Saturday, December 31, 2005

Remote sensing update Aerial photographers map archaeological sites

Archaeologists call it the Persian carpet effect.

Imagine you’re a mouse running across an elaborately decorated rug. The ground would merely be a blur of shapes and colors. You could spend your life going back and forth, studying an inch at a time, and never see the patterns.

Like a mouse on a carpet, an archaeologist painstakingly excavating a site might easily miss the whole for the parts. That’s where the work of aerial photographers like Georg Gerster comes in.

For four decades, Gerster, 77, has been flying over sites from the Parthenon to Ayers Rock to provide archaeologists with the big picture. Seen from high above, even the most familiar turf can appear transformed, with a coherence and detail invisible on the ground.

“In the Middle Eastern and classical (archaeology) world, it’s a tool people recognize as extremely valuable,” says archaeologist William Sumner, a University of Chicago professor emeritus, of aerial photography. “The thing about Georg’s images is they are superb. If there’s anything to be seen, it’s in his images.”
Some things never change Ancients Rang In New Year with Dance, Beer

Many ancient Egyptians marked the first month of the New Year by singing, dancing and drinking red beer until they passed out, according to archaeologists who have unearthed new evidence of a ritual known as the Festival of Drunkenness.

During ongoing excavations at a temple precinct in Luxor that is dedicated to the goddess Mut, the archaeologists recently found a sandstone column drum dating to 1470-1460 B.C. with writing that mentions the festival.

The discovery suggests how some Egyptians over 3,000 years ago began their New Year, which for them started around the end of August to coincide with seasonal, desired flooding that drenched farmlands where they would grow crops, such as barley and wheat. The Festival of Drunkenness usually occurred 20 days after the first big flood.

The red beer angle has its source, as noted in the article, in the Destruction of Mankind myth:

This function of Sekhmet-Hathor as an agent of Re is made manifest in the Destruction of Mankind myth found on five royal New Kingdom tombs -- Tutankhamun, Seti I, and Ramesses II, III, and VI -- and is itself part of a larger work known as "The Book of the Cow of Heaven"
(Lichteim 1976:197; Watterston 1999:42). According to this story, Re plans the destruction of rebellious mankind and the council of gods advises him: "Let your Eye go and smite them for
you [i.e. Re], those schemers of Evil! (...) May it go down as Hathor!". The Eye finishes a day of slaying mankind and returns to Re who says "I shall have power [= sxm] over them [i.e. mankind] as king by diminishing them" and concluding with "Thus The Powerful One [ = sxmt ] (Sekhmet) came into being." The destructive aspect of the Eye is thus manifested as Sekhmet. Sekhmet, however, performed her task so well that Re was alarmed and decided to save mankind. Re had his priests prepare barley beer mixed with red ochre to give it the color of blood and on the morning that Hathor was to finish her destruction, Re poured the beer over the land. Hathor/Sekhmet, thinking the red beer was blood, drank it until she forgot about destroying mankind. "She drank and it pleased her heart. She returned drunk without having perceived mankind. The majesty of Re said to the goddess: 'Welcome in peace, O gracious one!'. Thus beautiful women came into being in the town Imu" (all quotes from Lichtheim 1976:198-199)

[Quoted from Cagle 2003]

Cagle, A.J.
2003 A Spatial Analysis of Deposits in Kom el-Hisn, in A Delta-man in Yebu: Occasional Volume of the Egyptologists' Electronic Forum No. 1, edited by A. K. Eyma and C. J. Bennett, Universal Publishers.

Lichtheim, M.
1976 Ancient Egyptian Literature 2: The New Kingdom. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Watterston, B.
1999 Gods of Ancient Egypt. Bramley Books Limited, Godalming.
Overly exciting headline of the year Ancient "Weapons Factory" Found on Connecticut Ridge

About 3,000 years ago, a group of hunters perched on a ridge near what is now New Haven Harbor in Connecticut and fashioned quartz into projectile points.

The points were likely intended to form the lethal end of an atlatl, or spear-thrower, dart.

A skillful stalker could wield the weapon, which predated the bow and arrow, with enough force and accuracy to send a dart into a deer, turkey, or other small prey.

Those ancient hunter-gatherers have since vanished, but the quartz artifacts survive on the ridge, known as West Rock.

It's actually a pretty good article, but the headline is a little. . . over the top. Technically true, but trivially unimportant.
Experimental archaeology update The Great Wall of MIT

When it comes to scientific progress, sometimes you have to look back in order to move forward.

Parts of the Great Wall of China, still standing after more than 2,000 years, were built using a construction technique called rammed earth.

Now a group of architecture students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have imitated the technique in an experiment aiming to confirm the usability of the ancient building method in the modern world.

Led by graduate student Joe Dahmen, the MIT team began work in September, using twelve tons of local Boston blue clay mixed with two parts sand and gravel. Their blend was packed, by hand and with the help of a pneumatic compactor, into a wooden shell that was removed once each section was complete and dry.
Medieval mystery! Restoration of medieval manor house opens up a mystery

Turn right off a quintessentially dull suburban parade of shops and 1930s houses, down a lane past the scrapyard and the playing fields, and there is something so bizarre it seems a hallucination: a medieval manor house, still surrounded by a moat and flanked by its tithe barn, as it has been for almost 700 years.

Headstone Manor is a treasure that most outsiders have never known and most people in the Middlesex suburb of Harrow had forgotten. "Secular buildings of this date are extremely rare anywhere," said Stephen Brindle, an ancient monuments inspector for English Heritage. "To find it surviving here is quite extraordinary." Half a lifetime ago the timber-framed 1310 hall was about to fall to bits: it was stripped of roof tiles, floors and plaster down to a skeletal frame, then wrapped in scaffolding and corrugated plastic. English Heritage offered a grant for restoration, and the local heritage trust raised £50,000, but the rest of the money could not be found. The building, designated a scheduled ancient monument, remained wrapped up for over 20 years.

Have to go all the way to the bottom to find the MYSTERY: Many windows buried in later building work re-emerged, including a little one under the roof of the hall which our photographer found standing open. It was no surprise to project manager Ian Wilson: when the window was reinstated the last worker to leave the site at night would carefully close it - but the first to arrive would find it open. Spooks!

A short description of the manor house (with pictures) can be found here.
On a mission to explore deepest Lycia

Children play in the dirt between humble abodes with tin roofs, as carts, donkeys and farm vehicles pass by. We assure the owner of the yard where we know there is an inscribed stone that we have the permission of the Culture Ministry.

He warmly welcomes us with tea as the neighbors gather. I try to persuade him that it is not necessary to cut down the rose bush and the tree growing in front of the tombstone bearing a relief of a youth’s head. The children want to know the language of the inscription, carved in Ancient Greek about 18 centuries ago.

We are in ancient Cibyratica, at the site of the ancient city of Bubona, at an altitude of about 1,000 meters, less than 100 kilometers from the southwest Turkish coast, in the village of Ibecik. It is here that a group of beautiful bronze statues was discovered, the only group of its kind ever to be found dating from Roman times. Unearthed during illegal excavation, they are now exhibited in foreign museums. We — a research team from Heidelberg and Athens — are the only visitors to the area, and we come every year.

Mostly something of a travelogue, but it's got some good bits in information.
Year-end wrap-up from Egypt Pharaohs on the move
Ramses stayed put, while a fragment of the Great Pyramid fell off.

Suddenly, as the second half of 2005 began, what had been a relatively sluggish year in the cultural sphere picked up with a vengeance. The culture minister found himself at the centre of at least two major controversies in July and September. First, he received the Israeli ambassador to Egypt, inspiring much criticism, as well as rumours of an impending cultural normalisation that didn't actually occur. Then he tendered his resignation -- subsequently revoked -- in response to the tragic death of 55 people in a fire that erupted during a theatrical performance at the Beni Sweif Cultural Palace, a ministry- owned and operated venue (see 'Staging dissent'). As usual, the year was also filled with battles on the antiquities front, as Egypt continued to pay greater attention to its treasure trove of monuments, and seek out new ways to keep them from harm.
Do it! Calls to dig into village’s rich archaelogical past

THERE have been calls for an archaeological dig to take place in Stonehouse.

In the past there have been attempts to get digs arranged, as the village has a number of historical sites of interest, but so far none have taken place.

Fred McDermid, of Boghall Road, is one resident who thinks it’s time for a dig in Stonehouse, which has records dating back to the ninth century.

He said: “We hear regularly about archaeological digs taking place in various parts of the country which reveal finds of great interest. How about one in Stonehouse? This village has a very long history and there must be a great deal of history to be revealed.

Hey, someone out there come up with the money and we'll direct it ourselves.
Eunuchs, not Unix Ancient eunuch tombs unearthed in SW China

Seven eunuch tombs belonging to the imperial Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) were unearthed in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China's Sichuan Province.

The 400-year-old tombs yielded approximately 60 pieces of relics including porcelains, jade belts, jade hair decoration clasps and silver kettles.

The tomb chambers are all some seven meters deep with stone tables for incense burners and bottles at the entrance. The tomb gates were equipped with a stone dragon head at each side and the walls were decorated with dragon patterns.

No indication how these were ID'd as such. We're guessing inscriptions.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ancient trees 'discovered' in Yellowstone

An independent scientist from Bozeman has documented some astonishingly ancient trees in Yellowstone National Park.

John King has found live juniper trees 1,500 years old in the Mammoth Hot Springs area, and a live limber pine in the Absaroka Range that is an incredible 1,921 years old.
When the limber pine tree sprouted, Christianity was beginning to root in the Middle East.

King is a dendrochronologist, which means he studies tree rings, sifting out patterns of past events and hoping to provide relevant information for today's land managers.

Rare bronze horse, chariot unearthed in SW China

A rare bronze horse and chariot were unearthed in Ziyang, a city in southwest China's Sichuan Province, according to Sichuan Provincial Archaeology Research Institute.

The bronze funeral object is believed to have been built in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) or even earlier in the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC), according to preliminary study.

The object was buried in a chamber about nine meters from the ground. Archeologists also found an ancient tomb about ten meters from the ground.

Score one for the good guys Police recover 9,000 stolen artefacts

Police in Rome have put on display an astonishing haul of artefacts they say was plundered from archaeological sites in Italy by a 74-year-old man.

Officers who raided the man's home found 9,000 antiquities stolen over a period of years as well a sophisticated restoration lab, metal detectors and other devices used by amateur archaeologists. Thousands of Etruscan and Roman terracotta vases, polychrome mosaic tiles, pieces of travertine and multi-coloured marble that once adorned Roman villas were recovered. Ancient copper and bronze objects, amphorae, goblets, masks, brooches, votary statuettes and oil lamps were also found. Art experts say it will take months to assess the value of the hoard.

Yeesh. Talk about a mother lode. . . .

Army's Fort Bliss Uncovers Its Prehistoric Past

In a recent find,
Army archeologists have discovered several pueblo and pit-house sites on the
Dona Ana Range at Fort Bliss, Texas believed to date between the 14th and 15th
This time frame coincides with the occupation of the area by the Jornada
Mogollon, a branch of the "Mogollon" culture, the prehistoric people who
inhabited much of southern New Mexico, east-central Arizona, northern
Chihuahua, and far western Texas. A large percentage of the Jornada Mogollon
culture is found on Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range.
The Army identified the site last year, but just recently investigated it.
"We scraped back some of the sand and sure enough the pueblo walls started
turning up," said Brian D. Knight, senior Army archeologist speaking about the
find. "The site is pretty spectacular, it's huge. We had never anticipated it
was going to be this nice."

Fight! Fight! Obelisk, new finds unleash debate in Ethiopia

Ato Gebrmedihin, who estimates his age at about 90, remembers when Italy's invading army in 1937 looted this ancient city's 1,700-year-old, intricately carved obelisk, on the orders of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who wanted to mark his brief occupation of Ethiopia.

"Their van kept breaking down as they tried to rush to the airport with our heavy monument," the gray-bearded Gebrmedihin recalled with a chuckle. "But they eventually fixed the truck. Then they took our stele away."

Earlier this year, the 180-ton, 80-foot granite obelisk — a tombstone and monument to ancient rulers — was returned from a square in central Rome and flown in three parts to this northern town. A national holiday was proclaimed.

Upshot: They're starting to deal with the same issues confronting any place where significant archaeological remains are. Balancing the needs of modern people to make a living and the conservation needs of archaeology. It's an odd juxtaposition in this case, since widespread excavation and PR involving the remains in the area could A) Put the place on the map, bring in tourists, etc., contributing capital to the local economy; and B) Raising the profile of artifacts from this time and place. Both of those will, of course, have severe impacts on the stuff itself from destruction due to the consequent development, and from looting once the stuff becomes valuable. It's a nasty cycle. Definitely bears watching.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The short and long on dwarves in ancient Egypt Dwarfs Commanded Respect In Ancient Egypt

An article published in the January 2006 issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics examines the remains and depiction of dwarfs in ancient Egypt, concluding that they were assimilated into daily life and their disorder was not seen as a physical handicap. The journal is available online via Wiley InterScience at

. . .

The depiction of dwarfs as shown in records available from ancient Egypt, the numerous figurines and amulets that were formed in their shape, as well as text from papyri invoking their magical powers leads the author to conclude that "the image of short people in ancient Egypt is essentially positive." "Dwarfs were likely accepted in ancient Egypt and were given a visible role in the society," the author concludes. "Furthermore their daily activities suggest integration in daily life and that their disorder was not shown as a physical handicap."

We mentioned the whole dwarf issue last week (?) in a post about possible siamese twins. These guys were, apparently, pictured as they were in life.

Also, here's a link to an Archaeology Channel video clip on MAGIC IN ANCIENT EGYPT. (It's the main page, so this particular video will eventually head down the list)

Rare dodo bones found on Mauritius

A Dutch-Mauritian research team has discovered remains of the extinct dodo bird on the Indian ocean island, dating back about 2 000 to 3 000 years.

"This new find will allow for the first scientific research into and reconstruction of the world in which the dodo [Raphus cucullatus] lived, before Western man landed on Mauritius and wiped out the species," the researchers said.

The site is described as a "mass grave" because of the large number of bones of a variety of species. Unclear what sort of context this indicates, whether it's a kill site or just a natural place for bones to accumulate (e.g., a sinkhole or something).

Brothel archaeology Artifacts From Memphis Bordellos Found

Near the blues clubs in the city's famed tourist district, archaeologists have turned up remains of bordellos that once dotted Beale Street.

Archaeologists dug through a half-block square site in the historic district while preparing for construction of a new hotel. There, about six feet down, they uncovered the remains of up to three ``female boarding houses,'' as bordellos were called in Memphis in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Among the recovered artifacts were numerous wine and liquor bottles, and pieces of porcelain dolls apparently once owned by the children of prostitutes.

Not terribly clear why these particular artifacts were interpreted as having come from bordellos, and we're not asking any further. This is, after all, a family blog.


When Keira Knightley isn't involved.

Not the Hasmoneans! The Hasmoneans were here - maybe

In late 1995, not far from the city of Modi'in, whose construction had begun a short time earlier, several excavated burial caves were found. The find aroused tremendous excitement initially, mainly because on one of the ossuaries an engraved inscription was interpreted to read "Hasmonean." Had they found a burial plot belonging to the family of the Hasmoneans?

When the discovery was announced, the archaeologist digging there, Shimon Riklin, explained that this was not the grave built by Simon the son of Mattathias the Priest for his father and his brothers, which is described in the Book of Maccabees I. The use of ossuraies - stone containers for secondary burial, in which the bones of the dead who had been removed from their original burial place were placed - began in the second half of the first century BCE, more than a century after the beginning of the Hasmonean Revolt. However, the discovery reinforced the theory that the town of Modi'in, where the revolt broke out in 167 BCE, lay not far from the burial caves, in the area of the present-day Arab village of Midya.

Zhou Dynasty Tombs Unearthed in Shaanxi

At a December 16 press conference cosponsored by the Shaanxi Provincial Culture Relics Bureau and the Hancheng City government, archaeologists announced the successful excavation of numerous and highly significant cultural relics from several ancient grave sites in Hancheng City, in northwestern China's Shaanxi Province. The relics date back approximately 2,800 years, from late western Zhou Dynasty (c. 1100 BC - c. 771 BC) to the early Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 BC - 256 BC).

At the press conference it was revealed that the tombs yielded four large-scale graves, with more than a dozen pits with representations of horses, chariots and many rare ceremonial wares in bronze, gold and jade. Archeologists theorize that the site is the grave of a state ruler who may have held some prominence during the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1100 BC - 221 BC).

Contains a few decent photographs of the excavations.

Tsunami anniversary Tsunami uncovers archaeological mystery

The destructive capacity of last year's tsunami wiped life from Earth in numbers that defy comprehension. Each one gone dramatically altering other lives - friends and families in a chain wrapped countless times around the world. Towns and villages and possessions obliterated. In many parts, the very presence of human beings simply erased, as if they were never there. The tsunamis took a great deal away, but in one tiny corner, they actually gave something back. And it has archaeologists and historians arguing about precisely what it is. It is evidence of a long-lost ancient community? Is there a mystical temple covered by time, or perhaps even an entire city buried beneath the sand and the sea around Mahabalipuram in southern India.

Anne Maria Nicholson travelled to India to piece together a picture from the fleeting glimpses snatched between the tsunamis and the more structured exploration now under way.

Transcript of an ABC news story on some temples that were noticed when the water rushed out to sea before the incoming waves. Might have been entirely uncovered as well, but it's unclear.
Back to Tze-whit-zen Gregoire, Lower Elwha tribe to discuss excavation issues

Gov. Christine Gregoire and the head of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe have agreed to formal negotiations early next year on all the issues raised by discovery of remains and relics at the waterfront staging site for work on the Hood Canal Bridge.

For centuries, the site was occupied by the tribal village of Tze-whit-zen.

Tom Fitzsimmons, Gregoire's chief of staff, said the tribe has agreed to publicly support a state plan to build huge concrete anchors on the shoreward edge of the former construction site, which allows the project to move forward through the permit process.

Hmmmmmm. Construction was halted last year and was supposed to be moved elsewhere. Now it appears that construction will begin again in the same vicinity. We're trying to get more info on this.

Similar situation here: Burial ground causes a furor

Archaeologists have discovered 96 locations believed to contain human remains at a pioneer cemetery site here, prompting the Tulalip Tribes to object to building a senior center on the site.

"We don't know how many of them are Indian. That'll have to be determined by DNA and the courts," said Hank Gobin, the Tulalip's cultural resources director.

The Tulalips want the remains left where they are.
Back from the Holidays. Here's a couple of items from the EEF to get things rolling again:

"Misplaced museum. Why do so few Egyptian and foreign tourists visit the Nubia Museum in Aswan, asks Jill Kamil"

-- "Dig days: Quest for the tomb of Amenhotep I" By Zahi Hawass

Thursday, December 22, 2005

More evolution Grant allows ASU archaeologist to study how environment influences evolution

ASU archaeologist Curtis Marean wants to learn more about modern human evolution by gaining a better understanding of the physical environment in which ancient peoples lived. Marean says relatively little is known about the environment that drove the evolution of modern humans.

To remedy that situation, Marean, who recently received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, is bringing archaeologists together with scientists specializing in caves, ancient dune systems, chemical dating methods and other topics relevant to human evolution and ecological studies. The team will try to reconstruct the ancient ecological factors that likely influenced the evolution of Homo sapiens, and see what that might tell us about our species' future.

$(*^$@(%@*$ looters. . . Looters dig up human bone fragments in search for artifacts

Looters apparently digging for American Indian artifacts left behind piles of dirt littered with human bone fragments and animal bones, authorities said.

Conservation Officer Mark Farmer said human skeletal remains are often found with Indian artifacts, such as pottery shards or ancient tools. No artifacts were found at the Ohio River site in southeastern Indiana, he said, suggesting that looters who violated state and federal law carried them off.

Harrison County has several rock shelters near the Ohio River where archaeologists with the state Department of Natural Resources say Indian hunters established winter camps in prehistoric times and as recently as four centuries ago.

It worked! Almost. . . Reconstructed Stone-Age circle in Germany catches sun's rays

A reconstructed 'temple of the sun' in Germany caught the morning rays of the sun through its eastern gate early Wednesday, just as it is believed to have done after it was built by a lost culture 6,800 years ago.

Archaeologists say the 75-metre-diameter Goseck Circle, on a flat river plain in eastern Germany, was built to help Stone-Age priests discern the solstice, the point in the year when the days begin to become longer and farmers look forward to spring planting.

. . .

Scientists said the gap in the fence that was aligned to the December 21 sunrise proved to be perfectly positioned, but heavy cloud in the evening made it impossible to test the sunset angle.

A powerful light lent by a German television station provided a mock sunset, to cheers from about 1,000 people crowded into the ancient circle and warmly dressed against temperatures 3 or 4 degrees above freezing.

Guess a spotlight is the next best thing when you have to wait 365 days for the next go 'round.

But what'd the ancients do when it was cloudy on the day it was supposed to do this?

News from the EEF

Press report: "Plans unveiled for $550 million museum near the Pyramids"
"The Great Egyptian Museum will display 100,000 artefacts and hopes to attract five million visitors a year. (...) The GEM will open in 2010. (..) Work on the main museum building
should start in 2007. (...) the cost of GEM having risen to $550 million." Plus an outline of its design.

Hmmmmm. We thought the new EM was supposed to be sited elsewhere. This sounds like a good place for it though, in view of the pyramids. The artists' conception of it looks very nice, too.

End of EEF news Kinda sparse this week.

And finally. . . .Say, what a nice idea.
Ears of plenty: The story of man's staple food

IN 10,000 years, the earth's population has doubled ten times, from less than 10m to more than six billion now and ten million soon. Most of the calories that made that increase possible have come from three plants: maize, rice and wheat. The oldest, most widespread and until recently biggest of the three crops is wheat (see chart). To a first approximation wheat is the staple food of mankind, and its history is that of humanity.

Yet today, wheat is losing its crown. The tonnage (though not the acreage) of maize harvested in the world began consistently to exceed that of wheat for the first time in 1998; rice followed suit in 1999. Genetic modification, which has transformed maize, rice and soyabeans, has largely passed wheat by—to such an extent that it is in danger of becoming an “orphan crop”. The Atkins diet and a fashion for gluten allergies have made wheat seem less wholesome. And with population growth rates falling sharply while yields continue to rise, even the acreage devoted to wheat may now begin to decline for the first time since the stone age.

Not a bad review. It takes some liberties -- it's not at all clear that hunter-gatherers from 12,000 years ago behaved the same way hunter-gatherers from modern times -- but more or less gives the Standard Model (to be struck by physics envy) of agricultural origins.

In the same issue: The story of man

It was Spencer, an early contributor to The Economist, who invented that poisoned phrase, “survival of the fittest”. He originally applied it to the winnowing of firms in the harsh winds of high-Victorian capitalism, but when Darwin's masterwork, “On the Origin of Species”, was published, he quickly saw the parallel with natural selection and transferred his bon mot to the process of evolution.

. . .

Sadly, the slur stuck. For 100 years Darwinism was associated with a particularly harsh and unpleasant view of the world and, worse, one that was clearly not true—at least, not the whole truth. People certainly compete, but they collaborate, too.

This article also links to this article on Stanley Ambrose's theory of an exceptionally large volcanic eruption (TOba in Sumatra) forcing early hominids to cooperate in small groups, thus bringing about both higher culture and the various races. Actually, we'd never heard of this eruption or theory before, so read the article.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Quickie post: Came across this review of a QSR paper:

Hodell, D.A., Brenner, M. and Curtis, J.H. 2005. Terminal Classic drought in the northern Maya lowlands inferred from multiple sediment cores in Lake Chichancanab (Mexico). Quaternary Science Reviews 24: 1413-1427.

Based on a single sediment core retrieved in 1993 from Lake Chichanacanab in the center of the northern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico (19°50'-19°57'N, 88°45'-88°46'W), Hodell et al. (1995) provided evidence for a protracted drought during the Terminal Classic Period of Mayan civilization (AD 800-1000). Subsequently, based on two additional sediment cores retrieved from the same location in 2000, Hodell et al. (2001) determined that the massive drought likely occurred in two distinct phases (750-875 and 1000-1075).

What was done
In this most recent study, Hodell et al. (2005) returned to Lake Chichanacanab in March of 2004 and retrieved a number of additional sediment cores in some of the deeper parts in the lake, with multiple cores being taken from its deepest point. Depth profiles of bulk density data were then obtained by means of gamma-ray attenuation, as were profiles of reflected red, green and blue light via a digital color line-scan camera.

What was learned
In the words of the researchers, "the data reveal in great detail the climatic events that comprised the Terminal Classic Drought and coincided with the demise of Classic Maya civilization." In this regard, they report that "the Terminal Classic Drought was not a single, two-century-long megadrought, but rather consisted of a series of dry events separated by intervening periods of relatively moister conditions," and that it "included an early phase (ca 770-870) and late phase (ca 920-1100)." Last of all, they say that "the bipartite drought history inferred from Chichancanab is supported by oxygen isotope records from nearby Punta Laguna," and that "the general pattern is also consistent with findings from the Cariaco Basin off northern Venezuela (Haug et al., 2003), suggesting that the Terminal Classic Drought was a widespread phenomenon and not limited to north-central Yucatan."

What it means
Based on proxy temperature data from several places in North America, it would appear that the Terminal Classic Drought that led to the demise of Mayan civilization likely occurred during the climatic transition between the Dark Ages Cold Period and Medieval Warm Period, when increasing temperatures may have exacerbated land water loss via evaporation in the midst of a prolonged period of significantly reduced precipitation. See also, in this regard, our review of the study of Almeida-Lenero et al. (2005).

Seems a pretty fair summary.

[Update: More lengthy quickie post]

Mammoth news Extinct mammoth DNA decoded

Mammoths became extinct in the last few thousand years
Scientists have pieced together part of the genetic recipe of the extinct woolly mammoth.

The 5,000 DNA letters spell out a large chunk of the genetic code of its mitochondria, the structures in the cell that generate energy.

The research, published in the online edition of Nature, gives an insight into the elephant family tree.

It shows that the mammoth was most closely related to the Asian rather than the African elephant.

Study traces Egyptians’ stone-age roots

Some 64 centuries ago, a prehistoric people of obscure origins farmed an area along Egypt’s Nile River.

Barely out of the Stone Age, they produced simple but well-made pottery, jewelry and stone tools, and carefully buried their dead with ritual objects in apparent preparation for an afterlife. These items often included doll-like female figurines with exaggerated sexual features, thought to possibly symbolize rebirth.

Despite the simplicity of their possessions, a new study suggests these people, the Badarians, may have ultimately given rise to one of the world’s first major civilizations some 14 centuries later: the glittering culture of Egypt.

Indeed, the Egyptians seem to have been basically the same people from the end of the Stone Age through late Roman times, the research found.

Interesting article on the Badarians. We seem to recall other studies showing that there was a lot of continuity between modern and ancient Egyptians. That is, what you see among Egyptians today is probably what you would have seen in the New Kingdom as well.

Hobbits! They're everywhere! Hobbits may be earliest Australians

THE tiny hobbit-like humans of Indonesia may have lived in Australia before they became extinct about 11,000 years ago.

The startling claim comes from archaeologist Mike Morwood, leader of the team that in 2003 uncovered remains of the 1m-tall hominid at Liang Bua cave on Indonesia's Flores island.

They believe the pint-size person - known officially as Homo floresiensis and unofficially as the "Hobbit" - was wiped out by a volcanic eruption that spared their Homo sapiens neighbours.

Speaking at a public lecture in Perth, Professor Morwood from the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, raised the prospect that Hobbits colonised Australia before Aboriginal settlers arrived about 60,000 years go.

Eh, not much info there.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Romans may have learned from Chinese Great Wall: archaeologists

The construction of the Roman Limes was quite possibly influenced by the concept of the Great Wall in China, though the two great buildings of the world are far away from each other, said archaeologists and historians.

Although there is no evidence that the two constructions had any direct connections, indirect influence from the Great Wall on the Roman Limes is certain, said Visy Zsolt, a professor with the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology of the University of Pecs in Hungary.

Visy made the remarks in an interview with Xinhua as he attended an international conference in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province recently, and his opinion was shared by some Chinese and foreign scholars.

The Roman Limes are Europe's largest archaeological monument, consisting of sections of the border line of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the 2nd century AD.

There's not much in this story to convince the reader that the Romans really got anything from China in terms of building a fortification wall/set of walls. Mostly the article details some similarities between the two sets of fortifications. Nothing really indicative of anything other than parallel evolution, if you want to call it that (similar structures for similar purposes).

Happily, however, it gave us the opportunity to learn a new term (Roman Limes) which we'd never come across before:

Limes at Wikipedia

German Limes

More limes plus pictures

Homo sex #1 A Mystery, Locked in Timeless Embrace

It was extremely rare in ancient Egypt for an elite tomb to be shared by two men of apparently equal standing. The usual practice was for such mortuary temples to be the resting place of one prominent man, his wife and children.

And it was most unusual for a couple of the same sex to be depicted locked in an embrace. In other scenes, they are also shown holding hands and nose-kissing, the favored form of kissing in ancient Egypt. What were scholars to make of their intimate relationship?

Sum: Three hypotheses are discussed, 1) They're twins, or at least brothers; 2) They're gay; and 3) They're Siamese twins. We believe we made some note of this in the recent past. It's a good article and touches on a lot of thoughts regarding Egyptian representations in tomb drawings. It's true most of the representations are not generally meant to be photographic recordings of life, and that it's really unclear just what these two are supposed to represent.

We tend not to like the gay angle, particularly because it's based on the assumption that particular images (e.g., embracing) have a readily accessible meaning. After all, literature from the relatively recent past involving male-male relationships strikes us today as being borderline erotic in many cases, but considered fairly bland fare at the time.

OTOH, the Siamese angle is bothersome as well. We tend to think something like being JOINED TOGETHER would be something one would want to represent. After all, dwarves were represented as dwarves, not normally proportioned beings.

So, eh, we'll stick with the twin brothers for the time being.

Homo sex #2

John Hawks has an entry comparing how the ID crowd can project their views on television compared to the way evolution, specifically human evolution, is usually portrayed.

We're kind of at a loss on this one. There are so many hokey archaeology programs out there, especially the ones having to do with ancient Egypt. It's true that "sexing things up" can garner some attention, but in the end there has to be something there for the average viewer. It's the usual problem involved in popularizing science: balancing scientific accuracy -- not to mention the complicated arguments, uncertainties, and subtle differences among practitioners -- while still keeping Joe Public interested enough to stay tuned. Plus, you know, how many times can you do a program on How The Pyramids Were Built. Sometimes, of course, there's really something new to show, like Lehner's discovery of the workers' village near the pyramids which threw the character of the labor practices used in that period wide open.

Hawk's mention of CGI overkill only applies marginally to archaeology, except when you get into the real prehistoric stuff involving mammoths and saber toothed cats and what not. Otherwise, CGI has probably been a good thing for archaeological documentaries since it enables landscapes -- that is, temples, palaces, and cityscapes -- to be recreated with minimal cost (compared to making mock-ups).

We think the most effective programs make minimal use of actor portrayals since it really doesn't add much to the science. How many times do we have to sit through battle scenes composed of a couple dozen actors going at it, the cameras all nice and close in to the action so we don't see that there are really not 50,000 warriors duking it out? You'd think there are enough Hollywood movies you could pilfer footage from that looks far more realistic. The best docs tell a scientific story with experts in the field providing much of the commentary, and a clear delineation of the issues and who stands where. The recent PBS doc on so-called "Solutrean Americans" comes to mind as a good representative of the genre.

More on Hamoukar A 5,500-year-old mystery emerges

In the shadow of a much more recent war, a five-year excavation on the Syrian-Iraqi border has uncovered an ancient settlement of unexpected sophistication that was suddenly wiped out by invaders 5,500 years ago.

The discovery sheds light on an early stage of human history in a time and place when cities were first emerging, and it suggests a massive battle waged at its walls.
It also poses a mystery: Who destroyed the city, and why?


POLICE launched a murder probe after a skull turned up on a beach - only to find the "victim" died 5,230 years ago.

Officers searched the area and checked missing persons files when tests indicated the death should be treated as suspicious.

But carbon dating found the skull was a young Neolithic man's and is one of the oldest found in Britain.

It had probably been washed into the sea at Coatham beach, Cleveland, from a burial ground.

Archaeologist Peter Rowe said: "It dates from when people first grew crops and herded cattle . They would have buried their dead in groups."

That's the whole thing.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Failure! ARCHAEOLOGY: Hospital dig is a dead end

THE whereabouts of a medieval hospital in Peterborough still remains a mystery after an archaeological dig failed to unearth any clues.
A team from York Archaeological Trust (YAT) were commissioned to investigate the Westgate area of Peterborough city centre ahead of the the proposed £400 million North Westgate development.

At the opening of the first trench last month, city archaeologist Ben Robinson, who is based at Peterborough Museum, hoped to find the remains of a medieval hospital.

He explained that archaeologists know of a medieval hospital in the Westgate area of Peterborough, but aren't sure of its exact location.


Homo britannicus update Bio-archaeologists Pinpoint Oldest Northern European Human Activity

Scientists at the University of York used a 'protein time capsule' to confirm the earliest record of human activity in Northern Europe.

A team of bio-archaeologists from York were able to provide the final piece of scientific evidence which confirmed that primitive stone tools discovered in East Anglia dated back around 700,000 years – 200,000 years earlier than any other traces of human colonisation of northern latitudes.

Dr Kirsty Penkman and Dr Matthew Collins were part of an international team, headed by the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project, which studied the worked flint flakes discovered two years ago in a cliff at Pakefield near Lowestoft, Suffolk.

New bit: A direct dating technique for shells found in context with the tools (amino acid racemization?).

Treasure! Ancient treasure unearthed in Shaanxi

Archaeologists have recently excavated cultural relics from several ancient grave pits in Hancheng city in northwestern China's Shaanxi province. The relics date back to Zhou dynasty about 3,000 years ago.

The articles unearthed include over 600 items of bronze ware, as well as some rare gold articles and lacquer ware.

Archaeologists say the finds are of great significance for research into the political and economic systems and funerary customs of the Zhou Dynasty.

That's the whole thing.

More treasure! (Real this time) Devon treasure hunters strike a rich seam

This is the hoard of treasure dug up around Devon - and it's set to earn a windfall for the metal detector enthusiasts who found it.

The Viking gold ingot, silver gilt dress hook, silver huntsman's whistle and medieval gold and sapphire ring have all been officially declared treasure and have become the property of the Crown.

The finders will now be rewarded for handing over the items at 'market value', which has yet to be decided. The Viking cast gold ingot, found in Wembury, was said to be particularly rare.

Syrian warfare update Earliest evidence for large scale organized warfare in the Mesopotamian world

A huge battle destroyed one of the world's earliest cities at around 3500 B.C. and left behind, preserved in their places, artifacts from daily life in an urban settlement in upper Mesopotamia, according to a joint announcement from the University of Chicago and the Department of Antiquities in Syria.

"The whole area of our most recent excavation was a war zone," said Clemens Reichel, Research Associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Reichel, the American co-director of the Syrian-American Archaeological Expedition to Hamoukar, lead a team that spent October and November at the site. Salam al-Quntar of the Syrian Department of Antiquities and Cambridge University was Syrian co-director. Hamoukar is an ancient site in extreme northeastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

The discovery provides the earliest evidence for large scale organized warfare in the Mesopotamian world, the team said.

The team found extensive destruction with collapsed walls, which had undergone heavy bombardment by sling bullets and eventually collapsed in an ensuing fire. Work during an earlier season showed the settlement was protected by a 10-foot high mud-brick wall.

And some from the WaPo.

Robots in the Great Pyramid! News on the Robot and the Secret Doors inside the Great Pyramid of Khufu

It's a blurb by Zahi Hawass on what's been done with robots sent into the "air shafts" in the GP. Nothing really new but it's got some nice pictures.

Dead Sea anchors were carefully designed

Two remarkably well-preserved wooden anchors more than two millennia old, discovered recently on the shores of the Dead Sea, are now on view opposite the book shop at the Israel Museum, on loan from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Over the last few decades, Israel's diversion of water from Lake Kinneret into the national water carrier has caused the progressive drop in the level of the Dead Sea, reducing its size by nearly half. The receding waters uncovered the two wooden anchors, which were spotted by archaeologist Dr. Gideon Hadas during a stroll along the shore.

The first anchor, approximately 2,500 years old, was found where the Ein Gedi harbor was once located, and may have been used by the Jews of biblical Ein Gedi. The later anchor, some 2,000 years old, was constructed according to the best Roman technology and probably belonged to a large craft used by one of the rulers of Judea. As the sea recedes further, we may yet get to see the ship to which this anchor belonged.

Actually very cool.

‘Incredible’ Pyrgos discoveries

DISCOVERIES at the ancient site of Pyrgos Mavroraki, near Limassol, are revolutionising knowledge of the Bronze Age and have been described as ‘incredible’ by the archaeologist carrying out the work.

Maria Rosaria Belgiorno says that Pyrgos is probably the most important ancient site yet found in Cyprus and has produced evidence for the first time that olive oil was used as a fuel in copper production.

Belgiorno told a meeting in Nicosia that four different architectural units had been uncovered during five seasons of excavations at Pyrgos/Mavroraki, a site that spans the period from around 2350BC to 1850BC.

The site, Belgiorno said, was an industrial complex producing luxury items such as perfumes and textiles dyed with purple and blue indigo.

Very nice smelting and casting site apparently.

Remote sensing update 3D Images Give New Life to Old Shipwrecks

It's no nightingale, but a new seismic technology nicknamed Chirp is making music for the ears of archaeologists interested in the wrecks of sunken ships.

Named for the bird-like blips it makes in action, GeoChirp 3-D is able to generate three-dimensional images of just about anything lying beneath the seafloor, including shipwrecks hidden under years of muck and sand build-up.

Chirp is "a seismic system that works by firing sound waves at the seafloor and measuring the reflections as they bounce back from objects and different rock layers in the seabed," writes the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in a recent edition of their quarterly publication Newsline.

Unlike the traditional two-dimensional method of slicing the seabed vertically from the top down, Chirp produces a cube of information.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Here's something strange: War in the Middle East Archaeologists Unearth a War Zone 5,500 Years Old

In the ruins of an ancient city in northeastern Syria, archaeologists have uncovered what they say is substantial evidence of a fierce battle fought there in about 3500 B.C.

The archaeologists, who announced the find yesterday, described it as the oldest known excavated site of large-scale organized warfare. It was a clash of northern and southern cultures in ancient Mesopotamia, the land where urban civilization began, in a region that includes Iraq and parts of Syria.

The discovery was reported by Clemens Reichel of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, who was co-director of the Syrian-American excavations at the site, known as Tell Hamoukar. The ruins are in the upper fringes of the Tigris and Euphrates Valleys, near the Iraq border and within sight of the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey.

The interesting thing about this story is nearer the end where they talk about what happened to the city after the battle ended. The evidence seems to indicate that it was not occupied by the attackers, but left as-is. This could result in a Pompeii-esque situation where many of the items of everyday use are in or close to their use positions. Lewis Binford coined the term "Pompeii Premise" for this kind of situation.

More here.

More Maya Murals
A bit more on it here.

Do NOT think about Russell Crowe right now G-String-Clad Gladiator Found

Divers exploring a river near a former Roman Empire fort and settlement in Britain have found a piece of pottery that depicts the backside of a rather buff gladiator wielding a whip and wearing nothing but a G-string, according to British researchers.

The image represents the first known depiction of a gladiator in such revealing attire. It adds to the evidence that ancient Romans viewed gladiators not only as fearless warriors, but also as sex symbols.

Philippa Walton, who analyzed the object and is a finds liaison officer for the Cambridgeshire County Council, described the artifact to Discovery News. "The find is a small shard of pottery possibly from a drinking beaker made in Britain in the 3rd century A.D.," Walton said. "It depicts a man wearing a G-string and possibly holding a whip and is likely therefore to represent a gladiator."

Maeshowe winter solstice as viewed by Neolithic man

THE GREAT mound of Maeshowe has dominated the skyline of Orkney for almost 5,000 years. It is a spectacular sight and a visit to the chambered tomb provides one of the highlights for visitors to the Orkney islands. Today, as we stoop to enter and walk down the low 11 metre passage to the chamber with its massive stonework, we are reminded of the ingenuity of those original builders.

Its apparent uniformity masks a long and complex history of change. The story of Maeshowe began at midwinter around 3,000 BC and even today it is the winter solstice that really brings the monument to life.

Pretty good article describing the thing. Read it all.

5000-year-old Twin Grave Discovered in Burnt City

For the first time, a grave in which two twins were buried was unearthed during archaeological excavations in the historical site of Burnt City.

Burnt City historical site, situated in Sistan va Baluchistan province in southeast of Iran, is one of the most important pre-historic sites of the country. Eight seasons of archaeological excavations in the site indicate that Burnt City was an important center of civilization and trade some 5000 years ago. Burnt City is regarded as a crucial historical site in the eastern Iranian plateau.

“During the latest excavations in this historical site, we were able to unearth several historical graves and to discover the skeleton remains of infant twins who were buried alongside each other,” said Farzad Forouzanfar, an anthropologist of the Archeological Research Center of Iran.

Roman forts had a woman's touch

Women lived and worked in Roman military forts, according to a telltale trail of lost hairpins and beads.

This dispels the notion the forts were male-only domains, says archaeologist Dr Penelope Allison of the Australian National University.

She presents her analysis of the archaeological record at the Australasian Archaeometry Conference in Canberra this week.

"These were not segregated communities," says Allison, who has been studying evidence from 1st and 2nd century forts on the western frontier of the Roman Empire.

Way cool non-archaeological story It's Sensitive. Really.

For centuries, the tusk of the narwhal has fascinated and baffled.

. . .

Scientists have long tried to explain why a stocky whale that lives in arctic waters, feeding on cod and other creatures that flourish amid the pack ice, should wield such a long tusk. The theories about how the narwhal uses the tusk have included breaking ice, spearing fish, piercing ships, transmitting sound, shedding excess body heat, poking the seabed for food, wooing females, defending baby narwhals and establishing dominance in social hierarchies.

But a team of scientists from Harvard and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has now made a startling discovery: the tusk, it turns out, forms a sensory organ of exceptional size and sensitivity, making the living appendage one of the planet's most remarkable, and one that in some ways outdoes its own mythology.

The find came when the team turned an electron microscope on the tusk's material and found new subtleties of dental anatomy. The close-ups showed that 10 million nerve endings tunnel from the tusk's core toward its outer surface, communicating with the outside world. The scientists say the nerves can detect subtle changes of temperature, pressure, particle gradients and probably much else, giving the animal unique insights.

Lots of speculation on what this may mean. One imagines it must have some other purpose besides 'sensing' since it's only the males (mostly) that have them. Or the trait could simply be a sex-linked one without any sort of sexual selection involved. Still, fascinating discovery.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pre-Clovis update Southern archaeologists revising history

A wave of archaeological revisionism, fueled in part by unfolding discoveries in South Carolina, is challenging long-held views about the first Americans: who they were, where they came from, when they arrived and even what happened after they got here.

Generations of students have been taught that hardy hunters, ancestors of today's Native Americans, crossed a land bridge from Siberia into Alaska as the last ice age was ending 13,000 years ago and, within several centuries, had spread out across much of North and South America.

But increasing evidence from archaeological excavations and new analyses of prehistoric human migrations is testing that once widely accepted view of "coming to America."

Nothing much new here that hasn't been posted here and elsewhere before. We do take some issue with this statement: "The old ideas on New World origins are based on informed speculation and not supported by evidence," said Smithsonian Institution archaeologist Dennis Stanford. This is refuted rather conclusively further down in the article: Genetic and linguistic similarities between modern Native Americans and the people of Siberia strongly support the notion that, at whatever time they arrived, the first Americans came from Asia. This is where the "speculation" began in the first place: the apparent similarities between aboriginal and east asian populations, further demonstrated later by craniometric and genetic data. Stanford may have been referring to strictly archaeological evidence though, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt there.

New archy motto! Morover / Dig they must

"I found it is all mosaic floor," Yehuda Batir says in his broken Hebrew. He is 25, born in Uzbekistan, has been in Israel only two and a half years and is already serving time in Megiddo Prison for domestic violence. Now he is working there as part of a "rescue dig" organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), which is uncovering what turned out to be a mosaic of perhaps the oldest church ever found anywhere, dating back to the fourth century C.E.

"First I found corner," Batir continues. "I go, dig with hoe, saw here a little, 10 centimeters, and I think to myself there is something here. There was plaster, shards, no pictures. After that I saw fish and I know it is Christian."

Interesting, using prison labor for excavations. But we like the quote: "Dig we must." Hmmm. Might have to make up a new logo for that one.

Good news China to strengthen int'l co-op in archaeology

China will offer more chances to foreign experts to take part in archaeological research in China and encourage domestic scholars to conduct research abroad, said acultural heritage official.

At a national conference on archaeology held recently in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province, Zhang Bai, vice director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), said the administration will send archaeological teams to Pakistan, Kenya, Mongolia, Vietnam and other countries to conduct archaeological research.

Ancient tombs and artifacts found in northern province

Archaeologists have discovered nine ancient tombs dated between 2,300 and 2,500 years ago and many artifacts belonging to the Dong Son culture 2,300 years ago, including axes, spearheads, jewelry and ceramic vases, in a village in Viet Tri City, northern Phu Tho province.

According to the archaeologists, Ca village in Tho Son ward is home to many historical vestiges since the Hung King Age. Through two excavations in the 1976-1977 period, the archaeologists found 314 ancient tombs and many valuable artifacts dated 2,400 years ago.

Phu Tho province is projecting to build an open-air museum in this village to display the region's artifacts and a stage serving its folk song performances to attract visitors to see the province's tangible and intangible cultural heritages.

That's the whole thing.

Hmmmmmmmm. . . . Ancient humans brought bottle gourds to the Americas from Asia

Thick-skinned bottle gourds widely used as containers by prehistoric peoples were likely brought to the Americas some 10,000 years ago by individuals who arrived from Asia, according to a new genetic comparison of modern bottle gourds with gourds found at archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere. The finding solves a longstanding archaeological enigma by explaining how a domesticated variant of a species native to Africa ended up millennia ago in places as far removed as modern-day Florida, Kentucky, Mexico and Peru.

The work, by a team of anthropologists and biologists from Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, Massey University in New Zealand and the University of Maine, appears this week on the web site of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Integrating genetics and archaeology, the researchers assembled a collection of ancient remnants of bottle gourds from across the Americas. They then identified key genetic markers from the DNA of both the ancient gourds and their modern counterparts in Asia and Africa before comparing the plants' genetic make-up to determine the origins of the New World gourds.

Interesting. It struck us that the earliest specimens they dated only went back to about 10k BP. We're beginning to think it's more than coincidence that the vast bulk of everything discovered so far only dates to the beginning of the Holocene. We're starting to lose some confidence that there was any substantial human presence here much before then.

News from the EEF

Actually, not much of interest this week. Here's one item though:

The website of Alain Guilleux has some 3000 color photos of ancient Egyptian monuments:
[In light of the forum thread: under 'Tomb of Sethi II', you may find a depiction of Menkeret: ]
Breaking news Humans in England May Go Back 700,000 Years

Ancient tools found in Britain show that humans lived in northern Europe 200,000 years earlier than previously thought, at a time when the climate was warm enough for lions, elephants and saber tooth tigers to also roam what is now England.

Scientists said Wednesday that 32 black flint artifacts, found in river sediments in Pakefield in eastern England, date back 700,000 years and represent the earliest unequivocal evidence of human presence north of the Alps.

Scientists had long held that humans had not migrated north from the relatively warm climates of the Mediterranean region until half a million years ago.

"The discovery that early humans could have existed this far north this long ago was startling," said Prof. Chris Stringer, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, one of four British scientists involved in the study who announced the finding at a news conference in London. Their discovery is detailed in the scientific journal Nature.

One anthropologist is quoted as advising caution, probably a good idea at this point. We'll have to check on the actual paper.

More at the BBC with pictures of the supposed artifacts (and a nice map). This story indicates they are dated by species correlation, specifically a species of vole that is known from this period. The picture of smaller artifacts don't appear to be a slam-dunk, but the context in which they were found apparently makes their status as geofacts unlikely, according to Stringer. The first photo of a single artifact looks much more plausibly like a true artifact.

If this pans out, of course, we here at ArchaeoBlog will be even more insistent in our questioning of why the hell supposed pre-Clovis artifacts in North American are so freakin' difficult to identify as such.

Archaeologists thrilled about Mayan mural find

Archaeologists said Tuesday that they had uncovered the final intact wall of the earliest-known Mayan mural, declaring that the find -- which dates to 100 B.C. -- overturns what was previously known about the origins of Mayan art, writing and royalty.

"It's really breathtaking how beautiful this is," said the mural's discoverer, William Saturno, an archaeologist with the University of New Hampshire and the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
"I was awestruck by its state of preservation. Its brilliant colors and fluid lines looked as though they could have been painted yesterday."
Scholars are calling the discovery the "Sistine Chapel" of the pre-classic Mayan world and say it is one of the most significant archaeological finds in decades.

More from National Geographic along with a picture.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Peopling of the Americas update Skulls in South America Tell New Migration Tale

For decades it has been believed that the first peoples to populate North and South America crossed over from Siberia by way of the Bering Strait on a land-ice bridge.

However, a new study examining the largest collection of South American skulls ever assembled suggests that a different population may have crossed the bridge to the New World 3,000 years before those Siberians.

. . .

The skulls belonging to the earliest known South Americans--or Paleo-Indians--had long, narrow crania, projecting jaws, and low, broad eye sockets and noses. Drastically different from American Indians, these skulls appear more similar to modern Australians, Melanesians, and Sub-Saharan Africans.

This indicates that these skulls--which date to 7,500 to 11,000 years ago--were not merely anomalies but rather were the majority, supporting the hypothesis that two distinct populations colonized the Americas.

Not sure where the 3,000 years figure came from. It doesn't say in the article. We'll attempt to find the original paper and check that out.

This ought to spur some debate about the origin of the craniometric traits they use to classify skulls to different populations. Generally, ancient skulls are compared to references collections derived from modern specimens. Given a 13-20,000 year space of time, the question of whether the configuration observed in these South American skulls arises from actual ancestor-descendent relationships, or perhaps a parallel evolution that just happens to make these skulls group similarly to the moden Aussie-Melano-African ones. Generally speaking, using a suite like this ought to negate that sort of thing, but it will no doubt be an issue.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Yes, Wisconsin can be pretty boring Archeological "Find of the Year" in Wisconsin

A 7-year-old boy who went exploring found the horns and skull of a long extinct bison species. The discovery is the eastern-most find of Bison Occidentalis, a forerunner of the modern American bison, in Wisconsin, state archaeologist John Broihahn said.

He doesn't know yet precisely how old the skull is, but he said the species has been extinct for about 5,000 years. The remains of only about three others have turned up in Wisconsin, mostly in the state's northwest, he said.

"This is a very significant find for several reasons," he said. "It helps us complete the story of what Wisconsin was like."
Save that quarry!
Experts call for protecting ancient quarry

A prehistoric quarry once used for stone tool production on Mount Whitter's north face in Tamworth is unprotected and vulnerable to artifact looting, but experts say preserving it would be difficult.

Concern about protecting it has grown since a $28 million project to build a motorsports park next to it was cleared to proceed this fall.

New Hampshire state archaeologist Richard Boisvert has said scheduled blasting and construction won't directly harm the quarry. But he also has said the project could spur collateral development, putting the site at risk.

More on hornfels here.
Scientists hope Captiva Island dig can unlock Calusa mysteries

On the northernmost tip of Captiva Island stands a piece of southwest Florida history that may help scientists unlock the mysteries of an ancient culture.

From the road lined with high-priced homes in the secluded South Seas Plantation, a mound with several peaks built by the Calusa Indians more than 2,000 years ago looks like any other clump of mangroves and vegetation.

Hundreds of years of plant growth and soil deposits have hidden the sun-bleached white shells that form the foundation of the mound, which at one point reaches 18 feet high.

But by studying what is underneath that growth more thoroughly than in previous mound excavations, scientists hope to uncover the answers of how Calusa built their shell hills.

Excellent. Seems like they've acquired private funding from the landowner to conduct very detailed analyses of the middens.
Army archaeologists discovering history at Fort Drum

Building for the future at the U.S. Army's Fort Drum is helping unveil the past.

The newest discovery at the northern New York Army post is a prehistoric boat-building site near what would have been the shoreline of Glacial Lake Iroquois.

A team of Fort Drum archaeologists surveying a wooded hillside near where the Army is putting a new National Guard training site unearthed an unusual looking stone tool. With the help of a U.S. Marine archaeologist, the team was able to identify it as a triangular-pointed reamer, a typical prehistoric boat-building tool. They also found a punch and other three-dimensional blade tools.

Hmmmmm. No info on how this thing was dated to 11k BP. Seems rather early. We're suspicious that a "5,000-year old village" site was nearby. But we'll wait on more word.

Sex! Drugs! Ancient Egypt! Sex experts head to Wales to talk Egyptian

SEX, drugs and music, cosmetic surgery, gay hairdressers, desperate housewives and a mysterious sex manual ... is it a new TV offering aimed at overshadowing the BBC's sex and swords drama Rome?

No; welcome to the world of the ancient Egyptians - and their music, sex lives and cosmetic foibles are just some of the topics to be debated at Swansea University's Sex and Gender in Ancient Egypt conference at the campus' Egypt Centre this month.

The conference, the third the centre has organised, will welcome leading egyptologists and experts in gender from academic institutions across the world.

It actually sounds like an interesting conference. Like someone in the article says though, one must be careful when interpreting ancient symbols and texts, taking care not to interpret solely on the basis of our modern views.

Archaeology buff: Donors can save site

Ken White dreamed of finding evidence of ancient civilizations in the White Mountains.

He was hiking with one of his sons two years ago on Father's Day when his dream came true.

He said he found a piece of a stone artifact and was confident he was onto something big. His intuition proved right.

He discovered, within weeks of his initial find, a site archaeologists have agreed was used by prehistoric people to quarry hornfels, a black volcanic rock prized for its hardness and ability to be shaped. The quarry is located on privately owned land on Mount Whittier's north face.

Fort Clatsop update Traces of Lewis and Clark sought

Scientists from the National Park Service used remote sensing devices such as a magnetometer and ground-penetrating radar to seek soil irregularities that might signal a post hole, or a fire pit or anything else man-made. They dug about a foot to the "plow zone" farmed beginning in the 1850s then down about another foot to the sediments that were intact before that and probably contemporary with the explorers' Corps of Discovery.

Where some previous searches used backhoes -- a method that makes today's scientists cringe -- this effort used trowels and paintbrushes, taking things a centimeter or less at a time.
The few artifacts found -- ceramic bits, a piece of a child's ceramic doll -- can be traced to later pioneers or to Indian tribes.

Newer research has exposed a clearer picture of what the original winter encampment looked like, so it can be rebuilt with greater accuracy.

Discovery of a staircase in historical city of Gour

Archaeological excavations in the historical site of Gour city led to the discovery of staircases and floorings which date back to the Sassanid era, according to CHN.

Historical city of Gour, located near Firuz Abad in Fars province, is the first circle-shaped city of Iran. The city was constructed during the third century A.D. by the order of Ardeshir Babakan, the founder of Sassanid dynasty, and was consisted of four main gates.

A team of German-Iranian archaeologists are carrying out excavations in the historical site of Gour under the supervision of the German professor, Prof. Dietrich.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Cave paintings reveal Ice Age artists

BRITAIN’S first cave art is more than 12,800 years old, scientific testing has shown. Engravings of a deer and other creatures at Creswell Crags, in Derbyshire, have proved to be genuine Ice Age creations, and not modern fakes, as some had feared.

The engravings were found in 2003 at two caves, Church Hole and Robin Hood’s Cave, which lie close together in the Creswell gorge. Palaeolithic occupation deposits dating to the last Ice Age were excavated there in 1875-76, but the art remained unnoticed. Although the most notable finds were from 15,000-13,000 years ago, even older tools were noted, some dating to the Middle Palaeolithic between 60,000 and 40,000 years ago, others a few millennia later.
A grave discovery 32 unmarked graves found in excavation

Thirty-two unmarked graves have been discovered in a pre-Civil War-era family cemetery in Virginia where a Kohl's department store is to be built.
Archeologists with Fredericksburg, Va.-based Engineering Consulting Services have been at the site since November and expect more graves to be found.
Chief archaeologist Chip Houston said he is hoping to conduct tests on the bodies found in Culpepper, Va., to determine sex and age, but the high levels of acidity in the soil will make it hard, the Culpepper Star Exponent reports.
Opening the Tomb of Petamenophis in Luxor: A First Look

Today (December 7th, 2005) was the official opening of the tomb of Petamenophis (Padiamenope, Xry.y-Hb Hrj-tp) (TT33) by Dr Sabry Abd El Aziz, the deputy of Dr Zahi Hawass. It is located next to the tomb of Harwa (TT39). The tomb is hugely significant, being, well huge. At this point, it is the largest tomb in Egypt and yet we really do not know why the owner of it was so blessed, but perhaps future work may reveal this secret.

Good, link-rich article.

Friday, December 09, 2005

What can C-14 not do?

Interesting article (apparently free) from Scientific American: Atomic tests allow carbon dating of baby boomers

To learn the true age of a cell, Frisén needed something that is formed at the moment of the cell's birth and remains stable throughout its life, which meant he needed to isolate and date its DNA.

By measuring the amount of carbon 14 incorporated into the DNA molecule at its creation, then correlating it with atmospheric carbon 14 levels, Frisén finally had a test that could give him answers. As it turns out, the team reported in the journal Cell this past summer, many parts of our bodies are much younger than the whole. Jejunum cells from the gut tissue of subjects in their mid-30s were less than 16 years old. Skeletal muscle from two subjects in their late 30s was just over 15 years old.

No real comments on this, we just thought it was an interesting application of a technique we're all familiar with.

Maya woman portrait update Ancient Portrait of Maya Woman Found—Who Was She?

Archaeologists have found the earliest known Maya stone carving bearing the portrait of a woman.

The discovery was made earlier this year in the jungles of northern Guatemala at a site called Naachtun, some 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of the Maya city of Tikal.

The portrait, which is carved into a stone monument known as a stela, shows a woman's face with her hands upheld.

It dates back to the fourth century A.D., suggesting that women held powerful positions early in Maya society either as queens or as deities.

"The individual depicted must have been exceptionally important to the people of Naachtun," said Kathryn Reese-Taylor, director of the University of Calgary team that made the discovery.

From National Geographic. Little more background than preceding stories.

Archaeologists block development. . . .again Found: Old Wall in New York, and It's Blocking the Subway

Three weeks after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority started digging a subway tunnel under Battery Park, the project hit a wall. A really old wall. Possibly the oldest wall still standing in Manhattan.

The top of an old wall was discovered by workers digging a new subway tunnel under Battery Park.
It was a 45-foot-long section of a stone wall that archaeologists believe is a remnant of the original battery that protected the Colonial settlement at the southern tip of the island. Depending on which archaeologist you ask, it was built in the 1760's or as long ago as the late 17th century.

Either way, it would be the oldest piece of a fortification known to exist in Manhattan and the only one to survive the Revolutionary War period, said Joan H. Geismar, president of the Professional Archaeologists of New York City.

"To my knowledge, it's the only remain of its kind in Manhattan," Ms. Geismar said. "It's a surviving Colonial military structure. That's what makes it unique."

News from the EEF

Press report: "Helwan necropolis attracts Egyptologists"
Lebanon's Daily Star Newspaper has a brief article regarding
the ongoing Australian Centre for Egyptology excavations at the
Egyptian necropolis of Helwan:

Press report: "Celebrating Tut's birthday"
"Egypt celebrates the 83rd anniversary of thediscovery of the boy king's tomb. "

Dr Hawass's Dig Days column: "Queen Sophia of Spain"
Among the topics are "the four tunnels inside the Sphinx."

Press report: "German probe into sarcophagus claimed by Egypt"
"The Berlin state prosecutor has opened an inquiry into the origin of
an Egyptian sarcophagus from the Pharaonic period, recently seized
in Germany and which Cairo wants returned." Much more deatils in
the German reports below, which speak of a wooden sarcophagus,
an inner coffin, a mummy mask, wooden goddesses and 308 ushabtis,
with a worth of 2 million dollar. The objects would stem from the
(unknown?) tomb of a 4th century BC princess called Meretites.

[Submitted by Hedvig Gyory (]
* I have put on my website the texts of the exhibition
"Repelling Demons - Protecting Newborns" which was
in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, October 21 -
November 20, 2005. With a lot of information about
the newly acquired "magic wand".

Digitized book from the ETANA project
-- E. A. Wallis Budge, A Vocabulary in Hieroglyphic to the Theban Recension
of the Book of the Dead, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, London, 1898 -
pdf-file (14 MB) [There was a 2nd rev. ed. in 1911]

Online version of: Kenneth A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament,
Tyndale Press, London, 1966. 191 pp. - pdf-files
"In this study intended to be a critical assessment of problems and methods
in the Old Testament field and the contribution that Ancient Near Eastern
studies can make to it, the author quotes in many instances Egyptian
evidence." [AEB]

John F. Henry, "The Social Origins of Money: The Case of Egypt",
16 pp, in PDF, 52 kB.
An economist looks at the social and economic evolution of
ancient Egypt and the introduction of a unit of account.

Bishoy Morris, "Surgery on Papyrus", in: studentBMJ vol. 12
(Sept. 2004), 338-339; in PDF (179kB):
A medical student takes a look at Edwin Smith's papyrus,
one of the oldest known surgical texts. [The EOA reference
given in the article seems not to work.]

End of EEF news

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Easter Island update Terry Hunt sends us this story on his team's latest work on Rapa Nui:
Did Easter Island get 'ratted' out?

Rats and Europeans are likely to blame for the mysterious demise of Easter Island, a team of anthropologists suggests.

The fate of the people who built hundreds of 10-ton stone statues on the South Pacific island and then vanished has long been seen as a cautionary environmental tale. Natives deforested the island paradise to transport the statues, the story goes, triggering erosion that damaged farmlands. And then they supposedly bumped themselves off in a cannibalistic civil war in about 1650.

But anthropologist Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii at Manoa first blames the Polynesian rat. The rats probably deforested the 66-square-mile island's 16 million palm trees. "Palm tree seeds are filet mignon to rats," Hunt says.

As noted in the article, this tends to undermine the theory, most famously and recently propounded by Jared Diamond in his book Collapse, that Easter Island colonizers essentially did themselves in by deforesting themselves out of existence. Hunt's work shows that colonization took place much later and that deforestation had already largely occurred before humans became fully settled.

Some may blast away at Diamond for this (we've seen a bit of it out in the blogosphere already), and he has gotten some (deserved) criticism from anthropologists and archaeologists for having a rather too simplistic view of the archaeological/anthropological record and literature. While he might deserve some criticism for overreaching with this example, Hunt's work is really the most detailed on Easter Island especially from a chronological standpoint.

Ancient drought 'changed history'

Scientists have identified a major climate crisis that struck Africa about 70,000 years ago and which may have changed the course of human history.

The evidence comes from sediments drilled up from the beds of Lake Malawi and Tanganyika in East Africa, and from Lake Bosumtwi in Ghana.

It shows equatorial Africa experienced a prolonged period of drought.

It is possible, scientists say, this was the reason some of the first humans left Africa to populate the globe.

Untouched Roman sarcophagi found

Italian archaeologists have found a remarkable trove of five untouched Roman sarcophagi in a burial vault outside Rome .

"It's really rare to find so many sarcophagi that have never been profaned or even opened - as can be seen by the intact lead clasps on their edges," said the head of the dig, Stefano Musco .

He said the sarcophagi dated from the II century AD and probably contained the remains of the wealthy residents of a villa that once stood in the area - now a building site on Rome's north-eastern outskirts .

Sialk 6000-year-old Secrets to be Revealed

Archaeologists will start the final season of excavations in the pre-historical Sialk Tepe.

Sialk Tepe which dates back to more than 8000 years ago is one of the most important historical sites of Iran, located in Kashan city. The remains in this historical hill indicate that it was the residential area of many ethnic groups in the course of history. Sialk was first excavated by Roman Grishman, French archaeologist. During his excavations, Grishman unearthed a giant structure which he called the brick structure of Sialk.

“Despite the previous plans, just the northern hill of Sialk will be excavated during the last season of excavations to study again the history of the sixth millennium BC in Sialk,” said Sadegh Malek Shahmirzadi, head of the excavation team of Sialk.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Early North Americans or just a bunch of wood? Scientists find evidence of ancient forest in Nantucket Sound

Scientists who have found evidence of an ancient forest buried under six feet of mud in Nantucket Sound say the discovery could help answer questions about early people in North America.

The findings, made two years ago while scientists were mapping a proposed wind farm, include a piece of birch wood, yellowish green grass, soil and insect parts, and appear to make up a forest floor that lined the coastline 5,500 years ago, reported The Boston Sunday Globe.

"We've been arguing for years whether there are remnant prehistoric landscapes out there and now we know they can exist," said Victor Mastone, director and chief archaeologist of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources.

Basically, no artifacts or sites found, just an ancient shoreline with some preserved organics. Hence, if they do extensive exploration of this and similar landforms they might find human habitations if they're there.
Bosnian pyramid update Scientist: Bosnian Hill May Have Pyramid

With eyes trained to recognize pyramids hidden in the hills of El Salvador, Mexico and Peru, Semir Osmanagic has been drawn to the mound overlooking this central Bosnian town.

"It has all the elements: four perfectly shaped slopes pointing toward the cardinal points, a flat top and an entrance complex," he said, gazing at the hill and wondering what lies beneath.

No pyramids are known in Europe, and there is no evidence any ancient civilization there ever attempted to build one.

But Osmanagic, a Bosnian archaeologist who has spent the last 15 years studying the pyramids of Latin America, suspects there is one here in his Balkan homeland.

Still needs work.
Elgin Marbles update Winds change in the battle over ancient artefacts

THREE years ago, the directors of some of the world's top museums, meeting in Munich, commiserated over a major annoyance: the growing demands from countries such as Greece and Italy that they return ancient artefacts.

What emerged was a defiant statement defending their collecting practices. Signed by the directors of 18 museums - from the Louvre in Paris to the Hermitage in StPetersburg to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the J.Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles - the document argued that encyclopedic museums have a special mission as treasure houses of world culture, and that today's ethical standards cannot be applied to yesterday's acquisitions.

Not a bad article, thought it kind of flips between how museums might deal with current illegally acquired objects and older collections which, as the museum directors' statements note, have in some cases were acquired in ethically uncertain fashion. Read the whole thing.