June 30, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:25 am

Surprise find for archaeologists in Cyprus

American archaeologists diving for Roman artefacts off a packed swimmers’ beach in Cyprus found live munitions dating from World War 2 instead, authorities said on Tuesday.

British bomb disposal experts were called in to destroy the device found a few metres away from the shore of a beach neighbouring a British military base on the southern coast of the island.

“The archaeologists were diving for bits of pottery and they saw a metal fin sticking up off the sea bed,” British bases spokesperson Dennis Barnes told reporters.

“It could well have been a danger to the public,” he said. Experts did not want to risk moving it so it was destroyed in the water.

The precise type of weapon was not immediately clear but experts believed the munition dated from World War 2, Barnes said.

Yeah, they were looking for “bits of pottery” at a Mediterranean beach. Mmm-Hmmm.

And if you want to do it yourself. . . Workshop for training in underwater archaeology

Between 31 May and 25 June, a workshop of underwater archaeology was organised within the framework of La navigation du savoir – Réseau des arsenaux historiques de la Méditerranée, one of the Euromed Heritage II projects.

This project is directed by the University of Malta and Unesco, and financed by the European Commission.

This was the second such course following one held in France in September 2002 in the bay of Villefranche sur mer (Alpes Maritimes), and is aimed at training students from various parts of the Mediterranean in various techniques of underwater archaeology.

See, everyone does underwater archaeology in romantic spots such as all around the Mediterranean and in the Caribbean. Oh sure, they say it’s because of the great profusion of shipwrecks, amphorae, etc. that are there. “Oh, we just come to dive off the coast of southern Turkey because there is so much interesting. . . hey, could you pass me the olives? No, no thanks, I’ve had enough wine for this afternoon. . .so where was I? Oh yes, there’s so much interesting archaeology here. Oh sure, I’d love to dive off the rocky shores of Vancouver Island in cold, dark water looking for evidence of the first Americans which would revolutionize our thinking on large-scale migration routes, population growth, and possible human impact on the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna, but you see, that just happens not to be my area of expertise. Say, could you move a bit, you’re interfering with my sun. Can’t have an uneven tan you know!”

And speaking of the First Americans. . . The Oldest Americans May Prove Even Older

On a hillside by the Savannah River, under tall oaks bearded with Spanish moss, an archaeologist and a graduate student crouched in the humid depths of a trench. They had reason to think they were in the presence of a breathtaking discovery.

Or at the least, they were on to something more than 20,000 years old that would throw American archaeology into further turmoil over its most contentious issue: when did people first reach America, and who were they?

The sandy soil of the trench walls was flecked with pieces of chert, the source of flint coveted by ancient toolmakers. Some of the stone flakes appeared to be unfinished discards. Others had the sharp-edged look of more fully realized blades, chisels and scrapers. Long ago, it seemed, Stone Age hunter-gatherers had frequently stopped here and, perhaps, these toolmakers were among the first Americans.

Read the whole thing. It’s a good summary of the mood of archaeologists doing research on the peopling of the New World. We admit something of a bias toward skepticism, even though we see nothing in Monte Verde to categorically deny it as a pre-Clovis site. One would think, however, that people just didn’t all of a sudden start making brilliantly-flaked Clovis tools when before they were just chipping haphazardly at bits of rock. It’s not like tools are barely recognizable as such at this time in other parts of the world. But, as we have said, if people were here pre-13k there seem not to have been many of them, so perhaps we just need far more samples to get at the undoubted “tools”.

Archaeologists discover traces of Colonial history

Dig yields copper clues to relationship between Indians and early settlers

Proof of the relationship between Jamestown’s earliest settlers and Virginia’s native Indians has turned up in a 400-year-old Indian trash pit.

Archaeologists working at the 10,000-acre U.S. Naval Weapons Station here announced yesterday that an exploration conducted over the past few years has pinpointed the location of a historically important Indian village known as Kiskiak.

But even more important, officials said, is the discovery in a Kiskiak “midden,” or trash dump, of two fingernail-size pieces of sheet copper used for trade by Englishmen during the earliest years of Jamestown.

Freedom Park faces conflict

James City County has the tax records and oral history to document Freedom Park in Centerville as the site of a 19th century settlement for free blacks.

But so far, archaeologists have only found artifacts dating to the 17th and 18th centuries, presenting a challenge for county officials as they look to honor the site’s role in black history.

“To give some authenticity, we need to find some actual archaeological information,” said Alan Robertson, the chairman of the county’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission. “The part that will draw someone to that site, not just read about it, are some concrete examples.”

The Oldest Americans May Prove Even Older

On a hillside by the Savannah River, under tall oaks bearded with Spanish moss, an archaeologist and a graduate student crouched in the humid depths of a trench. They had reason to think they were in the presence of a breathtaking discovery.

Or at the least, they were on to something more than 20,000 years old that would throw American archaeology into further turmoil over its most contentious issue: when did people first reach America, and who were they?

The sandy soil of the trench walls was flecked with pieces of chert, the source of flint coveted by ancient toolmakers. Some of the stone flakes appeared to be unfinished discards. Others had the sharp-edged look of more fully realized blades, chisels and scrapers. Long ago, it seemed, Stone Age hunter-gatherers had frequently stopped here and, perhaps, these toolmakers were among the first Americans.

Actual archaeological method discussed in news Archeologist hunts area for clues to settlement patterns

Archeologist Duane Quates has been in this area for more than a month, doing preliminary research that may change the way archeologists study settlement patterns.

“What I’m looking at mainly is what we call ’settlement hierarchy,’” said Quates, a doctoral student at Michigan State University. “For example, let’s take New York City — it’s the biggest city, it’s the most complex. Further away you have the suburbs and further away you have the little farmsteads. That’s a settlement hierarchy.”

In the early 1800s, before this area was settled by white people, Pensacola became a marketplace and port where Creek and Seminole Indians traded deerskins and cattle with the Spanish.

In about 1815, after the Creek Indian War the Indians’ land was turned over to the United States, and white people from South Carolina started to settle in this area.

The fact that settlers were coming here from the east, and their goods were being traded to the south, creates an unusual opportunity for archeological research.

“Settlement pattern” archaeology is basically getting a tally of all of the sites in a given area, their sizes, and the different activities performed at them. It’s really been a part of archaeology for a long time, but really came into its own in the 1960s and 70s.

More mummy stuff

Mummy’s mystery unravels in 3D

Meet ‘Nes’ – though he may not have been as nice as he looks. In fact, personality type is now pretty much the only thing we don’t know about Nesperennub, an Egyptian priest in his forties who lived 2,800 years ago on the banks of the Nile.

In a technological and historical world first, this weekend the British Museum has unveiled or, more accurately, unwrapped the interior of a mummy that had remained sealed since it was made by masters of the ancient Egyptian craft of mummification. The startling operation was carried out without disturbing the intricate wrappings and amulets that were originally placed around his dead body.

Using scanning technology developed by neurological researchers in a London hospital, the British Museum has recreated the kind of public ‘unrolling’ of a mummy that used to draw crowds in the 19th century. In those days irreversible damage was often caused to the remains inside and many mummies were discarded and lost forever.

June 29, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:54 am

Holy ****! Archaeologists Dig Up Pennsylvania Outhouses

Four West Coast men have made a hobby of digging up old outhouses in the Bloomsburg, Pa., and Danville, Pa. areas looking for clues about life in the 1800s.

Mark Junker of Portland says the group has been making the trip for more than a decade, because development patterns mean Pennsylvania towns have more unexplored privies than out West.

Now, we here at ArchaeoBlog were all set to use this story to illustrate a number of interesting and useful archaeological concepts, such as dietary change, trash disposal behaviors, vegetative indicators of cultural remains, etc. And indeed, these connections could be made. However, we have come to believe that excavating any large deposits of fecal matter less than, say, 500 years old, is just plain wrong on so many levels, we hereby refrain from doing so. In other words, to those who would want to excavate these things, we implore you to Just.Say.No.

Okay, we will expound on one issue: identifying sites through an examination of vegetation. Human activity can change the soil and sediment in habitation areas. Often when one looks for sites, one looks for actual artifacts or landforms that indicate human origin. Obviously, pyramids aren’t naturally occurring objects so they’re a good indicator that people were there. But in many (if not most) cases, archaeological sites are entirely obscured by later plant growth, especially when there are no large standing structures, such as house walls.

Ground surveys and especially aerial or satellite photography can often help. When humans are active in an area, they are bringing in a lot of organic material and leaving much of it behind either in the form of trash disposal of food waste or excrement. Since much of this (especially the latter) makes a good fertilizer, sites can often be identified by especially rich areas of plant growth. Thus, one can examine aerial photos of an area and notice if any areas seem to be particularly lush with vegetation. If they seem to have a regular pattern there is a good chance humans were using the area.

The opposite is also the case. For example, on San Juan Island, WA, a rather extensive pre-colonial site lies in the present British Camp location. Much of this consists of a shell midden where literally tons and tons of shells were discarded near the shoreline after processing for food. The vast amount of shells not only changed the pH of the soil, but also drain much better than the surrounding soils, so much so that they dry out much quicker and therefore in the summer dry season the areas of shell midden turn brown much faster. Thus, one can trace the boundaries of the midden by observing the ‘brown line’. A picture would make this much clearer, but we haven’t any.

See here for a report on the San Juan Island work. The page linked here has some on the most recent work, but the entire online volume has a lot of good information on the history of the island and makes for a good and informative read.

Under the sea, archaeologist hunts history of shipwrecks

The sea holds on. The Despatch lies in shallow water, but it’s rolling Atlantic water, and the divers who went looking for her this week had to feel their way around.

Susan Langley , underwater archaeologist for the state of Maryland , said that visibility in the murky water was only a few inches. Still, with the help of side-scan sonar and magnetic readings, it was enough for her to conclude that the wreck is worth protecting from collectors and treasure hunters, and she will recommend the same to the National Park Service and to Virginia.

Basque house yields secrets

A small sewing pin. A shoe button. Lots of plum and cherry pits. A chewed-up, hollow bone fragment, probably a rabbit’s. Toy marbles, probably owned by Palmer, the little boy who used to live in the house.

By the bucketful, volunteer archaeologists are turning the Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga House into a hot archaeological dig in downtown Boise.

“It really personalizes history,” said Kathy Hamlett of Nampa, who is helping to recover artifacts from the site. “It just makes you feel closer to people from the past even if you’ve never met them.”

Copper pieces help track trade at early Jamestown

Two small pieces of copper are the latest evidence of early trade between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhatan Indians at the village of Kiskiak.

They were unearthed on Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, on the York River, by archaeologists with the College of William and Mary.

“By all accounts, copper was the preeminent prestige commodity circulating within the 17th Century Powhatan chiefdom. In fact, little else of a material nature is known to have distinguished rank and privilege within traditional Powhatan society as clearly,” said Dennis B. Blanton, former director of the William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research and current head of archaeology at Virginia’s Shirley Plantation.

More on the Voynich document The Mystery of the Voynich Manuscript

In 1912 Wilfrid Voynich, an American rare-book dealer, made the find of a lifetime in the library of a Jesuit college near Rome: a manuscript some 230 pages long, written in an unusual script and richly illustrated with bizarre images of plants, heavenly spheres and bathing women. Voynich immediately recognized the importance of his new acquisition. Although it superficially resembled the handbook of a medieval alchemist or herbalist, the manuscript appeared to be written entirely in code. Features in the illustrations, such as hairstyles, suggested that the book was produced sometime between 1470 and 1500, and a 17th-century letter accompanying the manuscript stated that it had been purchased by Rudolph II, the Holy Roman Emperor, in 1586. During the 1600s, at least two scholars apparently tried to decipher the manuscript, and then it disappeared for nearly 250 years until Voynich unearthed it.

We believe we reported on this some time ago, but this seems to be a more detailed article.

Slave archaeology Dig unearths long-lost Downstate town founded by freed slave

Researchers have unearthed buttons, chunks of porcelain and about 10,000 other artifacts they hope will turn a remote western Illinois pasture into a national historic site marking the earliest known town incorporated by a black man in the United States.

Crews are to wrap up their first archaeological dig this weekend in a field about 30 miles southeast of Quincy, where historians say freed slave Frank McWorter launched his integrated frontier village New Philadelphia in 1836, a quarter century before the Civil War and other black-founded towns.

We reiterate what we have said before, that the archaeology of slavery in this country is a vast and highly interesting area of inquiry. Not only is it important for history’s sake, but it can elucidate a number of anthropological issues involving the displacement of populations and their experience surviving in an alien cultural environment.

He was lost? St George found in Welsh church

A medieval wall painting has been uncovered during renovation work at a south Wales church.

A life-size image of St George standing on a slain a dragon was uncovered at St Cadoc’s church in Llangattock Lingoed, near Abergavenny.

Discovered during recent renovations at the centuries old church, experts have described the painting as a “special find”.

The painting is thought to have been covered up during the Reformation.

And while on the subject of blogs. . .

On a non-archaeological subject but nonetheless relevant, we direct the interested reader to a recent essay by a friend of ours who goes by the name Nicholas Kronos and has his own blog here. While generally political in nature, Nick posted an excellent essay the other day on the concept of blogging in general which is well worth reading. An exerpt:

Why do so many people keep journals, diaries, and now blogs? It is from the irresistible urge in the soul of some human beings to communicate, conflicting with their concomitant fear of being misunderstood and having that communication fail. . .[W]hat if all the effort and frustration of putting one’s ideas and thoughts into an effective medium and sending them to the other worked–only to find out that a “failure to communicate” never was the problem to begin with. No, the problem was with you. It was not that no one understood you; it was that even understanding you did not lead to your love and acceptance.

We just do it to get attention, in case you were wondering. Fortune and glory, baby, fortune and glory. . . .

June 28, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:22 am

Iraq news N.C. professor tapped to rebuild Iraq’s university system

An N.C. Wesleyan College professor is packing up his educational knowledge and using it to help rebuild Iraq’s ailing university system.

Tom O’Connor, associate professor of justice studies at N.C. Wesleyan College, will accompany instructors from across the nation to Sulaymania, Iraq, this summer to lead faculty development seminars for Iraqi teachers.

“I’ve never done anything like this before,” O’Connor said. “It’s amazing.”

The professor was appointed by the Institute of International Education to teach for three to four weeks at the University of Sulaymania. He will teach a seminar on forensic archaeology to professors from universities, technical institutes and colleges from across Iraq. The program also is being sponsored by the Lounsbery Foundation and the Iraq Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

Lost city found! Baalbek identified as ancient city of Tunip

After years of controversy, one Lebanese archaeologist believes he has finally located the ancient city of Tunip, a town mentioned in various Egyptian texts, as the “sun city,” Baalbek.

Presenting the results of his latest discovery at the Lebanese Heritage Center at the Lebanese American University on Wednesday, Ibrahim Kawkabani explained exactly how he determined that Tunip was in fact Baalbek, located in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

Kawkabani began excavations in the city in June 1986 in the great hall in front of the Temple of Jupiter.

“I had two ideas in mind, that the Romans erected their temples on an archeological hill and second, that they leveled part of the hill’s conical top to widen the building space,” he said.


Archaeologists yesterday revealed they have unearthed a huge Roman villa and may have even identified who owned it. They believe the villa, in the heart of the Dorset countryside, was owned by a rich and important native Roman called Anicetus.

He was mentioned by Roman historian Tacitus who said that he possibly donated money to the Roman army.

The archaeologists have identified he lived there by using an eighth century transcription of a Roman map which listed all villa estates.

Because they know the names of places and people who lived in the area, they can make confident suggestions about who owned the villa.

As lake recedes, relics revealed

As Lake Mead continues to drop in the midst of a drought, the National Park Service is asking the public for ideas on how to protect historical treasures emerging from the deep.

There are bound to be surprises hidden in the depths of the man-made reservoir, experts say.

As the lake level declines, the park service and the public may see sites that have been underwater for decades.

“We’re just beginning to discover what is down there,” park service archaeologist Rosie Pepito said.

This happens every so often. Since lake levels fluctuate over time, what was once dry land can now be covered with water even within natural bodies of water. Droughts provide a way to locate many of these sites, despite the other problems they cause people.

Go pigeons! Pigeons find hidden Spain fresco

A Renaissance fresco hidden for 300 years has been rediscovered in Spain – thanks to nesting pigeons.

Art restorers working in Valencia’s cathedral spotted the birds flying through a hole in what turned out to be a false ceiling and were intrigued.

They stuck a digital camera in the gap and shot pictures that showed a well-preserved 15th century Italian fresco.

It is one of the earliest and most important examples of such Renaissance art in Spain, experts say.

The fresco, which depicts four angels against a starry blue background, was painted by two Italians, Francesco Pagano and Paolo de San Leocadio, in the late 1400s.

“Give her back!” Egypt steps up calls on Germany to return Nefertiti bust

Egypt staked a fresh claim to the priceless ancient bust of Queen Nefertiti, which has spent the last century in Berlin after its discovery by a German archaeologist.

The director of the Egyptian National Museum in Cairo, Wafaa Seddiq, told a German newspaper that the elegant limestone figure was removed from the country illegally and that it should at least be loaned back to its home country.

“We know that we will not be able to bring Nefertiti back for ever but an exhibit for a few months would be possible,” Seddiq told the Bild am Sonntag.

“It is even our right to have it for such an exhibition because the bust was smuggled to Germany back then.”

There is apparently a woman named Eva Christensen who has been engaged in a process of numerous plastic surgeries to make herself look exactly like the famous bust of Nefertiti. Short story here. We believe she has succeeded more in looking like a burn victim than the Queen of the Nile. We have no photos to demonstrate this, so you, gentle reader, must trust our judgement.

June 25, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 3:21 pm

By the way, the picture of the giant Saudi Arabian man skeleton is now accessible. Just scroll down.

Oh, heck, here it is:

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 10:08 am

Fight! Fight! Extinction’s group theory

For more than three decades it has been known as the Blitzkrieg theory of extinction – the orgy of hunting and blood lust that took place when humans first arrived in new lands around the planet. Wonderful and bizarre giant beasts, known as megafauna, were rapidly pushed to extinction over the last 50,000 years and ancient man was the culprit.

By the time the killing was over some of the most impressive creatures that evolution has ever thrown up, such as the six-tonne woolly mammoth and the 2.7-tonne Australian diprotodon, had been wiped out from millions of square kilometres of their habitat.

. . .

The only problem with this grisly story is that, to some of the researchers who study these ancient extinctions, it is becoming clear that the crime could not have been committed by human hunting alone.

This is one of the few truly archaeological controversies that spills over into current affairs. The ArchaeoBlog staff has its own views on this topic, but we shan’t divulge them here. Not that we’re afraid of alienating anyone, but we prefer to be right in silence and modesty. We will therefore take this rare opportunity to provide a couple of links to online papers that will hopefully elucidate the issue.

Actually, we somewhat take that back, the only papers we can find freely available seem to be those on one side of the issue. Hopefully, however, the interested reader can do some web searching and come up with more argument from the other side. These are from David Meltzer’s site, which has quite a few of his articles available without subscription and should make good reading anyhow.

Clovis Hunting and large mammal extinction: A critical review of the evidence

A requiem for North American Overkill

North American overkill continued? Reply to critique of the Requiem paper.

New topic Man unearths Bronze Age dagger in field

A METAL detecting enthusiast has unearthed a 3,600-year-old dagger from the depths of a South Lakeland field.

The finder, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear others will descend on the secret site, said he could not believe his luck when he stumbled across the Bronze Age relic.

“I was going along a small footpath when I got a good signal from the detector. I dug down a few inches and saw a piece of green metal,” he explained.

“My immediate reaction was it’s Bronze Age’.”

Fragments of Roman armlets found in dig

Fragments of two glass armlets, dating back to the Roman era, have been discovered during an archaeological dig at Knowes Farm near East Linton.

The remains of several circular Iron Age houses with stone-flagged floors, apparently belonging to the latest period of occupation, have also been uncovered.

A team of around 20 students and archaeologists have set up the dig in a field the size of a football pitch, as part of the Traprain Law Environs Project.

Prof Colin Haselgrove from the Department of Archaeology at Durham University has been joined by his colleague, Mr Peter Carne, and Professor Leon Fitts from Dickinson College in the USA.

Since the 1950s, aerial surveys of the Iron Age hill fort at Traprain Law have revealed the buried remains of an estimated 100 smaller enclosures.

That’s the whole thing.

Antiquities Market update ART DEALER’S $1M SMUGGLE

An art dealer pleaded guilty yesterday to smuggling a $1 million ancient silver griffin — believed to have been plundered from an Iranian cave — from Switzerland to New Jersey.

Hicham Aboutaam, of the Phoenix Ancient Art firm in Geneva, agreed to sell the griffin-shaped drinking vessel, created around 700 BC, to a New York collector, Manhattan federal prosecutors said.

He personally transported the griffin to Newark Airport in February 2000, claiming the antique was from Syria, when really it was from the Western Cave of Iran.

The cave, the site of many ancient artifacts, was completely plundered by treasure hunters in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Aboutaam, who pleaded guilty to falsifying a commercial invoice, faces up to one year in jail.

That’s the whole thing, too.

Looks like they’re heading home Scottish Museum to Return Maori Heads

Three 19th-century Maori heads that were hidden away in a Glasgow museum for more than 50 years will be returned to their native New Zealand, the Glasgow city council decided Thursday.

Council members voted unanimously to repatriate the tattooed preserved heads, called “toi moko,” along with an 18th-century leg bone of a Maori warrior chief and several other artifacts.

The items were donated to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow between 1900 and 1950 but never put on display.

Sri Lanka’s history under attack

Environmentalists warn that unchecked vandalism and neglect are destroying thousands of ancient rock caves in Sri Lanka, with scores of Buddha statues rendered headless and paintings defaced.

In the absence of a detailed survey, it is believed there are between 3,000 and 4,000 caves of historic importance in the country, bearing testimony to its ancient history and religion.

Former director general of archaeology Shiran Deraniyagala declared that unless the authorities took immediate action to save the caves, important historical evidence would soon be gone, reports OneWorld.

He alleged there was an orchestrated move to destroy archaeological sites to remove precious artefacts.

June 24, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:14 pm

Cool breaking news Archaeologists set to announce major prehistoric find in Utah

For more than 50 years, rancher Waldo Wilcox kept most outsiders off his land and the secret under wraps: a string of ancient settlements thousands of years old in near perfect condition.

Hidden deep inside eastern Utah’s nearly inaccessible Book Cliffs region, 130 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, the prehistoric villages run for 12 miles along Range Creek, where Wilcox guarded hundreds of rock art panels, cliffside granaries, pit houses and rock shelters, some exposing mummified remains of long-ago inhabitants.

The sites were occupied for at least 3,000 years until they were abandoned more than 1,000 years ago, when the Fremont people mysteriously vanished. The Fremont, a collection of hunter-gatherers and farmers, preceded more modern American Indian tribes on the Colorado Plateau.

Marineland skeletons update Archaeologist to visit site of bone find

The human remains found here last week are likely not significant enough to stop plans to build 276 condominiums, a Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research official said Wednesday.

Two teeth and a hand bone, believed to be Indian remains, discovered across State Road A1A from the Marineland attraction were unearthed by erosion, and not by vandals or construction, said Ryan Wheeler, chief of the Bureau of Archaeological Research.

“From everything that we’ve heard so far, it’s a natural process,” Wheeler said of the find.

Dallas-based Centex Corp. is building the condominium project next to the attraction, known for its dolphins and oceanarium.

The state archaeologist said he will visit Marineland, possibly next week, to determine the exposure of the remains, he said.

New findings throw limelight on Peking Man site

New geological findings and enhanced protection efforts at Peking Man site at Zhoukoudian on Beijing’s outskirts have thrown again the limelight on the world heritage site since last year.

Chinese archaeologists unearthed in 1929 the first complete skull of Peking Man at Zhoukoudian, about 50 km southwest of downtown Beijing. The Peking Man was proved to have lived approximately 500,000 years ago and the discovery stunned the world then.

By 1937, five complete skulls of the Peking Man had been unearthed since excavation of the Peking Man site which was started in 1927.

Except for three teeth of Peking Man stored in a lab in Sweden, the five skulls sunk into oblivion during World War II and no trace of them has ever been found.

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 1:03 pm

Update on Paleolithic Froot Loops Farming origins gain 10,000 years

Humans made their first tentative steps towards farming 23,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought.

Stone Age people in Israel collected the seeds of wild grasses some 10,000 years earlier than previously recognised, experts say.

These grasses included wild emmer wheat and barley, which were forerunners of the varieties grown today.

A US-Israeli team report their findings in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

We’re not sure the ‘farming origins’ headline is really appropriate. Simply because they were eating a lot of grasses doesn’t mean they were controlling their growth, i.e., agriculture. Nonetheless, this brings up an important issue in archaeology, namely the whole ‘origins of agriculture’ debate. At this juncture we could go into a long extended diatribe on just what we think about the subject, but that would make us look dry, boring, and opinionated.

Instead, we will opt to link to a dry, boring, and opinionated review of a book from several years ago that made a novel attempt to set up a theoretical structure to explain the origins of agriculture. To wit, David Rindos’ The Origins of Agriculture: An Evolutionary Perspective. We were first introduced to this book in graduate school, by one R.C. Dunnell (linked left) who has been attempting to build Darwinian evolutionary theory into archaeological explanation. The link here provides a pretty good review of both the book and the history of studies into the agriculture question.

Search for Aztec Homeland Clouded in Myth, Politics

The mythical homeland of Mexico’s Aztecs — an island known as Aztlan — has eluded historians for centuries, and the quest to find it has become shrouded in political spin and scholarly speculation.

Like the lost Atlantis and Camelot, Aztlan may or may not have existed, but fervent believers have sought it from the desert of Utah to a mangrove swamp in western Mexico.

Academics agree that the Aztecs, a warlike tribe with a passion for human sacrifice, wandered the badlands of central Mexico for years before founding what is now Mexico City around 1325 and then forging the greatest empire of the ancient Americas.

Well, we know where it is. . . .

More jerks American Indian Historic Sites Looted

Mysterious petroglyphs etched in hundreds of volcanic boulders east of Reno have survived the elements for centuries. Volunteers are now hoping the artifacts will survive the ravages of modern man.

The American Indian artwork — depicting bighorn sheep and stick-people figures — is endangered by vandals and collectors as Nevada’s sprawling growth and a soaring number of off-road vehicles have taken civilization to the doorstep of once remote backcountry sites.

The volunteers are mobilizing to preserve the 4,000-year-old site in a corner of the parched Pah Rah Range claimed by the Paiute and Washoe tribes. They also are expanding their efforts across the state.

Mapping Stonehenge 5,000 years of Stonehenge

It has stood – in various incarnations – for some 5,000 years on the Salisbury Plain in southern England. It has drawn and inspired astronomers, druids and ‘wannabe’ druids, ancient and modern pilgrims, and even overenthusiastic heavy metal bands whose amplifiers go to eleven.

Stonehenge is one of the world’s most famous man-made creations, but there has never been a website which offered virtual visitors a thorough tour of the monument and its environs, until now. The Stonehenge World Heritage Site Interactive Map brings visitors into the center of the circles, and also introduces them to the archaeological context of the surrounding countryside.

Launched on June 11 (and referred to by its creators as a ‘microsite’), the Stonehenge Map was designed as a supplement to a larger Stonehenge feature at the Web home of English Heritage (An organization dedicated to protecting England’s “historic environment”). But even standing on its own, the Map offers extensive coverage of the famous circles of stones, as well as a roughly 5 x 3-mile area of adjacent landscape – providing both a geographical and historical setting for the ruins.

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:59 am

New Technique Sheds Light On Maya History

There are elaborate hieroglyphs, burial objects and other clues.

But the recent application of a geological technique to an archaeological problem may offer a unique tool for gleaning seemingly unknowable facts about the ancient Maya – based only on excavated bones and teeth.

University of Florida geology Professor David Hodell and Associate Professor Mark Brenner did an elaborate review of the technique, which combines elements of geology, anthropology and forensic science, in the Central American region that was home to the classic Maya civilization. Their conclusion: The method can help determine where long-dead leaders and ordinary residents of such grand settlements as Tikal were born and raised, building on – and sometimes contradicting – history that until recently had been gleaned only from hieroglyphics and other archaeological evidence.

“We were able to demonstrate that you can distinguish between the different parts of the Maya area,” Hodell said of the research, described in a May article in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “You can tell whether an individual was raised in Tikal or whether they came from somewhere else.”

Note that this technique has been used in recent stories involving the Welshmen Who Built Stonehenge making recent headlines.

Update: The original JAS article can be found here (subscribers only, or through university networks). A free abstract might be here.

Islamic Cairo grapples with restoring its treasures

The recently laid white marble floor is almost blinding in the summer sun at the heart of Cairo’s 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar mosque, a landmark in a city with Islamic architectural riches that few can rival.

“The noble Al-Azhar mosque was restored to its original condition in the era of President Hosni Mubarak in 1998 AD,” reads a plaque in the mosque, which dates back to about 970 AD in the era of the Fatimids who founded Egypt’s capital.

But not everyone agrees with the sentiments inscribed over the old portico that surrounds the main courtyard.

To critics, the restoration of Al-Azhar — one of the oldest seats of learning in the Islamic world — is an example of what has gone wrong as Egypt races to save its wealth of Islamic treasures in the chaotic, polluted city of at least 16 million.

Another example of the pitfalls and controversies surrounding conservation/restoration.

Artifacts expected to rewrite NH Native American history

Careful study of the Sargent Museum’s archaeology collection will “essentially rewrite the Indian history of New Hampshire,” predicted Sargent Museum Executive Director Wesley Stinson.

Stinson said items recovered from the Smyth site, excavated in 1968 when the Amoskeag Bridge was built, will prove “almost indisputably” that it was Chief Passaconaway’s village site and the Indian capital of New Hampshire.

The excavation was at the site of the Smyth mansion, which was torn down to make way for the eastern approach to the bridge.

Sadly, this story doesn’t go into any detail on exactly how whatever artifacts there are show it. But hey, there it is. It does bring up the point we have made often, that there are great heaping gobs of stuff stored in museums the world over that have never been properly analyzed.

Urns proof of ancient pot burial

Evidence of a prehistoric burial custom of interring dead people in pots has again surfaced in Tamil Nadu with the chance discovery of six “burial urns” in Tirunelveli district.

The urns, known in Tamil as “mudhumakkal thaazhi (large pots for the old)”, were found about a week ago in a farm near Kuvalakarai village when the “land was being dug”, official sources at Sankarankovil said.

The villagers were taken by surprise as one urn brought to the surface contained, among other things, some smaller earthen pots and “very fragile skeletal bone pieces”, a source said over telephone.

The urn is being examined, the sources said. “The local revenue authorities have sent a report on the discovery to the Tirunelveli district collector,” a source added.

We’re not sure of the importance of this discovery. It’s not like put burials are unknown or particularly rare. Perhaps there is some local chronological or religious significance of which we are unaware. It does usually indicate that the body was allowed to decompose to bones before interment which may be significant (exceptions are instances where either the pot is really BIG or the body is really small, such as a child).

What a stud Genghis Khan: Father to Millions?

Genghis Khan left a legacy shared by 16 million people alive today, according to a book by a Oxford geneticist who identified the Mongol emperor as the most successful alpha male in human history.

Regarded by the Mongolians as the father of their nation, Genghis Khan was born around 1162. A military and political genius, he united the tribes of Mongolia and conquered half of the known world with a cavalry riding on grass-fed ponies.

Good show Ancient hair gives up its DNA secrets

Analysing DNA from ancient strands of hair is a new tool for learning about the past, molecular archaeologists say, including whether hair samples belonged to Sir Isaac Newton.

Until now, scientists had thought analysing the hair shaft was of relatively little use as it contained so little DNA.

Dr Tom Gilbert of the University of Arizona led an international team that reported its work in the latest issue of the journal Current Biology.

The researchers said they had extracted and sequenced mitochondrial DNA from 12 hair samples, 60 to 64,800 years old, from ancient bison, horses and humans.

June 23, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:32 pm

Just a few stories today as most of the staff was indisposed performing a great deal of complex statistical analyses having little to do with archaeology. We have our hands in many pies, you know. Or whatever the proper simile might be.

Don’t try this at home Pilot marries loves of flying, archaeology

At the top of a computerized map of one of his recent flights, Joe Vogel wrote, “Why people will not fly with me.”

The map logs 29 circles that Vogel performed during a flight over a series of archaeological sites north of Prescott.

He has to make loops around the sites so he can accurately measure the coordinates.

If that’s not enough for a trick, Vogel often sets his single-engine 1967 Citabria on “power attitude,” props open a window and starts shooting photos of archaeological sites 1,000 feet below him with a 300-400mm lens.

Archaeologist in the buff! Archaeology buff seeks stronger historic preservation rules

A local archaeology buff wants Bonita Springs to put more teeth in its historic preservation rules so decision-makers could force owners to designate their properties as historic.

Bonita’s current law allows only for a voluntary historic designation with a written petition from the property owner.

Charlie Strader, the namesake of a Snarkage Drive archaeological site slated for development, will ask the Bonita Springs City Council to add language to its law so elected leaders or the historic preservation board could initiate the designation process at its July 7 meeting.

“It’s made ineffectual by being voluntary only,” Strader said. “What makes us look distinctive now from any other Florida town? Do we want to maintain that? . . . It would give us a better chance to maintain any distinction or integrity of this community.”

Okay, we lied.

Remote sensing update Modern technology helps survey imperial tomb

Archaeologists at one of China’s most significant archaeological sites are learning more by digging less.

Scientists prospecting the relics under the Mausoleum of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) are using advanced technology to protect buried relics.

“Instead of surveying underground relics by applying long and narrow shovels, we use remote sensing technology to investigate the covered relics,” said archaeologist Duan Qingbo.

Oh, we get it. British humour Another view: Stonehenge, second home for the Dibties of Preseli

I am terribly excited about the news this week that archaeologists have discovered the grave of Britons who built Stonehenge and dragged those bluestones all the way from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire. Tests on the tooth enamel from Bronze Age skeletons found near the site show that they almost certainly came from west Wales originally.

At last, this confirms my theory that Stonehenge was actually a second home. Stressed out Pembrokeshire Bronze Age executives moved there to get a better quality of life and room for the kids to mess about on Salisbury Plain. These prosperous ancient Britons, known as “Dibties” – dual incomes, bronze tools – moved in with their smart four-ton bluestones and “did up” the simple earthworks which had been built there in the Neolithic period.

June 22, 2004

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:17 pm

Paleolithic Froot Loops Cereals Sought Much Earlier Than Previously Thought, Archaeologists Say

Pouring a bowl of cereal is a morning ritual for many people. Popular wisdom holds that our taste for grains goes back some 10,000 years. New findings may more than double that estimate.

This might be a subscription-only article, but we had no trouble getting to it. The ‘broad spectrum revolution’ is defined nicely here and more info can be gained by a simple search of the Web. For a rather interesting article on the use of a wide variety of plant foods in the American southeast, see Seed Processing and the Origins of Food Production in Eastern North America by Kristen J. Gremillion in the April 2004 American Antiquity (Volume 69 Number 2 April 2004). Fascinating study that describes in pretty good detail the different types of plants that were utilized before maize became so dominant.

Archaeologist Tries to Solve 1,500 Year Old Mystery

A Wichita State archaeologist is trying to learn more about the path the Hopewell people took as they traveled across the state from about 50 B.C. to 500 A.D.

The Hopewell culture is best known for the earth mounds along the Ohio River. But these early inhabitants also made religious pilgrimages to sacred sites in the Yellowstone National Park area and Idaho.

Jim Dougherty, of Wichita State University, is trying to trace their travel routes across Kansas. He believes the items they left behind can help. And he’s asking farmers, ranchers and amateur archaeologists in west-central and western Kansas to contact him if they’ve found particular kinds of pottery shards, certain styles of arrow points, and other objects.

This story also has a good description of the Hopewell phenomenon, or the Hopewell Interaction Sphere as it’s also known. It’s another fascinating aspect of North American prehistory that is not so well known popularly.

Yet another cemetery uncovered Indian burial ground discovered at Bay Area construction site

A centuries-old American Indian burial ground has been discovered at a construction site east of San Francisco, offering new clues about the people who inhabited the region long before the Spanish arrived.

About 80 sets of human remains and artifacts have already been unearthed, and at least as many are believed to be hidden beneath Lafayette’s Hidden Oaks housing development, where two dozen upscale homes are planned.

Construction on the two-acre site was halted last week when the first remains were uncovered, so Lafayette officials could review the project and ask experts to study the discovery’s significance.

Archeologists said they may have found one of the San Francisco Bay area’s last, mostly intact Indian burial sites of significant size. Among the items recovered are projectile points, stone mortars and beads.

Yet another story on the Stonehenge 3 Tooth enamel sheds light on ruin’s origin

Roadworks have unearthed clues to who built Stonehenge – long the source of speculation and myth, writes David Derbyshire from London.

Ever since the Romans stumbled across the crumbling ruins 2000 years ago, mankind has wondered at the mysterious origins of Stonehenge.

Julius Caesar thought the temple was the work of the Druids; the medieval writer Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed that it had been magically whisked from Ireland by Merlin; folk tales claimed it as the work of the devil.

Now archaeologists believe they have finally unmasked the elusive Britons who dragged Stonehenge’s bluestones more than 160 kilometres from the Welsh mountains to Salisbury Plain to create Europe’s greatest prehistoric monument.

Chemical tests on the tooth enamel from Bronze Age skeletons buried in a mass grave near the site have revealed that they were almost certainly born in west Wales – close to the mountains where the stones originated.

Expert reveals Dilmun truths

Saudi archaeologist Nabiel Al Shaikh observes yesterday’s sunset from the remains of the 4,000-year-old Dilmun settlement in Saar.

Mr Al Shaikh, a photographer and archaeologist at Dammam Regional Museum, in Saudi Arabia, claims the landmark proves that the Dilmun civilisation was one of the first to use a solar calendar.

He says that on the summer solstice, which occurs every year on June 21, the sun sets directly over an odd triangular corner of the temple – suggesting the corner was some sort of astronomical device used to measure the position of the sun.

He has returned to the site every year since 1996 to witness the phenomenon, but has yet to convince the Bahraini authorities that his theory is correct.

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