Treasure trove of Homo erectus found
Dozens of fossils reveal four primitive humans.
Published online: 19 September 2007; | doi:10.1038/news070917-6
A trove of the oldest human skeletal bones outside Africa is reported in Nature this week — a find that will help researchers to improve their understanding of the biology of the 1.8-million-year-old hominins.
The work, led by researchers from the Georgian National Museum in Tbilisi, describes three-dozen fossils from the skeletons of four primitive Homo erectus individuals found in recent years at Dmanisi in Georgia, central Asia.
H. erectus is thought to have migrated across Asia after coming out of Africa, where the oldest relative of man is traced to nearly 7 million years ago. H. erectus fossils have been found from Africa across Asia as far as Indonesia. Typically there are only a few scattered fossils at one location. A single site with so many bones from so many individuals is rare. And they date back to very soon after H. erectus's exodus from Africa.
"Dmanisi is a real gift, because nothing in the world exists like this for this time," says lead author David Lordkipanidze.
"The really important point is you have multiple individuals from the same time and location," adds Tim White, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the work. Together the specimens — three adults and an adolescent — present a much better picture of what the species was like as a whole than would a single skeleton. With one individual, experts note, it is difficult to determine whether a feature such as leg length is typical of the entire species or just characteristic of that one individual.
With four skeletons, you start to have a data set that you can reasonably compare with modern humans, says Alan Walker, a palaeoanthropologist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.
Researchers are now attempting to link these fossils to three skulls, a cranium and a mandible all found previously in the same dig site.
The Dmanisi site — which continues to yield fossils annually — was near a lava flow where the primitive humans are thought to have scavenged carcasses for meat. But H. erectus then became a victim of carnivores, with their collective bones marked by animal teeth and found in a lair-like deposit.
Lordkipanidze and his colleagues note that the skeletal fossils of shoulder, arm, spine and leg show that the individuals were small (about 50 kilograms on a frame of some 150 centimetres tall), had modern-human body-limb proportions, and legs capable of long-distance travel.
This reflects variation expected in the species, notes anatomist Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University in Ohio. It is known that H. erectus living in colder climates had shorter limbs compared with those from the hotter environs of Africa.
Even though this sample provides a good look at H. erectus in this time and place, experts caution against drawing broad conclusions about H. erectus.
As more fossils are reported in the near future, as is expected, the growing Dmanisi collection will allow researchers to describe our relatives more definitively.
Archaeologists discovering "Prague Pompeii"
By ČTK / Published 17 September 2007
Prague, Sept 15 (CTK)
Czech archaeologists are sure of the existence of "Prague Pompeii" beneath the Old Town Square whose existence would largely complicate the possible completion of Prague's Old-Town Hall, Lidove noviny (LN) writes Saturday.
According to archaeologists, a lost world is buried below the Old Town Square and adjacent streets. They say they are sure of the existence of remnants of Romanesque Prague, such as torsos of houses, palaces and old residences deep below the surface.
Archaeologists and town-planners have known about the existence of "Prague Pompeii" for decades from old maps and historical town plans, which have, however, fallen into oblivion.
They remembered of them again last year when Mayor of Prague Pavel Bem announced the plan to complete the Old Town Hall, LN writes.
It says that there may even be the Gothic part of the Old Town Hall whose 19th-century Nobile wing was irretrievably destroyed during the fights at the end of World War Two and that Bem wants to complete now.
"We believe that a fragment of the pulled down part of the original town hall that was there still before Nobile has been preserved and that it could be completed to its original appearance," LN quotes architects Frantisek Kasicka and Milan Pavlik as saying.
The Prague Pompeii will, however, send the price of a possible completion of the town hall pretty up, LN writes.
It says archaeologists estimate the cost of archaeological research in the Old Town Square at millions of crowns and say it may last about one year, LN writes.
It says that according to Zdenek Dragoun, National Heritage Institute archaeological department head, 66 Romanesque houses have been dugged out in Prague.
The last three of them were found under the Republic Square during the construction of the Palladium shopping centre last year.
Archaeologists unearth bronze age burial site at quarry
By Rich Bowden, M&C Staff Writer Sep 17, 2007, 13:35 GMT
Archaeologists excavating a site at at Pode Hole Quarry near Peterborough, have discovered a significant Bronze Age burial site. With scientists already having discovered a 3,500-year-old man's skeleton at the location in a quarry, they added to their discovery by uncovering the remains of a small child.
Archaeologists have unearthed a number of artefacts in the area which point to a settlement in the quarry they have been excavating for eight years but the skeletons are the first human connection to the site.
"All evidence is important, but this allowed us to put a human face to the past," Dr Andy Richmond of the archaeological team said to the BBC. "We know a lot about the economy and now we've found a part of the jigsaw we hadn't had, we can see something of the people of the area."
Experts will now examine the child's skeleton to determine the age and sex of the child and any diseases it may have suffered from and its diet.
3,500-year-old baby is unearthed
By Jonny Muir
ARCHAEOLOGISTS have unearthed the tiny skeleton of a 3,500-year-old baby at a quarry near Peterborough. The discovery was made close to the centre of a Bronze Age burial mound at Pode Hole – a sprawling gravel quarry west of Thorney.
Coming two months after the well-preserved remains of a Bronze Age man were found 50 metres away, experts are convinced they have uncovered an ancient cemetery.
The stunning discovery of the baby – which was under a year old, or possibly a still-born birth – was made by Phoenix Consulting Archaeology during routine excavation work.
The child was lying in a grave lined with birch bark, and a complete pottery vessel, with an offering of grain or wheat inside, was found next to the bones.
Lead archaeologist Dr Andy Richmond said: "We knew about the existence of round barrows because aerial shots detailed crop growth variations. But over the years, these mounds have been ploughed away, disturbing the burial grounds.
"To find the skeleton of such a young child was an exciting discovery, and the bones were extremely soft."
John Penny, who is a senior surveyor for Bardon Aggregates, which runs the quarry, said: "Excavation work at the site has been ongoing for eight years and, until now, little has come to light regarding the men and women who lived in the area.
"However, in recent months the archaeologists have come across remarkable evidence that points to the lives and routines of people who carved out an agricultural landscape in the area, in the form of a communal burial ground.
"The excavations help historians and archaeologists to piece together the jigsaw of life on the edge of the Fens from the late Neolithic period through to the late Bronze Age."
The skeletons and artefacts will be sent for testing to gauge a better understanding of the social side of their ancient communities, and to determine age, sex, diet, disease and dental information.
It is hoped some of the artefacts will eventually be displayed at Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery, in Priestgate.
When archaeologists are satisfied that all potential Bronze Age findings have been removed, Peterborough City Council will sanction the quarrying of the burial site.
Pode Hole Quarry opened in 1996 and the extracted sand and gravel were used for the A1(M) expansion between Peterborough and Alconbury.
Bardon Aggregates took over the management of the site in 1998, and the quarry has an annual production rate of 300,000 tonnes.
Archaeologists hunt fire disaster
Archaeologists have begun digging in Nottinghamshire to search for evidence of a medieval disaster.
Records show that Mansfield Woodhouse and its church were devastated by fire in September 1304 - but little else is known about the event.
The excavation team said they want to expand some of the details about how extensive the damage really was.
Over the next few weeks a series of trenches will be dug near St Edmund's Church to investigate signs of burning.
Medieval records show that only the church tower was left standing and that the population asked the king's permission to use wood from Sherwood Forest for rebuilding.
Community archaeologist Emily Gillott said: "We know the church was involved in the fire and though it has been rebuilt several times it is in the same location.
"So we will start near the church and hopefully we will find a layer of burning and see how far it extends."
She added that local people are interested to learn about their past.
"It kind of gives people an idea of where they have come from.
"If people have got a long ancestry and they think their roots go back a long way in Mansfield Woodhouse then they can put themselves in the position of the people who were here when the village burnt down.
"They imagine the kind of difficulties they had to go through and it kind of gives a human touch to something which is mud and pottery."
Car park dig for medieval castle
Volunteers are helping archaeologists search for signs of a medieval castle thought to be under a village car park.
Researchers believe the castle once stood at the site in Maenclochog at the foot of Pembrokeshire's Preseli Hills.
Villagers are working with professional archaeologists for two weeks in a bid to find out more about the land.
A topographical survey of the site last year suggested the site was probably that of the castle and possibly an earlier Iron Age fortification.
Documentary evidence suggests there was a castle at Maenclochog dating back to the 13th Century.
The dig, involving part of the village carpark, has been organised by local enterprise organisation Planed, with the help of Cambria Archaeology and Pembrokeshire National Park.
Planed's Christian Donovan said research was commissioned last year to come up with possible locations.
"They had always thought there was a castle in Maenclochog and people living there wanted to find out more about it," she said.
Around 20 amateurs will take part in the dig which started on Wednesday and at the end of each day villagers will be invited to tour the site for an update on what - if anything - has been found.
"We also have local school children coming to have a look next week," added Ms Donovan.
A similar project last year saw volunteers uncover human remains as they searched for a pre-Norman cemetery at Angle Bay in Pembrokeshire.
"They found a body last year - we don't think that will happen this year," added Mrs Donovan
She said the aim of the projects was to interest people in the history of their communities and get them actively involved in researching their heritage.
Ancient royal palace unearthed
Sat, September 22 2007
By Jane Meredith/Petra Cooke/Liam Sloan, Reporters
Phone: 01635 564631
AN ANCIENT royal palace near Kingsclere unearthed during recent excavations will be open to the public over the weekend (September 22-23).
The Royal Palace of Fremantle has lain hidden under the Hampshire Downs at Tidgrove Warren Farm, in the parish of Hannington, for nearly 900 years.
Over the last three years the site has been excavated by staff and students from the University of Southampton in association with the Kingsclere Heritage Association local volunteers.
Explorations have revealed a medieval enclosed settlement surrounded by a massive ditch - larger than many contemporary castles.
According to Peter Woodman, treasurer of Kingsclere Heritage Association, the settlement was built in 1172 as a stopping place for King Henry II on his journeys to and from his French possessions. It was later used by King Richard the Lionheart and King John, before being demolished in about 1252.
"Finds on the site include prehistoric remains as well as contemporary artefacts," said Mr Woodman.
Within the enclosure the cellar has been excavated with its access stairs, and the footings of other buildings on the site have been identified.
The landowner, Raleigh Place, a keen archaeologist, said: "This has been a most exciting time and we are all grateful to the Rev. Robert Legg the former Vicar of Kingsclere."
"He has thoroughly researched the archives to point us towards a particular set of crop marks which have turned out to be the site of the palace."
The site will be open to the public on Saturday September 22 and Sunday September 23 with guided tours of the excavation being conducted by Professor David Hinton of the University of Southampton.
The first tour is at 10am and the last tour at 4pm on each day.
A range of other activities will be on offer throughout the weekend, mainly aimed at children. A team of re-enactors will provide tasters of medieval food, an armourer will demonstrate armour and weapons of the time and a medieval archer will be giving lessons in the long bow.
Children will be able to use metal detectors to find old coins, with opportunity to learn the techniques of excavation.
Everything is free-of-charge, except for a small charge for keeping the coins.
"Tidgrove Warren is a beautiful place with a wealth of wildlife," said Mr Woodman.
The site lies just north of the B3051 half way between Overton and Kingsclere (3 miles from each), is well signposted and involves driving over a part of the downs.
For more information telephone Peter Woodman (01635) 297144 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mystery boy in iron coffin identified
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer Thu Sep 20, 5:09 PM ET
WASHINGTON - Researchers have solved the mystery of the boy in the iron coffin. The cast-iron coffin was discovered by utility workers in Washington two years ago. Smithsonian scientists led by forensic anthropologist Doug Owsley set about trying to determine who was buried in it, so the body could be placed in a new, properly marked grave.
The body was that of 15-year-old William Taylor White, who died in 1852 and was buried in the Columbia College cemetery, they announced Thursday.
"The mystery of this young boy's life and a strong sense of responsibility to properly identify him kept me and the entire team focused and determined. This was not a one-person project. It took more than three dozen people nearly two years to make the ID," Deborah Hull-Walski, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, said in a statement.
The researchers believe that the coffin was inadvertently left behind when the cemetery was later moved.
White, from Accomack, Va., was a descendant of Anthony West, one of the Jamestown settlers, they announced. He was a student in the preparatory school of the college, which later became George Washington University.
White was one of several potential candidates the team focused on after studying census records, obituaries and other public documents.
They then tested the DNA of known living descendants to make the positive identification.
The pathologists and forensic anthropologists reported that White had congenital heart disease, a ventricular septum defect, which is a hole in the heart, that contributed to his death.
They found an obituary published in the Daily National Intelligencer newspaper of Washington on Jan. 28, 1852, confirming White died Jan. 24, 1852, after a short illness.
Clothing historians were able to determine that he was dressed in a shirt, vest and pants that are consistent with clothing styles of the early to mid-1850s.
"Thus is cut off, in the morning of his days, one in whom many hopes were centred-and who had the fairest prospects of happiness and usefulness in life," the Religious Herald newspaper of Richmond, Va., said in its obituary.
The cast-iron coffin was shaped a bit like an Egyptian mummy case and is of a type called Fisk style patented in 1848. This particular model was popular in the early 1850s among the well-to-do, Owsley said.
Because they are sealed, cast iron coffins tend to yield well-preserved bodies. Indeed, the young person looked not unlike an ancient mummy, even though he had not gone through the Egyptian embalming procedures.