Public release date: 2-Nov-2006
Contact: Neil Schoenherr
Washington University in St. Louis
More human-Neandertal mixing evidence uncovered
A reexamination of ancient human bones from Romania reveals more evidence that humans and Neandertals interbred.
Erik Trinkaus, Ph.D., Washington University Mary Tileston Hemenway Professor in Arts & Sciences, and colleagues radiocarbon-dated and analyzed the shapes of human bones from Romania's Pe¨tera Muierii (Cave of the Old Woman). The fossils, discovered in 1952, add to the small number of early modern human remains from Europe known to be more than 28,000 years old.
Results were published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
The team found that the fossils were 30,000 years old and principally have the diagnostic skeletal features of modern humans. They also found that the remains had other features known, among potential ancestors, primarily among the preceding Neandertals, providing more evidence there was mixing of humans and Neandertals as modern humans dispersed across Europe about 35,000 years ago. Their analysis of one skeleton's shoulder blade also shows that these humans did not have the full set of anatomical adaptations for throwing projectiles, like spears, during hunting.
The team says that the mixture of human and Neandertal features indicates that there was a complicated reproductive scenario as humans and Neandertals mixed, and that the hypothesis that the Neandertals were simply replaced should be abandoned.
Article #08443: "Early Modern Humans from the Pe²tera Muierii, Baia de Fier, Romania" by Andrei Soficaru, Adrian Dobo¨, and Erik Trinkaus.
Published online: 30 October 2006
Did Neanderthals and modern humans get it together?
Hybrid fossils in Romania add to story of ancient human pairings.
This skull, from a Romanian cave, shows signs of both Neanderthal and modern man.
The idea that Neanderthals and early humans living in Europe may have interbred has been strengthened by a re-analysis of bones unearthed in a Romanian cave more than 50 years ago.
The bones show a mixture of modern human and Neanderthal features, leading researchers to suggest that the two groups could have intermixed and produced offspring.
The fossils include parts of a skull and jaw, and a shoulder blade. Although they mainly resembled modern humans, with a narrow nose and small brow bones, for example, the remains also showed other features normally associated with Neanderthals - a pronounced bump on the back of the skull, and a distinctive lower jaw bone.
"Modern humans met, intermixed with, and interbred with Neanderthals across Europe," says Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in St Loius, Missouri, whose team reports the findings this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1. "The evidence from the fossils is one more piece in this puzzle."
Previous hybrids (or possible hybrids) have similarly been found by Trinkaus in Portugal and the Czech Republic2,3. The more such samples that are discovered, he notes, the more solid the idea that the species intermixed.
Recent finds have hammered home the fact that Neanderthals and modern man lived in many pockets of shared habitat for thousands of years. Before 50,000 years ago, Neanderthals were alone on the European continent. But 20,000 years later, most European inhabitants were modern humans. The interim is an "absolute mess", says Clive Finlayson of the Gibraltar Museum, who studies this time in history (see 'Neanderthal's last stand').
There remains debate about whether the two warred, lived peacefully side-by-side, or even mated. It is also not clear whether their offspring would have been fertile, or sterile like a mule. Trinkaus, however, is convinced that the two were producing fully functioning offspring.
One thorn in this theory's side is the burgeoning amount of evidence from Neanderthal DNA. The sequences analysed so far suggest that no genetic mixing between Neanderthal and modern-human populations went on - lending weight to the idea that Neanderthals were replaced by modern humans as they swept through Europe, giving them no opportunity to swap genes.
Another unsolved puzzle is that virtually no European fossils older than 30,000 years resemble pure modern humans. "If we've got Neanderthals and modern people and they're hybridizing, why is it that all we find are Neanderthals and hybrids?" asks Finlayson. "Where are the other guys?"
Trinkaus and his colleagues characterized the bones, which were discovered in the Pestera Muierii cave of southern Romania, and radiocarbon dated them to pinpoint their age. They found them to be 30,000 years old. This slots in nicely with the theory that hybrids were formed while both Neanderthals and modern man shared European territory.
"The most important part is that it shows that when these people met, they saw each other as physically and socially appropriate mates," says Trinkaus. "And they got it together."
1. Trinkaus E., et al. PNAS, doi:10.1073/pnas.0608443103 (2006).
2. Duarte C., et al. PNAS, 96 . 7604 - 7609 (1999).
3. Wild, M. E., et al. Nature, 435 . 332 - 335 (2005) doi: 10.1038/nature03585.
Cave fossils are early Europeans
Archaeologists have identified fossils belonging to some of the earliest modern humans to settle in Europe.
The research team has dated six bones found in the Pestera Muierii cave, Romania, to 30,000 years ago.
The finds also raise questions about the possible place of Neanderthals in modern human ancestry.
Details of the discoveries appear in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
We've known for some time that the earliest modern humans in Europe are a funny-looking bunch
Professor Clive Gamble
The human bones were first identified at the Pestera Muierii (Cave of the Old Woman) cave in 1952, but have now been reassessed.
Only a handful of modern human remains older than 28,000 years old are known from Europe.
Erik Trinkaus from Washington University in St Louis and colleagues obtained radiocarbon dates directly from the fossils and analysed their anatomical form.
The results showed that the fossils were 30,000 years old and had the diagnostic features of modern humans (Homo sapiens).
But Professor Trinkaus and his colleagues argue, controversially, that the bones also display features that were characteristic of our evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis).
Neanderthals appear in the European fossil record about 400,000 years ago. At their peak, these squat, physically powerful hunters dominated a wide range, spanning Britain and Iberia in the west to Israel in the south and Uzbekistan in the east.
Modern humans are thought to have entered Europe about 40,000 years ago, and within 10,000 years, the Neanderthals had largely disappeared from the continent.
By 24,000 years ago, the last survivors vanished from their refuge in the Iberian Peninsula.
While many researchers think Neanderthals were simply driven to extinction - either by climate change or competition with the moderns - a handful of scientists believe they interbred with the incomers and contributed to the modern human gene pool.
TV reconstruction of a Neanderthal man Image: BBC
The Neanderthals occupied Europe for hundreds of thousands of years
Professor Trinkaus and his co-researchers point to several anatomical features of the Romanian bones that are either primitive-looking or characteristic of Neanderthals.
These include a large "occipital bun", a bump or bulge at the back of the skull, as well as other features of the lower jaw and shoulder blade.
"These data reinforce the mosaic nature of these early modern Europeans and the complex dynamics of human reproductive patterns when modern humans dispersed westward across Europe," Professor Trinkaus and his colleagues wrote in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Strict population replacement of the Neanderthals is no longer tenable."
Dr Katerina Harvati, a palaeoanthropologist from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said the finds would further the understanding of early moderns in Europe.
She added that some traits in the fossils were either "archaic", which means they were characteristic of the ancestors both of modern humans and Neanderthals, or that their evolution, presence and absence in modern humans was poorly understood.
"Both the author's description and the few photographs provided in the article show a multitude of derived modern human traits and an overwhelmingly modern morphology of the described remains," she explained.
Professor Clive Gamble, from Royal Holloway in London, UK, said the discoveries would yield valuable information about early modern humans in Europe; but he was cautious about the evidence for interbreeding with Neanderthals.
"We've known for some time that the earliest modern humans in Europe are a funny-looking bunch. They are a distinctive looking lot - very heavily built, particularly in the skulls," he told the BBC.
"The question is whether these robust features show that they were up to no good with Neanderthal women behind boulders on the tundra, or whether they were just a very rugged population.
"I think, really, the only way to tell would be to look at their ancient DNA. When DNA was extracted from the classic Neanderthal skeleton, the last ancestor between modern humans and Neanderthals turned out to have lived 600,000 years ago."
Similar claims have also surrounded early human skulls from Mladec in the Czech Republic and the skeleton of a male child unearthed in 1998 at the Abrigo do Lagar Velho rockshelter in Portugal.
The Lagar Velho boy, who died about 25,000 years ago, has been described as a "hybrid", with a mixture of modern and Neanderthal features.
Modern Humans, Neanderthals May Have Interbred
By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter Mon Oct 30, 5:03 PM ET
MONDAY, Oct. 30 (HealthDay News) -- There may be a little Neanderthal in all of us.
Click to learn more...
That's the conclusion of anthropologists who have re-examined 30,000-year-old fossilized bones from a Romanian cave -- bones that languished in a drawer since the 1950s.
According to the researchers, these early Homo sapien bones show anatomical features that could only have arisen if the adult female in question had Neanderthal ancestors as part of her lineage.
The findings may answer nagging questions: Did modern humans and Neanderthals interbreed on a significant scale? And were the Neanderthals exterminated about 28,000 years ago -- as some anthropologists contend -- or did they gradually assimilate into the gene pool of people living today?
"From my perspective, the replacement vs. continuity debate that raged through the 1990s is now dead," said the study's American co-author, Erik Trinkaus, a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis.
Trinkaus comes down firmly on the side of the assimilation theory.
"To me, what happened is that the Neanderthals were [genetically] absorbed into and overwhelmed by modern humans coming into Europe from Africa, and they disappeared through this absorption," Trinkaus said.
His team published its findings in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.
Neanderthals first appeared in Europe and parts of western Asia about 230,000 years ago, evolving from the Homo erectus strain that moved into Europe from Africa about one million years ago. Neanderthals dominated Europe until the arrival of modern Homo sapiens from Africa about 40,000 years ago. Then they began to fade out. The last fossil traces of the Neanderthals were found in Spain and are about 28,000 years old.
For much of the 20th century, anthropologists (abetted by the popular media) cast this battle between the two groups as the elimination of "brutish" Neanderthals by the more highly evolved modern humans.
But Jeffrey Laitman, a specialist in early human craniofacial anatomy at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, said today's scientists don't give that scenario much credence.
"There's not this shining moment where the Neanderthals all disappeared because we ran out of the forest and clubbed them to death," said Laitman, who was not involved in the new study.
Still, debate has raged as to whether the Neanderthals were a separate species who simply lost their competitive edge with modern humans and died off, or whether they gradually mixed their genetic heritage with those of the invaders.
According to Trinkaus, a collection of bones discovered in the Pestera Muierii cave in Romania in 1952 holds the answer.
The bones, most derived from an adult female, consist of a cranium, a shoulder blade, a leg bone and other fragments. Because they were found lying on the cave floor's surface, the fossils were originally dismissed as being modern and remained unexamined for five decades.
But then Trinkaus' Romanian co-authors decided to radiocarbon-date the fossils. They found that the woman actually died about 30,000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic era, when Neanderthals and modern humans were thought to co-exist.
Examining the bones, Trinkaus discovered certain features that he believes are Neanderthal elements incorporated into this early Homo sapien.
Features at the back of the woman's skull and in her lower jaw, especially, "are found in high frequency in Neanderthals" but are absent in bones from older groups of Homo sapiens from Africa, he said.
There's also the intriguing find that the woman had a relatively narrow shoulder blade, or scapula. Modern humans have relatively wide scapula -- useful for throwing spears and other developed technologies. But the woman's scapula is narrower and "more similar to what we see in Neanderthals," who are not thought to have used these more advanced technologies at the time, Trinkaus said.
The bottom line? The Pestera Muierii bones are "basically modern human fossils with these characteristics that are very easy to derive from Neanderthals through some kind of interbreeding, but are very difficult to derive -- if not impossible -- from what we know of the anatomies of early modern humans out of Africa," Trinkaus said.
He pointed out that genetic sublimation of one group into another happens all the time, even across mammals considered to be from wholly different species. For example, the North American black duck is being gradually subsumed and eliminated by interbreeding with the European mallard, Trinkaus said. As a result, the genetic code of mallards in Europe now contains significant DNA from the disappearing black duck. Similar blendings are also occurring between wolves and coyotes, and between domestic cats and wildcats, he said.
A process very much like this probably occurred over time between Neanderthals and modern humans, Trinkaus concluded.
But not everyone is convinced. Laitman, director of Mount Sinai's department of anatomy, called the study "extremely interesting," but added that it "does not provide the magic bullet that pierces the mystery of what happened to the Neanderthals."
He said that people on the other side of the argument -- who contend that the Neanderthals maintained their unique genetic code up until the end -- still point to certain "derived traits" in the fossil record. "Indeed," he said, "some of the very last surviving Neanderthals have some of the most pronounced of these traits," countering the notion of a more gradual blending with modern humans.
Scientists at Pennsylvania State University and elsewhere are also working on reconstructing the Neanderthals' genetic code, using bits of DNA extracted from fossilized bone. Preliminary results of that work appear to refute the intermixing theory, tilting toward replacement instead.
But Trinkaus called the replacement theory "out of date." He believes there's now solid evidence that Neanderthals and humans met and co-mingled both socially and sexually.
They may not even have been all that different.
"When these two populations met, they saw each other as human beings," Trinkaus said. "They blended socially as well as biologically. To me, that tells us a lot about Neanderthals. And if we think that Neanderthals were a lot more primitive than modern humans, then maybe modern humans were a lot more primitive, too."
Egyptian papyri arrive on campus
By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations | 01 November 2006
BERKELEY – Ancient papyri from an Egyptian excavation conducted for the University of California, Berkeley, more than a century ago have arrived on campus after a circuitous journey worthy of a mystery novel, campus officials announced at a news conference today (Wednesday, Nov. 1).
Following their discovery in Egypt, the papyri were sent to a German conservator, hidden in Berlin during World War II, concealed from East Germans intent on seizing them, smuggled to West Berlin and stashed in a shop, and stored in Switzerland. One roll was shipped to Boston in the 1930s, but the others remained hidden until the 1960s, when they, too, were shipped to Boston. They remained there until just a few weeks ago.
Four large rolls of the papyri found resting atop an Egyptian coffin during archaeologist George A. Reisner's 1901-1904 dig at Naga ed-Deir near the Upper Nile Valley arrived recently at UC Berkeley's Center for the Tebtunis Papyri in The Bancroft Library.
Scholars are marveling about the items - some more than 4,000 years old and about 1,000 years older than anything else at the center. The papyri are among the most significant administrative documents of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, containing a wealth of information about religion and the "nuts and bolts of how ancient Egypt worked" in the era that began around 1900 B.C., said Cathleen Keller, a UC Berkeley associate professor of Egyptology.
"The Reisner papyri are interesting because they contain documentary records of wages, contracts, projects," said center director Donald Mastronarde, the Melpomene Professor of Classics at UC Berkeley who has meticulously researched the saga of the Reisner papyri. "There's not much like that available from that time - these papyri are much more important than first thought."
Reisner expedition in Egypt
During an expedition to Giza, Egypt, archarologist George Reisner (left, on horse) posed for a photo with benefactress Phoebe A. Hearst (center, in feathered hat) and other members of the party. (Photo courtesy of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology)
UC Berkeley is one of only a handful of universities in the United States with papyrus collections.
Reisner collected the papyri and other materials in Egypt under the auspices of the University of California Expedition, which was supported by philanthropist Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Together with Hearst, he amassed between 1899 and 1905 a collection of more than 17,000 catalogued Egyptian objects that ranks among the largest in North America.
Papyrus, made from stems of a plant found in Nile marshes, once served as the world's premiere writing material. The Tebtunis Center includes more than 30,000 pieces of papyri that contain portions of Greek literature such as Homer's "Iliad" and a lost play by Sophocles, as well as Egyptian census records, medical prescriptions for relieving hippopotamus or pig bites, and the records of a prophetess of a crocodile god.
The Reisner documents, some from a royal dockyard workshop that detail the organization of manpower in ancient Egypt, are still intriguing today as engineers puzzle over construction of the pyramids. The materials Reisner collected at Naga ed-Deir also contain short "letters to the dead," in which troubled Egyptians appeal to deceased relatives to plead on their behalf with higher-ranking deceased, said Keller. The letters help open "a very fascinating window into how everyday religion worked," she said.
George A. Reisner. (Photo courtesy of the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology)
Over the course of his long career, Reisner amassed huge collections and spent most of his time in the field, unable to complete his study of and publication about his excavations, Keller said. Some of his disorganized documentation, she said, contributed to the long time it has taken to get the Reisner papyri to UC Berkeley, even though efforts to get Reisner's finds to campus began almost immediately upon word of their discovery.
About that time, Mastronarde said, Reisner mentioned the rolls in a letter to Hearst, and again in 1903 in a preliminary report on the dig.
A year later, Hearst's funding for the UC Berkeley Egyptian excavations ended, and Reisner picked up similar work in Egypt with a consortium that included Harvard University and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.
In 1924, a UC Berkeley faculty committee complained to administrators that the Reisner materials were missing, Mastronarde said. Meanwhile, he said, Reisner approached noted German conservator Hugo Ibscher in the '20s to see if he could help preserve the ancient texts. Ibscher dispatched the first conserved roll to Reisner at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1938.
The director of the Museum of Fine Arts indicated that he would be visiting California in 1940 and would take up the Reisner papyri issue with UC Berkeley officials, Mastronarde said, but there is no record of that happening.
In 1961, the late Klaus Baer of UC Berkeley's Near Eastern Studies Department began asking about the papyri and received misleading information from Boston about their whereabouts, Mastronarde said, adding that other requests for information were either ignored or refused.
Reisner died in 1942, but another scholar, William Kelly Simpson of Yale University, took up researching the papyri and had the remaining rolls shipped from Switzerland to Boston. Publications on the ancient texts came out between 1963 and 1986.
When the Center for Tebtunis Papyri was established in 2001, its scholars turned back to the Reisner papyri and submitted their first inquiries to the Museum of Fine Arts in 2003. Then, when Mastronarde was a visiting professor at Harvard last spring, he went to the museum and copied records proving the UC Berkeley/Reisner papyri and related artifacts were there.
With help from Lawrence Berman, Boston museum's Norma Jean Calderwood Senior Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern Art, negotiations for the materials to be sent to UC Berkeley were expedited, Mastronarde said. With UC Berkeley's center compensating Boston for conservation work and shipment of the papyri from Europe, the Museum of Fine Arts agreed to return all the known Hearst Expedition papyri it had to UC Berkeley.
"The MFA is delighted to have been able to resolve this matter so amicably after 70 years and to return the papyri to their rightful home, where they will be studied and used in a special institute for papyri," said Berman.
"Among American collections, the Egyptian manuscripts are unsurpassed in quality, quantity, and chronological range," said Todd Hickey, curator of the Tebtunis Center. "With the recovery that we are marking today, and with return of 2,000 Tebtunis papyri from Oxford last October, faculty and students at UC Berkeley and beyond are much closer to enjoying the full measure of Mrs. Hearst's remarkable generosity."
More information about the center is at: http://tebtunis.berkeley.edu/.
Sex and booze figured in Egyptian rites
Archaeologists find evidence for ancient version of ‘Girls Gone Wild’
A drawing based on an ancient Egyptian wall painting shows a drinking festival in progress. The upper row of figures features revelers drinking wine, including one woman who has overindulged. The lower row shows a procession with musicians.
BALTIMORE - Today, it sounds like a spring-break splurge on the order of "Girls Gone Wild": Drink huge quantities of beer, get wasted, indulge in gratuitous sex and pass out — then wake up the next morning with the music blaring and your friends praying that everything will turn out all right.
But back in 1470 B.C., this was the agenda for one of ancient Egypt's most raucous rituals, the "festival of drunkenness," which celebrated nothing less than the salvation of humanity. Archaeologists say they have found evidence amid the ruins of a temple in Luxor that the annual rite featured sex, drugs and the ancient equivalent of rock 'n' roll.
Johns Hopkins University's Betsy Bryan, who has been leading an excavation effort at the Temple of Mut since 2001, laid out her team's findings on the drinking festival here on Saturday during the annual New Horizons in Science briefing, presented by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.
"We are talking about a festival in which people come together in a community to get drunk," she said. "Not high, not socially fun, but drunk — knee-walking, absolutely passed-out drunk."
The temple excavations turned up what appears to have been a "porch of drunkenness," associated with Hatshepsut, the wife and half-sister of Thutmose II. After the death of Thutmose II in 1479 B.C., Hatshepsut ruled New Kingdom Egypt for about 20 years as a female pharaoh, and the porch was erected at the height of her reign.
Some of the inscriptions that were uncovered at the temple link the drunkenness festival with "traveling through the marshes," which Bryan said was an ancient Egyptian euphemism for having sex. The sexual connection is reinforced by graffiti depicting men and women in positions that might draw some tut-tutting today.
The rules for the ritual even called for a select few to stay sober — serving as "designated drivers" for the drunkards, she said. On the morning after, musicians walked around, beating their drums to wake up the revelers.
The point of all this wasn't simply to have a good time, Bryan said. Instead, the festival — which was held during the first month of the year, just after the first flooding of the Nile — re-enacted the myth of Sekhmet, a lion-headed war goddess.
According to the myth, the bloodthirsty Sekhmet nearly destroyed all humans, but the sun god Re tricked her into drinking mass quantities of ochre-colored beer, thinking it was blood. Once Sekhmet passed out, she was transformed into a kinder, gentler goddess named Hathor, and humanity was saved.
Bryan said the festival re-enactment came to its climax when the drummers woke up the celebrants. "The ultimate intention of inebriation is to see and experience the deity," she said.
That's when the Egyptians would ask the goddess to preserve the community from harm. "It was a communal request, not an individual request," Bryan said.
The discoveries at the Temple of Mut parallel historical references to drunken rituals during Egypt's Greco-Roman period. The writer Herodotus reported in 440 B.C. that such festivals drew as many as 700,000 people — with drunken women exposing themselves to onlookers. "More grape wine is consumed at this festival than in all the rest of the year besides," Herodotus wrote. The festival also turns up in chronicles from around A.D. 200.
The new twist in Bryan's work is that such rituals were found to have taken place during a much earlier time in Egyptian history, said Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol. "She's actually found the first definite evidence," he told MSNBC.com.
Dodson agreed with Bryan that getting drunk was definitely part of the ritual. "Clearly the Egyptians enjoyed a drink or three," he said. What's more, the parallels to the Sekhmet myth provide a "good theological basis" for what otherwise might be considered bad behavior.
However, he's not so sure that the sex was a religious obligation. "It's more likely to be a natural result of the vast imbibing of the beer, rather than an integral part of the ritual itself," Dodson said.
Beer, made from fermented barley bread, was the drink of choice for the festival of drunkenness as celebrated at the Temple of Mut, Bryan said. Another ritual, celebrated several months later in the year and known as the "festival of the beautiful valley," called for the celebrants to get drunk on wine, laced with lotus flowers to promote sleepiness. The lotus could also induce vomiting — which is depicted in some Egyptian wall paintings, Bryan noted.
Bryan conceded that she didn't have solid answers for many of the questions surrounding the rituals. For example:
· Did the revelers use birth control? (The Egyptians were said to favor natural pastes and suppositories, or perhaps stone amulets that served as intrauterine devices.)
· How long did Hatshepsut's porch of drunkenness last, and why was it taken down? (Egyptologists say Hatshepsut's successor to the throne, Thutmose III, obliterated all references to the female king — and her name was a mystery until the damaged ruins were reconstructed.)
Bryan suspects that the festival of drunkenness fell out of favor soon after Hatshepsut left from the scene. By the time of Amenhotep III, less than a century later, references to the rite had faded away. "One can't help but wonder whether individual piety won out over this kind of communal drunk," she said.
But Dodson said the Egyptian rite must have survived in some form long after Hatshepsut. Otherwise, how could it resurface during the Greco-Roman period? "If something dies out, I'm always a bit nervous about the idea of it being resurrected in full form centuries later," he said.
In either case, the debate over sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll in ancient times has added a little spice to the sometimes-staid field of Egyptology. "It certainly seems to have gotten people interested," Bryan acknowledged.
© 2006 MSNBC Interactive
Traces of Bronze Age settlement unearthed in Rabat
Fiona Galea Debono
An example of a whole pot found purposely broken within the rectangular Roman pit.
Archaeological investigations have unearthed traces of a Bronze Age settlement and Roman remains at the historic Santa Margerita Cemetery, in Rabat, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage has disclosed.
Having completed the scientific investigation, the Superintendence is studying the best means to preserve the remains on site with the Health Department, the Acting Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, Nathaniel Cutajar, said.
The investigation followed the discovery of remains during construction works to extend the burial ground by the Health Department.
The traces of a Bronze Age settlement within the cemetery enclosure are "possibly the single most important discovery", Mr Cutajar said, explaining that it is the first scientifically attested finding of prehistoric remains in Rabat. The find pushes the foundation of the town back to the 10th century BC at the latest.
The construction works at the cemetery last year had made no provision for archaeological monitoring, so the report on the site's discovery reached the Superintendence with some delay, Mr Cutajar said.
A member of the public had reported that large masonry blocks, which appeared to be of an archaeological nature, possibly Roman in date, were being uncovered at the site.
An inspection by officers of the Superintendence established that the report was correct since the foundations of a Roman structure could clearly be made out at the indicated location, Mr Cutajar said.
"In many ways, the discovery was not surprising, the site of the cemetery extension lying midway between the Roman Domus and the area of Doni Street, has yielded important archaeological discoveries over the past 100 years," he said.
The Superintendence had to invoke the Cultural Heritage Act to stop the works in order to assess the situation and to record the emerging archaeological situation within the new cemetery grounds extension. Negotiations with the developer took almost a year to complete and archaeological excavations were initiated this summer, Mr Cutajar explained. The excavations were carried out under the direction of the Superintendence and funded by the Health Department.
The scientific investigations conducted have indicated various traces of a Bronze Age settlement within the cemetery enclosure - an important find that takes on even greater significance if put within the context of other Bronze Age discoveries at Mtarfa and Mdina.
The cluster of findings indicates that between the middle and late Bronze Age, a substantial prehistoric settlement had developed in and around Mdina, Mr Cutajar explained.
"Until recently, the origin of Mdina as the main town of Malta was attributed to the Phoenicians, who were credited with the foundation of the township of Melita in the late 8th century BC at the earliest. The site of the Phoenician colony was, of course, that of modern-day Mdina.
"The 2005 excavations carried out by the Superintendence in Mdina, and those carried out this summer at Santa Margerita in Rabat have demonstrated, without a doubt, that a considerable settlement existed in the area at least 400 years prior to the arrival of the Phoenicians in Malta."
Excavations have also uncovered extensive Roman remains, datable to the mid-Imperial era (around the 2nd to the 3rd century AD). "The large blocks, which had originally attracted the attention of the public to the site, seem to belong to the remains of this historical period," Mr Cutajar said.
A wall of massive, rectangular, limestone blocks, which survives to a height of almost two metres, has been uncovered, while traces of less massive structures have also been detected at the site. The purpose of the massive wall was not immediately clear and required further study, Mr Cutajar said. However, it was clear that what the recent excavations uncovered was part of a larger structure - possibly of an enclosure wall for a high status building that stood further uphill from the current excavations.
A rectangular pit, cut into the bedrock and containing numerous remains of apparently whole pots, purposely broken and dumped into it, has also been discovered, Mr Cutajar reported.
An amphora, probably originating from Lazio, was found broken, but otherwise complete, within the pit. It has helped date the feature to around the 2nd century AD, he said.
The purpose of the pit is not yet known, however, a ritualistic function could not be excluded, Mr Cutajar added.
Viking treasure found on Gotland
Published: 30th October 2006 13:00 CET
Two young men on Gotland have found Viking treasure dating to the 10th century.
The treasure cache consists of silver coins, weighing a total of around 3 kilos. They were discovered by 20-year-old Edvin Svanborg and his 17-year-old brother Arvid, who were working in the grounds of their neighbour, artist Lars Jonsson.
"I just stumbled by chance across an Arab silver coin that was around 1,100 years old," Edvin Svanborg told news agency TT.
Svanborg says he is studying history, and recognized the coin as one that is commonly found on Gotland. He said he had seen pictures of similar coins in the past.
The brothers started looking for more coins, and quickly realised that they had found something very valuable. In quite a small space they found around 1,100 coins and a few bracelets. Most of the treasure was in good condition, although rabbits had left their mark on some of the coins.
This was the first time that the Svanborg brothers had found treasure, although Edvin said he hoped to find more in the future.
"I'm planning to study to become an archaeologist," he said.
The brothers are now likely to get a reward, after handing over the treasure to the authorities. It is so far unclear how much they will receive.
"But that's not the most important thing. The point is finding a treasure trove," Edvin said.
Majvor Östergren at Gotland county administrative board praised the brothers for handing in the treasure.
"They acted in an examplary fashion."
Gotland is an archaeologist's paradise, where there have been discoveries of a large number of Viking treasures. Farmer Björn Engström found the world's largest ever haul of Viking treasure on the north-eastern part of the island a few years ago.
The loot included coins, necklaces and other jewelry, which altogether contained 65 kilos of silver and 20 kilos of bronze. He was given 2.1 million kronor as a reward.
Archaeologists dig up major find
02 November 2006 | 10:07
ARCHAEOLOGISTS in Colchester have uncovered a major Roman find in the heart of the historic town.
The Head gate was one of the main Roman entrances to the ancient walled settlement and was situated where St John's Road, Crouch Street and Head Street now meet.
And on Saturday members of the Colchester Archaeological Trust (CAT) found the structure's central pier, proving that the gate had two arches and not one, as some people had speculated.
The Head gate was found at the south west of the ancient walled town, and fed a road that ran up what is now Head Street and then down what is now North Hill, at the bottom of which was another gate.
Across that road ran another east/west thoroughfare, which went from Balkerne Gate - part of which is still standing near the Mercury Theatre - down the High Street to a fourth gate.
Phillip Crummy, director of CAT, yesterday said the discovery of the Head gate's central pier was significant.
He said it was made while CAT was monitoring works on the road on behalf of BT and Lowery Ltd, who were fitting cables in the area.
Mr Crummy added the gate was probably built between 65 AD and 80 AD and was demolished in 1753.
“We dug a hole about three metres by two metres and found the central part of the gate,” he said.
“The part we have found is surprisingly well-preserved and was not very deep - we didn't think it would be so good. It stands to a height of about 400 millimetres and was not as deep as we might have expected.
“It was the chief gate in the medieval period, but what we see is Roman. It is a square block which would have been the central pier of a double-arched gate, which would have had a guardroom on top of it with a few windows.
“We were pretty sure we had found a small part of it in 1988, when a pavement was dug up, but this is now pretty definite.
“It is a very good find and we are very pleased. We would like to thanks BT and Lowery's for making it possible for us to do this.”
Medieval abbey found under popular market
Last updated at 16:28pm on 1st November 2006
Uncovered: The church walls are uncovered by archaeologists (top right) and how the abbey would have looked (bottom right). The remains of a monk (left) were also excavated
For centuries it has lain hidden beneath what is now London's largest antique market. Today, one of our greatest medieval secrets is revealed.
Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of the 900-year-old Bermondsey Abbey church, along with a trove of perfectly preserved treasures.
Their key finds include stone gargoyles - remnants of what was once one of the most important religious buildings in London - and the skeletons of some of the monks who toiled there. They have even found an example of medieval graffiti, a knight carved into the stonework.
An assortment of Roman, Saxon and Norman pottery has also been uncovered.
Locals have always known that the New Caledonian Antique Market was built on the site of the 11th century abbey.
But it was not until a major redevelopment that archaeologists were called in to ensure that the remains were safe.
The team found that the structure of the building was in good condition, with outer walls still intact up to 3ft high.
Supervising archaeologist Alistair Douglas said: "The Bermondsey site is the most significant medieval find uncovered in London for the past 20 years. The level of survival of some of the remains is astonishing, especially when you consider their central urban location.
"The site is huge. The only other church I know of that is bigger in the capital is Westminster Abbey.
"These findings are giving us an invaluable insight into the history of London.î
Although much of the abbey will be covered again as the square is rebuilt, the architects have decided to include an area of glass floor in a new restaurant.
Giles L Sequeira, spokesman for the developers' consultants Grace Lea, said: "It is rare to be involved in such a unique, fascinating historical project.
"The dig has been of tremendous interest to us and we have made every effort to ensure the Bermondsey Square development preserves all of the findings for future generations.î
The abbey, dedicated to St Saviour, was founded by a group of French monks in 1082 and took seven years to build.
It was demolished by Henry VIII and a manor erected directly on the foundations, protecting it from the plunder of stones.
War grave clues in mystery of skeletons buried at church
MICHAEL BLACKLEY (email@example.com)
ARCHAEOLOGISTS have been left baffled by how the remains of six bodies came to be buried in the grounds of a historic Leith building more than 400 years ago.
Eighteen months after the remains were unearthed in what is now the grounds of St Mary's Star of the Sea Church, in Constitution Street, the researchers have admitted to being puzzled by the mystery of how they came to be there.
At the time they were buried there, the spot was in the grounds of a local laird's mansion, and Leith was at the centre of a bloody conflict.
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There are, however, no signs of the bodies being those of the victims of a battle or having been executed.
The archaeologists have also been puzzled by the fact the bodies were laid out north to south - instead of the traditional Christian east to west - and why they were not buried in the cemetery at South Leith Parish Church, which was nearby.
It was first thought that they may have belonged to plague victims as other remains found in Leith have proven to be. But now the archaeologists believe the most plausible explanation is that they were soldiers who died in the 1559 to 1560 Siege of Leith.
They think the site where their skeletons were discovered may have been a small war grave directly behind what was then Leith's town defences.
It means the men would have fought in one of the bloodiest conflicts in Leith's history, when Scottish, French and English soldiers clashed, and were alive during the time of Mary Queen of Scots.
City archaeologist John Lawson said: "Some of the questions we've been asking are who were they and why were they buried like this, a stone's throw from South Leith Parish Church? One of the main possibilities is that it could be a war grave. When soldiers die they are often put in temporary graves.
"Leith was besieged quite a few times and one of the dates that really comes into focus is the Earl of Hertford's Siege of Leith.
"The dates coincide perfectly with the carbon dating we got on the graves. It is a real possibility, especially as they are all adult males. They could be soldiers, although we've been unable to establish how they died. There's no evidence that they were hung, so it's unlikely they were executed criminals. It's a mystery and probably one that will never really be fully understood. It is a very interesting proposition."
Jim Tweedie, chairman of the Leith Local History Society, said: "The guess is that they are soldiers that have been killed during the siege, and the shallow grave possibly suggests that was where they fell and they were just left there and forgotten about.
"It would be interesting to see if there are more skeletons like this nearby. Leith was the most important sea port in Scotland and we are always trying to find out more about its past.
"We've been screaming for years for Leith to get its own museum and something like this would be perfect to be stored in it, rather than in the back rooms of the Museum of Edinburgh."
The bodies were first found in April last year, during a dig ahead of construction work on the St Mary's Star of the Sea Church.
At the time archaeologists were trying to find evidence of the remains of Balmerino House, a mansion owned by Lord Balmerino and built in 1631.
They were shocked to find the human remains close to what would have been the front door of the stately home. The excavation has now been completed and a report is set to be published within the next year, although the final verdict will be inconclusive.
The remains are being preserved and are likely to be displayed in one of the city council's museum in the near future.
This article: http://heritage.scotsman.com/news.cfm?id=1610722006
Last updated: 01-Nov-06 09:20 GMT
Har, me hearties! Excavating Blackbeard's ship
By Diane Bartz
BEAUFORT, North Carolina (Reuters) - Nearly three centuries ago, the notorious pirate Blackbeard ran aground in his ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, off what is now a North Carolina beach town.
This month, a crew of 13 heads out to sea each day, hoping for clear-enough weather to dive the 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 metres) to the ocean bottom to excavate what they believe is Blackbeard's ship.
The team has found cannons, a bell, lead shot of all sizes, gold dust, pewter cups and medical devices, like a urethral syringe used to treat syphilis with mercury.
"A saying at the time was 'a night with Venus and a month with mercury.' And mercury doesn't even cure you," lead archeologist Chris Southerly said in an interview.
In past years, Southerly and his team did spot digs to map the debris field measuring 150 feet by 70 feet (45 metres by 20 metres).
This year, divers are excavating the southern one-third of the site. They use PVC and aluminium pipe to measure five-foot (1.5 metre) squares and meticulously record where objects are found.
But, working 1 1/4 mile (2 km) off North Carolina, there are problems that landlubber archaeologists don't encounter.
"Once we excavate down 2, 3, 4 feet (0.6 to 1.2 metres), because of the currents and sand, it falls back in," said Southerly.
This classic archaeology focuses on one of the most unusual men of an unusual era -- Blackbeard.
His real name, which may have been Edward Teach or Thatch, is the subject of speculation, as are his birthplace and birth date. He knew how to navigate, but there is only one sample of what could be his writing -- a ship's log entry.
"We don't know how tall (he was), but he seems to be taller than average for that period. One account calls him a 'spare' man. He certainly had charisma," says Lindley Butler, a retired history professor of Rockingham Community College, in Wentworth, North Carolina. Butler specialises in North Carolina history.
There were accounts that he tied slow-burning cannon fuses to his long black hair before going into battle.
18TH CENTURY PSYCHO OPS
"With the fuses in his hair and heavily armed, he's a frightening person," says Butler, who added that pirates preferred to take ships without a shot. "There were some psychopathic pirates out there, but Blackbeard was not one of them. We have no evidence that Blackbeard ever murdered anyone or ever tortured anyone.
Blackbeard at first fought with the British as a privateer, a kind of legal pirate, attacking Spanish and French ships in the War of the Spanish Succession in the early 18th century.
With the war's end, Blackbeard and thousands of other unemployed sailors turned to piracy. His troop captured a French slaver called La Concorde in a brief skirmish in November 1717, says Butler.
He renamed the ship the Queen Anne's Revenge, which was probably 90 to 105 feet (27 by 32 metres) long. The band also had three smaller sloops, with about 400 men under arms.
In May 1718, Blackbeard's pirates sailed into the port of Charleston, South Carolina and, in a stunningly audacious move, blockaded the harbour. The ransom demanded, and paid, was a chest of medicine worth 400 pounds, says Butler.
"In a way, I guess it did sort of terrorise that port. Blackbeard at that time had a fleet of four vessels, with 60 cannons. This was the most powerful fleet in this hemisphere at this time," says Butler.
Shortly after terrorising Charlestown, Blackbeard lost his lead ship, running the Queen Anne's Revenge aground on one of the many shifting sandbars off North Carolina, says Butler.
After the wreck the governor granted him a royal pardon, and Blackbeard went into at least semi-retirement in June 1718, spending chunks of time in Ocracoke, a barrier island off North Carolina.
But Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood was apparently unconvinced Blackbeard had actually given up pirating.
"Gov. Spotswood was having nightmares about this pirate sitting down here in North Carolina," says Butler.
He sent troops to find Blackbeard, and the two sides battled it out on November 21, 1718 on tiny Ocracoke.
Blackbeard was killed in ferocious fighting. Casualty figures vary but at least eight other pirates were killed, and eight British seamen. Blackbeard's head was cut off and stuck on a stake. His body was tossed overboard.
ONE YEAR TO BECOME AN ICON
Blackbeard was probably in his 30s when he was killed, and had been a pirate captain for just about a year. During that time, his force had taken a town hostage and captured 40 ships.
"It's astonishing that he's had such an iconic role in such short a time. It's like a comet almost," says Butler.
With so little known about Blackbeard from primary sources, perhaps the best chance to get to know Blackbeard is through the wreck of the ship believed to be the Queen Anne's Revenge.
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Scientists: Skull proves early autopsy
Posted 11/1/2006 9:14 AM ET
By David Sharp, The Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine — The earliest confirmed autopsy in North America was conducted more than 400 years ago by French colonists desperate to determine what was killing them as they endured a rugged winter on St. Croix Island, scientists concluded.
A team of forensic anthropologists from the United States and Canada confirmed that the skull of a man buried on the island over the winter of 1604-05 showed evidence of having undergone an autopsy, scientists said.
Nearly half of the 79 settlers led by explorers Pierre Dugua and Samuel Champlain died over that winter from malnutrition and the harsh weather.
The skull in question was discovered during excavations by the National Park Service in June 2003. The top of the skull had been removed to expose the brain; the skull cap was replaced before the body was buried, the scientists said.
"This is the same procedure that forensic pathologists use to conduct autopsies today," said Thomas Crist from Utica College in upstate New York, who led the team of forensic anthropologists analyzing the remains.
The conclusion, announced by the National Park Service, will be the subject of a program on the Discovery Health Channel series Skeleton Stories on Nov. 10.
The findings fit with the writings of Champlain, who described a dire situation in his memoirs published in 1613. He wrote that his barber-surgeon was ordered to "open several of the men to determine the cause of their illness."
Dugua, a nobleman known as Sieur de Mons, chose the small island in the St. Croix River that separates what's now Maine and New Brunswick. The settlers cleared a site, planted gardens and erected dwellings including a kitchen, storehouse, blacksmith shop and chapel.
But the winter was harsh, with the first snow falling in October, not long after Champlain returned from a historic voyage to Mount Desert Island. Thirty-five of the settlers died and were buried on the island.
Scientists using modern techniques have concluded that the French settlers died from scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C.
A ship arrived in June with supplies. Dugua then moved the settlement to Nova Scotia at a spot Champlain named Port Royal.
The St. Croix settlement turned out to be short-lived but it gave the French credit for beating the English to establish a permanent presence in the New World.
The graves were originally excavated in 1969 by a team from Temple University. Decades later, the remains were re-interred by the National Park Service after consultation with the French and Canadian governments.
The excavation project, in 2003, was led by Steven Pendery from the National Park Service's Northeast Region Archaeology Program.
It was during that process of reburial that the team members were at the site discussing Champlain's journal reference to autopsy, said Marcella Sorg, Maine state forensic anthropologist, who was part of the team.
Sorg said she looked down and noticed the skull with the autopsy cuts that apparently had been overlooked during previous excavations. "It was beautifully done, a very straight cut, and very accurate," she said.
There have been written references suggesting earlier autopsies as Jacques Cartier explored what's now Quebec in the 1500s, but there's no skeletal evidence, said Sorg, who works with the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center.
In addition to Sorg, Crist was assisted by his wife Molly Crist, also a professor at Utica College. The other team member was Robert Larocque, physical anthropologist from Universite Laval in Quebec.
St. Croix Island is protected by the National Park Service as part of Saint Croix Island International Historic Site.
Delegates from the United States, Canada and France gathered in 2004 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the settlement.
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