Monday, August 25, 2008

Studies of ancient pottery show milking animals occured as early as seventh millenium

Until now, researchers thought that the
processing, storage and use of domesticated cow, sheep and goats' milk
in the Middle East and the Balkans began around 5,000 BCE. But now an
international team of archeologists, including an Israeli from the
Hebrew University, have concluded on the basis of milk residue in over
2,200 pottery vessels from the area that it goes back 2,000 more years.

Yossef Garfinkel of HU's archeology institute and colleagues in the UK,
the US, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey and Romania published their
findings in a recent issue of Nature. The authors note that
"the domestication of cattle, sheep and goats had already taken place
in the Near East" by the eighth millennium BCE. "Although there would
have been considerable economic and nutritional gains from using these
animals for their milk and other products..., the first clear evidence
for this appears much later, from the late fifth and fourth millennium.
Hence, the timing and region in which milking was first practiced
remain unknown."

But the scientists examined thousands of pottery vessels from
the Middle East and southeastern Europe that were created seven to nine
thousand years ago and found clear organic evidence that they contained
milk lipids from domesticated animals.

The use of domesticated animals for milk, wool and pulling
without killing them for meat "marks an important step in the history
of domestication," they write. Some researchers have argued that as
soon as animals are domesticated, the benefits of these products would
have been exploited rapidly; others suggested that the lack of early
evidence of arts, plows and milking scenes shows that domesticated
animals were first exploited mostly for meat and hides.

Evidence of milk lipids on the pottery at Shikmim
and Sha'ar Hagolan in Israel showed that dairy products were consumed
here between the seventh and fourth millennia BCE, the article
reported. The earliest use was in Turkey.

"Organic residues preserved in pottery not only extend the
history, but show that milking was particularly important in areas more
favorable to cattle, compared to other regions where sheep and goats
were more common," they concluded. -

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Final weeks of Hidden Treasures of Afghanistan Exhibit in Washington D.C.

A treasure hunter's fantasy - bronze sculptures, intricate ivory
carvings, painted glass, and more than 20,000 gold pieces. These are
among the nearly 230 objects on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Most of the artifacts in this exhibition have never been exhibited here in the United States.

When you look at these "hidden treasures," you begin to understand
why - they are some of the most important archaeological discoveries of
our time, dating from 2200 B.C. to around the second century A.D. The
oldest are a set of gold bowl fragments from Tepe Fulloi.

"They were found by a series of farmers in northern Afghanistan who
had no idea that these were 4,000-year-old treasures," said Hiebert,
the curator of the exhibition. "And they were so happy with their good
luck of having found these golden bowls that they immediately started
to divide up their good luck."

For thousands of years, Afghanistan attracted settlers and nomads,
traders and artisans ... and conquerors, beginning with Cyrus the Great
of Persia in the sixth century B.C., followed by the Greek Alexander
the Great 200 years later. His followers founded cities like Ai Khanum
in northern Afghanistan, known in ancient times as Bactriaj.

One object, a water spout, was still is working condition when it
was found, Hiebert explained. "It's completely iconic of the kind of
art that the Greeks would bring to the Afghan area to impose and to
show their culture. And it became part of the fabric of the art of

There are stone sculptures made in the Greek style, a Corinthian
capital, an ancient sundial, and one of the oldest artifacts found at
Ai Khanum, a ceremonial plaque made of gilded silver dating from around
300 B.C.

The exhibit "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From The National Museum,
Kabul," is at the National Gallery of Art through September 7, 2008. The exhibit will then travel to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, California (where I hope to see it) and be on display October 24, 2008 - January 25, 2009. Then it moves on
to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (February 22-May 17, 2009) and then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (June 23-September 20, 2009).
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Ancient city in western Turkey waits to be unearthed

An ancient city in western Turkey, discovered by smugglers of
ancient artifacts at an illegal excavation six years ago and recovered
with soil by officials, now waits to be unearthed.

Local officials asked archaeologists to dig the region in Saruhanli
town of the western province of Manisa to bring to light the ancient
city which is thought to be dated from around 3rd or 4th century B.C.

"Six years ago, smugglers found a few pieces of historical artifacts
at an illegal dig here. There were mosaics of a stag's head among them.
But no researches have been carried out since then," Suleyman Cinar,
mayor of the village of Buyukhanli in the region, said.

"We believe that there is an ancient Roman city hidden beneath the soil," he said.

Cinar also said the city could be the outskirts of the nearby
ancient city of Sardis, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia
where the first money was coined in history."

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Stone Age Cemetery in Sahara Yields Evidence of Early Hunters

When Paul C. Sereno went hunting dinosaur bones in the Sahara, his
career took a sharp turn from paleontology to archaeology. The
expedition found what has proved to be the largest known graveyard of
Stone Age people who lived there when the desert was green.

In its first comprehensive report, published Thursday, the team, sponsored by the National Geographic Society,
described finding some 200 graves belonging to two successive
populations. Some burials were accompanied by pottery and ivory
ornaments. A girl was buried wearing a bracelet carved from a hippo
tusk. A man was interred seated on the carapace of a turtle.

most poignant scene was the triple burial of a petite woman lying on
her side, facing two young children. The slender arms of the children
reached out to the woman in an everlasting embrace. Pollen indicated
that flowers had decorated the grave. [Image by Mike Hettwer/National Geographic]

The sun-baked dunes at the
site known as Gobero preserve the earliest and largest Stone Age
cemetery in the Sahara, Dr. Sereno’s group reported in the
current issue of the online journal PLoS One. The findings, the
researchers wrote, open “a new window on the funerary practices,
distinctive skeletal anatomy, health and diet of early hunter-fisher-gatherers, who expanded into the Sahara when climatic conditions were favorable.”

The initial inhabitants at Gobero, the Kiffian culture, were tall
hunters of wild game who also fished with harpoons carved from animal
bone. Later, a more lightly built people, the Tenerians, lived there,
hunting, fishing and herding cattle. An examination of their fossilized
skeletons indicated that both cultures lived and ate relatively well.

From an analysis of the skeletons and pottery in those two seasons,
scientists identified the two successive cultures that occupied the
settlement. The Kiffians, some of whom stood up to six feet tall, both
men and women, lived there during the Sahara’s wettest period,
between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. They were primarily
hunter-gatherers who speared huge lake perch with harpoons.

A. A. Garcea, an archaeologist at the University of Cassino in Italy,
identified ceramics with wavy lines and zigzag patterns as Kiffian, a
culture associated with northern Africa. Pots bearing a pointillistic
pattern were linked to the Tenerians, a people named for the
Ténéré Desert, a stretch of the Sahara known to
Tuareg nomads as a “desert within a desert.”

Christopher M. Stojanowski, an archaeologist at Arizona State University,
said the two cultures were “biologically distinct groups.”
The bones and teeth showed that in contrast to the robust Kiffians, the
Tenerians were typically short and lean and apparently led less
rigorous lives. Perhaps, Dr. Stojanowski said, they had developed more
advanced hunting technologies for taking smaller fish and game.

shapes of the Tenerian skulls are puzzling, researchers said, because
they resemble those of Mediterranean people, not other groups from the
southern Sahara.

Dr. Sereno said in an interview that both
cultures, the Tenerians in particular, appeared to have settled into
semi-sedentary lives in a more or less year-round community. Families,
he said, are not usually part of mobile hunting parties, and yet many
of the burials at the site are of juveniles. The abundant refuse mounds
also attested to long-term occupation. - New York Times

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Did cooking food improve cognitive processes?

"For a long time, we were pretty dumb. Humans did little but make "the same very boring stone tools for almost 2 million years," he said. Then, only about 150,000 years ago, a different type of spurt happened - our big brains suddenly got smart. We started innovating. We tried different materials, such as bone, and invented many new tools, including needles for beadwork. Responding to, presumably, our first abstract thoughts, we started creating art and maybe even religion.

"To understand what caused the cognitive spurt, Khaitovich and colleagues examined chemical brain processes known to have changed in the past 200,000 years. Comparing apes and humans, they found the most robust differences were for processes involved in energy metabolism.

The finding suggests that increased access to calories spurred our cognitive advances, said Khaitovich, carefully adding that definitive claims of causation are premature.

The research is detailed in the August 2008 issue of Genome Biology.

The extra calories may not have come from more food, but rather from the emergence of pre-historic "Iron Chefs;" the first hearths also arose about 200,000 years ago.

While other theories for the brain's cognitive spurt have not been ruled out (one involves the introduction of fish to the human diet), the finding sheds light on what made us, as Khaitovich put it, "so strange compared to other animals." - More

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Dacian Grave Unearthed in the Ukraine

"Romanian archaeologists discovered an ancient cemetery, which experts consider the largest necropolis ever found in the Dacian area. They made their discovery in Malaia Kopalnia, Ukraine, 20km from the Romanian border. It should reveal more about the Dacians' burial rites. Women's graves contained fibulas, jewels, buckles, rings and chain loops, while the men's graves contained weapons, such as a one-bladed sword called "fica", spurs, spearheads and other objects."
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

DNA Analysis Suggests No Interbreeding With Neanderthals

"The mystery of what killed off the Neanderthals about 30,000 years ago comes a step closer to being solved with a study suggesting that they formed a tiny population that had been teetering on the brink of extinction.

Neanderthals first appeared in Europe at least 300,000 years ago but they disappeared after the arrival of anatomically modern humans, Homo sapiens, who first arrived in Europe 50,000 years ago. This has led to speculation about whether the Neanderthals interbred with the new arrivals to form a hybrid population that became submerged in the human gene pool, or were instead wiped out by them, either through competition for resources or by violence.

The latest evidence, an analysis of DNA recovered from a 38,000-year-old fossilised thigh bone, suggests the Neanderthals did not interbreed with modern humans but were eradicated by them.

DNA extracted from an adult Neanderthal man who lived near caves in what is now Croatia also revealed that the Neanderthals in Europe probably never numbered more than 10,000 individuals at any one time – a precariously small population size.

The new evidence about the demise of the Neanderthals comes from the complete sequence of DNA within tiny cellular structures known as mitochondria. This mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited and is easier to isolate from ancient bones than the conventional DNA found within the cell nucleus.

The scientists repeatedly decoded the mitochondrial DNA from the 38,000-year-old Neanderthal bone 35 times to make sure that they had the correct genetic sequence, so that they could use it as an accurate comparison against the mitochondrial DNA of modern humans and chimpanzees – man's closest living relative

"For the first time, we've built a sequence from ancient DNA that is essentially without error," said Richard Green, who led the investigation at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

"It is still an open question for the future whether this small group of Neanderthals was a general feature, or was this caused by some bottleneck in their population size that happened late in the game," said Dr Green.

Archaeological evidence shows that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans, known as Cro-Magnon man, occupied the same habitats and sites at overlapping periods of time but there is no hard evidence that there was any direct contact between the two last species of humans to share living space.

"There's no proof that they saw each other, only that they inhabited the same place at about the same time but I think it's likely that they came across one another," said Adrian Briggs, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute, who was part of the study.

"What we've done is confirm that the mitochondrial DNA of Neanderthals and modern humans was so different that it forms powerful evidence that there was very little if any interbreeding between the two species," said Dr Briggs.

"We have also got tantalising evidence that the Neanderthals formed a small population and we can only speculate as to what happened to them. Small population sizes are always more prone to extinction and they have a greater chance of something going wrong."

Speculation about who the Neanderthals were, and what happened to them, has raged ever since the first Neanderthal skull was excavated from the Neander Valley, near Düsseldorf, in 1856.

It is now generally agreed that they were not the direct ancestors of modern humans but a side-branch on man's extensive family tree. However, some anthropologists have clung to the belief that they must have interbred with humans at some stage in their history, which means that there is a little bit of Neanderthal in us all.

However, a number of DNA studies, including the latest published in the journal Cell, have found little to support that theory. Whenever it has been possible to analyse the sequence of heavily degraded DNA fragments extracted from Neanderthal bone, it shows that the genetic variation lies well outside the variation seen in modern humans.

The latest study suggests, for instance, that the Neanderthals last shared a common ancestor with modern humans some 660,000 years ago – long before the emergence in Africa of Homo sapiens as a distinct species about 100,000 years ago.

However, the scientists who carried out the study emphasised that their work cannot as yet completely rule out the possibility that there was some limited, small-scale interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans, at some place between the Caucasus and western Europe – the geographic range of the Neanderthals.

One of the best bits of evidence in support of that idea emerged about a decade ago when scientists found the skeleton of a young boy who had died about 25,000 years ago in what is now Spain. His thick-set features suggested he was hybrid of Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon – but other scientists believed he was just an unusually stocky lad."...More

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

2,500-Year-Old Greek Ship Raised off Sicilian Coast

"An ancient Greek ship recently raised off the coast of southern Sicily, Italy, is the biggest and best maintained vessel of its kind ever found, archaeologists say. At a length of nearly 70 feet (21 meters) and a width of 21 feet (6.5 meters), the 2,500-year-old craft is the largest recovered ship built in a manner first depicted in Homer's Iliad, which is believed to date back several centuries earlier.

The ship's outer shell was built first, and the inner framework was added later. The wooden planks of the hull were sewn together with ropes, with pitch and resin used as sealant to keep out water.

A floating crane lifted the main segment, a 36-foot (11-meter) chunk, and dragged it to land. The remains were then plunged into a tank of fresh water to remove the salt from the wood.

"The vessel was a mercantile sailer, probably used to sail short stretches along the coast, docking frequently to load and unload," said Rosalba Panvini, head of the Cultural Heritage Department of Sicily, who directed the raising operations.

Recovered artifacts—including cups, two-handled jars called amphoras, oil lamps, pottery, and fragments of straw baskets—reveal details of the ship's journey before it sank, Panvini said.

"The vessel stopped in Athens, then in the Peloponnese Peninsula," Panvini said. "It sailed up the western coast of Greece, crossed the Otranto Channel, coasted along Italy, and pointed to Sicily."

The ship was headed for Gela, then a Greek colony. About a half mile (800 meters) off the coast, a storm probably tilted the ship. The ballast broke the hull, and the vessel went down, where it lay on the muddy seabed for 25 centuries." - More

"The earliest example of a sewn boat comes from North Ferriby, where one sample (called F2) carbon dates to 1930-1750 BC. Later finds include some early Greek ships. The oldest Nordic find is the Hjortspring boat in Denmark (c 300 BC). In Finland, Russia, Karelia and Estonia small sewn boats have been constructed more recently, until the 1920s in poor areas of Russia.

While European sewn boats are the best known, sewn boats existed in many areas, often as the next step from a dugout canoe[1]. An example of a non-European sewn boat is the Micronesian proa. Sewn boats are important in the study of Viking Age longships, which use the basic architecture of sewn boats, although they make use of metal fasteners." - Wikipedia

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Shakespeare's First Theater Uncovered

"Every year hundreds of thousands of visitors make their way to Stratford-upon-Avon and the Globe Theatre, on the Thames, to explore Shakespeare's intriguing past.

Not surprisingly, an unremarkable plot of land on New Inn Broadway, just north of London's medieval City wall, does not rate a mention on the Shakespeare tourist trail, since before now only the most fervent history buffs were aware of the site's significance in the playwright's life.

However, that history can be laid bare after an archaeological dig at the Shoreditch site uncovered the remains of The Theatre - one of the capital's first playhouses — where Shakespeare's works were first performed in the 16th century.

In what the Museum of London Archaeology has described as “one of the most exciting finds of recent years”, an excavation last month uncovered a large section of what is believed to be the original brick foundations of the theatre.

The Theatre, built in 1576, was home to the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the company in which Shakespeare first performed as an actor before his writing career flourished.

Located outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, where puritanical magistrates and city leaders frowned on the debauchery of the theatre movement, Shakespeare and other playwrights were free to express themselves. It is believed that some of his earliest works, perhaps Romeo and Juliet and Richard III, were performed there.

However, their occupancy of the site came under threat after a nasty dispute over the lease on the land in 1598.

The story has it that in the dead of night during Christmas that year the actors and playwrights dismantled The Theatre and moved it, piece by piece, to the South Bank of the Thames, where the original Globe Theatre was erected. Historians have long been aware that the open-air playhouse had stood in Shoreditch, but traces of it had proved elusive until now.

Julian Bowsher, a senior archaeologist at the museum, said that there could not be 100 per cent certainty about the remains. However, he said it was very likely, because the bricks form a polygon, which documentary evidence suggests was the shape of the theatre. “It's certainly in the right area and it's certainly very important,” he said.

Mr Bowsher said that the find was highly significant, not only because it added to Shakespeare's history but also because it would enable comparisions with other early playhouses.

And as Shakespeare might say, “the wheel has come full circle” — the discovery was made during excavations on the site to prepare it for the construction of a new theatre.

The Tower Theatre Company, which performs a Shakespeare work every year, will design its modern playhouse around the remains of the original. Jeff Kelly, the chairman of the company, said: “We're thrilled. It's an incredible coincidence that we want to build our theatre on the site of Shakespeare's first playhouse. It unveils a secret past.”

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

DNA tests scheduled for King Tut's daughters

"Egyptian scientists are doing DNA tests on stillborn children found in the tomb of the Pharoah Tutankhamun in the hope of identifying their mother and grandmother, who may be the powerful queen Nefertiti, Egypt's chief archaeologist said on Wednesday.

Many scholars believe their mother to be Ankhesenamun, the boy king's only known wife. Ankhesenamun is the daughter of Nefertiti, renowned for her beauty.

The DNA tests and computerised tomography (CT) scans, to be performed at Cairo University, should be finished by December, Hawass said. Egypt has been trying to check the identity of all its royal mummies using DNA and CT scans. Tutankhamun's was one of the first mummies to be examined with the technology in 2005."

If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!

Bulgaria Archeologists Unearth 1900-Year-Old Thracian Chariot

"A team of Bulgarian archeologists has discovered a unique, fully preserved four-wheeled Thracian chariot, which is more than 1900 years old.

The discovery was made close to the village of Borisovo, Yambol District in southeast Bulgaria by a team of the Archeological Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

The expedition is led by the leading Bulgarian archeologist Daniela Agre. The chariot is unique because it is the only one found in Bulgaria in the very way the ancient Thracians laid it in the tomb of a wealthy aristocrat.

It also has a very complicated construction, and all artifacts found in its trunk are fully preserved including pottery and glass vessels.

The skeletons of two horses drawing the chariot and a dog, who were murdered ritually during the funeral 1900 years ago are also fully preserved. The horse bow of the chariot has a small metal panther on its top, which resembles the symbol of the Jaguar automobile.

According to Daniela Agre, the chariot dates back to the time of the Roman Emperor Trajan, when Thrace was already a Roman province but many Thracian aristocrats had preserved their privileges and were serving in parts of the Roman army.

She explained there was a major north-south Thracian road in what is today southeast Bulgaria, and that the whole region was extremely rich in invaluable archeology objects."
If you enjoyed this post, never miss out on future posts by following me by email!