Horses First Domesticated in Kazakhstan?

Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News


Oct. 20, 2006 —New evidence from soil inside the remains of a 5,600-year-old corral indicates that the ancient Botai people of Kazakhstan were among the earliest to domesticate horses. But equine romantics might be disappointed to learn that the Botai probably ate and milked their horses as often as they rode them.


The corrals are part of an archeological site in northern Kazakhstan known as Krasnyi Yar, once a large village occupied by the Copper-Age Botai, said Sandra Olsen, curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Penn.


Olsen leads a team that has been investigating horse domestication for several years. One of her colleagues, Rosemary Capo, will present a poster with some of chemical soil evidence for horses on Oct. 23 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Philadelphia.



"We really don't understand any major signs of changes in horses with domestication," said Melinda Zeder, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution who specializes in the origins of animal and plant domestication.


Zeder was referring to physical changes in horse bones from ancient middens. Nor, so far, is there a direct way to determine what people were doing with their horses that early on, she said. For these reasons she and her colleagues have been building their case with less direct evidence.


"Here's an approach to documenting horse domestication that's extremely new," said Zeder. "Sort of like Perry Mason, they're building circumstantial evidence."


That evidence comes from circular arrangements of posts and the soil differences found inside and outside the corral. Inside the corral, the soil contained up to ten times the phosphorus as outside soils, but lower concentrations of nitrogen. That's what you'd expect if the soil there was enriched with horse manure.


Modern horse manure, for comparison, is loaded with phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen. The nitrogen is the easiest to lose to groundwater or the air.


Phosphorus, on the other hand, can be held in place by calcium and iron, says Capo, a geologist who did the soil analyses with Michael Rosenmeier and undergraduates Andy Stiff and James Gardiner of the University of Pittsburgh.


"High phosphorous could also indicate human occupation," said Capo, "but that's usually accompanied by other geochemical signatures, which we didn't find in the corral samples."




There was also high sodium concentration in the corral samples, which could be from urine, suggested Olsen.


The real smoking gun, said Olsen, will be if they can detect long-lived molecules of lipids, or fat, in these samples that can be attributed specifically to horses. That analysis is now being arranged.


So what were the Botai doing with those horses? They probably ate them and used them as pack animals, and they may have milked the mares to create a vitamin-rich, mildly alcoholic beverage that's still consumed today in Kazakhstan, said Olsen.



5,000-year-old graffiti at Tarxien Temples to be saved


Heritage Malta is currently undertaking the preservation of two unique megaliths at Tarxien Temples as part of the BOV Tarxien Temples Project. These megaliths are significant because they bear witness to the vessels that transported the very first people to the Maltese Islands, and may well be the oldest representations of ships or boats ever discovered.


The Tarxien Temples, dating back to around 3600BC, hold an impressive number of prehistoric works of art, consisting mostly of megaliths carved in relief to depict various animals, spirals and other intricate designs.


The majority were moved indoors, to the National Museum of Archaeology, in 1956 to prevent deterioration from exposure to the elements.


The so-called ship graffiti megaliths were not removed from the site at the time as they appeared to be in good condition.


However, continuous exposure to fluctuating temperatures, wind, rainfall and humidity, have led to the rapid deterioration of these megaliths. Should they be left on site the graffiti will certainly be lost.


Heritage Malta is now making preparations to move these megaliths indoors through the BOV Tarxien Temples Project. They have been treated to ensure that no more material is lost from the megaliths’ surfaces, and that they will not be damaged further during transportation.


The ship graffiti megaliths will initially be placed within the existing visitors’ building at the Tarxien Temples, where Heritage Malta’s conservators will be able to carry out any additional interventions to ensure their preservation. The megaliths will eventually be displayed within the new visitors’ centre which shall be constructed close to the site as part of the BOV Tarxien Temples Project.



Invaluable papyrus published at last

The first official edition of the Derveni text, with an extensive commentary, is launched in Thessaloniki following 26 years of research

By Iota Myrtsioti - Kathimerini


Scholars turned out in force on Thursday night for the launch of the first full edition of the Derveni Papyrus at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.


The oldest book in Europe, the Derveni Papyrus is an Orphic, eschatological text that discusses the fate of the soul and the role of the Furies. A mystic, often allegorical text, it was written in the last quarter of the fourth century BC. Scholars who have studied it describe it as «the most significant new evidence about ancient Greek philosophy and religion since the Renaissance.»


The book was found in 1962 in a grave at Derveni, in Thessaloniki. Some scholars object to the fact that the book has not been made accessible to other researchers. The Institute of Philosophical Research, directed by Apostolos Pierris, decried what it called «a major scandal in scientific chronicles.» It also accuses the team of scholars, professors Kyriakos Tsantsanoglou, Theokritos Kouremenos and Georgios Prasaoglou of Thessaloniki University, of hiding the papyrus for decades, delaying its scholarly and critical publication and thereby depriving «the international community of scholars of any access to such a significant text.»


Why was there no scholarly Greek publication for 26 years, despite the fact that, by 1982, the researchers had read 80 percent of the text?


«Because we had to complete it, which included interpreting all of the legible surviving text on 26 scrolls,» Tsantsanoglou told Kathimerini. «It was a difficult task, since we had to assemble that gigantic puzzle which would lead to its integrated form. The first, unauthorized publication in 1982, in a foreign scholarly journal, set us back, as it formed the basis of numerous studies on the Derveni Papyrus.»


As time passed, the papyrus became common property: «In Europe and America,» said the professor, «there were 100 papers and three publications on it. But we went ahead with our research. In 1993 we added another seven columns, which were presented at an international conference.» The Greek researchers followed up with more publications, but there was no official publication.


Besides, the religious and philosophical interpretation was not easy. «Gaps made the task difficult to understand what was allegorical and what was literal in the approach used by the author of the text,» he added.


The dispute flared up in June, when the Greek Culture Ministry announced that the Patras Institute of Philosophical Research and Oxford University were to collaborate on a new study of the papyrus.


At a press conference in the presence of Deputy Economy and Finance Minister Petros Doukas, Pierris and lecturer Dirk Obbink of Oxford announced that they had begun taking photographs for the philosophical analysis of the text, describing those who had studied it so far as «not equal to the stature of the find.»


Following approval by the Central Archaeological Council, the new research team undertook to decipher the text by electronic means. More than 200 charred chunks of papyrus went under the microscope again for a new deciphering and reading, this time with the use of micro-phase photography.


Meanwhile, the researchers at Thessaloniki University completed the first full edition of the papyrus. «The Derveni Papyrus» is in English with a Greek translation and commentary by Tsantsanoglou, Kouremenos - who is professor of papyrology - and Georgios Prasaoglou, who is associate professor of classics.


Other speakers at the presentation were professors Richard Hunter of Cambridge University, Franco Montanari of Genoa University and Gregory Nagy of the Harvard Center of Greek Studies.


Archaeologists find huge stash of Bronze Age anchors

By Joe Lewis


CYPRUS’ reputation as an archeological gold mine has been given another boost, with an important underwater Bronze Age discovery.


A team of maritime archeologists from the UK has uncovered 120 stone anchors off the coast of Paphos. The anchors, some of which date back to the Bronze Age (2500-1125BC), are the second largest collection in the eastern Mediterranean.


The fact that so many anchors have been found at the same site suggests that the area may have once been an important port, serving the maritime traders on the busy trade routes to and from the east. There have also been suggestions that the port may have been used to transport pilgrims to and from Palaipaphos and the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, from all around the Mediterranean world.


The peaceful conditions that prevailed during the late Bronze Age allowed trade in the eastern Mediterranean to flourish, and Cyprus, with its ideal geographical location, became a trade hub, linking east and west.


The exact chronology of the anchors has not yet been determined, but the archaeologists are fairly sure that some date back to the Bronze Age.


The team has been working to survey the area with the aim of creating the first digital archive of an underwater site in Cyprus. The information from the survey is currently being processed at Cambridge University, and will soon be available for analysis.



There are plans to conduct further investigation of the site next year, when the team hopes to throw more light on this fascinating part of Cyprus’s rich history.


Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2006



Fisherman's find puts love sanctuary on the ancient tourist trail



A LARGE number of ancient stone anchors have been found off the coast of Cyprus near a temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, suggesting it was once one of the most commonly visited places in the eastern Mediterranean.


The Sanctuary of Aphrodite, nine miles east of the bustling resort of Paphos, was for centuries renowned as the centre of the cult surrounding the goddess.


It was probably the leading tourist attraction of the ancient world. The cache of anchors is likely to have been formed when they snapped free of their docked ships during storms.


A local spear fisherman alerted archaeologists last year to the anchors, most of which are in very good condition.


The construction of proper harbours began only in the fourth century BC, during the Hellenistic Period.


Herodotus, the ancient historian, recorded a custom by which every woman had to give herself once to the service of Aphrodite by waiting in her sanctuary until a stranger came to make love to her. The practice was regarded as a solemn religious duty, not an act of lustful indulgence.


Herodotus uncharitably claimed that while "tall, handsome" pilgrim women soon managed to get home again, "ugly ones" would have to wait for three or four years before fulfilling their duty.


But sailors had another reason to pay their respects to Aphrodite and bring offerings: she was the protector of seafarers for whom Cyprus was a trading centre linking east and west.


Archaeologists found some 120 anchors which have yet to be raised and dated but archaeologists are confident some are from the late Bronze Age, 1650 to 1100BC, and will cast new light on ancient trading patterns and settlements.


"This anchorage will also help us understand sea-borne trade between Cyprus and the countries of the Middle East," said Dr Sophocles Hadjisavvas, managing director of the Thetis foundation, which is committed to protecting Cyprus' underwater cultural heritage and sponsored the investigation.


The finds should also deepen knowledge of trade within the island itself, when the absence of roads meant goods were mostly transported by ships hugging the coast.


The project was directed by Duncan Howitt-Marshall, who is working on a PhD on Cypriot maritime archaeology at Magdalene College, Cambridge.


Because the anchors have yet to be raised, archaeologists are reluctant to give their precise location but say the nearest village is Kouklia, site of the ancient city of Palea Paphos.


Nearby is Petra tou Romiou, where a towering rock soars from the sea off a pebbly beach. This is Aphrodite's legendary birthplace where, according to the poet Hesiod, she emerged from sea foam whipped up by the sun-god Uranus.


The painter Botticelli celebrated her more decorously. His Birth of Venus shows her wafting to shore naked on a scallop shell, her hands well-placed to protect her modesty.


No evidence of construction has been discovered at the site of the anchors. "On land, there are some buildings probably related to this anchorage," Dr Hadjisavvas said.


The anchorage is likely to have declined as a trading hub as it silted up. Writers in the Roman period speak of pilgrims arriving at the sanctuary in a procession by land from Paphos, by then the site of a large man-made harbour.


THE temple of Aphrodite on Cyprus may have been a popular stopping-off point for travellers, but for some reason it failed to make the official tourist guide for the ancient world.


The Seven Wonders of the World was compiled in the 2nd century BC by Antipater of Sidon as a guidebook for early tourists.


The list was designed to tell people about the most extraordinary places to visit in the known world without travelling into potentially dangerous areas.


According to Antipater, the best sights on offer were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Walls of Babylon, the Temple at Ephesus and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, both in modern-day Turkey, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia in Greece and the Great Pyramid in Egypt. Later, the list was updated, with the Lighthouse at Alexandria replacing the Walls of Babylon. All apart from the Great Pyramid were destroyed by fire or earthquakes.


The idea has inspired other "Seven Wonders" lists, which have included landmarks such as the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal, as well as modern feats such as the Channel Tunnel and the Empire State Building.


This article: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1546372006

Last updated: 19-Oct-06 11:50 BST



Viking ship found in Larvik

Archaeologists found the remains of a ship from the Viking Age on Tuesday, in a burial mound on a farm outside the coastal city of Larvik.


The discovery was made during archaeological examinations of the Nordheim Farm, which is near the Hedrum Church in Larvik. The examinations were ordered in connection with the pending expansion of the cemetery around Hedrum Church, which is located a few hours' drive south of Oslo.


Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that archaeologists also found indications that another ship is buried in the same area.


Archaeologist Knut Paasche has been examining the area around Nordheim Farm, near Hedrum, for Vestfold County officials. He called Tuesday's discovery "important and interesting," but said it was too early to say whether the ship could be excavated intact.


He said that so many traces of the vessel were found that it should at least be possible to describe exactly how the ship looked.


Archaeologists were quick to point out that the discovery of the Viking ship wasn't comparable to the famous Oseberg or Gokstad discoveries. The Oseberg ship, which has long been on display in Oslo, had been buried in a valley and covered with clay, which helped keep it so well preserved.



‘Time team’ return in search of Iron Age roundhouse


FIELDS near Forfar are slowly giving up some of the secrets of the past—but with this harvest comes new mysteries.


Amateur archaeologists, who have unearthed some fascinating finds at Mill of Invereighty, Kinnettles, will be back there this weekend as part of a major excavation of the site.


Experts believe they might have stumbled across an Iron Age roundhouse after combing the field inch-by-inch as they try to piece together the area’s history.


This latest discovery is in a field where searchers organised by Kinnettles and District Heritage Group found ring-marked stones and a Neolithic mace head.


Last month, John Sherriff, archaeologist from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, supervised the digging of a large trench in the area where the mace head was picked up during field walking in February.


“We discovered a stone surface a very short depth below the field,” heritage group spokesman Dave Walsh said yesterday.


Although there were some large slabs lying on the surface, similar to those ploughed up frequently, they found what they believe to be a cobble paved area.


“Quite what this represents is at present uncertain, but it might be associated with a farming community of medieval or possibly earlier times,” Mr Walsh said.


“It might be a religious ceremonial site where people gathered to celebrate the death rites of prominent community members.”


He said these ideas stem from the previous finds of artefacts and an earlier aerial survey suggesting there are “earth houses” or souterrains, usually Iron Age, elsewhere in the field.


After discussions with colleagues at the Royal Commission in Edinburgh, Mr Sherriff believes there is an Iron Age roundhouse there.


Aided by volunteers, he investigated the area further last weekend and will return tomorrow.


A geophysical survey of parts of the field was carried out last month by Peter Morris, a geophysicist who lives in Fife and was originally with the British Antarctic Survey.


Although it did not give many clues about the most fruitful places to excavate, it gave members of the heritage group and other enthusiasts an interesting insight.



Iron Age remains hailed as crucial

By Gerard Burke

Published:  17 October, 2006


THE remains of a 2000-year-old city have been discovered under Inverness and it is being hailed as one of the most important recent discoveries in Scotland.


The find near Inverness Royal Academy was uncovered by a team who spent almost a year excavating the remains of seven large roundhouses and almost a dozen iron kilns.


Last year The Inverness Courier revealed the team from Headland Archaeology had uncovered the ancient city's "industrial estate" where iron was smelted, bronze was cast and glass was produced.


But at the weekend, at the final event of the Highland Archaeology Fortnight, archaeologist Ross Murray gave further details about what he and his colleagues had discovered so far about the city that once stood at the eastern end of the Great Glen.


"It would certainly have been of national importance and known internationally,” he said.


"They had a large industrialised production setup and would have been producing goods for trade with other countries."


Among the items found below a site near Inverness Royal Academy, now being developed by Tulloch Homes, were part of a bronze horse harness, an enamelled bronze brooch, dozens of woodworking tools and a large iron sword.


"It has been a privilege to work on this remarkable site,” Mr Murray told an audience at the Ramada Jarvis Hotel on Church Street.


"We found boxes upon boxes of iron and bronze objects and these are all at the National Museum of Scotland being analysed.


"What is already obvious was the wealth of this settlement and we have just clipped the industrial part of it.


"The rest is now covered by earlier development at Culduthel.


"The occupants were obviously people of some importance because some of the finds were damned impressive. I would hesitate to say the leader here was a king but he was certainly a very important local lord."


Mr Murray praised Tulloch Homes for its patience while the initial excavation lasted longer and longer as more features were uncovered by ground radar.


"We told the client we would be here for six weeks but we ended up putting the development back by nine months,” he said. "They were very gracious about it but we were taking about one of the most important recent discoveries in Scotland."


The Tulloch Group has also been given permission to develop neighbouring fields but initial surveys have revealed this area is also likely to cover part of the ancient settlement and will need to be excavated. Headland Archaeology expects to begin negotiations soon with the developer about carrying out the work needed on that site.


Over the next few months experts at the National Museum will analyse samples to assess where the iron ore used in the kilns came from and study fragments of ancient wooden beams to provide an accurate date for some of the buildings in the ancient settlement.


Just as part of modern Culduthel stands on top of the Iron Age settlement, it too was built over the remains of a much earlier Neolithic community from 5000 years ago.


These remains will also be investigated to learn more about the earliest inhabitants' lives.





More remains of chariot racetrack found

17 October 2006 | 08:21



FURTHER well-preserved remains of Colchester's Roman chariot racetrack have been discovered by archaeologists working on the town's garrison redevelopment.


Experts have uncovered an intact piece of the Roman Circus's wall foundation beneath Napier Road, to the South of Flagstaff Road in Colchester.


The wall, which is approximately 12m long, was discovered while developer Taylor Woodrow was undertaking excavation work as part of the redevelopment of the area.


The curving section forms part of the semicircular eastern end of the stadium, which would have been opposite the gates near where the chariots started their races.


The first of the remains of the Roman Circus - the name given to chariot racetracks of the time - were discovered on late 2004, when archaeologists were carrying out exploratory digs before the undeveloped Abbey Field site was built on.


New findings indicate that the track itself had been lowered to provide a firmer surface to race on, and that the removed topsoil was used to provide the banks on which the spectator seating was built.


Philip Crummy, director of Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT), now estimates that the circus could have held up to 15,000 spectators.


Following the recent discovery a meeting was held between Taylor Woodrow, English Heritage, Colchester Borough Council, RPS and the Colchester Archaeological Trust, to discuss the best way in which the wall could be preserved.


Construction of utility services along Napier Road would have, with normal construction methods, destroyed the wall.


However, a method of tunnelling underneath will ensure that the remains are preserved for posterity.


Yesterday Mr Crummy said: “You can see quite a clear curve. It is all foundations - there is nothing above ground.


“Some of the foundations in certain parts of the circus were removed in the medieval period. But here they are intact almost all the way across the width of the street.


“We haven't quite sorted out exactly where the gates at the east end were, but we think we have found the central barrier, which was a partition in the middle of the arena.


“We do, however, know it is 450 metres long which makes it one of the largest outside Italy.”


Peter Andrew, Taylor Woodrow Eastern regional managing director, said: “It is fantastic to unearth another piece of the Roman chariot track and discover more about the Roman Circus which is such an important part of Colchester's history.


“We will endeavour to preserve the wall as much as possible for future generations.”


Robert Masefield, archaeological consultant from RPS said: “This latest find helps us to understand the extent to which Colchester and indeed Britain itself was Romanised.


“The circus foundations we unearthed last year were generally poorly preserved, so to find this section of surviving wall is particularly important and helps us to increase our knowledge even further.”


Information on Colchester's Roman Chariot track and artefacts discovered last year are currently displayed for public viewing at the Bryant Homes marketing suite on Flagstaff Road.


Anybody wanting information on opening times can call 01206 578492 for details.






Thieves first to discover dentists' tombs at Egypt's Saqqara pyramids

The Associated Press


Published: October 22, 2006

SAQQARA, Egypt The arrest of tomb robbers led archaeologists to the graves of three royal dentists, protected by a curse and hidden in the desert sands for thousands of years in the shadow of Egypt's most ancient pyramid, officials announced Sunday.


The thieves launched their own dig one summer night two months ago but were apprehended, Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, told reporters.


That led archaeologists to the three tombs, one of which included an inscription warning that anyone who violated the sanctity of the grave would be eaten by a crocodile and a snake, Hawass said.


A towering, painted profile of the chief dentist, stares down at passers-by from the wall opposite the inscription.


The tombs date back more than 4,000 years ago to the 5th Dynasty and were meant to honor a chief dentist and two others who treated the pharaohs and their families, Hawass said.


Their location near the Step Pyramid of King Djoser — believed to be Egypt's oldest pyramid — indicate the respect accorded to the dentists by Egypt's ancient kings, who "cared about the treatment of their teeth," Hawass said.


Although their services were in demand by the powerful, the dentists likely did not share in their wealth.


The tombs, which did not contain their mummies, were built of mud-brick and limestone, not the pure limestone preferred by ancient Egypt's upper class.


"The whole point of a tomb was to last forever," said Carol Redmount, associate professor of Egyptian archaeology at the University of California at Berkeley. "So you wanted to make it out of materials that would last forever. And mud-brick ... didn't last forever."


During a visit to the site, Hawass pointed out two hieroglyphs — an eye over a tusk — which appear frequently among the neat rows of symbols decorating the tombs. He said those hieroglyphs identify the men as dentists.


The pictorial letters also spell out the names of the chief dentist — Iy Mry — and the other two — Kem Msw and Sekhem Ka. Hawass said the men were not related but must have been partners or colleagues to have been buried together.


Figures covering the pillars in the doorway of the chief dentist's tomb tell archaeologists much about his life and habits, Hawass said.


They depict the chief dentist and his family immersed in daily rituals — playing games, slaughtering animals and presenting offerings to the dead, including the standard 1,000 loaves of bread and 1,000 vases of beer.


These would "magically provide food and sustenance for the spirit of the dead person for all eternity," Redmount said.


Just around the corner of the doorway is a false door, its face painstakingly inscribed with miniature hieroglyphics. A shallow basin was placed below it.


"That was sort of the interface where the dead person in the tomb would come up and interact with the living," Redmount said.


The tomb robbers were the first to discover the site two months ago, launching their own dig one summer night, before they were captured and jailed. "We have to thank the thieves," Hawass said.


Although archaeologists have been exploring Egypt's ruins intensively for more than 150 years, Hawass believes only 30 percent of what lies hidden beneath the sands has been uncovered. Excavation continues at Saqqara, he said, and his team expects to find more tombs in the area.


Saqqara, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Cairo, is one of Egypt's most popular tourist sites and hosts a collection of temples, tombs and funerary complexes.


The Step Pyramid is the forerunner of the more familiar straight-sided pyramids in Giza on the outskirts of Cairo, which were believed to have been built about a century later.