Sleep with Neanderthals? Apparently we (homo Sapiens) did

By Faye Flam

The Philadelphia Inquirer


Though it's been 150 years since mysteriously humanlike bones first turned up in Germany's Neander Valley, the find continues to shake our collective sense of human identity.


Neanderthals are humanity's closest relatives, with brains at least as big as ours, and yet we don't know whether we should include them as members of our own species.


No longer does science consider them our direct ancestors but some suspect Neanderthals and modern homo Sapiens interbred during the 20,000 some-odd years we co-existed in Europe. The archaeological record doesn't tell us one way or another, but earlier, researchers announced they would seek more clues by scraping DNA from Neanderthal bones and teeth.


The question of sex with Neanderthals speaks to our understanding of ourselves, our origins and our uniqueness. If this other type of human being wasn't like us, what was he like?


As I started researching this issue, I found myself staring at a picture of a nude Neanderthal man — a forensic sculpture created by Duke University paleoanthropologist Steve Churchill that was published last year in the journal Science. The model, based on a skeleton found at La Ferrassie in France, is mesmerizing in its combination of familiarity and alienness.


To be honest, he's really not half bad looking. He's got a good, muscular body, and while he's nobody's idea of handsome, that could be forgiven if he had a nice personality or I was starving and he offered to throw some rhino steaks on the fire for me.


We're not talking about the stoop-shouldered, hairy, apelike Neanderthal of popular culture. There's no evidence they were hairier than modern people, says anthropologist Harold Dibble, a curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. For all we know our La Ferrassie man had a smooth chest and back.


Nor is there any reason to consider Neanderthals more closely related to chimpanzees than we are. The current scientific consensus holds that our ancestors and those of Neanderthals branched off from a common "archaic human" ancestor about 800,000 years ago.


Around half a million years ago the Neanderthal line spread through Europe and the Middle East, while our dominant ancestral line didn't move into Europe until much later — around 45,000 years ago. There, we overlapped until about 28,000 years ago.


The archaeological record suggests Neanderthals knew how to control fire and created complex tools. "No matter how you cut it, they were not the stone-age idiots they were portrayed as in bad movies," says John Relethford, an anthropologist at State University of New York at Oneonta and author of "Genetics and the Search for Modern Human Origins."


We don't know why Neanderthals went extinct, he says. It could have been genocide, disease, a change in available food sources or absorption into our gene pool through sex. It didn't have to be anything dramatic, he says. When two groups are living in the same environment, it takes only a slight edge for one group to dominate.


Will genetics fill in the story's gaps? That's the hope, says Michael Egholm of the Connecticut-based 454 Life Sciences. Getting good information from Neanderthal bones is a long shot considering the majority of DNA they extract comes from bacteria and contamination from people.


But clues also lay within the DNA we're carrying around in our cells today. Biologist Alan Templeton of Washington University in St. Louis has found hints that some people of European ancestry carry genes that emerged in Europe more than 300,000 years ago — far before our main ancestors left Africa.


The story Templeton's genetic studies tell is one of successive waves of humanlike groups moving from Africa to Europe and Asia, first more than a million years ago, again 800,000 years ago and again less than 100,000 years ago. Each wave of immigrants appears to have mixed with the previous one already living in Eurasia.


It certainly mirrors what we know of the more recent history of human migration and exploration. Even when unfamiliar groups label each other as subhuman, they almost always have sex anyway.



Neolithic stone carving of Big Dipper discovered in northwest China


A neolithic stone carving of the Big Dipper star formation has been found on Baimiaozi Mountain near Chifeng City in northwest China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to experts.


The stone carving was discovered by Wu Jiacai, a 50-year-old researcher in literature and history with Wongniute Banner of Inner Mongolia.


Wu found a large yam-shaped stone, 310 centimeters long, onto which 19 stars had been carved. The representation of the Big Dipper is on the north face of the stone.


The stars are represented by indentations in the stone. The biggest indentation is 6 centimeters in diameter and 5 centimeters deep, said Wu.


"The stone was carved by neolithic dwellers," said Gai Shanlin, researcher with the Inner Mongolia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology (IMICRA) and an expert in stone carving.


The carving style proves this, said Gai. Astronomers' conjectures about the shape of the Big Dipper some ten thousand years ago also match the carving.


"Finding a stone carving in China's desert hinterland is a rare occurrence," said Tala, director of IMICRA, who said it might help prove how ancient celestial bodies evolved.


Apart from the Big Dipper, Wu also found some "unexplained images" on the stone. He thinks they may depict ancient gods, such as the god of the sun and the god of horses. Further study would be needed to determine when the pictures were painted.


Many neolithic jade articles from the Hongshan Culture - such as a dragon with a pig's mouth and a cloud-shaped pendant - have already been unearthed around Baimiaozi Mountain.


The Hongshan Culture was an aboriginal culture that existed in northern China about 6000 years ago.


Tala believes the discovery will contribute to knowledge about the origin and spread of Hongshan Culture.



The Chinese chariot (221BC)


A team of horses lay frozen at the gallop, revealed to the world after thousands of years. Archaeologists digging at Luoyang, in China’s central Henan province, were astonished to find the animals’ perfectly preserved remains laid out in eerie symmetry, still tethered to the chariot they had been pulling.


Historians believe the remains date from the Eastern Zhou dynasty, which ended in the year 221BC. If that is correct, it would make the chariot with its delicately spoked wheels, a marvel of engineering for its time.


Theories about how the horses came to be entombed include death on the battlefield or in a landslide.


However, some experts think the careful, almost ceremonial arrangement of the animals could indicate that they were laid to rest with care, possibly alongside their owner.



Archaeologists discover permafrost mummy with fur coat. 

Written by Ulaanbaatar correspondent  

Thursday, 17 August 2006

Research workers of the German archaeological institute have discovered a mummy in permafrost at excavation work in Mongolia of approximately 2,500 years old. At the "sensational find" of a sepulchre chamber of the Scythian rider people a crew of the German television sender ZDF were present. In front of the camera the archaeologists opened the sepulchre where the mummy of the Scythian soldier was stored. The mummy, conserved in permafrost, carried still a fur coat and had a decorated gilded head ornament. According to the scientists the discovery is similar with those of the legendary Ötzi in 1991, and the tattooed siberian ice princess from 1993.



Drought unearths treasure trove of ancient monuments

Aug 8 2006

By David Greenwood, Daily Post


THE summer drought has unearthed a treasure trove of finds for historians taking a birds eye view of Wales.


Heatwave conditions, which have parched the Welsh countryside, proved ideal for aerial archaeologists.


Last night they were described as the best for at least a decade with a host of buried sites revealed from the air.


The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales made major discoveries using light aircraft to survey the Welsh landscape.


"It has been absolutely astounding. Discoveries have been made across Wales visible both as cropmarks in ripening crops and scorched grassland," said a spokesman.


They include two early Neolithic causewayed enclosures, built in Wales 6,000 years ago, of which only three were previously known.


One was spotted in Radnorshire and the other in the Vale of Glamorgan Other significant discoveries include Roman forts, a lost medieval church in the Conwy valley, a bronze age ritual enclosure, near Aberystwyth, lines of Roman roads and scores of prehistoric hillforts across the entire country.


Project Manager for the Aerial Survey programme at the Royal Commission Dr Toby Driver said the results were significant.


"Cropmarks first began appearing from the air during June, in Gwynedd, Montgomeryshire, and the Vale of Glam-organ.


"But into July and August we have seen stunning results from all parts of Wales. "As the hot weather has progressed some remarkable sites have been discovered.


"From the bronze age we have scores of round barrows, once used for burial, visible as plough-levelled circles in fields. Sometimes the central grave pits are still visible.


"At Goginan, near Aberystwyth, a great circular enclosure was discovered with a barrow close by, likely to be a bronze age temple which may once have contained a circle of upright timber posts."


He added: "Previously unknown hill-forts and prehistoric farms have been found in considerable numbers across the southern Lly^n peninsula, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Montgomeryshire, telling us where pre-Roman Iron Age communities lived and farmed.


"Our knowledge of the Roman army in Wales has also expanded as a result of this summer's discoveries.


"Two previously unknown Roman fortlets have been discovered guarding strategic passes on the Roman road system near Llanerfyl, in northern Powys, and near Bala in Gwynedd.


"Buried lines of Roman roads have also been seen marching through the Welsh countryside near Builth Wells, in central Wales, at Corwen, in the north-east, and near Lampeter, in west Wales."


Dr Driver said: "It has been a hugely successful year for aerial archaeology in Wales and we may not see another like it for a decade.


"I know I have some months of work ahead of me to work through the discoveries, notifying local archaeologists and ensuring some of the most remarkable are visited on the ground and further studied."



Ancient Welsh city found



Caer Caradoc at Mynydd y Gaer, Glamorgan, is one of the most important locations in all of ancient British history. It is the fabled fortress city of King Caradoc 1, son of Arch, who fought the Romans from 42-51AD.


And now, a small team of dedicated researchers working with historians Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett, say they have been able to pinpoint the location of this site. "It is great news for the local, regional and national economy," said Alan Wilson today. "We have been making these discoveries for many years and with the Electrum Cross discovered at nearby St. Peter's in 1990, it looks like a boost for jobs is likely."


"What is more," added research team leader Baram A Blackett, "this is but one of several South Wales sites we are currently investigating. And the others are arguably bigger news than this!"


"This is one of many remarkable places", he added.


"What we have is a clearly-defined walled city in exactly the place the records tell us it should be. The Welsh manuscripts and supporting records are always precise and allow us to make major progress in terms of identifying royal burial mounds, tombs, artefacts and more," said Wilson.


Aerial photographs obtained by the research team via Google Earth are available for viewing on the Internet via, realhistoryradio.blogspot.com


A Caer is a fortress and Caers were major fortress cities and towns for example: Caer Lllundain (London), Caerdydd (Cardiff) Caergrant (Cambridge) and Caer Loyw (Gloucester).


Historical references to Caer Caradoc are many and include statements in the Brut Tyssilio (684 AD) and the later Gruffyd ap Arthur (1135 AD) where Merddyn Emrys (Martin Ambrosius) and his mother are said to have met with the Ambassdors of Vortigern at St. Peter's Super-Montem Church at Caer Caradoc, where they lived.


(The ruin of the ancient St. Peters' Super-Montem Church, owned by Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett, is still on the low mountain immediately above the city of Caer Caradoc. The church is similarly ancient, dating to the 1st Century AD as shown in the 1990 dig at the site.)


Another reference is that of Teithfallt/Theodosius, who buried the 363 British noblemen murdered by treacherous Saxons at the notorious "Peace ConfereThe team say the Mynwent y Milwyr, "monument to the soldiers", is still to be found on the second highest point of Mynydd y Gaer above the city of Caer Caradoc that they have found.


A third reference is that of the "Uthyr Pendragon" , King Meurig/Maurice, who lies buried at the giant circle at Caer Caradoc. There is, at this location, a gigantic ditch and mound shaped like a boat, next to St. Peter's Church ruin. In this 180 yards by 70 yards wide earth mound and ditch feature there is the huge grave mound of Meurig.


At the highest point of the Mynydd y Gaer, "Fortress Mountain", lies the burial mound known at "Twyn Caradoc", for King Caradoc 1 who returned from Rome in 59AD.


The area around St. Peter's Church is called Portref, or "Supreme Manor Place", and other place names include "the throne of the knight," "the ridge of the soldiers" and the "pass of the soldier". King Lleirwg (King Luke) rebuilt St Peter's circa 160AD and an archaeological dig undertaken there in 1990 showed four successive ancient church rebuildings dating back to the 1st Century AD. The illustrious Welsh records known as the Triads state that the Caer Caradoc church was the most important in Britain.


Around 150 yards away from St Peter's ruins are the ruins of a thick castle wall and the bases of two gate towers where a castle once stood allowing watchman the best possible views of the coastal views of Glamorgan and the Severn Estuary.


There was a major battle near Caer Caradoc in 51 AD where the Khumric-Welsh claimed victory over the Romans. This battle site was located north west of Mynydd y Gaer near Merthyr (Merthyr Tydfil today), or vale of the Martyrs.


After winning the battle, Caradoc went north to get assistance from the Queen of the Brigantes, Aregwedd, misnamed Cartismandua by the Latins. Instead, the Queen, known as the "traitor", handed Caradoc over to the Romans. He was subsequently taken to Rome where he resided for seven years before returning home.


The team say tthe discovery of Caer Caradoc, a pre-Roman British city is a severe embarrassment to academics who take no notice of Welsh records. Despite this, they now have clear photographic evidence, proof positive, of a rectangular walled city located on the flatlands just city south of St. Peter's and north of Brynna village. Although they are not yet allowed on-site, as it is privately owned, the site can be seen easily.


This city, Caer Caradoc, was once the capital of the Paramount King of Britain, and the team started to look for its precise location in 1990 but it was not until the development of the aerial imaging programme, Google Earth, that they were able to make the identification, and this was a difficult process of checking and re-checking.


There is further conclusive evidence based upon Tithe Maps. These are a detailed record of every Welsh field. Each field had a designated number, details of the owner and tenant farmer and, importantly, the field's name. Every field had a name and often described what had occurred there, if anything. Around St. Peters, the field names show it to be the location of the Peace Conference of 456 took place. "Field of the Conference, "Field of the Quarrel," "Field of the Blood". Copies of Tithe maps are easily obtained.


The team say this is a major find by any standards and they welcome questions, queries and requests for further detail from all comers.



Historians claim to have found fabled lost city

Aug 15 2006

Rin Simpson, Western Mail


WELSH historians believe they have uncovered the site of a 2,000-year-old city which they say is the most important location in ancient British history.


The Ancient British Historical Association (ABHA) claims that a field at Mynydd y Gaer near Pencoed is the fabled fortress city of King Caradoc I, or Caractacus, who fought the Romans between 42-51 AD.


The Roman leader at that time was the Emperor Claudius, immortalised by Derek Jacobi in the TV series and film I, Claudius, alongside Welsh actress Si n Phillips as his aunt Livia.


Historians Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett used old manuscripts to narrow their field of search and aerial photos obtained from Google Earth, which provides maps and satellite imagery, to find the exact spot.


Their findings have yet to be verified but the team are positive they have found the long lost site.


Mr Wilson said, "What we have is a clearly- defined walled city in exactly the place the records tell us it should be.


"The Welsh manuscripts and supporting records are always precise and allow us to make major progress in terms of identifying royal burial mounds, tombs, artefacts and more."


Tim Matthews, another member of the team, added, "We knew pretty much the area we were looking for and we knew that St Peter's Church nearby was an important meeting site and that it was at Caer Caradoc.


"So our area of search was limited to that area but because some land owners are less happy than others about people traipsing though their land access wasn't always easy.


"If you look at other ancient walled cities and what they may have been like you start to get an idea of the shape and the delineation and the patterning and you can see this is exactly what we're looking for."


Some experts have received the news with caution. A spokesperson at the Council for British Archaeology said, "Clearly it is very difficult to interpret early Welsh sources in relation to what is on the ground today.


"Although aerial photographs can be very revealing they can be very deceiving too. Without ground surveys and geophysical surveys to establish whether there were buried features, it would be difficult to say for certain whether it was an ancient site.


"That would be the next stage of investigation."


However the ABHA are sure of their findings.


Mr Matthews added, "With our research there's no theory and no speculation. You can read every manuscript, visit every site and touch every stone.


"You can go to places and see things - South Wales is littered with about 200 stones, dozens of grave mounds, tombs, all sorts of artefacts."


The group has gathered evidence from a number of ancient documents which they say refer to Caer Caradoc, including the Brut Tyssilio (684AD) and the later Gruffyd ap Arthur (1135AD).


Another reference is that of Teithfallt or Theodosius, who buried the 363 British noblemen murdered by treacherous Saxons at the notorious "Peace Conference" circa 456 AD at the Mynwent y Milwyr at Caer Caradoc.


According to the ABHA the Mynwent y Milwyr [monument to the soldiers] - is still to be found on the second highest point of Mynydd y Gaer above the possible site of the city of Caer Caradoc.


A third reference is that of the "Uthyr Pendragon", King Meurig or Maurice, who lies buried at the giant circle at Caer Caradoc.


There is, at this location, a gigantic ditch and mound shaped like a boat, next to St Peter's Church ruin not far from the site.


Mr Matthews believes that a historical discovery of this size could have important implications for the local economy.


"South Wales is packed with historical stuff and people just don't realise this.


"It's an area which is rich in ancient history you can actually touch.


"People love this kind of thing, they love it everywhere. People will come and see these things.


"It's regrettable that people in tourism agencies haven't done more."


When King Caradoc I, son of Arch, fought against the Romans between 42-51AD he was taking on a pretty big task.


At the time Rome was ruled by Emperor Claudius, or Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus to give him his full name.


The first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy, Claudius nonetheless oversaw the expansion of his empire, including the conquest of Britain.


His life was immortalised by English writer Robert Graves in his novels I, Claudius (1934) and Claudius the God (1935), which were adapted into the 1976 BBC TV series and film I, Claudius starring Derek Jacobi and Si n Phillips, pictured right.


However, as with many of the great Roman leaders, Claudius met his death at the hand of someone within his own household, poisoned either by his taster or his doctor. He died on October 13, 54AD.



Dig clues point to Roman murder


A crime that has remained undetected for 1,500 years has been uncovered by an archaeological team working at the village of Sedgeford, in Norfolk.


A human skeleton was found hidden in what would have been a Roman corn drier, and experts believe the person was deliberately put inside.


The six-week excavation on the former Roman farm will end this week.


The skeleton was found by a team from Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP).


On-site human remains expert Zannah Baldry said the body appeared to have been pushed into the oven and then set alight.


Project director and Roman expert Dr Neil Faulkner said: "A discovery like this is very rare, but such things are not completely unknown."


The skeleton will be studied by human remains specialists, who will attempt to establish the person's age, sex and perhaps the cause of death.


Bone samples will be sent for radiocarbon dating.


Dr Faulkner said: "Who was this person? We can only speculate. Perhaps a tax collector or the landlord's bailiff - a hate figure of the old regime.


"Or maybe this was just a casual crime, an old score settled, in a world where the chances of getting caught were less."


Work is continuing on the site for another week, and archaeologists will return next summer to continue their investigations.



Ancient hostelry found under pub


Engravings from the 18th Century show the ruins at Byland

Archaeologists have unearthed a medieval hostelry beneath a gastro-pub on the edge of the North York Moors.


The ancient stone walls at Byland Abbey near Coxwold were uncovered during work to install water and electricity to the Abbey's museum, opposite the Abbey Inn.


The remains include roof tiles, pottery and stonework and are believed to be part of a monastic guesthouse.


English Heritage, which owns the pub, said the findings were an exciting link between the past and present.


Under the rule of St Benedict, monasteries were expected to provide food and lodgings with a guesthouse for distinguished visitors.


King Edward II was among the guests who enjoyed Byland's hospitality, which was said to be the best in northern England, but little is known of the building's history after 1538.


Ancient setting


English Heritage spokesman John Lax said 18th Century engravings had always shown ruins in the area.


"We thought these might belong to the vanished guesthouse, but now we have physical evidence that seems to prove the point," he said.


"The new discoveries are providing an exciting link between the past and present."


The Abbey Inn was built as a farmhouse on the site in 1845 but later became a hostelry.


English Heritage acquired the pub in 2005 with the aim of protecting the ancient setting and using its profits to maintain historic monuments.


Mr Lax said: "The Abbey Inn couldn't have been built in a more appropriate place. Today's guests are clearly not the first ones to enjoy the view over the monument."



Archeologists discover remains of Jacques Cartier settlement


Canadian Press

Published: Sunday, August 20, 2006


QUEBEC (CP) - The site of one of North America's first settlements will be the object of an extensive archeological dig ahead of the city's 400th anniversary celebrations.


The site, in a suburb southwest of Quebec City, is believed to be where Jacques Cartier built a fort during his third and final voyage to the French colony. The Quebec government said Friday it will give $8 million to the archeological project over the next three years.


"It's a historic discovery, a major discovery for the provincial capital," said Michel Despres, the provincial minister responsible for the Quebec City area.


Archeologists discovered the site accidentally when preliminary work for a planned lookout point turned up artefacts which carbon dating later proved to be from the 16th century.


The discovery was kept secret for several months before Friday's announcement.


Historians suspect the fort was built by Jacques Cartier between 1541 and 1543, making it the oldest European settlement to be discovered north of Mexico.


Although the dig won't be finished by the time Quebec City celebrates its 400th anniversary in 2008, parts of the site will be open to the public in time for the celebrations.

© The Canadian Press 2006



Mummy set to return to Canaries after 200 years

Fri Aug 18, 2006 8:28 AM ET

By Jason Webb


MADRID (Reuters) - A Madrid museum is set to return a centuries-old mummy to the Canary Islands, adding impetus to an international trend for human remains to be handed back to their countries of origin.


A Spanish Senate committee wants Madrid's Anthropology Museum to return remains of a member of the Canaries' aboriginal Guanche people which arrived in mainland Spain in the 1700s, said Rafael Gonzalez, of Tenerife's Museum of Nature and Man.


The transfer now has to be approved by Spain's parliament.


There has been a growing demand from around the world for the return of human remains collected by museums during the heyday of Western colonial empires.


Gonzalez, the Tenerife museum's head of archaeology, was not sure when the Madrid mummy would return. But he told Reuters he wants the Canary Islands to recover all remains of the Guanches -- a people related to North African Berbers who were conquered by Spaniards in the 15th century.


"We want mummified remains of indigenous Canary people to come home. We don't care about archaeological artefacts, but the people who created the culture should be here," Gonzalez said.


The Guanches mummified important personages and the Madrid remains, dating from before the Spanish conquest, are now on display in a glass case.


An Argentine museum returned two Guanche mummies in 2003, and Gonzalez said he would like a museum in Manchester, England, to send back another.


It was not immediately possible to obtain a comment from Manchester Museum, but its former director said there was a trend to negotiate the return of remains with groups who can demonstrate some ancestral or cultural link.


"There's been a growing awareness that, of the materials that are held in museums, human remains occupy a very specific moral category," said Tristam Besterman, director of Manchester Museum from 1994-2004.


Museums in Argentina, Britain and the Netherlands have all agreed to New Zealand requests to return tattooed Maori heads. Sent in chests marked "this way up," they have been formally welcomed by wailing women and men blowing on conch shells.


One of the biggest collections of remains are Egyptian mummies, held in collections in many parts of the world. But so far, the Egyptians have not asked for them back.


"Their own vaults are full of them," said Besterman.