ago.

In 1984, a peat cutter discovered human remains in a bog in Cheshire, England. They belonged to a man who died a brutal death some 2,100 years ago before being placed in the bog — examination of his well-preserved mummy revealed blows to the head, a possible stab wound and a broken neck. Twisted sinew found still wrapped around his neck may have also been a garotte.

Now in the British Museum in London, the remains of the Lindow Man are perhaps the best known of Europe’s 2,000 or so “bog bodies.” These are mummies and skeletons that have been found mired in the peat and wetlands of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.

The bodies — often exquisitely preserved by the bogs’ cool, acidic conditions and organic compounds— provide an exciting snap shot of the past. Archaeologists study their skin, bones, clothes, belongings and sometimes even their last meal. Now, researchers have undertaken the first comprehensive survey of bog bodies — a burial tradition they believe spanned 7,000 years — to build up a fuller picture of the phenomenon.

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First of its kind study identifies how humans lost their body hair

Humans appear to have the genes for a full coat of body hair, but evolution has disabled them,  scientists at University of Utah Health and University of Pittsburgh report.
(CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Orangutans, mice, and horses are covered with it, but humans aren’t. Why we have significantly less body hair than most other mammals has long remained a mystery. But a first-of-its-kind comparison of genetic codes from 62 animals is beginning to tell the story of how people—and other mammals—lost their locks.

Humans appear to have the genes for a full coat of body hair, but evolution has disabled them,  scientists at University of Utah Health and University of Pittsburgh report in the journal eLife. The findings point to a set of genes and regulatory regions of the genome that appear to be essential for making hair.

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Svante Pääbo: ‘It’s maybe time to rethink our idea of Neanderthals’

Svante Pääbo says becoming a Nobel laureate has been ‘a burden … but a pleasant burden’. Photograph: Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

A greyish neanderthal skeleton stands at the door of Svante Pääbo’s office, acting like a doorman to check up on his visitors, who have grown considerably in number since it was announced he was to receive a Nobel prize. It clutches a white party balloon in its left hand and is missing its right lower arm.

“Unfortunately my son broke it off once,” says Pääbo with a chuckle, patting the skeleton’s head.

On the day the Guardian visits, the Swedish geneticist is still reeling from the shock of having been chosen as Nobel laureate for Medicine or physiology (the prize straddles both fields) in October. A bottle of champagne stands on his desk along with messages of congratulations from friends and colleagues. Over coffee and shortbread in a rare interview, he admits: “It’s a bit of a burden, to be honest, all the attention I’ve been getting. But it’s a pleasant burden, and one for which I know I can’t expect much sympathy.”

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