Thursday, December 20, 2012

Troy pottery holds a key to the great Bronze Age collapse

The end of the Bronze Age heralds the gradual decline of Eastern Mediterranean trade networks and the resulting collapse of major Late Bronze Age cities in the Levantine coast, Anatolia and the Aegean.

A political collapse

The collapse of Hittite power in Anatolia is believed to be one of the triggers for this transition. However, the nature of the transition remains controversial.

In Anatolia there are two competing perspectives; the first is that the transition was largely political with change the result of in-situ cultural transformations; the second scenario revolves around a power vacuum left in the wake of the Hittite collapse that was filled by incoming groups.

The Bronze Age city at Hisarlik – Troy (phases VI, VIIa) – in north-west Turkey, now so closely associated with Homer’s Illiad, was destroyed by conflict about 3200 years ago and straddles this period of collapse, fitting into the new geo-political landscape.

The site known as Troy lies in north-west Turkey and has been studied for decades. Part of these investigations looked at the style of pottery made before the conflict which was recognisably Trojan but after the destruction of the city had changed to a style more typical of the Balkan region.
This difference in style typology led archaeologists to believe that the local people had been forced out and replaced by external populations from the north.

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Archaeologists Date World’s Oldest Timber Constructions

Scientists Document Highly-Developed Construction Techniques of Wells Built by Early Neolithic Settlers

A research team led by Willy Tegel and Dr. Dietrich Hakelberg from the Institute of Forest Growth of the University of Freiburg has succeeded in precisely dating four water wells built by the first Central European agricultural civilization with the help of dendrochronology or growth ring dating.

The wells were excavated at settlements in the Greater Leipzig region and are the oldest known timber constructions in the world. They were built by the Linear Pottery culture, which existed from roughly 5600 to 4900 BC. The team’s findings, which have been published in the international scientific journal PLoS ONE, afford new insight into prehistoric technology. The study was conducted by archaeologists and dendrochronologists from the Institute of Forest Growth in Freiburg, the Archaeological Heritage Office of Saxony in Dresden, and the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL in Birmensdorf, Switzerland.

The four early Neolithic wells were constructed from oak wood. In addition to the timber, many other waterlogged organic materials, such as plant remains, wooden artifacts, bark vessels, and bast fiber cords, as well as an array of richly decorated ceramic vessels, have survived for millennia hermetically sealed below groundwater level. With the help of dendrochronology, the scientists were able to determine the exact felling years of the trees and thus also the approximate time at which the wells were constructed.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ancient city of Troy rebranded itself after war

A pottery-changing event is about to take place (Image: Warner Bros/Everett/Rex Features)

EVEN ancient cities knew about rebranding. Troy was destroyed by war about 3200 years ago - an event that may have inspired Homer to write the Iliad, 400 years later. But the famous city rose again, reinventing itself to fit a new political landscape.

Troy lies in north-west Turkey and has been studied for decades. Pottery made before the war has a distinct Trojan style but after the war its style is typical of the Balkans. This led archaeologists to believe that the locals had been forced out and replaced by populations from overseas.

But when Peter Grave at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, and his colleagues examined the chemical make-up of the pottery, they realised that both pre and post-war objects contained clay from exactly the same local sources, suggesting the same people were making the pots.

"There is substantial evidence for cultural continuity," says Grave. So if the Trojans never left the city, why did their pottery style change?

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Scientists 'Surprised' to Discover Very Early Ancestors Survived On Tropical Plants, New Study Suggests

New research suggests that between three million and 3.5 million years ago, the diet of our very early ancestors in central Africa is likely to have consisted mainly of tropical grasses and sedges. (Credit: © timur1970 / Fotolia)

Researchers involved in a new study led by Oxford University have found that between three million and 3.5 million years ago, the diet of our very early ancestors in central Africa is likely to have consisted mainly of tropical grasses and sedges. The findings are published in the early online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

An international research team extracted information from the fossilised teeth of three Australopithecus bahrelghazali individuals -- the first early hominins excavated at two sites in Chad. Professor Julia Lee-Thorp from Oxford University with researchers from Chad, France and the US analysed the carbon isotope ratios in the teeth and found the signature of a diet rich in foods derived from C4 plants.

Professor Lee-Thorp, a specialist in isotopic analyses of fossil tooth enamel, from the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, said: "We found evidence suggesting that early hominins, in central Africa at least, ate a diet mainly composed of tropical grasses and sedges.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Flickering embers of camp fires from 7,000 years ago

Archaeologists are investigating a possible Mesolithic campsite in the North York Moors National Park. Picture: Jon Prudhoe, West Yorkshire Archaeology Service

Yorkshire’s oldest campsite could have been unearthed in a national park.

But this was no holiday destination. The site that is being investigated by archaeologists in North Yorkshire could provide rare evidence of a nomadic lifestyle dating backing more than 7,000 years.

They are investigating a possible Mesolithic campsite in the North York Moors National Park. Fieldwork has been carried out at a number of sites across north east Yorkshire and attention is now focused on a site at Goldsborough, near Whitby.

In the autumn more than 450 flint fragments were discovered, some of which are tools about 7,000 years old. Many are burnt, indicating the presence of camp fires or hearths.

Archaeologists say it is very rare to find evidence of Mesolithic people and this discovery is the culmination of a major project that has been searching for traces of them in north east Yorkshire. 

A spokesman for the project said: “Archaeological remains are rare from the Mesolithic period.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Four Species of Homo You’ve Never Heard Of, Part II

The Broken Hill Skull (replica shown) was originally designated Homo rhodesiensis. Today, it’s typically considered a member of the species Homo heidelbergensis. Image: Gerbil/Wikicommons

The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Initiative counts seven species as belonging to the genus Homo. But that’s just a fraction of all the species that scientists have proposed for our genus. Over the years, as researchers have realized fossils from different groupings actually come from the same species, anthropologists have tossed out the names that are no longer valid. Last spring, I highlighted several of these now-obscure names, as well as some recently proposed species that are not universally accepted. Here’s a look at four more proposed species of Homo that you probably won’t find in human evolution text books or museum exhibits.

Homo antiquus: In 1984, Walter Ferguson of Israel’s Tel Aviv University declared that Australopithecus afarensis wasn’t a real species (PDF). At the time, the known fossils of A. afarensis came from the site of Hadar in Ethiopia and Laetoli in Tanzania. There was a lot of physical variation among the bones in this combined collection, but many anthropologists thought the diversity was simply due to size differences between male and female members of the species. Ferguson, however, believed the bones actually represented more than one species. Based on the size and shape of the molars, Ferguson concluded that some of the larger jaws at Hadar matched those of Australopithecus africanus, a species that had only been found in South Africa. Other jaws in the collection had smaller, narrower Homo-like teeth, he said. The roughly three-million-year-old fossils were too ancient to fit with any of the previously described members of the genus Homo, so Ferguson created a new species name—H. antiquus. Ferguson’s species splitting had a larger implication: If Australopithecus and Homo had lived side by side for hundreds of thousands of years, it was unlikely that australopithecines were the direct ancestors of Homo. Ferguson’s work must not have been convincing. Almost 30 years later, A. afarensis is still around and few people have ever heard of H. antiquus.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

University of Oxford Online Courses in Archaeology

Now is the time to enrol for Hilary term online courses in Archaeology.

Each courses lasts for 10 weeks, with the expectation of c. 10 hours study a week.  Students submit two short assignments.   

Successful completion of the courses carries a credit of 10 CATS Points.

CATS Points from these courses can now be used as part of the requirement for the new Certificate in Higher Education offered by the University of Oxford.

The following courses are available: (click on the title for further information)

Greek Mythology                  Origins of Human Behaviour               Pompey and the cities                                                                                                         of the Roman World

Ritual and Religion in Prehistory                          Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers

You can find general information about University of Oxford courses here...

Letter from France: Structural Integrity

Nearly 20 years of investigation at two rock shelters in southwestern France reveal the well-organized domestic spaces of Europe's earliest modern humans

During a car ride through France's Dordogne department, it doesn't take long to realize that you're no longer in wine country. Signs and billboards bearing words like "Cro Magnon" and "Prehistorie" and "Grotte" (French for "cave") are stationed along the highways and winding roads. Here, the claim to fame isn't the terroir, but a preponderance of Paleolithic sites, such as Lascaux, Pech Merle, and Font-de-Gaume, all of which hold some of Europe's earliest cave paintings. 

New York University archaeologist Randall White has spent the bulk of the last 18 years here investigating two collapsed rock shelters once inhabited by some of Europe's first modern humans. Abri Blanchard and its neighbor to the south, Abri Castanet, sit along a cliff face in the Castel Merle Valley, just beyond the quiet, 190-person commune of Sergeac. 

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Roman Settlement and Possible Prehistoric Site Uncovered in Northern Italy

Paolo Visonà, of the University of Kentucky, works with an Italian archaeologist to uncover the base of a Roman funerary altar. (Credit: Photo courtesy of UK School of Art and Visual Studies)

Over the summer a team of faculty and students from University of Kentucky discovered evidence of not just one lost community, but two in northern Italy. Using their archaeological expertise and modern technology, data was collected indicating the existence of a Roman settlement and below that, a possible prehistoric site.

Many years ago, archaeologist and art historian Paolo Visonà, a native of northern Italy and adjunct associate professor of art history in the UK School of Art and Visual Studies at the UK College of Fine Arts, first learned of a possible ancient settlement from a farmer in Valbruna, near the village of Tezze di Arzignano. While working his family's land, Battista Carlotto had discovered artifacts that looked to Visonà like ceramics, mosaic, and glass of the Roman Empire.

Curiosity of what lay beneath the farmland was piqued in both gentlemen. With the approval of Carlotto and with little time to waste due to growing development in the area, Visonà began to research historical accounts of the region. Manuscripts found in Vicenza's Bertoliana Library confirmed Visonà's suspicion; in the late 18th century witnesses had shared accounts of seeing a Roman city's remains in the vicinity.

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Tracing humanity's African ancestry may mean rewriting 'out of Africa' dates

U of A anthropologist Willoughby believes that the items found prove continuous occupation of the areas over the last 200,000 years, through what is known as the "genetic bottleneck" period of the last ice age. Credit: John Ulan/ University of Alberta

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U of A anthropologist Willoughby believes that the items found prove continuous occupation of the areas over the last 200,000 years, through what is known as the "genetic bottleneck" period of the last ice age. Credit: John Ulan/ University of Alberta

U of A researcher and anthropology chair Pamela Willoughby's explorations in the Iringa region of southern Tanzania yielded fossils and other evidence that records the beginnings of our own species, Homo sapiens. Her research, recently published in the journal Quaternary International, may be key to answering questions about early human occupation and the migration out of Africa about 60,000 to 50,000 years ago, which led to modern humans colonizing the globe. 

From two sites, Mlambalasi and nearby Magubike, she and members of her team, the Iringa Region Archaeological Project, uncovered artifacts that outline continuous human occupation between modern times and at least 200,000 years ago, including during a late Ice Age period when a near extinction-level event, or "genetic bottleneck," likely occurred. 

Now, Willoughby and her team are working with people in the region to develop this area for ecotourism, to assist the region economically and create incentives to protect its archeological history.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Evidence of world's 'oldest' cheese-making found

The cheese thought to have been made was likely to be a soft, cow's milk type

Scientists may be one step closer to uncovering the origins of cheese-making, as evidence thousands of years old has been uncovered. What would a Neolithic cheese have tasted like?

Truly an ancient art, no-one really knows exactly when humans began making cheese.
But now milk extracts have been identified on 34 perforated pottery vessels or "cheese-strainers", which date back 7,500 years that have been excavated in Poland.

It is unambiguous evidence for cheese-making in northern Europe during Neolithic times, scientists believe, and the findings have been published in the scientific journal Nature.

"We analysed some fragments of pottery from the region of Kuyavia [Poland] pierced with small holes that looked like modern cheese-strainers," says Melanie Salque, a postgraduate student at the University of Bristol's Department of Chemistry.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Iron Age Feast Found in England

Remnants of an Iron-Age feast, including cattle skulls and 13 cauldrons, have been unearthed in Chiseldon, United Kingdom, according to a report in the latest British Archaeology The discovery marks the largest grouping of early cauldrons ever found in Europe. One cauldron features a handle plate in the form of a cow's head; zoomorphic decoration is otherwise unknown on a British cauldron.

"Analysis of the interiors of the cauldrons has even revealed traces of animal fats, a tantalizing suggestion that these objects might have been used in cooking and serving meat-rich stews at Iron-Age feasts over 2,000 ago," Julia Farley, curator of European Iron Age collections at the British Museum, told Discovery News. 

Farley's colleague Jody Joy, as well as Alexandra Baldwin and Jamie Hood from the museum, are still studying the artifacts, which were found buried in a 6.6-feet-wide pit. The cauldrons were made from iron and copper alloy in the second or first century B.C.

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When Homo sapiens hit upon the power of art

A reindeer bone engraved with two reindeer, part of the ice age art show at the British Museum. Photograph: British Museum

A staggering collection of ice age artefacts from museums across Europe will showcase the explosion of technical and imaginative skill that experts say marked the human race's discovery of art

Rail engineer Peccadeau de l'Isle was supervising track construction outside Toulouse in 1866 when he decided to take time off to indulge his hobby, archaeology. With a crew of helpers, he began excavating below a cliff near Montastruc, where he dug up an extraordinary prehistoric sculpture. It is known today as the Swimming Reindeer of Montastruc.

Made from the 8in tip of a mammoth tusk, the carving, which is at least 13,000 years old, depicts two deer crossing a river. Their chins are raised and their antlers tipped back exactly as they would be when swimming. At least four different techniques were used to create this masterpiece: an axe trimmed the tusk, scrapers shaped its contours; iron oxide powder was used to polish it; and an engraving tool incised its eyes and other details.

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The Flores Hobbit's face revealed

An Australian anthropologist has used forensic facial reconstruction techniques to show, for the first time, how the mysterious Flores 'hobbit' might have once looked.

Homo floresiensis, as the hobbit is officially known, caused a storm of controversy when it was discovered in Flores, Indonesia in 2003. Some argued the hobbit was an entirely new species, while others suggested it may have simply been a diseased specimen of an existing human species. 

Using techniques she has previously applied to help police solve crimes, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong and specialist facial anthropologist, Dr Susan Hayes, moulded muscle and fat around a model of the hobbit's skull to flesh out her face. The results show a suprisingly familiar face, with high cheekbones, long ears and a broad nose.

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Researchers find evidence of early man in caves near Naples

Remains of both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in same caves

Rome, December 4 - Researchers are poring over thousands of tiny artifacts - including a child's milk tooth - found in a southern Italian cave that appears to have been shared by both Neanderthals and early man.

The caves of Roccia San Sebastiano, which overlook the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Naples, are being combed for traces of those who once lived there.

On the slopes of the medieval fortress of Montis Dragonis, near Mondragone in Caserta province, researchers say they've uncovered layers of history, rich in early historical finds.

The discovery is telling them "a story of the evolution that goes from 40,000 to 20,000 years ago, when the cave was used for uninterrupted time by Neanderthals and Sapiens," says prehistoric archaeologist Carmine Collina.

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Africa's Homo sapiens were the first techies

This is a Bone point from the Middle Stone Age levels at Peers Cave. The exact context is unknown (see d’Errico and Henshilwood 2007); b–g Bone tools from the Still Bay levels at Blombos Cave; b–e bone awls; f–g bone points; h–i engraved lines on tools c and g (see Henshilwood et al. 2001a; d’Errico and Henshilwood 2007); j engraved bone fragment (see d’Errico et al. 2001) 220 J World Prehist (2012) 25:205–237 123

The search for the origin of modern human behaviour and technological advancement among our ancestors in southern Africa some 70 000 years ago, has taken a step closer to firmly establishing Africa, and especially South Africa, as the primary centre for the early development of human behaviour.

A new research paper by renowned Wits University archaeologist, Prof. Christopher Henshilwood, is the first detailed summary of the time periods he and a group of international researchers have been studying in South Africa: namely the Still Bay techno-traditions (c. 75 000 – 70 000 years) and the Howiesons Poort techno-tradition (c. 65 000 – 60 000 years).

The paper, entitled Late Pleistocene Techno-traditions in Southern Africa: A Review of the Still Bay and Howiesons Poort, c. 75 ka, has been published online in the Journal of World Prehistory on 6 November 2012.

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The First Modern Humans Arose in South Africa, Say Researchers

The synthesis of years of research at prehistoric sites in southern Africa, as represented by research recently published in the Journal of World Prehistory, has led a number of scientists to suggest that South Africa was the primary center for the early development of modern human behavior. This would mean cognitive behavior as manifested in technology much like the material culture of modern hunter-gatherer groups throughout the world today. 

The new research paper by renowned Wits University archaeologist, Prof. Christopher Henshilwood, is the first detailed summary of Middle Stone Age (280,000 - 50,000 years ago) technologies and cultural remains discovered at a number of sites in southern Africa, artifacts that fall within two established overall  "techno-tradition" periods:  Still Bay  (dated to c. 75,000 – 70,000 years ago) and Howiesons Poort (c. 65,000 – 60,000 years ago). 

Henshilwood maintains that these periods were significant markers in the development of Homo sapiens behavior in southern Africa. They featured a number of innovations including, for example, the first abstract art (engraved ochre* and engraved ostrich eggshell); the first jewellery (shell beads); the first bone tools; the earliest use of the pressure flaking technique, used in combination with heating to make stone spear points; and the first probable use of stone tipped arrows launched by bow. (See examples pictured below).

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Kent Iron Age helmet 'incredibly rare'

A rare Iron Age helmet discovered in Kent is the only example of its kind in Britain, researchers claim.

Experts from the British Museum, Canterbury Archaeological Trust and the University of Kent talk about the importance of the find.

Watch the video...

Iron Age bronze helmet found on farmland

More or less intact helmets of the era are very rare finds, said University of Kent archaeologist Dr Steven Willis [Credit: BBC]

A rare Iron Age helmet unearthed by a metal detector enthusiast on farmland near Canterbury has been described as a significant find by the British Museum.

The bronze helmet was found with bone fragments, and had been used to hold human remains after a cremation, Canterbury Archaeological Trust said.

The finder contacted archaeologists because he was confident he had made a significant discovery, the trust said.

University of Kent experts have found it dates back to the 1st Century BC.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Late Iron Age helmet found near Canterbury

A rare prehistoric helmet has been unearthed on farmland outside Canterbury.

The helmet, made of bronze and dating to the first century BC, was discovered by an amateur metal detectorist.  Andrew Richardson, then our Finds Manager, takes up the story.

“Arriving home from work one October evening, I received a telephone call from a local metal detectorist who I know from my time as Kent Finds Liaison Officer. This chap had also in the past worked as a volunteer for the Trust and so, having made what he described as a ‘significant discovery’, he decided to contact me. He said that he had found what he believed to be a ‘Celtic bronze helmet’.

I knew of no such helmets from Kent; the famous ‘Deal warrior’ excavated by Keith Parfitt at Mill Hill had a bronze head-dress, but that was not a helmet as such. Even for Britain as a whole, I knew such a find would be incredibly rare. But the finder seemed very confident and I knew he was an experienced detectorist, so I arranged to visit him first thing the next morning to have a look.

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Ancient Human Poop: Ah, the Tales It Can Tell

Doctoral student Robert D'Anjou with sediment core taken from Lake Liland in the 
Lofoten Islands in northern Norway

In the wee hours of the morning in a lab in Amherst, Massachusetts, geoscience graduate student Rob D’Anjou sat looking over test results, a pot of coffee nearby. He’d been pulling long days to analyze two narrow columns of silt, mud, and other sediment cored from the bottom of Lake Liland in Arctic Norway, and, frustratingly, was seeing no sign of the molecules with which he’d been hoping to reconstruct the temperature and precipitation records during the lake’s last 7,000-odd years.

There were a number of other substances in the cores, though. And some of those other substances, he realized with a jolt, looked familiar. He turned to a cache of chemistry papers and, with their help, confirmed his suspicion: He was looking at human fecal sterols, the last chemical hurrah of poop. And these feces were decidedly ancient ones, manufactured, as it were, starting more than 2,000 years ago.

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Building Stonehenge: A New Timeline Revealed

Ancient people probably assembled the massive sandstone horseshoe at Stonehenge more than 4,600 years ago, while the smaller bluestones were imported from Wales later, a new study suggests.

The conclusion, detailed in the December issue of the journal Antiquity, challenges earlier timelines that proposed the smaller stones were raised first.

"The sequence proposed for the site is really the wrong way around," said study co-author Timothy Darvill, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University in England. "The original idea that it starts small and gets bigger is wrong. It starts big and stays big. The new scheme puts the big stones at the center at the site as the first stage."

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Native Americans and Northern Europeans More Closely Related Than Previously Thought

Using genetic analyses, scientists have discovered that Northern European populations -- including British, Scandinavians, French, and some Eastern Europeans -- descend from a mixture of two very different ancestral populations, and one of these populations is related to Native Americans. This discovery helps fill gaps in scientific understanding of both Native American and Northern European ancestry, while providing an explanation for some genetic similarities among what would otherwise seem to be very divergent groups.

This research was published in the November 2012 issue of the Genetics Society of America's journal Genetics.

According to Nick Patterson, first author of the report, "There is a genetic link between the paleolithic population of Europe and modern Native Americans. The evidence is that the population that crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia into the Americas more than 15,000 years ago was likely related to the ancient population of Europe."

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Prehistoric Skeletons Reveal First Sicilians Avoided Seafood

Despite a seaside home overlooking the Mediterranean, the very first human settlers of Sicily weren't seafood lovers, new research finds.

In an analysis published today (Nov. 28) in the journal PLOS ONE, skeletal remains of the people who occupied the site around 10,000 years ago show no telltale signs of seafood eating. Instead, researchers say, these hunter-gatherers chowed down on game such as deer and boar.

These first settlers, found on the modern-day island of Favignana, which was once connected to Sicily by a land bridge, probably ate little seafood for two reasons, said study researcher Marcello Mannino, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. First of all, the Mediterranean is relatively nutrient-poor — there just aren't that many fish in the sea. Second, these Mesolithic people likely didn't have the technology to do much fishing.

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