Thursday, January 30, 2014

Neanderthals gave us disease genes

Gene types that influence disease in people today were picked up through interbreeding with Neanderthals, a major study in Nature journal suggests.
They passed on variants involved in type 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease and - curiously - smoking addiction.
Genome studies reveal that our species (Homo sapiens) mated with Neanderthals after leaving Africa.
But it was previously unclear what this Neanderthal DNA did and whether there were any implications for human health.
Read the rest of this article...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

300,000-year-old hearth found: Microscopic evidence shows repeated fire use in one spot over time

Upper left: Infrared spectrum of the grey sediments, right, showing that the dominant material is calcite, the mineral of which the wood ash ...
Credit: Image courtesy of Weizmann Institute of Science

When did humans really begin to control fire and use it for their daily needs? Scientists discovered in the Qesem Cave, an archaeological site near present-day Rosh Ha'ayin, the earliest evidence -- dating to around 300,000 years ago -- of unequivocal repeated fire building over a continuous period. These findings help answer the question and hint that those prehistoric humans already had a highly advanced social structure and intellectual capacity.

Humans, by most estimates, discovered fire over a million years ago. But when did they really begin to control fire and use it for their daily needs? That question -- one which is central to the subject of the rise of human culture -- is still hotly debated. A team of Israeli scientists recently discovered in the Qesem Cave, an archaeological site near present-day Rosh Ha'ayin, the earliest evidence -- dating to around 300,000 years ago -- of unequivocal repeated fire building over a continuous period. These findings not only help answer the question, they hint that those prehistoric humans already had a highly advanced social structure and intellectual capacity.

Read the rest of this article...

Swedish divers unearth Stone Age settlement

"One-of-a-kind" Stone Age artefacts left by Swedish nomads 11,000 years ago have been discovered by divers in the Baltic Sea, prompting some to claim that Sweden's Atlantis had been found.

A diver exams an 11,000-year old tree trunk [Credit: Arne Sjostrom]

 "What we have here is maybe one of the oldest settlements from the first more permanent sites in Scania and in Sweden full stop," project leader and archaeology professor at Sodertorn University Bjorn Nilsson told The Local. 

Nilsson's team has been diving in Hano, a sandy bay off the coast of Skane County, and has been given the resources by the Swedish National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieambetet) needed for a three-year excavation of an area 16 metres below the water's surface.

Read the rest of this article...

History-Making Expedition Recruits New Scientists

The "Rising Star Expedition", known for its recent recovery of one of the largest troves of hominin (early human) fossils ever discovered in one place, is now ambitiously seeking new early-career scientists to study the more than 1,200 fossil elements retrieved from the site and now housed at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

"The fossil material is an exceptional sample representing most of the parts of the skeleton, and our first task is to describe the material and place it into the context of hominin evolution," says John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist with the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a key member of the team that recovered the fossils during the Fall of 2013.
Read the rest of this article...

Old Norse people drank wine 3,000 years ago

Researchers have found traces of wine in jars, dating back to 1100 BC. The finds suggest that wine was imported long before previously thought.

The discovery of traces of wine in an Old Norse jar reveals that Nordic people drank wine as early as 1100 BC. The archaeologists behind the discovery believe that Nordic people may have received the wine through trading with central and southern Europeans. (Illustration: Robert Brown)

Having recently studied three jars from ancient Denmark and one cup from southern Sweden, researchers found traces of wine in one of the jars, which may originate as far back as 1100 BC.
The new study indicates that Old Norse people traded wine with central and southern Europeans long before the Iron Age, when most of the earliest traces of wine in the North started to appear.
Read the rest of this article...

Hunter-gatherer European had blue eyes and dark skin

The team was surprised by the hunter gatherer's unusual colouring

Scientists have shed light on what ancient Europeans looked like.
Genetic tests reveal that a hunter-gatherer who lived 7,000 years ago had the unusual combination of dark skin and hair and blue eyes.
It has surprised scientists, who thought that the early inhabitants of Europe were fair.
The research, led by the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, Spain, is published in the journal Nature.
Read the rest of this article...

World's oldest-known living cancer '11,000 years old'

The world's oldest-known living cancer dates back 11,000 years, according to UK scientists.
It arose in a single dog and has survived in canines ever since, with the cancer cells passing between animals when they mate.
A team led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge decoded the DNA of the cancer.
It revealed the "genetic identikit" of an ancient husky-like dog, which first developed the disease.
Read the rest of this article...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Didcot dig: Campaign against road near Bronze Age monument

Campaigners trying to save archaeology have urged housing estate developers to change the route of a road to save a Bronze Age burial monument.
A dig ahead of the development of the Great Western Park estate in Didcot, Oxfordshire, discovered humans had lived on the site for 9,000 years.
The Didcot Dogmile group said Taylor Wimpey's planned road would cut across the rare pond barrow.
Read the rest of this article...

Greeks reject call to privatize ancient sites

Greek archaeologists have rejected suggestions that private companies should be allowed to run ancient sites, insisting that this task should be retained by the state. 

Stephen Miller stands in front of the Temple of Nemean Zeus, September 25, 2013 [Credit: ekathimerini] 

The Association of Greek Archaeologists issued a statement on Monday following the publication of a Time magazine article in which American archaeologist Stephen Miller, who has spent more than three decades in Greece helping unearth antiquities at Ancient Nemea, suggested allowing private companies take over the development, promotion and security of under-used sites.

Read the rest of this article...


Today the magnificent 3,000 year old Shropshire hillfort of Old Oswestry is in the news while campaigners fight to halt several proposed housing developments that threatens both the setting and archaeology surrounding the monument. But, as if to highlight the importance of this place, a new discovery from 2008 has been dubbed the Oswestry Pegasus Stone.

The  engraved stone currently stands in the Oswestry Town Museum and Professor George Nash was invited by Rodney Farmer to review the previous interpretation.
The stone was recovered during an archaeological watching brief in February 2008 from undergrowth near the main entrance to Old Oswestry Hillfort, close to the western outer ramparts.  
Read the rest of this article...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hilary Term Online Courses in Archaeology

Hillary Term begins tomorrow at Oxford, but there is still time to enrol for one of the online courses in archaeology.

Cave paintings, castles and pyramids, Neanderthals, Romans and Vikings - archaeology is about the excitement of discovery, finding out about our ancestors, exploring landscape through time, piecing together puzzles of the past from material remains.

These courses enable you to experience all this through online archaeological resources based on primary evidence from excavations and artefacts and from complex scientific processes and current thinking. Together with guided reading, discussion and activities you can experience how archaeologists work today to increase our knowledge of people and societies from the past.

The following courses are available:

East Lothian's Broxmouth fort reveals edge of steel

Broxmouth was a settlement for nearly 1,000 years, from the Iron Age until the Roman occupation

Archaeologists have identified the earliest use of steel in the British Isles from a site in East Lothian.
They now believe artifacts recovered from the site of the Broxmouth Iron Age hill fort were made from high-carbon steel.
This would have been deliberately heated and quenched in water, indicating "sophisticated blacksmithing skills".
The steel objects were manufactured in the years 490-375BC.
Read the rest of this article...

Ireland’s storms unearth 6,000-year-old dwellings near Galway

Archaeologist Michael Gibbons investigates the area on Omey Island where 6,000-year-old dwellings were revealed by storm damage.

The recent storms that battered Ireland's countryside and coastlines unearthed a hidden gem amidst the devastation to properties and landscape.

The storms have exposed evidence of life dating back to the Neolithic period on Connemara’s Omey island. Large linear archaeological deposits of up to a meter thick have been exposed on the western and northern shorelines of the tidal island off Claddaghduff.

The Irish Times reports two sets of medieval burial sites, traces of sunken dwellings and parts of a Neolithic bog which had been covered over for millennia by shifting sands, have been revealed.

Clifden-based archaeologist Michael Gibbons has classified the weather impact on Omey as “spectacular,” but says that many important archaeological features, such as midden deposits, have been destroyed along the Atlantic rim in the “severe beating of Connacht’s coastal dunes” since mid-December.

Read the rest of this article...

New biomolecular archaeological evidence for Nordic "grog," expansion of wine trade, discovered in ancient Scandinavia

Winters in Scandinavia were long and cold in the Bronze and Iron Ages, then as now—but a blazing fire was not the only thing to keep people warm. From northwest Denmark, circa 1500–1300 BC, to the Swedish island of Gotland as late as the first century AD, Nordic peoples were imbibing an alcoholic "grog" or extreme hybrid beverage rich in local ingredients, including honey, bog cranberry, lingonberry, bog myrtle, yarrow, juniper, birch tree resin, and cereals including wheat, barley and/or rye—and sometimes, grape wine imported from southern or central Europe.
Such is the conclusion based on new archaeochemical evidence derived from samples inside pottery and bronze drinking vessels and strainers from four sites in Demark and Sweden, combined with previous archaeobotanical data. The research ("A biomolecular archaeological approach to 'Nordic grog'") was recently published online in the Danish Journal of Archaeology (Dec. 23, 2013). 
Read the rest of this article...

Genomes of Modern Dogs and Wolves Provide New Insights On Domestication

This chart depicts wolf and dog lineages as they diverge over time. (Credit: Freedma, et al. / PLoS Genetics)

Dogs and wolves evolved from a common ancestor between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago, before humans transitioned to agricultural societies, according to an analysis of modern dog and wolf genomes from areas of the world thought to be centers of dog domestication.

The study, published in PLoS Geneticson January 16, 2014, also shows that dogs are more closely related to each other than wolves, regardless of geographic origin. This suggests that part of the genetic overlap observed between some modern dogs and wolves is the result of interbreeding after dog domestication, not a direct line of descent from one group of wolves.

Read the rest of this article...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Earliest use of steel in Britain uncovered

Archaeologists have identified examples of the earliest use of steel in the British Isles from a site in East Lothian. The site, an Iron Age hill fort known as Broxmouth, was excavated in the 1970s, however the discoveries are only now being published. 

An aerial photograph of the excavation at Broxmouth, taken before the site was covered over 
[Credit: Historic Scotland] 

As part of the re-examination of the findings at Broxmouth, new analysis of some iron artefacts has found that they can be dated to 490-375BC. Made from high-carbon steel which had been deliberately heated and quenched in water, the artefacts are the earliest evidence of sophisticated blacksmithing skills in Britain. 

Read the rest of this article...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Firefighter's Guildford Stone Age flints lead to major find

William Mills, from Oxford Archaeology, who worked on the dig, said the site was exceptional and one of two or three in England

A firefighter who found Stone Age flints at the fire station he worked at 40 years ago says he is "thrilled" that find has now led to a nationally-important archaeological discovery.
Ron Shettle, 88, first spotted the flints while working there decades ago.
A recent rebuild of the Guildford station has now allowed experts to carry out a dig.

Read the rest of this article...

Storms expose archaeology on Omey island

Destruction wreaked along Connacht’s coastline in the recent storms has exposed archaeology dating back to the Neolithic period on Connemara’s Omey island. Large linear archaeological deposits of up to a metre thick have been exposed on the western and northern shorelines of the tidal island off Claddaghduff. 

Archaeologist Michael Gibbons at the area on Omey Island where prehistoric remains were revealed by damage caused by the Atlantic storms [Credit: Joe O’Shaughnessy] 

Two sets of medieval burial sites, traces of sunken dwellings and parts of a Neolithic bog, which had been covered over millenniums by shifting sands, have been revealed.

Read the rest of this article...

Ritual burial site older than previously thought

A ritual burial site in Pembrokeshire may have been in use 10,000 years ago - almost twice as far back as expected, said archaeologists. 

Marks on the Trefael Stone are now thought to resemble stellar constellations [Credit: BBC] The Trefael Stone near Nevern was reclassified as a Stone Age burial chamber after its capstone was studied. 

But a three-year dig has since found beads dating back much further, perhaps to the Neolithic or Mesolithic periods.

Read the rest of this article...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Land by Neolithic site churned up by vehicles

The area around one of the island’s most important archaeological monuments, the Neolithic stone circle at Meayll Hill, Rushen, has been badly churned up by four-wheel vehicles and motorcyclists over the Christmas period. 
Damage caused by vehicle use on land at the Meayll Peninsular, Rushen [Credit: IOM Today] 

Port Erin resident Philip Maddrell, who walks there several times a week, said something should be done to protect the area. 

‘It’s just spoiling it for everybody,’ he said. ‘Also [motor] bike riders were up the top, it’s a public right of way. It’s a damn nuisance. They churn it up.’

Read the rest of this article...

Friday, January 10, 2014

Ancient Greeks Used Portable Grills at Their Picnic

The ancient Mycenaeans have a reputation as palace-builders and warriors, but they were also quite sophisticated cooks. More than 3,000 years ago, they used portable grill pits to make souvlaki and non-stick pans to make bread, new cooking experiments suggest.
The Mycenaean civilization, which was the backdrop for Homer's "Odyssey" and "Iliad," thrived in Greece during the late Bronze Age from around 1700 B.C. until the society mysteriously collapsed around 1200 B.C. The Mycenaeans left behind amazing palaces and gold-littered tombs at sites like Pylos and Mycenae, but in these places, archaeologists also have found less glamorous artifacts, such as souvlaki trays and griddles made from gritty clays.
It wasn't clear how these two types of pans were used, said Julie Hruby of Dartmouth College, presenting her research at the Archaeological Institute of America's annual meeting here on Saturday (Jan. 4). [The 7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]
Read the rest of this article...

Google Earth Zooms in on Ancient Trade Routes

Using Google Earth software, researchers can track changes in Antioch as the ancient city was absorbed by the Roman Empire.

Google Earth may be a fun way to bring the far reaches of the present-day globe to people's fingertips, but archaeologists are now using the high-tech software to recreate maps of ancient civilizations. The endeavor is opening a window for researchers to the political and geographical changes that have shaped history.

Kristina Neumann, a doctoral candidate in the department of classics at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, used Google Earth to track trade around the ancient city of Antioch, located in present-day southeastern Turkey, near the Syrian border, at the beginning of its takeover by the Roman Empire in 64 B.C. Neumann found the use of Antioch's civic coins was more widespread than was previously thought, suggesting the city had developed broad political authority within the region before being absorbed into the Roman Empire.

Read the rest of this article...

“Nutcracker Man” Noshed on Tiger Nuts

According to a review of baboon diets by Gabriele Macho of Oxford University, Paranthropus boisei, a hominid who lived in East Africa between 2.4 million and 1.4 million years ago, probably survived on a diet of grass bulbs, or tiger nuts, supplemented with fruits and invertebrates such as worms and grasshoppers. Paranthropus boisei is nicknamed “Nutcracker Man” for its powerful jaws, but its teeth are better suited for eating soft foods, and show signs of abrasion. In addition, stable isotope analysis indicated that the hominids ate grasses and sedges.

Read the rest of this article...

French town probes 'second' Lascaux cave

Authorities in the southwestern French town of Montignac are investigating the extraordinary possibility that, just 4km from the famous Lascaux caves, there may exist another set of prehistoric paintings hidden away in a separate underground cavern.

A group of teenagers in the south west of France in 1940 stumble across what turns out to be a complex network of Paleolithic caves with a series of astonishing 17,000-year-old frescos, which becomes known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Prehistoric era.” 

You might assume this type of thing only happens once in the same region, but authorities in the town of Montignac, Dordogne are probing the possibility of the existence of a second Lascaux cave.

Read the rest of this article...