China finds 100,000-year-old human skull: report

Wed Jan 23, 8:19 AM ET


BEIJING (AFP) - An almost complete human skull dating back 80,000 to 100,000 years has been unearthed in central China, state media reported Wednesday.


The skull, consisting of 16 pieces, was dug up last month after two years of excavation at a site in Xuchang in Henan province, the China Daily said.


The pieces were fossilised because they were buried near the mouth of a spring whose water had a high calcium content, the report said.


The People's Daily newspaper said the skull was expected to provide "direct evidence" concerning the origins of human beings in east Asia, as very few human fossils dating back to about 100,000 years ago had ever been found outside Africa.


The China Daily said that the skull, with protruding bones over the eye sockets and a small forehead, was "the greatest discovery in China after the Peking Man and Upper Cave Man skulls were found in Beijing early last century".


However, experts contacted by AFP said the importance of the discovery appeared to be over-stated in the reports.


"It is far from the greatest judging from points such as the completeness, the time, and the significance of problems it can explain," said Wu Xinzhi, a professor and academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


"So far, it just can prove that there were human beings living in Henan about 80,000 to 100,000 years ago and the shape of their heads was roughly what the skull shows."


Besides the skull, more than 30,000 animal fossils and stone and bone artifacts were found over the past two years in an area of 260 square metres (2,800 square feet), the report said.


The oldest human fossil found in China so far was a tooth unearthed in 1965 in Yuanmou county in the southwestern province of Yunnan that dated back 1.7 million years, said Wu.



Earliest Shoe-Wearers Revealed by Toe Bones

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Jan. 25, 2008


People started wearing shoes around 40,000 years ago, according to a study on recently excavated small toe bones that belonged to an individual from China who apparently loved shoes.


Most footwear erodes over time. The earliest known shoes, rope sandals that attached to the feet with string, date to only around 10,000 B.C. For the new study, the clues were in middle toe bones that change during an individual's lifetime if the person wears shoes a lot.


"When you walk barefoot, your middle toes curl into the ground to give you traction as you push off," explained co-author Erik Trinkaus, who worked on the study with Hong Shang.


"If you regularly wear Nikes, moccasins or any other type of shoe, you actually wind up pushing off with your big toe, with less force going through the middle toes," added Trinkaus, a Washington University anthropologist who is one of the world's leading experts on early human evolution.


Small toe bones are rare in the archaeological record, so Trinkaus and Hong jumped at the chance to study the 40,000-year-old skeleton, which was found in Tianyuan Cave near Zhoukoudian, China.


They also analyzed a recently found 27,500-year-old Russian skeleton with middle toe bones, as well as Neanderthal and modern Puebloan and Inuit skeletons, also with such bones.


The findings have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


The researchers determined that both the Chinese and Russian individuals had more lightly built middle toe bones relative to their body size. The Russian skeleton was also found with other individuals who had an abundance of ivory beads around their ankles and feet, suggesting these individuals likely wore some fairly flashy shoes.


To test the toe theory, the scientists conducted similar analysis on the more modern samples. The habitually barefoot Native American Puebloan possessed much more robust middle toe bones.


The shoe-wearing Inuit, who had a very active lifestyle, possessed semi-sturdy middle toe bones, while the Neanderthal, with ultra hefty middle toe bones, showed no signs of having worn shoes.


Trinkaus explained to Discovery News that the date of the first footwear corresponds with an important time in human history.


"A cultural evolution was starting," he said of the Paleolithic period. "We start to see all kinds of changes, such as more elaborate toolkits and the beginnings of art. The findings about footwear are another piece in the puzzle."


Trenton Holliday, an associate professor of anthropology at Tulane University, told Discovery News that the toe bone comparison between ancient and more modern groups "gives credence to Trinkaus' position that one can determine whether prehistoric groups were shod, at least with rigid-soled shoes, by examining the robusticity of the [bones] of their lesser toes."


Holliday, however, doubts that Neanderthals were completely shoe-free.


"Considering that they lived in Europe primarily during glacial periods, I find it highly improbable that they did not wear some type of footwear, so what I think is most likely is that they wore some type of soft wraps on their feet that did not alter their locomoter biomechanics of their feet the way a stiff-soled shoe would," Holliday said.


Trinkaus agrees with Holliday's Neanderthal theory, although he suggested Neanderthals might have frequently gone barefoot too.


"Some individuals even today still don't wear shoes and live in very cold environments, such as in the hills of Eastern Bulgaria and Romania," he said.



Footless, if not quite fancy free

Nevine El-Aref


Graeco-Roman mummies, painted wooden sarcophagi, jewellery and papyri have been unearthed in Deir Al-Banat necropolis in Fayoum.


Deir Al-Banat necropolis, which lies in the southern Fayoum, comprises a series of rock hewn tombs dating from the Graeco-Roman period through to early Christian times. To the north is a well preserved ruin of a mediaeval monastery with a fired brick church at its centre, a mud brick residential area and a refectory where the monks would have communal meals.


Between 1980 and 1995 the necropolis was the site of major excavations by the Egyptian Antiquities Authority, now the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). A collection of intact Roman burials were discovered along with disturbed Coptic graves containing bones and skulls. The necropolis was then neglected until 2002 when a joint Russian-American mission was given permission to conduct excavations and an anthropological survey.


Early studies of the necropolis revealed that the north western section had been subjected to widespread clandestine digging throughout the 1970s. The anthropological survey of unearthed skulls revealed that the majority of females died by the age of 30 with only 1.5 per cent reaching the age of 50. While males also had a high mortality rate between 18 and 30 far more survived into their 40s.


In the last six years several burials with mummies were found as well as a collection of cartonage wooden sarcophagi, arm rings, clay vessels and remains of linen.


This year the mission located and studied 154 rectangular shaped tombs with rounded corners partly dug in compact sand and partly cut in rock. Their depth ranged from 1.5 and 1.7 m and each contained an unpainted wooden sarcophagus with an anthropoid mask on the lid and a cartonage inside covering the head, shoulders and feet of the mummy. In one of the graves an intact mummy of a young lady was found while


four Ptolemaic graves, which appeared to have been looted, contained the lids of painted coffins along with mummies with their feet torn off.


"Despite these mummies being footless they are very well preserved and wearing gilded masks," says Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA .The eastern side of the necropolis, the site of Graeco-Roman burials, contained three more mummies, this time wrapped with eight layers of linen and tied with ropes. These corpses, explained Hawass, were mummified using much cheaper materials than in the first type of burial.


Tombs often overlapped with their neighbours, and were sometimes reused for burials so that in some cases several corpses can be found in the same plot.


Jewelry, including rings, necklaces and bracelets, were found along with caps made of wool and fragments of textiles bearing a painted anchor crossed by a key.


"All finds were cleaned, conserved and placed in the Kom Aushim storage," reports Hawass.


Galina Belova, director of the mission, said that the two mummies of young ladies will be x rayed to facilitate the reconstruction of their faces. The coffins, she said, were cleaned of salt, sand and treated against insect damage. Ceramic and faience vessels have been consolidated and covered with protective layers.



Temple complex in Betwa River found

26 Jan 2008, 0130 hrs IST,Aarti Aggarwal,TNN


LUCKNOW: Quiet excitement is brewing in archeologists at the recent unearthing of a very rare 1,000 years old idol of the dus-bhuja-dhari Ravana (ten-armed Ravana). The idol, besides numerous others, was discovered amongst the remains of a temple complex dating back to the 11th century Chandela period.


The ruins of three main temples have been discovered by the U.P. State Archaeology Department on an island in the middle of Betwa river near Deval village in Jhansi. Each temple had a base made of ancient bricks and the complex was fortified with a boundary, the remains of which are still visible.


Two main idols along with numerous smaller idols too have been unearthed on this island. The prized find is the idol of the dus-bhuja-dhari Ravana (ten-armed Ravana) picking up the Kailash Parvat with Shiv Parvarti perched on top. One can even see the various Asuras (demons) helping Ravana pick up the Kailash Parvat.


This idol depicts the ancient saga known as Ravanugrah (Ravana par Bhagwan Shiva ki kripa).


The tale goes on to say that Parvati started shivering with fright and beseeched Lord Shiva to recall his boon. S.K. Dubey, Assistant Archaeology Officer working here as a part of the U.P. State Archaeology team informs, This is a very rare antique idol. There is only one more of this kind in Ellora, though that’s larger in size.


The second prominent idol is of Maheshasur-Mardini which depicts Ma Durga killing the Rakshasa (demon). It shows the neck of the rakshasa slit and a human form emerging out of his body. The idol has been found in a mutilated and badly damaged condition.


There are numerous smaller idols also. Most of these are damaged or fragmented with only their bases left.


Treasure-seekers seem to be largely responsible for the dilapidated condition in their search for buried valuables over the centuries.


There is a myth that old temples and forts have cash and valuables in the form of gold, diamonds and other precious stones buried under them.


There are people who have spent their lives trying to find the khajana but I am yet to meet a person who has ever found anything worthwhile, added a member on the archaeological team.


The archeological team did however stumble upon this invaluable treasure in their quest for tools used by early man during the middle Paleolithic age, after a few such tools were discovered recently along the Betwa. It is then that they chanced upon this heritage sight.


The team feels that there should be another main idol as the complex remains show three temples. There is speculation regarding whether this area was a pilgrimage in the Chandela period.


The main deity too is unknown. Betwa river bifurcates at this point forming a 5 km long island. Today the changing course of the river has established a land link to the hitherto water-locked island in earlier times.


The temple complex, its spread, the location are all indicative of an ideal pilgrimage site.


However, definite conclusions can be reached only after careful research, adds Dubey.



Gold coins show ‘Emperor of Britain’

Dalya Alberge


Two “extremely important” gold coins that shed light on a little-known rebel Roman emperor from the 3rd century AD have been unearthed by a farmer in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire area. They relate to the Roman commander Carausius, who declared himself Emperor of Britain around 286 or 287 after the Emperor in Rome ordered his execution. He was overthrown in a coup d’état by his finance minister, Allectus, in 293.


The coins were handed in to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and moved to the British Museum. The scheme is facing a freeze in funding, despite recording more than 314,000 discoveries that have revealed many new archaeological sites. The farmer’s identity is not being revealed because archaeologists are to explore the site.



Wine-carrying ship dates back 2,300 years

Vessel discovered on seabed off Cyprus is one of only a few such ships

By Menelaos Hadjicosis

Jan. 24, 2008


NICOSIA, Cyprus - Marine archaeologists will begin work in June to uncover the sand-buried hull of a 2,300 year-old cargo ship thought to have been ferrying wine from the Aegean island of Chios before it sank off Cyprus' southern coast, researchers said Thursday.


The vessel, dating from the late Classical period (mid-fourth century B.C.) is one of only a few such ships to have been found so well-preserved, said University of Cyprus visiting marine archaeologist Stella Demesticha.


"The shipwreck looks very promising about shedding light on the nautical and economic history of the period in the east Mediterranean," Demesticha told the Associated Press on Thursday.


The wreck rests on the seabed at a depth of 144 feet some 1 1/2 miles off the island's southern coast.


Demesticha said the wreck was also unique because it lies at a depth that divers can easily reach, unlike similar discoveries found in deeper waters.


Unreleased underwater photographs that researchers took of the vessel on initial surveying dives in November show a jumble of dozens of amphorae — clay urns used in antiquity to carry liquids and solid foodstuffs — lying on the seabed in the shape of the ship.


Demesticha said researchers believe the ship's hull to be buried under tons of sand. The amphorae closely resemble others found to contain Chios wine, but may have been used to transport other goods in ancient sea trade.


The discovery could also provide more clues into Cyprus's role in maritime trade during the last phases of the Cypriot city-kingdoms, researchers said.


Cypriot research divers will start the next surveying phase in early June said Demesticha, followed by another in October. The project is being undertaken by the University of Cyprus' Archaeology Research Unit and is being funded by the Thetis Foundation, a private institution that protects underwater cultural heritage.


The ship appears to be a contemporary of the famed Kyrenia ship, 50-foot merchant vessel that another Greek Cypriot diver accidentally discovered off the island's northern coast more than four decades ago.



Spain's seabed goldmine

Spain's seabed is home to the wrecks of hundreds of ships laden with treasures plundered during the country's imperial zenith. Now the battle is on to reclaim them

By Graham Keeley

Saturday, 29 December 2007


Gazing from the beaches of southern Spain into the blue waters of the Mediterranean, few tourists have any idea what really lies beneath the waves.


Aside from jellyfish, the occasional whale and the usual flotsam and jetsam, at the bottom of one of the world's busiest waterways lies something many a holidaymaker would love to get their hands on.


Maritime historical experts say that, scattered around the Spanish coastline, lies more gold and silver than in the vaults of the Bank of Spain. There are said to be the 700 shipwrecks, from Roman barges, to Spanish Golden Age galleons and British aircraft carriers.


Many of the galleons were laden with a fortune in gold, silver and bronze plundered from colonies between the 16th and 19th centuries when Spain's empire stretched from the Americas to the Philippines.


Freak storms, the gall of audacious pirates or the guns of rival navies all sent them to the bottom while they sailed the perilous India Run, bringing treasures from Spain's colonies in the Philippines and the Americas. Marine archaeologists believe that lying under the waves in the Mediterranean alone could be sunken treasure worth 100bn (73bn), but all acknowledge the real value will probably never be known. Elsewhere, scattered around parts of the globe, in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Pacific, lie more sunken millions. Now, hundreds of years after the gold baubles and silver ducats went to the bottom of the briny, there is an international battle to lay claim to this treasure.


Centuries on from the Spanish conquistadores, their modern descendants are determined the millions in gold and silver will not be claimed by 21st-century pirates who employ hi-tech gear to retrieve the treasures.


The Spanish Ministry of Culture has commissioned the marine archaeologists Nerea Arqueologia Subacuatica (NAS) to draw up a treasure map, listing all the sunken galleons around the world to stop others "stealing their heritage".


Spanish officials were angered after the US salvage company, Odyssey Marine Explorations, spirited away hundreds of gold and silver coins worth a reputed 250m from a "secret" wreck said to lie off the Spanish coast.


Odyssey, based in Tampa, Florida, would name the wreck only as the Black Swan, adding to Spanish fears that their precious treasure was being taken from under their noses. Odyssey Explorer, the company's salvage vessel, was boarded by the Spanish navy to stop it leaving Spanish waters with its cargo, but she was later released.


Spain has claimed the coins and other loot was in Spanish seas; the Nasdaq-listed company insists it was discovered in international waters.


But Odyssey's row with the Spanish over the Black Swan has led to speculation that the salvage company had actually found the wreck of the British ship Merchant Royal, which sank in bad weather off the Isles of Scilly in 1641. As the dispute plays out in a courtroom in Tampa, Spain is determined it will not be outwitted by treasure-hunters again. Javier Noriega, the head of NAS, shows a determination, bordering on evangelical, to stop the treasure-hunters exploiting historically important sites for personal gain.


"What has occurred already is as if someone had carried off the Giralda [Seville's landmark cathedral tower]," he says. "Spanish archaeologists do not see the goods on board a wreck as something to make money out of. We don't talk in terms of treasure. We are interested in research and what research can tell us about the past."


So far, Mr Noriega's map includes vessels previously pin-pointed. They include Nuestra Señora La Mercedes, laden with gold, silver and other valuables, which was sunk by a British warship off Portugal in 1804.


Spanish law forbids the trade of anything considered part of the country's heritage. But legally, there is a grey area when it comes to foreign companies being allowed to search for sunken galleons, in return for a share of the booty.


Odyssey has struck a deal with the Spanish and British governments to excavate the site of HMS Sussex, which went down in the Gulf of Cadiz in 1694 with gold and silver worth a reputed 2.94bn. The salvagers will get a share of anything excavated, but archaeologically significant artefacts will stay in the hands of the British Admiralty.


The Spanish plan suggests attitudes have changed towards preserving its underwater treasures. For many years, archaeologists and academics complained that the treasure-hunters always got there first because of lack of interest and resources employed by the authorities to protect their heritage.


Greg Stemm, co-founder of Odyssey, defends the company's approach to archaeology, insisting that treasure-hunting, scientific investigation and making a profit are compatible. "It is all very well that Spain is talking about protecting its sunken treasures, but if it doesn't do anything about them, they will just remain at the bottom of the ocean, where they are likely to be destroyed," he says.


In 1983, Spain abandoned the wreck of the galleon Santa Margarita. It was gleefully claimed by the American treasure-hunter Mel Fischer.



CORRECTED: Ancient Maya sacrificed boys not virgin girls: study

Wed Jan 23, 2:30 AM ET


MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The victims of human sacrifice by Mexico's ancient Mayans, who threw children into water-filled caverns, were likely boys and young men not virgin girls as previously believed, archeologists said on Tuesday.


The Maya built soaring temples and elaborate palaces in the jungles of Central America and southern Mexico before the Spanish conquest in the early 1500s.


Maya priests in the city of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula sacrificed children to petition the gods for rain and fertile fields by throwing them into sacred sinkhole caves, known as "cenotes."


The caves served as a source of water for the Mayans and were also thought to be an entrance to the underworld.


Archeologist Guillermo de Anda from the University of Yucatan pieced together the bones of 127 bodies discovered at the bottom of one of Chichen Itza's sacred caves and found over 80 percent were likely boys between the ages of 3 and 11.


The other 20 percent were mostly adult men said de Anda, who scuba dives to uncover Mayan jewels and bones.


He said children were often thrown alive to their watery graves to please the Mayan rain god Chaac. Some of the children were ritually skinned or dismembered before being offered to the gods, he said.


"It was thought that the gods preferred small things and especially the rain god had four helpers that were represented as tiny people," said de Anda.


"So the children were offered as a way to directly communicate with Chaac," he said.


Archeologists previously believed young female virgins were sacrificed because the remains, which span from around 850 AD until the Spanish colonization, were often found adorned with jade jewelry.


It is difficult to determine the sex of skeletons before they are fully matured, said de Anda, but he believes cultural evidence from Mayan mythology would suggest the young victims were actually male.



Mystery ‘mound’ to be saved from the sea

Gavin Morgan

26 January, 2008


ARCHAEOLOGISTS plan to save a fine example of a Bronze Age burnt mound from disappearing into the sea in a unique £70,000 removal operation on Shetland this coming summer.


Historic Scotland has given permission for the site at Cruister, on Bressay, to be shifted to the islands’ heritage centre.


The unprecedented project will see the prehistoric version of a water heater, a third of which has already been eroded by the sea, dismantled and rebuilt in fully functional order.


Barbara Anderson, of Bressay Heritage Centre, said it was highly unusual to be allowed to tamper with an ancient monument in this way. “In this case we are being allowed to remove it. Normally you would not be able to touch things like this,” she said.


Shetland has hundreds of burnt mounds like the one at Cruister, which attract great interest because their associated structures are the most complex so far discovered in the UK and Ireland.


The Bressay site has a fireplace and a main stone water tank connected by a sloping chute and surrounded by a series of stone-built cells. Around these lie a large mound of fire-cracked stones, believed to have been built up when the site was still in use.


The stones were heated in the fire and then plunged into the tank to heat the water.


Archaeologists believe the stones were rolled from the fireplace into the tank down the chute, which is a unique feature of this site.


“It is a very good example of a burnt mound in Shetland with one of the best, if not the best, example of the interior section and how it operated,” Mrs Anderson said.


Archaeological theories abound as to what these constructions where used for. The most popular is for cooking food, while others envision a 4,000 year old sauna.


“Nobody, including the top archaeologists, knows exactly what the purpose of a burnt mound was. They know what happened in it, but they don’t know why, so it is still a mystery at the moment,” Mrs Anderson said.


The project will be co-ordinated by the Bressay History Group with input from the Adopt-a-Monument scheme run by the Council for Scottish Archaeology (CSA), and the SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion) Trust.


Helen Bradley, from the CSA, who has been working with the history group from the start, said: “This project takes a novel approach to the problems facing archaeological sites as a result of climate change and will create tremendous benefits for Bressay and its community. The finished product will be an exciting interactive tourist attraction.


“The finished reconstruction will be fully functioning and will be used as a centre for experimental work, education and living history events.”


Funding is being sought from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Shetland Islands Council, HIE Shetland and Shetland Amenity Trust and planning permission has just been applied for. If everything falls into place the project should take place between May and August.


Islanders hope that once it is finished the reconstruction will significantly boost tourism, as well as attracting locals people, schools and budding archaeologists.