Family may provide evolution clue 


Five siblings from Turkey who walk on all fours could provide science with an insight into human evolution, researchers have said.

The four sisters and one brother could yield clues to why our ancestors made the transition from four-legged to two-legged animals, says a UK expert.


But Professor Nicholas Humphrey rejects the idea that there is a "gene" for bipedalism, or upright walking.


A BBC documentary about the family will be shown on Friday 17 March.


Professor Humphrey, from the London School of Economics (LSE), says that our own species' transition to walking on two feet must have been a more complex process that involved many changes to the skeleton and to the human genetic make-up.


However, a German group says a genetic abnormality does seem to be involved in the siblings' gait.


Three of the sisters and one brother have only ever walked on two hands and two feet, but another sister alternates between a bipedal and quadrupedal gait. Another brother walks on two feet all the time, but only with difficulty.


Calluses on the hands show the behaviour is no hoax (Image: Nicholas Humphrey)

The siblings live with their parents and five other brothers and sisters. They were born with what looks like a form of brain damage.


MRI scans seem to show that they have a form of cerebellar ataxia, which affects balance and coordination.


However, scientists are divided on what caused them to revert to quadrupedalism (walking on all fours).


The method of locomotion used by the Turkish children and by our closest relatives chimpanzees and gorillas, differs in a crucial way, said Professor Humphrey.


While gorillas and chimpanzees walk on their knuckles, the Turkish siblings put their weight on the wrists, lifting their fingers off the ground.


"What's significant about that is that chimpanzees ruin their fingers walking like that," Professor Humphrey, an evolutionary psychologist, told the BBC News website.


The five quadrupeds grew up in a remote part of Turkey (Image: Passionate Productions/BBC)

"These kids have kept their fingers very agile, for example, the girls in the family can do crochet and embroidery."


He added that calluses pictured on the hands of one family member demonstrated that the behaviour was not a hoax.


Professor Humphrey said this could be the way that humankind's direct ancestors walked.


Hands which have kept the fingers dextrous would also have been able to manipulate tools, a key development which influenced the evolution of the human body and intelligence.


"I think it's possible that what we are seeing in this family is something that does correspond to a time when we didn't walk like chimpanzees but was an important step between coming down from the trees and becoming fully bipedal," the LSE researcher said.


Professor Humphrey thinks that the brain abnormality simply caused the siblings to rediscover a form of locomotion used by our ancestors.


"Because of the peculiar circumstances they were in, they kept walking as infants," he said.


But a team led by Stefan Mundlos of the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, Germany, thinks that the genetic abnormality which causes the children's unusual gait may have played a more fundamental role in evolution.


Professor Mundlos has located the gene on chromosome 17 and speculates that a gene important in the transition to bipedalism may have been knocked out in the children.


Producer on the documentary Jemima Harrison said the programme's producers were moved by the family's "tremendous warmth and humanity".


BBC Two's The Family That Walks On All Fours is broadcast on Friday 17 March at 2100 GMT



Tools 'may be 250,000 years old' 


Stone tools found at one of the South's most important early prehistoric sites could date back 250,000 years, archaeologists claim.

The historic finds were uncovered at a former gravel quarry on the Isle of Wight during digs last summer.


Flint axes found near Great Pan Farm, Newport, are thought to be of the sort used by Neanderthal man. Elephant teeth from the same period were also found.


Specialists are now to carry out further investigations of the site.


“The Great Pan Farm site now looks set to unlock our knowledge of Neanderthal society “

Council spokeswoman


A spokeswoman for Isle of Wight Council said the tools found at the site opened up "the possibility that this site may well date to 250,000 years ago".


"These fascinating results have led leading specialists from the Boxgrove Project team to commit to future studies of the site.


"The Great Pan Farm site, one of only a handful of such early sites in Britain, now looks set to unlock our knowledge of Neanderthal society and technology," she added.


The digs were launched at the site as it has been earmarked for future housing development.


The last time the area was examined was in the 1920s when other tools were found that also dated back to the Stone Age.



Pharaonic find was mummification room, not tomb

Mon Mar 13, 11:44 AM ET


CAIRO (Reuters) - A chamber discovered last month in the Valley of the Kings was a room used by the ancient Egyptians for mummifying pharaohs buried in the area, rather than a tomb, Egypt's top archaeologist said on Monday.


Zahi Hawass said five sarcophagi found in the chamber contained remnants of pottery, shrouds and materials used in mummification.


The team from the University of Memphis which discovered the chamber had also opened 10 sealed jars found there to discover other materials used in mummification.


"This...is not a tomb for nobles or relatives of a king, as had been thought upon its discovery, but rather it is a room for mummification," Hawass said in a statement.


The chamber was found at the bottom of a 20-foot shaft. Hawass said last month the sarcophagi may contain the mummies of royals or notables moved from their original graves to protect them from grave robbers.


Ancient Egyptians buried rulers including Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, which lies close to the Nile town of Luxor. The sarcophagi date from the 18th Dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 1567 BC to 1320 BC.


Tutankhamun's tomb was discovered packed with treasures in 1922.



The Sunday Times March 12, 2006

Looted Afghan art smuggled into UK

Christina Lamb


UP TO four tons of ancient Afghan artefacts have been seized in Britain after an unprecedented wave of looting from archeological sites in Afghanistan that has exceeded the plundering of treasures in Iraq.

“All the attention has been on Iraq but this is a far, far bigger problem,” said Detective Sergeant Vernon Rapley, who heads the art and antiques unit of the Metropolitan police. “Afghanistan is the main source of unprovenanced antiquities into Britain. It’s coming in by air freight, sea freight, DHL, you name it.


 “It’s so widespread that I’m getting reports of people being murdered and clubbed to death on the planes in disputes about who should have the antiquities.”


As the crossroads of Asia — criss-crossed by invaders from Alexander the Great to Babur, the first Mughal emperor — Afghanistan has acquired one of the world’s richest cultural heritages.


The three to four tons of plundered items seized by British customs officials and police in the past two years include ceramics, stone sculptures, Buddhist Gandharan statues, bronze weapons and coins dating back to the 3rd century BC.


Much of this has been stored at the British Museum in London while discussions take place between the Foreign Office and the Afghan government over what to do with it. Both Afghan and British officials fear that Afghanistan does not yet have the capacity to keep it secure.


“Afghanistan is a place so extraordinarily rich in culture that almost anywhere you start digging you find things, but it is being ravaged,” said Robert Knox, keeper of the museum’s Asia collection, who has been trying to identify looted items. “The Afghan government has other priorities such as feeding people, but if they don’t protect these sites and things this history will be lost for ever.”


There was an international outcry in March 2001 when the former Taliban regime blew up the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan. The shattered Kabul Museum, where the culture minister once personally took an axe to some statues, was seen as another symbol of the evils of the regime.


However, just as opium production has increased exponentially in the four years since the Taliban was ousted and a western-backed government was installed in its place, so there has been an explosion of uncontrolled looting in archeological sites across the country.


The end of 25 years of war has opened up access to hitherto inaccessible sites, but the government’s failure to protect them and curb local warlords has halted international excavations and left the way clear for looters, often in the pay of local commanders.


Sayed Raheen, Afghanistan’s information and culture minister, says that he is now reluctant to go to archeological sites. “When I have visited a site, robbers start digging right there after I have left,” he said. “They think that if the minister visited this particular spot, then something must be there.”


A number of police officers sent to protect sites have been killed. Italian and later Japanese archeologists were driven off the old city complex of Kharwar outside Kabul by a warlord. Many sites, such as an ancient Greek settlement which was founded by Alexander the Great near Ai Khanoum in northern Afghanistan, have already been plundered.


“Afghanistan really is in danger of losing its history,” said Christian Manhart, head of communications and education at Unesco and who headed the Afghan department for 12 years. “To Afghan farmers, digging up antiquities is the same as digging up potatoes: you harvest them and sell them.”

Unesco has launched an awareness campaign for locals to protect their history, but Manhart acknowledges that the real problem is poverty.


“It’s not enough to tell people that tthey should not do this — you need to provide an alternative income,” he said.


To this end, the Afghan culture ministry and Unesco started so-called “preventive excavations”, employing local villagers on archeological digs. But the programme ran out of funds, opening the way for looters.


Although it is illegal to export artefacts from Afghanistan, the porous borders that make it so hard to control drug trafficking are exploited by antiquities smugglers using the same routes. Some go through Turkmenistan or Iran but most leave via Pakistan. Dealers in Peshawar and Islamabad send them to markets in London, Switzerland and Kuwait.


According to Knox at the British Museum, the artefacts seized in London are “just a drop in a bucket compared with what’s coming out”.


“I could go out tomorrow morning and seize 10,000 more Afghan antiquities,” said Rapley, the police specialist. “The problem is I don’t have powers to do anything about it.”


While the international community reacted with outrage at reports of looting from Iraq, sending in Interpol and passing United Nations resolutions, the same has not happened with Afghanistan.


London dealers boast of offering freshly excavated Afghan artefacts. The police have not secured a single conviction.


“It’s very demoralising,” Rapley said. “It’s sad that Afghanistan seems to have been treated very differently to Iraq.”


Both the police and the museum experts say that it is hard to put a precise value on the millions of pounds’ worth of cultural treasures coming into Britain.


“These are freshly dug so we are dealing with items no one knew they had,” Rapley explained.


Additional reporting: Tim Albone, Kabul


Cultural crossroads



Huge hoard of Roman coins discovered

09 March 2006 | 08:08



A HOARD of Roman coins unearthed in a Suffolk field is the largest discovery of its kind ever to be made in Britain.


Experts say the rare find of 621 copper alloy coins, made by a metal detector enthusiast in October, could have been buried for safe-keeping during times of political turmoil.


John Newman, from Suffolk County Council's Archaeological Service, said the treasure, which would originally have been adorned with a silver wash, was of the usurper emperors Carausius (287-293 AD) and Allectus (293-296 AD).


“This appears to be the largest hoard of legitimately minted coins of the two usurpers from Britain to date,” he said.


Similar type coins from other sites of Allectus (contributed by the British Museum) 

“The coins are made up of 258 of Carausius, and 347 of Allectus, minted at London and possibly Southhampton or Colchester, which was the first time official mints were set up in Roman Britain.”


During a treasure trove inquest in Bury St Edmunds yesterday, coroner for Greater Suffolk Peter Dean heard how metal detectorist Paul Flack contacted Suffolk County Council after discovering 30 of the coins, which he correctly identified as being of Roman origin.


“We were able to mobilise a small team of archaeologists - funded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme - who excavated the area and found the remaining coins,” said Mr Newman.


“We ascertained the coins had originally been placed in a pottery jar and then buried on the edge of a Roman period ditch, close to an area of known settlement - probably a moderate farm - but had been scattered by the plough lines running through the field.


 “A pile of flints was also discovered which may have been used to mark the spot where the coins were.”


The coins, which are currently being kept at the British Museum where they will be cleaned and conserved ready for valuation by the Treasure Valuation Committee, were probably worth around four or five months wages for a labourer at the time they were buried.


Dr Dean commended Mr Flack for helping to save the “great historical value” of the coins by reporting his find to the council immediately. “This is a find that should be considered treasure under the Treasure Act,” he said.


Local museums have now expressed interest in buying the coins. Peter Merrick, chairman of Friends of Mildenhall Museum, said he would be making enquiries to determine exactly where the coins were discovered.



Carving of 'northern god' found 


The image is thought to be that of Cocidius

A 2000-year-old carving of a so-called "northern god", adopted by the Romans for protection and good luck, has been uncovered in Northumberland.

The 40cm high figure, holding a shield in one hand and spear or sword in the other, was discovered near Chesters Fort on Hadrian's Wall.


Experts say the find is exciting as it helps shed light on how people used local idols for protection.


The carving is thought to be that of Cocidius, a Romano-British warrior god.


Rock art expert Tertia Barnett said: "This is a completely unexpected discovery.


"It shows how much there is still to discover about Northumberland's ancient past."


The carving was uncovered by a team of volunteers looking for prehistoric rock art as part of the Northumberland and Durham rock art project.


The rock has now been covered again to protect it.


Research by the volunteers is on-going.



Town's medieval bridge unearthed 


It may be one of three medieval fortified gates in the country

Archaeologists have been revealing details about the discovery of a medieval bridge in Shropshire.

The discovery was made as contractors dug up the site of a new entertainments complex in Shrewsbury.


The bridge, known as St George's Bridge, once acted as a gateway to the town from Wales and was in existence during the 15th Century.


Talks are under way with contractors to work out the best way of giving people the chance to view the site.


The bridge is thought to be one of three medieval fortified gates in the country.


Councillor Peter Nutting of Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council said the site had to be recorded and protected.


"When we obtained planning permission for the new entertainment venue it was known the potential for exciting archaeological revelations was high.


"This is an important discovery that tells us more about our town's fascinating history."


It is thought that future King of England, Henry Tudor, used the bridge in 1485 to enter England from Wales on his way to the battle at Bosworth.



Elaborate cave paintings stun scientists

March 08 2006 at 03:04AM 


Santiago - Chilean and French scientists have discovered, for the first time, elaborate pre-Columbian cave paintings by indigenous Alacaluf people on an isolated island in Patagonia.


More than 40 stunning paintings were located inside the so-called "Pacific Cave" on Madre de Dios island, in Chile's far south, expedition head Bernard Tourte of France said.


The Alacaluf, a nomadic and seafaring people indigenous to the area, were not previously known to have produced such art.


"For years, people have insisted that this group did not engage in artistic expression, so now we are seeing that they were more advanced than had been believed," anthropologist Marcelo Aguilera said.


The paintings, in mostly black and ochre colours, have a range of subject matter and varied techniques, according to Aguilera.


The two-month expedition, sponsored by the French and Chilean governments, cost $800 000. - Sapa-AFP



Archaelogists take up research on Essaouira Island 

Morocco TIMES  3/10/2006 | 3:14 pm


A research programme for the study of the island off Essaouira has just been launched by the Moroccan National Institute of Archaeological Sciences (INSAP) and the departments of the German Institute for Archaeological Research in Bonn and Madrid, MAP news agency reported.


A research programme for the study of the island off Essaouira has been launched. Ph. Archives.


Thanks to archaeological research undertaken in the 1950s, a great deal is already known about the ancient occupation of the island. Phoenician merchants established a trading counter there in the 7th or 6th century BC, followed later by more temporary stays on the island during the reign of the Mauretanian King Juba II.


According to a statement made to the press by Abdeslem Mikdad, co-director of the current research programme, the Romans were also present on the island towards the end of the 3rd century AD.


The programme also envisages prospections in the Essaouira region, in order to discover the places that were occupied in the past and, consequently, to define the aspects and nature of the relations that the local populations had with the incoming Phoenicians and Romans.


The scientific team is made up of eight specialists, four of whom are German. In addition, two geomorphologists have worked for 15 days on the island, which has been classified as a Site of Biological and Ecological Interest (SIBE) since 1980.


The Morocco-German research programme is scheduled to last five years and is renewable. Starting from next year, Moroccan and German students will join the archaeological team as part of their training.


Commenting on the scientific and historical importance of these excavations, the provincial delegate of the Ministry of Culture, archaeologist Abderrahim El Bertei (who is also a member of the team), stated that this programme will also allow the potential and archaeological heritage of Essaouira to be highlighted. He recalled that culture and tourism make up the main elements for the town's development.



Team to excavate 600-year-old ship

By Joseph Murimi


A team of Chinese archaeologists is expected in the country this week to begin excavating the wreckage of a ship that sunk more than 600 years ago.


A director of National Museums of Kenya (NMK) in-charge of sites and monuments, Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia, on Wednesday said the team would comprise underwater archaeologists, ethnographers and historians.


He said Kenyan scientists would also participate in the underwater expedition in Lamu to unearth any treasures the vessel owned by the legendary Chinese mariner, Zheng He, may contain.


Kibunjia said the excavation was aimed at unveiling Chinese heritage at the Coast and unravel the mystery of Chinese sailors who settled in an Island in Lamu after their ship sunk in the 15th century. Findings could also reveal how sailors used to travel to Kenya and what commodities were traded at the time.


The rare marine excavation touted to be the biggest in Kenyan history would also enable them to trace Chinese descendants in parts of the Lamu archipelago. It is believed that sailors in other vessels did not realise that one had sunk and therefore did not stop to rescue the survivors, but continued with their voyage.


Kibunja said ethnographers and historians would be asking questions and tracing the roots of the residents of Lamu who have Chinese ancestry. He said interest in the sunken ship increased three years ago. China’s Department of Cultural Heritage sent a team to Lamu for a fact-finding mission and met families of Chinese descent and some ceramics were recovered in the sea.


The exercise could be a major tourism boon as Chinese tourists visit Kenya to learn more about their heritage.



Columbus mystery nearly solved 500 years after death

By Phil Stewart

Fri Mar 10, 11:30 AM ET


ROME (Reuters) - Nearly 500 years after the death of Christopher Columbus, a team of genetic researchers are using DNA to solve two nagging mysteries: Where was the explorer really born? And where the devil are his bones?


Debate about origins and final resting place of Columbus has raged for over a century, with historians questioning the traditional theory that he hails from Genoa, Italy. Some say he was a Spanish Jew, a Greek, a Basque or Portuguese.


Even the location of his remains is the subject of controversy. The Dominican Republic and Spain both stake claims as the final resting place of Columbus, who died in May, 1506.


The Spanish-led research team, which includes Italians, Americans and Germans, sampled DNA from the known remains from Columbus' brother and son, and then compared them to fragments attributed to Columbus in Seville.


Although the official announcement is expected later this year, Italian researchers say they are confident based on the evidence gathered so far that Columbus' supposed remains in Seville are likely authentic.


"We have already started all of the analyses on a molecular level and we have good indications that the remains in Seville are effectively those of Christopher," said Olga Rickards, head of the team at Rome's Tor Vergata University laboratory.


If confirmed, it could lay to rest a dispute dating back to 1877, when Dominican workers found a lead casket buried behind the altar in Santo Domingo's cathedral containing a collection of bone fragments the country says belong to Columbus.


The bones should have left the island for Cuba in 1795 and then been sent along Spain a century later.


But the casket was inscribed with the words "Illustrious and distinguished male, Don Cristobal Colon" - the Spanish rendering of Christopher Columbus.


"Nobody knows (about the Dominican remains) ... because they haven't yet allowed DNA analysis," Rickards told Reuters.




Little is known about the early life of Columbus, the reputed son of a weaver in Genoa who would later change the world by accidentally stumbling upon the Americas in 1492.


With so many different theories about his origin, the DNA researchers hope to settle the matter once and for all by obtaining genetic samples from Europeans with the name Columbus.


In Italy, the researchers sent letters to modern-day "Colombo" men asking them to use cotton swabs to sample saliva from inside their mouths.


"We sent out 250 letters ... and we have already received 16 positive responses," Rickards told Reuters.


The Spanish had sampled less than 150 people, she said.


"If we're lucky, we might have a result by May, which is the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' death," she said.


Genoa's mayor, Giuseppe Pericu, joked to a newspaper that Columbus would wind up being "Genovese" -- one way or another.


"If it turns out that Columbus wasn't Genovese, we'll make him an honorary citizen," he said.



Court defeat clears way for motorway work

John Donohoe


THE way could be cleared for construction work to start by this time next year on the controversial M3 motorway following the failure of a High Court challenge to the road last week.


Sources have suggested that if there is no appeal to last week’s decision, that work is likely to begin in March 2007, allowing for archaeological excavations to be completed by the end of this year and site preparation work to get underway in the autumn.


The National Roads Authority (NRA) is this week meeting with its legal team to examine the judgement of High Court Justice Mr Thomas Smyth, who last week dismissed the challenge by campaigner Vincent Salafia against the route of the M3 motorway through the area between the Hill of Tara and Skryne.


Mr Justice Smyth ruled that Mr Salafia was not entitled to succeed in any of his claims because of an unjustified two-year delay in bringing them. In a 60-page decision delivered over two and a half hours last Wednesday, Mr Justice Smyth considered all the arguments made by Mr Salafia, including claims that the National Monuments Amendment Act 2004 were unconstitutional, and rejected all of them.


This week, the various bodies involved in the case were digesting the High Court report. A hearing to determine the costs will take place on Tuesday next, 14th March, after which the court order will be executed. There is then a 21-day period during which Mr Salafia can appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.


The High Court decision has been welcomed by Meath County Council and local groups that have campaigned in favour of the motorway, as well as the Minister for the Environment.


Meath County Manager Tom Dowling said this week that the judgement was a great boost for the county. “The M3 is a major piece of infrastructure and its construction is essential for the future economic development of our county. Today’s ruling is very welcome news for us as we prepare to profile Meath as a viable business location at our Meath Investment Showcase which will be held in Custom House Quay on 8th March,” he said.


“We hope that today’s decision now clears the way for the earliest possible commencement of this hugely significant infrastructural project,” added the county manager.


The Meath Chambers of Commerce, represented in the High Court last Wednesday by Michael Cassidy (Navan), Adrienne Bowen (Dunshaughlin) and Penny McGowan (Kells), also welcomed the decision of the court to dismiss Mr Salafia’s case on all grounds.


“This is an emphatic defeat for the Salafia challenge,” they said. “His application failed on the grounds of delay in bringing proceedings, his failure to establish his rights to bring proceedings in the first instance, and his failure to establish that the National Monuments Act or the minister’s actions were unconstitutional.”


The court fully endorsed both Meath County Council’s actions and those of the minister.


The Meath Chambers fought a vigorous campaign to counter the mis-information circulated by those opposed to the M3 route, they said in their statement. “We needed to go to extraordinary lengths to communicate the fact that the proposed route is 1.5 miles away from the centre of

the Hill of Tara, and is significantly further away from the hill than the existing N3 route.”


Surveys undertaken on behalf of the Chambers and MCM3 have consistently revealed 80-92 per cent support for the M3 as proposed in the county. Local opinion on the M3 was further demonstrated by the massive support given to pro-M3 candidates during the recent by-election.


Meath Citizens for the M3 (MCM3) welcomed what they described as an ‘emphatic’ High Court judgement. “This judgement vindicates our position on this issue,” chairman Frank Cosgrave stated.


“Confusion, misinformation, not to mention hysteria has surrounded discussion on the merits of this project over the last 18 months. Last Wednesday’s judgement goes a considerable way to illuminating the many aspects of a complex and difficult argument and for this we are grateful to Justice Smyth.”


He added that MCM3 hope that this project can now proceed with the greatest possible expediency and will be a model of good planning, with the least possible impact on the landscape.


“We are convinced that Meath County Council and the other planning agencies will respect the rural nature of the area and will not allow any development which would be inconsistent with the character of the area. In particular, we are anxious that no development takes place in the Gabhra Valley that impinges on the view from Tara.”


Environment Minister Dick Roche also welcomed the timely manner in which the case had been heard and judgement given by Mr Justice Smith, and hoped this would bring finality to the matter.


Mr Roche commented that it was essential that the public be consulted on all major developments but that it was important that this consultation take place at an early stage. He noted the legal argument made on behalf of the State that the issues raised by the plaintiff in relation to the route of the M3 should more appropriately have been raised at the Bord Pleanala hearing, which was the body charged at national level with deciding on major development and land use issues.


North Meath TDs Johnny Brady (Fianna Fail) and Shane McEntee (Fine Gael) also welcomed the decision as a victory for common sense and commuters, but Deputy McEntee regarded the prospect of two tolls on the route as excessive.


Archaeological work as well as the acquisition of land on the M3 route has been ongoing throughout the High Court action, and will continue, with the archaeological digs due to finish on schedule in December.


The preferred tenderer for the contract is the EuroLink Consortium, comprising Cintra SA and SIAC Construction Ltd, who were responsible for the M4 motorway. The NRA have been in discussion with Eurolink and it is hoped that contracts can soon be signed to allow the work advance.