Thursday, April 28, 2016

Stonehenge may have served as a cremation cemetery

Towering above the grassy Salisbury Plain, its eerie rock monoliths are steeped in myth and magical stories, yet despite decades of research, the original purpose of Stonehenge remains a mystery. 

Archaeologists excavated the burned bones that had been previously dug up from around  the site of Stonehenge during the 1920s. They say analysis suggests the site  was used as a cemetery
[Credit: Adam Stanford/Aerial-Cam Ltd] 

A new study by archaeologists, however, has suggested the imposing stone circle may have initially been used as a cremation cemetery for the dead. 

Charred remains discovered on the site were unearthed in holes - known as the Aubrey Holes - that have been found have to once held a circle of small standing stones. 

Fresh analysis of the burned bones has revealed they were buried in the holes over a period of 500 years between 3,100BC and 2,600BC.

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Historic flint axes found in Denmark

The flint axes date back to the early Stone Age (photo: Viborg Museum)

A pair of old friends have found the largest flint axes in Danish history in a drained bog area near Tastum Lake just south of Skive in Jutland.
Archaeologists at nearby Viborg Museum theorise that the axes were placed in the bog as part of a ritual sacrifice sometime during the early Stone Age around 3800-3500 BC.
“It’s fascinating that they could master the flint and produce such a perfect axe,” said Mikkel Kieldsen, an archaeologist and curator at Viborg Museum.
“A lot of effort has been put into the axes, so the sacrifice must have really meant something.”
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Researchers investigate world’s oldest human footprints with software designed to decode crime scenes

Researchers at Bournemouth University have developed a new software technique to uncover 'lost' tracks, hidden in plain sight at the world's oldest human footprint site in Laetoli (Tanzania). The software has revealed new information about the shape of the tracks and has found hints of a previously undiscovered fourth track-maker at the site. 

The Laetoli tracks were discovered by Mary Leakey in 1976 and are thought to be  around 3.6 million years old. There are two parallel trackways on the site, where two  ancient hominins walked across the surface. One of these trackways was obscured  when a third person followed the same path [Credit: Bournemouth University] 

The software was developed as part of a Natural Environments Research Council (NERC) Innovation Project awarded to Professor Matthew Bennett and Dr Marcin Budka in 2015 for forensic footprint analysis. They have been developing techniques to enable modern footwear evidence to be captured in three-dimensions and analysed digitally to improve crime scene practice.

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Préalablement aux aménagements de la ZAC du Plessis-Saucourt par l’EPA Sénart sur la commune de Tigery (Essonne), une équipe d’archéologues de l’Inrap effectue, sur prescription de l’État (Drac Île-de-France), des recherches à Tigery (Essonne). 6 200 m2 sont ainsi explorés entre mars et juin 2016.

Les fouilles permettront de libérer le terrain pour les travaux d’aménagement. La construction du 1er bâtiment (6 500 m²) réalisé par Alséi pour l’accueil d’activités (bureaux et locaux de production) pourra ainsi démarrer dès la rentrée 2016.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Half of Western European men descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’

Mass graves were replaced by individual burials for the elite in the Bronze Age showing a shift in social structure  CREDIT: PA 

Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown.
The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent.
He was part of a new order which emerged in Europe following the Stone Age, sweeping away the previous egalitarian Neolithic period and replacing it with hierarchical societies which were ruled by a powerful elite.
It is likely his power stemmed from advances in technology such as metal working and wheeled transport which enabled organised warfare for the first time.
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Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Archaeology of Anglesey

The Archaeology of Anglesey
1 to 5 November 2016
The island of Anglesey has a wealth of archaeological sites of all periods. This EMAS Archaeology study tour will visit the most important sites of the prehistoric, Roman and medieval periods.
Among the sites that we will visit are: the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age burial chamber, the rural Roman site and the 12th century chapel at Din Lligwy; the chambered cairn at Bryn Celli Ddu; the Neolithic burial chamber at Barclodiad Y Gawres; the Roman fort at Caer Gybi; the Roman watchtower and signal station at Caer Y Twr and the medieval priory at Penmon.
Click here for further details

Friday, April 22, 2016

3D print of Oetzi the Ice Man revealed

One of three replicas of Oetzi the Iceman created for teaching purposes by Gary Staab, from resin and mixed media. Photo:

Scientists presented Wednesday a life-sized copy, made using a 3D printer, of Oetzi the mummified 5,000-year-old "iceman" found in the Alps 25 years ago.
Pre-existing CT scans were used to make the resin replica which was then sculpted and hand-painted by US artist Gary Staab over many months, the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology, where Oetzi is housed, said.
"The reconstruction of the hands was a challenge, since they could not be captured on CT scans," the museum in Bolzano, northern Italy said.
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Iron age man was as fond of Swiss cheese as we are

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that Swiss cheesemaking dates back to prehistoric times, paving the way for such delicacies as Gruyere and Emmental.
An international team led by the University of York and Newcastle University looked at the composition of residues left on fragments of ceramic pots found at six sites in the Swiss Alps. The shards of pottery were known to date from Neolithic times to the Iron Age. The researchers found that the residue on those from the 1st millennium BC -- the Iron Age -- had the same chemical signatures associated with heating milk from animals such as cows, sheep and goats, as part of the cheesemaking process.
The ceramic fragments examined as part of this study were found in the ruins of stone buildings similar to those used by modern alpine dairy managers for cheese production during the summer months.
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Bigger brains led to bigger bodies in our ancestors

AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY—New research suggests that humans became the large-brained, large-bodied animals we are today because of natural selection to increase brain size. The work, published in the journal Current Anthropology, contradicts previous models that treat brain size and body size as independent traits responding to separate evolutionary pressures. Instead, the study shows that brain size and body size are genetically linked and that selection to increase brain size will "pull along" body size. This phenomenon played a large role in both brain- and body-size increases throughout human evolution and may have been solely responsible for the large increase in both traits that occurred near the origins of our genus, Homo.
"Over the last four million years, brain size and body size increased substantially in our human ancestors," said paper author Mark Grabowski, a James Arthur postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. "This observation has led to numerous hypotheses attempting to explain why observed changes occurred, but these typically make the assumption that brain- and body-size evolution are the products of separate natural selection forces."
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Monday, April 18, 2016

Headdress reconstruction throws light on hunter-gatherer rituals

UNIVERSITY OF YORK—A research team led by archaeologists at the University of York used traditional techniques to create replicas of ritual headdresses made by hunter-gatherers 11,000 years ago in North Western Europe.
Flint blades, hammerstones and burning were among the tools and techniques they employed to fashion reproductions of shamanic headdresses discovered during excavations at the Early Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire.
The research published today in PLOS ONE is the first scientific analysis of the oldest known evidence of a shamanic costume in Europe. It challenges previously held assumptions over the care and time invested in the modification of the animal's "skull cap" in order to create these ritualistic artefacts.
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Headdress study highlights ancient hunter-gatherer rituals

"This research shows how experimental archaeology can give important insights into rare ancient artifacts," said archaeologist Aimee Little.

An illustration of an Evenki shaman donning an antler headdress. 
Photo by Little et al./PLOS ONE

YORK, England, April 13 (UPI) -- Researchers in England have spent the last four years reconstructing ancient shamanic headdresses found at an Early Mesolithic archaeological site in North Yorkshire.
To get a better understanding of hunter-gatherer rituals, archaeologists at the University of York used flint blades, hammerstones and fire to recreate antlered deer skull caps.
Their analysis of the oldest evidence of a shamanic costume in Europe suggests these hunter-gatherers spent significant time and effort on ritualistic dress.
Researchers surveyed some 24 male red deer skull caps recovered from the Star Carr site -- all made from the top of the skull with the antlers attached. To make the skull caps, the lower jaw and cranial bones were removed while the frontal jaw bone was perforated.
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Ancient Mass Graves Discovered in Greece

Archaeologists have discovered two mass graves near the Greek capital containing the skeletons of 80 men who may have been followers of ancient would-be tyrant Cylon of Athens.
France is famous for its wine, and for good reason ... they've been making wine longer than anyone else.
Regional archaeological services director Stella Chryssoulaki laid out the theory Thursday as she unveiled the findings at the Central Archaeological Council, the custodians of Greece’s ancient heritage.
Given “the high importance of these discoveries”, the council is launching further investigations, the culture ministry said in a statement.
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Stone Age artists used rock art as a billboard

Six to seven thousand years ago, the road system in Norway was essentially non-existent. That meant Stone Age residents mainly used waterways as they moved from place to place, especially on the hunt. 

Forty-eight Stone Age petroglyphs include images of a reindeer herd, shown with all the  animals moving in the same direction. It’s possible that the artist was trying to say that  reindeer migrated this way 7,000 years ago
[Credit: Jan Magne Gjerde,  Tromsø Museum - The University Museum] 

One area called Gamnes, located between the outlet of a river and the mouth of a fjord that opens onto the Barents Sea, is particularly rich with rock art. There are petroglyphs of reindeer and moose, in herds and alone, with and without young animals. 

In general, animals depicted in rock carvings are shown moving in all different directions. But in Gamnes, most of the reindeer have been drawn with their muzzles pointed in the same way.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sexually transmitted diseases 'led ancient humans to monogamy'

Researcher claim sexually transmitted diseases led to monogamy. Credit: Alamy

Why did humans become monogamous, apparently rejecting the promiscuity that is natural to most animals?

Was it morality? Religion? Maybe love?

The answer is germs, researchers said on Tuesday, arguing that the havoc caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) convinced our ancestors it would be better to mate for life.

A research duo from Canada and Germany observed that STIs flourished among large groups of people living in the villages, towns and cities that arose after prehistoric hunter-gatherers settled down to farm.

Left unchecked, spreading diseases can affect individual fertility and a group's overall reproduction rate.

Falling population numbers would force a rethink of sexual behaviour - which in turn gives rise to social mores.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Neanderthal Y chromosome offers clues to what kept us separate species

CELL PRESS—Researchers reporting in the American Journal of Human Genetics, published by Cell Press, have completed the first in-depth genetic analysis of a Neanderthal Y chromosome. The findings offer new insights into the relationship between Neanderthals and modern humans and some of the genetic factors that might have kept the two lineages apart.

The Y chromosome was the main component remaining to be analyzed from the Neanderthal genome, the researchers say.

"Characterizing the Neanderthal Y chromosome helps us to better understand the population divergence that led to Neanderthals and modern humans," says Fernando Mendez of Stanford University. "It also enables us to explore possible genetic interactions between archaic and modern [gene] variants within hybrid offspring."

Mendez and his colleagues, including Carlos Bustamante, also at Stanford, and Sergi Castellano, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, analyzed the Y chromosome from a Neanderthal male found in El Sidrón, Spain. Their analysis suggests that Neanderthals and modern humans diverged almost 590,000 years ago, consistent with earlier evidence.

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Modern men lack Y chromosome genes from Neanderthals

Although it's widely known that modern humans carry traces of Neanderthal DNA, a new international study led by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that Neanderthal Y-chromosome genes disappeared from the human genome long ago. 

Modern men lack Y chromosome genes from Neanderthals Scientists believe Neanderthals died out about 40,000 years ago [Credit: Nicolas Primola/Shutterstock] 

The study is published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, in English and in Spanish, and will be available to view for free. The senior author is Carlos Bustamante, PhD, professor of biomedical data science and of genetics at the School of Medicine, and the lead author is Fernando Mendez, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford. 

The Y chromosome is one of two human sex chromosomes. Unlike the X chromosome, the Y chromosome is passed exclusively from father to son. This is the first study to examine a Neanderthal Y chromosome, Mendez said. Previous studies sequenced DNA from the fossils of Neanderthal women or from mitochondrial DNA, which is passed to children of either sex from their mother.

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Neanderthals may have died of diseases carried by humans from Africa

Diseases and infections passed on by the ancestors of modern humans when they moved out of Africa and into Europe may have helped wipe out the Neanderthals who previously dominated the continent.

The unfortunate Neanderthals, who would only have developed resistance to the diseases of their European environment, are most likely to have been infected with a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, the virus that causes genital herpes, tapeworms and tuberculosis. 

The impact on the Neanderthals was described as catastrophic by the scientists behind the new research, who published their findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The diseases and infections to which the hunter-gatherers were exposed would have made them less able to find enough food and remain healthy. The diseases would have spread through sexual contact between the two species.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Curse Tablets Discovered in 2,400-Year-Old Grave

Written in Greek, the curse on this lead tablet targets Demetrios and Phanagora who were husband-and-wife tavern keepers who lived in Athens around 2,400 years ago.
Credit: Jessica Lamont

Five lead tablets that cursed tavern keepers some 2,400 years ago have been discovered in a young woman's grave in Athens, Greece.

Four of the tablets were engraved with curses that invoked the names of "chthonic" (underworld) gods, asking them to target four different husband-and-wife tavern keepers in Athens. The fifth tablet was blank and likely had a spell or incantation recited orally, the words spoken over it.

All five tablets were pierced with an iron nail, folded and deposited in the grave. The grave would have provided the tablets a path to such gods, who would then do the curses' biddings, according to ancient beliefs.

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Bronze Age treasure discovered in Poland

Treasure of bronze objects has been discovered on the outskirts of a Polish town in Lubuskie Province. The objects are probably associated with the Lusatian culture and period of the Bronze Age - head of the Gorzów branch of the Regional Office for the Protection of Monuments Błażej Skaziński told PAP. 

Some of the finds presented at the Jan Dekerta Lubuskie Museum in Gorzów Wielkopolski  
[Credit: PAP/Lech Muszyński] 

The collection of artefacts, initially dated to the IV-V period of the Bronze Age (1100-700 BC) consists of several dozens of items, including those associated with the religious beliefs and rituals of the community that produced them. 

The collection consists of 5 bronze vessels, 6 wheels and 6 other parts of a cult cart, as well as 24 buttons. In addition, the find was accompanied by fragments of pottery from the vessel in which the deposit was placed. 

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Study shows human sacrifice was less likely in more equal societies

This lithograph from 1819 by Jacques Arago shows human sacrifice under the direction of a Hawaiian priest. Photograph: Alamy

Ritual human sacrifice played a powerful role in the construction and maintenance of stratified societies, according to new research.
The more egalitarian the society, the less likely it was that a human being would be chosen to die for it; the more stratified and rigid, the more likely someone from the lower orders would be selected as a sacrificial victim, scientists from Australian and New Zealand report.
They analysed data and observations from 93 traditional cultures that flourished from Taiwan to Madagascar, and from New Zealand to Hawaii to Easter Island, to confirm the hypothesis that human sacrifice “stabilises social stratification once stratification has arisen, and promotes a shift to strictly inherited class systems.”
And they add, in their paper in Nature: “Whilst evolutionary theories of religion have focused on the functionality of prosocial and moral beliefs, our results reveal a darker link between religion and the evolution of modern hierarchical societies.”
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Stone Age humans 'brought deer to Scotland by sea'

Scientists say red deer were transported "considerable distances" by boat to Scottish islands. CREDIT: ALAMY

Stone Age humans populated the Scottish islands with red deertransported "considerable distances" by boat, said researchers, who admitted surprise at our prehistoric ancestors' seafaring prowess.

DNA analysis revealed that deer on Scotland's northermost islands were unlikely to have come from the closest and seemingly most obvious places - mainland Scotland, Ireland or Norway, said a study in the Royal Society journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Our results imply that Neolithic humans were transporting deer considerable distances, by sea, from an unknown source" some 4,500-5,500 years ago, co-author David Stanton, of Cardiff University, said.

"These results are surprising... The evidence suggests that we have misunderstood our relationship with this species," he added.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Ancient theatre of Larissa opens to public

One of the largest ancient Greek theatres, the ancient theatre of Larissa dated back to the 3rd century BC, has opened its doors to the public. 

Ancient theatre of Larissa opens to public According to the Larissa Antiquities Ephorate decision, the ancient theatre will be open for visitors every day from 10.00-13.00 as of April 1 with free entrance. 

Visitors to the site will have access to the area of the orchestra and the stage, but the seats and the other areas of the theatre will not be accessible, since restoration works are still in progress.

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Friday, April 1, 2016

DNA sheds light on ancient Greek maritime trade

Analysing ancient DNA is a powerful method for classical studies, helping modern-day scientists understand more about life thousands of years ago. These new techniques can reveal the original contents of ceramic archaeological artefacts. DNA sheds light on ancient Greek maritime trade 

Archaeologists excavating the Antikythera shipwreck expedition in 2015 created a high-resolution, 3D map of the site using stereo cameras [Credit: Brendan Foley] 

"By my rough, conservative estimate there are at least three-quarters of a million ancient shipwrecks undiscovered in the Mediterranean alone. Shipwrecks are packets of information that help us understand ancient civilisations," Brendan Foley, an archaeologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, told IBTimes UK.

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Inscribed stele uncovered at Etruscan temple

Archaeologists in Italy have discovered what may be a rare sacred text in the Etruscan language that is likely to yield rich details about Etruscan worship of a god or goddess. 

Inscribed stele uncovered at Etruscan temple The Etruscan stele was embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been for more than 2,500 years [Credit: Mugello Valley Project] 

The lengthy text is inscribed on a large 6th century BCE sandstone slab that was uncovered from an Etruscan temple. 

A new religious artifact is rare. Most Etruscan discoveries typically have been grave and funeral objects. 

“This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions,” said archaeologist Gregory Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, which made the discovery.

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