Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Archaeologist claims Homo Erectus "settlements" pushes back civilization by 400,000 years

"Our earliest ancestors gave up hunter-gathering and took to a settled life up to 400,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to controversial research.

The accepted timescale of Man’s evolution is being challenged by a German archaeologist who claims to have found evidence that Homo erectus — mankind’s early ancestor, who migrated from Africa to Asia and Europe — began living in settled communities long before the accepted time of 10,000 years ago.

The point at which settlement actually took place is the first critical stage in humanity’s cultural development.

Helmut Ziegert, of the Institute of Archaeology at Hamburg University, says that the evidence can be found at excavated sites in North and East Africa, in the remains of stone huts and tools created by upright man for fishing and butchery.

Professor Ziegert claims that the thousands of blades, scrapers, hand axes and other tools found at sites such as Budrinna, on the shore of the extinct Lake Fezzan in southwest Libya, and at Melka Konture, along the River Awash in Ethiopia, provide evidence of organised societies.

He believes that such sites show small communities of 40 or 50 people, with abundant water resources to exploit for constant harvests.

The implications for our knowledge of human evolution — and of our intellectual and social beginnings — are “profound” and a “staggering shift”, he said.

Professor Ziegert used potassium argon isotopic dating, stratigraphy and tool typology to compile his evidence. He will publish his findings this month in Minerva, the archaeology journal.

The news divided scholarly opinion yesterday.

Sean Kingsley, an archaeologist and the managing editor of Minerva, said: “This research is nothing less than a quantum leap in our understanding of Man’s intellectual and social history. For archaeology it’s as radical as finding life on Mars.

“As a veteran of over 81 archaeological surveys and excavations . . . Ziegert is nothing if not scientifically cautious, which makes the current revelation all the more exciting.”

But others were far from convinced. Paul Pettitt, senior lecturer in palaeolithic archaeology at the University of Sheffield, said: “Are they truly the remains of huts and not a natural phenomenon? Do they really date 400,000 years or are they much more recent? The site formation, age and implications are all questionable.”

He said that Homo erectus was a highly mobile hunter, that human remains can accumulate for a number of reasons and that the evidence to be published by Minerva does not indicate a year-round settlement.

Further scepticism was voiced by Paul Bahn, an archaeologist who specialises in the palaeolithic period. Although he believes that Homo erectus was quite advanced and capable of building durable structures, occasionally coming together in large groups, he remains to be convinced about settlements.

He said: “Homo erectus could have been there for a few days. He wouldn’t have carried the tools around. Inevitably, they accumulate. If hunter-gatherers found no cave or rock shelter, it makes sense that they might have built a shelter for a few days or seasonally. Just the fact that they’re made out of stone doesn’t mean they were permanent settlements.

Nick Barton, a lecturer in palaeolithic archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: “No unequivocal dating evidence is presented except that based on the typology of the artefacts. It is entirely possible that the site represents a palimpsest of material spanning the palaeolithic to the neolithic.”

Note: Prehistoric human image photographed at the Museum of Man in San Diego, California.

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Wooden figurines older than terracotta warrior found in Zhou Tomb

"Recently, a Chinese archaeological team working in Hanchen City, Shaanxi Province, excavated an ancient tomb from the Zhou Dynasty ((1046-221 B.C.) and discovered many precious historical relics. Inside one chamber they found four wooden figurines with color painted design. To this day, these figurines are the earliest known in China. They have been dated 500 years older than the terracotta soldiers and horses of the Qin Dynasty (221-205 B.C.)

The cemetery of the Zhou Dynasty in Liangdai Village, Hanchen City, covers 330,000 square meters. The second excavation project began on March 23 this year. Up until now, twenty well-preserved and undisturbed tombs were excavated.

In two tombs, the archaeological team discovered a large number of cultural relics including bronze ceremonial instruments, kettles, dishes, various musical instruments, chimes, weapons, horse-drawn carriages, pottery, lacquer articles, jade-axes and other jade items.

From the layout of funerary objects and weapons in one such tomb, archaeologists think that the occupant must have been a king."
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Hawass claims Hatshepsut's mummy identified

When I read this article I couldn't help but think about Hawass' adamant refusal to confirm the identification of a mummy as Nefertiti by a British archaeologist using basically the same techniques. Oh, well....

Sofia News Agency: "After long years of research and excavations, the top Egyptologist Zahi Hawass will announce at a special Wednesday conference that he has identified the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, a US-based Discovery Channel reported.

Hawass defined the mummy as "the most important find in Egypt's Valley of the Kings since the discovery of Tutankhamen" in 1922.

In 1903, archaeologist Howard Carter - who went on to become famous for his discovery of Tutankhamen - had discovered two sarcophagi in a tomb known as KV60 in the Theban necropolis, the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. One apparently contained the mummy of Hatshepsut's wet nurse Sitre-In and the other of an unknown female.

Later in 1920, he found the tomb of Queen Hatshepsut but the two sarcophagi that it contained were empty.

Discovery Channel, which is to air a documentary about the find, said that Hawass was able to narrow the search for Hatshepsut down to the two mummies discovered by Carter in 1903. He used CT scans to produce detailed 3D images and link distinct physical traits of one of the mummies to that of her ancestors."
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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Four Mycenaean Tombs Found Intact Near Olympia

"Greek archaeologists have uncovered four intact tombs some 30 centuries old.

The four tombs date from the Mycenaean period (1450 BC to 1050 BC) and are reported to contain many objects such as toys, ceramics, and figurines.

The find was made near Olympia in the Peloponnese region in an area that had been excavated in the 1960s and the end of the 1990s.

One of the tombs found by a team headed by archaeologist Olympia Bikatou was apparently that of a child and held toys, images of protecting deities, and an effigy of the mother, a woman clasping a child.

Bikatou told a seminar at Olympia that her team had found ceramics in the form of boxes, alabaster pots, and amphorae, some of which had four handles, "which give a complete picture of a Mycenaean ceramics workshop."

One of the objects was a flask showing Cypriot influence, suggesting that there were links with the island.

One piece of an amphora has a design showing a body displayed on a stretcher carried by four men, which according to Bikatou, "is the only scene of this type in Mycenaean iconography."
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Royal frieze unearthed in Bulgaria

More exciting finds in Bulgaria!

The Bulgarian archaeologists Daniela Agre and Deyan Dichev, who are leading the Strandzha expedition, unearthed a royal frieze near the village of Golyam Dervent. Dichev and Agre were researching a dolmen (dolmens were the first Thracian tombs) when they noticed a frieze of intertwined zoomorphic and geometrical elements carved on the entrance of the tomb. The most interesting part of the discovery is the double-axe (labris) - a symbol of power in the Thracian society - placed inside a circle. The labris has lots of additional ornamentation on it, Dichev said. The frieze includes the images of snakes, which were the symbol of the king in the Thracian religious beliefs.

Archaeologists have also discovered a Mycenaean bronze sword cap in an ancient Thracian sanctuary in Bulgaria. The artifact was unearthed in the sanctuary, which is situated in between ten rock tombs in Arda River valley near the village of Dolno Cherkovishte. The marble cap has once been put at a bronze sword haft and was among the gifts, presented by the Thracians at the sanctuary more than 1,300 years ago. "The find dates from 15th century BC and it is typical for the Mycenaean armament," the archaeologist Georgi Nihrizov explained.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Oldest gunshot victim found in the Americas hapless Inca

"The individual may have been killed during an Inca uprising against Spanish conquistadors in 1536, according to Cock, who also led the new excavations.

Battle Scarred

The archaeologist has retrieved some 500 skeletons from the Puruchuco graves between 2004 and 2007.

Seventy-two of the individuals had been wrapped in simple cloth and chaotically buried in shallow graves. Their lack of traditional adornments and offerings—jewelry, pots for food, or headdresses, for example—suggests that the burials had been hastily prepared, as if during a period of civil unrest.

Many of the skeletons bore signs of violent hacking, tearing, and impalement with iron weapons.

Notably, one of the skulls bore entrance and exit wounds like those seen in shooting victims. A small piece of bone that appeared to have been shot out of the skull was found nearby.

"We thought it was a person killed recently—5, 10 or 20 years ago," Cock said. "We didn't expect the individual would have been killed by a bullet 500 years ago."

But the team soon realized that the individual was a Peru native dating to the Inca period, he said.

Moreover, the bone fragment showed evidence of a less forceful impact than a modern weapon would have made.

The skull fragment also bore a concave imprint suggestive of a musket ball.

Then Melissa Murphy of Bryn Mawr College—a scientist who studies human remains from archaeological settings—and archaeologist Elena Goycochea set out to help Cock confirm his theory.

They used a CT scanner at a Peruvian research facility to look for traces of metal from the musket ball around the wound and on the bone fragment.

No metal remnants were found.

But forensic experts at the University of Connecticut used a more powerful microscope to positively reveal traces of iron both places.

Iron was often used to make Spanish musket balls. Also, experts say the Inca did not know how to work iron, so the ball had to be Spanish.

"This gave us positive evidence that this individual died during conquest and was killed by gunfire," Cock said.

"We have traces of iron on the edges of the bullet entrance and we have exit damage in the face caused by the bullet leaving the head."

Cock and his colleagues believe the individual was killed during the siege of Lima. The 1536 uprising pitted Inca against Spanish invaders led by Francisco Pizarro.

Because women and children were found among the 72 hastily buried bodies, the team suggests that the individuals were not warriors but supporters of the warriors, such as cooks and porters."

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cache of Pre-Columbian artifacts returned to Peru

More than 400 pre-Columbian artifacts believed to have been taken from ancient graves in Peru were given back to that country here today in what was described by officials as the largest such recovery since the 1970s, when Peru and the United States agreed to import restrictions on the cultural artifacts.

The cache of artifacts, briefly on display here, was described by experts as "priceless."

There was a stylish clay pot, inscribed with a monkey-like figure. A feathered royal poncho. A child's woven tunic. A snuff holder carved from bone. The pieces had been buried in Peruvian graves 1,000 years ago or more, experts said, with some items as old as 3,500 years.

Ugo Bagnato, an elderly Italian man, was discovered keeping the items at a suburban warehouse here in September 2005. He sold two pieces to an undercover agent, one a clay pot approximately 3,500 years old and the other a statue with a gold ringed nose that is about 1,800 years old. The price for each was $2,000, agents said.

But according to his attorney, Bagnato is an archaeologist without any criminal record and had legitimately acquired the collection from a Venezuelan acquaintance who, in turn, had long ago acquired them through inheritance.

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Former Greek Royal Residence Yields Ancient Treasures

More than 200 ancient items and 300 paintings were found inside sealed containers in a royal stable and in the basement of the main residence at Tatoi, some 25 kilometres (15 miles) northwest of the Greek capital, culture ministry officials said during a media tour of the site on Tuesday.

"It's a real treasure hunt, we are in the process of removing these marvellous items from boxes stacked in disorderly heaps," restoration supervisor Nikos Minos told AFP.

A team of 21 archaeologists and restorers started work at the crumbling, 19th-century estate three months ago as part of a bid to catalogue its contents before restoration work starts to find a new role for the site.

The collection includes the bronze helmet of an ancient Greek soldier, ancient glasswork including a perfume vial from Roman times, idols and clay vessels -- among them a 2,700-year-old painted jug bearing the form of a horseman, found intact to the amazement of archaeologists.

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Image of Labyrinth found in Bulgarian tomb

Bulgarian archaeologists have found an image of the legendary labyrinth of King Minos, the Bulgarian National Radio reported.

The exclusive find was unearthed near the village of Golyam Derven last week.

The team of Professor Daniela Agre, who are doing excavation works in the area, stumbled upon the unique artefact while researching a an ancient Thracian tomb's entrance stone.

The labyrinth image, which is carved on the slate, is perfectly preserved.

The legendary labyrinth was considered a just a myth from the Greek mythology until the exclusive finding. According to the legends, King Minos ordered the construction of the labyrinth to keep inside the monstrous Minotaur.
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