Monday, January 31, 2011

Secrets in stone

It looked to be a routine excavation of what was thought to be a burial mound. But beneath the mound, archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Museum of Natural History and Archaeology found something more: unusual Bronze Age petroglyphs. 

“We believe these are very special in a Norwegian context,” says museum researcher and project manager Anne Haug.

The excavation in Stjørdal, just north of Trondheim, was necessitated by the expansion of a gravel pit. Given that project archaeologists didn’t anticipate that the dig would be very complicated, the museum researchers dedicated just three weeks to the effort.

Petroglyphs under a cremation site
Then came the surprises. First, it turned out that mound builders had used an existing hill as a starting point - which of course saved them time and effort. The hill itself made the burial mound even larger and more monumental than it might have otherwise been.

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Norwegian petroglyphs found beneath burial mounds

It looked to be a routine excavation of what was thought to be a burial mound. But beneath the mound, archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Museum of Natural History and Archaeology found something more: unusual Bronze Age petroglyphs. 

"We believe these are very special in a Norwegian context," says museum researcher and project manager Anne Haug.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Was the fox prehistoric man's best friend?

Early humans may have preferred the fox to the dog as an animal companion, new archaeological findings suggest. Researchers analysing remains at a prehistoric burial ground in Jordan have uncovered a grave in which a fox was buried with a human, before part of it was then transferred to an adjacent grave.

The University of Cambridge-led team believes that the unprecedented case points to some sort of emotional attachment between human and fox. Their paper, published January 26, suggests that the fox may have been kept as a pet and was being buried to accompany its master, or mistress, to the afterlife.

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Modern humans reached Arabia earlier than thought, new artifacts suggest

Artifacts unearthed in the United Arab Emirates date back 100,000 years and imply that modern humans first left Africa much earlier than researchers had expected, a new study reports. In light of their excavation, an international team of researchers led by Hans-Peter Uerpmann from Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen, Germany suggests that humans could have arrived on the Arabian Peninsula as early as 125,000 years ago — directly from Africa rather than via the Nile Valley or the Near East, as researchers have suggested in the past.

The timing and dispersal of modern humans out of Africa has been the source of long-standing debate, though most evidence has pointed to an exodus along the Mediterranean Sea or along the Arabian coast approximately 60,000 years ago.

This new research, placing early humans on the Arabian Peninsula much earlier, will appear in the 28 January issue of Science, which is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

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Hints of earlier human exit from Africa

Stone Age people apparently took a surprisingly fast track out of Africa via an unexpected route — Arabia. Modern humans reached Arabia’s eastern edge, not far from the shores of southwestern Asia, as early as 125,000 years ago, according to a report in the Jan. 28 Science. That’s a good 65,000 years earlier than the generally accepted date for the first substantial human migrations beyond Africa.

Stone tools unearthed at an Arabian Peninsula rock shelter called Jebel Faya resemble sharpened points and cutting implements from East African sites of about the same age, says a scientific team led by physical geographer Simon Armitage of the University of London and archaeologist Hans-Peter Uerpmann of the University of Tübingen in Germany. Jebel Faya is located in what’s now the United Arab Emirates.

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Ancient Tools May Mark Earlier Path Out of Africa

The bodies are still missing, but a prehistoric toolkit discovered in the United Arab Emirates has led some archaeologists to propose a more complex scenario for humanity’s emigration out of Africa.

Uncovered at a Jebel Faya rock shelter, just west of the Straits of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the tools are 125,000 years old. Previous estimates placed the dispersal of modern humans from North Africa around 70,000 years ago. If correct, this new study indicates that humans in eastern Africa left earlier, and traveled to Arabia.

The tools include small hand axes, scrapers and notched tools called denticulates. They’re described Jan. 27 in Science. According to researchers led by University of London paleogeographer Simon Armitage, the tools resemble those made in the same era by humans in eastern Africa, rather than tools found at later sites along the Mediterranean’s eastern border.

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Tools Suggest Earlier Human Exit From Africa

A cache of stone tools found on the east coast of the Arabian Peninsula has reopened the critical question of when and how modern humans escaped from their ancestral homeland in eastern Africa.

The present view, based on both archaeological and genetic evidence, holds that modern humans, although they first emerged in Africa some 200,000 years ago, were hemmed in by deserts and other human species like Neanderthals and did not escape to the rest of the world until some 50,000 years ago.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Neanderthal faces were not adapted to cold

New research into Neanderthal skulls suggests that facial features believed for over a century to be adaptations to extreme cold are unlikely to have evolved in response to glacial periods after all.

Neanderthal faces had prominent cheekbones and wide noses previously thought to have developed in extremely cold periods because large sinuses were needed to warm air as it was inhaled. One problem with this theory is that modern people such as the Inuits, and other mammals living in Arctic regions have not developed large sinuses, and their sinuses are often smaller, and another problem is that it has never been proven that Neanderthal sinuses were larger.

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Reviving the taste of an Iron Age beer

Early Celtic rulers of a community in what’s now southwestern Germany liked to party, staging elaborate feasts in a ceremonial center. The business side of their revelries was located in a nearby brewery capable of turning out large quantities of a beer with a dark, smoky, slightly sour taste, new evidence suggests.

Six specially constructed ditches previously excavated at Eberdingen-Hochdorf a 2,550-year-old Celtic settlement, were used to make high-quality barley malt, a key beer ingredient, says archaeobotanist Hans-Peter Stika of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart. Thousands of charred barley grains unearthed in the ditches about a decade ago came from a large malt-making enterprise, Stika reports in a paper published online January 4 in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Your Favourite Archaeological Sites in Europe

Which sites in Europe have you most enjoyed visiting? A new Archaeology in Europe website allows you to post descriptions and photos of archaeological sites that you have visited, and to give ratings and comments for sites that are already in the database.

The site is very much in its infancy at the moment, and I would welcome contributions and feedback. It is envisaged that the site will grow into a useful source of up to date information for those planning to visit sites in Europe.

You can find the site at:

The site runs on Phile – a brilliant application developed by Mike Schiff and Sho Kuwamoto. Phile can be best described as a combination of an online database and a social network site, and it allows people with similar interests to share much more detailed information than the usual social network sites.

I am sure that Phile has tremendous potential for archaeological societies, fieldwork studies and other work groups. Take a look at

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Neanderthals and early modern humans had same lifespan

A new study by a Washington University in St. Louis suggests life expectancy was probably the same for early modern and late archaic humans and did not factor in the extinction of Neanderthals.

Our species, Homo sapiens, is the only surviving lineage of the genus Homo. Still, there once were many others, all of whom could also be called human. One puzzle was the lack of elderly individuals. It was therefore suggested that early hominins might have had a shorter life expectancy than early modern humans, with our lineage ultimately outnumbering Neanderthals, contributing to their demise.

Erik Trinkaus, PhD, Professor of Anthropology in Arts & Sciences examined the fossil record to assess adult mortality for both groups, which co-existed in different regions for roughly 150,000 years. Trinkaus found that the proportions of 20 to 40 year old adults versus adults older than 40, were about the same for early modern humans and Neanderthals.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dying Young Didn't Wipe Out Neanderthals

Early humans had the same life expectancy as their ancient cousins before Neanderthals died off about 30,000 years ago.

Dying young was not likely the reason Neanderthals went extinct, said a study out Monday that suggests early modern humans had about the same life expectancy as their hairier, ancient cousins.

Scientists have puzzled over why the Neanderthals disappeared just as modern humans were making huge gains and moving into new parts of Africa and Europe, and some have speculated that a difference in longevity may have been to blame.

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Effective Use Of Power In The Bronze Age Societies Of Central Europe

During the first part of the Bronze Age in the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe, a large proportion of the population lived in what are known as tell-building societies. A thesis in archaeology from the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) shows that the leaders of these societies had the ability to combine several sources of power in an effective way in order to dominate the rest of the population, which contributed towards creating a notably stable social system.

Tell-building societies are named after a distinct form of settlements with a high density of population and construction, which over the course of time accumulated such thick cultural layers that they took on the shape of low mounds.

On the basis of a discussion and analysis of previously published material from the Carpathian Basin and new findings from the tell settlement Százhalombatta-Földvár in Hungary, the author of the thesis, Claes Uhnér, describes the ways in which leaders could exercise power. Tell-building societies had relatively advanced economies. The subsistence economy, which was based on agricultural production and animal husbandry, produced a good return, and the societies were involved in regional and long-distance exchange of bronzes and other valuable craft products.

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Longevity unlikely to have aided early modern humans

Life expectancy was probably the same for early modern and late archaic
humans and did not factor in the extinction of Neanderthals, suggests a new study by a Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist.

Erik Trinkaus, PhD, Professor of Anthropology in Arts & Sciences, examined the fossil record to assess adult mortality for both groups, which co-existed in different regions for roughly 150,000 years. Trinkaus found that the proportions of 20 to 40-year-old adults versus adults older than 40, were about the same for early modern humans and Neandertals.

This similar age distribution, says Trinkaus, reflects similar patterns of adult mortality and treatment of the elderly in the context of highly mobile hunting-and-gathering human populations.

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Chemical analysis confirms discovery of oldest wine-making equipment ever found

UCLA scientists use new scientific method to verify vintage 4100 B.C. wine

Analysis by a UCLA-led team of scientists has confirmed the discovery of the oldest complete wine production facility ever found, including grape seeds, withered grape vines, remains of pressed grapes, a rudimentary wine press, a clay vat apparently used for fermentation, wine-soaked potsherds, and even a cup and drinking bowl.

The facility, which dates back to roughly 4100 B.C. — 1,000 years before the earliest comparable find — was unearthed by a team of archaeologists from Armenia, the United States and Ireland in the same mysterious Armenian cave complex where an ancient leather shoe was found, a discovery that was announced last summer.

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Oldest-known wine press found in southern Armenia

Researchers find dried grape vines, after previously unearthing an ancient sandal from the same site. In the 1970s, Soviet officials initially were interested in the cave as a hardened storage location.

A team of American, Armenian and Irish archeologists have unearthed evidence of a wine press found in Armenia that is over 6,000-years-old, making it the oldest-known wine making facility.

"This was a relatively small installation related to the ritual inside the cave," said Gregory Areshian, a professor of archeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who helped lead the study.

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Ancient Denisovans and the human family tree

Last month scientists revealed remarkable evidence of a new group of ancient humans called Denisovans that interbred with our species and left behind a genetic trace in people living in south east Asia today.
Molar tooth from Denisova Cave that scientists obtained a genome from

An international team, including scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, carried out a genetic study of a finger bone and a large molar tooth uncovered in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains, Siberia. They sequenced the genome and found that this ancient human shared 4-6% of its genetic material with some present-day Melanesians.

In March, the team obtained a complete mitrochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence for the same finger bone, dated to about 40,000 years ago, showing that it was from neither a modern human nor Neanderthal

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Irish archaeologists help unearth the world’s oldest winery

Winery discovered close by to location of world’s oldest shoe find

The world’s oldest winery has been discovered by an Armenian, Irish, U.S. group. The caves, discovered in 2007, were found just the year before the 5,550 year old shoe was found.

The team found the cave near the Armenian border with Iran, close to a village that still produces wine. Radiocarbon analysis dated the find to between 4100BC and 4000BC. That is the Late Chalcolithic Period, known as the Copper Age.

Their findings included a rudimentary wine press, a clay vat surrounded by grape seeds, withered grape vines, the remains of pressed grapes as well as potsherd along with a cup and drinking bowl.

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World’s Oldest Winery Discovered by Archaeologists

Life on the planet was recently reported in the media to be 3 billion years old but the wine production is only around 6100 years old according to an archaeological find reporting discovery of the remains of world’s oldest known winery along with the grapes suggesting it produced red wine, near Iranian Border. The announcement was made by the National Geographic Society and published online by the Journal of Archaeological Science yesterday.

The world’s oldest winery was discovered near a cemetery in one of the cave complexes in Armenia, named as Areni-1 where a wine press, fermentation jar (about 60 liter capacity) and a drinking cup made of animal horn dating to approximately 6100 years ago, were found by international team of archeologists from the US, Armenia and Ireland, led by UCLA archaeologist Hans Barnard. The site is outside a small village known for its winemaking capabilities even today.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

At 6,000 years old, wine press is oldest yet found

Archeologists have unearthed the oldest wine-making facility ever found, using biochemical techniques to identify a dry red vintage made about 6,000 years ago in what is now southern Armenia.

The excavation paints a picture of a complex society where mourners tasted a special vintage made at a caveside cemetery, the researchers reported on Tuesday in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

"This is the world's oldest known installation to make wine," Gregory Areshian of the University of California Los Angeles, who helped lead the study, said in a telephone interview.

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Archaeologists uncork oldest wine press discovery

Wine's time with humankind goes back more than 6,000 years, reports an archaeology team from Armenia.
Visiting the excavations of the Areni-1 cave complex in Armenia, archaeologist Levon Petrosyan contemplates the 6,100-year-old wine-making equipment discovered by an international project co-directed by Boris Gasparyan, Gregory Areshian and Ron Pinhasi.

Discovered in the Areni-1 cave near the Iranian border, a team led by UCLA archaeologist Hans Barnard, details of the ancient wine press find appear in an upcoming Journal of Archaeological Science. The study reports discovery of a wine vat, wine-stained pots and grape remains, as well as a drinking bowl, located near a cemetery inside the cave.

"We believe the wine was made there for ritual activity," says UCLA's Gregory Areshian, co-director of the excavation site. "But the people living outside the cave in the region likely made wine all the time," he says, based on the evidence of the expertise needed to craft the wine vats and pots.

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Amazing find of Stone Age village made by historians

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have made the stunning discovery of a 5,500-year-old Stone Age village, home to Derbyshire's first farmers and potters.

Ben Johnson and his team made the ancient find during a painstaking dig in Peak District fields, near Wirksworth.

He said he was astonished when he discovered the first evidence – a shattered shard of pottery dating back to at least 3,500BC.

Ben said: "I pulled the piece of Stone Age pottery out of the ground and felt a sense of excitement and wonder.

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'Oldest known wine-making facility' found in Armenia

The world's earliest known wine-making facility has been discovered in Armenia, archaeologists say.

A wine press and fermentation jars from about 6,000 years ago were found in a cave in the south Caucasus country.

Co-director of the excavation Gregory Areshian, of the University of California, Los Angeles, said it was the earliest example of complete wine production.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ancient farmers swiftly spread westward

Croatia does not have a reputation as a hotbed of ancient agriculture. But new excavations, described January 7 in San Antonio at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, unveil a Mediterranean Sea–hugging strip of southern Croatia as a hub for early farmers who spread their sedentary lifestyle from the Middle East into Europe.

Farming villages sprouted swiftly in this coastal region, called Dalmatia, nearly 8,000 years ago, apparently with the arrival of Middle Easterners already adept at growing crops and herding animals, says archaeologist Andrew Moore of Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

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Study Of Lice DNA Shows Humans First Wore Clothes 170,000 Years Ago

A new University of Florida study following the evolution of lice shows modern humans started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago, a technology which enabled them to successfully migrate out of Africa.

Principal investigator David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, studies lice in modern humans to better understand human evolution and migration patterns. His latest five-year study used DNA sequencing to calculate when clothing lice first began to diverge genetically from human head lice.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study is available online and appears in this month's print edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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7,000-year-old timbers found beneath MI6 Thames headquarters

Archaeologists hail oldest wooden structure ever found on river, despite security services' armed response to researchers

When MI6 set up home on the banks of the Thames one secret escaped its watchful eyes. The oldest wooden structure ever found on the river, timbers almost 7,000 years old, have been discovered buried in the silt below the windows of the security services' ziggurat headquarters at Vauxhall, south London.

The archaeologists who uncovered the six hefty timber piles had to explain to the security services what they were up to when armed police turned up after they were spotted pottering about on a foggy day in the mud, armed only with tripods, cameras and measuring equipment – not, as one spectator had apparently reported, shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Archaeologists Locate Remains Of Homo Sapiens In Israel 400,000 Years Ago

It has long been believed that modern man emerged from the continent of Africa 200,000 years ago. Now Tel Aviv University archaeologists have uncovered evidence that Homo sapiens roamed the land now called Israel as early as 400,000 years ago - the earliest evidence for the existence of modern man anywhere in the world.

The findings were discovered in the Qesem Cave, a pre-historic site located near Rosh Ha'ayin that was first excavated in 2000. Prof. Avi Gopher and Dr. Ran Barkai of Tel Aviv University's Department of Archaeology, who run the excavations, and Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of the university's Department of Anatomy and Anthropology and Sackler School of Medicine, together with an international team of scientists, performed a morphological analysis on eight human teeth found in the Qesem Cave.

This analysis, which included CT scans and X-rays, indicates that the size and shape of the teeth are very similar to those of modern man. The teeth found in the Qesem Cave are very similar to other evidence of modern man from Israel, dated to around 100,000 years ago, discovered in the Skhul Cave in the Carmel and Qafzeh Cave in the Lower Galilee near Nazareth. The results of the researchers' findings are being published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

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Cretan tools point to 130,000-year-old sea travel

ATHENS, Greece – Archaeologists on the island of Crete have discovered what may be evidence of one of the world's first sea voyages by human ancestors, the Greek Culture Ministry said Monday. A ministry statement said experts from Greece and the U.S. have found rough axes and other tools thought to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old close to shelters on the island's south coast.

Crete has been separated from the mainland for about five million years, so whoever made the tools must have traveled there by sea (a distance of at least 40 miles). That would upset the current view that human ancestors migrated to Europe from Africa by land alone.

"The results of the survey not only provide evidence of sea voyages in the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years earlier than we were aware of so far, but also change our understanding of early hominids' cognitive abilities," the ministry statement said.

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