Neanderthal Genome May Be Reconstructed

Wed Jul 6,10:49 AM ET


FRANKFURT, Germany - German and U.S. scientists have launched a project to reconstruct the Neanderthal genome, the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology said Wednesday.


The project, which involves isolating genetic fragments from fossils of the prehistoric beings who originally inhabited Europe, is being carried out at the Leipzig-based institute.


"The project is very new and is just at its beginning," said Sandra Jacob, a spokeswoman for the institute.


U.S. geneticist Edward Rubin, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., is also participating in the project.


In an interview with the German weekly Die Zeit, Rubin said the research would amount to more than just a spectacular display of science.


"Firstly, we will learn a lot about the Neanderthals. Secondly, we will learn a lot about the uniqueness of human beings. And thirdly, it's simply cool," Rubin said.


Neanderthals were replaced by modern humans in Europe only between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago.



Could Asia have been the cradle of humanity?

By David Ropeik, Globe Correspondent  |  July 5, 2005


Science continues to struggle with one of the most basic questions of all: Where did humans come from.


There isn't much question that modern humans came out of Africa, probably in several waves of migration over the past 100,000 years. But it now appears that the ancient ancestors who gave rise to those African humans might have come from Asia.


Until recently the only fossils of anthropoids -- the creatures at the base of the branch of the evolutionary tree that gave rise to primates, including humans -- were found at a place called the Fayum in Egypt. But a growing body of evidence suggests our distant relatives might have developed closer to Cambodia than Cairo.


Just over a month ago, French researchers published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, arguing that new analysis of an ankle bone they found a few years ago in Pakistan belonged to a family of anthropoids that predate by millions of years those found in Egypt. Since the 90's, similar fossils have been found in Myanmar, China, and Thailand.


Laurent Marivaux, a French paleontologist who was on the team that found that ankle bone, says emphatically that his interpretation of the fragmentary fossils they found is ''conclusive. They are anthropoids!"


Other anthropologists remain skeptical -- the evidence is far stronger, they say, that early anthropoids evolved in northern Africa. At the Fayum, an incredibly rich multilayered bed of fossils has revealed whole skulls and jaws and teeth and other remains dating back as much as 34 million years that pretty clearly share features with humans, apes, and monkeys, and no other species.


Compared to the evidence found in Egypt, the Asian evidence is ''very incomplete," and less easily interpreted as bearing definite anthropoid characteristics, said John Fleagle, distinguished professor of anatomy at State University of New York at Stony Brook. ''There are hints of anthropoid anatomy in the teeth and the ankle bones of some of the Asian fossils, but the few bits of skull suggest otherwise."


''There isn't much of a consensus in the field today," said Fleagle, also editor of the journal Evolutionary Anthropology. ''There are strong opinions on both sides."


The mammal fossils found in Egypt clearly share features with people, apes, monkeys, and other animals on ''our" branch of the evolutionary tree, said Eric Delson, chairman of the anthropology department at Lehman College of the City University of New York. Those features include eye sockets walled off by bone in the back -- non-anthropoid primates have a bony ridge around the side of their eye socket but no cup in the back; one bone in the front of the skull -- in other mammals, two sections of frontal skull bone aren't fused together until after birth, so there's a seam; and unique placement of teeth in the jaw.


The fossil evidence from Asia is too fragmentary to see these features, Delson said. ''They just don't have the morphological characteristics," he said.


But Marivaux said that because the Asian fossils are much older -- from the middle of the Eocene Era, 55 million to 34 million years ago -- it makes sense that they would have different features. He argues that the much more recent Fayum animals just hadn't evolved those features yet.


The anthropoids he found in South Asia ''are very primitive," he said. ''Why should they display the characteristics of the advanced forms found much more recently [in Egypt]?"


Marivaux's case that the Asian fossils are anthropoids is based on subtle interpretation of the fragments of ankle bones, skull bits, and teeth he and others have found.


''Some people deny the new paleontological evidence. Why? Probably because they are jealous," he said, that he found the fossils and they didn't.


The argument is not purely semantics. Every bit of evidence that connects what came before to what came after helps confirm the progressive steps of evolution, which adds further factual support to the whole theory of evolution. And, as Fleagle said, ''If you're curious about where you came from, and your ancestry, this gives you some insight.


Answering the Asia-versus-Africa question about our most ancient ancestors ''won't throw much light on modern people," Delson added. ''But knowing where the anthropoid branch of primates began may tell us more in terms of filling in the gaps of the general story of human evolution."


© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company.



Walking with ancestors: discovery rewrites American prehistory

By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

Published: 05 July 2005


Humans arrived in America 25,000 years earlier than previously thought - at least 40,000 years ago - footprints found near Mexico City have proved.


British and Mexican archaeologists said the discovery of the prints, made in volcanic ash near the town of Puebla, 80 miles south-east of Mexico City, will force a total rewrite of humanity's early migrations and is one of the most important archaeological finds of recent decades.


Article Length: 406 words (approx.)


Humans arrived in America 25,000 years earlier than previously thought - at least 40,000 years ago - footprints found near Mexico City have proved.


British and Mexican archaeologists said the discovery of the prints, made in volcanic ash near the town of Puebla, 80 miles south-east of Mexico City, will force a total rewrite of humanity's early migrations and is one of the most important archaeological finds of recent decades.

Article Length: 406 words (approx.)



Romans' brutal crackdown on Celts


09 July 2005 09:00


Norfolk acted as a hub of resistance against Roman occupation, new analysis of archaeological finds has revealed.


But the empire's military might eventually eclipsed native East Anglians in a brutal crackdown described as a "lost holocaust".


A sprawling Celtic 'proto-city', as significant to its Iceni occupants as modern-day London, sprawled across eight square miles of West Norfolk, almost certainly providing a regular home to Boudicca.


David Thorpe, from the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (Sharp), is excavations director for the site - the exact location of which is not being disclosed.


Speaking yesterday, he explained the team have discovered burnt fragments of wattle and daub and stains in the earth. They believe these are the remains of a roundhouse which was razed to the ground by Roman invaders almost two millennia ago.


Much of this evidence has been available over the nine years excavations have taken place. But it is only now that the team feels confident enough outline their analysis in full after the conclusion of excavations.


Mr Thorpe said: "It seems there was a thriving population in the area and then, in about 60 or 70AD, the record completely stops. There is also a lack of Roman finds in the area.


"When you compare this to other areas across the country, it is extremely unusual. Most communities were conquered or peacefully accepted Roman rule so there are Roman finds.


"It seems this was a strong-minded population doing everything it could to resist the Roman empire - probably the last place to remain independent.


"But the Romans did not tolerate insurgency and they would have stamped down on it hard, destroying the settlements and selling the population into slavery."


As the Celts left no written records, much of the story remains informed speculation.


But structures unearthed include signs of palisaded boundaries separating areas and an oval of banks and ditches suggesting a fortress. Finds of exquisitely crafted jewelry suggest this would have been a centre for the Iceni's aristocratic caste, hinting at Boudicca's regular presence.


When the Romans invaded there was initially little conflict in East Anglia. A lack of Roman finds suggests the Iceni not only resisted their rule but also refused to trade with the empire in a form of ancient anti-globalisation.


The Iceni later revolted, joining forces with the Trinovantes of Essex. Their efforts were ultimately doomed.


"The Romans had contempt for the Iceni as barbarians who they believed by definition would always lose," said Mr Thorpe.


Sharp began in 1996 and its work has included the extensive excavation of a Saxon cemetery in the valley of the Heacham. For more information visit www.sharp.org.uk



Important Saxon find in car park 


The excavation will be carried out between 13 and 29 August.

The remains of a Saxon rotunda in Herefordshire is being hailed as a site of international importance.

Archaeologists will begin next month excavating the area in Leominster which is currently being used as a staff car park for Herefordshire Council workers.


The rotunda is thought to be part of a monastery founded by one of Britain's ancient rulers.


Archaeologist Bruce Watson said it was expected to be the "best preserved example of its type in England".


Mr Watson, from the Museum of London Archaeology Service, coordinating the dig, said: "This is a tremendously important find - an opportunity to re-write the early history of Christianity."


He said the excavation would help them to learn more about the history of the site which was a significantly religious area in Saxon times.


The structure is part of a site occupied by the medieval priory established by Henry I in 1123 and demolished by Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries.


The excavation will be carried out between 13 and 29 August.




Statue of Orpheus unearthed

Associated Press in Sofia

Friday July 8, 2005

The Guardian


A rare statue of the ancient Thracian hero Orpheus has been unearthed in Bulgaria, near a place archaeologists say might house the hero's tomb, the leader of excavations said.

The 9cm (3.5in) bronze statue, dating from the 1st or 2nd century AD, was found in the village of Tatul, 200 miles south-east of Sofia, an archaeologist, Nikolai Ovcharov, said.


The statue, which was perfectly preserved, was found a few days ago by villagers, and handed to archaeologists working on the site, he said.


He added that the find appeared to confirm his hypothesis that the Tatul site was one of the main sanctuaries for Orpheus worshippers in the ancient world.

"The statue depicts a naked athletic god with a lyre in his left hand. Most probably it's a statue of Orpheus, which makes it a rare find."


According to myth Orpheus was a son of Apollo and a godlike poet and musician. After his death a cult developed around his figure, and Thracians seem to have worshipped him as a god, historians say.



Mosaic inspired image of England's favourite saint

By Norman Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent


THE earliest known template for the image of St George slaying the dragon has been found in Syria, archaeologists believe.

A mosaic floor dating from approximately AD260 depicting the figure who became the patron saint of England has been found in the city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert. Experts say that the portrait is one of the finest classical mosaics yet uncovered and may even be the source of the St George legend.


George was reputedly a Roman soldier, martyred in Palestine some 1,700 years ago. The mosaic shows Bellerophon, a hero in Greek mythology, killing a chimera, and it was found in what appears to have been a dining room in Palmyra.


The warrior is wearing a wide-rimmed Roman helmet with a red streamer and is flanked by two eagles bringing wreaths of victory. Bellerophon is riding the winged Pegasus and thrusting a spear down into the lion’s head of the chimera, while its two other heads, a snake forming its tail and a goat on its back, hiss up at him.


Unusually, he has trousers and an embroidered tunic, the costume of Palmyra’s Sassanian Persian neighbours, and an open-sleeved coat of the sort worn by Palmyrene aristocrats.


The city was an outpost of Roman culture, located midway between the Mediterra- nean and the Euphrates, and its society reflected this rich blend of influences, stimulated by trade across the desert.


Michal Gawlikowski, the Polish archaeologist, said in the magazine Current World Archaeology: “Dozens of late Roman pavements representing Bellerophon are known from the western provinces, but this is the only one found in the Near East.”


St George was martyred in about 303 and the Bellerophon design provided a ready-made image to illustrate his emerging legend.


Dr Gawlikowski saw a political reading in the mosaic as well, with the chimera representing Palmyra’s Sassanian attackers, who were defeated by Odainat, a local ruler, in 259 in an otherwise disastrous struggle — even the Roman Emperor Valerian was captured and made to serve as a footstool. Odainat was a Roman senator, although Dr Gawlikowski said it is doubtful that he ever left Syria. After his victory, Odainat proclaimed himself “King of Kings”.


After Odainat’s death in 267, Zenobia, his wife, seized control of an area extending as far as Egypt, but was eventually captured by the Emperor Aurelian and imprisoned.


A second panel in the mosaic, which measures some 30ft by 18ft but occupies only part of the grand dining room, shows a mounted archer dressed like Bellerophon shooting a tiger, while another is trampled by his horse.




The slaying of the dragon was first credited to St George in the 12th century


It is based on the legend of a town in Libya that was terrorised by a dragon appeased only by the sacrifice of young women


St George was beheaded in AD303. The slaying of the dragon, a symbol in the Middle Ages of the Devil, made him England’s favourite saint



House of the medieval dead lurks in lawyers' basement

Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent

Friday July 8, 2005

The Guardian


A rare medieval charnel house which lay undiscovered for 300 years has been restored to its former glory, English Heritage said yesterday.

The charnel house was previously included in the annual Buildings at Risk register, because of its uncertain future in the face of commercial development. The latest register of England's most important threatened buildings, announced there yesterday, has 1,302 entries including the Cutty Sark, which needs expensive conservation work.


The charnel house was a consecrated store for bones from the cemetery at Spitalfields in London - sited in the "hospital fields" which gave the area its name - allowing graves to be re-used at a time when, archaeological evidence suggests, the hospital was overwhelmed by the plague.

One of four charnel houses surviving in England, it is the only medieval building in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets.


Architectural historian Dan Cruickshank, a neighbour, praised the building as a conduit to the beliefs of medieval Londoners. "This is a beautiful house of the medieval dead, where bones were preserved against the day of judgment when the righteous would enjoy paradise while the damned were consigned to the torments of hell."


More than 10,000 buried human remains, the largest single excavation in Britain, were found in the 14th-century building. It was discovered in 1999 during archaeological excavations and has been integrated into the basement of a Norman Foster building which houses law firm Allen & Overy.


Chris Thomas, project manager at the Museum of London's archaeology service, said: "Our archaeologists knew ... there was once a charnel house in the area, but we were amazed to discover it in such an authentic and well-preserved condition. Among our discoveries were 100 Roman burials, including the Spitalfields Woman in her stone sarcophagus."


The charnel house will be open to the public during National Archaeology Week, from July 17 to 24.



National Archaeology Week

National Archaeology Week is your unique chance to discover and explore the archaeological heritage of the United Kingdom. During this NINE DAY event you can take part in excavation open days, guided tours, exhibitions, lectures, ancient art and craft workshops and much, much more.


Some of the interesting ones are


Re-enactment groups at Stockwood Park, Bedfordshire (The Sealed Knot).


Go back 60 years and discover Wartime Buxton at the Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.


Tours of excavations and the opportunity to have a go yourself at a lot of them.


Lots of guided walks around urban and rural heritage areas, just choose a County.


Walk the Thames Foreshore with the City of London Archaeological Society. Explore the Thames Foreshore. Public access allowed to the Tower of London foreshore to view and explore its archaeology with help from the Environment Agency and the City of London Archaeological Society
23rd & 24th July
The Foreshore, HM Tower of London
Nikki Lindsey
Historic Royal Palaces
T: 020 7488 5601



Public can have a go at making their own Silver Celtic Bracelet at Iron Age Farmstead, Hinchingbrooke Country Park,,Cambridgeshire.

Silver 'Celtic' Bracelet Day Course With Neil Burridge
Participants will get the chance to decorate pure sheet silver and learn how to punch, soften, harden and shape it into a unique bracelet. The course fee includes all tuition and materials for the day. Please book early by calling 01480 451568 as places are limited. Minimum age limit of 14 years.
17th July 10.00am - 5.00pm
Iron Age Farmstead, Hinchingbrooke Country Park, Brampton Road, Huntingdon
David Crawford-White
T: 01223 576201
E: arch.outreach@cambridgeshire.gov.uk


Visit the Largest Archaeology Institute in Britain
An opportunity to see inside the largest archaeological institute in Britain! Come and join in with a whole host of activities at the Institute of Archaeology – No booking necessary.
'Drop-in' activities
Half a Million Years of Archaeology in London: the objects.
Archaeology and Language: the puzzling origin of Indo-European languages.
Investigating Artefacts: research, draw and decipher inscribed objects.
Under your feet! Discover the archaeology where you live and where you go on holiday.
Animal Teeth & Toes: what we can learn from even the smallest bones. Which bone is connected to the knee bone? Put together an ancient skeleton!
Microfossils: how even microscopic material can tell us great things about the past.
Metal Technology: when minute analysis leads to huge discoveries.
Why Achilles never did the washing up! Have a go at pot reconstruction.
Talks – check web for exact timings
Half a Million Years of Archaeology in London
First Farmers and the European Neolithic
Archaeology: What it means to you
Studying Archaeology at University
Feeding the Pyramid Builders
Careers in Archaeology
Collections, Tours and Exhibitions
Foyer exhibition: 'Through Ancient Eyes' designed by Institute students.
Tours of the Collections: of the Institute of Archaeology ~ every hour on the hour.
Tour of the Conservation Laboratories: see what's involved in conserving and restoring objects for display in museums.
Global Archaeology: the eyes and sites of Institute researchers.
Archaeology Abroad: exciting excavation projects and field schools overseas.
PIA: discover the latest research by Postgraduate students.

Metered on-street parking Saturday 8.30am -1.30pm FREE after 1.30pm.
Nearest tube and mainline station is Euston.
23rd July 10.30am - 5.00pm
Institute of Archaeology, 31-34 Gordon Square, WC1H 0PY
Emma Greenway
Institute of Archaeology, UCL
T: 020 7679 1494
E: nad@ucl.ac.uk
W: www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/events/nad




There are over 285 events so there is something for everyone.