Aboriginal language had ice age origins

Judy Skatssoon

ABC Science Online

Wednesday, 13 December 2006


A researcher has suggested that the origin of Aboriginal language can be traced back to a time when Australia and New Guinea were one (Image: Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water)

Aboriginal languages may be much older than people think, argues a linguistic anthropologist who says they originated as far back as the end of the last ice age around 13,000 years ago.


This challenges existing thinking, which suggests Aboriginal languages developed from a proto-language that spread through Australia 5000 to 6000 years ago.


The key to the new hypothesis is prehistoric Australia's single land mass 13,000 to 28,000 years ago, when New Guinea and Tasmania were still attached, says Dr Mark Clendon in the journal Current Anthropology.


Clendon says the continent, known as Sahul, was relatively densely populated on the land bridge connecting northern Australia to New Guinea, now separated by the Arafura Sea.


The other populated area was along what is now Australia's eastern seaboard.


The two population groups were separated by a vast, cold, windswept, arid stretch of land that covered most of the continent, says Clendon, who was with the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education when he published the research.


The eastern group spoke a tongue that became what is known today as Pama Nyugen and includes languages like Pitjantjatjara, Yolngu and Warlpiri.


And the Arafuran group spoke another language used today in northern Australia today.


"What I'm suggesting is that Pama Nyugen and non-Pama Nyugen languages go back about 13,000 years to when there was a land bridge between New Guinea and Australia," he says.


Until now, the reason why these two Aboriginal language groups are so different, each with a distinct grammar and vocabulary, has been a mystery.


Around 11,000 years ago what was the Arafura plain was flooded by rising seas as the ice age ended.


This caused the northern people to migrate into either New Guinea or to northern parts of Australia.


Meanwhile, increased rainfall and warmer temperatures made inland parts of the continent more habitable and sparked a westward migration of eastern dwellers.


This introduced their language group to more central areas of Australia.


Both groups maintained their distinct languages, Clendon says.


His hypothesis provides an alternative picture to the traditional view that 6000 years ago a single proto-language spread from the Gulf of Carpentaria around Australia, eventually giving rise to existing Aboriginal languages.


"We know about changes in climate and sea levels at the end of the Pleistocene era," Clendon says.


"I'm suggesting the way languages are configured in Australia today are a result of those changes that happened at the end of the ice age."


Writing in a reply to Clendon's article, Professor Nicholas Evans, an expert in Aboriginal languages from the University of Melbourne, describes Clendon's hypothesis as "fresh and provocative".


However, he says there are flaws in the argument, including that there is only weak evidence of similarities between southern New Guinea and northern Aboriginal languages.


Evans says he remains to be convinced about Clendon's proposal.


"[But] it adds a welcome alternative to a field in which we are still a long way from having any clear picture of the unimaginably long human occupation of Sahul," he says.



Race against time to record coastal history

Experts rush to make records of valuable sites before they disappear forever into the advancing North Sea

Simon Bristow


IT is rugged, dramatic and ever-changing.

And now the Yorkshire coast is to be scrutinized like never before.

Archaeologists are poring over 12,000 aerial photographs, some dating back to the Second World War, to uncover and identify historic sites on the brink of being lost to the North Sea.

The project, funded by English Heritage, is examining 85 miles (137km) of vulnerable coastline stretching from Whitby to Donnna Nook in North East Lincolnshire.

The results will be fed into English Heritage's national Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey, which aims to provide the most detailed picture yet of the threat posed to the nation's heritage by rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and the managed realignment of the coastline.

Dave MacLeod, aerial archaeologist with English Heritage, said: "We have no more chance than King Canute of holding back the tide on this coastline, so we have to go for preservation by record rather than physical preservation of buildings or ancient earthworks."

His team will study photographs taken by RAF pilots in the early 1940s and compare them with more recent pictures.

Viewed together, they offer dramatic evidence of the rate of loss of land to the sea.

Peter Murphy, coastal strategy officer for English Heritage, said: "Rates of erosion along many parts of the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire coast are very high.

"It's also an area rich in archaeology, so it's a national priority to get the work done. It is tempting to think that we already know where all the historic sites are, but that's simply not the case."

Almost 30 towns and villages on the Holderness coast are known to have been lost to the sea since Medieval times.

And about a mile and a half of land has disappeared over the last 2,000 years.

The coastal gun battery at Kilnsea, which became operational in the First World War, is likely to be one of the next landmarks to go as the land around it crumbles into the sea.

Surveys already completed in North Kent and East Anglia yielded a nine-fold increase in recorded sites, including the unearthing of 4,000-year-old features in the tidal zone.

Archaeological investigator Marcus Jecock said: "The coast has always been a major resource for coastal communities. What we need is a base-line record of what's out there so we can take strategic decisions at a later stage about what we might do about them."

Aerial interpretation should be finished by April and will be followed by field surveys to flesh out new discoveries and unearth sites not visible from the air.

In the meantime, the images are being scanned onto a computer and will be used to create digital maps.

Mr Macleod said: "They represent the first step in the most detailed interpretation of the landscape from an historic perspective ever produced for this coastline."


13 December 2006




By 24 Hour Museum Staff    13/12/2006

an aerial photograph showing the outline of a boat on a beach 


Wreck of an unnamed wooden vessel off Cleethorpes. © MNR


Archaeologists working for English Heritage have begun examining 12,000 aerial photographs, some dating back to the Second World War, to identify historic sites on the brink of being lost to the North Sea.


The project is examining 137 kilometres (85 miles) of vulnerable coastline from Whitby to Donna Nook, in North East Lincolnshire, including Holderness, where erosion rates are as high as six metres per year.


"Rates of erosion along many parts of the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire coast are very high,” explained Peter Murphy, Coastal Strategy Officer with English Heritage. “It's also an area rich in archaeology, so it's a national priority to get the work done.”


Flamborough Head - erosion of the chalk cliffs. The dark green line running to the cliff is archaeology: probably a ditch of some sort. © MNR

            an aerial photograph showing a coastal cliff with fields at the top


Although little can be done to prevent cliffs crumbling, or lowland areas being inundated, quick action will mean that valuable archaeological information isn't lost forever.


Along the Holderness coast about thirty towns and villages are known to have been lost to the sea since medieval times. A strip of land at least two kilometres wide has vanished since the Roman period.


"We have no more chance than King Canute of holding back the tide on this coastline, so we have to go for preservation by record, rather than physical preservation of buildings or ancient earthworks,” explained Dave MacLeod, Aerial Archaeologist with English Heritage.

an aerial photograph showing shapes discernable on a beach during low tide           


Fishtrap off Cleethorpes, probably medieval. Some way offshore and only revealed during very low tides. © MNR


The area being investigated is known to contain Bronze Age burial mounds, Roman signal stations, medieval enclosures and military installations. But many more sites await discovery.


“It is tempting to think that we already know where all the historic sites are,” added Mr Murphy. “But that's simply not the case. Surveys completed in North Kent and East Anglia yielded a nine-fold increase in records, including 4,000 year old features in the tidal zone."


Results from the survey will be fed into English Heritage's national Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey and cover an area up to one kilometre inland.


Kilnsea coastal gun battery was a counter-bombardment installation, designed to repel enemy warships from shelling Hull. Photograph taken by the RAF in 1946.

            a black and white aerial photograph showing a gun battery with barracks surrounded by fields at the edge of a cliff


Some of the photographs being used include RAF pictures, taken in the early 1940s. They provide a rich source of information, particularly on naval gun batteries such as the Kilnsea coastal gun battery, near Spurn Point, Holderness, which is now sliding into the sea. Other images are more recent, offering clues on the rate of loss.


The best images are currently being scanned onto a computer, then by using a combination of specialist software, sharp eyes and archaeological knowledge digital maps will be created.


The aerial interpretation should be completed by April 2007, and will be followed by field surveys to flesh out new discoveries, and also to unearth sites not visible from the air.

a colour aerial photograph showing a clifftop with concrete emplacements which have fallen into the sea  


During WWII Kilnsea's 9.2 inch guns could fire a shell 17,500 yards. It is now crumbling into the sea. © NMR


By 2010, the survey aims to have produced the most detailed picture yet of the threat posed to the nation's heritage by rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and managed realignment of coasts.


The work is being carried out by a team from Humber Archaeology, on behalf of English Heritage. More detailed investigations could possibly follow, depending on the importance of discoveries.



A River’s Gifts

By Carol Kaufmann


Why did Romans, Celts, and even prehistoric settlers submerge their personal belongings, from swords to dishes, in a shallow river in Slovenia?


Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.


Archaeologist Andrej Gaspari is haunted by pieces of the past. His hometown river, the Ljubljanica, has yielded thousands of them—Celtic coins, Roman luxuries, medieval swords—all from a shallow 12-mile (19 kilometers) stretch. Those who lived near and traveled along the stream that winds through Slovenia's capital of Ljubljana considered it sacred, Gaspari believes. That would explain why generations of Celts, Romans, and earlier inhabitants offered treasures—far too many to be accidental—to the river during rites of passage, in mourning, or as thanksgiving for battles won.


But Gaspari may never be able to explain for certain why the Ljubljanica holds one of Europe's richest stores of river treasures, many of them remarkably preserved by the soft sediments and gentle waters. Too many pieces of the puzzle have already disappeared.


During the past two decades, sport divers have made the river their playground, removing most of some 10,000 to 13,000 objects found so far. Even though removing artifacts from the Ljubljanica has long been illegal, professional archaeologists have been forced to compete with private collectors. Some divers sold their loot to museums; others to the highest bidder. Some kept their treasures private. Many artifacts have left the country, untraceable. Gaspari's greatest torment comes from the knowledge that few maverick collectors know—or care—where exactly their prizes were found. For an archaeologist, an object's meaning comes as much from its context—location, association with other objects—as from the prize itself. Without context, there is no story.


Mladen Mück is one of Gaspari's tormentors. Now in his 40s, the Bosnian-born architect began diving in the river in 1985 and has brought up about a thousand pieces. In his kitchen in Ljubljana, a plastic box contains prehistoric tools. Upstairs, dusty cases hold other rare artifacts, including deer antler axes. Mück says he has no intention of selling what he has found. Like many collectors, he babies his goods and claims they are better off with him than with the authorities.


"More people see these artifacts in my house than if I gave them to a museum," he says with a dismissive wave. "There they would sit in a basement."


Gaspari disagrees. A team at the National Museum of Slovenia is preparing an exhibit of the river's treasures that will tour Europe in 2008, he says. Still, he hopes that someday Mück will hand over his items. "My heart is strong," quips the 33-year-old archaeologist. If Mück is obstinate, "I will outlive him."



Tehran: 16:54 ,   2006/12/15

French archaeologist says Ur royal tomb artifacts came from Burnt City

TEHRAN, Dec. 14 (MNA) -- French archaeologist Michèle Casanova said that the artifacts unearthed from the royal tombs in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur came from Iran’s 5200-year-old Burnt City, the Persian service of CHN reported on Friday.


 “Now, we are almost certain that the beautiful artifacts discovered in the city of Ur had been brought from the Burnt City, Jiroft, and Central Asia. This fact raises many questions, including why trade relations were established between the regions,” Casanova said.


Casanova, who is also an expert on ornamental stones and particularly lapis lazuli, and several other foreign archaeologists are working together with the Iranian team at the Burnt City, near the city of Zabol in Sistan-Baluchestan Province.


 “The most interesting point is that all the ornamental dishes made of soapstone have been discovered in temples and royal tombs,” noted Casanova, who is also a professor at the University of Rennes.


 “This fact indicates that ornamental dishes were very common, so the artifacts were buried with ordinary people. However, such dishes had been brought to Mesopotamia as a precious object for temples and royal families,” he explained.


Nine seasons of excavations have been carried out at the Burnt City.


An artificial eye is one of the most amazing artifacts discovered at the Burnt City during the current excavations led by Mansur Sajjadi.


The team also discovered an earthenware bowl at the Burnt City which bears images of what experts believe is the world’s oldest “animated” picture drawn around it.


Archaeologists had previously estimated the size of the city at 150 hectares, but the latest study shows that the city covers an area of 180 hectares.


It was built circa 3200 BC and destroyed some time around 2100 BC.


The city had four stages of civilization and was burnt down three times. Since it was not rebuilt after the last time it was burnt down, it has been named the Burnt City.



3,000-year-old dam revives farming in Turkish village

by Nicolas Cheviron Wed Dec 13, 3:08 AM ET


ALACAHOYUK, Turkey (AFP) - In this central Turkish village, peasants and archaeologists celebrate a unique achievement -- a 3,246-year-old dam, once buried under mud and slime, is back in service to irrigate farmlands.



The dam is a heritage of the Hittites, who ruled over vast areas of the Middle East from 2000 to 1000 BC, fought Pharaoh Rameses The Great, among others, and built some of the biggest cities of the time in the heart of Anatolia, the Asian part of modern Turkey.


The 2,500 inhabitants of Alacahoyuk know the Hittites well: since the early 20th century, archaeologists have been digging the remains of a royal city at the entrance of their village about 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Ankara.


The tombs of the settlement, its foundations still guarded by two imposing stone lions, have yielded some of the most precious Hittite treasures -- plates, jewelry, bronze and gold statuettes now on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara.


The dam, however, was unknown until 2002, when a team of Ankara University archaeologists began a new dig in marshlands about two kilometers (1.2 mile) away.


Assisted by the government and local authorities, the team removed 2.5 million cubic meters (88 million cubic feet) of mud from the site to recover the dam, and, after some restoration, put it back into operation.


Built by a barren hill surrounded by poplars, the reservoir has a capacity to hold up to 30,000 cubic meters (1.1 million cubic feet) of water from a subterranean stream.


It came complete with an antique purifying pool to make the water drinkable, as well as irrigation channels.


"It is the only dam in the world to have been repaired and put into use for its original purpose 3,240 years after its construction... It is truly unique," Aykut Cinaroglu, the head of the archaelogical team in charge of the dig, said proudly.


The dam, he explained, is the only one surviving from 10 dams built by the Hittite king Tudhaliyas IV, in 1240 B.C.


The king ordered the dams built after he was forced to import wheat from Egypt to save his people from famine after drought hit the Anatolian farmlands.


The dam wall of stone and natural clay was built in a way that experts say strikingly resembles modern-day construction techniques.


"The only difference is that today we use cement instead of clay, although clay is still used in the construction of some dams," archaeologist Duygu Celik said.


Alacahoyuk Mayor Huseyin Saykan was equally enthusiastic about the latest gift from the Hittites to his people: the ancient tribe's heritage has already secured a flow of thousands of tourists -- and revenues -- to the village every year.


"Up to now, this area was merely a swamp and the water was wasted... Our people could not irrigate their fields," he said. "But now they can, thanks to the Hittite dam that has returned to its original function."



Egypt’s Sunken Treasures reveals lost world

Depth-finders, sonar used to locate submerged artifacts

By JENNY BARCHFIELD The Associated Press


PARIS — The great port of Alexandria was a bustling trade hub, a transit point for merchandise from throughout the ancient world, at least until much of it vanished into the Mediterranean Sea.


Treasure hunters have long scoured the Egyptian coast for vestiges of the port, thought to have disappeared about 13 centuries ago. Now, an exhibit at Paris’ Grand Palais brings together 500 ancient artifacts recovered from the area by underwater archaeologists using sophisticated nuclear technology.


Egypt’s Sunken Treasures features colossuses of pink granite, a 17-tonne slab inscribed with hieroglyphics, a phalanx of crouching sphinx, pottery, amulets and gold coins and jewellery — all painstakingly fished out of the Mediterranean. Some of the oldest artifacts are estimated to have spent 2,000 years underwater.


The show, which runs through mid-March, spans more than 1,500 years of Egyptian history and traces the decline of the Pharaohs and occupations by Greeks, Romans and Byzantines.


"This is not your usual Ancient Egypt exhibit," said archaeologist Franck Goddio, who led the expedition for the European Institute of Submarine Archaeology. "The artifacts have been living together under the sea for millennia, not gathering dust on a museum shelf."


Goddio’s team began its search in 1996, using such technology as sonar, depth-finders and sounding equipment. They worked with France’s Atomic Energy Commission to develop a device that measures objects’ nuclear resonance to pinpoint the exact locations of the port and two other sites, the lost cities of Herakleion and Canopus.


Television screens projecting videos of the excavations dot the exhibit, in the newly restored Grand Palais, a turn-of-the-century building with a vast glass cupola.


While some of the recovered artifacts were slowly swallowed by the Mediterranean as sea levels rose, others sunk during natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tidal waves. Experts think some heavy objects may have slid into the sea when the clay soil gave way under their weight.


A protective layer of sediment settled over most of the pieces, preserving them from corrosive salt water. Other artifacts were not as fortunate. Riddled with pockmarks or rubbed smooth by the tides, these objects clearly bear the mark of their centuries under water.


Some of the oldest pieces, such as a sphinx dating from the 13th century B.C., were brought to Egypt’s coast from other regions of the country. Later objects clearly show the influence of the Greeks, who controlled much of Egypt starting in the fourth century B.C.


In an exquisite black-granite sculpture, the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis strikes a quintessentially Pharaonic pose, with one leg forward and arms pressed tightly at her sides. But the sensual drape of her gown, with its delicate folds, belies an unmistakably Greek touch.


The Stela of Ptolemy, a mammoth marble slab standing six metres high, bears inscriptions in both hieroglyphics and Greek.


Sculptures from the Greco-Roman period show the degree to which the European colonizers assimilated Egyptian culture, and vice versa. In a second century B.C. bust, the Egyptian god Serapis looks just like the Greek god Zeus, with a full beard and curly locks. With its wild expression and frizzy hair, a second century A.D. bust of an Egyptian water god is the exact image of a Roman Bacchus.


One of the most impressive objects in the show is the so-called Naos of the Decades, a hieroglyphics-covered prayer niche dating from around 380 B.C.


The roof of the niche was discovered in 1776 and taken to Paris, where it became part of the Louvre Museum’s permanent collection. In the 1940s, archaeologists working under Egyptian Prince Omar Toussoun discovered two more bits — the naos’ back and the base. But it wasn’t until the recent submarine excavations, which uncovered several more fragments, that archaeologists finally managed to put the naos together again.


Egypt’s Sunken Treasures, which attracted some 450,000 visitors at its first stop, Berlin, closes March 16. After Paris, the show will return to Egypt. Authorities in Alexandria plan to build a museum of submarine archaeology to hold the artifacts as well as new items that archaeologist Goddio’s team continues to discover during its twice yearly expeditions.


"There’s enough to keep us busy for a while — for about the next 150 years, at least," he said.



1,300-year-old boat-shaped tombs excavated in NW China


Chinese archaeologists discovered 28 boat-shaped tombs dating back more than 1,300 years in Shangluo City, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.


Meanwhile, the experts unearthed large number of pottery figures and utensils as well as bronze mirrors and coins recently.


Located in the Shangzhou District, the 28 tombs line side to side from the top to the bottom of a five-meter highland. The tombs are about two to 2.4 meters long, one to 1.5 meter wide and 0.7 to 1.1 meter high.


The bricks of the tomb chamber formed elliptic vaulting on the top, making the tombs look like headstand boats, which were rare in shape among the tombs in the period.


The archaeologists found that the earth around these tombs was pounded and were surprised to see that tomb bricks were carved with fine patterns of strings of beads and rhombus.


The experts said the tombs belonged to a noble family in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), judging from the size of the tombs, building materials and funeral objects.


The discovery is of great significance in studying funeral rituals cherished by officials and nobilities in the area during the Tang Dynasty, they said.

Source: Xinhua


London's slave port past revealed


Rare 18th Century documents from a sugar producer have given a clearer picture of London's role in slaving.


The working papers of West India Merchants and Plantation went on display at the Museum in Docklands in east London.


The records, belonging to Thomas Mills, give detailed accounts of slaves who worked on the family's sugar plantations on Caribbean islands.


The British Government abolished the lucrative slave trade in 1807.


The documents include a plantation journal, dating back to 1776, which describes the duties and the lives of the slaves on the islands of St Kitts and Nevis.


An estimated 24,962 African slaves were carried by 77 British ships which sailed from West India Quay between 1802 and 1807.


Thomas Mills' plantation journal

A plantation journal gives details about the slaves' duties


The slaves were taken to the Americas and sold to plantation owners.


Some 3,136 slaves did not survive the trans-Atlantic journey.


The museum's director, David Spence, said the papers are "a window into London's history as a slave port".


"This is not a history that has been widely told, and yet it is vital to the understanding and appreciation of London's identity today," he said.


The letters, inventories and invoices list the names given to the slaves and show how they were treated.


The records show how the plantation managers calculated the days' work and determined the slaves' allowances.


The company was paid a compensation of £872 by the government when slavery was abolished, a paper revealed.


Actor Burt Caesar, who was born on St Kitts, said: "For all British citizens of West Indian origin the Mills papers are vital documents in the often hidden or lost history of slavery in the islands."


Next year a series of events will mark 200 years of the abolition of slavery by the British.



Sandy Rathbun Reports

Downtown archaeological dig turns up 21 burial sites

Dec 14, 2006 01:15 PM


For the past month, archaeologists have been digging up a corner of downtown Tucson, and it's turning up treasures.


The project is located in the block bounded by Stone and Toole Avenues and Alameda Street. 


You can hear the work but you can't see it. Archaeologists are excavating four acres in secret.


Roger Anyon, project manager for Pima County Cultural Resources, says a fence was put up around the dig because, "The excavation area is essentially a cemetery."


Actually, two cemeteries were located there -- one military, the other civilian. 


Anyon says, "The descendant groups with whom we have burial agreements have asked us to keep the area closed off from photography and from tours."


Archaeologists say so far, they've uncovered 21 burial sites.


Most of them were emptied in the 1800s, but seven of them had complete remains.


No one knows yet their ethnicity. To find out, lots of lab work has to be done. 


Scott O'Mack, principal investigator for Statistical Research Inc. Archaeologists, says that there will be "precise measurements of individual bones and examining the morphology or shape of given skeletal elements."


Anyon says that so far, the biggest surprise was "finding the foundations of two historic houses right underneath what was a modern auto dealership."


O'Mack says, "We can look at the foundations that were put into place in the 1890s and the construction methods."


O'Mack says they are details historians can't find in written records. 


Anyon says he hopes the findings will provide, "a lot of information about social structure, a lot of information about how people lived and how people died."


So far, only about 15 percent of the site is exposed. Digging will last about another year, so scientists hope to find more surprises about Tucson's past


You can follow progress of the excavation on the Joint Courts Archaeological Project website.



Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 13:11 GMT

Digging dog's archaeological find


Rowan dropped the axe head on her owner's foot


A dog proved to be a canine Indiana Jones by finding a stone axe head dating back thousands of years in Aberdeenshire.


Rowan the inquisitive black labrador unearthed the Neolithic find at the Drum Estate.


She dropped it on owner Alec Gordon's foot and he took it for examination, with early analysis estimating it as perhaps 6,000 years old.


Mr Gordon said: "I wonder if she knew it was something special."


Mr Gordon was on a woodland walk with his dogs when Rowan made the unusual find.


He told BBC Scotland: "I was walking through the wood and we arrived at a spot where we normally stop. One of them dropped a stone which she'd been carrying.


"I took it back to Drum Castle and saw it had edges.


"I gave it to the local National Trust for Scotland (NTS) archaeologist who almost immediately confirmed that it was Neolithic, 4-6,000 years old, and pretty special."


Shannon Fraser, regional archaeologist for NTS in the north east of Scotland, said: "I think it's really exciting because we have not had finds from Drum Estate from this period."


She said of Rowan: "I think she should become my honorary assistant."


Mr Duncan said of his dog: "I wonder if she knew it was something special because when she dropped it she dropped it on my foot.


"It's not every day you get an axe dropped on your foot."