Roots of Human Family Tree Are Shallow
Roots of the Human Family Tree Are Remarkably Shallow - All Alive Today Share 1 Common Ancestor
By MATT CRENSON
The Associated Press
Whoever it was probably lived a few thousand years ago, somewhere in East Asia Taiwan, Malaysia and Siberia all are likely locations. He or she did nothing more remarkable than be born, live, have children and die.
Yet this was the ancestor of every person now living on Earth the last person in history whose family tree branches out to touch all 6.5 billion people on the planet today.
That means everybody on Earth descends from somebody who was around as recently as the reign of Tutankhamen, maybe even during the Golden Age of ancient Greece. There's even a chance that our last shared ancestor lived at the time of Christ.
"It's a mathematical certainty that that person existed," said Steve Olson, whose 2002 book "Mapping Human History" traces the history of the species since its origins in Africa more than 100,000 years ago.
It is human nature to wonder about our ancestors who they were, where they lived, what they were like. People trace their genealogy, collect antiques and visit historical sites hoping to capture just a glimpse of those who came before, to locate themselves in the sweep of history and position themselves in the web of human existence.
But few people realize just how intricately that web connects them not just to people living on the planet today, but to everyone who ever lived.
With the help of a statistician, a computer scientist and a supercomputer, Olson has calculated just how interconnected the human family tree is. You would have to go back in time only 2,000 to 5,000 years and probably on the low side of that range to find somebody who could count every person alive today as a descendant.
Furthermore, Olson and his colleagues have found that if you go back a little farther about 5,000 to 7,000 years ago everybody living today has exactly the same set of ancestors. In other words, every person who was alive at that time is either an ancestor to all 6 billion people living today, or their line died out and they have no remaining descendants.
That revelation is "especially startling," statistician Jotun Hein of England's Oxford University wrote in a commentary on the research published by the journal Nature.
"Had you entered any village on Earth in around 3,000 B.C., the first person you would have met would probably be your ancestor," Hein marveled.
It also means that all of us have ancestors of every color and creed. Every Palestinian suicide bomber has Jews in his past. Every Sunni Muslim in Iraq is descended from at least one Shiite. And every Klansman's family has African roots.
It's simple math. Every person has two parents, four grandparents and eight great-grandparents. Keep doubling back through the generations 16, 32, 64, 128 and within a few hundred years you have thousands of ancestors.
It's nothing more than exponential growth combined with the facts of life. By the 15th century you've got a million ancestors. By the 13th you've got a billion. Sometime around the 9th century just 40 generations ago the number tops a trillion.
But wait. How could anybody much less everybody alive today have had a trillion ancestors living during the 9th century?
The answer is, they didn't. Imagine there was a man living 1,200 years ago whose daughter was your mother's 36th great-grandmother, and whose son was your father's 36th great-grandfather. That would put him on two branches on your family tree, one on your mother's side and one on your father's.
In fact, most of the people who lived 1,200 years ago appear not twice, but thousands of times on our family trees, because there were only 200 million people on Earth back then. Simple division a trillion divided by 200 million shows that on average each person back then would appear 5,000 times on the family tree of every single individual living today.
But things are never average. Many of the people who were alive in the year 800 never had children; they don't appear on anybody's family tree. Meanwhile, more prolific members of society would show up many more than 5,000 times on a lot of people's trees.
Keep going back in time, and there are fewer and fewer people available to put on more and more branches of the 6.5 billion family trees of people living today. It is mathematically inevitable that at some point, there will be a person who appears at least once on everybody's tree.
But don't stop there; keep going back. As the number of potential ancestors dwindles and the number of branches explodes there comes a time when every single person on Earth is an ancestor to all of us, except the ones who never had children or whose lines eventually died out.
And it wasn't all that long ago. When you walk through an exhibit of Ancient Egyptian art from the time of the pyramids, everything there was very likely created by one of your ancestors every statue, every hieroglyph, every gold necklace. If there is a mummy lying in the center of the room, that person was almost certainly your ancestor, too.
It means when Muslims, Jews or Christians claim to be children of Abraham, they are all bound to be right.
"No matter the languages we speak or the color of our skin, we share ancestors who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who labored to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu," Olson and his colleagues wrote in the journal Nature.
Seven years ago one of Olson's colleagues, a Yale University statistician named Joseph Chang, started thinking about how to estimate when the last common ancestor of everybody on Earth today lived. In a paper published by the journal "Advances in Applied Probability," Chang showed that there is a mathematical relationship between the size of a population and the number of generations back to a common ancestor. Plugging the planet's current population into his equation, he came up with just over 32 generations, or about 900 years.
Chang knew that answer was wrong because it relied on some common, but inaccurate, assumptions that population geneticists often use to simplify difficult mathematical problems.
For example, his analysis pretended that Earth's population has always been what it is today. It also assumed that individuals choose their mates randomly. And each generation had to reproduce all at once.
Chang's calculations essentially treated the world like one big meet market where any given guy was equally likely to pair up with any woman, whether she lived in the next village or halfway around the world. Chang was fully aware of the inaccuracy people have to select their partners from the pool of individuals they have actually met, unless they are entering into an arranged marriage. But even then, they are much more likely to mate with partners who live nearby. And that means that geography can't be ignored if you are going to determine the relatedness of the world's population.
A few years later Chang was contacted by Olson, who had started thinking about the world's interrelatedness while writing his book. They started corresponding by e-mail, and soon included in their deliberations Douglas Rohde, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology neuroscientist and computer expert who now works for Google.
The researchers knew they would have to account for geography to get a better picture of how the family tree converges as it reaches deeper into the past. They decided to build a massive computer simulation that would essentially re-enact the history of humanity as people were born, moved from one place to another, reproduced and died.
Rohde created a program that put an initial population on a map of the world at some date in the past, ranging from 7,000 to 20,000 years ago. Then the program allowed those initial inhabitants to go about their business. He allowed them to expand in number according to accepted estimates of past population growth, but had to cap the expansion at 55 million people due to computing limitations. Although unrealistic in some respects 55 million is a lot less than the 6.5 billion people who actually live on Earth today he found through trial and error that the limitation did not significantly change the outcome with regard to common ancestry.
The model also had to allow for migration based on what historians, anthropologists and archaeologists know about how frequently past populations moved both within and between continents. Rohde, Chang and Olson chose a range of migration rates, from a low level where almost nobody left their native home to a much higher one where up to 20 percent of the population reproduced in a town other than the one where they were born, and one person in 400 moved to a foreign country.
Allowing very little migration, Rohde's simulation produced a date of about 5,000 B.C. for humanity's most recent common ancestor. Assuming a higher, but still realistic, migration rate produced a shockingly recent date of around 1 A.D.
Some people even suspect that the most recent common ancestor could have lived later than that.
"A number of people have written to me making the argument that the simulations were too conservative," Rohde said.
Migration is the key. When a people have offspring far from their birthplaces, they essentially introduce their entire family lines into their adopted populations, giving their immediate offspring and all who come after them a set of ancestors from far away.
People tend to think of preindustrial societies as places where this sort of thing rarely happened, where virtually everyone lived and died within a few miles of the place where they were born. But history is full of examples that belie that notion.
Take Alexander the Great, who conquered every country between Greece and northern India, siring two sons along the way by Persian mothers. Consider Prince Abd Al-Rahman, son of a Syrian father and a Berber mother, who escaped Damascus after the overthrow of his family's dynasty and started a new one in Spain. The Vikings, the Mongols, and the Huns all traveled thousands of miles to burn, pillage and most pertinent to genealogical considerations rape more settled populations.
More peaceful people moved around as well. During the Middle Ages, the Gypsies traveled in stages from northern India to Europe. In the New World, the Navaho moved from western Canada to their current home in the American Southwest. People from East Asia fanned out into the South Pacific Islands, and Eskimos frequently traveled back and forth across the Bering Sea from Siberia to Alaska.
"These genealogical networks, as they start spreading out they really have the ability to get virtually everywhere," Olson said.
Though people like to think of culture, language and religion as barriers between groups, history is full of religious conversions, intermarriages, illegitimate births and adoptions across those lines. Some historical times and places were especially active melting pots medieval Spain, ancient Rome and the Egypt of the pharaohs, for example.
"And the thing is, you only need one," said Mark Humphrys, an amateur anthropologist and professor of computer science at Dublin City University.
One ancestral link to another cultural group among your millions of forbears, and you share ancestors with everyone in that group. So everyone who reproduced with somebody who was born far from their own natal home every sailor blown off course, every young man who set off to seek his fortune, every woman who left home with a trader from a foreign land as long as they had children, they helped weave the tight web of brotherhood we all share.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures
Early signs of elephant butchers
Bones and tusks dating back 400,000 years are the earliest signs in Britain of ancient humans butchering elephants for meat, say archaeologists.
Remains of a single adult elephant surrounded by stone tools were found in northwest Kent during work on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.
Scientists believe hunters used the tools to cut off the meat, after killing the animal with wooden spears.
The find is described in the Journal of Quaternary Science.
The first signs of the Stone Age site were uncovered by constructors at Southfleet Road in Ebbsfleet, Kent.
There does seem to be increasing evidence that they were focusing on hunting only the larger animals with more meat
Dr Francis Wenban-Smith
Excavations revealed the skeleton of an extinct species of elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) lying at the edge of what would once have been a small lake.
Flint tools lay scattered around, suggesting the animal had been cut up by a tribe of the early humans around at the time, known as Homo heidelbergensis.
"It is the earliest site of elephant butchery in Britain," Dr Francis Wenban-Smith of the University of Southampton told the BBC News website.
"In fact it is the only such site in Britain and it is very rare to find undisturbed evidence of this kind."
Dr Wenban-Smith believes the elephant, which was twice the size of those living today, was probably brought down by a pack of hunters armed with wooden spears.
"They either hunted it or possibly found it in an injured state and then killed it," he explained.
"Then they got some flint tools from nearby and they would have swarmed all over it and cut off the meat.
"They would have been carrying off armfuls of meat to their local base camp."
The elephant would have been eaten raw, as there is no evidence that fire was used for cooking at the time.
The hunter gatherers probably also feasted on other large mammals, as the bones of buffalo, rhino, deer and horse were also found nearby.
The elephant was a fully-grown male, weighing 10 tonnes
It was probably felled by spears, which early humans were using at the time
Stone tools would have been gathered nearby; chips suggest they were used to butcher the carcass
"There does seem to be increasing evidence that they were focusing on hunting only the larger animals with more meat and suggestions that they were living in larger groups than we've generally thought," said Dr Wenban-Smith.
The remains of the elephant - including parts of its upper torso, skull, fore-limbs, tusks and some teeth - have been taken to the Natural History Museum for further analysis.
The site itself has been covered over and now lies beneath a roundabout near the Channel Tunnel Rail Link car park.
Calif. Scientists Reopen Ice Age Dig Site
California Scientists Reopen One of World's Only Urban Ice Age Dig Sites
By ANDREW GLAZER
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES - Scientists went back to work Thursday at one of the world's richest Ice Age fossil sites, digging the tooth of a five-foot dire wolf and the toe of a sabertooth tiger from the sticky prehistoric asphalt near Wilshire Boulvard.
About 10,000 years before the arrival of mammoth traffic jams, the two beasts likely got stuck in the goo at La Brea Tar Pits while hunting a camel, horse or ground sloth, said John Harris, chief curator and head of vertebrate studies at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, which oversees the site.
Thousands of other animals made the same fatal mistake, leaving a treasure trove of well-preserved bones, plant remnants and microorganisms.
Excavation work began in 1915 and has been done every summer since 1969 to the delight of children and other visitors who watch from a glass-enclosed area overlooking the 14-foot deep pit.
"It's one of the, if not the, richest Ice Age excavation sites in the world," Harris said.
The work lasts from July 1 to Sept. 10. During the rest of the year, visitors to the nearby Page Museum can watch scientists behind a glass window scrub fossils found during the excavation.
The site is a favorite among children who let their imaginations wander as they watch tar-covered excavators move along gangplanks. s
Through a fence at the park, 7-year-old Ben Guerra and his 9-year-old sister Rhemy got a peek at the dig.
"I like to imagine how the animals attacked the other animals who were stuck in the tar," Ben said. "Maybe they thought it was water and went to get a drink."
Last summer, scientists unearthed some 3,000 specimens from Pit 91, including bones of coyotes, horses and giant ground sloths.
While the larger bones enthrall most visitors, the remains of tiny insects, animals and microscopic organisms can be equally exciting for scientists.
While alive, those creatures were less likely to wander far from the site. As a result, their remains reveal a great deal about the character of the area tens of thousands of years ago.
"A mouse found here probably spent its whole life within 20 acres," said Chris Shaw, the site's project coordinator and collection manager at the Page Museum.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
No mummy in Valley of the Kings tomb but mystery remains whole
by Alain Navarro Wed Jun 28, 2:25 PM ET
CAIRO (AFP) - The first tomb discovered in Luxor's Valley of the Kings did not reveal its expected mummy, but egyptologists remained bent on cracking the mystery of "KV 63."
Three thousand year-old flowers and royal necklaces were the only things Egypt's chief archeologist Zahi Hawass saw when he lifted the lid off the last of seven coffins found in the tomb.
"It's superb but there is no room for a mummy," said Otto Schaden, the America archeologist who uncovered the tomb almost by chance in February, only a few feet away from "KV 62" -- the famous sepulchre of King Tut.
The six other coffins contained pottery shards, and the team of Egyptian and US archeologist working on the site had to conceal their disappointment after much anticipation that the last coffin might contain a royal mummy.
But they vowed to continue their research and reveal the origin of this tomb, which is niched in a cliff of the pharaonic necropolis and has been dubbed "KV63."
The flambloyant Hawass even risked a theory.
"I do believe that it could be for the mother of King Tut. It's a theory. But I believe King Tut came here to be buried beside her, because maybe it's the tomb of his mother," he told AFP.
"No mummy ... but i'm sure we will find very interesting elements underneath, maybe tools," added Nadia Lukma, a senior archeologist at Cairo Museum.
When Schaden and his team from Memphis University uncovered the tomb, burried under several feet of rubble, the world or archeology held its breath.
No tomb had been found in more than more than 80 years in this arid complex west of the ancient city of Thebes where three dynasties of Sun kings and their relatives had their tombs dug into the rock.
"Although there is no mummy here, there are strong indications that this tomb is linked to Tut's, with elements relating to the cult of Aten and Amon," Otto Schaden said.
Aten was the sun god, considered a creator of the universe in ancient Egyptian mythology, whose worship was the basis of the religion instituted by Akhenaten, thought to be Tut's father.
Hawass was more assertive. "I can rule out that this is linked to (Tut's) widow" Ankhesenamun, he said. "But why not to his mother, who could be Nefertiti?"
The identity of Tut's mother remains more mysterious than his father's, with some theories identifying her as Nefertiti and others as Kiya, a foreign princess, or even his wet nurse Maya.
Tut, the boy king who died at the age 18, rejected his father's "heretical" monotheistic religion and returned to the traditional worship of many gods.
"Now Shaden and his team have to carefully study, maybe after taking the resin out of the last coffin they will be able to read some of the letters, because there are no complete words, and get accurate information to prove who was the owner of the tomb," Hawass explained.
The archeologists have a collection of pieces of linen, flowers, 28 earthenware urns and other objects to analyse before they can break the secret of KV63.
"Many tombs were opened in the past, hundred of mummies were found but now, opening that coffin, we found for the fist time a kind of material that they used after mummification like large very decorative necklaces and flowers," Hawass said.
Schaden explained that clues would probably have to come from the coffins themselves as the tomb appeared to have been looted some 1,300 before Christ and the caskets were most likely moved around from one location to another.
Ancient garland in Egyptian tomb
Sarcophagi and Pharaonic jars discovered in a new tomb discovered in Egypt's Valley of the Kings
The tomb was discovered by chance
Archaeologists in Egypt expecting to find a mummy during their excavation of a burial chamber in Luxor have instead discovered a garland of flowers.
The 3,000-year-old garland is the first to be discovered.
It was found in the last of seven coffins which archaeologists had hoped would contain the mummies of royal queens or even Tutankhamun's mother.
Researchers and media had been invited into the chamber, near Tutankhamun's tomb, to watch the coffin's opening.
The chief curator of Cairo's Egyptian Museum said the surprise find was "even better" than discovering a mummy.
Click for map of Valley of the Kings
"I prayed to find a mummy, but when I saw this, I said it's better - it's really beautiful," said Nadia Lokma.
"It's very rare - there's nothing like it in any museum. We've seen things like it in drawings, but we've never seen this before in real life - it's magnificent," she said.
Experts say ancient Egyptian royals often wore garlands entwined with gold strips around their shoulders in both life and death.
The burial chamber was the first to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings since Tutankhamun's tomb more than 80 years ago and was found by chance.
It is the 63rd tomb to be discovered since the valley was first mapped in the 18th century, and was unexpectedly found only five metres away from King Tutankhamun's.
However, the chamber's discovery did disprove the widely accepted belief that there were no tombs left to find in the Valley of the Kings.
The Valley of the Kings, near the city of Luxor in southern Egypt, was used for burials for around 500 years from 1540BC onwards.
Research: Meteorite Crash Helped Form King Tut Necklace
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
June 29, 2006 — Yellow-green glass carved into a beetle-shaped ornament and found on a necklace worn by the ancient King Tutankhamen was created by a meteorite fireball, according to new research.
The carving is known as a scarab, which are ancient Egyptian fertility symbols shaped like dung beetles. In 1999, Italian geologists performed a chemical composition test on Tut’s scarab, which is the centerpiece of a colorful necklace that archaeologist Howard Carter found in King Tut’s Valley of the Kings’ tomb in Luxor.
The geologists determined the scarab was made out of natural desert glass for the king, who reigned from 1333 to 1323 B.C.
Such glass is only found in the Great Sand Sea of the eastern Sahara desert. With a silica content of 98 percent, it is the purest known glass in the world. The desert region, located 500 miles southwest of Cairo, yields this glass in a remote 49.7 by 15.5 rectangular area.
"I think an Egyptian craftsman obtained the glass and worked it into a point or scraper tool," said Mark Boslough, who led a recent study on how the glass formed.
Boslough, an impact physics expert at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, added, "Glass fractures in ways that create sharp, useful shapes, so pieces commonly were used for tools. The glass is also often quite beautiful with interesting colors, so a jewelry maker might have taken an old tool and reworked it into the scarab."
Since most scientists believe heat from a meteorite strike produced Great Sand Sea glass, otherwise known as Libyan Desert glass, Boslough created computer simulations of how that could have happened. He determined a 390-foot-wide asteroid traveling at 12.4 miles per second likely broke up in Earth’s atmosphere around 30 million years ago, when the glass formed.
"The velocity of the impacting object would have produced more energy than a nuclear explosion," he told Discovery Channel News. "It not only would have had nuclear explosive scale, but its energy would all have been concentrated downwards."
According to Boslough, after the meteorite broke up in Earth’s atmosphere, the temperature of the resulting fireball would have been as hot as the sun’s surface.
"Like a blowtorch melting wax, the heat would have melted sand and sandstone into thin layers, which, when cooled, resulted in glass that later was blown into piles across the desert," he said.
Findings were recently presented at a geophysics symposium at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. They also will be featured in an upcoming BBC2 television program, "King Tut’s Fireball."
Boslough said additional evidence supports the fireball theory. "Shock minerals," for example, have been found in the same desert. These are minerals, such as quartz, which reveal sheer plane structures under magnification.
Scientists believe such structures resulted from the sudden deformation caused by asteroid and fireball impacts.
Farouk El-Baz, a research professor and director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University, at first was critical of Boslough’s theory. He said, "If this glass is of meteoric origin, there should be a crater of that age."
In March, however, El-Baz himself found remnants of the largest crater in the Saharan desert. It is a double-ringed crater the size of Cairo’s urban region. El-Baz now suggests an extraterrestrial impact that resulted in the crater may have been responsible for the desert glass.
This theory differs from Boslough’s in that it means the asteroid collided with Earth in a sudden hit and did not break into a fireball beforehand.
Boslough countered, "The newly discovered crater is 100 kilometers (around 62 miles) away from where the desert glass is located. Also, why don’t we see this glass elsewhere?"
Boslough and his team are now studying desert glass to determine what trace gases it might contain. The information could help to further explain what happened millions of years ago when the glass formed.
£13,000 for Egypt queen painting
Queen Senseneb from Derel Bahari was painted in 1897
A painting of an Egyptian queen by Howard Carter, the man who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen, has sold at auction for £13,000.
The watercolour was left to owner Barbara Rampton 15 years ago but she did not realise its significance until she took it to a charity valuation.
The 1897 work had been hanging in a holiday cottage near Barmouth.
Carter, who died in 1939, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings in 1922.
His painting of Queen Senseneb began with an estimate of £3,000 but was soon contested by five telephone bidders.
It eventually sold to a specialist art dealer in London.
They don't appear for sale very often as they are usually found in museums
William Lacey, Halls Fine Arts painting expert
The significance of the work was identified by William Lacey, paintings expert at Shrewsbury-based Halls Fine Art after Mrs Rampton took it to a charity valuation day in Barmouth in March.
Mr Lacey said: "The price is far and beyond what I was expecting and surpasses what other examples of his work have made in recent years.
"Howard Carter is now a household name, as everyone associates him with Tutankhamen."
Carter went to Egypt as an artist in 1891 when he was 17, but he became increasingly interested in the archaeology he was there to record. His portrait is of Queen Senseneb from Derel Bahari.
Mrs Rampton said: "We had been on holiday to Egypt and bought paintings with a similar Egyptian subject - they did not suit our cottage so we put them up in a holiday cottage we have.
"I used to tell visitors that the painting was by Howard Carter. They would go, 'Oh' and that would be that.
"I took it along to the charity auction just to make the numbers up because they were raising money for a good cause."
"I was surprised it was worth so much and after speaking to my husband and children decided it would be best to sell it rather than put it back in the holiday cottage.
Mr Lacey added: "This is a very unusual watercolour by Howard Carter who was a good amateur water colourist.
"It's in nice condition - and is quite a rare thing. They don't appear for sale very often as they are usually found in museums."
The painting went under the hammer at Shrewsbury's Welsh Bridge saleroom.
'Foreigner' helped build Terracotta Army
Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Wednesday June 28, 2006
Chinese archaeologists have unearthed evidence that a foreign worker helped build the Terracotta Army mausoleum, the resting place of the country's first emperor, who died more than 2,200 years ago.
The remains of the worker, described as a foreign man in his 20s, were found among 121 shattered skeletons in a labourers' tomb 500 metres from the mausoleum in the north-western city of Xian, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.
According to Xinhua, the man may prove to be "China's first foreign worker", though it is unclear whether he served as an employee or a slave of emperor Qin Shi Huang, who unified China and built the first Great Wall. It is estimated 700,000 labourers worked on the imperial tomb, which houses 8,000 life-sized terracotta warriors and horses. DNA tests were used to ethnically identify 15 of the labourers.
"One sample has typical DNA features commonly owned by the Parsi in India and Pakistan, the Kurds in Turkmenistan and the Persians in Iran," Tan Jingze, an anthropologist with Fudan University, told Xinhua. "It's an inspiring discovery, but we're not sure if there are more foreigners involved in the construction of the mausoleum," she said.
Archaeologists on the excavation said the find meant that contacts between the people in east Asia and those in what is now central Asia actually began a century earlier than believed. Earlier studies had suggested the first contact occurred later in the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).
It is possible more foreigners may be found among the 200 other labourers' tombs in the area, but Chinese scientists have suspended excavations and DNA sample collections to help prevent environmental degradation.
Keros mystery cracked
ARCHAEOLOGISTS say they have discovered a 4,500-year-old ceremonial centre, the oldest ritual site in Greece.
Excavations resumed for a few weeks this summer at Dhaskalio Kavos - Kavos for short - on the tiny island of Keros, after a lull of nearly 20 years. The problem with the site had been that it was disturbed by looters, who made a lucrative trade in the 1960s of the now famous minimalist Cycladic figurines. As a result, archaeologists could never be sure whether fragments of the Cycladic statuettes had been smashed in antiquity or more recently by smugglers.
That puzzle has now been solved by this year's excavation on an undisturbed patch of the site dating to 2,500BC.
"All the material found was already broken in fragments before it became buried in ancient times. Moreover, the rarity of joining pieces (as well as the different degree of weathering of the fragments) makes clear that they were broken elsewhere and that they were brought, already in fragmentary form," says an announcement from the team of Greek and British archaeologists who head the dig.
One of this year's finds: A rejoined Cycladic figure reveals the pieces to be in varying states of wear, suggesting that the statue was smashed some time before ritual burial at Keros
The puzzle of the broken fragments has come to be known as the "Keros enigma".
The materials come from as far away as Naxos, Amorgos, Syros and probably mainland Greece, they say, making Dhaskalio Kavos "the first major ritual centre of Aegean prehistory".
Archaeologists, led by Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge, say they were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of finds. "The quantities of such material (fine pottery, marble objects) found at this site rivals the total of the finds excavated from all the known Cycladic cemeteries," the announcement says. They have ruled out the possibility that the site was a cemetery, because teeth would never turn up among the sherds.
They suggest that the rituals may have spanned enormous distances across the Aegean, and taken many days to complete. "The rituals involving breakage may have been initiated elsewhere, with the ritual deposition at Kavos on Keros forming the last phase in a more complex process."
Next summer's excavation is expected to reveal whether there was a sanctuary at Kavos and attempt to find a contemporary settlement on the nearby islet of Dhaskalio. Joining Colin Renfrew on the current dig are Neil Brodie (also from the University of Cambridge), Olga Philaniotou (Greek Archaeological Service) and George Gavalas.
ATHENS NEWS , 23/06/2006, page: A32
Article code: C13188A322
Key archeological find at Bulgaria's Veliko Turnovo
09:00 Mon 26 Jun 2006 - Colin Munro
A gold Thracian breastplate found near the village of Golemanite, Veliko Turnovo municipality, has proven pivotal to the re-construction of the Thracian Calendar. Using a mathematical model, Ventseslav Tsonev of the Regional Historical Museum in Veliko Turnovo presented his findings at a conference on Treasures and Sacred Typography, held recently in Sliven.
“In the Thracians’ calendar, there are three seasons and 60 main holidays. A year consisted of 12 months with 360 days, five days being added to the last month every year.” As there are no written records dealing with the Thracians’ concept of time, the reconstruction of the calendar was done on the basis of the symbols on the metal plates worn by the Thracians. Tsonev has studied seven out of 40 Thracian breastplates found in Bulgaria. Particular attention has been paid to a gold breastplate found near Golemanite. The inscriptions on these breastplates consist mainly of serpents, geometrical figures and lines. Studies have indicated that the number of serpents and lines are fixed to correspond to the numbers considered to be holy by the Thracians. According to Tsonev, the Thracians’ calendar resembles very closely the one used by Egyptians for thousands of years. In the main, knowledge of the Thracians has tended to rely solely upon ancient Greek depictions of them as a savage, tribal society that had no politics and no alphabet of its own.
However, in July 2004, Bulgarian archeologist Georgi Kitov excavated an ancient tomb near Kazanluk. After three months of digging, Kitov surfaced with more than 130 pieces of magnificent jewellery, weaponry and ritual artefacts that show Thracian culture rivalled that of the Greeks. They prove that the Thracians were “not a society of barbarians,” says Alexander Fol, a Bulgarian expert on Thracian history.
“They had a system of values and were consciously abiding by it. This was an aristocratic society with a great hierarchy.”
Gold breastplates of the kind studied by Tsonev were also discovered by Kitov. It is mainly due to the archaeological discoveries of Kitov and men like him that any light has been shed on the mysterious Thracians.
Thrace was an ancient geographical and political area ruled by the Byzantine Empire until early in the ninth century when most of the region was incorporated into Bulgaria. Subsequently the region formerly known as Thrace has been fought over by Bulgaria, Byzantium, Turkey and Greece. The Thracians were known as great warriors; Spartacus, the gladiator slave who led a rebel war against the Romans, was a Thracian. And they were renowned throughout the ancient world as expert metalworkers; in The Iliad, Homer describes the Thracian King’s golden armour as “a wonder to behold, such as it is in no wise fit for mortal men to bear, but for the deathless gods”.
It is quite fitting that Sliven was the location for the presentation of Tsonevs’ findings, Sliven being a former Thracian city itself. Other Bulgarian cities associated with Thrace include; Plovdiv, Stara Zagora, Kazanluk, Haskovo and Bourgas.
FSU Etruscan expert announces historic discovery at ancient site
by Barry Ray
Digging on a remote hilltop in Italy, a Florida State University classics professor and her students have unearthed artifacts that dramatically reshape our knowledge of the religious practices of an ancient people, the Etruscans.
Nancy de Grummond and Jim Harding, an FSU classics graduate student, lift a large Etruscan storage vessel from the sacrificial pit at Cetamura, and get their first view of the underside of the base of the vessel.
"We are excavating a monumental Etruscan building evidently dating to the final years of Etruscan civilization," said Nancy Thomson de Grummond, the M. Lynette Thompson Professor of Classics at FSU and director of the university's archaeology programs in Italy. Within the building, de Grummond's team located in early June what appears to be a sacrificial pit and a sanctuary—finds remarkable for the wealth of items they are yielding that appear to have been used in religious rituals.
Nearly every summer since 1983, de Grummond has taken groups of FSU students into Italy's Tuscany region to participate in archaeological digs at Cetamura del Chianti, a site once inhabited by the Etruscans and ancient Romans. In the final days of this year's program, de Grummond and her students unearthed what she calls "the most thrilling" find she has seen in 23 years at Cetamura.
She explained that the Etruscans, who once ruled most of the Italian peninsula, were conquered and absorbed by the Romans in the second and first centuries B.C.E. ("Before the Common Era"). Prior to that time, however, they were a highly advanced civilization that constructed roads, buildings and sewer systems and developed the first true cities in Europe. They also built large, complex religious sanctuaries—which may have been the purpose served, in part, by the Cetamura structure.
"The building has a highly irregular plan, with stone foundations 3 or 4 feet thick," she said. "One wing of the building is about 60 feet long, flanking a space that has walls running at right angles. Some walls run on a diagonal to the grid, or are curved. There are paved areas alternating with beaten earth floors and what I believe to be a large courtyard in the middle. Some of the foundations are so heavy and thick that they could easily have supported multistoried elements.
Within the building's courtyard, de Grummond said, is a freestanding sandstone platform that likely served as an altar. A few feet away, she and her students unearthed "the most fascinating find of all - a pit filled with burnt offerings for the gods.
"In all, the pit contained approximately 10 vessels, some miniature and thus clearly intended only as gifts for the gods," de Grummond said. "On the other hand, several of the vessels were quite large, including one storage vessel, probably for grain, and a huge pitcher, probably for wine. There also were little cups for drinking and a bowl for eating, as well as a small beaker of the type that holds oil or spices. All of these vessels were ceramic, some ritually broken and but with most or all of the fragments buried together in the pit. Further, most of the pots seem to be locally made rather than imported. They were offering to the gods their own special creations.
"We should be able to restore these vases and have quite a splendid array of Etruscan pottery dating from a single moment and a particular place in their history," de Grummond said.
Also of great interest to de Grummond was the discovery of some 10 iron nails deposited in the pit, all in an excellent state of preservation.
"These reflect what we know from ancient texts in Latin that note that the Etruscans treated nails as sacred, and regarded them as symbolizing inexorable fate," she said. "They had a ritual practice in regard to their deity Nurtia in which they would hammer a nail into the wall of the temple each year as a tribute to the goddess. We cannot yet be sure about the cultic significance of the nails of Cetamura, but they may well relate to the passage of time and thus to the sacred calendar of the Etruscans."
One of de Grummond's students also unearthed an Etruscan inscription on a shard of pottery that contained the name of a little-known Etruscan god, Lurs.
"Almost nothing is known about Lurs, but we may have at Cetamura some very rare evidence about his worship," she said.
De Grummond is a leading scholar on the religious practices of the Etruscans, a people whose culture profoundly influenced the ancient Romans and Greeks. "The Religion of the Etruscans," a book written and edited by de Grummond and Erika Simon, another expert in classical archaeology who served as the Langford Family Eminent Scholar in Classics at FSU in 1999, was published last spring. De Grummond soon will release another book, "Etruscan Myth, Sacred History and Legend."
De Grummond said she hopes to continue excavating the Cetamura sacred area, and building on nearly a quarter-century of knowledge that she has gathered there.
"It is a bit eerie to have excavated something so central to my own lifelong interest in the myth, religion and rituals of the Etruscans," she said. "Without a doubt, this is one of the most exciting of the discoveries I have experienced."
For previous news on Cetamura, see http://fsu.edu/news/2006/04/19/etruscan.secrets/
Iron Age farm to give up its secrets
28 June 2006 06:30
The remains of an Iron Age farm are expected to give up more of their secrets during an annual Norfolk dig which gets underway next month.
The first serious excavation of the site was carried out last summer, uncovering ditches and a paved yard which could have been used to keep cattle.
Now it is set to become one of the focal points of the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project's 2006 season, which starts on Sunday, July 9.
SHARP was launched in 1996 with the aim of building up a complete history of Sedgeford, near Hunstanton, and attracts volunteer archaeologists from around the world.
So far the summer explorations have unearthed more than 270 skeletons from a Saxon cemetery, a horde of Iron Age coins and the long-lost end of a torc, as well as numerous other artefacts.
The farm is on a hillside to the south of the cemetery and is thought to have been taken over by the Romans following their invasion.
"What we saw last year in quite a small excavation indicates it's going to be quite a substantial area and it's going to be one of the main focuses this year," said SHARP publicity officer Chris Mackie.
"When we started the project we thought we would look at the whole of the village and see what history and archaeology was there.
"We had no idea of what we would come across but it really has become one of the most fascinating and well-established archaeological projects. Every year we are looking at something new."
The season runs until August 18 and places are still available on the project's week-long basic archaeology courses and the one and two-day courses on allied subjects.
Further details, including a prospectus, are available on the website, www.sharp.org.uk, or by contacting Brenda Huggins on 01485 532343 or via email, firstname.lastname@example.org
The main site is open to visitors from 11am to 4pm every day except Saturdays and a guide will be on hand to explain what is happening and answer questions.
Rare finds unearthed in city dig
The 13th Century well house was previously unknown
A 13th Century well house and the stock of a wartime chemist's shop are among artefacts unearthed as part of an archaeological dig in Southampton.
The discoveries were made during a seven-month excavation at the French Quarter site in the city centre.
The dig has been carried out as part of plans to redevelop the area into flats, shops and offices.
Finds dating back 1,000 years to late Saxon times and rare pottery imports were also found, developers said.
The stock of the chemist's shop is thought to have fallen into a medieval vault when it was bombed during World War II.
The previously unknown well house was found on the site of the Polymond Hall, formerly home to hymn writer Isaac Watts.
The excavation was carried out on behalf of building firm Linden Homes, which is planning to build 175 apartments, 52 retirement homes and shops and offices on the site in the medieval part of the city.
The development will replicate the 13th Century street pattern of the area.
Pat Feighery, managing director of Linden Homes Southern, said: "Oxford Archaeology, who we employed to excavate the site, did an excellent job in revealing a vast amount of information about Southampton's trading history as a major seaport and through periods of economic depression."
All the artefacts found will now be cleaned, dated and recorded before being handed to Southampton Museum Service.
Dive bids to solve wreck mystery
Archaeologists are to investigate a wreck reported to be that of a German warship previously said to have been salvaged and scrapped.
Records claim the V81, which was at the Battle of Jutland in 1916, was raised in 1937 after foundering off the Caithness coast 85 years ago.
However, members of Caithness Diving Club said it was still on the seabed.
Archaeologist Simon Davidson, of Nottingham University, said: "It's a wreck that shouldn't be there."
The suspected wreck of the World War I destroyer is one of 12, dating from 1890 to 1942, which will be examined by a team from Nottingham University's underwater archaeology research centre.
They intend to work closely with Caithness Diving Club.
The V81 had been beached, but was refloated in 1921 and was being towed to Rosyth when it hit fog off the Caithness coast
Archaeologist Simon Davidson
Mr Davidson said information on the fate of the V81 was "cloudy".
The destroyer was part of the German High Seas Fleet which fought the Royal Navy in the Battle of Jutland, off Denmark's coast.
Some 8,648 British and German sailors lost their lives in one day's fighting on 31 May into 1 June 1916.
In 1919, the vessel and 73 other German warships were scuttled in Scapa Flow, Orkney.
Many were later salvaged, including the V81 whose sister vessel the V83 remains submerged at Scapa Flow.
"The V81 had been beached, but was re-floated in 1921 and was being towed to Rosyth when it hit fog off the Caithness coast," said Mr Davidson.
"The tow was lost and V81 broke free and it ran aground just north of Sinclair Bay and there it lay for several years."
Scapa Flow in Orkney, where 74 warships were scuttled
Mr Davidson said it was supposedly salvaged and taken away for scrap in 1937, but in 1985 divers reported to have found it wrecked on the seabed.
Archaeologists plan to officially verify the ship by comparing its measurements and any serial numbers with those on the V83.
David Steele, of Caithness Diving Club, said it was in shallow water in an area covered in kelp.
He said club members had dived the wreck in recent weeks.
The underwater research is one of seven archaeology projects running across Caithness this summer to investigate its Neolithic, Iron Age and war-time history.
Experts will investigate the area's ancient cairns, brochs, crannogs, castles and shipwrecks.