Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Did Dutch hordes kill off the early Britons who started Stonehenge?

A gene study has shown that incomers could have ousted Stone Age Britons

During the building of Stonehenge, around 2500BC, gene records show Sone Age Britons were replaced by Bronze Age Beaker folk. Photograph: Peter Adams/Getty Images

The men and women who built Stonehenge left an indelible mark on the British landscape. However, researchers have discovered that their impact on other aspects of the nation may have been less impressive. In particular, their input into Britain’s gene pool appears to have fizzled out, having been terminated by light-skinned Bronze Age invaders who arrived just as Ancient Britons were midway through their great Stone Age project. In the end, these newcomers may have completely replaced the people who were building Stonehenge.

This startling conclusion is the result of a huge gene study of humans in prehistoric Europe. It shows that around 2500BC – when the main sections of Stonehenge were under construction – a race of people known to archaeologists as the Beaker folk arrived in Britain. Their genetic profiles were similar to individuals who were living in the Netherlands at the time. In just a short period, all genetic traces of early Stone Age Britons were replaced by those from these continental newcomers, although work on Stonehenge continued.

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Dig Finds UK's Oldest Sacred Site

Archaeologists say a sacred burial site uncovered in Shrewsbury in February is over 4,000 years old. They say the site, which was discovered at a Greek Orthodox Church, may be the country's oldest-known continuously used sacred ground.


Archaeologists excavate the site in Shrewsbury 
[Credit: Sarah Hart]

Finds suggest it has been used during every era since the late Neolithic period. Carbon dating of a wooden post extracted during the dig showed it was placed in the ground in 2,033 BC.

Archaeologists expected the post to be Anglo-Saxon. Other finds on the Oteley Road site included a calf, a pig and a dog that died while giving birth.

"The dates have shocked us all," said lead archaeologist Janey Green. "It appears the current Medieval church is built over the site of an ancient pagan burial ground that's been in use from the late Neolithic period through the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and through to today. The only other British site of a Christian church that is known to date back to the late Neolithic period is at Cranborne Chase, in Dorset, but it is a Norman ruin."

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Grassy beginning for earliest Homo


ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY—In 2013, an ASU research team found the oldest known evidence of our own genus, Homo, at Ledi-Geraru in the lower Awash Valley of Ethiopia. A jawbone with teeth was dated to 2.8 million years ago, about 400,000 years earlier than previously known fossils of Homo. After the discovery, attention turned to reconstructing the environment of this ancient human ancestor to understand why there and why then.
But how do you re-create specific environments from millions of years ago to understand where our ancient ancestors lived?
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Friday, May 5, 2017

How migrations and other population dynamics could have shaped early human culture


STANFORD UNIVERSITY—Something odd happened in the transition from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic, around 50,000 years ago. Modern humans and their immediate ancestors had been using tools for a few million years prior, but the repertoire was limited. Then, all of sudden, there was an explosion of new tools, art and other cultural artifacts.
What caused that change has been the subject of much debate. Maybe brainpower reached a critical threshold. Maybe climate change forced our prehistoric kin to innovate or die. Maybe it was aliens.
Or maybe it was the result of populations growing and spreading throughout the land, Stanford researchers write in Royal Society Interface. That certainly could explain some other curious features of Paleolithic culture—and it could mean that a number of paleontologists' inferences about our genetic and environmental past are, if not wrong, not as well supported as they had thought.
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24 Bronze Age Axes Found In Farmer's Field In Norway

Some 3,000 years ago, 24 axes were cached in Stjørdal municipality, about 44 km east of Trondheim. They're now seeing the light of day once again.


One of the axeheads after it was dug up [Credit: Eirik Solheim]
In late April, a sensational discovery was made in a field in the village of Hegra, not far from the Trondheim International Airport in Værnes. Numerous axe heads, a knife blade and some fragments were lifted out of obscurity. The objects date back to the Late Bronze Age, approx. 1100-500 BCE.

Archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) University Museum and Nord-Trøndelag County Council unearthed the findings with the help of with six private metal detector hobbyists from the area.

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3,000-year-old axes found in farmer's field in mid-Norway


Archaeologist Merete Moe Henriksen and conservator Ellen Randers present the Hegra discoveries. Credit: Julie Gloppe Solem


Some 3,000 years ago, 24 axes were cached in Stjørdal municipality, about 44 km east of Trondheim. They're now seeing the light of day once again.

In late April, a sensational discovery was made in a field in the village of Hegra, not far from the Trondheim International Airport in Værnes. Numerous axe heads, a knife blade and some fragments were lifted out of obscurity. The objects date back to the Late Bronze Age, approx. 1100-500 BCE.
Archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) University Museum and Nord-Trøndelag County Council unearthed the findings with the help of with six private metal detector hobbyists from the area.

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Mycenaean Chamber Tomb With Grave Offerings Found On Greek Island Of Salamis

A Late Mycenaean chamber tomb with grave goods dating to the 13th-12th centuries BCE has been discovered in the centre of the main town on the island of Salamina, Greece, during a project meant to link a home with the central sewage network.


Late Mycenaean chamber tomb with grave offerings located in Salamina 
[Credit: Ministry of Culture and Sports]

Speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) on Friday, archaeologist Ada Kattoula of Western Attica, Piraeus and the Islands Antiquities Ephorate said it was the third tomb located in the area, following two discovered in 2009 during excavation to install the sewage pipes. Those finds had led to the discovery of 41 intact pottery vessels in very good condition, with inscribed decorations typical of the era, as well as pieces of roughly 10 more vessels, she said.

“The excavation conditions are extremely difficult because there are many springs in the area and the specific tombs, being carved into the rock, are prone to flooding. We needed pumps to empty the water. With great technical difficulty and significant assistance from the contractor we were able to investigate,” Kattoula said.

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Glockenbecher-Gräber im Salzlandkreis


Ein kleines Gräberfeld der Glockenbecherkultur (3. Jahrtausend v.Chr.) kam bei archäologischen Ausgrabungen des Landesamts für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt nahe Könnern-Cörmigk im Salzlandkreis ans Tageslicht.

Im Zuge des Neubaus einer Fernwasserleitung zwischen Dohndorf und Bernburg-Ost finden seit Herbst 2016 archäologische Untersuchungen durch das Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt statt. Nachdem zunächst die Anzahl und Art der Kulturdenkmale im Trassenverlauf durch Voruntersuchungen ermittelt wurde, werden nun 17 Fundstellen auf gut 30.000 m² Untersuchungsfläche dokumentiert. Die Grabungen haben Mitte März 2017 begonnen und werden voraussichtlich Anfang Juli abgeschlossen. Projektleiterin ist Frau Dr. Susanne Friederich, örtlicher Grabungsleiter Herr Thomas Kubenz. Insgesamt sind derzeit 14 Mitarbeiter beschäftigt.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

A Spanish quest to hand down prehistoric secrets

Photo: Extremadura Turismo
It's dark and surprisingly warm in a cave in western Spain that hides our most intimate connection to the prehistoric past – hand silhouettes painted tens of thousands of years ago.
Archaeologist Hipolito Collado and his team had not entered the Maltravieso Cave in the city of Caceres for close to a year to avoid damaging the 57 faded hands that adorn the walls, precious remnants of a far-flung piece of history we know little about.
 
Why did our ancestors or distant relatives paint hands in caves? Was it merely to make their mark, or part of a ritual to commune with spirits?
 
Do they tell us anything about the role of women during the Paleolithic era that ended some 10,000 years ago? And why are some fingers missing?
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Radiocarbon Dating Gets A Postmodern Makeover

For decades, radiocarbon dating has been a way for scientists to get a rough picture of when once-living stuff lived. The method has been revolutionary and remains one of the most commonly used dating methods to study the past, but according to Charlotte Pearson, it’s ready for a makeover.



Charlotte Pearson studies the past lives of trees to better understand the history of civilizations 
[Credit: Mari Cleven]
Pearson is an assistant professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona who studies the past lives of trees to better understand the history of civilizations. Dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating have intertwined histories, she explains, with roots firmly planted at the UA.

Andrew Douglass and Talkative Tree Rings

A 1929 edition of National Geographic boasts, “The Secret Of The Southwest Solved By Talkative Tree Rings.” The 35-page article, penned in whimsical prose, was written by Andrew Douglass, the UA scientist who invented tree ring science.

Douglass was a polymath. In addition to his work as an astronomer at the UA’s Steward Observatory, Douglass was the first to discover that tree rings record time: “Every year the trees in our forests show the swing of Time’s pendulum and put down a mark. They are chronographs, recording clocks, by which the succeeding seasons are set down through definite imprints,” he wrote in the pages of National Geographic.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Dog family tree reveals hidden history of canine diversity

Genetic map showing how dog breeds are related provides a wealth of information about their origins.


A new family tree of dogs containing more than 160 breeds reveals the hidden history of man’s best friend, and even shows how studying canine genomes might help with research into human disease.
In a study published on 25 April in Cell Reports, scientists examined the genomes of 1,346 dogs to create one of the most diverse maps produced so far tracing the relationship between breeds1. The map shows the types of dog that people crossed to create modern breeds and reveals that canines bred to perform similar functions, such as working and herding dogs, don't necessarily share the same origins. The analysis even hints at an ancient type of dog that could have come over to the Americas with people thousands of years before Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World.
The new work could come as a surprise to owners and breeders who are familiar with how dogs are grouped into categories. “You would think that all working dogs or all herding dogs are related, but that isn’t the case,” says Heidi Parker, a biologist at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and a study author.
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Prehistoric human DNA is found in caves without bones in 'enormous scientific breakthrough'

Becky Miller sampling sediment for genetic analyses at the archaeological site of 
Trou Al'Wesse, Belgium 
CREDIT:  MAX PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR EVOLUTIONARY ANTHROPOLOGY VIA AFP

International scientists have uncovered prehistoric human DNA of two extinct human relatives - the Neanderthals, and the Denisovans- from caves without bones, an advance that could shed new light on human history and evolution.

The technique could be valuable for reconstructing human evolutionary history, according to the study published on Thursday in the journal Science.

That's because fossilised bones, currently the main source of ancient DNA, are scarce even at sites where circumstantial evidence points to a prehistoric human presence.

"There are many caves where stone tools are found but no bones," said Matthias Meyer, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who co-authored the study.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Listen to the experts on the Stonehenge tunnel


Helen Ghosh, Kate Mavor and Duncan Wilson’s response to John Harris’s article about the Stonehenge tunnel (Letters, 27 April) entirely misses the point. The Stonehenge world heritage site landscape is unutterably precious and you tamper with it at your peril – you cannot make it come back. There should be perpetual inquiry here and the UK government, the National Trust and English Heritage either value that or they don’t. The tunnel scheme will clearly compromise the archaeology. Whose interest would that be in? It would be better to trust the experts. The joint statement from 21 archaeological specialists working at the Stonehenge site from 14 UK universities and the international Icomos-Unesco team report recently provided detailed and empirically based rebuttals of the tunnel plans and clearly highlight various dangers it poses to the area’s archaeology and sense of place.
Professor David Jacques
Blick Mead project director, University of Buckingham


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Digital App Brings To Life One Of Scotland's Key Prehistoric Settlement Sites

A new online digital resource has been launched to bring to life one of Scotland's most important prehistoric settlement landscapes.


Led by the University of Glasgow the new digital resource aims to widen public engagement with the ongoing archaeological research in Perthshire.

Supported by a grant from Historic Environment Scotland, the SERF Project app was developed in collaboration with the 3DVisLab at the University of Dundee. It incorporates 3D images, enabling the user to grab, rotate and closely examine some of the artefacts which have been unearthed at the hillfort sites. It also features drone aerial footage of the hillforts, superimposed with artist’s reconstructions of what the sites may have looked like.

Dr Tessa Poller, Director of the SERF hillforts project and an archaeologist at the University of Glasgow, said: "This app is about wider public engagement surrounding the work we are doing, to not only show people the geographical area where these hillforts lie but to also explain how, throughout the various discoveries we have already made, we are able to challenge perceptions about what life must have been like back then.


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Uffington hill carving was worshipped as 'sun horse' in prehistoric Britain


A huge prehistoric geoglyph depicting a galloping horse is traditionally thought to have been a symbol of ownership, territory or group identity for the prehistoric humans living on the Berkshire Downs. But now scholars are taking a second look at the 110-metre-long hillside carving. A new archaeological interpretation argues that it is a representation of a sun horse, a mythical beast that pulled the sun across the sky like a chariot.
The Uffington White Horse in the south of England is one of the oldest giant carved hill figures, or geoglyphs, in the world. The elongated, stylised horse is best visible from the sky, but was built millennia before a human would see it from that vantage point. It is thought to have been carved into the hillside, exposing the white chalk bedrock, in the late Second Millennium BCE or the early First Millennium BCE.
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Indonesian ‘Hobbits’ Not Related To Homo Erectus

The most comprehensive study on the bones of Homo floresiensis, a species of tiny human discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, has found that they most likely evolved from an ancestor in Africa and not from Homo erectus as has been widely believed.


The study by The Australian National University (ANU) found Homo floresiensis, dubbed "the hobbits" due to their small stature, were most likely a sister species of Homo habilis -- one of the earliest known species of human found in Africa 1.75 million years ago.

Data from the study concluded there was no evidence for the popular theory that Homo floresiensis evolved from the much larger Homo erectus, the only other early hominid known to have lived in the region with fossils discovered on the Indonesian mainland of Java.

Study leader Dr Debbie Argue of the ANU School of Archaeology & Anthropology, said the results should help put to rest a debate that has been hotly contested ever since Homo floresiensis was discovered.


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Primitive human 'lived much more recently'


A primitive type of human, once thought to be up to three million years old, actually lived much more recently, a study suggests.
The remains of 15 partial skeletons belonging to the species Homo naledi were described in 2015.
They were found deep in a cave system in South Africa by a team led by Lee Berger from Wits University.
In an interview, he now says the remains are probably just 200,000 to 300,000 years old.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Prehistoric cannibalism not just driven by hunger, study reveals

Humans are less nutritious than other forms of meat, findings show, indicating complex social motivations may be behind our ancestors’ cannibalism


Evidence of cannibalism found at a number of prehistoric sites indicate our ancestors as well as other hominins such as Neanderthals sometimes ate each other. 
Photograph: Nikola Solic/Reuters/Corbis

Thursday 6 April 2017 14.00 BST Last modified on Thursday 6 April 2017 14.14 BST
Cannibalism among prehistoric humans was more likely to have been driven by social reasons than the need for a hearty meal, research suggests.

Evidence of cannibalism, in the form of cut marks, tooth marks and tell-tale bone breakage has been found at a number of prehistoric sites, including in France, Spain and Belgium, revealing that our ancestors as well as other hominins such as Neanderthals and Homo antecessor at least occasionally ate each other.
But how common cannibalism was and to what extent it was driven by the need for nutrition has been a matter of debate, with remains from some sites showing evidence of ritual treatment.

The latest study adds weight to the idea that cannibalism might have been driven by more than the necessity of hunger.

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