February 28, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 4:05 pm

There’s something fishy about human brain evolution

Forget the textbook story about tool use and language sparking the dramatic evolutionary growth of the human brain. Instead, imagine ancient hominid children chasing frogs. Not for fun, but for food.
According to Dr. Stephen Cunnane it was a rich and secure shore-based diet that fuelled and provided the essential nutrients to make our brains what they are today. Controversially, according to Dr. Cunnane our initial brain boost didn’t happen by adaptation, but by exaptation, or chance.

“Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists usually point to things like the rise of language and tool making to explain the massive expansion of early hominid brains. But this is a Catch-22. Something had to start the process of brain expansion and I think it was early humans eating clams, frogs, bird eggs and fish from shoreline environments. This is what created the necessary physiological conditions for explosive brain growth,” says Dr. Cunnane, a metabolic physiologist at the University of Sherbrooke in Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Hmmm. Kinda short on detail and no commentary from critics. Seems as interesting a hypothesis as any.

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 4:05 pm

Ann Althouse has a post up on the scholarship potential of law blogs.

One lawprof is quoted as saying blogs “have nothing to do with scholarship”. This is probably overstating things. Archaeologists/anthropologists don’t seem to generally like blogs. Perhaps it’s too public. Email lists tend to be quite popular and get a lot of use for discussing the minutae of archaeological issues. John Hawks uses his for throwing his ideas out in kind of a semi-formal way (providing references, making fairly detailed discipline-centered arguments), and also includes commentary on more mundane and entertaining matters.

Archaeologists should use blogs. There. I said it. It would be a GREAT way to communicate what we do to a larger lay audience. It can create a space where your average person can, through Comments, ask a professional archaeologist a question. We can let people know why we do what we do, what we get out of the sites we excavate, what the controversies are and what we think of them. It would humanize us, especially if we include some more personal stuff on our blogs. It’s really easy to blast someone for holding a particular (but probably heavily stereotyped) view on some issue or other, but harder when you’ve just finished reading how their kid just learned to walk. Well, maybe not for some. But still, any archaeology blog is almost bound to be less full of fireworks than your typical political blog.

Archaeology Team Discovers Oldest Remains of Sea-faring Ships in the World

A team of archaeologists from Boston University and the University of Naples l’Orientale recently uncovered the oldest remains of sea-faring ships in the world and cargo boxes containing goods from the lost-land of Punt – a fabled southern Red Sea trading center. The discoveries were made during a round of excavations inside two man-made caves previously found by the team at Wadi Gawasis on Egypt’s Red Sea coast.

In remarkable condition, the unique artifacts of cedar planks and decking timber – some with the mortises and tenons, and copper fastenings still in place – demonstrate that the Ancient Egyptians were excellent ship builders and provide further evidence that they reached Punt by sea. The findings may also help researchers determine the location of Punt, a long-time source of debate among scholars.

Not much new here from previous stories on this find, but it’s a good reminder anyway.

Chinese find 3,000-year-old hand painting

A 3,000-YEAR-old painting made with human hand prints and believed to depict a dancing man and woman has been discovered by archaeologists on a cliff in south-west China.

The painting, measuring about 4ft by 5ft and created using a mixture of iron ore and animal blood, was found near the Jinsha river in Yunnan province, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Local people guided three archaeologists to the scene, according to Ji Xueping, an associate professor with the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

That’s the whole thing. There are more stories around, but all seem to be similarly short.

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:40 am

Archaeologists discover Saint Chad’s Burial Place and Shrine

In a discovery hailed as being of “European significance” and the “foundation of English art”, archaeologists working at Lichfield Cathedral have uncovered the church built to house the grave of St Chad; together with the “Lichfield Angel” – part of the shrine created around AD700 by Bishop Hedda to mark the resting place of Lichfield’s first Bishop.

And now the remains of the shrine are to be reunited for the first time in more than 1,000 years with the Lichfield Gospels – an illuminated manuscript commissioned in the eighth century to adorn the shrine. And, thanks to collaboration between the Cathedral, the British Library and the Parish of Llandeilo, members of the public will be able to ‘turn the pages’ of the precious Lichfield Gospels as they have been digitised – digital versions of the St Chad Gospels will be on display in the Cathedral and also available to tour across the diocese.

Never heard of him, but it seems to be quite important.

CRM update State Archaeologist: The future can wait for some work on our past

All the Utah state archaeologist has the power to do is slow things down a bit. And because the things he or she might want to slow down are the destruction of priceless human artifacts, the loss of irreplaceable fossils and the creation of huge gaps in our understanding of the land that gives us life, that is hardly too great a burden.
Of course, deliberation and thought have few friends in our modern world, least of all among legislative bodies that are motivated to hurry things along so they can bring revenue to both private investors and public tax collectors.
Thus HB139, which passed a lopsided Utah House Tuesday and went to the Senate. It would eliminate the position of state archaeologist and move what remained of the function of preserving our unwritten past from its natural home in the History Division of the Department of Community and Economic Development over to the Governor’s Public Lands Policy Coordination Office.

It’s another editorial against this particular bill.

But it’s still flat Prehistory of Kansas is not what you thought

If pressed, most Kansans would guess the Kansa Indians were the state’s first farmers and corn was their first crop.

And they’d be wrong.

“There were people farming here a thousand years before the Kansa got here,” said Robert Hoard, state archaeologist at the Kansas State Historical Society. “Corn didn’t really kick in as a crop until about 1000 A.D.”

Euro C-14 dating update John Hawks has some comments on the Mellars paper that caused some stir recently.

Hawks also alerts us to the falsity of the Blonde Extinction Event that’s mentioned near the bottom of that article:

The World Health Organization says there is no such study — and that most journalists didn’t call to check.

“We’ve certainly never conducted any research into the subject,” WHO spokeswoman Rebecca Harding said yesterday from Geneva. “It’s been impossible to find out where it came from. It just seems like it was a hoax.”

Don’t remember if I posted that story or not. I recall it, but I don’t even know if ArchaeoBlog was around then.

February 27, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 7:59 pm

Big Woman with a Distant Past: Stone Age gal embodies humanity’s cold shifts

A 260,000-year-old partial skeleton excavated in northwestern China 22 years ago represents our largest known female ancestor, according to a new analysis of the individual’s extensive remains.

This ancient woman puts a modern twist on Stone Age human evolution, say Karen R. Rosenberg of the University of Delaware in Newark, Lü Zuné of Peking University in Beijing, and Chris B. Ruff of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. The fossil individual’s large size and the apparent adaptation of her body to cold conditions are “consistent with the idea that patterns of human anatomical variation that we see today have deep evolutionary roots,” Rosenberg asserts.

2200-year old graveyard of children discovered in Inner Mongolia

Chinese archaeologists have found a 2200-year-old graveyard containing the remains of children in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

According to Chen Yongzhi, vice director of the regional archeological research center, nearly 20 tombs at the 100-square meter graveyard were unearthed at the ruins of ancient Tuchengzi Town in Helinger County.

The archaeologists spotted many earthenware jar-shaped coffins for housing the children’s remains inside the tombs, which date back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD).

Qasr’e Shirin’s 6,000-Year-Old Mystery

Discovery of some clay relics from Obeid Site (an ancient site in Mesopotamia and current Iraq belonging to the 4th Millennium BC) in the city of Qasr’e Shirin has laid the origin and destination of this city�s migrants about 6,000 years ago under ambiguity.

Archeologists want to know whether these migrants came to this region from Mesopotamia or they were traveling among different regions of Zagros Mountains. “Continuation of the surveys and identifications in this city led to the discovery of 75 ancient sites most of which belong to the Obeid Site,” said Ali Hajbari, head of archeology team in Qasr’e Shirin.

“Archeologists are also trying to find out whether these clays are indicators of a kind of economic and cultural connection between this region and Mesopotamia,” added Hajbari.

Power of the Internet, Part 4,397 Ancient maps to soon go online

While they may study places and people that are thousands of years old, scholars at UNC are at the forefront of modernizing antiquity.

Researchers long have had to dip into hefty and static atlases to study the stomping grounds of Alexander the Great or the Roman emperors, but they soon will be able to do so on a comprehensive, open-source database on the Internet — thanks to UNC’s Ancient World Mapping Center.

The group started the project this month with the help of a $390,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Mapping center leaders hope the online project will serve as a template for other humanities scholars to incorporate technology into their research.

Desert site holds centuries of culture

On Tammera and Clay Walker’s property east of Bend, a shallow wash bracketed by basalt walls suggests nothing more than a typical desert draw.

But closer inspection reveals a legacy of at least 13,000 years of human habitation, documented by more than 200 panels of rock art, obsidian tool bits and potential burial sites. Northern Paiute tribal members, who still worship at the site, consider it sacred ground.

The Walkers want to place the site, which experts call the most important archaeological site in Deschutes County, on the National Register of Historic Places.

Towers of stone – the brochs of Scotland

Today they provide some of our most impressive archaeological remains, yet they still retain an air of mystery – there is a lot to learn about brochs.

Brochs comprise circular stone towers, apparently built to house the elite of a community and also to provide safety for everyone in a time of need. There is an element of display in their size, as well as an element of defence. They developed out of a tradition of circular stone dwellings, enhanced by master builders who knew exactly how to make the most of local stone resources.

Yet another object/strucure I’d never heard of.

Bronze Age Sky Disc Deciphered

A group of German scientists has deciphered the meaning of one of the most spectacular archeological discoveries in recent years: The mystery-shrouded sky disc of Nebra was used as an advanced astronomical clock.

The purpose of the 3,600 year-old sky disc of Nebra, which caused a world-wide sensation when it was brought to the attention of the German public in 2002, is no longer a matter of speculation.

A group of German scholars who studied this archaeological gem has discovered evidence which suggests that the disc was used as a complex astronomical clock for the harmonization of solar and lunar calendars.

Aha. Well, this is how it is proposed to operate: The Bronze Age astronomers would hold the Nebra clock against the sky and observe the position of the celestial objects. The intercalary month was inserted when what they saw in the sky corresponded to the map on the disc they were holding in their hands. This happened every two to three years.

I like that. Fairly simple.

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 9:37 am

Anatomically modern gentlemen prefer blondes Cavegirls were first blondes to have fun

THE modern gentleman may prefer blondes. But new research has found that it was cavemen who were the first to be lured by flaxen locks.

According to the study, north European women evolved blonde hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.

The study argues that blond hair originated in the region because of food shortages 10,000-11,000 years ago. Until then, humans had the dark brown hair and dark eyes that still dominate in the rest of the world. Almost the only sustenance in northern Europe came from roaming herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and horses. Finding them required long, arduous hunting trips in which numerous males died, leading to a high ratio of surviving women to men.

The study itself and some of the ancillary findings (the Japanese study where the blonde gene is thought to have arisen 11k BP) are certainly interesting. However, the scenario about blondes being far more attractive to men, men getting killed hunting, etc., seems more like one of the “just-so” stories usually created to “explain” a particular trait (Gould and Eldridge’s spandrels again). It seems as if a trait like this were to become truly fixed in a population, it would have to be far more functional in nature than simply a ‘gentlemen prefer blondes’ issue. No doubt the reading on the distribution of hair and eye colors geographically will be worthy in and of itself.

Do we really need another Scarlett Johanssen picture to demonstrate what a blonde cave-woman might have looked like?

Yes, I believe we do:

Artists’ conception of what the first blonde northern European female might have looked like:

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:59 am

More breaking news out of Egypt

Aayko sends this along from the EEF lists regarding some earlier reports on Ramesses II statues that were found (we didn’t post that; you can hardly dig a hole in Egypt without finding a statue of R-II):

Press report: “Ancient temple found beneath Cairo market”



“Archaeologists discovered a pharaonic sun temple with large
statues believed to be of King Ramses II under an outdoor
marketplace in Cairo (..) The partially uncovered site is the
largest sun temple ever found in the capital’s Aim Shams
and Matariya districts. “

This report is a bit clearer about the amount of statues
than previous ones.

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:16 am

Easter Island Field School update

Email received from Terry Hunt:

Dear Colleagues/Academic Advisors:

We have a few remaining places open to qualified students in both 2006
sessions (5 June-5 July & 10 July-9 August).

Please inform interested students that we have extended our application
deadline until 10 March.

Information and applications are available on-line:

Thank you for your assistance.

Best Wishes,

Terry Hunt

Looks like they’re having trouble getting all the people they need (or want). If you know anyone who really would like to participate, let them know. It’s a chance to do solid research in one of the most fascinating places on earth.

February 24, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:08 pm

Kennewick Man update Kennewick Man buried by others, scientist finds

Kennewick Man was laid to rest alongside a river more than 9,000 years ago, buried by other people, a leading forensic scientist said Thursday.

The skeleton, one of the oldest and most complete ever found in North America, has been under close analysis since courts sided with researchers in a legal battle with American Indian tribes in the Northwest who wanted the remains found near the Columbia River reburied without study.

Douglas Owsley, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, discussed his findings in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday evening at a meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Seattle.

“We know very little about this time period,” Owsley said in a phone interview. “This is a rare opportunity to try and reconstruct the life story of this man. … This is his opportunity to tell us what life was like during that time.”

Most interesting points:
– The point lodged in his hip is probably not a Cascade point
– This injury did not kill him (it had healed)
– Skeletal indications of cause of death are not apparent

There are a few other tidbits. No mention given of why the mode of burial is thought to be deliberate, 2-3 feet down, etc. This should be covered once the formal talk is provided somewhere.

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 12:47 pm

Important news Spielberg confirms Indiana Jones 4

Blockbuster filmmaker Steven Spielberg has finally confirmed that he is set to begin filming the anticipated fourth ‘Indiana Jones’ film later this year.

The Oscar-winning director has kept fans of the action epic waiting for months while he finished work on his acclaimed motion picture ‘Munich’, but has now given the green light for the sequel.

Well, maybe it’s really gonna happen this time. For years we’ve been treated to the “We’ve got some scripts we’re working on” routine, which essentially translates to “Eh.”

Let’s hope it’s more Last Crusade than Temple of Doom.

Interesting trivia: The same guy played to Big Bad Dude in the first two. The bald guy Indy fights at the funky airplane is also the bearded dude who gets squished in the rock crusher. Can’t find his credit on IMDB though.

News from the EEF

Digitized books from the Digital General Collection, University of
– Georges Perrot, A history of art in ancient Egypt, from the French
of Georges Perrot and Charles Chipiez, vols. I-II, Chapman and Hall,
London, 1883
vol. I: LXIV, 444 pp., 255 figs., 7 col. pls. (the images are in b/w only)
vol. II: XIV, 434 pp., 336 figs., 8 col. pls. (b/w only)
“These volumes are the first instalment of an undertaking which has for its
aim the history and critical analysis of that great organic growth which,
beginning with the Pharaohs and ending with the Roman Emperors,
forms what is called Antique Art.”

Digitized images from the “The New York Public Library” [NYPL] Digital Gallery
– David Roberts, The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia, 6
vols., F.G. Moon, London, 1842-1849 [252 images, including front matters] -
vols. 4-6 also published separately [see below]
– David Roberts, Egypt and Nubia, 3 vols., F.G. Moon, London, 1846-1849
[127 images, including front matters]

The Proceedings of the Working Week 2005 of the International Federation
of Surveyors (FIG) are available online. Two papers deal with Ancient Egypt:
– John F. Brock, “Four Surveyors of the Gods: In the XVIII Dynasty
of Egypt – New Kingdom c. 1400 B.C.” [a version in advance of the
Proceedings was mentioned in EEFNEWS (346).]
abstract (14 kB, PDF):
paper (271 kB, PDF):
– Joel Paulson, “Surveying in Ancient Egypt”
abstract (10 kB, PDF):
paper (425 kB, PDF):a href=”http://www.fig.net/pub/cairo/papers/wshs_02/wshs02_02_paulson.pdf”>http://www.fig.net/pub/cairo/papers/wshs_02/wshs02_02_paulson.pdf
slides (255 kB, PDF):

End of EEF news

Interesting non-archaeological (but still old) news Jurassic beaver find stuns experts

The discovery of a new, remarkably preserved fossil of a beaver-like mammal that lived 164 million years ago is shaking palaeontologists’ understanding of early mammals.

Looking as if it was put together from pieces of platypus, river otter, and beaver, the creature was nearly half a metre long and weighed about half a kilogram. This makes it the largest mammal ever found in the Jurassic Period, from 200 million to 145 million years ago.

The fossil of the semi-aquatic mammal Castorocauda lutrasimilis was discovered in the middle Jurassic Jiulongshan formation in Inner Mongolia, China, by Qiang Ji at Nanjing University, and colleagues. It boasts the oldest fossil fur ever found.

Palaeontologists had long thought the mammals living under the feet of the dinosaurs were tiny shrew-like animals. But recent discoveries have challenged this notion.

Probably the biggest impact overall will be in the last quoted paragraph. The idea that mammals were tiny little insignificant critters skittering around underfoot is one of those oft-repeated phrases on par with ‘nothing — not even light — can escape a black hole’ in terms of standards in any piece. Almost like no evolution occurred before the dinosaurs got whacked. This should start to change that. One suspects this idea is largely based on lack of evidence rather than evidence per se.

Also check this story: New evidence that natural selection is a general driving force behind the origin of species

February 23, 2006

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:17 am

Carbon dating dashes old theories

While other scientists have for several years been pondering the implications of the revised radiocarbon dating for archaeological research throughout the world, Mellars’s description of the new techniques and their significance is the first comprehensive review of the subject in a major journal.

The most pronounced discrepancies between radiocarbon and actual ages coincide with the fateful epoch when modern people first made themselves at home in Europe.

For years, it had been thought that modern humans from Africa began arriving in Western Europe at least 40,000 years ago, and so could have competed and mingled with the local population for at least 12,000 years.

The revised dating of fossils and artifacts leaves much less time when the two could have been in close contact.

Doesn’t appear to be much more than earlier articles.


John Ashall, archaeologist in charge of the Pan estate project, said he had uncovered much more evidence than expected of prehistoric, Roman and medieval life.

Experts were still investigating the discovery of a mystery item found during a recent field walk, he said.

The final field walk is due to take place on Saturday, when the public will be able to join the search for evidence of historic activity.

Mr Ashall, who has worked on projects around the world, will then catalogue the finds and prepare a report for the county archaeologist and other experts next month.

Worship of phoenix may start 7,400 years ago in central China

New archaeological discoveries show that the worship of the phoenix by ancient Chinese can be dated back as early as 7,400 years ago in central China.

A large amount of pottery, decorated with the patterns of beasts, the sun and birds have been excavated at the Gaomiao relics site in Hongjiang, Huaihua City of central China’s Hunan Province, according to a report by the Guangming Daily.

“The patterns of birds should be the phoenix worshipped by ancient Chinese,” said He Gang, a researcher with the Hunan Institute of Archaeology.

Interesting Liability waiver angers volunteers

State-trained volunteers are holding off from monitoring Peoria’s archaeological and historic sites.

Peoria wants all site stewards to sign a waiver of liability, which Site Steward Program officials say is extreme and provides no coverage for any medical expenses for injuries.

“Nobody has asked for a separate and total waiver of liability like they have,” said Mary Estes, a resource protection specialist in charge of the program. “I am not encouraging them (volunteers) to sign. If they want to sign, they can. It’s not a happy place between the program and the city of Peoria over this requirement.”

Cool non-archaeological news Explorers Discover Huge Cave and New Poison Frogs

A cave so huge helicopters can fly into it has just been discovered deep in the hills of a South American jungle paradise.

Actually, “Cueva del Fantasma”—Spanish for “Cave of the Ghost”—is so vast that two helicopters can comfortably fly into it and land next to a towering waterfall.

It was found in the slopes of Aprada tepui in southern Venezuela, one of the most inaccessible and unexplored regions of the world. The area, known as the Venezuelan Guayana, is one of the most biologically rich, geologically ancient and unspoiled parts of the world.

This is the first geographic report and photographic evidence of such an immense cave. However, researchers say, it isn’t really a cave, but a huge, collapsed, steep gorge.

Picture of it here. Very cool.

But no Tyrannosaurs. Darn it.

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