Humans made fire 790,000 years ago

Sun Oct 26, 2008 4:35pm GMT



A new study shows that humans had the ability to make fire nearly 790,000 years ago, a skill that helped them migrate from Africa to Europe.


By analysing flints at an archaeological site on the bank of the river Jordan, researchers at Israel's Hebrew University discovered that early civilizations had learned to light fires, a turning point that allowed them to venture into unknown lands.


A previous study of the site published in 2004 showed that man had been able to control fire -- for example transferring it by means of burning branches -- in that early time period. But researchers now say that ancient man could actually start fire, rather than relying on natural phenomena such as lightning.


That independence helped promoted migration northward, they say.


The new study, published in a recent edition of Quaternary Science Reviews, mapped 12 archaeological layers at Gesher Benot Yaaqov in northern Israel.


"The new data shows there was a continued, controlled use of fire through many civilizations and that they were not dependent on natural fires," archaeologist Nira Alperson-Afil said on Sunday.


While they did not find remnants of ancient matches or lighters, Alperson-Afil said the patterns of burnt flint found in the same place throughout 12 civilizations was evidence of fire-making ability, though the methods used were unclear.


And because the site is located in the Jordan valley -- a key route between Africa and Europe -- it provides evidence of the human migration, she said.


"Once they mastered fire to protect themselves from predators and provide warmth and light, they were secure enough to move into and populate unfamiliar territory," Alperson-Afil said.


(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by Alastair Macdonald)



World's Oldest Cooked Cereal Was Instant

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Oct. 24, 2008


European diners around 8,000 years ago could enjoy a bowl of instant wheat cereal that, aside from uneven cooking and maybe a few extra lumps, wasn't very different from hot wheat cereals served today, suggests a new study that describes the world's oldest known cooked cereal.


Dating from between 5920 to 5730 B.C., the ancient cereal consisted of parboiled bulgur wheat that Early Neolithic Bulgarians could refresh in minutes with hot water.


"People boiled the grain, dried it, removed the bran and ground it into coarse particles," lead author Soultana-Maria Valamoti told Discovery News.


"In this form, the cereal grain can be stored throughout the year and consumed easily, even without boiling, by merely soaking in hot water," added Valamoti, an assistant professor of archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.


She and her colleagues studied the Bulgarian grain, excavated at a site called Kapitan Dimitrievo, as well as 4,000-year-old grains of barley and wheat from northern Greece. Very high magnification by microscope revealed precise details about the individual cereal grains, including their composition.


The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.


The analysis showed that starch within the Bulgarian grains was swollen, twisted and, at times, fused together. Such starch modifications were more extreme toward the outer layers of the bulgur, consistent with grains that had been penetrated by boiling water.


The grains had also been charred -- not in a way indicative of intentional toasting, but rather by a fire that appears to have burnt down the houses where the grain was stored.


The scientists also cooked and processed modern wheat and hulled barley, putting the results through the same analysis. The fine details and internal structure of the modern boiled, dried and ground cereals matched what the researchers saw in the ancient Bulgarian grains.


"I think bulgur could have well been a staple ingredient of Mediterranean cultures in the past," Valamoti said. "It is very nutritious and easy to make a meal out of it throughout the year, once it is prepared."


She explained that the early southeastern Europeans must have gathered it in the summer, when they could have dried it under the hot sun. Such early, simple preparations passed down through the generations, leading to dishes still enjoyed in the region and other parts of the world today.


"Bulgur and trachanas (preparations often consisting of ground grain mixed with milk or yogurt) were staple foods of Greek people until very recently," she said, adding that Arabic cooks "make the wonderful tabouleh salad with bulgur," and that other sophisticated recipes using the grain later emerged.


Stefanie Jacomet, a leading archaeobotanist at Basel University's Institute of Prehistory and Archaeological Science in Switzerland, told Discovery News that "until now, simply almost nothing was known about this," explaining that this latest study is the first to explore ancient cooked cereal in such detail.


Other researchers have, however, analyzed early evidence for bread-making in the same regions. The first known bread predates the cereal, so it's possible the ancients enjoyed some toast with their hot, cooked bulgur.


Valamoti is currently working on a book that will describe early cooking methods and recipes, all of which are coming to light thanks to high-tech equipment and analysis methods.


Her family doesn't seem to mind the extensive research.


"My daughter loves bulgur," Valamoti concluded.



Greece unearths Neolithic home, household equipment


ATHENS (Reuters) - Archaeologists in northern Greece have unearthed the ruins of a Neolithic house, a rare find that offers valuable information about everyday life 6,000 years ago, the Greek culture ministry said Friday.


A kitchen area with two ovens, clay pots and stone tools, and two more rooms show stone age farmers processed grains in the house, which appears to have burned down.


"This is a rare case. All findings have remained untouched by farming or any other activity for about 6,000 years," the ministry said in a statement.


"This excavation has given us valuable information about architecture at the time."


Archaeologists excavated for 5 months in the northern Greek region of Pella to uncover the base of the 58 square meter building, which was made from wooden poles, branches and mud.


"The building was destroyed by fire. Residents had time to abandon it, taking with them stone tools, which were difficult and time-consuming to make," the ministry said. "They left behind heavy objects, such as milling stones."


The finding shows farming was an integral part of life and society of the area at the time, it added.


Δελτία Τύπου            



Σημαντικά ευρήματα που εμπλουτίζουν τις γνώσεις μας για το προϊστορικό, αλλά και ιστορικό παρελθόν της Αλμωπίας ήρθαν στο φως στο πλαίσιο του έργου «Βελτίωση – Επέκταση Δικτύου Ύδρευσης Αριδαίας».


Major findings enrich our knowledge of the prehistoric, but also a history of Almopias came to light as part of the project «Improvement - Extended Network Water Aridea».


Συγκεκριμένα στη Σωσάνδρα διαπιστώθηκε, μετά από σύντομη αναγνωριστική έρευνα των αρχαιολόγων της ΙΖ΄ ΕΠΚΑ, πως τα οικοδομικά λείψανα (καμμένες πηλόμαζες με αποτυπώματα ξύλων), που εμφανίστηκαν κατά τη διάνοιξη της αύλακας του κεντρικού αγωγού μεταφοράς νερού από τη Σωσάνδρα προς την Αριδαία, αποτελούσαν το στρώμα καταστροφής από την ανωδομή των τοίχων μίας προϊστορικής κατοικίας που χρονολογείται περίπου στη 4η χιλιετία π.Χ.


Specifically in Sosandra found, after a brief exploratory research of archaeologists of ECCP Q, that the building remains (pilomazes seared with wood prints), which occurred at the opening of the annulus of the central water pipeline from Sosandra to Edessa, were the layer destruction by the superstructure of a prehistoric wall residence dating to approximately the 4th millennium BC


Η ανασκαφή που ακολούθησε από τον Μάρτιο έως και τον Ιούλιο του 2008 έφερε στο φως, μετά την απομάκρυνση του στρώματος καταστροφής που προαναφέρθηκε, ένα πλήρες σχεδόν πλέγμα από πασσαλότρυπες.


The excavation that followed from March to July 2008 brought to light after the removal of the layer above disaster, a complete grid of nearly passalotrypes.


Παράλληλα αποκαλύφθηκε σε άριστη κατάσταση και κατά χώραν ο οικιακός εξοπλισμός, που περιελάμβανε ένα μεγάλο αριθμό πήλινων αγγείων, λίθινα εργαλεία και δύο οικιακούς φούρνους.


Alongside discovered in perfect condition and place in the household equipment, which included a large number of stoneware pottery, stone tools and two domestic ovens.


Συλλέχθηκαν, έτσι, πληροφορίες, όχι μόνο για τη μορφή και την εσωτερική διαρρύθμιση του οικοδομήματος, αλλά και την οργάνωση του νοικοκυριού.


Collected thus information, not just for the form and the internal layout of the building, but also the organization of the household.


Το κτίριο ήταν ορθογώνιο στη κάτοψη, με επιφάνεια 58 τ.μ.


The building was rectangular in plan, but with a 58 sq.m.

και τριμερή διάρθρωση στο εσωτερικό (Εικ. 1).

and within the tripartite structure


Ανήκει στο γνωστό τύπο του πασσαλόπηκτου οικήματος, όπου ο ξύλινος σκελετός κατασκευασμένος με πασσάλους, πλέγμα κλαδιών και καλαμιών επαλείφονταν με πηλό.


Belongs to passalopiktou known type of building, where the wooden frame constructed with pilings, a grid of branches and reeds dabble with clay.


Σύμφωνα με τους οικιακούς φούρνους (Εικ. 4) και την κατανομή των αγγείων και εργαλείων στο εσωτερικό συμπεραίνουμε, ότι οι δύο ακρινοί χώροι ήταν χώροι παρασκευής της τροφής και συνεστίασης (Εικ. 2, 3).


According to residential ovens and the distribution of pots and tools within conclude that the two distant sites were areas of food manufacturing and Meeting.


Ανάμεσα τους υπήρχε ένας τρίτος χώρος, με είσοδο στη νότια απάνεμη πλευρά, που θα πρέπει να ερμηνευθεί ως χώρος επεξεργασίας των σιτηρών και αποθήκευσης των αγροτικών προϊόντων, αφού εδώ βρέθηκαν αρκετά εργαλεία, όπως μυλόπετρες και τριπτήρες, αλλά και ένας από τους δύο συνολικά αποθηκευτικούς λάκκους.


Among them was a third place, with apanemi entrance on the south side, which should be interpreted as an area of grain processing and storage of agricultural products, having found enough tools here, as mylopetres and triptires, but also one of the two global storage pits .


Από αποτυπώματα στις βάσεις των πήλινων σκευών, διαπιστώθηκε ότι τα δάπεδα ήταν καλυμμένα με ψάθες.


Fingerprints from the bases of earthenware found that the floors were covered with mats.


Το κτίριο καταστράφηκε από φωτιά.

The building was destroyed by fire.


Οι ένοικοι προηγουμένως πρόλαβαν να το εγκαταλείψουν παίρνοντας μαζί τους λεπίδες και πελέκεις, τα λίθινα δηλαδή εργαλεία, η κατασκευή των οποίων απαιτεί μια ιδιαίτερα χρονοβόρα και επίπονη διαδικασία.

Occupants previously managed to leave with them taking blades and axes, namely the stone tools, construction of which requires a particularly lengthy and laborious process.


Τα μεγάλα και βαριά, δύσκολα στη μεταφορά εργαλεία, όπως οι μυλόπετρες, αφέθηκαν πίσω, υποδηλώνοντας έτσι την επεξεργασία των σιτηρών και εμμέσως την καλλιέργειά τους, τα οποία φαίνεται ότι αποτελούσαν μία από τις κύριες τροφές των ανθρώπων του οικισμού της Σωσάνδρας.


Large and heavy, difficult to transport tools, such as mylopetres, were left behind, indicating that the processing of cereals and indirectly their cultivation, which appears to constitute one of the main food of the people of the village of Sosandras.


Μπορούμε έτσι να υποθέσουμε, ότι η γεωργία αποτελούσε την βασική ενασχόληση των κατοίκων και κατ’ επέκταση μία από τις κύριες παραμέτρους της οικονομίας της κοινωνίας αυτής.


We can thus assume that agriculture was the main preoccupation of the inhabitants and by extension one of the main parameters of the economy of that society.


Η ανασκαφή της προϊστορικής κατοικίας στη Σωσάνδρα προσέφερε πολύτιμες και μοναδικές πληροφορίες για την αρχιτεκτονική και την οργάνωση ενός σπιτιού της Ύστερης Νεολιθικής Εποχής, καθώς πρόκειται για μία σπάνια περίπτωση όπου οι αρχαιότητες έμειναν ανέπαφες από την καλλιέργεια ή άλλου είδους επεμβάσεις για περίπου 6.000 χρόνια από σήμερα.


The excavation of the prehistoric residence in Sosandra offered valuable and unique information about the architecture and organization of a house of Late Neolithic Age, as it is a rare case where the antiquities were left intact from the culture or other interventions to around 6000 years from now.


Πέραν όμως του προϊστορικού οικοδομήματος που προαναφέρθηκε, εντοπίστηκε και ένα δεύτερο κτίριο ιστορικών χρόνων στο Λυκόστομο, το οποίο χρονολογείται στην ύστερη αρχαιότητα (4ος-5ος αι. μ.Χ.).


But beyond the prehistoric edifice above, and found half years in the historic building Lykostomo, which dates to late antiquity (4th-5th century AD.).


Η έκτασή του, με βάση τα έως τώρα ανασκαφικά δεδομένα, υπολογίζεται σε 340 τ. μ. Οι τοίχοι είναι κατασκευασμένοι με αργολιθοδομή και ασβεστοκονίαμα ως συνδετικό υλικό.


The area, based on data excavation so far, estimated at 340 tonnes m. The walls are constructed with plaster and argolithodomi as a binder.


Μετά την αποκάλυψη της επιφάνειας τους αποκαταστάθηκε εν μέρει η κάτοψη του κτιρίου.


Following the revelation of the surface partially restored the layout of the building.


Πρόκειται για ένα τετράγωνο σχεδόν οικοδόμημα με ιδιαίτερο χαρακτηριστικό τη διαίρεση του εσωτερικού του σε επιμέρους χώρους, διαστάσεων 4Χ4 μ. (Εικ. 5)


It is almost a square structure with distinctive feature dividing the interior of the individual sites, the scale 4X4 m


Με την αποκάλυψη των δύο αυτών θέσεων στο Δήμο Αριδαίας του Νομού Πέλλας επιβεβαιώνεται εκ νέου, πως ακόμη και τα μικρά, περιφερειακά έργα συμβάλουν, όχι μόνο στην καλυτέρευση των σύγχρονων συνθηκών διαβίωσης των πολιτών, αλλά μας αποκαλύπτουν παράλληλα και στοιχεία από τον τρόπο ζωής και την καθημερινότητα των μακρινών προγόνων μας.


With the revelation of these two positions Aridea municipality in the prefecture of Pella reaffirms that even small, regional projects contribute not only to the improvement of modern living conditions of citizens, but our data reveal parallel and by lifestyle and daily lives of our distant ancestors.



Traces found of long-lost temple hall





Archaeologists excavating the site of a former Japanese Imperial Army facility here uncovered evidence of what they believe is the long-lost original "golden hall" of a mid-eighth century temple.


Stones used for the foundations of the temple suggest the structure measured 54 by 27 meters, comparable in scale to the Great Buddha Hall of Todaiji temple, also in Nara.


The dig is being conducted at the campus of the Nara University of Education.


Experts say the original kondo (golden, or main hall) of Shinyakushiji temple, now located about 150 meters to the east, likely stood on the site.


The university on Thursday announced the discovery, which is expected to shed light on the temple's history and Tenpyo Buddhist culture of the Nara Period (710-784).


The site will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and again from 10 a.m. to noon on Nov. 22.


Shinyakushiji temple was founded in the ancient capital in 747 by Empress Komyo to pray for the recovery of ailing Emperor Shomu (701-756), who established Todaiji.


The empress was the daughter of political strongman Fujiwara no Fuhito.


Ancient records, both pictorial and written, show Shinyakushiji was of a grand scale, with many structures. According to legend, it had as many as 1,000 priests.


After most wooden structures were lost to lightening strikes and typhoons, the current temple only has a main hall, which is much smaller. No details had been known about the original temple design.


"This will provide a new clue to specifics about the political might of Empress Komyo, who, coming from the powerful Fujiwara family, exerted great influence," said Masaaki Kanehara, an associate professor of environmental archaeology at the university.


He was put in charge of the excavation because the university planned to rebuild structures at the site.


He said he was flabbergasted to stumble across what others call a "treasure" or "first-class discovery."


Earlier this month, his team unearthed base stones extending about 10 meters east-west.


The stones are thought to have formed part of a structural platform and appear to have been fashioned to the highest standards of the period, according to Kanehara.


The team also uncovered four pillar holes near the western tip.


One square hole, measuring 2.7 by 2.9 meters, had more than 10 large stones buried inside, apparently to prop up the cornerstone.


Based on these structures, the researchers estimated the hall measured 54 meters east-west and 27 meters north-south, making it one of the largest built during the Nara Period.


Todaiji's Great Buddha Hall, rebuilt in 1709, measures 57 meters by 50.5 meters.


Minoru Senda, a professor emeritus of historical geography at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, says the structure apparently was built so numerous priests could offer prayers simultaneously.


"In those days, it was believed that the larger the number of priests praying, the greater the power to expel illness," he said.


The discovery was welcomed by Shinyakushiji priests who had yearned to know more of the temple's history.


"It was not just an illusory temple. A huge hall actually existed," said Chief Priest Shokan Nakata, 91.


"This discovery is Buddha's guidance. I'm pleased I have lived this long."


(IHT/Asahi: October 25,2008)



Sensational Stone Age discovery


A young couple walking along Horsens Fjord in August this year made a sensational discovery – a 5-7,000 year old stone with a scratched motif.



The 13x10x4 cm. limestone shows a man with an erect phallus and two fish. Archaeologists at Horsens museum were taken aback, and immediately passed the stone on the National Museum to determine whether the motif was indeed from the Stone Age or simply a later work of art using an ancient style.


 “But now we’re sure. We believe the stone to be from the Ertebølle Culture between 5,400 and 3,900 BC. It’s the sort of discovery that is only made once a decade,” says Horsens Museum Archaeologist Per Borup.


Apart from its phallic representation, the man in the motif seems to have some form of head dress with animal ears – possibly in the tradition of an Indian shaman.



Swedish archaeologists find Iron Age wooden artifacts

Published: 23 Oct 08 14:35 CET


A team of archaeologists digging near the planned expansion of a roadway have uncovered 1,700 year old artifacts made of wood, making them some of the oldest man-made wooden objects ever discovered in Sweden.


The find was made near Älvängen in western Sweden and provides additional clues about how farmers in the region lived during the Iron Age.


“We’ve found hundreds of wooden objects, including a wooden wheel. We’re coming much closer to the people of the Iron Age [with this find]; we’re really getting up close and personal,” said Bengt Nordqvist, an archaeologist from the Swedish National Heritage Board (Riksantikvarieämbetet) to the TT news agency.


Archaeologists began exploring the area in connection with plans by the Swedish Road Administration (Vägverket) to expand a section of the E45 roadway.


The area once served as the only waterway connecting the sea to a system of inland lakes make up present day Lake Vänern, one of Sweden’s largest lakes.


As a result, it has attracted settlers and traders from the Stone Age right up to modern times, according to the board.


The wooden artifacts were found buried in damp and oxygen-deprived clay and have required archaeologists to take extra steps to ensure their finds can be properly preserved once removed from their muddy surroundings.


Additional digs just to the north include an excavation of remains from the Bronze Age and another which covers settlements from the latter part of the early Stone Age.


External link: Images from the excavation



Two Thousand Year Old Tunnel Found in Shaanxi Province, China

The Epoch Times Oct 25, 2008


During reconstruction of the Han Dynasty’s Xian Gate in Changan City, Shaanxi Province, the entrance to a 4-meter deep tunnel was found. The tunnel, buried for nearly 2,000 years, is intact and is filled with mud. An archaeologist said that the tunnel might have been built as an escape route for the emperors.


According to the Huashang newspaper, on the morning of October 17, an archaeologist, Wang, said that the Xian Gate, the gate closest to the Weiyang Palace (a palace complex, located near the city of Changan [modern day Xi’an]), was an entrance that was likely used by the royal families. He said there were only two reasons for building such a tunnel under an entrance near the palace. One would be to enable the royal families to flee the palace, and the other would be to provide an underground sewer.


It is amazing that the entire two-meter-high archway was built with blue bricks; and the gap between each blue brick is less than one mm. The tunnel has not been excavated so its length is not yet known.


Wang said that the bricks might crumble if they were disturbed, and that the mud that fills the tunnel is supporting the tunnel walls.


Wang also indicated that Xian Gate is a city passage in the western side of the south city wall of the Han Dynasty’s Changan City. It is 1,830 meters from the eastern gate, and 1,500 meters from the western corner of the Changan city wall. Xian Gate was found in 1957, and consists of three gates, each 14 meters apart. Xian gate is only 50 meters from the palace, which means it would not be an entrance used by common people. It would most likely be used only by the emperors and their families.



Drugs Found in Hair of Ancient Andean Mummies

Charles Q. Choi

for National Geographic News

October 22, 2008


The first hard evidence of psychoactive drug use in the ancient Andes has been discovered in mummies' hair, a new study says.


The finding confirms that predecessors of the Inca known as the Tiwanaku used mind-altering substances, and hints that the civilization relied on far-reaching trade networks to obtain the drugs.


Scientists recently analyzed 32 naturally mummified Tiwanaku bodies discovered in northern Chile's Azapa Valley, which lies in the Atacama Desert.


The researchers discovered a compound called harmine in hairs from an adult male and a one-year-old baby, who both date to sometime between A.D. 800 and 1200. Harmine can help humans absorb hallucinogens and may be a powerful antidepressant.


"These individuals probably ingested harmine in therapeutic or medicinal practices, some maybe related to pregnancy and childbirth," said study co-author Juan Pablo Ogalde, a chemical archaeologist at the University of Tarapacá in Arica, Chile.


"However, it is possible also that consumption of harmine was involved in religious rituals, said Ogalde, whose research appeared online October 14 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


X-rays showed that the adult male—who was buried with items of social prestige such as panpipes, a four-pointed hat, and a snuffing tray—had damage near the nose, perhaps from sniffing.


As for the baby, Ogalde speculated that the mother had consumed the drug and passed it on to her offspring during pregnancy or breast-feeding.


"The fact this mind-altering substance was found even with a one-year-old shows how much a part of their life it was," said archaeologist Alexei Vranich of the University of California, Los Angeles, who did not participate in the study.


The empire of the Tiwanaku once ranged from what is now northern Chile to southern Peru. (See a map of South America.) Between roughly A.D. 500 and 1000, they expanded from their origins on the Bolivian shores of Lake Titicaca via religious control and military might.


Elaborately decorated snuffing kits have been found in hundreds of Tiwanaku tombs. Archaeologists think these trays and tubes were used to inhale herbs, perhaps ceremonially.


Some snuff kits have been found bearing powder from the vilca tree, whose seeds are rich in hallucinogens. Also, X-rays of Tiwanaku skulls have in many cases revealed nasal damage that was likely caused by frequent sniffing.


The incorporation of snuffing imagery into Tiwanaku ceramics, woodwork, stonework, and textiles have been seen to suggest that snuffing rituals played an important role in Tiwanaku culture.


Still, no traces of hallucinogens had been found in Tiwanaku mummies until now, perhaps because the compounds broken down over time.


The only plant in South America known to contain harmine is the jungle vine Banisteriopsis caapi, which is used by modern-day Amazonian natives to help make an infusion known as ayahuasca for shamanic rituals. (Read more about ayahuasca.)


This rain forest plant does not grow along the Atacama coast, suggesting extensive trade networks that brought the vine from as far as the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon is roughly 300 miles (500 kilometers) from the Azapa Valley, study co-author Ogalde said.


"A lot of people had suggested contact across the Amazon and the Atacama desert, and it's nice to have more hard data for that theory," said UCLA's Vranich.


The Tiwanaku may have actively searched for exotic hallucinogens to draw others to their culture, Vranich said.


"One of the sources of the mystique of the Tiwanaku—one of the reasons a lot of people may have subscribed to their religion—would have been such a mind-altering substance," he explained.


"It would have been a tremendous draw, especially when the rest of normal life in the rural Andes during that period would have been comparatively quite mundane and dull."