Radiocarbon review rewrites European pre-history

Wed Feb 22, 2006pm ET


LONDON (Reuters) - The ancestors of modern man moved into and across Europe, ousting the Neanderthals, faster than previously thought, a new analysis of radiocarbon data shows.


Rather than taking some 7,000 years to colonize Europe from Africa, the reinterpreted data shows the process may only have taken 5,000 years, scientist Paul Mellars from Cambridge University said in the science journal Nature on Wednesday.


"The same chronological pattern points to a substantially shorter period of chronological and demographic overlap between the earliest ... modern humans and the last survivors of the preceding Neanderthal populations," he wrote.


The reassessment is based on advances in eliminating modern carbon contamination from ancient bone fragments and recalibration of fluctuations in the pattern of the earth's original carbon 14 content.


Populations of anatomically and behaviorally modern humans first appeared in the near eastern region some 45,000 years ago and slowly expanded into southeastern Europe.


Previously it was thought that this spread took place between 43,000 and 36,000 years ago, but the re-evaluated data suggests that it actually happened between 46,000 and 41,000 years ago -- starting earlier and moving faster.


"Evidently the native Neanderthal populations of Europe succumbed much more rapidly to competition from the expanding biologically and behaviorally modern populations than previous estimates have generally assumed," Mellars wrote.


He said the invasion could have been helped by a major change in the climate which modern man would have been technologically and culturally better equipped to deal with than the more primitive Neanderthals.


"There are increasing indications that over many areas of Europe, the final demise of the Neanderthal populations may have coincided with the sudden onset of very much colder and drier climatic conditions," Mellars wrote.


"This could have delivered the coup de grace to the Neanderthals in many parts of western and central Europe in their economic and demographic competition with the incoming modern groups," he added.



Polish archaeologist unearths Europe's most ancient graves

Mar 2, 2006, 14:15 GMT 


Warsaw - Five of Europe's most ancient graves, dating back 10,000 years, have been unearthed in the village of Dwreca, central Poland.


Archaeologist Marian Marciniak found the graves on the site of ancient post-glacial dunes, the Rzeczpospolita daily reported. In them, a young woman, believed aged 18 to 21, was put to rest with a baby, a child aged 5 to 7 and another aged 7 to 11.


An adult male found at the site was buried sitting upright, as if on a throne or chair.


The bodies were dressed in animal skins decorated with the teeth of wild animals and wrapped in tree bark. The remains were then placed in tombs lined with pine logs, sprinkled with powdered red ochre to symbolise blood and burned.


The burnt-out graves where then likely covered to create small mounds.


'We've been digging for 9 years, but there are still unanswered questions,' Marciniak told Rzeczpospolita of puzzling half-circles made of small bonfires researchers found near the graves.


© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur 



Bronze Age Sky Disc Deciphered

Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: 

3,600 years ago, this sky disc was used as an astronomical clock

A group of German scientists has deciphered the meaning of one of the most spectacular archeological discoveries in recent years: The mystery-shrouded sky disc of Nebra was used as an advanced astronomical clock.


The purpose of the 3,600 year-old sky disc of Nebra, which caused a world-wide sensation when it was brought to the attention of the German public in 2002, is no longer a matter of speculation.


A group of German scholars who studied this archaeological gem has discovered evidence which suggests that the disc was used as a complex astronomical clock for the harmonization of solar and lunar calendars.


"This is a clear expansion of what we knew about the meaning and function of the sky disc," said archeologist Harald Meller.


A thirteenth month?


Unlike the solar calendar, which indicates the position of the earth as it revolves around the sun, the lunar calendar is based on the phases of the moon. A lunar year is eleven days shorter than the solar year because 12 synodic months, or 12 returns of the moon to the new phase, take only 354 days.


The sky disc of Nebra was used to determine if and when a thirteenth month -- the so-called intercalary month -- should be added to a lunar year to keep the lunar calendar in sync with the seasons.


"The functioning of this clock was probably known to a very small group of people," Meller said.


The 32-centimeter-wide (seven-inch) bronze disc with gold-leaf appliqués representing the sun, the moon, and the stars is the oldest visual representation of the cosmos known to date.  A cluster of seven dots has previously been interpreted as the Pleiades constellation as it appeared 3,600 years ago.


The explanation of the disc's purpose sheds new light on the astronomical knowledge and abilities of the Bronze Age people, who used a combination of solar and lunar calendars as important indicators for agricultural seasons and passage of time.


"The sensation lies in the fact that the Bronze Age people managed to harmonize the solar and lunar years. We never thought they would have managed that," Meller said.


According to astronomer Wolfhard Schlosser of the Rurh University at Bochum, the Bronze Age sky gazers already knew what the Babylonians would describe only a thousand years later.


"Whether this was a local discovery, or whether the knowledge came from afar, is still not clear," Schlosser said.


Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift:  The sky disc of Nebra was found near Europe's oldest observatory in Goseck

Ever since the disc was discovered, archaeologists and astronomers have been puzzled by the shape of the moon as it appears on the disc.


"I wanted to explain the thickness of the crescent on the sky disc of Nebra because it is not a new moon phase," said Hamburg astronomer Ralph Hansen.


In his quest to explain why the Nebra astronomers created a sky map with a four or five days old moon on it, Hansen consulted the "Mul-Apin" collection of Babylonian documents from the 7th and 6th centuries B.C.


These cuneiform writings represent, according to Hansen, a compendium of "astronomic knowledge from the earliest times." They also contain a calculation rule for the crescent that looks strikingly similar to the one from Nebra.


According to the ancient Babylonian rule, a thirteenth month should only be added to the lunar calendar only when one sees the constellation of the moon and the Pleiades exactly as they appear on the Nebra sky disc.


The Bronze Age astronomers would hold the Nebra clock against the sky and observe the position of the celestial objects. The intercalary month was inserted when what they saw in the sky corresponded to the map on the disc they were holding in their hands. This happened every two to three years.


But the German researchers also discovered that in the 400 years that the disc was in use, its status had evolved. The perforations on the edge of the object as well as a ship that was later added to the map suggest that the knowledge about the lunar calendar's shortage of days was lost along the way.


"That means, that in the end the disk became a cult object," Meller said.


The disc was found in 1999 by two previously convicted treasure looters. It was seized by the authorities in 2002 along with other Bronze Age objects in a police operation in Switzerland.



Giant Ancient Egyptian Sun Temple Discovered in Cairo

Stefan Lovgren

for National Geographic News

March 1, 2006

Archaeologists announced Sunday that they have discovered an ancient sun temple containing large statues of the pharaoh Ramses II under an outdoor marketplace in Cairo, Egypt.


The temple was found in a suburb of Cairo called Ain Shams. The site was once part of the ancient city of Heliopolis, which served as the center of sun worship in ancient Egypt. The chief sun god, Re, was the patron sun god of Heliopolis.


Ramses II, who is believed to have ruled Egypt from around 1279 to 1213 B.C., is known for his military exploits and monumental building projects. To celebrate his victories, he erected statues and temples to himself all over Egypt.


"The area where we are excavating now is where Ramses II of the 19th dynasty [1320 to 1200 B.C.] built an enormous temple for Re, the largest temple of Ramses II ever found," said Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo.


Hawass is also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence.


An Egyptian team has been cooperating with a team from the German Archaeological Institute on the excavations in the Ain Shams and Matariya neighborhoods of Cairo.


Egyptologists not involved with the discovery said it confirms suspicions that much of ancient Egypt has been buried under modern cities and still remains to be found.


The temple was built of limestone, and the archaeologists have uncovered the remains of one pillar bearing inscriptions of Ramses II.


The researchers are currently excavating the entrance area and the west side of the temple site.


They have found chambers for the storage of wheat, a kiln for making amulets, part of a large statue—the head of which weighs 5 tons (4.5 metric tons) and would have stood almost 20 feet (6 meters) tall—and another head of granite, weighing 2 tons (1.8 metric tons).


"Perhaps the most exciting [find] is an unusual seated statue that shows Ramses II in the leopard skin of a priest, showing that he built this temple as the high priest of Re," Hawass said.

"This statue is in the style of dynasty 12 [1991 to 1786 B.C.] and may have been usurped by Ramses II," he added, meaning that it may have been altered to resemble Ramses II.


"This is an important discovery, giving us information about the cult of Re."


Ramses II, who made a name for himself by battling the Hittites and the Syrians, is traditionally believed to have been the Pharaoh of Exodus, the biblical figure from whom Moses demanded that his people be released.


Ramses II erected monuments to himself up and down the Nile with records of his achievements. His most famous temple is Abu Simbel, which was carved into a sandstone mountain on the banks of the Nile, near what is now Egypt's southern border. (See photo gallery: "Towering Treasures of Ramses.")


Numerous temples to Egypt's many sun gods—particularly the chief god Re—were also built in ancient Heliopolis.


"This was the center for the worship of the sun god Re," Hawass said.


"A number of important remains have been discovered here, and there is evidence that this cult went back at least to the Old Kingdom [from about 2700 to 2200 B.C.] if not before and was active to the end of Egyptian history."


The German excavations show that lakes or swamps dominated the area in ancient times.


Most of the temples of ancient Heliopolis were later plundered, and the area is now covered with residential buildings.


The discovery of the sun temple may shed light on the status of Heliopolis in ancient Egypt.


"We do not know enough about Heliopolis, which was one of the main cities in Egypt and moreover a religious and, let us say, intellectual center," said French archaeologist Alain Zivie, leader of a team that has been excavating Saqqara, the cemetery of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis, for more than two decades.


Zivie says the discovery also shows that much of ancient Egypt's treasures are still buried under modern cities, particularly Cairo and its suburbs.


"Cairo is the child of three cities: Memphis, [the Roman fortress of] Babylon of Egypt, and Heliopolis," Zivie said. "Expanding more and more, it swallows now its three mothers, especially Babylon and Heliopolis. But these [ancient cities] are not completely lost. They continue to exist in the underground Cairo."


Leo Depuydt, an Egyptologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, agrees.


"The recent find of a giant temple built by Ramses II, ancient Egypt's greatest builder pharaoh, in Cairo again reminds us of how archaeological discovery would increase exponentially—almost beyond imagination—if digging under urban centers and dismantling buildings of later date ever becomes, technically and politically, even more feasible," he said.


Pre-Columbian women


Associated Press Writer

March 3, 2006, 2:33 PM EST


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Archaeological finds from Mexico and Peru show that, long before Europeans arrived, women served as warriors, governors and priestesses.


An exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts includes little pottery jugs and massive stone images portraying women in a variety of roles in addition to traditional homemakers and care givers.


"Women were not only daughters, wives, mothers and grandmothers, but also healers, midwives, scribes, artists, poets, priestesses, warriors, governors and even goddesses in pre-Columbian society," said Judy L. Larson, director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in announcing the exhibit.


There's Xochiquetzal, a Mexican goddess of love and beauty, modeled in clay with an elaborate headdress and flowers in both hands.


She may not look seductive by western standards, but she's more endearing than a stone image, half life-size, of another Mexican goddess -- Cihuateteo -- with staring eyes and ferocious teeth. Cihuateteo lurked at crossroads by night and caused illness.


The Moche people of northern Peru, whose tombs are among the most recently excavated, had an ugly goddess of their own, a moon goddess with a face like a skull who presided over the capture and sacrifice of human prisoners.


From Peru also comes a ceramic pitcher in the form of a central figure with a scepter, surrounded by seven women, and another of a long-haired young woman holding a baby.


Organized by the wives of the presidents of the two Latin American countries, the exhibition was promoted in Washington by first lady Laura Bush, who wrote in a foreword to the catalog that the objects in the show would inform Americans and visitors about women in the ancient Americas.


Of almost 400 objects in the exhibit, some go back as far as 4,000 years, comparable in age with civilizations in Egypt or Iraq. When Spanish conquerors followed Columbus in the 1500s, those in Mexico met mostly Aztec people, and the conquerors of Peru met the Incas.


But there had been other peoples before them, who had been absorbed by the ruling groups of the time or had disappeared entirely. Descendants of some, like the Mayas of Mexico, can still be identified by languages and customs today.


The exhibit will be on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, its final stop and the only one in the United States, until May 22.


On the Net:

National Museum of Women in the Arts: http://www.nmwa.org/



Public release date: 28-Feb-2006

Contact: Suzanne Wu



University of Chicago Press Journals


The evolution of right- and left-handedness

New study compares handedness of medieval English villagers to modern-day sample

A study from the April issue of Current Anthropology explores the evolution of handedness, one of few firm behavioral boundaries separating humans from other animals. As researchers find new cultural behaviors among chimpanzees and other primates, language is the only other characteristic accepted to be unique to humans, and both language and handedness appear to relate to the separation of functions between the two halves of the human brain, also known as lateralization.

"The predominant right-handedness of humans has been noted since at least the time of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle," write Amanda Blackburn (University of Manitoba) and Christopher Knüsel (University of Bradford). "Modern research has shown that hand preference occurs across human cultures and, through observations of ancient art, in ancient peoples."


The researchers compared two test groups – a modern sample of Canadians and a sample of medieval English villagers – to determine the effect repeated movement had on human skeletons separated by over a thousand years. They found that the majority of active individuals display a high degree of asymmetry.


"We studied two groups, one a modern group of Canadians, for whom we could document hand preference and physical activity histories, as well as the breadth of the part of the humerus that makes up the elbow joint," explain the authors. "We then applied the same measurement to a group of medieval English villagers known to us only through their skeletons. This allowed us to demonstrate the usefulness of this trait to determine changes in hand preference in populations separated in time by over a thousand years."


Sponsored by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Current Anthropology is a highly respected transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics. For more information, please see our Web site: www.journals.uchicago.edu/CA.


Blackburn, Amanda, and Christopher Knüsel. "Bilateral Asymmetry of the Epicondylar Breadth of the Humerus." Current Anthropology 47:2.



14th Century wreck found in Stockholm waters

Published: 2nd March 2006 16:55 CET


A shipwreck from the Middle Ages was found in waters in the middle of Stockholm in the autumn, it has been revealed.


Archaeologists discovered the wreck in Riddarfjärden when they were conducting a study of the route of the new Citybanan train tunnel. The ship was built between 1350 and 1370 and was lying at a depth of 10 metres.


It is very uncommon to find vessels from the 14th Century and those which have been discovered so far were all lying on land, having been discarded.


Archaeologists at Sweden's maritime museums are hoping that the find in Riddarfjärden will contain the well-preserved remains of its load and equipment.


Only those sections of the wreck which are sticking out of the sediment have so far been examined.


The hull is patched up with a piece of leather nailed over a crack, which indicates that the boat had been well-used and was in bad shape when it sank some time in the 1390s.



Wartime bunkers 'could hide Roman treasures'


Michael Hickling

A LOST Roman palace lies beneath a forgotten wartime bunker in York and could contain priceless treasures, according to a leading archaeologist.

Paul Bidwell, who is an expert in reconstructing Roman remains, has spent a year studying sites in York in preparation for a major exhibition on Emperor Constantine which opens in the city's Yorkshire Museum at the end of this month.

The display marks the anniversary of Constantine being proclaimed emperor in York in AD306.

The transfer of power to Constantine on the death of his father was believed to have taken place at the legionary headquarters near the site of a statue by the south wall of York Minster.

But Mr Bidwell, head of archaeology for Tyne and Wear Museums, believes it actually happened at the lost governor's palace by the ramparts of the Bar Walls facing York railway station.

Three bunkers were dug into the ramparts in 1939 for air raid shelters and workmen unearthed what was thought to be the remains of a Roman bath, but no further excavations took place due to the war.

Mr Bidwell, who was involved in reconstructing part of Hadrian's Wall, is convinced the 1939 finds are from a huge palace which may have covered up to 10 acres and stretched to the Ouse.

"There could be untold treasures lying here," he said

City Archaeologist John Oxley said: "The south west bank of the Ouse was highly developed in the Roman period.

"There hasn't been any significant development there in the past 15

years which we could target to get an archaeological excavation carried out."

Full story in tomorrow's Yorkshire Post Magazine.

03 March 2006



Medieval ship found in Stockholm 


The wreck is half-buried in the mud 10m below the surface (photo: National Maritime Museum)

Archaeologists in Sweden are seeking permission to excavate the unique wreckage of a 14th Century ship found in the heart of Stockholm's waterways.

Research for an underwater railway link revealed the remains of one of the oldest vessels ever found in Sweden.


Experts hope it will reveal clues about boat-building techniques and trading practices in the 1300s.


But further research will have to wait until the freezing Swedish winter comes to an end in April.


Special example


Just over 1.5 metres (5 ft) of the boat was found 10m below the surface of the Riddarfjarden bay, near the old part of the city, in September.


  It is very fascinating and we hope now to do more excavations in the spring


Marcus Hjulhammar,

Project leader


The rest is believed to be buried in the mud - which increases the chances of it being better preserved than if it had been found on land.


Project leader Marcus Hjulhammar, of the National Maritime Museum, said it was difficult to say exactly how much of the ship was still buried, but it could be between 10m and 20m in size.


He said he believed it was similar to a caravel type of light ship.


"I have worked on other projects underwater but this is very special, as it is in the middle of Stockholm and underwater," he told the BBC News website.


"I hope we can learn about Stockholm's history during the 14th Century, about trading, perhaps to other countries.



Pieces of leather are believed to have been used to patch a crack (photo: National Maritime Museum)


"It is very fascinating and we hope now to do more excavations in the spring."


Underwater archaeologists have already found the ship had a large crack in the worn-down hull, which had been patched up by a piece of leather - giving clues as to why the boat sank.


Sweden at the end of the 14th Century was part of the Kalmar Union that united Denmark, Norway and Sweden under a single monarch.


Stockholm was a much smaller city than today, but still the main trading centre for Sweden.




The location of the wreck means it would probably have been just outside the city at the time.



Experts hope the mud will have preserved the buried remains (photo: National Maritime Museum)


The museum hopes the city council will give its experts more time to excavate and examine the ship in the spring.


Sweden's last major underwater discovery was the 17th Century Vasa warship, which is now a tourist attraction at one of the city's museums.


Mr Hjulhammar said there were a number of options for the 14th Century wreck - including putting it on display, or simply moving it underwater and covering it up again.


"It is not always the best idea to take it up," he said.



Diocese of Lichfield


24th  February 2006 11/06


Archaeologists discover Saint Chad's Burial Place and Shrine


- Major discovery re-writes Lichfield's history

- Shrine to be reunited with illuminated Gospels after 1,000 years  


In a discovery hailed as being of "European significance" and the "foundation of English art", archaeologists working at Lichfield Cathedral have uncovered the church built to house the grave of St Chad; together with the "Lichfield Angel" - part of the shrine created around AD700 by Bishop Hedda to mark the resting place of Lichfield's first Bishop.


And now the remains of the shrine are to be reunited for the first time in more than 1,000 years with the Lichfield Gospels - an illuminated manuscript commissioned in the eighth century to adorn the shrine. And, thanks to collaboration between the Cathedral, the British Library and the Parish of Llandeilo, members of the public will be able to 'turn the pages'' of the precious Lichfield Gospels as they have been digitised - digital versions of the St Chad Gospels will be on display in the Cathedral and also available to tour across the diocese.


When Chad became the fifth Bishop of the Mercians in AD 669 he moved the bishopric from Repton to Lichfield. The noted church historian, the Venerable Bede, reported that Chad "came to dwell by St Mary's Church".

Chad died on 2nd March AD672 and Bede reported that he was buried:

"close by" the Church of St Mary, but that his body was later transferred to the new church of St Peter.


The exact locations of these churches have never been known; and there has been much speculation that St Chad's Church in Lichfield is located on the site of one of the original churches. But now, archaeologists can reveal that the remains of both St Peter's Church and St Mary's Church lie under the floor of the present cathedral - and that both have been found during recent archaeological investigations.


The latest finds - St Peter's Church, the shrine, and a number of high-status later burials around the shrine - were discovered as archaeologists conducted a dig in the nave of the Cathedral to prepare the way for a new motorised retractable nave platform. The remains of St Mary's Church was discovered in the 1990s during a major programme to replace broken limestone flooring flags. It wasn't until the remains of St Peter's Church was found that it was possible to identify the remains found in the 1990s as St Mary's Church - the church where Chad worshipped and preached.


The "Lichfield Angel" is three adjoining fragments of an Anglo-Saxon sculptured panel made of cream shelly limestone. It is believed that this formed part of a shrine in which the bones of St Chad were housed.


Leading ecclesiastical archaeologist, Dr Warwick Rodwell, is Consultant Archaeologist at Lichfield Cathedral, and led the dig. He said: "The remarkable state of preservation of the panel fragments is due to several factors. First, the sculpture had a short life span before being broken and buried. Second, the fragments were deposited inside the church and have therefore not been subject to outside weathering. Third, at least two of the three pieces were placed face-down in a pit, thereby trapping air pockets against some areas of the sculptured surface.

Hence, parts of the painted decoration have never had soil in contact with them."


Professor Rosemary Cramp, a trustee of the British Museum and past president of the Council for British Archaeology is a senior expert in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, described the "Lichfield Angel" as being of "European importance". She added: "This carving is crucially important for the light it throws on the chronology of Anglo Saxon sculpture. Only a handful of sites have produced sculptures which are archaeologically stratified as belonging to the pre-conquest period. This piece is unusual in that an almost complete panel of a casket has been carefully reburied, some time before the Norman Conquest. This can be paralleled only in the reburied sarcophagus at Alkmund's, Derby.


"This piece provides something of a missing link between England and the continent in the revival of late antique styles, a revival which on the continent is demonstrated in manuscripts and ivories, not large scale carvings. The conservation of the Lichfield Angel and its formal, stylistic and iconographic analysis is obviously of crucial importance."


Emily Howe, a conservator of wall paintings and sculptural polychromy, has been given the task of co-ordinating the recording, examination and analysis of the Angel prior to its conservation, and is receiving generous technical support from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and a substantial grant from the Pilgrim Trust. She said: "Initial documentation of the panel components, including high resolution digital imaging and close range 3-D laser scanning, has now been completed. Not only will these records serve as an important resource for monitoring the condition of the panel over time, but they will enable a better understanding of the way the panel was made and assist in the provision of interpretative material showing how the fragments might originally have fitted into the St Chad shrine chest.


"Following the Angel's temporary display in the Cathedral during the month of March, a detailed condition assessment will be undertaken and further research instigated into the object's physical history. Findings from these non-invasive investigations will inform the need for scientific analysis of the Angel's stone support and extensive remaining paint layer, and examination of the ways in which the materials were used. Such analyses will not only provide further information on the panel's current condition, but will also serve to illuminate its considerable technological significance among Britain's early medieval sculpture."


Recommendations for the long-term conservation of the Lichfield Angel and suitable conditions for the panel's display in the Cathedral will be considered by a panel of experts based on the findings of these informative preliminary investigations.