Stone-age Italians defleshed their dead
The cave—sealed off until its discovery in 1931—was uniquely able to preserve the human remains, which were mixed randomly with animal bones, broken pottery, and stone tools. This level of preservation is unusual: “Neolithic assemblages are often very challenging to interpret, as they are commonly broken, mixed up, and poorly preserved,” says Martin Smith, a biological anthropologist at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the research.
Neolithic communities typically buried their dead beneath or beside their homes or on the outskirts of settlements. But in this case, farmers from villages as far as 15 to 20 kilometers away scattered the defleshed bones of their dead in the upper chamber of Scaloria Cave. But why did they do it, and what does this tell us about how they viewed life and death?
The process isn’t all that unusual, a lot of people (as they mention) have prolonged burial rituals often involving leaving them out for decay to occur and then placing the (mostly) bones into common places. Often in smaller containers like ossuaries, or in caves like this. Up here in the Northwest, bodies were sometimes placed in trees or in canoes in trees and left there to decay and then the bones were collected and put in caves. Purposeful defleshing is less common, but not unknown; they usually just let natural decay do it for them. Maybe they defleshed some of the ones that just didn’t decay enough.
Excavation of World’s Oldest Subway Tunnel Remains Blocked
An appellate court ruled last week that the city was within its rights to block Bob Diamond from accessing the circa-1844 Long Island Rail Road tunnel he discovered in 1980, striking another blow to the rail buff’s efforts to continue his decades-long excavation of the historic tunnel, named the world’s oldest subway tunnel by the “Guinness Book of World Records.”
There’s really not much there and I hesitated to link to this because the picture is pretty unclear just what is going on. From a couple of the links there, it seems to have a lot of political intrigue going on.
Did a Volcanic Cataclysm 40,000 Years Ago Trigger the Final Demise of the Neanderthals?
The Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption in Italy 40,000 years ago was one of the largest volcanic cataclysms in Europe and injected a significant amount of sulfur-dioxide (SO2) into the stratosphere. Scientists have long debated whether this eruption contributed to the final extinction of the Neanderthals. This new study by Benjamin A. Black and colleagues tests this hypothesis with a sophisticated climate model.
Black and colleagues write that the CI eruption approximately coincided with the final decline of Neanderthals as well as with dramatic territorial and cultural advances among anatomically modern humans. Because of this, the roles of climate, hominin competition, and volcanic sulfur cooling and acid deposition have been vigorously debated as causes of Neanderthal extinction.
As they note, Neanderthals had been declining before that, which is somewhat similar to the north american megafaunal extinctions so a single causative factor (e.g., hunting in that case) is hard to pin down.
500,000-Year-Old Stone Tools, Butchered Elephant Bones Found in Israel
Which is cool. But the really cool thing is:
In the new PLoS ONE paper, the archaeologists report the surprising discovery of the butchered straight-tusk elephant remains in association with two stone tools 500,000 years old: a biface (56 mm in length, 48 mm wide and 16 mm thick) and a scraper (44 mm in length, 36 mm wide and 20 mm thick).
“At the Revadim quarry, a wonderfully preserved site a half-million years old, we found butchered animal remains, including an elephant rib bone which had been neatly cut by a stone tool, alongside flint hand axes and scrapers still retaining animal fat,” said Prof Ran Barkai of the Tel Aviv University’s Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, who is the senior author on the paper.
All sorts of cool stuff.
T.Rex soft tissue
For more than a century, the study of dinosaurs has been limited to fossilized bones. Now, researchers have recovered 70 million-year-old soft tissue, including what may be blood vessels and cells, from a Tyrannosaurus rex.
If scientists can isolate proteins from the material, they may be able to learn new details of how dinosaurs lived, said lead researcher Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State University.
“We’re doing a lot of stuff in the lab right now that looks promising,” she said in a telephone interview. But, she said, she does not know yet if scientists will be able to isolate dinosaur DNA from the materials.
It will eventually be done.
Ring brings ancient Viking, Islamic civilizations closer together
More than a century after its discovery in a ninth century woman’s grave, an engraved ring has revealed evidence of close contacts between Viking Age Scandinavians and the Islamic world.
Excavators of a Viking trading center in Sweden called Birka recovered the silver ring in the late 1800s. Until now, it was thought that it featured a violet amethyst engraved with Arabic-looking characters. But closer inspection with a scanning electron microscope revealed that the presumed amethyst is colored glass (an exotic material at the time), say biophysicist Sebastian Wärmländer of Stockholm University and his colleagues.
An inscription on the glass inset reads either “for Allah” or “to Allah” in an ancient Arabic script, the researchers report February 23 in Scanning.
I’m not sure what the big deal is. There were certainly trade routes moving goods all around the Mediterranean and up into Europe for a long time before that. The Vikings didn’t necessarily have to have direct contact with any Muslims: they just have to be the last recipient of trade for the ring.
New Research Reveals Why Pig-Use in Middle East Declined
The humble pig has a long and often poorly understood history. As an excellent source of protein, the pig has been a useful animal for humans in many areas of the world for thousands of years. Its use in the Middle East, however, has a more complex history. New research has sought to explore this complicated past.
Richard W. Redding, from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, University of Michigan, is an expert at studying animal bones in archaeological contexts. He has studied the role of subsistence behaviour in the evolution of human culture, in particular, how societies shift from a hunter-gatherer mode of subsistence to a more stable form of food production.
His new research, published recently in Journal of Archaeological Research, attempts to examine why the pig disappeared from the human subsistence system in the Middle East. Redding’s research is important for our understanding of the historical reasons behind cultural practices which prohibit the consumption of pork.
We worked at Kom el-Hisn together in the 1980s and are editing a volume on the place. One note though, in an urban context pigs can be used as refuse disposal units, essentially turning trash into protein. Herds of pigs were kept in Cairo until recently for that very reason, and were probably used in many other places as well.
German archaeologists discover the oldest pretzel ever
This may just be the most delicious archaeological discovery ever.
Archaeologists in the Bavarian city of Regensburg have found remains of a pretzel, as well as a roll and a croissant, that date to the 18th century. “This is definitely the oldest pretzel ever found,” Silvia Codreanau-Windauer, of the Bavarian Bureau for the Conservation of Historic Monuments, told Germany’s The Local.
Shortly after the first beer was invented, no doubt.
Dubai Police rescue Emirati archaeologist
Dubai Police rescued a young Emirati who fell into a 30-meter deep well in Ajman.
Though injured with multiple injuries and fractures, the man helped himself by calling Dubai Police from his mobile from inside the well, reported ‘Emarat Al Youm’.
Abu Al Fotooh Mahmoud Emara, member of the paramedics team who supervised the rescue operation, said the victim is an archaeologist and was touring Masfout area to study ancient wells.
Oh, errrr, I mean Well, that’s just terrible.