Tuesday, September 26, 2017

New scientific dating research unravels the story of life in prehistoric Orkney Read

A new study, published today in Antiquity journal, is challenging the previously understood narrative for prehistoric life on Orkney. It was led by Professor Alex Bayliss of Historic England and is based on the interrogation of more than 600 radiocarbon dates, enabling much more precise estimates of the timing and duration of events in the period c.3200-2500 BC. 


Excavating the Smerquoy Hoose [Credit: © Colin Richards]

The study is part of a much wider project, The Times of Their Lives, funded by the European Research Council (2012-2017), which has applied the same methodology to a wider series of case studies across Neolithic Europe. That project has demonstrated many other examples of more dynamic and punctuated sequences than previously suspected in 'prehistory'.

Neolithic Orkney is well-preserved and is a time of stone houses, stone circles and elaborate burial monuments. World-renowned sites such as the Skara Brae settlement, Maeshowe passage grave, and the Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness circles have long been known and are in the World Heritage Site (given this status in 1999). They have been joined by more recent discoveries of great settlement complexes such as Barnhouse and Ness of Brodgar.

The new study reveals in much more detail than previously possible the fluctuating fortunes of the communities involved in these feats of construction and their social interaction. It used a Bayesian statistical approach to combine calibrated radiocarbon dates with knowledge of the archaeological contexts that the finds have come from to provide much more precise chronologies than those previously available.

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House “older than Stonehenge” found in East Ayrshire field

The field near Kilmarnock where man settled some 6,000 years ago. PIC: Scottish Water.

The remains of a pre-historic dwelling older than Stonehenge or the Callanish Stones have been found in a field in East Ayrshire.

Archaeologists believe the site near Kilmarnock is 6,000-years-old and was settled as man moved away from nomadic existence towards farming the land.

The discovery has been described as one of the most important of its kind in recent years.

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Storytelling flints and the original Oxen Ford: Oxford flood scheme archaeology begins


THIS tiny piece of flint is barely an inch long, but it tells an incredible story.

A stone flake reveals that 6,000 years ago, for just a few short minutes, a tribe of Mesolithic hunters stopped in this field in South Hinksey to sharpen their tools.

The miniscule fragment is just the first of thousands of discoveries archaeologists are hoping to make in 200 trenches across South Oxford in the next two months.

The team from Oxford Archaeology are excavating the area that in due course will become the Environment Agency's £120m Oxford flood alleviation channel.

They are looking for evidence of Saxon huts, Norman roads and even the very Oxen Ford, which our city is named after.

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Bronze Age Arrows and a Viking Sword – The 2017 Fieldwork Was Awesome!

Finally, the long wait was over and we were so ready for fieldwork!

We had chosen two large sites for the main fieldwork in 2017 – the Lauvhøe and Storfonne ice patches, both situated in the northeastern part of the Jotunheimen Mountains. More details on why these two particular sites were chosen can be found here.


he Storfonne ice patch, photographed in September 2014 during a major melt. Notice the light grey lichen-free zone surrounding the ice. This area was exposed by ice melt in the last 15-20 years. Photo: Lars Pilø, Secrets of the Ice/Oppland County Council.

Both sites had only seen short visits prior to this field-season. This had resulted in a number of artifact recoveries, especially arrows, found close to the melting ice. However, we knew that there were other finds on these sites, and that they were lying on the surface, exposed to the elements. The main job would be to rescue these artefacts. To achieve this, we planned to conduct a systematic and thorough survey of the lichen-free zone (where the ice has melted recently) surrounding the ice on both sites.

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Neanderthal brains 'grew more slowly'

The skeleton of a boy that shattered our view of Neanderthal brain development

A new study shows that Neanderthal brains developed more slowly than ours.

An analysis of a Neanderthal child's skeleton suggests that its brain was still developing at a time when the brains of modern human children are fully formed.

This is further evidence that this now extinct human was not more brutish and primitive than our species.
The research has been published in the journal Science.

Until now it had been thought that we were the only species whose brains developed relatively slowly. Unlike other apes and more primitive humans, Homo sapiens has an extended period of childhood lasting several years.

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Ancient DNA sheds light on African history

Burials at Mount Hora in Malawi yielded DNA used in the study

DNA from ancient remains has been used to reconstruct thousands of years of population history in Africa.

Researchers sequenced the genomes of 16 individuals who lived between 8,000 and 1,000 years ago.
The data shows how the invention and spread of farming had a major impact on the genes of people in Africa - just as it did in Europe and Asia.

The findings are published in the journal Cell.

The results suggest that populations related to the indigenous people of southern Africa had a wider distribution in the past.

This southern African-like genetic background is found in hunter-gatherers from Malawi and Tanzania in the east of the continent. These hunters lived between 8,100 and 1,400 years ago.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ancient British stone circles were used for ‘Neolithic parties’, study finds

The Ring of Brodgar originally had 60 stones, but now has 27 
Colin Richards, Historic England

Orkney is home to a host of Neolithic stone houses, stone circles and elaborate burial monuments, but a new study into the area has allowed experts to add a new purpose to the prehistoric communities’ use of some of these sites – partying.

New research led by Professor Alex Bayliss at Historic England has challenged the previously understood narrative for prehistoric life on the islands and painted a clearer picture of how communities farmed, gathered together at festivals and buried their dead.

The islands are home to renowned sites such as the Skara Brae settlement, Maeshowe passage grave, the Ring of Brodgar – which originally had 60 stones and is 104 metres in diameter - and Stones of Stenness circles, which were granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999.

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Spanish researchers discover 30,000 year-old cave paintings


Cave drawings at Altamira.Museo de Altamira/D. Rodríguez

Researchers have discovered four new sets of cave paintings in Cantabria, northern Spain, the oldest of which was made nearly 30,000 years ago – making it one of the earliest known examples of prehistoric art in the world.

The team from the Museum of Prehistory of Cantabria, led by Spanish prehistorian Roberto Ontañón, used cutting-edge imaging techniques to identify the drawings.

Twenty years ago, a speleologist – a scientist who studies caves – had informed archaeologists of the possible existence of ancient paintings in various rock cavities in Cantabria. However, the techniques available at the time were not sufficient to confirm the existence of the art.

The paintings, like much prehistoric artwork, had degraded so much over time that they were difficult to identify with the naked eye. To overcome this, Ontañón and his team used a 3D laser scanning method, which reproduced the artwork on a computer.

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Secrets of ancient Irish burial practices revealed


Carrowkeel neolithic passage tomb in Co. Sligo.

A new analysis of bones taken from a century-old excavation at Carrowkeel in County Sligo has revealed evidence of the burial practices and death rites of the ancient people of Ireland.
The findings, which have been published in the journal Bioarchaeology International, are part of a project applying modern techniques and research questions to the human remains. 
The team of researchers includes Sam Moore, lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology at IT Sligo, and the group’s work focussed on the 5300 years-old Passage Tomb Complex at Carrowkeel. This site is one of the most impressive Neolithic ritual landscapes in Europe.
“The bones were analysed from an original excavation of Carrowkeel in 1911, led by Prof R.A.S. McAlister,” explains Sam. “They were subsequently presumed missing or lost until a group of boxes with the name ‘Carrowkeel’ on them was discovered in the archive in the University of Cambridge in 2001. The bones date from between 3500 and 2900 BC."
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Thursday, September 14, 2017

The enigma of early Norwegian iron production

Ancient Norwegians made top-quality iron. But where did the knowledge to make this iron come from? A professor emeritus from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology may have solved this riddle.


Where did the expertise to smelt iron ore come from?
And how did it actually get to Norway to begin with? 
[Credit: Colourbox]

For centuries, people in Norway’s Trøndelag region, in the middle of the country, made large amounts of first-class iron out of bog ore for use in weapons and tools. Production peaked at about 40 tonnes a year at around 200 AD. With production levels this high, it is likely that they exported iron to the European continent as well.

But where did the expertise to smelt the ore come from? And how did it actually get to Norway to begin with?

Arne Wang Espelund, a professor emeritus at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has been interested in iron making since the 1970s.

He himself has helped to smelt iron with a method described in the 1700s by Ole Evenstad in Stor-Elvdal, just north of Lillehammer.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Bronze Age tombs unearthed during car park construction in Switzerland

The burial site of a Bronze Age warrior has revealed yet more treasures 
[Credit: SBMA - ARIA SA]

Workers digging the foundations for a new car park have unearthed the burial site of a Bronze Age warrior, revealing a rich source of artefacts including a sword, jewellery and other ornaments. 

The tombs were discovered in Sion, a town in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. The artefacts were dated between 850 and 400 BC – a period when the Bronze Age was giving way to the second Iron Age.

A bronze sword with an ivory pommel was discovered among the remains of an adult male, along with numerous other ornaments, including a razor.

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13 million-year-old infant ape skull discovered in the Turkana Basin

Alesi partially excavated after careful removal of loose sand and rocks with dental picks and brushes. © Isaiah Nengo.

The discovery in Kenya of a remarkably complete fossil ape skull reveals what the common ancestor of all living apes and humans may have looked like. The find, announced in the scientific journal Nature on August 10th, belongs to an infant that lived about 13 million years ago. The research was done by an international team led by Isaiah Nengo of the Turkana Basin Institute and De Anza College, U.S.A.

Among living primates, humans are most closely related to the apes, including chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons. Our common ancestor with chimpanzees lived in Africa 6 to 7 million years ago, and many spectacular fossil finds have revealed how humans evolved since then.

In contrast, little is known about the evolution of the common ancestors of living apes and humans before 10 million years ago. Relevant fossils are scarce, consisting mostly of isolated teeth and partial jaw bones. It has therefore been difficult to find answers to two fundamental questions: Did the common ancestor of living apes and humans originate in Africa, and what did these early ancestors look like?

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New 13-million-year-old infant skull sheds light on ape ancestry

Alesi, the skull of the new extinct ape species Nyanzapithecus alesi (KNM-NP 59050)
[Credit: Fred Spoor]

The discovery in Kenya of a remarkably complete fossil ape skull reveals what the common ancestor of all living apes and humans may have looked like. The find, announced in the scientific journal Nature, belongs to an infant that lived about 13 million years ago. The research was done by an international team led by Isaiah Nengo of Stony Brook University-affiliated Turkana Basin Institute and De Anza College, U.S.A.

Among living primates, humans are most closely related to the apes, including chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons. Our common ancestor with chimpanzees lived in Africa 6 to 7 million years ago, and many spectacular fossil finds have revealed how humans evolved since then.

In contrast, little is known about the evolution of the common ancestors of living apes and humans before 10 million years ago. Relevant fossils are scarce, consisting mostly of isolated teeth and partial jaw bones. It has therefore been difficult to find answers to two fundamental questions: Did the common ancestor of living apes and humans originate in Africa, and what did these early ancestors look like?

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Engraved bones are 'evidence of cannibalistic rituals by early humans'

The researchers suggest the engravings may have been part of an elaborate post-death ritual carried that culminated in the deceased being eaten. Photograph: Bello et al (2017)
Engraved bones unearthed in a Somerset cave have revealed new evidence of macabre cannibalistic rituals carried out by early humans in Britain.
The latest analysis of the bones, which were first discovered in the 1980s in Gough’s Cave in the Cheddar Gorge, show signs of having been filleted using sophisticated butchery techniques, decorated and gnawed by fellow humans around 15,000 years ago.
Previous investigations of the remains, belonging to a three-year-old child, two adolescents and at least two adults, already pointed to the grisly possibility that the individuals had been eaten by fellow early modern humans.
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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Contents of 2,500-year-old sarcophagus discovered in Turkey's Balıkesir revealed


Researchers at the ancient Greek city of Antandrus, located in Turkey's Balıkesir province, have discovered the remains of a woman and a man, as well as numerous artifacts inside a 2,500-year-old sarcophagus, reports said Sunday.

According to a statement by project leader Professor Gürcan Polat from Ege University, the excavations, which started on July 10, shed light to the 5th Century sarcophagus.
"The bones most probably belonged to the people from the same family" Polat said.
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Ancient Greek quarry in Marseille 'partly classified' as historic monument

The Greek quarry dating from the 5th century BC in Marseille is going to be partly classified 
as a Historical Monument [Credit: AFP/Bertrand Langlois]

Discovered by chance during the construction of a building in the center of Marseille, a Greek quarry dating from the 5th century BC will be partly classified.

This represents a first victory for the residents against the French city’s authorities who were planning to build on the historic site, according to a report by French Agency, AFP.

“It’s a great step forward,” exclaimed with a smile a resident of the Sandrine Rolengo district where the quarry was discovered.

Minister of Culture Françoise Nyssen, who visited the site recently, decided to protect part of the site.

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Slawische und eisenzeitliche Siedlung bei Theißen entdeckt

Blick auf die Ausgrabungsfläche mit Gruben und weiteren Befunden der slawischen Siedlung. 
Foto © LDA Sachsen-Anhalt

Bei Ausgrabungen im Zuge des Neubaus der Ortsumfahrung östlich des Zeitzer Ortsteils Theißen (Burgenlandkreis) wurden die Überreste einer ländlichen mittelslawischen Siedlung des 8.-10. Jh. und Siedlungsbefunde aus der Eisenzeit freigelegt. Die ältesten Befunde sind eine Hockerbestattung aus dem Endneolithikum und eine glockenbecherzeitliche umgebettete Bestattung.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Greeks really do have near-mythical origins, ancient DNA reveals

A Mycenaean woman depicted on a fresco at Mycenae on mainland Greece.

Ever since the days of Homer, Greeks have long idealized their Mycenaean “ancestors” in epic poems and classic tragedies that glorify the exploits of Odysseus, King Agamemnon, and other heroes who went in and out of favor with the Greek gods. Although these Mycenaeans were fictitious, scholars have debated whether today’s Greeks descend from the actual Mycenaeans, who created a famous civilization that dominated mainland Greece and the Aegean Sea from about 1600 B.C.E. to 1200 B.C.E., or whether the ancient Mycenaeans simply vanished from the region.

Now, ancient DNA suggests that living Greeks are indeed the descendants of Mycenaeans, with only a small proportion of DNA from later migrations to Greece. And the Mycenaeans themselves were closely related to the earlier Minoans, the study reveals, another great civilization that flourished on the island of Crete from 2600 B.C.E. to 1400 B.C.E. (named for the mythical King Minos).

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Mammut und viel Rohkost

Hinterkopf-Knochen eines anatomisch modernen Menschen der Fundstelle Buran-Kaya III. 
(© S. Prat)

Senckenberg-Wissenschaftler haben die Ernährung des anatomisch modernen Menschen untersucht. Sie konnten in ihrer aktuellen Studie widerlegen, dass sich der frühe Homo sapiens-Vertreter flexibler ernährte, als die Neandertaler.

Auf den Tellern unserer Vorfahren landeten, wie bei den Neandertalern, überwiegend Mammutfleisch und Pflanzen – eine Ernährung mit Fisch konnte nicht nachgewiesen werden. Das internationale Team vermutet daher, dass die Verdrängung der Neandertaler durch eine direkte Konkurrenzsituation erfolgte.

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