Evolutionary Back Story: Thoroughly modern spine supported human ancestor

Bruce Bower


Bones from a spinal column discovered at a nearly 1.8-million-year-old site in central Asia support the controversial possibility that ancient human ancestors spoke to one another.


A recently discovered Homo erectus vertebra from central Asia (left) displays a larger spinal cord canal than does a corresponding bone (right) from a skeleton that had been found in Kenya.



Excavations in 2005 at Dmanisi, Georgia, yielded five vertebrae from a Homo erectus individual, says anthropologist Marc R. Meyer of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The finds occurred in previously dated sediment that has yielded several skulls now attributed to H. erectus (SN: 5/13/00, p. 308: Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20000513/fob1.asp).


The new discoveries represent the oldest known vertebrae for the genus Homo, Meyer announced last week at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The fossils consist of one lumbar, two thoracic, and two cervical vertebrae.


Meyer and his colleagues—David Lordkipanidze and Abesalom Vekua, both of the Georgian State Museum in Tbilisi—compared the size, shape, and volume of the Dmanisi vertebrae with more than 2,200 corresponding bones from people, chimpanzees, and gorillas.


"The Dmanisi spinal column falls within the human range and would have comfortably accommodated a modern human spinal cord," Meyer says.


Moreover, the fossil vertebrae would have provided ample structural support for the respiratory muscles needed to articulate words, he asserts. Although it's impossible to confirm that our prehistoric ancestors talked, Meyer notes, H. erectus at Dmanisi faced no respiratory limitations on speech.


In contrast, the 1984 discovery in Kenya of a boy's 1.6-million-year-old skeleton, identified by some researchers as H. erectus and by others as Homo ergaster, yielded small, chimplike vertebrae. Researchers initially suspected that the ancient youth and his presumably small-spined comrades lacked the respiratory control to talk as people do today.


In the past 5 years, investigators including Bruce Latimer of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History have suggested that the prehistoric boy offers a misleading view of H. erectus' backbone. They contend that growth of the bony canal encasing his spinal cord had been stunted, and spinal cord compression would have impeded his movement and caused limb weakness.


Finding ancient, humanlike vertebrae at Dmanisi fits with Latimer's view, Meyer says. Infant malnutrition, which often arrests growth of the human vertebral canal, may have affected the H. erectus youth, Meyer suggests.


The ancient boy, who died at age 10 or so, would have required intensive protection and provisioning, Meyer asserts. "Both altruism and spoken language may have been part of the behavioral repertoire of early Homo," the Pennsylvania researcher says.


The modern-looking vertebrae at Dmanisi, remarks David Frayer of the University of Kansas in Lawrence, comport with earlier fossil-skull studies indicating that early Homo possessed a speech-ready vocal tract.


Robert C. McCarthy of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton disagrees. At the Paleoanthropology Society meeting, he presented vocal-tract reconstructions for various ancient Homo species suggesting that the capacity to articulate speech as well as people do now emerged exclusively in Homo sapiens around 50,000 years ago.


Before then, all members of the Homo genus—including H. sapiens—possessed a short set of neck vertebrae, resulting in a vocal tract with a restricted range of speech sounds, McCarthy and his coworkers argue.


Many populations today, including Australian aborigines, possess neck vertebrae comparable in length to those that McCarthy's team considered inadequate for modern speech, Meyer responds.



Public release date: 4-May-2006

Contact: Simon Dunford



University of East Anglia

Man may have caused pre-historic extinctions


New research shows that pre-historic horses in Alaska may have been hunted into extinction by man, rather than by climate change as previously thought.

The discovery by Andrew Solow of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, US, David Roberts of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew and Karen Robbirt of the University of East Anglia (UEA) is published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


The accepted view had previously been that the wild horses became extinct long before the extinction of mammoths and the arrival of humans from Asia - ruling out the possibility that they were over-hunted by man. One theory had been that a period of climate cooling wiped them out.


However, the researchers have discovered that uncertainties in dating fossil remains and the incompleteness of fossil records mean that the survival of the horse beyond the arrival of humans cannot be ruled out.


The PNAS paper develops a new statistical method to help resolve the inherent problems associated with dating fossils from the Pleistocene period. The aim is to provide a far more accurate timetable for the extinction of caballoid horses and mammoths and, ultimately, the cause.


"This research is exciting because it throws open the debate as to whether climate change or over-hunting may have led to the extinction of pre-historic horses in North America," said UEA's Karen Robbirt.


The Pleistocene period refers to the first epoch of the Quarternary period between 1.64 million and 10,000 years ago. It was characterised by extensive glaciation of the northern hemisphere and the evolution of modern man around 100,000 years ago.


It is known that the end of the Pleistocene period was a time of large-scale extinctions of animals and plants in North America and elsewhere but the factors responsible have remained open to question, with climate change and over-hunting by humans the prime suspects. Ends


Notes to Editors:

For further information or to arrange interviews or pictures, please contact Simon Dunford at the UEA Press Office on 01603 592203 or Lauren Bird at the Kew Gardens Press Office on 0208 3325607.



Wheels drop off Tyke's chariot theory

By Stuart Robinson


IN AUGUST 2003, routine recording work for the new A1 motorway near Ferry Fryston uncovered one of the most significant archaeological finds in Yorkshire's history.

But research has revealed the 2,000-year-old owner of the remarkable Iron Age chariot which was unearthed may not have been a Yorkshireman.

The secrets of the chariot and its mysterious owner will be revealed when the discovery goes on public display for the very first time in Pontefract.

Since being unearthed, the chariot and its owner have been undergoing research at the University of Bradford.


Tests on the rider's teeth indicate he may have hailed from somewhere away from the West Yorkshire region.

He was of slim build and 30-40 years old at the time of his death, with no visible signs of wounding or long-term illness.

The chariot, which will be on show at Pontefract Museum from May 27, had lain undiscovered since around 400BC.

Oxford Archaeology, an educational charity specialising in archaeological work, was commissioned to undertake the recording work three years ago.

Christina Clarke, of Oxford Archaeology, who originally uncovered the site, said: "We had talked to the project engineers about how unexpected discoveries can turn up, but we did not think for a moment that we would uncover an Iron Age chariot burial.

"Such discoveries are extremely rare, with the vast majority being found in the Yorkshire Wolds to the east of where the road was being built."


The area around the site was already known for archaeological finds, with other important monuments and artefacts already found nearby.

But the discovery of the chariot, its owner and a huge range of artefacts attracted media attention from around the globe – and called a halt to work on the motorway.

Highways Agency project director Alec Briggs said: "This was a very exciting time for all of us working on the project.

"Obviously we needed to give the archaeologists time to explore their discovery so we re-programmed our construction work. "

Just 20 other examples of Iron Age chariots have been found in the UK.



06 May 2006



Archaeology: A unique burial monument at Tara

by Joe Fenwick

Thursday, April 27, 2006


The discovery of a monument type previously unknown to Irish archaeology is something to be celebrated. As it lies within the Gabhra Valley its discovery is all the more significant.


Preliminary test-trenching in advance of the construction of the M3 motorway had identified the presence of an unusual sequence of burials at Collierstown – a little to the south and mid-way between the hills of Tara and Skreen. The mixed burial traditions, so-far revealed, consist of several pit-burials (some containing cremations), three stone-lined cist graves and an alignment of four burial mounds or barrows. The chronological range of burial type suggests this cemetery – likely to have been deliberately located at an important territorial boundary – was in use during the first few centuries AD at a time whenRomano-British burial practices were first being introduced to Ireland. This is a uniquely important addition to the corpus of monuments that define Tara's landscape; but these preliminary findings tell only part of the story.


Additional geophysical investigations, undertaken by Target Archaeological Geophysics in 2005, have unwittingly revealed the sub-surface remains of large enclosures encircling the barrows in addition to the presence of a most unusual square-ditched enclosure, measuring 15m by 15m, with centrally placed pit. The presence of the latter is particularly exciting as it bears all the hall-marks of burial type previously found only in Britain and France. Square-ditched enclosures, sometimes containing chariot burials, are a feature of the Iron Age Arras culture in Yorkshire (2nd century BC). Similar burial traditions, though dating to the early centuries AD, can be found in Wales and eastern Scotland. Square-ditched burial enclosures of Iron Age La Tène tradition also occur in the Champagne region of France. Perhaps the exquisitely fashioned bronze horse-bit of native La Tène craftsmanship (currently housed in the National Museum of Ireland), which is provenanced to the Gabhra valley, may yet be traced to its original context.


Joe Fenwick



Saturday, May 6, 2006 · Last updated 5:02 a.m. PT

Archeologists excavate 2,000-year-old road




French archaeologists work on an archeological site in Paris, Friday, May 5, 2006. Deep beneath pavements pounded by tourists on Paris' Left Bank lies another, ancient path, a 2,000-year-old Roman road, recently excavated before the beginning of construction work on the Pierre and Marie Curie campus, just behind the historical Sorbonne in the Paris Left Bank. (AP Photo/Michel Euler) 


PARIS -- Deep beneath pavement pounded by tourists on Paris' Left Bank lies an ancient path - a 2,000-year-old Roman road recently excavated during construction work.


Remnants of private houses rigged with baths and ingeniously heated floors were among the findings, now on view in a stunning dig. Over the next few weeks, however, archaeologists will rip up the ruins to make way for a research center.


The archeologists gradually remove every layer of ruins until they reach the geological stratum - the original ground - and eventually draw a chronological diagram.


"Excavating is destroying. We dig into historic layer after historic layer," said Didier Busson, scientific supervisor of the archaeological site.


The discovery, during construction work on the Pierre and Marie Curie University near the famed Sorbonne, offers a window onto one of the many layers of history underpinning this bustling capital.


Archaeologists said it was the first such site discovered in the city - known as Lutetia in pre-Roman and Roman Gaul - from the reign of Roman emperor Augustus (63 B.C.-14 A.D.).


Items from daily life such as flowerpots, ceramics, bronze chains and drawer handles were dug out and will soon be exhibited in museums.


"We are trying to find out about the foundation and founders of the city," Busson said, adding, "It is exceptional that a Parisian site be so well-preserved."


Archeologists are divided over the background of this neighborhood's builders. Most contend that a Gallic aristocracy, recruited by the Roman army to fight in their civil wars, probably came back from the battlefield and settled in the area.


The Romanized returnees built the city according to Roman norms, but used local materials. They were wealthy enough to own a private Roman bath - the jacuzzi of the era - found in one of the houses discovered beneath the university.


The archaeologists identified the various historical layers they uncovered according to the various types of houses they excavated. The first houses were made of clay and straw. Masonry appeared only later and so did tiled roofs - "a major chronological milestone," according to Busson.


This urban compound was built in the first decade of the 1st century, at the end of emperor Augustus's reign, away from the administrative center of the Roman city.


The neighborhood stands on the old "cardo maximus," the Roman main street, which was originally paved for the Romans to cross the nearby Seine River and is today the Rue St. Jacques in Paris' chic 5th arrondissement, or district.


Every excavated layer corresponds to a historic period.


"Paradoxically, a conservation of the sites would prevent us from learning more about ancient Paris," Busson said.


Remnants of the Convent of the Visitation, built on the site in 1632, and a 20th century sewer were found before the Roman ruins were reached, indicating that the site was abandoned between Roman times and the 17th century.


"It's like a mille-feuilles cake," said Francois Renel, Busson's assistant and an archaeologist specialized in antiquities, referring to a pastry with many layers.


The National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research, known by its French acronym INRAP, has been watching out for construction work in the neighborhood since they realized some 25 years ago that the Roman city of Lutetia was much larger than earlier believed.


Whenever construction work in central Paris is planned, archaeologists review the building permits and ask for INRAP's opinion if the site is of interest. An excavation permit is then issued.


Busson's INRAP team started digging at the beginning of March and must be finished by June 30, when the construction work on a new research building starts again.



A large Roman-era villa is discovered

General Science : May 02, 2006    


Italian archeologists have reportedly discovered the remains of a huge Roman villa near Florence -- the first ever in the popular tourist area.


"Villas like these were fully fledged factories for the production of wine, olive oil, meat, corn and other products," said archaeologist Fausto Berti, who led the dig at Montelupo Fiorentino.


"We've found big animal pens, warehouses and even a workshop for making ceramic vases. The owners were self-sufficient," he told the Italian news service ANSA.


The 500-meter-square villa has fully equipped baths with all the areas Romans used to produce various levels of heat, warm water and steam -- and a cooling area.


The Montelupo villa is open to the public during weekends but reservations are required.



Greek island dig offers chance to solve riddle of ancient art

Helena Smith in Athens

Monday May 1, 2006

The Guardian


A dig into the rich past of a tiny isle in the Aegean archipelago could soon answer one of the riddles of prehistoric archaeology: why the remote outcrop produced so many of the flat-faced marble figurines that went on to inspire Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore.

Greek and British archaeologists hope their planned excavation will shed light on whether windswept Keros was a major sanctuary for the mysterious Cycladic civilisation 4,500 years ago. The tantalising suggestion that the uninhabited isle may have housed the gateway to the underworld has also not been ruled out.


"We really hope to find the answers to questions that have [provoked] a lot of study, a lot of debate," said Peggy Sotirakopoulou, a curator at Athens' Museum of Cycladic Art. "This is a unique site. Nowhere in the Cyclades have the remains of so many marble figurines been found; figurines that were intentionally broken in antiquity, in quite peculiar places, like the pelvis and chest."

Until its discovery by the modern art movement in the 20th century, Cycladic art was spurned by lovers of the classical period as the barbaric works of a primitive race. But their influence on artists such as Picasso triggered a demand for early bronze age sites - and widespread looting.


Keros, perhaps more than any other in the barren island chain, was targeted in the 1950s and 1960s by plunderers intent on finding the naked, elongated figures. The thousands of fragments of marble vases and figures that flooded the international antiquities market - and were so assiduously bought by museums and private collectors - were known as the "Keros Hoard".


The looting, and the trail of destruction it left behind in an area known as Kavos Daskaleio, made the task of unravelling the enigmatic civilisation much more difficult. By the second millennium BC the mariner-race was superseded by Crete and Mycenaean Greece; its elegant artworks and seafaring superiority soon forgotten.


Subsequent digs at Kavos Daskaleio, where a cave was also found, failed to reveal the secrets of the site or the purpose of the figurines, which could have depicted gods or may simply have been children's toys.


But archaeologists hope their dig, which begins next week and includes an area of virgin ground, will both illuminate the island's role and explain why it was so much more important than its bigger, less rugged neighbours. Some have mooted the idea that the finds not only filled graves but were removed with bones from cemeteries elsewhere and reburied in Keros in front of the cave's mouth.


"It's still unclear whether it was an exceptionally rich cemetery or ritual site," said British archaeologist Lord Colin Renfrew, who will be co-leading the team. "We hope to clarify the real nature of the site by finding a settlement. It is possible, but not yet certain, that [the breaking of the figurines] were ritual actions relating to ceremonies in honour of the dead."





Copyright 2006 by United Press International


Nigeria: Another Gigantic Pot Discovered in Kano City

Daily Trust (Abuja)

May 3, 2006

Posted to the web May 3, 2006

Mustapha Isah Kwaru


On Sunday April 16, a gigantic pot was found in Kano city. It is about 129cm in height, 99cm in diameter, with a depth of 139cm, and the size of the flip is 50cm. It is estimated to have been buried over one thousand years ago. It was discovered in Gwammaja quarters of the Dala local government in Kano state. Charcoal, bones, suspected to belong to that of the cat family, clay and pot sherds were found in the pot, when it was excavated, and about 20 people gathered to remove it from the hole in the ground.


The archeologists who handled the excavation of the pot said it was buried at about 210 centimeters below the ground level. Daily Trust investigations revealed that the Gwammaja incident was not the first of such in the history of the ancient city of Kano. For example in 2002, another historic pot was discovered in Agadasawa quarters of the metropolis, another in Goron-Dutse in Dala local government, in addition to other discoveries made either in the course of road constructions, construction of a septic tank (soak-way) or culverts. The discovery of the huge pot attracted great attention from the general public which temporarily converted the area into a site for a pilgrimage of sorts. The team of ethnographers, conservationists and historians, had to spend over three hours before they succeeded in excavating the pot. The pot was first discovered by three masons who were building a septic tank (soak-away) for one Alhaji Garba Muhammad in his house. Daily Trust gathered that the excavation work was done through an inch by inch scraping method, while information was taken at a 10 cm speed level, so as to document the contents of the artefact, with a view to providing information concerning the dating of the pot, and its possible use in the pre-Islamic period, when it was believed to have been buried. In normal operational mode, a research is undertaken, before an excavation commences, but in the case of accidental discovery, such as in the case of the Gwammaja giant pot, a rescue operation is undertaken to save the object, and prevent it from being destroyed. The excavation is normally expected to have been undertaken not later than three weeks from the discovery of an object so as to ensure that it is done carefully, and allow it to dry from the ground moisture, so that it would not be broken during the excavation work.


But for fear that the pot might be broken by the large crowd who trooped to see it; the excavation work was completed within 24 hours. The landlord and the ward head of Gwammaja were compelled to maintain vigilance over the pot, before the excavators started digging, because a crowd kept converging upon the scene, and even wanted to touch the artifact. Malam Garba Muhammad, aged 50 years, is the leader of the masons, who discovered the pot while digging the soak-way. He told Daily Trust that initially they thought the artifact was a small one, and even attempted to excavate it with their hands, but such effort proved unsuccessful, as it was deep below the soil surface. Malam Muhammad said they subsequently informed the landlord on the discovery of the pot, who also reported the incident to the ward head. Asked whether he had ever witnessed such pot in the course of his business, the mason replied that "You see I have spent over 30 years in the business of digging local latr ines, soak-aways, culverts, drainages, wells and even graves, but never have I in anyway come across such a big pot. I am sure it was buried before the arrival of Islam to Hausaland, because even my grandfathers could not precisely say when the pot was buried."


The owner of the house where the pot was discovered, Alhaji Garba Muhammad, aged 60, said he has been in the house for over forty years, and that he did not in anyway think a pot was buried there. The present pot-making facilities, according to Alhaji Muhammad, would not produce even a half size of the historic Gwammaja pot, saying the tool to be used for making such an artefact could not be found in the entire Hausaland, especially considering that it was only used in the pre-Islamic era. He emphasized that the discovery of the pot is a great pride to him, hoping that the state zonal office of the National Commission for Museums and monuments, would preserve and keep the artefact, which would also symbolize the socio-cultural heritage of Kano. He explained that proper preservation of the huge pot, would motivate any resident who discovered it, to report the incident to the appropriate authority, adding that the historic pot would also provide an avenue for tourism which woul d boost revenue generation. Alhaji Muhammad also advocated for a gift for any individual who either discovered any historic object, or if an object was found in his house or land, so that people would be encouraged to make prompt report to the concerned agency.


The ward head of Gwammaja where the pot was discovered, Malam Ahmed Usman, said when the landlord reported the incident to him, he promptly alerted the appropriate authorities. He said people were stationed at the scene for a 24 hour vigilance, to guard the pot, especially since the large crowd who stormed the area wanted to touch it. Asked whether similar discoveries were also made in the area, the ward head pointed out that in the past years during the construction of Kofar Ruwa road, another pot, which was smaller than the present one was excavated. He however commended the people of the area for protecting the pot from any harm or damage, even as he enjoined them to always report such recurrence to the authority, for prompt action.


Malam Ahmed however advised government to execute developmental projects in any area where a historic object is found or discovered, so that the people of the area would shun destroying or vandalizing the objects.


Daily Trust also contacted 95-year-old, Malam Muhammadu Inuwa, who said the discovery of a huge pot buried under the ground had never happened in Kano when he was young. According to him, the pots were then being buried with charms as a ritual to protect Kano from the attack of enemies, since during the pre-Islamic period there were intra and inter-ethnic wars, besides the wars being fought between neighbouring towns and villages. He said at times such pots were even buried by individuals at their houses, as security against both human and animal attack, saying sometimes skin, bones and parts of domestic or wild animals were buried in the pot, which was believed to be a protective device. Malam Inuwa said at times one pot, would be buried at the centre of the house, while one would be buried at each corridor, with the belief that calamity, attack or disease would not befall the house. He said the ritual would only fail if the pot is exhumed, adding that with the advent of Isl am into Hausaland, such practice had drastically reduced, since it is seen as being against the rules and ethics of the religion.


Malam Inuwa stressed that although few individuals still practice this system, especially in an attempt to make money easily, protect the self from attacks by enemies, get contracts, and receive more customers in case of business ventures. He said some people who failed to win the support of the lady they intend to marry, also used to bury a small pot with charms to get total acceptance from their lovers. According to him, with the continued spread of Islam, coupled with the increased preaching by clerics at discouraging such practice, people now resorted to other methods which did not violate Islamic regulations. These he added, include the recitation of the Holy Qur'an, and other supplications prescribed by Islam for self protection.


Commenting on the discovery of the artefact, the curator of Gidan Makama museum, where the pot is being kept, Jafaru Dauda, said based on the items found in it, there is a tendency that the pot was buried for protection, rather than being used for dyeing purposes.


According to the curator, normal clay was found in the pot, as against the ash colored-clay used for dyeing.


Jafaru Dauda said in the pre-Islamic period such kinds of pots were being used for storing food or water, in addition to rituals for territorial protection against attacks by enemies. He said so far there is no equipment in the museum that would provide the precise date of the pot, but confirmed that based on the relative dating, it could have been buried above 1000 years ago. The curator explained that the Gwammaja pot and others discovered in the past years, are being preserved, saying they are being protected against the effects of the sun, rainfall, and physical damage.



Archeologists discover Maya tomb

Thu May 4, 2006 6:54 AM BST

 By Mica Rosenberg


EL PERU WAKA, Guatemala (Reuters) - Archeologists outsmarted tomb raiders to unearth a major Maya Indian royal burial site in the Guatemalan jungle, discovering jade jewelry and a jaguar pelt from more than 1,500 years ago.


The tomb, found by archeologist Hector Escobedo last week, contains a king of the El Peru Waka city, now in ruins and covered in thick rainforest teeming with spider monkeys.


He may have been the dynastic founder of the city, on major Mayan trade routes that could have stretched from the city of Tikal in Guatemala up through Mexico.


"If this is indeed the founder, then it is a discovery of a lifetime," said David Freidel of Southern Methodist University in Texas, who co-directs the project with Escobedo.


The excavation team were working against the clock, aware that would-be treasures looters were scouting the same area.


Just a day before Escobedo discovered the tomb, looters sneaked into a tunnel the archeologists dug under the pyramid, clearing out rock and rubble in a fruitless effort to find booty.


Looters frequently raid Mayan archeological sites in the northern department of Peten. Known as "guecheros," an expression derived from the local word for armadillos, because they dig through dirt, they sell treasure that often finds its way to U.S. museums or private collections.


"They usually work at night or very fast and do whatever they please," Escobedo said.


El Peru Waka was discovered in the 1960s, but Escobedo and his team began scientific excavation three years ago. They had to stabilize the pyramid where he found the tomb after looters opened two tunnels the size of elevator shafts in it, leaving it close to collapse.


On Tuesday, another team of archeologists found what could be a second royal grave in a pyramid up the hill from the tomb, this one probably dating from some 400 years later.


That tomb has yet to be opened, but judging by an elaborate offering of a dozen miniature figurines of ball players, elegant women, dwarfs and seated lords found inside the pyramid, the burial site is likely to contain more royal remains, archeologists said.


At that spot, an archeologist picked up a small disc made of shell and jade about the size of U.S. nickel coin and flipped it over to reveal the elaborate profile of a head of what appears to be monkey.


The Mayans dominated southeastern Mexico and much of Central America for thousands of years until the Spanish conquest 500 years ago. Their descendants still live in the region.



Tomb of royal Mayan found in Guatemala

SMU team discovered queen's site in same ruins two years ago

12:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, May 2, 2006

By BRENDAN CASE and JAMES M. O'NEILL / The Dallas Morning News


Building on a find by a Southern Methodist University specialist on Mayan ruins, a Guatemalan archaeologist has uncovered the remains of what could be an ancient Mayan king's tomb deep in the rain forest of Guatemala's largest national park.


Dr. Héctor Escobedo, co-director of the Waká Archaeological Project with SMU's Dr. David Freidel, has unearthed a royal tomb beneath the principal pyramid in the western center of Waká.


Waká was a Mayan city in Laguna del Tigre, the national park in northern Guatemala. The discovery was made by Dr. Escobedo, an archaeologist at the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, and his student Juan Carlos Meléndez.


This marks the second royal tomb discovered at Waká. Two years ago, Dr. Freidel and his SMU students discovered a queen's tomb that was more than 1,200 years old and dated to the late classic period of Mayan civilization.


The new tomb was discovered in a different pyramid and dates to the early classic period between the second and fourth centuries A.D., according to SMU officials.


"We are trying to identify the remains, which appear to be in good condition despite the collapse of the tomb's roof," said Dr. Freidel in an e-mail exchange with the university. "This may be the resting place of either the dynasty founder, a man we do not have a history for, or K'inich B'alam the First, the Maya king who allied with Siyaj K'ak', conqueror of Tikal in A.D. 378."


The site, discovered by oil prospectors in the 1960s, contains 672 monumental structures and countless smaller houses. Harvard researcher Ian Graham recorded the site's monuments in the early 1970s, but the SMU project is the first to undertake scientific excavations.


The national park is under duress from vandals and cattle ranchers who burn the forest for grazing. The Guatemalan government has collaborated with Dr. Freidel and a team of 20 archaeologists, along with conservationists and residents, to protect the park. It is home to the endangered scarlet macaw.


Known as Waká in Mayan inscriptions but called El Perú today, the site was possibly a city of tens of thousands that sat on a crucial river route west of the famous Mayan site of Tikal. Over the course of 700 years, 22 kings ruled at Waká.


Lilián Garrido, director of Dr. Escobedo's lab in Guatemala City, told The Dallas Morning News in a phone interview Monday that the new tomb was discovered April 28. Though she didn't know details, she said they "suppose it was the tomb of someone important."


She said both Dr. Escobedo and Dr. Freidel will remain at the site for several weeks.


She can't yet say how this will help researchers understand Mayan history. "We can't be sure until we finish digging," Ms. Garrido said.


For more information, visit www.smu.edu/waka.


E-mail joneill@dallasnews.com



Ancient Maya Royal Tomb Discovered in Guatemala

John Roach

for National Geographic News, May 4, 2006


A newly uncovered Maya tomb might be the resting place of the first ruler of Waka', an ancient city on what was a major trade route.


The tomb, uncovered deep in the jungles of Guatemala (see map), contains a single skeleton lying on a stone bench, jade jewels, and the remains of a jaguar pelt, according to news reports.


The structure was discovered on April 29 by archaeologist Hector Escobedo of the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala and graduate student Juan Carlos Melendez.


It lies at the base of the site's largest pyramid, which is about 60 feet (18 meters) tall.


Escobedo is co-director of the Waka' Archaeological Project with David Freidel, an archaeologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.


"We are trying to identify the remains, which appear to be in good condition despite the collapse of the tomb's roof," Freidel wrote on his Web site.


"This may be the resting place of either the dynasty founder, a man we do not have a history for, or K'inich B'alam the First, the Maya king who allied with Siyaj Ka'k', conqueror of Tikal [a major Maya city] in AD 378."


Archaeologists believe the site of Waka'—located in Laguna del Tigre National Park and also known as El Peru—controlled trade along the San Pedro Matir River.


At the city's height, tens of thousands of people may have lived there. Over the course of 700 years, 22 kings ruled.


Oil prospectors discovered Waka' in the 1960s. It contains 672 structures and several smaller houses.


Harvard University archaeologist Ian Graham mapped the site in the 1970s, and Freidel and Escobedo are the first to excavate there.



900-year-old tombs discovered in N. China region


Archaeologists have discovered an unprecedented large group of 900-year-old tombs in Horinger County in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.


The tombs, dating back to the Liao Dynasty (916-1125), were excavated in the ancient city of Tuchengzi, said Li Qiang, head of the archeology team.


He said it was the largest group of Liao tombs ever discovered at the southern foot of the Yinshan Mountains running west-east through Inner Mongolia.


A vase and a kettle made of brown vitreous enamel were among 14 ornate porcelain and six ceramic items found at the site, said Li.


He said 18 of the 21 tombs excavated were made of brick and the rest were earthen.


"The tombs are placed in order and decorated with frescos, indicating that members of an upper-class family were buried here." said Li, adding the discovery might provide insights into life in Tuchengzi during the Liao period.


The ancient city is believed to have been established during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.), and is now a cultural heritage site under state protection.


Source: Xinhua



7 May 2006 12:01

Archaeologists solve the ultimate puzzle

By Jan McGirk in Bangkok

Published: 06 May 2006


Archaeologists working at the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia have nearly completed what has been hailed as the world's largest and most complicated jigsaw puzzle.


The Baphuon, one of the most ancient temples at the complex, was this week unveiled to the public after decades spent in hundreds of thousands of fragments, which had stumped French and Cambodian scientists.


Restoring the three-storey structure, one of the most fragile monuments at the celebrated complex, was never going to be easy. Some 300,000 pieces of the 11th-century temple, with intricate sandstone panels depicting Hindu legends, lay strewn across 25 acres of jungle after French academics dismantled the collapsing ruins in the 1960s so they could be strengthened. But their notes were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, who ransacked the Phnom Penh office of the Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient in 1975.


The French archaeologist Pascal Royère returned to the site in 1995, only to see it had become a slag heap of ancient sandstone. His team reinforced the base with concrete. A computer programme was unable to make sense of the numbered stones, so the crew of 202scientists and specialists relied on their own hunches, and the memories of 30 Cambodian stonemasons who had worked on the original project in the Sixties. It will be take another two years to finish the top tiers.


Archaeologists working at the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia have nearly completed what has been hailed as the world's largest and most complicated jigsaw puzzle.


The Baphuon, one of the most ancient temples at the complex, was this week unveiled to the public after decades spent in hundreds of thousands of fragments, which had stumped French and Cambodian scientists.


Restoring the three-storey structure, one of the most fragile monuments at the celebrated complex, was never going to be easy. Some 300,000 pieces of the 11th-century temple, with intricate sandstone panels depicting Hindu legends, lay strewn across 25 acres of jungle after French academics dismantled the collapsing ruins in the 1960s so they could be strengthened. But their notes were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, who ransacked the Phnom Penh office of the Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient in 1975.


The French archaeologist Pascal Royère returned to the site in 1995, only to see it had become a slag heap of ancient sandstone. His team reinforced the base with concrete. A computer programme was unable to make sense of the numbered stones, so the crew of 202scientists and specialists relied on their own hunches, and the memories of 30 Cambodian stonemasons who had worked on the original project in the Sixties. It will be take another two years to finish the top tiers.



Israel launches world's first underwater museum

By Leora Eren Frucht   April 30, 2006


It was the largest, most impressive port in the Roman Empire when it was inaugurated in 10 BCE. And some 2,016 years later, the ancient port of Caesarea - along the Mediterranean coast of Israel - was inaugurated again last week, this time as the world's first underwater museum.


Divers can now don their wet suits and tour the sign-posted remains of the magnificent harbor built by King Herod to honor his Roman patron, Caesar Augustus. The site has been excavated over the last three decades by a team led by the late Prof. Avner Raban of the University of Haifa's Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies.


It's not your ordinary museum tour. Visitors float from one 'exhibit' to the next, marveling in silence at the untouched remains of a once-glorious harbor: a Roman shipwreck, a ruined lighthouse, an ancient breakwater, the port's original foundations, anchors, pedestals.


"It's a truly unique site," said Sarah Arenson, a University of Haifa maritime historian and participant in the project. "This port was built as the state-of-the-art port of the Roman Empire, and made the other ports of the time, including those of Rome, Alexandria and Piraeus, look small and out-of-date by comparison."


Arenson notes that the port is also unique today: "There are no other ancient ports in the world that are accessible to ordinary divers," she told ISRAEL21c. Some such ports are restricted to authorized scientists. Others may be open to any diver, but would be meaningless to such visitors "because," explains Arenson ,"all you would see is a bunch of stones."


At Caesarea, divers view some 36 different sign-posted sites along four marked trails in the sunken harbor covering an area of 87,000 sq. yards They are given a water-proof map which describes in detail each of the numbered sites along the way (currently maps are in English and Hebrew; within a few months they will be available in six additional languages.) One trail is also accessible to snorkelers. The others, ranging from 7 to 29 feet below the surface, close to the beach, are appropriate for any beginner diver.


And what does the visitor see?


In a sense, an abrogated history of this once prominent port town - from its entrance at sea (about 350 feet from the current shoreline) to the Roman shipwreck that signaled the demise of the port, probably due to an earthquake, about a century after its construction, researchers believe. And, in between, divers can view the remnants of the original foundations that made this harbor one of the wonders of the Roman Empire.


"This port was built using the knowledge and technology of Roman engineers," explains University of Haifa maritime historian Dr. Nadav Kashtan, a member of the team that excavated the site.


It was constructed with a type of hydraulic cement, invented by the Romans, known as pozzolana. "The Romans found that when they take the volcanic powder found around Mount Vesuvius and mix it with lime and rubble, the substance hardens in water," Kashtan told ISRAEL21c.


"This 'hydraulic concrete' was imported to Casearea and used to fill wooden frames which were then lowered into the water to lay the foundations for the port." Two such frames were found, one almost perfectly intact, and are on view today.


Kashtan notes that thousands of men were recruited - both from Rome and locally - to build the port over the course of 12 years. Among them were many divers, who descended simply holding their breath, or possibly in a diving bell.


The Roman city of Caesarea was built on the ruins of a decaying Phoenician town called Straton's Tower. Its builder, Herod, who also built the Second Temple of Jerusalem, was considered one of the most magnificent builders of the Roman era, notes Kashtan.


The Jewish king built the town - given to him as a present by Augustus - into a grand, fortified city that served as the capital of the Roman province of Judea for about 600 years.


The first century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius described the building of the port of Caesarea in 'The Jewish Wars':


"Along the coast Herod discovered a city that was in decay named Straton's Tower. The stretch of coast-line from Dora to Joppa, between which the city lies, was completely devoid of harbors, so that every ship sailing from Egypt along the coast of Phoenicia had to ride at anchor in open when menaced by southwest wind, for even a moderate breeze from this quarter dashes the wave to such a height against the cliffs that their reflux spread a great commotion far out to sea."


Researchers note that the excavations correspond closely with Josephus's detailed accounts of the port.


The underwater park was developed with the financial support of the Caesarea Development Corporation.


Israel has long been known as a diver's mecca because of the rainbow of corals and exotic fish found off the coast of the Red Sea resort of Eilat. But the country has more than two dozen other diving sites along the Mediterranean coast - from the unique maze of chalky white caves of Rosh Hanikra in the north, to a collection of shipwrecks dotting the coast as far south as Ashkelon.


The sunken port of Caesarea - with its ancient sites and modern explanations - is sure to become one of the top underwater attractions.