Of lice and men

Parasite genes reveal modern and archaic humans made contact

Public release date: 4-Oct-2004

Contact: Dale Clayton, professor of biology


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office 801-581-6482

University of Utah

Alan R. Rogers, professor of anthropology


cellular 801-949-2128

office 801-581-5529

home 801-486-6013

University of Utah


David Reed, former University of Utah postdoctoral fellow, now at Florida Museum of Natural History


352-392-1721, ext. 220

Florida Museum of Natural History


Lee Siegel, science news specialist, University of Utah Public Relations


office 801-581-8993 cellular 801-244-5399

University of Utah


A University of Utah study showing how lice evolved with the people they infested reveals that a now-extinct species of early human came into direct contact with our species about 25,000 years ago and spread the parasites to our ancestors.


The study found modern humans have two genetically distinct types of head lice. One type is found worldwide and evolved on the ancestors of our species, Homo sapiens. The second type is found only in the Americas, evolved on another early human species (possibly Homo erectus) and jumped to Homo sapiens during fights, sex, sharing of clothes or perhaps cannibalism.


"We've discovered the 'smoking louse' that reveals direct contact between two early species of humans," probably in Asia about 25,000 to 30,000 years ago, says study leader Dale Clayton, a professor of biology at the University of Utah. "Kids today have head lice that evolved on two species of cavemen. One species led to us. The other species went extinct."


Alan Rogers, a co-author of the study and professor of anthropology at the University of Utah, says: "The record of our past is written in our parasites."


The analysis of lice genes also confirmed two other key developments in human evolution. First, it verified studies showing how and when various species branched off the family tree of primates and humans. Second, it confirmed the "out of Africa" theory that the population of Homo sapiens mushroomed after a small band of the early humans left Africa sometime between 150,000 and 50,000 years ago.


The study will be published online Oct. 5 in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Biology. The study's first author is former University of Utah postdoctoral fellow David L. Reed, now assistant curator of mammals at the University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History. Other authors are Vincent Smith of Scotland's University of Glasgow, and Shaless Hammond, who worked in Clayton's lab as a high school student.


Did Modern Humans Date Other Species – or Kill Them?


Transmission of the second type of lice from a now-extinct human species to Homo sapiens may have happened during mating, so Reed plans a study of pubic or crab lice – which only spread sexually – to confirm or disprove that possibility. Clayton and Rogers say it's also possible our ancestors got the second kind of head lice by fighting with or cannibalizing another human species – or by sharing or stealing their clothing.


Clayton says evidence of contact between two species of humans is surprising because "Homo erectus has long been thought to have gone extinct hundreds of thousands of years ago," although recent studies suggested Homo sapiens might have had contact with Homo erectus in Asia 50,000 years ago.


Reed says: "Not only did modern humans live contemporaneously with close cousins such as Neanderthals, but also with more archaic hominids such as Homo erectus, a species that we have not shared a common ancestor with for over a million years. It is amazing to know that we had physical contact with another species of human. We either battled with them, or lived with them or even mated with them. Regardless, we touched them, and that is pretty dramatic to think about."


"When scientists first determined that we (Homo sapiens) were contemporaneous with Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) in Europe, it was suspicious that our contact with them immediately preceded their extinction," Reed says. "Our study has provided evidence that we had contact with Homo erectus in Asia just prior to the extinction of that species as well. Did we cause the extinction of two other species of humans?"


Findings Show Lice and Different Human Species Evolved Together


Our genes reveal the evolutionary history only of modern humans. Fossil evidence is scant for now-extinct species of early humans. Because lice evolved in concert with the humans they infested, lice "have recorded events in human evolutionary history in their DNA," Reed says.


The researchers analyzed the physical appearance and genetic material (mitochondrial DNA) of modern human head lice, Pediculus humanus, to construct a family tree for lice showing when various species branched off from each other. Genes of modern lice also were used to reconstruct their population histories over time.


The researchers found the family tree of the lice closely mirrors the previously published family tree of humans and their primate ancestors. That was consistent with the well-known phenomenon that any single species or lineage of lice (like other parasites) tends to stick only to one species of host and rarely jumps to other hosts.


Scientists already knew that early ancestors of our species, Homo sapiens, diverged from other archaic humans about 1.2 million years ago. (There is semantic debate over whether those archaic humans should be called Homo erectus, or whether the name should be reserved for their more recent descendants.) The new study showed two almost identical-looking but genetically different strains of head lice diverged 1.18 million years ago. That indicates each of the two kinds of head lice infested a different species of early human as the human species diverged.


Genes from both types of head lice are found on people today, suggesting that after infesting Homo erectus or another archaic human species for 1 million years, the second louse type jumped from that soon-to-be-extinct species and onto Homo sapiens.


"In order for the archaic human lice to still exist on modern humans, archaic and modern humans had to coexist in time and space," Clayton says.


What Lice Say About Theories of Human Evolution


Some of the findings conflict with two major theories of human evolution – the "replacement model" and "multiregional model" and instead fit best with a third theory known as the "diffusion wave model."


(1) The replacement model says that after primitive human ancestors first left Africa about 2 million years ago, a second wave spread out from Africa sometime after 150,000 years ago and certainly by 50,000 years ago, and then replaced other now-extinct species of early humans in Africa, Asia and Europe without breeding with them.


Clayton says that model doesn't fit the louse data because if Homo sapiens from Africa replaced archaic humans elsewhere without interacting with them, the type of lice on archaic humans would have gone extinct with their hosts instead of jumping to modern humans.


(2) The multiregional model says early humans from Africa and elsewhere in the world mated with other each other, so Homo sapiens gradually evolved in many regions worldwide. But if so much interbreeding occurred, the two groups of lice probably would not have remained genetically distinct for the last 1.18 million years, Rogers says.


(3) The diffusion wave model falls between the other two theories. Like the replacement theory, it says modern humans arose in Africa and spread across the world, Rogers says. Like the multiregional theory, it says those early humans mated with humans elsewhere. The diffusion wave theory adds a new twist, namely, that the genes of humans spreading from Africa came to dominate the modern human genetic blueprint because when they mated with archaic humans, the children were less fit.


"As they come out of Africa, they replace other populations while interbreeding with them," Clayton says.


The findings in lice are most consistent with the diffusion wave hypothesis, which allows some interbreeding among various forms of early humans but also says the genes of early humans who left Africa came to dominate Homo sapiens, he adds.


Lice Genes Confirm Key Events in Human Evolution


The new study confirmed several events in primate and human evolution. The researchers found chimp lice and human lice diverged roughly 5.6 million years ago, consistent with previous evidence that chimps and human ancestors diverged from a common ancestor about 5.5 million years ago.


The study also supports the controversial view that there was a "bottleneck" or reduction in the global Homo sapiens population to only about 10,000 people about 100,000 to 50,000 years ago. Rogers and others have proposed the bottleneck may have occurred because of a mass die-off of early humans due to a globally catastrophic volcanic eruption. Others believe the population bottleneck seen in human genes happened because only a small group of human ancestors left Africa in the second wave 150,000 to 50,000 years ago, then reproduced to cause a sudden population expansion.


The new study used the mutation rate in lice and comparisons of genetic differences among lice to find a similar population bottleneck in the group of head lice that infested early Homo sapiens, but no such bottleneck in the population of the lice on the archaic human species. That means archaic humans didn't go through the same population shrinkage and thus must have spread their lice to Homo sapiens sometime after 50,000 years ago. Rogers speculates contact occurred 25,000 or 30,000 years ago.


The findings provide independent confirmation of the second "out of Africa" event because genetic analysis shows the population of lice – like their Homo sapiens hosts – also dramatically expanded after the bottleneck.


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Public release date: 6-Oct-2004


Contact: Assumció Malgosa



Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona


Discovery of the oldest remains of a woman who died in childbirth

The burial of the woman and her child took place in the Bronze Age, between 1,500 and 1,000 years BC


In ancient times, female death rates were particularly high and generally related to problems in maternity, such as complications during pregnancy, childbirth or the period of breast-feeding. However, in most cases this link has only been established from indirect data, such paleodemographic data and ethnographic references, or based on the poor health conditions normally attributed to ancient human groups.


There also exists direct archaeological evidence of the high rate of female mortality in the child-rearing period. However, it has not always been possible to establish the cause of death in females and whether or not there was any relation to obstetric complications. Despite this, a number of cases of female skeletons with the foetus in the uterus have been described, as well as some cases where signs of obstetric complications have been diagnosed. These archaeological cases are extremely rare, are not well documented in the specialist literature and are not well known among the scientific community.


Joint research between the UAB and the Universidad de Murcia has found a clear example of an ancient burial of a pregnant woman whose death can be linked to difficult birth (dystocia). The archaeological team from the Universidad de Murcia, headed by Maria Manuela Ayala, found the remains in 1996 at the "El cerro de las Viñas" site in Murcia (Spain). Now, the UAB anthropologists, headed by Assumpció Malgosa, have established that it is the oldest case so far described in the paleopathological literature.


The burial dates from the Argaric period, between 1,500 and 1,000 years BC, in the Bronze Age. Argaric culture funeral rituals were characterised by individual inhumations, most of them within the dwelling or its perimeter. This burial is within one of these dwellings. It is that of a young woman, about 25-26 years of age, with a foetus in the 37th to 39th week of gestation in the uterine cavity, in a crosswise position and with part of the right arm outside the uterus.


In line with modern obstetric practices, the study of the two individuals and differential diagnosis has enabled the probable cause of death of the mother, and therefore the foetus, to be established as dystocia due to position of the foetus. Without a caesarean section, the mother probably died of sepsis, haemorrhage and exhaustion during the birth, and the foetus of heart failure.


The research was carried out by Assumpció Malgosa, Alícia Alesan and Santiago Safont, from the Unitat d'Antropologia del Departament de Biologia Animal, de Bilogia Vegetal i d'Ecologia, together with Madrona Ballbé (gynaecology) and Maria Manuela Ayala, from the Departamento de Prehistoria, Historia Antigua e Historia Medieval of the Universidad de Murcia, and was recently published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology.



Coffins shed light on Ancient Greeks



THE discovery of two large limestone coffins dating back 3,000 years could indicate that the ancient Greeks may have been more technologically advanced than previously thought, an archaeologist said today.


Each of the coffins, also known as a sarcophagus, was found in Ancient Corinth and dates back to 900 to 875 BC - a period known as the early Geometric period.

The name derives from the art of the period, mostly found on pots, with its characteristically linear designs and dots and lines forming zigzags and angles.

Guy Sanders, in charge of the digs carried out by the American School of Classical Studies, said the enormous weight of each coffin - 3.33 tonnes and 1.8 tonnes - suggests the ancient Corinthians must have used a mechanical system to lower the sarcophagi into graves instead of sheer muscle power.

"To lower the sarcophagus into place in a controlled movement ... requires some kind of temporary superstructure over the grounds so they can control the vertical movement of the stone," Sanders said.


The American School has been conducting digs in Greece since 1896. Ancient Corinth is located about 100km west of Athens.


"Either they had 40 or 50 people at the end of a rope or they had some kind of mechanical fashion of lowering it in a gradual control drop. For that you need some kind of primitive or basic gearing system," Sanders said.


The ancient Greek word sarcophagus, which remains in use, means flesh-eating.

The limestone used to make an ancient Greek sarcophagus caused the rapid disintegration of its contents, giving the coffin its distinct name.

© The Australian



Experts probe Iron Age horse burials


THE skeletal remains of four Iron Age horses are helping archaeologists to

shed new light on the history of a village.


The horses were discovered lying nose-to-tail in a ritual burial during

excavations at Nosterfield Quarry, near Ripon, North Yorkshire.


The results of carbon-dating tests show they date back to about 50AD, shortly after the Romans set foot in Britain.


Archaeologist Mike Griffiths, whose team has been carrying out investigations funded by Tarmac Northern, said: "Ritual multi-burials of horses are rare and a find of this nature helps us to know more about the Iron Age people who lived in this area 2,000 years ago."


The burial pit - or barrow - containing the remains was discovered earlier this year as archaeologists from Field Archaeological Specialists, based at York University, watched over the removal of topsoil at the sand and gravel quarry.

Zooarchaeologist Steve Rowland, who made the find, said: "Two of the skeletons were virtually intact, but the other two had been damaged through ploughing of the land in previous years and it was only after further investigation that we were able to confirm the full extent of the burial and understand its ritual significance."

Details about archaeological discoveries at Nosterfield can be found on the website www.archaeologicalplanningconsultancy.co.uk/mga/projects/noster




In December 2003 a pit (F316) containing the articulated remains of several horses was excavated in the watching brief area. The skeletal remains recovered from the pit have since been cleaned, recorded and assessed by zooarchaeologist, Steve Rowland Msc. A more detailed study of the animal bones has revealed that there were in fact four, not three horses buried in the pit. The fourth horse was identified from a sacrum, a femur and several vertebrae recovered from the disturbed upper fill of the feature. Of the four animals only the lower two had survived plough damage intact.


The two lower horses (C1732 and C1733) were placed on their right side, back to back in the base of the pit, each with its head at the others tail. A detailed study of the skeleton and teeth suggests that both animals were male and approximately seven years old. From bone measurements it has been possible to calculate their original height. The southern horse (C1733) would originally have stood at a height of 1.49m at its withers (top of shoulder blade), the northern horse was slightly smaller at 1.45m. As can be seen, neither animal was very large, being the equivalent size of a small pony.


Evidence for mild arthritis was visible in the spines and ribs of both horses suggesting that the animals had lead a working life. The lower hind leg of the C1732 had also partially fused together in a condition known as a spavin together indicating that for a period at least, this horse had been lame.

Comparison between a normal lower hind leg (top) and that from horse burial c1732 showing spavin condition


The disarticulated remains of the two other horses proved too fragmentary to provide a detailed picture of the animals. From their teeth they appeared to be similar in age to the two articulated horses and from the size of their bones both appeared to be significantly smaller. It is tempting to suggest that due their smaller size and lack of canines the horses buried in the upper part of the pit were both female.


From the two horses in the upper fill of the pit, more bones from the left side of the body have been recovered than those of the right. This could indicate that these animals were originally buried on their left sides leaving their right side exposed to damage and disturbance by modern ploughing.


It is difficult to see the careful placement of four horses into pit F316 as anything other than ritual in nature, despite the fact that one horse was likely to have been lame.


While no dating evidence was recovered during the excavation, the depth and nature of F316 does suggest an ancient date. In order to establish the origin of the pit with certainty, the right femur of horse C1732 has since been sent to the Scottish University Research and Reactor Centre in Glasgow for radio carbon dating. The results are expected to be available by the end of February this year.

It is known that horses played an important role in Iron Age ritual, art and iconography. While independently of great importance, horses have a particular association with the goddess Epona, a deity revered within both domestic and martial spheres, representing protection, fertility and even death. On a bronze from Wiltshire she is depicted feeding a male and female horse while on a French relief from Armançon she accompanies the triple mothers on a two horse-cart (Green 1986).


Burials of complete or bits of horses in Iron Age ritual deposits are common, and extend into the Roman period. At South Cadbury a horse and cattle skull were found right way up in a feature associated with an Iron Age shrine, and similar features of Roman date include a pit from Newstead containing horse, cattle and human skulls, complete horses buried beneath the shrine of a temple at Bourton Grounds, Buckinghamshire (Green 1986) and a large pit containing both single horse and cattle skulls and a pair of dog mandibles was discovered at Site 25 on the Silk Willoughby to Staythorpe gas pipeline (FAS_SSP03). At Blewburton Hill, Berkshire, the remains of 10 horses were found interred in pits as part of a ritual act associated with the remodelling and reoccupation of the hillfort in the Iron Age.


The high proportion of horse bones recovered from various phases of excavation at Nosterfield, particularly teeth (although this could relate to the greater survivability of these elements in inclement preservation conditions), may again relate to the importance of horse deposition within a ritual landscape.



Remains of Genghis Khan palace unearthed

Archaeologists believe long-sought grave site is nearby

The Associated Press

Updated: 10:35 a.m. ET Oct. 6, 2004


TOKYO - Archaeologists have unearthed the site of Genghis Khan's palace and believe the long-sought grave of the 13th century Mongolian warrior is somewhere nearby, the head of the excavation team said Wednesday.


A Japanese and Mongolian research team found the complex on a grassy steppe 150 miles east of the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, said Shinpei Kato, professor emeritus at Tokyo's Kokugakuin University.


Genghis Khan (c. 1162-1227) united warring tribes to become leader of the Mongols in 1206.  After his death, his descendants expanded his empire until it stretched from China to Hungary.


Genghis Khan built the palace in the simple shape of a square tent attached to wooden columns on the site at around 1200, Kato said.


The researchers found porcelain buried among the ruins dated to the warrior's era, helping identify the grounds, Kato said.  A description of the scenery around the palace by a messenger from China's Southern Tang Dynasty in 1232 also matched the area, he added.


Genghis Khan's tomb is believed to be nearby because ancient texts say court officials commuted from the mausoleum later built on the grounds to the burial site daily to conduct rituals for the dead.


Kato said his group was not aiming specifically to find the grave.  Still, he said finding it would help uncover the secrets of Genghis Khan's power.


"Genghis Khan conquered Eurasia and built a massive empire.  There had to have been a great deal of interaction between east and west at the time, in terms of culture and the exchange of goods," Kato said in an interview.  "If we find what items were buried with him, we could write a new page for world history."


Genghis Khan's grave site is one of archaeology's enduring mysteries.  According to legend, in order to keep it secret, his huge burial party killed anyone who saw them en route to it; then servants and soldiers who attended the funeral were massacred.


Kato said an ancient Chinese text says a baby camel was buried at the grave in front of her mother so the parent could lead Khan's family to the tomb when needed.


Archaeologists have been forced to abandon their searches for Khan's grave in the past, however, due to protests excavation would disturb the site.


An American-financed expedition to find the tomb stopped work in 2002 after being accused by a prominent Mongolian politician of desecrating traditional rulers' graves.


In 1993, Japanese archaeologists terminated a search for the tomb after a poll in Ulan Bator found the project unpopular.


According to Mongolian tradition, violating ancestral tombs destroys the soul that serves as protector.


If researchers do find the tomb, they would also likely discover the graves of Kublai Khan — Genghis' grandson who spread the Mongol empire to southeast Asia and became the first emperor of China's Yuan Dynasty — at the same time.


According to ancient texts, 13 or 14 Khan warriors, including Genghis and Kublai, are buried in the same place.


Kato said he would step aside and leave the matter of how to proceed up to his Mongolian colleagues if the team discovered the tombs.


"We will consult our Mongolian colleagues and decide what the best next step would be — we may have to escape back to Japan," Kato said, laughing. "Excavation should be done by Mongolians — not by those of us from other countries. It is up for Mongolians to decide."


Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

URL: http://msnbc.msn.com/id/6189531/



China employs high-tech to find out how much is left of the Great Wall

Tue Oct 5, 1:04 AM ET


BEIJING, (AFP) - China has employed state-of-the-art technology to determine how much is left of the Great Wall and which parts belong to which provinces.


The remote sensor technology will enable the State Administration of Cultural Heritage to chart every inch of the 2,500 kilometers (1,560 miles) that still remains of the wall, the China Daily said.


"Many of the truly ancient parts are scattered among the mountains, awaiting discovery and recording by scientists," the paper said.


All the data collected in the survey will be included in a brand new database for the Great Wall that will be continuously updated with new information.


The next step is to attract funds and volunteers to protect the wall section by section, according to the report.


Many Chinese are alarmed at the gradual deterioration of the Great Wall due to neglect and over-exploitation by the tourism industry.


The wall was listed on the United Nations (news - web sites)' prestigious World Heritage List in 1987, but far from ensuring its preservation, critics said that shrouded the wall in a "false cloak of security".



Remains of ancient wall found at city site

Fri 8 Oct 2004



THE remains of a medieval wall built to guard the city have been discovered on a building site.


Workers building dozens of flats on a site beside Old Fishmarket Close in the Cowgate have unearthed the one metre-high structure, which is thought to be part of the "King’s Wall".


Although historians are divided over the wall’s origins, it is believed that James II ordered the construction of the King’s Wall in 1450 as a defence against English forces.


But some experts claim the wall was actually built by English forces more than 100 years earlier when they occupied Edinburgh Castle around 1335.


The six-metre stretch of wall marks the second major discovery at the Cowgate site after the remains of a medieval mansion were found there in May.


The King’s Wall stretched from the southern ramparts of the Castle Rock, running parallel below what is now Johnston Terrace and the High Street, to an area near Blackfriars Street.


Russel Coleman, project manager for Headland Archaeology, which carried out an earlier excavation at the site, said workers uncovered the wall near the pavement of the Cowgate while building foundations for a £4.4 million flats and offices project.


"It is definitely medieval. It is two metres wide, too big for a building, so it is definitely a boundary wall. It was a defence for war and the plague."


Although the flats would now be built over the historic wall, much of the stone structure will be preserved underneath, Mr Coleman said.


David McDonald, director of the Cockburn Association, described it as a "terrific find".


He said: "Construction was still taking place in the mid-1470s following 25 years of construction. But it’s not the first time remnants have been located. Sections were found south of Parliament House in 1833 and 1845."


This article:



Medieval surgeons were advanced

Surgeons were carrying out complicated skull operations in medieval times, the remains of a body found at an archaeological dig show.

A skull belonging to a 40-year-old peasant man, who lived between 960 and 1100AD, is the firmest evidence yet of cranial surgery, say its discoverers.

The remains, found in Yorkshire, show the man survived an otherwise fatal blow to the head thanks to surgery.


Nearly 700 skeletons were unearthed by English Heritage at a site near Malton.

Complex surgery


Scientists have been examining the remains from the now deserted village of Wharram Percy.


Once a thriving community built on sheep farming, it fell into steep decline after the Black Death and was eventually completely abandoned.


The skull in question, dating back to the 11th century, had been struck a near-fatal blow by a blunt weapon, causing a severe depressed fracture on the left hand side.


Closer examination revealed the victim had been given life-saving surgery called trepanning.


A rectangular area of the scalp, measuring 9cm by 10cm, would have been lifted to allow the depressed bone segments to be carefully removed.

This would have relieved the pressure on the brain.


Roman and Greek writings document the technique of trepanning for treating skull fractures, but there is no mention of it in Anglo-Saxon literature.


Some historians have theorised that western Europe was deprived of such surgical knowledge for centuries after the fall of Alexandria in the 7th century.

Violent times


Dr Simon Mays, skeletal biologist at English Heritage's Centre for Archaeology, said: "This skull is the best evidence we have that such surgery to treat skull fractures was being performed in England at the time.


"It predates medieval written accounts of the procedure by at least 100 years and is a world away from the notions that Anglo-Saxon healers were all about spells and potions."


Skulls dating back to Neolithic times show trepanning was performed on individuals with no head wounds.


Historians believe this was presumably to treat other ailments, possibly including mental illness.


The skull of the 40-year-old Yorkshire peasant shows the fracture healed well.

Scientists believe the hole that remained would have eventually closed over with hard scar tissue.


But they have questioned how a peasant would have been able to afford this complicated medical treatment.


Examination of the other skeletons at the site revealed high levels of malnutrition, disease and stunted growth.


Dr Mays said: "Medical skills were largely reserved for the elite.


"So the treatment handed out to Wharram's peasant doesn't square at all with our knowledge of the period.


"It seems most probable that the operation was performed by an itinerant healer of unusual skill, whose medical acumen was handed down through oral tradition."

Ten of the other skeletons, including a child, also showed signs of head injury caused by blunt objects.


Dr Mays said: "Violence at Wharram seemed to involve objects that were near at hand, like farming tools.


"The peasant was probably involved in the medieval equivalent of a pub fight, or could have been the victim of a robbery or a family feud."


Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2004/10/05 10:40:00 GMT




Entire Iron Age village discovered at lochside



ARCHAEOLOGISTS yesterday announced the discovery of an entire Iron Age village on an until-now unexamined site on the west bank of Loch Lomond.


A team from the West of Scotland Archaeology Service and a research unit at Glasgow University have spent months digging and sifting through soil at the site, which is being cleared for a golf course and leisure development.


Among their finds is a pre-Christian Iron Age glass bead described as "a national treasure".


The bead has "a beautiful swirled design" of which only one other example exists in Scotland.


A spokesman for the West of Scotland Archaeology Service said yesterday: "The investigations have revealed an unprecedented concentration of previously unknown archaeological sites.


"It gives us a fantastic opportunity to increase, and in some cases alter, our understanding of the past. The glass bead find is a significant one and will be regarded as a national treasure."


The Iron Age village dates from around 100 BC, while digs on the site, have revealed three small Bronze Age urn cemeteries dating from around 1800 BC and an early Christian burial site.


Taken together, the discoveries prove that the 300-acre site at Mid Ross, Loch Lomondside, has been inhabited for three millennia.


The investigations were launched as part of a planning agreement which was reached between the De Vere Group, which is developing the site, and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority (NPA).


An NPA spokeswoman said: "As part of the planning agreement between the developers and the National Park Authority, the West of Scotland Archaeology Service specified a programme of archaeological investigations.


"Glasgow University archaeological research division was commissioned by the De Vere Group to survey and monitor the site as it is being cleared. The exercise has so far proved to be incredibly rewarding.


"No evidence of any Iron Age village, Christian burial site or urn cemetery had previously been recorded.


"While some of the finds can be explained, the archaeologists are expecting years of work ahead analysing and interpreting what they have discovered.


"The Iron Age bead find is especially prized."


The chairman of the NPA planning committee, Councillor Gillie Thomson, said after visiting the site: "This is a huge site close to Loch Lomond and it now seems that it has been inhabited over a very long time.


"Seeing the artefacts and remains of dwellings on site like this really brings you closer to the people that lived here in the past.


"This development has given us a unique opportunity for study."