Article Launched: 07/24/2006 12:00:00 AM PDT

Fire leads to American Indian find

Jeff Horwitz, Staff Writer


At a former American Indian village near Rattlesnake Canyon, James Ramos saw upturned earth and an invitation.


Part of the village site that the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians historian was touring July 16 - potentially 8,000 years old - had been scraped into a firebreak by bulldozer crews battling the Sawtooth Complex Fire west of Yucca Valley.


Working to protect the area's contemporary residents, fire crews discovered and, in a few cases, damaged archaeological sites. Historical remnants of American Indian, pioneer, missionary and mining activities abound in the area, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection archaeologist Gerrit Fenenga. One of two CDF archaeologists assigned to the 60,000-plus-acre Sawtooth fire, Fenenga and partner Linda Pollack helped fire crews protect the sites and record new discoveries.


"We probably discover more sites on fires than any other way," Pollack said.


Firefighters often trace the same routes through the hills that Serrano and Cahuilla Indians once did, Pollack said, stumbling over archaeological sites in places now rarely visited.


Although Ramos' tribe already knew about the spot unearthed July 16, they usually consider excavating such sites to be an inappropriate intrusion upon those who once lived there. But when archaeological sites open up on their own, as they did during the fire, that's another matter.


"We feel that those that were there before wanted to give us information," Ramos said.


All told, archaeologists assigned to the fire discovered between three and five new American Indian village sites and dozens of other historical sites ranging from 19th-century gold-mining operations to Depression-era homesteads, Fenenga said. Anything more than 50 years old could qualify as historically significant.


But with the potential for new discoveries and new artifacts comes new risks.


In the course of fighting the Sawtooth Complex Fire, bulldozers and hand crews damaged at least two historical places, building firebreaks across a historic aqueduct along with the American Indian village Ramos visited.


Part of the archaeologists' responsibilities during the fire included apprising fire crews about the location of known historical sites, Pollack said. The fire crews try to steer clear of known sites, but they sometimes discover new ones while working.


New CDF firefighters get a crash course in archaeology, Pollack said, and many of them put the training to use. On July 16, the archaeologists found a 1930s-era site based on a tip from a bulldozer operator who had to bulldoze part of it to widen a firebreak.


With enough warning, CDF firefighters can usually alter fire lines and work around historic sites, said Temecula Fire Chief Brian Deyo, who stopped by the location.


But historic habitations must sometimes be sacrificed for those still standing, Deyo said. "Our incident priorities never change," he said. "They're life, property and then the environment. And if we've got to put in a bulldozer line, we do it."


In the course of fighting the Sawtooth fire, crews cut more than 100 miles of bulldozer and hand lines, Pollack estimated. Along with U.S. Forest Service archaeologist Doug McKay, the CDF archaeologists are allowed by law only a few days of unfettered access to sites following a fire. Then they would need written permission to inspect anything on private property.


"There's no way we could cover it all," Pollack said.


"This area literally contains thousands of sites," Fenenga said.


The excavation of other village sites has unearthed important pieces of Serrano history, Ramos said, helping map American Indian society. "As the people would travel up from the desert floor, there were pinion trees, and you would have a village processing the plants," he said. Artifacts, such as arrowheads made of obsidian originating in the Sierra Nevada, can help archaeologists understand Indian trading routes.


Significant historic sites damaged in the course of fighting fires are eligible for government-funded study, and McKay said he expected the Rattlesnake Canyon site would qualify. An excavation could shed light on the village inhabitants' lifestyle, housing and travel, he said, and the site would likely also be included in the National Register of Historic Places.


Damaged or not, the locations of most archaeological sites are tightly kept secrets. At a site Pollack and Fenenga documented July 16, the archaeologists were careful to remove the white and pink ribbons firefighters had used to mark the site. The exact locations remain secret.


Looters will steal almost anything of historic value, especially objects from American Indian sites, Pollack said. Even boulder-sized rock art has been known to disappear. "If they can get it in their vehicle, they will," she said.


Even those without an American Indian heritage should have an interest in seeing the sites preserved, McKay said.


"It's a direct legacy of the San Manuel and Morongo Serrano people, but it's all of our nation's heritage," he said. "Who was here before, and how did they live on this land?"



Fear of Snakes Drove Primate Evolution, Scientist Says

Ker Than

LiveScience Staff Writer

LiveScience.com Fri Jul 21, 10:32 AM ET


An evolutionary arms race between early snakes and mammals triggered the development of improved vision and large brains in primates, a radical new theory suggests.


The idea, proposed by Lynne Isbell, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, suggests that snakes and primates share a long and intimate history, one that forced both groups to evolve new strategies as each attempted to gain the upper hand.


To avoid becoming snake food, early mammals had to develop ways to detect and avoid the reptiles before they could strike. Some animals evolved better snake sniffers, while others developed immunities to serpent venom when it evolved. Early primates developed a better eye for color, detail and movement and the ability to see in three dimensions—traits that are important for detecting threats at close range.


Humans are descended from those same primates.


Scientists had previously thought that these traits evolved together as primates used their hands and eyes to grab insects, or pick fruit or to swing through trees, but recent discoveries from neuroscience are casting doubt on these theories.


"Primates went a particular route," Isbell told LiveScience. "They focused on improving their vision to keep away from [snakes]. Other mammals couldn't do that. Primates had the pre-adaptations to go that way."


Harry Greene, an evolutionary biologist and snake expert at Cornell University in New York, says Isbell's new idea is very exciting.


"It strikes me as a very special piece of scholarship and I think it's going to provoke a lot of thought," Greene said.


Isbell's work is detailed in the July issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.


Fossil and DNA evidence suggests that the snakes were already around when the first mammals evolved some 100 million years ago. The reptiles were thus among the first serious predators mammals faced. Today, the only other threats faced by primates are raptors, such as eagles and hawks, and large carnivores, such as bears, large cats and wolves, but these animals evolved long after snakes.


Furthermore, these other predators can be safely detected from a distance. For snakes, the opposite is true.


"If you see them close to you, you still have time to avoid them," Isbell said. "Primate vision is particularly good at close range."


Early snakes killed their prey using surprise attacks and by suffocating them to death—the method of boa constrictors. But the improved vision of primates, combined with other snake-coping strategies developed by other animals, forced snakes to evolve a new weapon: venom. This important milestone in snake evolution occurred about 60 million years ago.


"The [snakes] had to do something to get better at finding their prey, so that's where venom comes in," Isbell said. "The snakes upped the ante and then the primates had to respond by developing even better vision."


Once primates developed specialized vision and enlarged brains, these traits became useful for other purposes, such as social interactions in groups.


Isbell's new theory could explain how a number of primate-defining traits evolved.


For example, primates are among the few animals whose eyes face forward (most animals have eyes located on the sides of their heads). This so-called "orbital convergence" improves depth perception and allows monkeys and apes, including humans, to see in three dimensions. Primates also have better color vision than most animals and are also unique in relying heavily on vision when reaching and grasping for objects.


One of the most popular ideas for explaining how these traits evolved is called the "visual predation hypothesis." It proposes that our early ancestors were small, insect eating mammals and that the need to stalk and grab insects at close range was the driving force behind the evolution of improved vision.


Another popular idea, called the "leaping hypothesis," argues that orbital convergence is not only important for 3D vision, but also for breaking through camouflage. Thus, it would have been useful not only for capturing insects and finding small fruits, but also for aiming at small, hard-to-see branches during mid-leaps through trees.


But there are problems with both hypotheses, Isbell says.


First, there is no solid evidence that early primates were committed insectivores. It's possible that like many primates today, they were generalists, eating a variety of plant foods, such as leaves, fruit and nectar, as well as insects.


More importantly, recent neuroscience studies do not support the idea that vision evolved alongside the ability to reach and grasp. Rather, the data suggest that the reaching-and-grasping abilities of primates actually evolved before they learned to leap and before they developed stereoscopic, or 3D, vision.


Agents of evolutionary change


Isbell thinks proto-primates—the early mammals that eventually evolved into primates—were in better position compared to other mammals to evolve specialized vision and enlarged brains because of the foods they ate.


"They were eating foods high in sugar, and glucose is required for metabolizing energy," Isbell said. "Vision is a part of the brain, and messing with the brain takes a lot of energy so you're going to need a diet that allows you to do that."


Modern primates are among the most frugivorous, or "fruit-loving," of all mammals, and this trend might have started with the proto-primates. "Today there are primates that focus on leaves and things like that, but the earliest primates may have had a generalized diet that included fruits, nectar, flowers and insects," she said.


Thus, early primates not only had a good incentive for developing better vision, they might have already been eating the high-energy foods needed to do so.


Isbell says her theory can be tested. For example, scientists could look at whether primates can visually detect snakes more quickly or more reliably than other mammals. Scientists could also examine whether there are differences in the snake-detecting abilities of primates from around the world.


"You could see whether there is any difference between Malagasy lemurs, South American primates and the African and Asian primates," Isbell said.


Anthropologists have tended to stress things like hunting to explain the special adaptations of primates, and particularly humans, said Greene, the Cornell snake expert, but scientists are starting to warm to the idea that predators likely played a large role in human evolution as well.


"Getting away from things is a big deal, too," Greene said in a telephone interview.


If snake and primate history are as intimately connected as Isbell suggests, then it might account for other things as well, Greene added.


"Snakes and people have had a long history; it goes back to long before we were people in fact," he said. "That might sort of explain why we have such extreme attitudes towards snakes, varying from deification to "ophidiphobia," or fear of snakes.



Scientists seek the secret of our success from Neanderthal DNA

Ian Sample, science correspondent

Friday July 21, 2006

The Guardian


Scientists are to decipher the genetic code of our closest relative, the barrel-chested, long-faced Neanderthal, in the hope that it will reveal how modern humans developed the formidable cognitive power to dominate the world.


With fragments of DNA from bones found in ancient caves, researchers will piece together the Neanderthal's genome, and compare it with those already sequenced for humans and chimpanzees.


Modern humans and Neanderthals split from a common ancestor nearly 500,000 years ago, as primitive humans first harnessed the power of fire. From a foothold north of the Mediterranean, Homo heidelbergensis steadily evolved into the Neanderthals, while in Africa, the same species embarked on a different evolutionary path, one that ultimately gave rise to Homo sapiens.


Remains of Neanderthals dating back as far as 400,000 years ago suggest a reasonably sophisticated species that crafted tools and weapons and buried its dead, but they were no match for Homo sapiens. The last Neanderthals died out nearly 40,000 years ago, as Homo sapiens migrated to, and eventually settled throughout, Europe.


The team of scientists, led by Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, will analyse strands of DNA preserved in a leg bone recovered from a cave in Vindija, Croatia, and an upper arm bone from an archaeological site in the Neander valley in Germany.


Contamination with microbes means only 5% of the DNA collected from the bones belongs to Neanderthals, giving the scientists an enormous sorting problem.


The effort to reconstruct the 3 billion building blocks of the genome is expected to take two years, using a rapid sequencing technique developed by a US-based company, 454 Life Sciences. The complete genome will be made publicly available for other researchers to study.


"If we're really interested in what makes us truly modern humans, we need to look at the genetic changes that have happened in the past 200,000 to 300,000 years, and to identify those changes we need to look at our closest relative, the Neanderthal," said Dr Pääbo.


While humans and chimps share 99% of their genetic code, the remaining 1% still amounts to around 35 million genetic tweaks that separate the species. The difference between modern humans and Neanderthals is much smaller, making it easier to pinpoint the genes that furnished us with distinguishing characteristics such as larger, complex brains and the ability to develop sophisticated language.


"The Neanderthal genome will tell us much more about human biology than sequencing any other individual around. The ultimate goal is to understand humans, with the real pot of gold for humanity being the genes associated with cognition. We want to know what are the handful of genetic changes that separated modern humans from the Neanderthal? The most amazing thing is that we've been able to find samples that had DNA and are now able to sequence it," said Michael Egholm, vice-president of molecular biology at 454 Life Sciences.



Scientists Look to DNA To Crack the Neanderthal Code


July 21, 2006


Modern humans may have overcome Neanderthals, but they have yet to figure them out.


Now a multimillion-dollar project to decipher the genetic code of Neanderthals may help explain not only why humanity's closest cousin became extinct but also which genetic features have made Homo sapiens so successful.


The Neanderthal genome project was unveiled yesterday in a news conference held at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Institute scientists plan to complete the project in two years in collaboration with the American biotechnology company 454 Life Sciences, a subsidiary of the Branford, Conn.-based CuraGen Corp. 454 has developed a speedy new approach to studying DNA.


Knowing more about Neanderthal's genes should give scientists a new window into human evolution. "The Neanderthal will be like modern humans in most ways, but more like a chimpanzee in others," said Svante Pääbo, the Max Planck geneticist who will head the effort.


Most scientists believe modern humans and Neanderthals come from a common ancestor but diverged about 500,000 years ago. Neanderthal was a heavy-boned hominid who was adapted to cold, made use of stone tools, and thrived in Europe and Asia until about 30,000 years ago.


Anthropologists have long argued over Neanderthals' unexplained disappearance. Many believe Neanderthals were unable to compete with modern humans migrating from Africa. But it remains an open question whether Neanderthals faded away quietly, or were wiped out over thousands of years of fierce territorial battles with modern man. Researchers have recovered stone axes and other tools from Neanderthal sites, and it's believed that they used fire and buried their dead, but relatively little is known about how they lived. Modern humans who entered their territories left behind cave paintings and other evidence of more sophisticated culture, and more advanced tools. DNA differences between humans and Neanderthals could explain key human traits.


Neanderthals get their name from Germany's Neander Valley outside Düsseldorf, where fossilized remains were discovered by quarry workers in 1856.


Those bones are currently on display at Bonn's Rheinisches LandesMuseum, one of several exhibitions organized to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the find. Two grams of bone from the arm of the fossil found in 1856 were presented to Dr. Pääbo yesterday for use in the sequencing project.


The project is made possible by technical advances that have lowered the cost of DNA sequencing. "It's an excellent opportunity, and the time is right," said Jim Tiedje, a researcher with the Center for Microbial Ecology and NASA Astrobiology Institute at Michigan State University.


In preliminary work conducted this spring, team members said they have already decoded about one million letters of Neanderthal DNA obtained from a 40,000-year-old fossil discovered in Croatia. That work will be published shortly, the researchers said.


The complete project is expected to produce information on about three billion letters of DNA, covering much of the Neanderthal genome. However, Dr. Pääbo said the information won't be nearly as detailed as that made available on human genes by the international Human Genome Project, which completed much of its work in 2001. "This will be very rough draft. It will be a bad genome by comparison to modern ones," he said.


The project faces daunting technical obstacles. Neanderthal bones are fossils, but because they are only a few thousand years old, not all the organic material has turned to minerals. But the DNA that scientists have found is heavily degraded, and also polluted by DNA from bacteria and other microbes. Over the years, archaeologists and curators handling the bones have also contaminated them with human DNA, which may be nearly impossible to tell apart from that of Neanderthals. Researchers will pulverize the bones then use chemicals to extract minute amounts of the DNA that remains.


Because of such problems, Dr. Pääbo said the final result will be a "probabilistic genome" in which much of the DNA information will remain uncertain.


Nevertheless, because Neanderthals are our closest extinct relative, their DNA offers potentially profound insights in to what makes us human. Jonathan M. Rothberg, chairman and founder of 454, said that based on the project's initial phase it appears that the DNA of Neanderthals is more than 99.9% identical to our own. By comparison, our closest living relative is the chimpanzee, with whom we share about 96% to 99% of our DNA.


Because we survived and the Neanderthals did not, many scientists conclude that Neanderthals were less intelligent or less able to adapt. Dr. Rothberg believes Neanderthals were probably incapable of abstract thought. "We want to open the Pandora's Box," Dr. Rothberg said. "Not only are we going to find the differences in cognition, but also whether we were fooling around with Neanderthals."


That is another key question. Some scientists have argued that modern humans and Neanderthals might have interbred. If the two species did mix after diverging a half million years ago, scientists believe the DNA sequence would reveal it.


Preliminary genetic evidence indicates that the interbreeding is unlikely, Dr. Pääbo said, but he didn't rule out the possibility of a surprise finding.


Some Neanderthal genes have been decoded before but never in large amounts. "The sequence is a DNA time machine, and it's going to really change the field of paleoanthropolgy," says Eddy Rubin, head of an effort to decode Neanderthal DNA at the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif.


Dr. Rubin said of the Max Planck effort, "I think they will be able to do it." Dr. Rubin's project has so far uncovered only a tiny fraction of the Neanderthal genome, or about 75,000 DNA letters. He said his group will continue its work with an emphasis on comparing particular genes among different Neanderthal specimens.


All the data from the Max Planck initiative will be made public, and Max Planck will pay for most of the cost of the sequencing. That work will be carried out by 454. Max Planck didn't disclose how much it would pay 454, but Dr. Pääbo said the sequencing would cost "several million" dollars.


Decoding DNA was once expensive and very labor intensive. But new technology is "lowering the cost, and it makes these kinds of projects feasible," says Dr. Tiedje.


Write to Antonio Regalado at antonio.regalado@wsj.com



Ancient humans 'followed rains'

By Helen Briggs

Science reporter, BBC News


The Eastern Sahara covers an area the size of Western Europe

Prehistoric humans roamed the world's largest desert for some 5,000 years, archaeologists have revealed.


The Eastern Sahara of Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Chad was home to nomadic people who followed rains that turned the desert into grassland.


When the landscape dried up about 7,000 years ago, there was a mass exodus to the Nile and other parts of Africa.


The close link between human settlement and climate has lessons for today, researchers report in Science.


"Even modern day conflicts such as Dafur are caused by environmental degradation as it has been in the past," Dr Stefan Kropelin of the University of Cologne, Germany, told the BBC News website.


"The basic struggle for food, water and pasture is still a big problem in the Sahara zone. This process started thousands of years ago and has a long tradition."


The Eastern Sahara, which covers more than 2 million sq km, an area the size of Western Europe, is now almost uninhabited by people or animals, providing a unique window into the past.


Rock art from the "swimmers cave" in remote southwest Egypt. Image: Science

The settlers left their mark with art


Dr Kropelin and colleague Dr Rudolph Kuper pieced together the 10,000-year jigsaw of human migration and settlement; studying more than 100 archaeological sites over the course of 30 years.


In the largest study of its kind, they built up a detailed picture of human evolution in the world's largest desert. They found that far from the inhospitable climate of today, the area was once semi-humid.


Between about 14,000 and 13,000 years ago, the area was very dry. But a drastic switch in environmental conditions some 10,500 years ago brought rain and monsoon-like conditions.


Nomadic human settlers moved in from the south, taking up residence beside rivers and lakes. They were hunter-gatherers at first, living off plants and wild game.


Eventually they became more settled, domesticating cattle for the first time, and making intricate pottery.


Humid conditions prevailed until about 6,000 years ago, when the Sahara abruptly dried out. There was then a gradual exodus of people to the Nile Valley and other parts of the African continent.


The domestication of cattle was invented in the Sahara in the humid phase and was then slowly pushed over the rest of Africa

Dr Stefan Kropelin of the University of Cologne


"The Nile Valley was almost devoid of settlement until about exactly the time that the Egyptian Sahara was so dry people could not live there anymore," Dr Kropelin told the BBC News website.


"People preferred to live on savannah land. Only when this wasn't possible they migrated towards southern Sudan and the Nile.


"They brought all their know-how to the rest of the continent - the domestication of cattle was invented in the Sahara in the humid phase and was then slowly pushed over the rest of Africa.


"This Neolithic way of life, which still is a way of life in a sense; preservation of food for the dry season and many other such cultural elements, was introduced to central and southern Africa from the Sahara."


Dr Kuper said the distribution of people and languages, which is so politically important today, has its roots in the desiccation of the Sahara.


The switch in environmental conditions acted as a "motor of Africa's evolution," he said.


"It happened during these 5,000 years of the savannah that people changed from hunter-gathers to cattle keepers," he said.


"This important step in human history has been made for the first time in the African Sahara."



Exodus From Drying Sahara Gave Rise to Pharaohs, Study Says

Sean Markey

for National Geographic News

July 20, 2006


The pharaohs of ancient Egypt owed their existence to prehistoric climate change in the eastern Sahara, according to an exhaustive study of archaeological data that bolsters this theory.


Starting at about 8500 B.C., researchers say, broad swaths of what are now Egypt, Chad, Libya, and Sudan experienced a "sudden onset of humid conditions."

For centuries the region supported savannahs full of wildlife, lush acacia forests, and areas so swampy they were uninhabitable.


During this time the prehistoric peoples of the eastern Sahara followed the rains to keep pace with the most hospitable ecosystems.


But around 5300 B.C. this climate-driven environmental abundance started to decline, and most humans began leaving the increasingly arid region.


"Around 5,500 to 6,000 years ago the Egyptian Sahara became so dry that nobody could survive there," said Stefan Kröpelin, a geoarchaeologist at the University of Cologne in Germany and study co-author.


Without rain, rivers, or the ephemeral desert streams known as waddis, vegetation became sparse, and people had to leave the desert or die, Kröpelin says.


Members of this skilled human population settled near the Nile River, giving rise to the first pharaonic cultures in Egypt


The new study, which appears online today on the Science Express Web site, is based on painstaking research that combines new radiocarbon dating of about 500 artifacts from the region with data from past studies.


Kröpelin and study co-author Rudolph Kuper also collected geological climate data from countless ancient lakebeds, rain pools, and rivers.


Over the course of 30 years the researchers labored for months at a time in deserts where daytime temperatures sometimes topped 120° to 140°F (50° to 60°C).


The information collected allowed the scientists to piece together a picture of the ancient climate, environment, and migration of prehistoric peoples in the eastern Sahara over the past 12,000 years.


Among their findings, the researchers provide further evidence that the human exodus from the desert about 5,000 years ago is what laid the foundation for the first pharaohs' rule.


"Egypt is a gift of the Nile, as Herodotus said, as many people still think today," Kröpelin said, referring to the 5th-century B.C. Greek historian. "But at the same time also it is a gift of the desert."


"Without the tradition and the know-how and the knowledge of the desert, probably the Egyptian pharaonic civilization wouldn't have emerged as it did."


For example, pottery was first invented in Africa in the Egyptian Sahara at the same time, if not before, it was developed in the Middle East.


"[Pottery] is the first modern plastic, one of the most important inventions in human history," Kröpelin said.


The innovation provided the economic basis for the Neolithic revolution—a period of human cultural development about 5,200 to 4,500 years ago.


Pottery vessels enabled nomadic peoples to preserve and store food and thus settle down (photo: excavating ancient Egyptian pottery).


"It was really a very, very big step in human evolution, and this happened in the desert," Kröpelin said. "Only when the desert dried out, this condition was brought to the Nile Valley."


In their study, Kröpelin and Kuper also describe how pastoral cultures moved along with the desert's southern march.


The ancient peoples' progress helped sow aspects of farming, particularly domestic animal herding, throughout Africa (explore an interactive atlas of the human journey out of Africa).


David Phillipson, a professor of African archaeology, directs the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in England.


The study "adds a great deal of meat and detail to something which has been envisaged for a little while," he said.


"And it's extremely useful to have this, because it enormously increases the amount of basic data on which the conclusions are drawn.


"As the Sahara dried and became less suited and eventually unsuited to habitation, people ultimately had to move out, whether it be southward or to the east into the Nile Valley," Phillipson said.


"And this [study] helps [us] to understand the apparent rather sudden development of intensive settlement by sophisticated societies in the Nile Valley 'round about five or six thousand years ago."



Gas pipeline going to Armenia is destroying 3 thousand year old ancient city

22 July 2006 [02:57] - Today.Az


Diggings related to construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia has partially destroyed remains of the oldest city called "Dragon Stone" (Azhdaha Dashi) in East Azerbaijan province of Iran.


"Dragon Stone" includes ruins of an ancient city built 1000 years before Christ and is located at 40 kilometers east of Andarjan village of Varzighan county.


Mohammad Feyzkhah, an archaeologist and historian working for Cultural Heritage and Tourism office in Iran's East Azerbaijan province has said that, "Dragon Stone" was declared a historic site and a protected area by his office. However, Iran's gas company has started digging in the area despite the declaration. According to him, Cultural Heritage and Tourism office has recommended a different rout, yet Iran's gas company has ignored the recommendation and has dug an area 80 meters long, 7 meters wide with depth of 4 meters, destroying a large section of the historic site as a result.


The representative of Cultural Heritage and Tourism office has added that studies of the 3000 year old "Dragon Stone" by archaeologists have not been completed to date and further studies are needed, and by its destruction a big segment of history of Iranian Azerbaijan will be lost. He has also said that construction of Iran-Armenia gas pipeline has resulted in destruction of several historic cemeteries. The representative of East Azerbaijan's Cultural Heritage and Tourism office has added that his office is suing Iran Gas company.




URL: http://www.today.az/news/society/28366.html



Boost in hunt for birthplace of Rome's first emperor


A TEAM of archaeologists announced yesterday that they had uncovered part of what they believed to be the birthplace of Rome's first emperor, Augustus.


Clementina Panella, a leading archaeologist, said the team had dug up part of a corridor and other fragments under Rome's Palatine Hill, which she described as "a very ancient aristocratic house".


Ms Panella said that she could not yet be certain that the house was where Augustus was born in 63BC, but added that historical cross-checks and other findings nearby had shown that the emperor was particularly fond of the area.


Excavations on the Palatine in recent decades have turned up wonders such as another renewed Augustus' house, including two rooms with frescoes of masked figures and pine branches.


Ms Panella said there were at least two houses on the Palatine where the emperor was known to have lived. Much of the detail has yet to be uncovered, as it is hidden away in underground passageways.



Archaeologists find birthplace of Rome's first emperor

July 20, 2006 - 12:10AM


A team of archaeologists say they have uncovered part of what they believe is the birthplace of Rome's first emperor Augustus.


Leading archaeologist Clementina Panella said the team has dug up part of a corridor and other fragments under Rome's Palatine Hill, which she described today as "a very ancient aristocratic house."


Panella said that she could not yet be certain that the house was where Augustus was born in 63 BC, but added that historical cross-checks and other findings nearby have shown that the emperor was particularly fond of the area, she said.


Excavations on the Palatine in recent decades have turned up wonders such as another renewed Augustus' house, including two rooms with frescoes of masked figures and pine branches.


Panella said there were at least two houses on the Palatine where the emperor was known to have lived.


Much has yet to be uncovered, hidden in underground passageways.



Digging to find answers


20 July 2006 06:53


Ancient timbers uncovered as part of engineering work and mistaken for modern fence-posts could belong to a 4,000-year-old walkway across marshland on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, archaeologists revealed last night.


The archaeological find, the first of its kind in the region, has been made on the banks of the River Waveney during flood defence work.


Iron Age timbers have been preserved "extraordinarily well" according to archaeologists working at the site, on the Suffolk side of the river, near Beccles.


Now the contractor, Broadland Environmental Services Limited (BESL), has roped off the area and paid for a three-week dig to take place at the site to see what else can be found out about the wooden structure.


Jane Sidell, English Heritage archaeological science advisor called the discovery a "nationally important find".


"This is the first such structure to have been discovered within Suffolk and is one of only a few in Britain," she said.


"And as such is a nationally- important find. It gives us an excellent opportunity to examine ancient, possibly ritual, use of the marshland, and how the marshes have developed over time."


William Fletcher, from Suffolk County Council's archaeological service, said the find was "something we are very excited about".


"We don't really know what the timbers would have been for, but one possibility is that they could have been used as some kind of boundary marker. They are 3,000 to 4,000 years old.


"Another possibility is that it was a walkway or causeway used to get people out across the marshes.


"Before the area was drained, it would have been very marshy and this could have been a way of getting out over the marshes to the river."


The land where the timbers were discovered is owned by Beccles Town Council, and it is hoped that a display might be set up in the town once the dig is complete to show local people what has been found out about the site.


As the ground has been disturbed, it was feared that the remaining timbers within the site would start to decompose.


Following advice from English Heritage and the county council, BESL has commissioned a full-scale archaeological excavation to record the remains and learn more about the structure. Where the ground has not been disturbed the site will be left intact and preserved for future generations.


A team of archaeologists from the county council and the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham will carry out work to fully assess the significance of the remains and the context of the site.


Jack Walmsley, a member of the Beccles Town Council and trustee of Beccles Museum, said his knowledge of Beccles history did not go back as far as 4,000 years, so he was very interested to find out what would come of the investigation.


"A few of us hope to be going out to the site soon," he said. "It would be good if any finds are locally significant and don't need to be held elsewhere, to see them go to Beccles Museum."




By Caroline Lewis     20/07/2006


The timbers are several thousand years old. © Archaeology Service, Suffolk County Council


Timbers unearthed during flood defence work on the Norfolk-Suffolk border have been dated to between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, archaeologists have revealed.


The very well preserved finds are the first of their kind in the region – it is thought they may have belonged to a walkway across the marshland in the Iron Age.


“This is the first such structure to have been discovered within Suffolk and is one of only a few in Britain,” said Jane Sidell, English Heritage Archaeological Science Advisor, “and as such is a nationally important find.”


The timbers were found on the banks of the River Waveney, and have been remarkably well preserved with chiselled points intact. Clearly sculpted by hand, the vertical posts were uncovered during the excavation of a new dyke on Beccles Town marshes – part of a multi-million pound Environment Agency project.


A full-scale archaeological investigation will be carried out over the next few weeks.


On finding the posts, contractors for Broadland Environmental Services Limited (BESL) contacted Suffolk County Council Archaeological Field Services, who identified the timbers as relating to an ancient structure, possibly a causeway. Some pottery remains were also uncovered, mainly from the Roman period.


“I think the machine driver thought they were [modern] fenceposts, as there is a fence on that alignment further down the site,” said William Fletcher, Historic Environments Advisor at the county council.


“Since then we’ve had an estimation of a Bronze Age date from the distinctive tool marks, and two radiocarbon dates of other timbers that give a likely Iron Age and Roman date.”


Heeding advice from English Heritage and Suffolk County Council, BESL roped off the site and has commissioned a dig to see what else can be found at the potentially significant site. It was feared that where the ground had been disturbed, the remaining timbers would begin to rot. Where the ground has not been disturbed, the site will be left intact for future generations.

photo of a timber post with a chiselled point lying on mud          


The wood is clearly hand-carved. © Archaeology Service, Suffolk County Council


“It gives us an excellent opportunity to examine ancient, possibly ritual, use of the marshland,” said Jane Sidell of the project, “and how the marshes have been developed over time.”


The excavation, which will last up to three weeks, is to be carried out by archaeologists from the county council and the University of Birmingham. The nature of the remains suggest that there was more than one phase of activity in the area, so finds are likely to be Bronze and Iron Age as well as Roman.


“It could be very interesting,” said William. “It’s a fascinating wetland site and a very rare find for the East of England.”



Combing the Mendips for historic treasures


20 July 2006


A TEAM of archaeologists will begin a four year hunt for hidden treasures on the Mendip Hills soon.


A dozen English Heritage specialists will use the latest aerial scanning technology as well as field surveys and other traditional archaeological techniques to look for new finds.


They will also be taking a fresh look at known sites, especially historic lead mines like the ones at Charterhouse near Cheddar where they hope to team up with local amateur archaeologists.Work will begin in the coming weeks with a complete aerial survey of the hills and groundwork in Burrington.


The project will cost about £100,000 and will end up with an illustrated book of results aimed at a wide audience, as well as technical reports.


English Heritage's senior archaeological investigator Mark Bowden said: "We are confident that there are rich finds to be had on the Mendips. We know there's lots of evidence there, it's an area with huge potential.


"What we learn there will also be of relevance to surrounding lowland areas which were connected to what was going on in the hills. We will be trying to identify previously unrecorded sites and revisit the well known sites with a fresh eye and re-evaluate and interpret what has been discovered in the past.


"We hope to achieve a more complete map of the archaeological remains of the Mendips. We will use aerial photos and ground scans, field surveys, maybe geo-physics and a small amount of excavation and we want to assist local amateur archaeologists by bringing in our own experts and equipment.


"We will be looking at remains from all periods, even up to the recent past.


"Examples of the things we hope to find include ritual monuments from the prehistoric period like barrows, Priddy Circles and henges.


"A certain number of enclosures have recently been discovered, possibly prehistoric or early medieval. We are hoping we might find more of these banks and ditches or get a clearer idea of how old they are and what their purpose was.



Workmen unearth ancient village


Archaeologists found the outline of a traditional roundhouse at the site

Workmen laying a water pipeline in fields near Bridlington have uncovered the remains of an ancient settlement believed to be almost 2,000 years old.


Archaeologists have described the find near Haisthorpe, which includes a traditional roundhouse, as significant.


They have unearthed the remains of children buried at the site, as well as coins, pottery and irrigation ditches.


The village may date back to 100AD and was undiscovered for so long because the fields have never been ploughed.


Yorkshire Water, which was carrying out the pipe-laying work, said a number of other archaeological finds had been made along the route of the new pipeline.



British outbred by Anglo-Saxon 'apartheid'

July 18 2006 at 04:05PM

By Richard Ingham


Britain - The Anglo-Saxons who conquered England in the fifth century set up a system of apartheid that enabled them to master and outbreed the native British majority, according to gene research published on Wednesday.


In less than 15 generations, more than half of the population in England had the genes of the invaders, investigators say.


"The native Britons were genetically and culturally absorbed by the Anglo-Saxons over a period of as little as a few hundred years," said Mark Thomas, a University College London biologist.


'They prevented the British genes from getting to the Anglo-Saxon'

"An initially small invading Anglo-Saxon elite could have quickly established themselves by having more children who survived to adulthood, thanks to their military power and economic advantage.


"We believe that they also prevented the native British genes getting into the Anglo-Saxon population by restricting intermarriage in a system of apartheid that left the country culturally and genetically Germanised," he said.


"This is what we see today - a population of largely Germanic genetic origin, speaking a principally German language."


Thomas believes the study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a British journal, answers key questions about one of the turning points in European history.


The Anglo-Saxons - Germanic tribes who lived in present-day Germany, northern Holland and Denmark - invaded Britain in 450 AD after the fall of the Roman empire.


They conquered England but were unable to penetrate far into the Celtic fringes of what are now Wales and Scotland. They coincidentally prompted an exodus of Britons to what is now Brittany, France.


The population of England at that time was probably around two million while the number of Anglo-Saxons was minute: the lowest estimate puts the number of migrants at less than than 10 000 some 200 years after the invasion, although others put it at more than 100 000.


How could such a tiny minority have ruled a country so emphatically?


How could it skirt assimilation with the native British majority and impose a language, laws, economy and culture whose stamp is visible today?


The answer, suggest Thomas and colleagues: an "apartheid-like social structure" that enshrined Anglo-Saxons as the master and the native Britons (called "Welshmen", from the Germanic word for slave) as the servants.


Evidence for this comes from ancient texts, including the laws of Ine, the late seventh-century ruler of Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in western England.


Ine set down payments of "wergild", or blood money, that was payable to a family for the killing of one of its members in order to prevent a blood feud.


If an Anglo-Saxon was killed, the wergild was between two and five times more than the fine payable for the life of a "Welshman" of comparable status.


Burial sites also provide a pointer about economic and social disparity.


The skeletal remains of men believed to be Anglo-Saxons are often found alongside a weapon or other precious artefacts, whereas those of native Britons are usually weaponless and have only one or two objects.


In previous work, Thomas' team compared the gene pool among native, white Englishmen in central England today and counterparts in the ancestral lands of the Anglo-Saxons.


They found that the two groups shared between 50 percent and 100 percent of telltale variations in the male sex chromosome, Y.


In the latest research, he used computer simulations to try to explain how segregation would have enabled the Anglo-Saxons to flourish and the native Britons to decline.


The computer model uses various scenarios involving the size of the immigration influx, different ethnic intermarriage rates and the reproductive advantage of being Anglo-Saxon, with more wealth and resources.


Apartheid is best known today for the notorious racial segregation that prevailed in white-minority South Africa.


But the authors point out that there are many other examples in history, when conquerors or settlers used such controls to avoid assimilation, nurture their identity and maintain their political, military or economic supremacy over an ethnic majority.


By the time of King Alfred the Great in the ninth century, the differences in legal status between Anglo-Saxons and Britons had faded out altogether.


Two centuries later, the Normans invaded England and imposed their own apartheid, giving themselves higher legal status than the Britons and allowing Norman men to marry native women but preventing native men from marrying Norman women. - Sapa-AFP



Policeman's log offers wreck clue

Policeman's note from 85 years ago

The policeman's note was found in the archives in Wick

A policeman's handwritten note from 85 years ago may hold a vital clue to a mysterious wreck off Caithness.


Archaeologists hope to confirm the sunken vessel in Sinclair's Bay is that of the German destroyer V81, which was at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.


The team from Nottingham University came across the officer's log by chance in archives held in Wick.


A PC Innes reported a German warship getting into difficulty on Friday, 13 February, 1920.


Members of Caithness Diving Club are convinced the wreck is the V81, part of Germany's World War I High Seas Fleet.


Marine archaeologists hope to verify this by comparing the remains with the V81's sister vessel, V83, which lies beneath Scapa Flow in Orkney.


They have made the first in a series of dives to the kelp-covered wreck and taken photographs and made drawings of brass fittings, a turbine and what appears to be a gear box.


We are coming close to confirming the identity of the wreck

Simon Davidson

Nottingham University


The V81 was understood to have been salvaged from Scapa Flow in 1921 and was under tow to a breakers yard in Rosyth when strong winds caused it to founder off Caithness.


It was believed the warship was raised again in 1937.


Simon Davidson, of Nottingham University, said bad weather on a day they were meant to be diving to the ship forced them to stay ashore.


They visited the North Highland Archive in Wick where an archivist found them a note in the Caithness Constabulary Shore Occurrence Book.


An entry for 13 February 1920 told of a German warship under tow coming ashore in the area where the wreck lies.


Mr Davidson said: "We then went through copies of the local newspaper from around that date to see if we could find any reports.


"There wasn't, but that may have been because of a media blackout to prevent illegal salvage.


"But we went back through the papers and found some corroborating evidence.


"There was a report of the navy wanting to get rid of all the Scapa Flow destroyers the week the ship came ashore on Friday 13."


He added: "We are coming close to confirming the identity of the wreck."


The team are still diving the wreck and also plan to return in winter when the kelp dies back to reveal more of it.


Nottingham University's underwater research is one of seven archaeology projects running across Caithness this summer to investigate its Neolithic, Iron Age and war-time history.


The projects are being led by Caithness Archaeology Trust.


The trust said excavations of Iron Age brochs at Whitegate and Keiss Harbour has revealed the stone towers may have been used as stores during World War II.