Neanderthal DNA reveals human divergence
Ian Sample, science correspondent
Thursday November 16, 2006
Fragments of DNA plucked from a 38,000-year-old Neanderthal fossil have pinpointed the time when modern humans split from their long-faced, barrel-chested relatives to become the world's most formidable species.
Anthropologists analysed 1 million "base pairs" of genetic material from a fossilised leg bone recovered from a cave in Vindija, Croatia, to show that modern humans and Neanderthals split evolutionary company 500,000 years ago. The feat is remarkable given the age and fragility of the DNA and marks a new push from geneticists to turn the most powerful technology of the day on some of the oldest remnants of life.
The team behind the study, which appears in the journal Nature today, hopes to unravel all 3 billion base pairs of the Neanderthal genome within two years. Comparing the biological blueprint with the human genome will reveal the subtle genetic differences that underpin what it means to be human. It will also help solve an ongoing controversy over whether Neanderthals and modern humans continued to interbreed after forming distinct species.
"We believe that the Neanderthal genome promises to yield more insight into human biology than the sequencing of any individual human," said Dr Pääbo, who led the research at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
The researchers used a revolutionary analysing technique called pyrosequencing to analyse tiny fragments of DNA from the Neanderthal and compared their sequence with that of the human and chimpanzee. They concluded that humans and Neanderthals, our closest relatives, split into two species around the time fire was harnessed - between 465,000 and 569,000 years ago, with the most likely estimate being 516,000 years ago.
The scientists also discovered that Neanderthals emerged from a small population of just 3,000 individuals.
Remains of Neanderthals dating back as far as 400,000 years ago suggest a reasonably sophisticated species that crafted tools and weapons and buried its dead. The last Neanderthals died out nearly 40,000 years ago, as Homo sapiens migrated to, and eventually settled throughout, Europe.
Chris Stringer, the head of human origins research at the Natural History Museum in London, said: "Research can now extend to complete the whole genome of a Neanderthal and to examine Neanderthal variation through time and space to compare with ours. Having such rich data holds the promise of looking for the equivalent genes in Neanderthals that code for specific features in modern humans, for example eye colour, skin and hair type ... Having a Neanderthal genome will also throw light on our own evolution."
Peter Brown, an expert in human evolution at the University of New England in New South Wales, added: "Eventually we may even come to understand the genetic basis and adaptive significance of their most distinctive feature, a humungous nose."
Ancient bronze drum found in Vietnam
Parts of a bronze drum thought to be at least 2,000 years old was discovered recently by a resident in Vietnam’s Phu Yen province who turned it over to the authorities.
Director of the provincial museum, Phan Dinh Phung, identified the drum Thursday as belonging to the Dong Son Culture (1000 BCE-200 CE) based in its design and vignettes.
Only the surface of the drum, found near the Ba River in Tay Hoa district, remains, measuring 43 centimeters across.
According to the Institute of Archaeology, the date or purpose of the Dong Son drums are unknown but they are generally thought to be about 2,000 years old and to have some ritual significance. Six of them have been found in the province so far.
Their casting is a complex process requiring high order of technology and artistic skills.
Dong Son is the name of a burial and habitation site in northern Vietnam, on the southwestern edge of the Red River delta, where these drums were found for the first time during excavations in the 1920s.
Source: Nguoi Lao Dong – Compiled by Luu Thi Hong
Human settlements near ancient Nalanda unearthed
Patna, November 16, 2006
Recent Archaeological findings suggest 3rd Century BC human settlements near the ancient Nalanda University, a Gupta period structure built much later in the 4th-5th Century AD.
A satellite survey at Nalanda last month has revealed NBP (Northern Black Polish) Ware belonging to the 3rd Century BC at Jaffardih, hardly three kilometers away from the ancient university site.
It may yet be pre-dated as further diggings are expected to yield more evidences of NBP Ware belonging to between 8th and 10th Century BC. The ASI is to start digging soon.
PK Mishra, Patna Circle Superintending Archaeologist, said that the ASI had instructed its Patna circle to identify ancient sites and archaeological remains in a 16-kms radius of the ancient Nalanda University.
"Satellite surveys last month revealed three ancient sites of Jagdishpur, Jaffardih and Rukministhan. The Jaffardih digging could reveal several cultural sequences of the University area," he said.
The Jaffardih digging had been a long pending project and the ASI had approved it only recently, said the superintending archaeologist of the ASI's excavation unit, SC Sharan.
Another ASI official, Sujit Nayan, said that though the Nalanda University was unearthed decades ago, archaeologists were still groping in the dark as regards the main entrance of the ancient university.
Jagdishpur had thrown up evidence to suggest another entrance, he added.
"Besides, with the discovery of NBP in surface exploration at Jaffardih, indications of much older habitations in the university area have come to the fore. Before the invention of the carbon dating method, the earliest period of NBP dated to 6th Century BC. Now it extends to even 8th to 10th Century BC", he said.
"Besides, the place shows a huge, 36-foot high mound spread over nearly 100 square km radius. A study of these would help radically alter the knowledge base we have for the site," he added.
Payvand's Iran News ...
Unprecedented Jar Burial of a Dog Observed in Gohar Tepe
By Soudabeh Sadigh
Discovery of a jar containing the skeleton of a dog in a human grave for the first time in Gohar Tepe, northern Iran, has puzzled archeologists. The two skeletons are dated to the 1st millennium BC.
Tehran, 15 November 2006 (CHN) -- Archeological excavations in Gohar Tepe, Iranian northern province of Mazandaran, led into discovery of the skeleton of a man belonging to the first millennium BC alongside a dog which was buried in a jar in the same grave.
Human burials in jars have commonly been observed in different historic sites of Iran. Similar examples of jar burials of humans have also been found in Gohar Tepe. However, this is the first time that the skeletons of a dog are found in a jar. This is why the new discovery has astounded the archeologists.
Some ornaments have also been discovered with the skeleton of the man which shows the economic wellbeing of the dead person during his own time.
"Discovery of the skeleton of a man alongside some pieces of jewelries including a ring and golden and bronze bracelets speaks of a unique burial method in Gohar Tepe never seen before anywhere else in Iran. The skeleton of this man was found next to a big jar. After the jar was opened, we were faced with the remaining skeleton of a dog, most probably owned by this wealthy man," said Ali Mahforouzi, head of archeology team in Gohar Tepe, to CHN.
Although evidence suggesting the coexistence of different social classes in Gohar Tepe had previously been identified in this historical site, this recent discovery further confirmed that 3000 years ago people with different social and economic strata used to live together at Gohar Tepe.
According to Mahforouzi, three daggers and eight arrowheads all set in an orderly fashion beside the skeleton can be taken as further indications to the man's high social rank. Such evidence also speaks of a special ritual practiced when burying someone in Gohar Tepe back in the times.
The historic site of Gohar Tepe is located in the eastern parts of Mazandaran province between the cities of Neka and Behshahr, north of Iran. Evidence shows that from 7000 years ago to the first millenniums BC, a lot of people lived in the region, enjoying an urban life since the third millennium BC. Discovery of architectural structures as well as a large number of graves with different burial methods observed in this region all point to the existence of continual life in this region during different periods of history.
Contact: James Hathaway
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Remote latrine reconfirms the presence of Essene sect at Qumran
Ancient parasites show that cleanliness may have been next to sickliness
The Essenes, a strict ancient Jewish sect devoted to religious purity and linked to the Dead Sea Scrolls, are one of the most interesting and mysterious religious elements in Judaea around the time of Jesus. Recent articles and news stories have questioned long-established scholarship about the Essenes and their relationship to the scrolls, arguing in particular that the inhabitants of the ancient settlement of Qumran, located in the Dead Sea area where the scrolls were found, had no relationship to the religious sect.
Now, new scientific findings from the settlement connect Qumran to details in the scrolls, and give direct evidence of Essene culture at the site. The discovery may also provide a window into dynamic relationships between the sect's rigorous religious practices and the community's health.
A forthcoming report presenting new bioarchaeological evidence from Qumran reconfirms the "Essene hypothesis" by showing the presence of unusual and extreme toiletry and hygiene practices in the ancient community. The evidence points to the Qumran inhabitants' detailed obedience to unique, rigorously demanding precepts that are specified in Dead Sea Scrolls texts and also documented in a Roman-era descriptions of the Essenes.
In an article forthcoming in the next issue (winter 2006/2007) of Revue de Qumran, an international research team reports the results of an investigation of a suspected remote latrine site. Located by following clues in the ancient sources that specify the remote placement of latrines, the team positively identified the site as a latrine area through analysis of sub-surface soil samples.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte biblical scholar James Tabor suggested the investigation at a site outside the ruins of Qumran, noting instructions in two of the Dead Sea Scrolls (the "War Scroll" and the "Temple Scroll") specifically requiring latrines to be located at a significant distance "north-west of the city," and also to be "not visible from the city." Tabor had also noted that the first century Jewish historian Josephus described very similar exotic toilet practices among the religiously strict sect known as the Essenes.
Analysis of the site by Israeli paleopathologist Joe Zias and soil analysis by Stephainie Harter-Lailheugue, a French parasitologist from the Centre National de la Recerche Scientifique, confirmed the area as an ancient latrine site through the presence of desiccated eggs from three distinct human-specific intestinal parasite species. The findings have further implications regarding community health in the ancient settlement.
Visiting Qumran, Tabor noted an area approximately 500 meters to the northwest of the settlement which seemed likely because it was sheltered from view by a bluff. Tabor also noted that the soil in the area appeared to have a significantly different coloration from other soils in the Qumran environs, a fact which was subsequently confirmed by Zias using high-resolution aerial photographs.
"I started thinking that in the scrolls they have these very explicit descriptions of where the latrines have to be," Tabor explained. "It has to do with religious ritual purity -- the latrines have to be located in a place that the ancient texts designate as 'outside the camp'. That's a phrase used in the Torah, where Moses tells the ancient Israelites 'build your latrines outside the camp.' When you go to the toilet, take a paddle or a shovel with you and use the toilet and then cover it up," he said, explaining that the ancient practice appears to have been revived at Qumran.
"This group is very strict and they observe this practice rigorously -- in one text it says go 1000 cubits, and in another text, 2000 cubits -- and they specifically state 'northwest' in the scrolls. Josephus, in talking about the Essenes, mentions it as a point of admiration or piety – he says that these people are so holy, that on the Sabbath day they won't even use the toilet, because on the Sabbath one can't go outside the settlement," he said.
"It turns out, if you go northwest from Qumran you get to this bluff – a large natural plateau separated from further cliffs – and if you go around it, it hides you from the camp. One of the things Josephus says is that they also believe that their latrines should shield them from view of the camp, so I thought 'this is getting really good, if I can just find some evidence for toilet practices.'"
Tabor suggested investigating the area to Zias, who took four random soil samples at the site as well as six other samples for control -- 4 from surrounding desert areas, one from an area that was known to be Qumran's stable (to test for animal parasites), and one from an area on the opposite side of the city, essentially covering other outside-the-settlement areas that could have been used as latrines.
On the basis of earlier research that has shown that intestinal parasites can be preserved in arid, sub-surface conditions, Zias sent the samples to Harter-Lailheugue at CNRS for analysis. Three of the four samples from the suspected latrine area yielded four species of preserved worm eggs and embryophores that were all identified as human intestinal parasites – Ascaris sp. (human roundworm), Taenia sp. (a human tapeworm), Trichuris sp. (a human whipworm) and a human pinworm, Enterobius vermicularis, that had not previously been reported in the ancient Near East. The soil sample from the stable contained the eggs of Dricrocoelium sp., a common parasites of ungulates. The control samples from the surrounding desert areas contained no parasites, human or animal.
"Frankly, I was surprised," said Zias. "A parasitologist I talked to told me that my chances of finding something were just about nil. Finding evidence of parasites would be easy in a latrine, but in the middle of the desert… But small things like parasite eggs in feces can hang around for thousands of years. At the Dead Sea, we have hair and hair combs with desiccated lice in them because of the dryness."
"The evidence shows conclusively that the area was a toilet," Zias noted. "The samples contained eggs from intestinal worms that are specific to humans. These things had to come from human feces. The presence of eggs in three out of four 100-gram samples indicates heavy and continual use of the specific site suggested by Tabor."
Since the other sites did not yield human parasites, the team concluded that the latrine site was most likely the area specified in the Scroll passages. Because of the remoteness of the Qumran environs, they concluded that the latrine could only be associated with Qumran, the only settlement in the area.
"One possible concern was that the latrine area could have been used by Bedouins, who are known to have been near Qumran," said Zias. "However, according to Bedouin anthropologist Professor Aref Abu-Rabia, Bedouins are generally not known to bury their human waste, and fecal matter left on the surface quickly dries up and is broken down by sun and wind. This stuff was certainly buried, as the ancient documents say it should be."
Zias noted that the heavy daily digging by the Essenes left its mark on the desert in a way that is still noticeable more than 2000 years later.
"I went there and the entire area looked like somebody had plowed it, the earth was so nice and soft, while the rest of the desert was very hard," he said. "In fact, I broke my pick collecting control samples from the other areas."
Zias and Tabor also note that the settlement's unusual latrine practices may be clues in solving some of Qumran's other archaeological puzzles -- in particular, questions raised by the 1,100 graves found at the site, which are almost exclusively male.
"The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group that I have ever studied in over 30 years and this is readily apparent," said Zias, who has done previous work on the Qumran burials. "For example, 2,000 years ago in Jericho, 14 kilometers to the north, the chances of an adult male dying after 40 were 49 percent. But when you go to Qumran, the figure for people surviving to 40 falls to six percent -- the chances of making to 40 differ by a factor of eight!
"And yet we are told that these men arrived very healthy – they had physical examinations coming in. The people at Qumran thought that you could look at body types and tell what kind of person you were. Josephus tells us that the Essenes were selective -- you had to be 20 years old, and you had to be healthy," Zias noted.
The puzzle comes together for Zias when he combines the community's latrine practices with its near-obsessive use of pools for ritual cleansing and bathing.
"Burying your feces in the outdoors makes a lot of sense until you live in Qumran," Zias said. "What happened was that 20 to 40 people went out there every day over a period of 100 years. By burying their fecal matter, they actually preserved the microorganisms and parasites. In the sunlight, the bacteria and parasites get zapped within a fairly short amount of time, but buried, the parasites can live in the soil for up to a year. Then people pick up things by walking through fecally contaminated soil -- it's like a toxic waste dump, and if you have any cuts on your feet…"
Well-defined community bathing practices, combined with a lack of running water, complicated the problem of daily exposure to contaminated soil. A cleansing pool was located at the settlement entrance on the return route from the latrine area and is likely to have been a fertile breeding ground for pathogens picked up from the human waste-enriched soil.
"Here is where things really get bad," Zias explained. "After they went to the latrines they were required to enter one of the emersion cisterns (Miqvot) before they came back into the settlement. Hygienically, that sounds like a good idea, if you have fresh running water, but there is no running water at Qumran, only runoff which was collected during the three months of winter rains. They enter the cisterns where everyone else has been, with all the bacteria they've brought in with them, floating around. The bacterium, which usually doesn't last long in the air and sunlight, stays active for a longer period in the sediments and is continually re-suspended in the water by people disturbing the pool."
There were other immersion pools at Qumran as well, and Zias and Tabor point out that the Essenes' rigorous ritual purification practices seem likely to have insured that they too were contaminated by cross-infection.
"People who have cleansed themselves in the outside pool also have to go into the Miqwah twice a day. The water there may looked clean, but hygienically, it was rarely changed and must have been very dirty with the potentially fatal pathogens shared by everyone who was entering it for ritual purification. And Miqwah cleansing is a total immersion, which means that it gets in your ears, in your eyes and in your mouth. It is not hard to imagine how sick everyone must have been," Zias said.
Ironically, both the rigorous latrine and purification practices, combined with the lack of running water appear to be the most likely causes for the extreme differences in early mortality between Qumran and the contemporary Jericho.
"The people in Jericho were not religious extremists who went into the Miqwah twice a day and they also had clean, running water from the natural springs surrounding the desert oasis. The men in Qumran lived and bathed religiously in contaminated water that had been standing for up to nine months at a time," Zias said.
According to Tabor, however, poor health might have had its own place in the cultural thinking of Qumran.
"As a group the men of Qumran were very unhealthy, but I think this would have been likely to have actually fed the Essenes' religious enthusiasm," said Tabor. "They would have seen their infirmities as punishment from God for their lack of purity and then have tried even harder to purify themselves further."
Toilet evidence links Dead Sea Scrolls to sect
By Thomas H. Maugh II
Los Angeles Times
Following directions found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologists have discovered the latrines used by the sect that produced the scrolls, discovering that efforts to achieve ritual purity inadvertently exposed members to intestinal parasites that shortened their lifespan.
The discovery of the unique toilet area provides further evidence linking the scrolls to Qumran — an association that recently has been called into question by a small but vociferous group of archaeologists who have argued that the settlement was a pottery factory, a country villa or a Roman fortress, but not a monastery.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, the revisionists claim, were actually hidden in the caves of Qumran by Jews fleeing the devastation of Jerusalem during the Roman suppression beginning in A.D. 66.
The majority of archaeologists, in contrast, argue that the scrolls were copies produced by a small sect, generally called the Essenes, who lived at Qumran.
Because the location of the latrine was specified in two of the most important scrolls found at the site, its discovery provides strong evidence associating the settlement with the scrolls, said archaeologist James Tabor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, one of the co-authors of a paper appearing in the international journal Revue de Qumran.
In 1947, Bedouin tribesmen discovered three ancient manuscripts in a cave on the shore of the Dead Sea, about 10 miles south of Jericho. Subsequent searches revealed about 900 manuscripts and fragments dating from about 250 B.C. to A.D. 68.
Some manuscripts are copies of books of the Old Testament, while others are related to more mundane aspects of life.
Ten of the Dead Sea Scrolls are on display at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle through Jan. 7, one of the rare times the actual scrolls can be seen outside of Israel. More information at: www.pacsci.org
The Essenes are one of the few ancient groups whose toiletry practices were documented. The first century Jewish historian Josephus noted that members of the group normally went outside the city and dug a hole, where they buried their waste.
Two of the Dead Sea Scrolls note that the latrines should be situated northwest of the settlement, at a distance of 1,000 to 3,000 cubits — about 450 to 1,350 yards — and out of sight of the settlement.
Tabor and Joe Zias of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on ancient latrines, went to the site and took samples.
Zias sent samples to anthropologist Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue of the CNRS Laboratory for Anthropology in Marseilles, France, who found preserved eggs and other remnants of roundworms, tapeworms and pinworms, all human intestinal parasites.
Samples from the surrounding areas contained no parasites. Had the waste been dumped on the surface, as is the practice of Bedouins in the area, the parasites quickly would have been killed by sunlight. Buried, they could persist for a year or longer, infecting anyone who walked through the soil.
The situation was made worse by the Essenes having to pass through an immersion cistern, or Miqvot, before returning to the settlement. The water would have served as a major breeding ground for the parasites.
"The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied in over 30 years," Zias said. Fewer than 6 percent of the men buried there survived to age 40, he said. In contrast, cemeteries from the same period excavated at Jericho show that half the males lived beyond age 40.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company
Roman ship thrills archaeologists
A Roman ship, wrecked off the coast of Spain in the 1st Century AD, has been dazzling archaeologists with the array of historical treasures on board.
Thirty metres (100ft) long and holding 400 tonnes, it is the largest Roman ship found in the Mediterranean.
Chief amongst the goods the ship was carrying were hundreds of jars of garum - a fish sauce which was a favourite condiment for rich Romans.
It was accidentally discovered in 2000 by sailors whose anchor snagged a jar.
The ship is in great condition and extremely accessible - lying in just 25m of water, and 1.5km (one mile) from the coast of Valencia.
"I am not going to say it was on the beach but almost," said Carles de Juan, who is co-director of the wreck's research team and was among the first divers to examine it.
We knew it was an important find, but had no real idea until now. It is an exceptional find
Project co-director Carles de Juan
It is believed that the vessel, 60% of which is now buried in mud on the sea floor, went down in a storm while sailing from Cadiz in southern Spain to Rome.
Mr de Juan said that the storm must have been of immense strength to drive such a vessel so close to shore.
"The crew did not care about the cargo or money or anything. They headed for land to save their lives," he said.
Once news of the ship's discovery was announced in 2000, souvenir hunters targeted it, forcing the Spanish authorities to erect a steel cage around the wreck to protect it.
After years of arranging funds, expertise and equipment, a proper exploration of the site began in July of this year.
Since then, marine archaeologists have been conducting the painstaking work of cataloguing what was on board.
"We knew it was an important find, but had no real idea until now," Mr de Juan said in an interview with the Associated Press after he and project co-director Franca Ciberchinni of Italy's University of Pisa presented their first academic report on the site.
"It is an exceptional find," Mr de Juan added.
An estimated 1,500 two-handled amphorae, or clay jars, were on board.
The researchers established from remains of fish bones inside that the metre-high jars, which lay undisturbed but with eroded seals, were carrying garum.
The highly-prized delicacy was served to wealthy Romans as an accompaniment to a wide variety of dishes and was believed to be an aphrodisiac.
It is thought that the ship was also carrying ingots of lead to be used in plumbing and copper, which could be mixed with tin to make bronze artefacts.
The last time a Roman ship of similar size and good condition was discovered was off Corsica in 1985.
"For archaeologists, a sunken ship is a historic document that tells us about ancient history and how its economy worked," Javier Nieto, director of the Centre for Underwater Archaeology of Catalonia, said of the find.
"This ship will contribute a lot," he added.
Spanish researchers delighted with first-century Roman shipwreck
By Daniel Woolls, The Associated Press
MADRID, Spain — Marine archeologists in Spain said Monday that the shipwreck of a first-century vessel carrying delicacies to the richest palates of the Roman Empire had proved to be a dazzling find, with bones still nestling inside two-handled clay jars of fish sauce.
Recreational sailors came across the remains in 2000 when an anchor was tangled up in them in shallow waters, and after years of arranging financing and assembling crews, exploration of the site off Alicante in southeast Spain began in July, said Carles de Juan, a co-director of the project, who works for the Valencia regional government.
The ship is estimated to have been 100 fee) long with capacity for around 400 tons of cargo, making it twice the size of most other Roman shipwrecks found in the Mediterranean, de Juan said in an interview with the Associated Press.
The freight was an estimated 1,500 well-preserved clay amphoras, or two-handled jars, used in this case to hold fish sauce — a prized condiment for wealthy Romans, he said.
For centuries the meter-tall amphoras lay undisturbed but for an occasional octopus that would pry one open, breaking the ceramic-and-mortar seal in search of food or shelter.
Besides the size of the ship and good condition of its cargo, the site is also important because it is so easily accessible — in just 80 feet of water about one mile from the coast. Other wrecks are so deep they cannot be examined by scuba divers.
"I am not going to say it was on the beach, but almost," said de Juan, who was among the first divers to examine the shipwreck in 2000.
"We knew it was an important find but had no real idea until now," de Juan said. "It is an exceptional find."
The last time a ship of this size and quality emerged was in 1985 off Corsica, he said.
Javier Nieto, director of the Center for Underwater Archeology of Catalonia and not related to this project, also called it immensely important because of the fine condition of the cargo. No other Roman shipwreck is currently under study in the Mediterranean, he added.
"For archeologists, a sunken ship is a historic document that tells us about ancient history and how its economy worked," Nieto said from Barcelona. "This ship will contribute a lot."
This ship probably sank in a storm while sailing back to Rome from Cadiz in the south of what is now Spain. The storm must have been ferocious because it is odd for such a vessel to have been so close to shore.
"The crew did not care about the cargo or money or anything. They headed for land to save their lives," de Juan said.
De Carles and the other co-director of the project, Franca Cibercchini of the University of Pisa in Italy, presented their first academic report on the site at a marine archaeology conference last week in the town of Gandia, near Valencia.
When word of the find first spread in 2000, pirate scuba divers raided the site and stole some of the amphoras. This forced the Valencia government to build a thick metal grating to cover the remains and protect the jars.
What remains of the wooden structure of the ship itself — about 60% — is buried under mud in the seabed, de Juan said.
The cargo probably also includes lead, which the Romans used for plumbing, and copper, which they mixed with tin to make bronze for everything from plates to jewelry.
The fish sauce is no longer in the amphoras because the seals were not hermetic and could not withstand 20 centuries under water. But traces of fish bone remain inside and these will help researchers determine how the sauces were made, de Juan said.
Ancient food jars fare well under the sea
About 1,500 amphorae are part of the cargo scientists are sorting from a Roman ship that sank 2,000 years ago.
From the Associated Press
November 18, 2006
Archaeologists have started exploring a sunken 1st century Roman vessel carrying about 1,500 clay amphorae, some still containing nearly 2,000-year-old fish bones nestled inside.
Boaters found its cargo of amphorae in 2000 when their anchor got tangled with one of the two-handled jars.
Exploration of the site a mile off Alicante in southern Spain began in July, said Carles de Juan, a co-director of the project, who works for the Valencia regional government.
The ship, estimated to be 100 feet long with a capacity for about 400 tons of cargo, is twice the size of most other Roman shipwrecks found in the Mediterranean, De Juan said.
The well-preserved clay amphorae were used to hold fish sauce — a prized condiment for wealthy Romans, he said.
For nearly 2,000 years, the 3-foot-tall amphorae lay undisturbed except for the occasional octopus that would pry one open, breaking the ceramic-and-mortar seal in search of food or shelter.
The cargo probably also includes lead, which the Romans used for plumbing, and copper, which they mixed with tin to make bronze for a range of things, including plates and jewelry.
This ship most likely sank in a storm while sailing back to Rome from Cadiz in the south of what is now Spain.
When word of the find first spread in 2000, pirate scuba divers raided the site and stole some of the amphorae. That forced the Valencia government to build a thick metal grating to cover the remains and protect the jars.
Rudder may hold clues to ship's fate
Scientists will study the part in an effort to fill in the story of a wreck.
By DAN SCANLAN, The Times-Union
A lighthouse couldn't save the sailing vessel when it wrecked off Vilano Beach more than a century ago.
But a 12-foot, 4-inch wooden rudder from the mystery ship will be saved over the next year by St. Augustine Lighthouse archaeologists as they try to uncover its identity and when it sank. Then the conserved half-ton of wood and copper will go on permanent display at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Dozens of visitors and schoolchildren watched Tuesday as the huge rudder was placed on a temporary wooden platform next to the 132-year-old lighthouse.
"Is it the bottom of a ship?" asked Abbey Wensel, 7.
Then the Middleburg girl learned it was a century-old rudder on public display at the lighthouse for the next year while Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program staff work on it.
"That's pretty cool," she said.
St. Augustine resident Diane Mouhourtis said she can't wait to watch the conservation progress.
"I am glad to be here to see it brought to the lighthouse," she said. "I will come back and check on it every now and then."
Storm waves shoved the rudder onto Vilano Beach in early October 2005. Residents and marine archaeologist John Morris hauled it atop a nearby dune for safety. Partially sheathed in weathered copper, the rudder and the merchant ship it was attached to are estimated to date to the early to mid-1800s. The ship was at least 100 feet long, according to Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program Director Chuck Meide.
State officials gave Morris and St. Johns County officials permission to move the rudder to the research reserve, where it was stored for the past year. Trucked to the lighthouse Tuesday, it will be placed on a platform under a tent for conservation work.
Meide and his staff will also examine its construction and wood type to see if there are clues to its ship, and when it sank.
"We want to get as many clues as we can from very meticulous analysis, then go to the history books and hopefully have something to work with to narrow down possible candidates," he said.
Morris and the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program targeted dozens of shipwreck sites before finding the 1764 wreckage of the British sloop Industry off the lighthouse in 1998 and recovering a cannon and other artifacts. Meide and the new staff of lighthouse archaeologists will attempt to find the rest of the rudderless ship off Vilano Beach next year.
A summer mission to the Industry is planned to recover another cannon for display at 265-year-old Fort Matanzas, where Meide believes it was headed in 1764.
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Stonehenge ‘No Place for the Dead’, Says BU Expert
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Posted: 16/11/2006, 9:45
Posted by: Bournemouth, University of
Professor Timothy Darvill, Head of the Archaeology Group at Bournemouth University, has breathed new life into the controversy surrounding the origins of Stonehenge by publishing a theory which suggests that the ancient monument was a source and centre for healing and not a place for the dead as believed by many previous scholars.
After publication of his new book on the subject - Stonehenge: The Biography of a Landscape (Tempus Publishing) - Professor Darvill also makes a case for revellers who travel to be near the ancient monument for the summer solstice in June to reconsider. Instead, Professor Darvill believes that those seeking to tap into the monument’s powers at its most potent time of the year should do so in December during the winter solstice when our ancestors believed that the henge was ‘occupied’ by a prehistoric god - the equivalent of the Roman and Greek god of healing, Apollo – who ‘chose’ to reside in winter with the Hyborians, long believed to be the ancient Britons.
The basis for Professor Darvill’s findings lies in the Preseli Mountains in west Wales where he and colleague Professor Geoffrey Wainwright have located an exact origin for the bluestones used in the construction of Stonehenge some 250 km away.
“The questions most people ask when they consider Stonehenge is ‘why was it built?’ and ‘how was it was used?’” says Professor Darvill. “Our work has taken us to the Preseli Mountains to provide a robust context for the source of the bluestones and to explore various ideas about why those mountains were so special to prehistoric people”.
“We have several strands of evidence to consider. First, there have folklore in the form of accounts written in the 14th century which refer to a magician bringing the stones from the west of the British Isles to what we know as Salisbury Plain,” he continues. “It was believed that these particular stones had many healing properties because in Preseli, there are many sacred springs that are considered to have health-giving qualities; the water comes out of the rocks used to build Stonehenge and it’s well established that as recently as the late 18th century, people went to Stonehenge to break off bits of rock as talismans.
“Also, around the Stonehenge landscape, there are many burials, some of which have been excavated and amongst these there are a good proportion of people who show sings of being unwell – some would have walked with a limp or had broken bones – just the sort of thing that in modern times pressurises people to seek help from the Almighty.
“In the case of Stonehenge, I suggest that the presiding deity was a prehistoric equivalent of the Greek and Roman god of healing, Apollo. Although his main sanctuary was at Delphi in Greece, it is widely believed that he left Greece in the winter months to reside in the land of the Hyborians – usually taken to be Britain.
“Altogether, and with the incorporation of the stones from Wales, Stonehenge is a very powerful and positive place of pilgrimage, although whether the monument’s healing power actually worked is a matter for further discussion,” he concludes.
Mexico Aztec god carving may be emperor's headstone
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Archeologists say a giant, ornate carving of an Aztec god recently unveiled in downtown Mexico City could be a massive headstone in honor of one of the civilization's last rulers.
Scientists say the 12.4 ton stone cutting, which is covered with a vast, heavily detailed full-body engraving of earth god Tlaltecuhtli, is one of the most important Aztec finds ever.
The 11-foot (3.5 metres) long monolith was first made public in October. It is broken into several pieces but otherwise in excellent condition, archaeologists said.
They have spent weeks scraping dirt and debris from the piece and now say it may be the headstone of Ahuizotl, the eighth Aztec ruler, whose successor Moctezuma II governed at the start of the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
The headstone is decorated with the carved image of a deity with a giant male head ringed by masses of curly hair and a sharp extended tongue representing a stream of blood.
Skulls and crossed bones surround the body, as well as a rabbit and several dots thought to be a time stamp dating the sculpture to 1502.
The Aztecs, a warlike and deeply religious people who built numerous monumental works including towering pyramids, ruled an empire encompassing much of modern-day central Mexico until they were overthrown by the Spanish in 1521.
The piece was found in the ruins of Mexico City's Templo Mayor, an Aztec temple used for human sacrifice and now steps from choking traffic in the city's Spanish colonial center.
Spanish conquerors built a new city from the rubble of Tenochtitlan, the sprawling Aztec capital they found built on largely man-made islands amid a lake in the Valley of Mexico.
Mudflats yield archaeological secrets
By Alistair Taylor
Nov 15 2006
Initially, I was reluctant to go to last week's presentation at the Museum at Campbell River.
It was a Wednesday night, a long day at work, even longer one the next day, maybe I should just stay home. But my son wanted to go to get some firsthand research for a school project on local First Nations culture, so off we went.
Man am I glad I went along. The presentation was on clam garden and fish trap research being conducted by the Hamatla Treaty Society (HTS). The presentation was done by anthropologist Deidre Cullon with some additional comments by archaeologist Bjorn Simonsen.
During the summer of 2006, the HTS conducted archaeological fieldwork in the Johnstone Strait and Comox areas. Prior to the fieldwork, fish traps had been documented throughout the Johnstone Strait and Comox areas but the HTS believed that there were others that had been overlooked by archaeologists. The HTS also believed that there were hundreds of clam gardens that were yet to be documented. Thus the focus of the fieldwork was the identification of fish traps and clam gardens.
During June and July 2006, when the tides were low, HTS crews and Cullon, Simonsen and geomorphologist John Harper surveyed beaches throughout Johnstone Strait. Dozens of fish trap complexes were identified and more than 100 new clam gardens were identified. The crews recorded the GPS locations of the traps and clam gardens, took photographs and, for the fish traps, collected numerous samples of fish trap stakes for study and radiocarbon dating.
The crews would travel to various sites in the Discovery Islands, usually inlets with mudflats at the mouths of rivers. There they sought out and uncovered the remaining stakes driven into the silt that formed the framework of fish traps used by local First Nations group to harvest salmon and the like. These sites would have hundreds of stakes, many of which were hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years old. When they are pulled out of the mud, they look as fresh as if they were hacked at by a stone axe just months before. Sheared or worn off at the surface, the silt would preserve the remaining base of the post. These posts were as thin as a finger or as thick as a man's leg.
The posts were arranged in such a way that the tide would rise and the fish would swim into the traps which were basically like a corral or fence open at some point to the shore. The tide would go out and the fish swimming merrily inside the enclosure would not get out in time and be stranded inside at low tide. A simple but ingenious harvesting technique.
The surveyers would slosh around these mud flats looking for stakes and then take a GPS reading on every one in order to map it. Some of the flats were strewn with these things. Some were being uncovered by the channel of the river while others had to be dug out. Stakes were sent to Florida for radiocarbon dating and they prove hundreds of years of continuous use. That, of course, is the purpose behind all this; to prove continuous occupation of the areas for land claims. Cullon said that the government's position on land claims is that only land above the high tide mark can be claimed but First Nations lay claim to tidal areas as well because they were used for millennia. The fish traps and the clam gardens prove that -as if it really needs to be proven. It's only the most obvious thing in the world that people living off the "land" around here would harvest clams and other shellfish.
The clam gardens are interesting as well. These are areas of clam beaches where the people would clear the beach rocks away and stack them into a low wall that followed the line of the beach on the water side, often for hundreds of meters. The result was a terrace of beach sand that increased the productivity of the beach in terms of clam production upwards of 400 per cent.
We also got to see in the presentation a little bit of professional competitiveness as well as Simonsen said he was one of the naysayers about clam gardens. He used to feel that the gardens were, if anything, remnants of fish traps. But he now concedes that they were indeed clam gardens.
The oldest stakes the HTS crews dug up and had dated were 1750 years old. Amazing.
It was a fascinating presentation that kept my 14-year-old son rapt with attention. The museum put this event on as part of their ongoing series of lectures. If this is the standard of these events, you'd be well served to check them out.
Archaeologists announce find at supposed QAR site
PATRICIA SMITH FREEDOM ENC
BEAUFORT — Ten years ago a private research firm recovered a brass bell from a shipwreck site in Beaufort Inlet believed to be the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
The bell inscription, IHS Maria, gave few clues to the ship’s identity.
State archaeologists announced Friday they found another bell on the shipwreck site that they are hoping will be the “smoking blunderbuss” that positively links the ship and Blackbeard.
“I have all suspicion that the one that’s just recently been discovered is indeed the ship’s bell, but who knows,” said David Moore, nautical archaeologist with the N.C. Maritime Museum.
The new bell is about 8 1/2 inches tall, roughly half the height of the one found in 1996, said Sarah Watkins-Kenney, QAR Project conservator.
Rings of the bell are visible through the concretion and the concretion it is in has been x-rayed, said QAR Assistant Conservator Wendy Welsh.
“We did not see any identifying marks, but that does not mean its not there,” Welsh said.
It will take some cleaning before archaeologists can determine for sure, if the bell features any markings such as a ship’s name or a date.
Archaeologists will be looking for “La Concorde,” which was the French slave ship Blackbeard captured in November 1717 and renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge, or the name of some other ship the pirate took, Moore said.
They will also be looking for any type of hanging mechanism still attached to the top to show if the bell had deteriorated in place or if it was more likely a prize taken from another ship, said QAR Project Director Mark Wilde-Ramsing.
Normally, ships of this period had two bells, a large one on the bow and a second one in the stern, the area of the shipwreck where this latest bell was found, Wilde-Ramsing said.
Made of brass or bronze, conservators will be able to clean the bell much more quickly than the iron cannons that can take years to ready for display, Welsh said.
She expects they will be able to discern some of the bell’s features by early 2007.
Other items state archaeologists announced that they found during a fall diving expedition included a small gun, the likeness of Queen Anne on the side of a coin weight, and thousands of little lead shot, evidence that the wreckage is indeed a pirate ship.
“This was a heavily armed, very provisioned vessel,” Moore said.
The question that was asked 10 years ago — is this really the Queen Anne’s Revenge — is yet to be answered, though circumstantial evidence that it is continues to mount, said State Archaeologist Steve Claggett.
Even if it should turn out that it is not, it is still an important piece of North Carolina’s colonial history, Claggett said.
“In this shipwreck we have a time capsule,” he said.