Why did Neanderthals have such long faces?
Thursday June 19, 2003
No, not just because they were sad about their imminent extinction: it is actually about skull shape and human evolution. In fact it's not that they had long faces, but that we have short ones.
The traditional image of Neanderthal man - citizen of Europe for 200,000 years until he went extinct in the last ice age - is of a hulking brute with huge eyebrows, an enormous nose and a large face. Was there something special about his long face? Was it just an accident that most fossil finds were of big males?
This week Erik Trinkaus of Washington University reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he had compared the skulls of 179 humans who died in the past two centuries with 26 modern humans from the last ice age, 24 Neanderthals and 23 much older human ancestors. He measured the distance from the ear hole to the roots of the incisors, and the distance from the middle of a place on the jaw joint to the midpoint between the incisors.
That provided precise points of comparison across a huge stretch of human evolution, and the Neanderthal face turned out not to be so enormous after all, he reported. "Neanderthals are the archaic humans that are closest to us. Closest to us in time, closest to us in behaviour and in many aspects of their anatomy. They're very human but they are not quite us," he said. And, he found, Neanderthals aren't the odd men out: modern humans are. All the evolving humans had longish faces, and that included early Homo sapiens.
"Previously, the question was: why did Neanderthals have long faces? That's the wrong question," he said. "The correct one is - why do modern humans have really short ones?"
Stone Age homes found in the Gulf
06/01/2004 - 1:32:34 pm
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of Stone Age houses going back 7,000 years on an island off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
The foundations of three dwellings were found on Marawah island, 60 miles) west of the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi.
The site also yielded a flint spearhead about three inches long, a flint arrowhead and a grinding stick, said Mark Beech, the senior resident archaeologist of the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey.
Beech said the team suspected there were more house remains to be found.
“These structures are amazing in terms of historic importance. They are the best and most complete structures found in the whole (Gulf) region,” Beech said. Less well-preserved remains of houses have been found in Kuwait and Qatar.
Samples examined at Glasgow University showed the houses date to 6,5000-7,000 years ago, which is about 2,000 years before the earliest Pharaoh in Egypt.
The houses belong to what is called the Arabian Neolithic Era, which corresponds to the Late Stone Age. They have walls that are half a meter thick and built of local stone. They are rectangular and oval in shape, Beech said.
Ancient leper remains found in valley named Hell
31/12/2003 - 5:35:31 pm
An Israeli archaeologist has found what he says are the oldest remains of a leprosy victim to be uncovered in the Middle East, buried in a biblical valley of child sacrifice whose name later became a synonym for Hell.
Shimon Gibson of Jerusalem’s Albright Institute of Archaeological Research discovered the 2,000 year old remains of a man in a niche in a family burial cave in the city’s Hinnom Valley, or Gehenna, where ancient peoples burned children alive as offerings to the pagan god Molech.
Gibson said that until now the oldest archaeological findings of leprosy, known in medical terms as Hansen’s Disease, were from the Byzantine period, around the fifth century A.D
“As this is from the first century A.D, it makes it the first known example of Hansen’s Disease in the entire Middle East,” he said. “It’s very exciting.”
Gibson said that the Hebrew word ‘Shara’ mentioned in the Bible could be translated to mean not only leprosy but also other forms of skin ailments, but the Jerusalem discovery confirms beyond doubt that people in the time of Jesus did suffer from Hansen’s Disease.
Although he made the discovery three years ago, he said he held off from publicising the find until exhaustive examination of the bones, DNA and fibres in the skeleton’s shroud were complete.
“We didn’t want to make a spectacular announcement and then find we hadn’t done our homework,” he told The Associated Press.
Orit Shamir, a textiles expert at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the leper’s linen shroud was also unique.
“This is the first time we have found a shroud of that age in the Jerusalem area,” she said, adding that the man’s clothing indicated his social status.
“He was from the upper level of society,” she said.
Gibson said that although leprosy weakened the man’s immune system, it was tuberculosis that actually killed him.
He said that contrary to the local custom at the time of burying a corpse and then later re-interring the bones, the leper was left untouched in his niche, away from the bones of his relatives.
“People were very frightened of leprosy,” he said. “They were afraid of being contaminated.”
That fear may have led to the preservation of the shroud, Gibson said, keeping the cloth in its niche above the cave floor away from the rotting effects of rainwater.
“Such things have previously only been found in arid or semi-arid areas such as the Jordan Valley or Egypt.”
Iron Age find at business park
Experts have uncovered evidence of Iron Age houses and pottery dating from around 100 BC at a major Tyneside development.
Residents at the Newcastle Great Park (NGP) development are learning about their Iron Age counterparts after the latest archaeological work on the site uncovered evidence of an ancient settlement.
Artefacts, described as being of significant archaeological interest, have been found since the works began over two years ago.
However this latest area to be examined has caused the most excitement.
More than 10,000 new jobs are being promised with the development of the massive park.
It is being created in three phases over the next 15 years to include more than 2,500 properties, as well as a wide range of commercial, retail, leisure, education and community facilities.
The £800m project will see 85,000 square metres of business space created close to the A1, north of Newcastle.
Senior keeper of field archaeology at Tyne & Wear Museums, Steve Speak, said: "This site, which is south of the new SAGE development, has produced not only pottery, but also so-called Quern Stones, which were used to grind wheat.
"The settlement shows three phases of occupation over a period of about 75 years.
"We know this because our calculations show that a house would last around 25 years before it started to deteriorate and needed to be built again."
Drawings of the site show a large round house about 10 metres in diameter, surrounded by an enclosure which was likely to be used to keep in livestock.
Also featured are the remains of houses from previous phases of occupation along with ditches used for drainage and the disposal of waste.
Tyne and Wear's county archaeologist is currently deciding on the scope of a full excavation of the site.
Mr Speak added: "The good thing about this area is that there has been little or no ploughing over the site which so often wipes out any archaeology under the soil.
"Any artefacts we uncover here should be of good quality and I feel we will get an informed idea of what life was like for the earliest inhabitants of Newcastle Great Park".
About half of the 1,200-acre park is being landscaped to create a mix of woodland and meadowland with hills, vales and rivers - all of which will be accessible to the public.
Archaeologists uncover ruins of ancient citadel in Hanoi
HANOI : Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of an ancient citadel in Hanoi dating back to the 7th century.
They have described it as the most important and largest historical find in Vietnamese history.
The area used to be the site of an ancient civilisation.
Most of the relics found in the basement of the citadel were tiles and potsherds, believed to be the traces of dynasties dating back as early as the 7th century, right in the heart of Hanoi.
Also unearthed were pillar foundations and an extensive network of drainage systems.
Among the most impressive finds was a 2.5-metre deep water well, which bore the imprints of an ancient river and lake.
Archaeologists who made the discovery said the relics provided a glimpse into the lives of nobility in the royal city, which was part of a 6th century town, later renamed "Ascending Dragon".
Tong Trung Tin, Deputy Director of Institute of Archaeology, said: "This is the biggest and most important archaeological find in Vietnam's history. In some places, we found artefacts and structures built on top of each other ranging from the 7th to the 19th centuries. The excavation site covers only a small part of the western side of the citadel, which was believed to cover an area up to 140 hectares under the Le Dynasty from the 15th to 18th centuries."
Excavation works here began in 2002 and since then, various items have been dug up such as pieces made of marble shaping dragon and unicorn heads, coins and utensils made of ceramics, bronze weapons and funeral jars.
Duong Trung Quoc, Vietnam History Association, said: "The finds will help the Vietnamese people better understand their age-old culture and history. It will also be a major attraction to tourists. The relics are well-preserved and we'll request international assistance for the project."
The site was where the Vietnamese government had planned to build a new National Assembly Building and Conference Hall.
But historians have suggested delaying the new Parliament house until the search is complete so as to turn part of the building into an outdoor museum.
The National Conference Hall will now be built on the outskirts of Hanoi, near the newly constructed My Dinh National Stadium. - CNA
Copyright © 2004 MCN International Pte Ltd
International Herald Tribune
Copyright © 2003 The International Herald Tribune | www.iht.com
Siberian graveyard's secrets
Charles Q. Choi NYT
Thursday, January 8, 2004
YEKATERINBURG, Russia In a medieval Siberian graveyard a few miles south of the Arctic Circle, Russian scientists have unearthed mummies roughly 1,000 years old, clad in copper masks, hoops and plates - burial rites that archaeologists say they have never seen before.
Among 34 shallow graves were five mummies shrouded in copper and blankets of reindeer, beaver, wolverine or bear fur. Unlike the remains of Egyptian pharaohs, the scientists say, the Siberian bodies were mummified by accident. The cold, dry permafrost preserved the remains, and the copper may have helped prevent oxidation.
The discovery adds to the evidence that Siberia was not an isolated wasteland but a crossroads of international trade and cultural diversity, Natalia Fedorova of the Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences said in an interview in her office in this central Russian city. Among the artifacts discovered at the site were bronze bowls from Persia, dated by style from the 10th or 11th century.
William Fitzhugh, chairman of the department of anthropology and director of the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian, who in 1997 took part in the first expedition to the site, said the findings filled "a gap we really need to know a lot about."
The medieval cemetery, named Zeleniy Yar after a nearby village, is at the base of a peninsula called "the end of the earth" by the native Nenets people. Archaeological surveys in 1976 uncovered ceramic remains suggesting an ancient settlement. On the 1997 expedition, Fedorova, Fitzhugh and their colleagues dug up a male in a wooden coffin with an iron combat knife, a silver medallion and a bronze bird figurine, from the seventh to ninth century.
Later digs turned up still more graves. Eleven of the 34 remains had shattered or missing skulls and chopped skeletons. This may have been done right after death, "to render protection from mysterious spells believed to emanate from the deceased," Fedorova said in a report, or it may have been a result of ancient grave robbing.
Another researcher, Dmitri Razhev, said that added evidence of what contemporary societies of the area consider "protective magic" include leather straps wrapped tightly around the bodies, as well as beads or chains and humanoid or birdlike bronze figures broken into pieces at the time of burial.
The legs of the dead all point toward the nearby Gorny Poluy River, a position that Fedorova said might have had religious significance. Nearly all the graves have traces of coffins made of logs or boat parts. Several were apparently warriors buried with iron knives; others apparently died in battle, as suggested by arrowheads lodged in eye sockets and stab wounds in their backs.
In 2000, the archaeologists found their first copper-shrouded mummy, a child with a face masked by copper plates. Three more copper-masked infant mummies were found in 2001, each bound with four or five copper hoops two inches wide. In the remains of a metalworking shop, the researchers excavated a wooden sarcophagus with the best-preserved mummy of all, a red-haired man covered chest to foot in copper plate and laid out with an iron hatchet, well-preserved furs and a bronze bear's head buckle.
The researchers are continuing digs on another Siberian settlement south and west of Zeleniy Yar.
Niels Lynnerup, director of the Laboratory of Biological Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen, who is not connected with the research, said in a telephone interview that the findings were remarkable. "Archaeology is most important in those places where you don't have good written records," Lynnerup said. "So here, archaeology is terribly important."
He added: "Often we find skeletons and nothing else. Here we have not only very detailed human remains, but excellent preservation of all their materials."
The New York Times
Copyright © 2003 The International Herald Tribune
TUESDAY 06/01/2004 12:20:48
Carrickmines Castle decision given
Work to dismantle historic castle ruins to make way for a roundabout was given the go ahead today.
The decision paves the way for the roundabout on the site of Carrickmines Castle in south Dublin.
The High Court rejected an application for a judicial review of the Government`s decision to demolish the medieval remains - the latest in a series of attempts by conservationists to prevent construction of the M50 junction.
Justice Paul Gilligan threw out all of campaigner Michael Mulcreevy`s main points in seeking an injunction for the work at the castle, which began last month.
Mr Mulcreevy, from Killarney, claimed that Environment Minister Martin Cullen was acting as judge and jury by forging ahead with the national roads building programme while at the same time allowing a national monument to be destroyed.
Justice Gilligan admitted that it would have been better if the decision to destroy the walls of the castle had been made by another body but said the minister had been entitled to make the order.
He dismissed claims that the director of the National Museum was not properly consulted and said the application for a judicial review had been made too late.
Hundreds of archaeologists have been working at the site while the battle was thrashed out in the courts.
An injunction banning any work at the site was lifted one month ago.
Mr Cullen has argued that all proper procedures have been followed and that the M50 roundabout is in the public interest and cannot be moved.
The National Roads Authority and Dun Laoghaire County Council claimed that millions of euros have already been spent employing archaeologists to investigate the site and that now the the work has been done, the road should go ahead.
Mr Mulcreevy is thought to have been left with a legal bill of thousands of euros (pounds) after challenging what has become one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the Republic.
Lawyers said there were no grounds for an appeal.
Tunnelling badgers endanger Britain's trove of hidden relics
Juliette Jowit, environment editor
Sunday January 4, 2004
The secrets of how the ancient ancestors of modern Britons lived and died could be lost forever because the evidence is being destroyed by badgers.
Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire has harboured the mysteries of civilisations for more than 5,500 years, making it one of Europe's most treasured archaeological sites.
Just beneath the surface are the remains of Bronze Age burials, Iron Age enclosures, Roman villages, Saxon and Medieval settlements and the Second World War.
Yet a fast growing population of badgers, attracted to easy digging conditions, is building networks of tunnels that threaten to wreck Britain's historical treasure trove.
Experts are so alarmed that they are risking the wrath of animal lovers by demanding action, possibly a mass cull.
Even then, culling badgers in one area will create 'a space' for others to move in, said Dr Allan Morton, the Ministry of Defence archaeologist. 'I don't think it's good to kill anything [but] we don't know how to deal with it. I tend to believe perhaps just culling the population right across the board might work better, or instead of culling we should stop nurturing [them].'
The 94,000-acre plain has 2,500 archaeological sites, more than 300 of them protected by law as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
Since the MoD took it over for military exercises in 1897 it has become one of Britain's best protected areas for wildlife and archaeology because little of the land is farmed. 'It's one of the most important historical landscapes in Europe - amazingly well preserved,' says David Miles, chief archaeologist at English Heritage.
'Most people think of Salisbury Plain for prehistoric archaeology, but it's desperately important for the Roman period - you could walk around from one Roman village to the next, and down the streets in the village and down the country lanes to the next village. It's almost like going back in time and seeing a countryside for the last 500 years or more.'
The decline of hunting badgers for food and bristles for shaving brushes and laws to stop badger baiting have boosted their numbers across Britain.
Farmers now want to cull them, blaming the animals for a TB epidemic in cattle in parts of the country - and even spawning a storyline in Radio 4's The Archers .
To make matters worse for the archaeologists, badgers have an instinctive urge to dig - even when their sett is big enough, said Miles. 'They are little bulldozers.'
The result on Salisbury Plain, Morton estimates, is badger setts in more than 52 Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age enclosures. They have burrowed into key sites such as the late Bronze Age East Chisenbury Midden, a rare accumulation of the remains of ceremonial events, built of layers of bones, flint, pottery and manure like a giant 'chocolate cake', he said.
Each sett generates tens of cubic yards of soil and scatters remains, so the damage can be considerable. 'The layers become hopelessly jumbled ... to such a degree that a large part of the information is lost forever.'
Fences costing up to £30,000 each can be put up to help ward off the badgers, but in the time taken to get the necessary approval great damage can be done.
Conservationist Dr Pamela Mynott, secretary of the National Federation of Badger Groups, said: 'I don't think culling would be the answer ... if you take out badgers you'd probably find other badgers would thrive because there would be more food for them.'
Morton and Miles are reluctant to call outright for culling, but say a better balance between conservation and heritage must be found. 'Understanding our ancestors is fundamental,' Morton said. 'It's important to civilised societies.'
Satellites to guard heritage sites
Thursday July 3, 2003
World Heritage sites are to get a pair of orbiting guardian angels. The European Space Agency (ESA) announced last week that its remote sensing satellites will monitor the 730 sites and alert authorities to any threats.
The list of sites, which is maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), includes many in developing countries that have not been extensively mapped. ESA and Unesco have already begun a collaboration to protect heritage sites in the remote mountain areas of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where hunting and farming are threatening gorilla populations. Radar images from ESA's Envisat or ERS spacecraft will be used to alert authorities to changes in land use that could threaten the area.
It is hoped that other space agencies will join the partnership. ESA says Nasa is likely to sign up in October to mark its return to Unesco after a 13-year absence and that the Indian, Japanese, Canadian and Brazilian space agencies have also expressed interest.
Time capsule from the deep revealed
Jan 2 2004
By Steve Bagnall Daily Post
THE inside of an historic submarine, which sank off the North Wales coast, has been seen for the first time in more than 120 years.
Retired marine archaeologist Mike Bowyer has dived to the Resurgam to put a camera inside.
It was the first mechanically powered submarine, built by the Rev George Garrett in 1880, in Birkenhead.
But the pioneering vessel sank during a storm off the coast of Rhyl in 1880 on its maiden voyage.
Now, for the first time since that day, the inside of the old engine house complete with boiler and pipeworks, has been seen.
The film is due to be shown early this year on Channel 4's Wreck Detectives.
The documentary shows Bill Garrett, the great-grandson of the submarine's builder, watching the pictures relayed to the surface.
The sub lay undiscovered for more than 100 years until the wreck was found by Chester diver Keith Hurley in 1995.
Mr Bowyer has dived the Resurgam many times, and now holds the licence to explore it. During summer he visited the vessel on four occasions spending an hour on each dive filming inside.
"I pushed the camera through the conning tower and through the damaged hole in the bow about 10 ft," Mr Bowyer said.
"I filmed the boiler - the propulsion system. The submarine was powered by a steam engine. We now know she is more or less intact inside.
"It was interesting to see how the inside is different to the original design. Victorian builders just made the changes when they were building it. We also saw a few other visitors inside including conger eels.
"This is the first time anybody has seen inside the Resurgam for 123 years."
Before Mr Bowyer could take his historic film footage, he had to get permission from Welsh historic monuments agency Cadw.
He is currently sifting through hours of footage on the Resurgam dives.
Information collated will be sent to the Royal Commission for Historic and Ancient Monuments.
The retired marine archaeologist faces a race against time to save the Resurgam from its watery grave,
Every year it is deteriorating and could soon be beyond salvage, with the cost of raising the sub estimated at more than £2m.
Currently hopes are pinned on weaving its salvation into proposals for a multi-million pound conversion of Rhyl's Froyd Harbour into a marina.
Mr Bowyer believes the Resurgam could prove a major tourist attraction for the region, but first funding has to be found to raise and preserve it.
"The hull is deteriorating. It will be expensive to raise the Resurgam. If we do bring it up, the question is where are we going to take it," said Mr Bowyer. "We are in talks at the moment."
Mr Garrett has also made more than 40 trips to North Wales to try and raise the submarine.
He agrees time is not on their side and it has to be saved soon.
Theories suggest the reasons why it was eventually discovered may also be the key to its downfall.
The Resurgam was in good condition when it was found because it had remained buried in the sea-bed, preserved for decades, scientists believe.
But it seems the submarine may have been moved from its resting place between 1992 and 1995 by a dredger working on the BHP gas pipeline.
The pipeline is only feet from the Resurgam.
Damage to the submarine's hull is consistent with it being dragged by a ship's anchor.
Another theory is shifting tides washed away layers which hid the Resurgam's location.
'Historic find' is old garden patio
Experts called in to examine a rocks unearthed during a garden makeover were convinced they had found a unique Viking settlement.
But they were left red-faced after months of excavation work found nothing more than an old garden patio.
Huge slabs uncovered in Marion Garry's garden in Buckhaven, Fife, had experts convinced they had found evidence of an early Viking village.
They were left disappointed when the structure was dated to the 1940s.
'Tell-tale signs ignored'
Douglas Speirs, chief archaeologist at Fife Council, told BBC Radio Scotland's Fred MacAulay programme that it was an "easy mistake to make."
He explained: "This project first began in the summer when some private residents in Buckhaven began excavating in their back garden.
"During this work they uncovered a series of very interesting features that we thought may well represent a significant archaeological find.
The chap next door - who has lived there since 1939 - was absolutely adamant that there has never been a patio in that back garden
"Over the course of the following months, we engaged in a series of excavations only to find out that what we were digging up was in fact a 1940s patio.
"In our defence, from the limited information we had at first, it did seem a reasonable and plausible situation that this might be a site of some antiquity in so far as it was situated on a raised beach right next to the sea and had all the hallmarks of ancient building techniques."
Mr Speirs admitted that his team mistakenly ignored the finds of a World War II child's gas mask and old television remote in their hunt for Viking evidence.
He said: "Buoyed up by the fact that we were digging for something of some significance, we kind of ignored these tell-tale signs. Looking back now, that probably wasn't the best approach.
"One of the things that really pushed us over the limit in this case is that the houses on site were built in 1939 and the chap next door - who has lived there since 1939 - was absolutely adamant that there has never been a patio in that back garden."
He added that his department would "be more careful" when examining any future sites of archaeological interest.
Marion Garry, 50, who called the team to her garden after watching a TV programme about hidden archaeological treasures in populated areas, said she now hoped to turn the unearthed patio into a garden feature.
She said: "It looks quite messy now but I think it will look pretty with flowers and plants growing around it."