DNA plan for 'Neanderthal' tooth


Scientists are hoping to extract DNA from a piece of jawbone found in Devon thought to be from a Neanderthal man who roamed Britain 35,000 years ago.


Experts plan to use an upper jaw tooth to establish whether the closest relative of modern humans lived on the British Isles later than thought.


The jaw fragment was found at Kent's Cavern in Torquay in 1926 and was originally thought to be human.


But experts now think it could date back even further.


We need a bit of luck as the DNA may not have survived

Prof Chris Stringer


Professor Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum, said it was a critical test that could have "historic" results.


Torquay Museum in Devon, which looks after the piece of jaw bone, has agreed in principle to the DNA test and carbon dating tests, he said.


The only late Neanderthal fossils on the British Isles were found on the Channel Islands around 1910.



However, Prof Stringer said the teeth discovered at the site date back to a time when the island was joined to France around 50,000 years ago.


His team has also found evidence which dates the arrival of primitive ancestors in Britain to 700,000 years ago, 200,000 years earlier than previous findings.


They found the archaeological evidence at Pakefield, near Lowestoft, Suffolk, and also plan to continue looking for more evidence in other areas.


Professor Chris Stringer, the director of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project said: "Neanderthal DNA is very distinct and would show up clearly in tests.


"It is a critical test as this could be the first late Neanderthal fossil on mainline Britain.


"But it is also historic if there is modern human DNA as this would prove they were here earlier than previously thought.




"Neanderthals are so close to us in time, living 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, and a closely related species.


"We have lots of Neanderthal tools but no fossils. The team is excited about the tests but we need a bit of luck as the DNA may not have survived."


Bone spearheads date modern humans living in Britain to 31,000 years ago, 4,000 years later than the earliest finds of modern humans in Europe, he added.


Prof Stringer said the roots, crown, size and shape of the tooth, which is thought to date back 35,000 years, would also be studied.



The Sunday Times    October 01, 2006

First Neanderthal tracked to Torquay

Jonathan Leake Science Editor


SCIENTISTS are to extract DNA from a fossilised jaw, thought to be of a Neanderthal man, in an attempt to unlock the origins of humans who roamed Britain 35,000 years ago.


The jaw, discovered at Kent’s Cavern, a complex of caves near Torquay, in 1927, was assumed to be that of a modern human. Initial radio-carbon dating suggested it was about 31,000 years old, putting it among the first modern humans to arrive in Britain.


However, new evidence suggests the jaw is at least 4,000 years older than that — and that it could be that of a Neanderthal. Archeologists say the fossil could yield vital information on how early humans spread across Britain and Europe in that period.


Professor Chris Stringer, who is research leader in human origins at the Natural History Museum, said the test could have historic results.


Although many Neanderthal tools have been found in Britain, the jaw could be the first fossil of its kind to be found on the mainland. Some remains were found on the Channel Islands in about 1910.


“We know that Neanderthals were in Britain around 60,000 years ago but there is a critical period between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago when modern humans were spreading across Europe and Neanderthals were disappearing,” said Stringer.


“We do not know exactly when Neanderthals vanished nor when modern humans arrived. There may even be a period when they overlapped. This fossil appears to fall right in the middle of that period so, whatever it is, it could give us some very important clues.”


The DNA analysis will be carried out at Oxford University where a small hole will be drilled into one of the three teeth in the jaw in the hope that some of the original DNA has survived. The tests have been approved by Torquay Museum where the jaw has been displayed since it was discovered.


Stringer is leading the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project which includes archeologists, palaeontologists and geologists from the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, Royal Holloway, University of London, and the University of Durham.


Its aim is to draw up a chronological sequence for the arrival and spread of humans in Britain. It has made some spectacular finds, including evidence that dated the arrival of early humans in Britain to 700,000 years ago, 200,000 years earlier than had been thought. It also found that massive changes in climate drove human inhabitants out of Britain many times over.



Delving deep into Britain's past 

By Paul Rincon

Science reporter, BBC News 


Scientists are to begin work on the second phase of a project aimed at piecing together the history of human colonisation in Britain.


Phase one of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project (AHOB) discovered people were here 200,000 years earlier than previously thought.


Phase two has now secured funds to the tune of £1m and will run until 2010.


Team members hope to find out more about Britain's earliest settlers and perhaps unearth their fossil remains.


They will also compare the animals and plants of Britain with those of nearby continental Europe. This will establish similarities and differences to determine how distinctive the British environment was in the distant past.


How far back could human occupation go in Britain? We just don't know; but we are certainly going to be looking


Prof Chris Stringer, AHOB Project

The first year of "AHOB2" will include an attempt to recover DNA from a fragment of human jawbone discovered at Kents Cavern in Devon. Recent re-dating of the specimen shows it is older than previously thought.


If the jawbone is from a modern human (Homo sapiens), as it was long thought to be, it would be amongst the earliest fossils from our species known from Europe; but the early date suggests it could also be from a late Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis).


A see-sawing climate and the presence of intermittent land access between Britain and what is now continental Europe allowed only stuttering waves of immigration.


Humans came to try to live in Britain eight times and on at least seven occasions they failed - beaten back by freezing conditions.


Phase one of AHOB extended the timing of the earliest known influx by 200,000 years. More than 30 flint tools unearthed in a fossil-rich seam at Pakefield, near Lowestoft, on the east coast, represent the oldest, unequivocal evidence of humans in northern Europe.


But project scientists now plan to hunt for even older evidence of occupation than this.


"The conditions that brought people to Pakefield were Mediterranean; there were warm summers and mild winters. Those conditions were there even earlier than Pakefield," said Chris Stringer, the project's director and head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum.


"How far back could human occupation go in Britain? We just don't know; but we are certainly going to be looking."


Professor Stringer said the discovery of a well-preserved fossil hominid, or early human, continues to be a "personal dream".


While the ancient settlers of Britain left an evidence trail in the form of stone artefacts and butchered animal bones, their fossil remains are vanishingly rare.


A dig at Lynford revealed mammoth remains and signs of human activity

Early Neanderthals are known from teeth discovered at Pontnewydd in Wales and a partial skull unearthed at Swanscombe in Kent. An earlier species, Homo heidelbergensis, is represented at the 500,000-year-old site of Boxgrove, West Sussex, by a shinbone and two teeth.


"The problem is that humans were always thin on the ground in the distant past. They were competing with the lions, the hyenas and the wolves, so the environment could not support large numbers of humans," said Professor Stringer.


"They didn't bury their dead, they don't seem to use caves as much as they did later on and we don't have good cave sites in Britain with deposits from the right time, except perhaps Kents Cavern.


"But with the sites in East Anglia, we have other mammals preserved there; we have stone tools, so at least there's a chance - we just have to get lucky."


The project involves researchers from the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, Royal Holloway and other institutes and is funded by the Leverhulme Trust.







Neolithic temple discovered in northern Syria

The Associated Press


Published: September 30, 2006

DAMASCUS, Syria A team of Syrian and French archaeologists has discovered a Neolithic temple in northern Syria that could be the oldest in the Middle East, Syria's official news agency reported Saturday.


The discovery of the temple, dating to the ninth century B.C. during the Neolithic Age, was made by a joint Syrian-French archaeological team at Jaadet al-Maghara on the Euphrates river some 450 kilometers (270 miles) north of Damascus, the agency said. It did not say when the temple was unearthed.


Objects made of stone and bone instruments were found in the large temple, whose walls bore geometric designs and a drawing of a bull's head in vivid red, black and white colors — further evidence that bulls where worshipped in that period, the report said.


The agency quoted Syria's minister of culture, Riyad Neisan Agha, as saying that "this is a unique discovery that could lead to re-reading culture."





An Oasis of Art in the Egyptian Desert


U. of I. team discovers rock art, but source remains a mystery.


When Douglas Brewer ventured deep into the Egyptian desert this year, he expected to find possibly 100 examples of “rock art”—evidence of ancient civilization. What he actually found were well over 1,000 examples—a treasure trove of rock art.


The desert art, which was pecked or sometimes incised into large rock faces, depicted elephants, ostriches, giraffes, and many hunting scenes. But perhaps strangest of all was the abundance of boats depicted in the art. After all, this area was far from any body of water, says Brewer, a University of Illinois professor of archaeology and director of the Spurlock Museum in Urbana.


According to Brewer, this find may have raised more questions than it answered. “I went out to demonstrate the existence of the desert culture in ancient Egypt,” he says. But after preliminary evaluation of the rock art, it is hard to tell whether it is the work of an independent desert culture.


Brewer made the trip this May and June with Carl Weibel from the Illinois Geological Survey and Dan Blake, a retired U. of I. paleontologist. For security purposes, they were given military protection to the edge of the desert. From there, a skilled Egyptian guide drove them 150 miles into the desert in a vehicle that occasionally became stuck in sand. They braved 130-degree temperatures at mid-morning; and at night, they slept on sheets directly on the sand, which was still toasty from the day’s heat.


Brewer says the desert people of ancient Egypt lived in the shadow of the great culture that developed in the famed Nile Valley. As he puts it, “This remote desert culture has always been the pariah. Ancient Egyptians looked down on them.”

stuck in sand

The crew was stuck in a typical wadi, but one with deep sand. They knew that those sands, plus a little vegetation, were good indicators that they would find art.


Even today many people do not believe a complex culture existed in the eastern desert of ancient Egypt. But evidence of rock art could shatter this image, especially if the art depicts domesticated animals and crops—as was the case with the rock art discovered by the Illinois team.


However, the rock art they found has a striking similarity to the type of art seen on the earliest pottery and tombs in the Nile Valley. Therefore, Brewer says, it is possible that the art was the work of Nile Valley pastoralists who took their cattle out in search of grazing land.


“I’m not so sure now that the rock art was the work of an independent desert culture,” Brewer explains. “We’ll have to go back out and take more detailed photographs of the artwork the second time around to get a better understanding of what’s out there.”


Their first trip primarily focused on simply determining whether the rock art could be found—something they accomplished in spades.


Rock art was often created by ancient people while grazing their animals. So Brewer’s theory was that the art would be more abundant on specific soil types that could produce grasses under the rainier conditions that existed in the area from 3,000 to 5,000 B.C. This notion proved to be extremely effective in locating hot spots for rock art.


Brewer’s fascination with Egypt stretches back to his days as a doctoral student in the 1970s. He had originally planned to focus his work on Iran. But on the very day that he was scheduled to fly to Iran—his plane was even on the runway—Iranian militants took hostages in their infamous 1979 attack on the American embassy.


When the Iranian crisis thwarted his plans, Brewer shifted his attention to Egypt, and he made it his life work, visiting there numerous times. On earlier trips, he has encountered Muslim fighters who nearly mistook his group for Israeli soldiers; he has stayed with Bedouin nomads; and he has run across many types of wildlife, including a horned asp—the same species that is believed to have bitten Cleopatra. (Brewer nearly stepped on the highly poisonous asp by accident.)


In one of his most unexpected discoveries in Egypt over the years, Brewer and his fellow researchers once decided to get rid of a notorious speed bump that had always given them bone-rattling jolts whenever they drove over it near their dig site. As it turned out, this “speed bump” was really a 12-foot statue of the pharaoh Ramses II buried close to the soil surface. The statue now stands in an Egyptian museum at Luxor.


On this most recent trip, the rock art they discovered probably will not wind up in a museum, due to its size and fragile nature. Most likely, he says, the Egyptian Antiquities Service will keep the location of the art secret to prevent thieves and vandals from destroying the work.


As for the question of whether this art comes from a complex culture in the ancient desert, that remains an Egyptian mystery for now. One of Brewer’s colleagues at Cambridge University believes strongly that the origins of ancient Egypt can be found in the desert.


“But we just don’t know,” Brewer says.


By Doug Peterson

September 2006



Young N.M. Hiker Finds Prehistoric Bowl

The Associated Press

Friday, September 29, 2006; 8:41 PM


SILVER CITY, N.M. -- A Texas teenager has found what one archaeologist at the Gila Cliff Dwellings in southwestern New Mexico describes as a "pretty big deal."


Andrew Connell, 15, was on a hike with his classmates in the Gila Wilderness this spring when the group was distracted by what sounded like an owl. While looking for the bird, he spotted something among the rocks and oak leaves.


It ended up being an almost intact prehistoric bowl that dates back to the time when the Mogollon people lived in the area.


"It's a pretty big deal. To find something intact where it's been for 1,000 years is pretty unusual," said Gila archaeologist Carol Telles.


Fellow archaeologist Gail Firebaugh-Smith said it has taken some time to announce the find, which sheds some light on the lives of the Mogollon people.


"The fact that it is so complete and that we are able to reconstruct it is so important," she said, noting that the location the bowl was found tells archaeologists how fair the Mogollon would travel from the cliff dwellings for daily work.


After Connell spotted the bowl under a rock wall, trip leaders suggested they return the bowl to the niche and report the find to the visitor center. The group took GPS coordinates, sketched a map and took photos.


Telles said visitors often bring artifacts to the visitor center, ruining any chance for archaeologists to interpret the artifact in its original setting.


Firebaugh-Smith said the bowl, now at the Gila National Forest's office in Silver City, will be researched, reconstructed and likely displayed in a museum or exhibit.



Prehistoric enclosure discovered at Brodgar


Workmen building a new visitor car park for the Ring o' Brodgar (Orkney, Scotland) have unearthed what could be the remains of a huge prehistoric walled enclosure between the Stenness and Harray lochs. Construction work was halted last week following the discovery of a segment of wall on the site. The find turned up on the last day of a watching brief – where archaeologists monitor operations to ensure no archaeological remains are disturbed or damaged.

     The site lies a few hundred yards to the north of the stone circle, by the shore on the Harray loch and on the Sandwick side of the Ness o' Brodgar. Orkney Archaeology Trust’s projects manager Nick Card said: "We originally thought it might be some piece of medieval ruin, but it soon became clear that what we had was extremely well-built and appeared to be much older. The structure was right at the very edge of the proposed car park and, although pieces had been removed in the more recent past, it turned out to be a massive, beautifully built wall about one metre across and surviving in parts to up to about a foot high. Going back to the aerial photographs we have of the area, and studying them closer, it would appear what we originally thought was a geological feature could actually be a prehistoric wall continuing out across the ness in a massive arc."

     "It’s early days yet,” he said, “but the wall seems to have formed a huge circular enclosure, with an estimated diameter of 100 metres. This, together with its proximity to the Ring of Brodgar, is very interesting and potentially incredibly important to our understanding of the area and its use." To give an idea of the size of the enclosure, the nearby Ring of Brodgar has a diameter of 103.6 metres.

     The archaeologists plan to use resistivity scans to provide a clear picture of the extent of the construction. This involves passing an electrical current through the ground at regular points on a survey grid. Because electrical resistance in the soil varies, and is affected by the presence of archaeological features, the patterns of resistance in the soil can be recorded, plotted and interpreted. Meanwhile, to preserve the ancient wall, the car park is being moved a few metres to an area clear of archaeology.


Source: Orkneyjar (25 September 2006)



Aberdeen in £70,000 study of prehistoric people


RESEARCHERS at a Scottish university are to carry out a major study to shed new light on the mysterious Beaker people, who flourished across Europe more than 4,000 years ago.


The north-east of Scotland has one of the highest concentrations of Beaker burials - prehistoric skeletons laid to rest beside distinctive, high-quality pots - anywhere in Britain.


It is hoped that the new research - the most detailed local study of the Beaker culture ever carried out in Europe - will begin to solve many of the questions that have puzzled archaeologists for generations.


The new research by archaeologists at Aberdeen University has been made possible with a £70,000 funding grant from the Leverhulme Trust.


The cash will be used to analyse more than 20 Beaker skeletons found throughout the north-east and the grave goods that accompanied many of the remains.


The Beaker culture flourished throughout Europe in the early Bronze Age. The Beakers, who are believed to have built Stonehenge, got their name from the distinctive small clay pots or beakers buried with their dead, suggesting an early belief in the afterlife.


Beaker burials in the North-east are also associated with the area's recumbent stone circles.


This article: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=1440292006


Last updated: 28-Sep-06 00:50 BST



Rare Iron Age settlement is about to be unearthed

28 September 2006


ARCHAEOLOGISTS will soon be uncovering a rare Iron Age settlement in a North Somerset village.


The ancient site at Goblin Combe Environmental Centre in Cleeve is the only known Iron Age settlement in Britain not to have been dug up.


The trees and plants currently covering the site will be cleared this winter in preparation for a team of archaeologists to study the site in detail.


A group of 45 pupils from Broadoak Mathematics and Computing College in Weston started the work this week by helping clear some trees.


Centre manager Kenton Keys said: "We took over the site in 2003 as a trust and before that time there was no management plan in place and very little thought had been put in on how to deal with the site.


"We started talking to English Heritage and English Nature who were very interested in making more of it.


"They established it was an Iron Age site and the only one in Britain which had not been excavated. The first thing that needs to be done is to take the trees down and remove their roots to make sure the site is preserved.


"All we know about it is that it is a settlement site where people would have lived. At the moment it looks like a large horseshoe with a distinctive mound, with a series of platforms and levelled areas.


"It is most likely to be here for trading goods dug from this area with goods coming from the coast.


"I know archaeologists from the Cleeve, Claverham and Yatton area are keen to get started on the site, but English Nature will decide when archaeologists will be allowed on the site."


* Pictured: Broadoak pupils Angharad Morgan, Craig Routledge and Ross Cheeseborough with Goblin Combe's Jen Nowery.



1,600-year-old dog found in Roman well at Liss


ARCHAEOLOGISTS digging on the site of a Roman settlement in Liss have discovered the skeleton of a dog they believe was offered as a gift to the gods 1,600 years ago. Archaeozoologist Sheila Hamilton-Dyer, told The Herald it was not uncommon to find dogs at the bottom of Roman wells and “Brutus” , as the Liss volunteers have christened the remains, was probably placed in the well by Roman settlers. “Dogs are found at the bottom of Roman wells on about half of the sites excavated,” she told The Herald. “It’s probably associated with the fact that they were associated with death, and I think this dog was already dead when it was thrown or placed in the well, judging by the ‘floppy’ way it was lying.” She said she believed it might have been placed there as a gift of thanks, for protection and to mark the end of the life of the well. “We know the well was finished, because the wall had already collapsed and the dog would have been put there as a messenger to the underworld.” Ms Hamilton-Dyer said the dog was male and stood about 64 centimetres to the shoulder - a bit shorter and slightly more well built than a modern greyhound. “It may have been a hunting hound. It was adult, but relatively young, and had in the past had a couple of minor injuries, but nothing too serious.” Ms Hamilton-Dyer has also established what Brutus had had to eat before he died, as she discovered chewed up bits of beef bones around his girth. Dogs in Roman world, she told The Herald, were valued as companions, guards and hunters, but were also associated with the afterlife, the underworld, death and healing.  Muntham Court in Sussex had many dogs in a well associated with a first-century shrine, and at Staines, 16 dogs were found in a well with a Samian bowl. The dig, organised by the Liss Archaeological Group, will be open from 10 am to 4 pm tomorrow (Saturday) and then it will be covered over until next September.


Copyright Tindle Newspapers Ltd 29 September 06



Medieval finds of what could be 'lost village'

Sep 28 2006

By Steve Evans


A PLOUGHED field on the outskirts of Nuneaton could be the site of the lost medieval settlement of Copston Parva.


Dozens volunteered to become archaeological sleuths for the day in a bid to unearth clues and pinpoint the exact location of the long-forgotten Warwickshire village.


About 100 people converged on farmland between Nuneaton and Hinckley - and they discovered "huge amounts" of medieval material.


Staff at Warwickshire Museum Field Service are now analysing the finds to build up a picture of what life must have been like in Copston Parva, near Wolvey.


Members of Wolvey Local History Group were joined by volunteers from Hinckley Fieldworking Group to carry out a search of farmland where the long-lost settlement is believed to have once stood.


Joseph Bates, archaelogical project officer for Warwickshire County Council, said: "The work resulted in the discovery of huge amounts of potsherds (broken pottery) and building materials of medieval date, but also material from the Roman period, and even worked flint from several thousand years ago."


He said the volunteers who joined in the project were given a "fantastic opportunity" to take part in geophysical surveying and fieldwalking.


Mr Bates said: "These finds, and the outcome of the geophysical survey, are now being analysed.


"They will add considerably to our knowledge of the site and the information already gathered through previous fieldwork."


He said he wanted to thank the volunteers and, especially, the farmer who allowed them to use the site.


Anyone wanting further information about other organised events should contact Mr Bates on 01926 418 023.