Scientists debate role climate change plays in creating civilizations

Tuesday, July 04, 2006



One of archaeology’s "big questions" is explaining the origins of civilization. In anthropology, "civilization" has a technical definition.


To qualify as a civilization, a society must have all or most of the following characteristics: cities with large populations; a hierarchical social organization, with a king, pharaoh or president at the top of the organizational chart; an economy based on agriculture; monumental architecture; and a system of record-keeping.


The earliest civilizations arose in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley and northern China. Based on this definition, there were no indigenous civilizations in the Ohio Valley. And the arrival of European civilization derailed any chance of one developing.


Various theories have been proposed to explain how this social complexity developed and why it developed in some areas and not others, but archaeologists and historians have not formulated any one satisfying explanation.


Nick Brooks, a climate-change researcher at the University of East Anglia in England, offers his idea in the latest issue of Quaternary International.


"The emergence of complex societies coincided with or followed a period of increased aridity," which began 8,000 years ago but intensified periodically in subsequent millennia, he said.


In this view, global climate change caused the profound social changes that have been referred to as the "urban revolution."


Brooks states that during large-scale droughts, people would have been forced to concentrate in places where water was available.


The social consequences of this aggregation included the formation of managerial elites who controlled the distribution of resources and directed the construction of large monuments to represent and justify their authority. Brooks sees these worldwide social upheavals as ways societies adapted to changing environments.


Most anthropologists reject such explanations as too simplistic. The environment, they say, cannot alone determine human responses.


But when cultures worldwide adopt similar solutions to similar problems, perhaps it’s useful to view civilization as a successful, if not inevitable, response to global environmental changes.


The editors of this issue of Quaternary International point out that although "no simple rules seem to govern human (cultural) evolution," it is crucial to try to understand how humans respond to environmental catastrophes.


It is increasingly relevant to us today in the wake of devastating tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes and the threat of global warming.


Bradley T. Lepper is curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society.





Ridgely find may be thousands of years of years old

Ring of fire

By Nick Hanson

The Mankato Free Press

July 6


FAIRFAX - For the past year, archaeologists have been unearthing pieces of history underneath Fort Ridgely Historic District and state park, where thousands of artifacts lie below the surface. Most recently crews have been busily clearing items from areas where construction crews will soon remodel a golf course that runs through portions of Fort Ridgely.


In those areas, archaeologists have found many artifacts from the actual fort, the U.S. Dakota War of 1862 - when the Dakota Indians attacked Ridgely - and various other American Indian artifacts ranging from tools to arrowheads.


Last week, however, diggers possibly stumbled upon one of the most significant and oldest finds.


They found a hearth, or fire pit, which is very likely archaic - meaning it's between 3,000 and 8,000 years old.


The pit was discovered when diggers found some fire rock below the surface.


Further excavation revealed a perfect circle of rocks about 3 feet in diameter.


"I've never found one that is so intact," said LeRoy Gonsior, an on-site archeologist who works for the Department of Natural Resources.


Gonsior said they believe the fire pit is so old because it's almost 20 centimeters beneath the ground.


Artifacts from more recent times are usually 5 centimeters or closer to the surface.


"It's a lot lower than most (artifacts)," Gonsior said.


After taking samples Wednesday, he'll take some rock and dirt samples from the pit back to the Twin Cities to look for bits of charcoal for carbon dating.


If tests prove the hearth is archaic, it'll probably be the oldest discovery the archaeologists have found at Ridgely.


An ancient group of American Indians likely built the hearth after walking up a nearby ravine from the Minnesota River to rest, hunt bison or camp.


"It's really a rich site with many finds," Gonsior said.


As a partial Dakota Indian and history buff, John LaBatte has been volunteering time to help the archeologists at Ridgely.


The site has given him the opportunity to learn more about the Dakota culture and religion. But he said the recent hearth find is exciting too.


"I'm just enjoying the history," LaBatte said.



July 4, 2006 - 2:39 PM

Race on to save Egypt's ancient treasures

Spectacular pyramids only tell part of the story

Swiss archaeologists are joining the scramble to recover invaluable ancient remains in Egypt before they are lost forever beneath modern developments.


Cornelius von Pilgrim is leading efforts to unearth evidence of how people lived thousands of years ago near the southern city of Aswan.


"Many ancient towns are being covered by modern towns with deep foundations that destroy the ancient remains," von Pilgrim told swissinfo.


The archaeologist from the Swiss Institute for Egyptian Architectural and Archaeological Research in Cairo has been working alongside Egyptian experts for the past six years in Aswan.


"We still do not know much about these old towns. They have been neglected because they are more difficult to dig and not as spectacular as tombs and pyramids," he explained. "We know more about the beliefs of ancient Egyptians than about how they lived."


Aswan is where they made the chance, but significant discovery of a stone ramp used to transport granite blocks to waiting ships.


They also found plenty of evidence of looting, an unwanted phenomenon that has dogged Egyptology for the last 200 years.


"Some of the sites were perforated like Swiss cheese with a maze of tunnels and shafts dug illegally to steal relics," von Pilgrim said. "Once rumours get out that someone has found some beads then everyone starts digging. It is an enormous problem and very dangerous for the illegal diggers."


Von Pilgrim has now set his sights firmly on unearthing new treasures under the soil in collaboration with Egyptian authorities with which the institute enjoys a "close and friendly" cooperation.


"But we do not have much time left," he warned. "We also need to gain people's trust because many landowners fear we will stop their construction and expropriate the land if we find remains, which is not the case."


Von Pilgrim represents just one third of the institute's permanent staff in Egypt. But this number is boosted to about 20 with archaeology students on temporary attachment from Switzerland and other parts of the world, plus local helpers who are educated in the ways of Egyptology by the staff.


"I am quite convinced that it is necessary to know about the past in order to move forwards. Everyone has to know about history to understand our modern culture," von Pilgrim said.


"History also plays an important role in modern Egypt's economy as tourism has an eminent value. Archaeological research is not just confined to pure science, but we also try to reconstruct sites for visitors to enjoy."


Since 1969 the institute has been working alongside German colleagues on the Nile island of Elephantine. A garrison of foreign mercenaries had occupied the island, stationed there from around the seventh to the fourth centuries BC to protect Egypt's southern border.


The digs uncovered remains of a Jewish temple and many other antiquities that greatly enhanced understanding about life in the garrison.


"I am convinced that we don't know more than a fraction about the history of Egyptian society. The time is over when we wanted to discover new things all the time. We now need to fill in the gaps in our knowledge about normal life in ancient Egypt," he said.


swissinfo, Matthew Allen



Pellets from Yin Ruins might be missiles: expert

www.chinaview.cn 2006-07-09 21:03:01


    BEIJING, July 9 (Xinhua) -- A large number of pottery pellets have been discovered in the famous Yin Ruins in central China, and now an archaeologists said they might have been used as catapult missiles more 3,000 years ago.


    The ancient pellets were found in pits and tombs of the Yin Ruins in Anyang, capital of the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC-1100 BC). Yin was the ancient name for the Shang Dynasty. The ruins were first discovered in 1928, and numerous findings have since been made.


    The pellets, made of red clay, were 1 centimeter in diameter, and most of them were polished, said Miao Xia, a researcher with the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


    In one of the ancient tombs, several hundred pellets were unearthed.


    "The pellets were very hard. It seemed that the pellets had close connection with the daily life of the ancients," Miao said.


    The Yin Ruins are famous for the discovery of inscribed animal bones and tortoise shells, known as oracle bones. The inscriptions on bones and shells, used for divination by Shang emperors, are the earliest known examples of Chinese characters.


    In the pictographic inscriptions on bones and shells, experts found a character for bow was drawn as a bow with a pellet at the center.


    "We infer that the pottery pellets were catapult missiles used by ancient hunters," Miao said.


    Such kind of catapult was popular in ancient China. The hunters might have used the catapults and pottery bullets to shoot birds and animals in order to get furs intact, Miao said.



Massive earthquake destroyed ancient city of Anamurium, say scientists

Saturday, July 8, 2006

ANKARA - Turkish Daily News


  The ancient city of Anamurium, located west of Mersin's Anamur district, was destroyed by a massive earthquake in the sixth century, scientists working at the site announced on Wednesday.


  Professor Selim İnan of Mersin University said in a written statement that four fault lines in the triangle formed by the Mut, Ermenek and Anamur districts had been identified during studies conducted over the last two years with Professor Nurdan İnan.


  İnan said the research revealed strong evidence that the ancient city was destroyed by an earthquake that occurred on the continuation of the Namrun fault line, which constitutes the southwest end of the Ecemiş fault line.


  “We considered the possibility that the Namrun and Ecemiş fault lines could extend as far as Anamur, which can be seen in ancient port listings that date back to the fourth century B.C.,said İnan.

  Three-meter landslides that occurred on the city walls caught our attention. The damage that occurred in the city was bigger than that of its necropolis, which was located on higher land. Additionally, although the area was a thriving settlement until that time, it was abandoned in the sixth century. All this proves that a massive earthquake struck the area, İnan explained.


  The history of the ancient city of Anamurium, which sits on a 30-square-kilometer area west of Cape Anamur, dates back to the Hittite period. The name Anamurium means windy cape according to historical documents.



Oldest Thracian Town Discovered

Sensational archeological finding near the village of Vassil Levski, Karlovo region, central Bulgaria is expected to attract thousands of tourists. "The oldest Thracian city with a large royal residence dating back to over 2500 ago was discovered," said archeologist Kostadin Kissiov. He is the leader of the excavation works with the Museum of Archeology in Bulgaria's second largest city of Plovdiv. We started a year ago but it is now that our efforts were rewarded with a finding that has no match, Kissiov thinks. He dates the site to the 5th century BC. It spreads on the vast for its time area of 2.5 ha. This is the oldest Thracian settlement ever found. The other similar town is Sevtopolis that is now on the bottom of Koprinka dam, at five kilometers from the town of Kazanlak, central Bulgaria. The royal residence is of monumental size and is tile-roofed like no other of the Thracian buildings discovered so far. Fine Thracian and Greek pottery has been found that evidences for the ruler's contacts. The whole residence is still to be unearthed that will probably show who the ruler was. "Unfortunately only a small part of the ancient settlement will be unearthed because it lies in private property," Kissiov explains. Besides there is no money for developing the site. Funds are raised only through private sponsors despite the long-submitted conservation project in the Culture Ministry.

Eli Kumanova



Ruins revived at Aquileia

[foto] Experts uncover more of Roman Italy's third-biggest city (ANSA) - Aquileia, July 3 - Italian archaeologists are working hard to unearth more of the largest Roman city ever uncovered, a colony that served as a bulwark against barbarian invasions before being destroyed by Attila the Hun .


Aquileia in today's far north east, once the third-biggest city in Roman Italy, had been largely wiped off the map by foreign attacks and centuries of stone looting. But some of its ancient splendour remained in traces of its baths, temples, port, public buildings and private dwellings .


Specialists from the University of Udine have been bringing the city back to renewed life so as to make the place - one of Italy's World Heritage sites - more interesting for the visitor to look at .


"We're now focusing on uncovering the lay-out of the public baths, one of the largest and plushest of the fourth century AD, measuring more than two hectares," said lead archaeologist Marina Rubinich .


As a term of comparison, the largest baths in the famous buried city of Pompeii are about half the size. The Udine University lecturer also said her team was gathering together scattered pieces of the city to exhibit in a revamped museum on the site .


A set of precious mosaics that are now in a local museum will, by contrast, be reinstalled in their original location, she said .


"The aim is to make the city more understandable for the visitor," Rubinich said .


To help with this goal, university experts are making a 3-D computer reconstruction of the baths .


"We hope to have the first stage of the project completed by this time next year," she said .


Aquileia was founded as a frontier fortress in 180/181 BC, initially serving to ward off Gaullish invaders .


The outpost was soon linked to present-day Bologna and Genoa and began to thrive commercially after gold was discovered nearby in 130 BC .


It was the starting-point of several important roads leading to the north-eastern part of the empire including ones to Trieste and present-day Klagenfurt in Austria .


When Marcus Aurelius made it the main fortress of the empire against the barbarians of the North and East in 168 AD, it rose to the height of its greatness and soon had a population of 100,000. It later became a naval station and had its own mint, hundreds of whose coins have been found .


In the 4th century AD the local bishop obtained the rank of Patriarch and the first in a series of major religious congresses was held there. An imperial palace was constructed in which emperors after the time of Diocletian frequently stayed, and the city often played a part in major power struggles .


At the end of the century, a Roman historian ranked it ninth among the great cities of the world .


But it was so utterly destroyed by Attila's Huns in 452 that it became difficult to recognize the original site. The Roman inhabitants, together with those of smaller towns in the neighbourhood, fled to the lagoons, laying the foundations of Venice.



Prehistoric farm found at Huntworth


Archaeologists have discovered a 2,500 year old prehistoric farm near Huntworth, south of Bridgwater, Somerset. The remains of two Iron Age houses have been found, along with compounds and fields on an island of higher land.


The excavations were done in advance of the building of a new dairy and a cattle market by Mead Realisations. Katherine Wetherall said ‘as a farming family it is fascinating to think that over 2000 years, farmers could have been taking their cows down to lush low-lying pastures. Some things don’t change!’


Steve Membery of Somerset County Council’s archaeology team said ‘this is an important find for the history of Somerset. An Iron Age farm is an exciting discovery. It shows just how important it is to check sites before new developments. The first clue about the site came from air photographs. A geophysical survey and trial trenches helped us decide where excavations were needed.’


A good impression of what the houses at the site looked like comes from the nearby Peat Moors Centre at Westhay which is run by the Council. Three replica Iron Age houses have been built. Each house has a conical thatched roof and a big porch.


The month long excavation by junction 24 on the M5 finished at the end of June 2006. The work was done by Wessex Archaeology and Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick added ‘Somerset has some well-preserved Iron Age hillforts and the famous Glastonbury Lake Village, but only two farms have been excavated before. One was at Christon, near Winscombe. It was found in 1970 as the M5 was being built. Now sites are checked for archaeology before building starts.’


Iron Age Somerset is famous for it forts, the largest hillfort in Britain is at Ham Hill near Montacute and at Cadbury Castle by South Cadbury, the remains of the last stand by local tribesmen against the invading Romans were found. Well preserved forts are found on high ground all across the county.


Perhaps more important are the well-preserved villages at Glastonbury and Meare in the Somerset Levels. The Glastonbury village was built on an artificial island in a swamp and was only accessible by boat. Home to as many as 200 people, the village was eventually abandoned because of the rising water level and this has kept the remains waterlogged ever since. As a result much evidence that normally rots away on sites on dry land has been preserved. This makes the Lake Villages of European importance.


At sites such as Huntworth, the remains of broken Iron Age pots have been found but at Glastonbury as well as pots the remains of wooden tubs and wicker baskets have been preserved. Pieces of baked clay at Huntworth might be from weights used on looms to keep textiles taught. At Glastonbury pieces of wood thought to be from looms themselves have been found.


Other Iron Age farms on dry land include Canards Grave, Shepton Mallet, where the remains of four circular houses were found. This site was also excavated by Wessex Archaeology.


Roman writers tell us the names of some of the tribes of Britain. By looking at the evidence from coins, archaeologists think that at the end of the Iron Age parts of Somerset may have been occupied by three different tribes. The tribes are known as the Durotriges, Dobunni and the Dumnonii. The Durotriges lived in Dorset and south-east Somerset, the Dobunni were in Gloucestershire and north-east Somerset and the Dumnonii lived from west Somerset into Devon and Cornwall.




By Caroline Lewis     05/07/2006


Archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric farm in Somerset, under the site of a new dairy and cattle market.


The farm, which included two houses, compounds and fields, dates back 2,500 years to the Iron Age. Excavations were carried out in advance of building work on a new agricultural centre, close to the village of Huntworth by junction 24 on the M5.


“As a farming family it is fascinating to think that over 2,000 years, farmers could have been taking their cows down to lush low-lying pastures,” said Katherine Wetherall, Director of Mead Realisations, the company building the centre. “Some things don’t change!”


The month-long excavation by Wessex Archaeology was completed at the end of June 2006.


“This is an important find for the history of Somerset,” said Steve Membury of Somerset County Council’s archaeology team. “An Iron Age farm is an exciting discovery.”


“It shows just how important it is to check sites before new developments,” he said. “The first clue about the site came from aerial photographs. A geophysical survey and trial trenches helped us decide where excavations were needed.”


Iron Age pottery was found in subsequent digs, as well as a fragment of a baked clay weight, probably from a loom. A replica of such a loom can be seen at the Peat Moors Centre, Westhay.


The Peat Moors Centre, not far from the site, also has reconstructed Iron Age houses that give a good impression of what those at the farm might have looked like. They are round, with conical thatched roofs and large porches.


All the finds from Huntworth have not yet been cleaned and assessed, but it is thought that they may well include medieval items, too.


“Somerset has some well-preserved Iron Age hillforts and the famous Glastonbury Lake Village, but only two farms have been excavated before,” said archaeologist Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick. “One was at Christon, near Winscombe. It was found in 1970 as the M5 was being built.”


Somerset boasts the largest Iron Age hillfort in Britain at Ham Hill, near Montacute. Glastonbury Lake Village was built on an artificial island in a swamp and was only accessible by boat. The village, eventually abandoned due to rising water levels, has been well preserved because of waterlogging.


Another Iron Age farm was excavated by Wessex Archaeology at Canards Grave, Shepton Mallet, where the remains of four circular houses were found.




11:40 - 03 July 2006


A burial ground, the foundations of medieval castle buildings and a chapel have all been discovered by archaeologists carrying out an excavation in Exeter. The human remains date to before the construction of Rougemont Castle by William the Conqueror in 1068 and could represent an early Christian cemetery.


Archaeologists from Exeter City Council are undertaking the four-week trenching at the castle courtyard to discover what remains of the former medieval building and of Roman and Saxon Exeter beneath it.


Any finds could go on public display and help in discussions with a new owner about the future use and landscaping of the courtyard.


The site is due to be sold by the Department of Constitutional Affairs but the city council wants to obtain public access to the castle ramparts and courtyard.


Andrew Pye, archaeology officer for the city council, said: "In places, remains have been found to lie almost directly under the tarmac, and are up to 1.5metres deep.


"Although no spectacular discoveries have been made, the foundations of medieval castle buildings have been revealed, including a possible chapel, together with human burials.


"They could represent an early Christian cemetery, as the burials lie east to west and further scientific analysis will be carried out to confirm this.


"The remains and burials will be recorded but will not be removed.


"No substantial Roman remains have yet been revealed - they may well have been levelled when the castle was built.


"When the work is finished, the trenches will be filled in so that the courtyard can be used again."


The trenching began in early June and is expected to end next week.


The Grade II-listed castle housed Exeter Crown Court until 2004.


More than 50 interested parties viewed the property when it was placed on the market last year.


A preferred bidder has been found but agent Lambert Smith Hampton is ironing out legal wrangles before a deal can be signed.




Cliff-top cemetery chapel search

Archaeological dig at West Angle Bay

Human remains were found at the site during last summer's dig

A search for the ruins of an ancient chapel on the Pembrokeshire coast will resume as archaeologists return to the site of a medieval burial ground.


Last summer the cemetery, along with remains of some of those buried there, were unearthed at West Angle Bay.


Funding for a second dig has been found and this time the team will be looking for evidence of buildings at the cliff-top site.


Amateur enthusiasts can join in as two taster days are being held this month.


Last year's excavation run by the Pembrokeshire coast national park authority and Cambria Archaeology, and funded by the Welsh historic monuments agency Cadw, saw students from Cardiff University investigate the site.


They were able to identify the cliff-top land as an early Christian cemetery and bone fragments were carbon-dated between the 8th and 10th Centuries AD.


There was also a suggestion that the site housed the remains of an ancient chapel.


National park archaeologist Polly Groom said: "This is something we are going to be looking for this year.


"The name of the field is church field or chapel field," she explained.


"There is documentary evidence of a chapel but the location is not given."


She said a survey of the land and soil disturbance had been done which suggested it was possible buildings once stood there.


On two days members of the public will be able to take part in the dig although places were limited and needed to be booked in advance.


Ms Groom added: "These sessions will run for half a day and will include a tour of the site, an introduction to the process of archaeology and time to try one's hand at excavation.


"Anyone who misses out this time around is welcome to come and visit the site anyway - it is close to the beach at West Angle and can be seen from the Pembrokeshire coast path.


"Last year was most successful and we are very hopeful of finding out much more about this site - one of several such cemeteries in Pembrokeshire dating from this early Christian period."


A dig diary will run online later this month, accessed via Cambria Archaeology's website.


The "taster sessions" take place on 19 and 26 July and can be booked through Richard Jones at Cambria Archaeology.



Wreck of 16th-century warship found off Cyprus

July 3, 2006


NICOSIA --  The remains of a Turkish ship believed to have taken part in the 1570 to 1571 Ottoman siege of Famagusta have been located off the Cyprus coast, it was reported on Sunday.


Three cannons, 25.4 centimeters (10 inches) in diameter, and an anchor were found by amateur divers 40 meters down in the Mediterranean off the city on the island's southeast coast, Politis newspaper said.


The find is believed to be the first of its kind.


Politis said that the ship had probably been part of the fleet of general Lala Mustafa, who lost 80,000 men before the walled city finally fell in July 1571 after a 10-month siege.


Some 200,000 soldiers laid siege to Famagusta that was defended by around 10,000 men led by Venetian Marc Antony Bragodino.


The two Greek Cypriot divers reportedly found the wreck by chance.


Photos and video footage of their discovery were posted on the Politis Website on Sunday.


The Cypriot authorities have been alerted to the find in the hope that parts of the ship can be raised and housed in a museum.


The fall of Famagusta signaled the end of Venetian rule in Cyprus and the start of more than 300 years of Ottoman dominance.


When the Ottomans invaded Cyprus in 1570 most towns were easily captured, but Famagusta held out until its food supplies were exhausted, earning itself a special place in Cypriot history.



National Archaeology Week is your unique chance to discover and explore the archaeological heritage of the United Kingdom. During this NINE DAY event, which will run from 15th–23rd July 2006, you can take part in excavation open days, guided tours, exhibitions, lectures, ancient art and craft workshops and much, much more.