'Neanderthal tools' found at dig 

Christine McGourty

BBC science correspondent 


Dozens of tools thought to have belonged to Neanderthals have been dug up at an archaeological site called Beedings in West Sussex.


Dr Matthew Pope, of University College London, said the discovery provided new insights into the life of a thriving community of hunters at the site.


The tools could have been used to hunt horses, mammoth and woolly rhinoceros.


The archaeologists, funded by English Heritage, have been carrying out their investigations over the last few weeks.


It is the first modern scientific investigation of the site since it was discovered in 1900.


"It's exciting to think that there's a real possibility these were left by some of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy northern Europe," said Dr Pope.  


"The impression they give is of a population in complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials with a flourishing technology - not a people on the edge of extinction."


Some 2,300 stone tools were first uncovered at the start of the 20th Century when the foundations were being dug for a huge new house to be built at Beedings.


But for many years, the tools were considered to be fakes. All but a few hundred of them were thrown down a well and never seen again.


The tools were only recently recognised to be of international importance, following research by Roger Jacobi of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project.


He demonstrated last year that the Beedings material showed strong resemblances to other tools from northern Europe dating to between 35,000 and 42,000 years ago.


The latest finds now provided definitive proof that the original discovery was genuine, according to Dr Pope.


"There were some questions about the validity of the earlier find, but our excavations have proved beyond doubt that the material discovered here was genuine and originated from fissures within the local sandstone."


He said Neanderthal hunters were drawn to the hill over a long period of time, presumably for excellent views of the game herds grazing on the surrounding plains.


His team now hopes to look for more sites with similar systems of fissures across other parts of south-east England. 


Barney Sloane, head of Historic Environment Commissions at English Heritage, said such sites were a rare and valuable archaeological resource.


"Their remains sit at a key watershed in the evolutionary history of northern Europe. The tools at Beedings could equally be the signature of pioneer populations of modern humans, or traces of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy the region.


"This study offers a rare chance to answer some crucial questions about just how technologically advanced Neanderthals were, and how they compare with our own species."





Britain’s last Neanderthals were more sophisticated than we thought


An archaeological excavation at a site near Pulborough, West Sussex, has thrown remarkable new light on the life of northern Europe’s last Neanderthals. It provides a snapshot of a thriving, developing population – rather than communities on the verge of extinction.


“The tools we’ve found at the site are technologically advanced and potentially older than tools in Britain belonging to our own species, Homo sapiens,” says Dr Matthew Pope of Archaeology South East based at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. “It’s exciting to think that there’s a real possibility these were left by some of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy northern Europe. The impression they give is of a population in complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials with a flourishing technology - not a people on the edge of extinction.”


The team, led by Dr Pope and funded by English Heritage, is undertaking the first modern, scientific investigation of the site since its original discovery in 1900. During the construction of a monumental house known as ‘Beedings’ some 2,300 perfectly preserved stone tools were removed from fissures encountered in the foundation trenches.


Only recently were the tools recognised for their importance. Research by Roger Jacobi of the Leverhulme-funded Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) Project showed conclusively that the Beedings material has strong affinities with other tools from northern Europe dating back to between 35,000 and 42,000 years ago. The collection of tools from Beedings is more diverse and extensive than any other found in the region and therefore offers the best insight into the technologically advanced cultures which occupied Northern Europe before the accepted appearance of our own species.


“Dr Jacobi’s work showed the clear importance of the site,” says Dr Pope. “The exceptional collection of tools appears to represent the sophisticated hunting kit of Neanderthal populations which were only a few millennia from complete disappearance in the region. Unlike earlier, more typical Neanderthal tools these were made with long, straight blades - blades which were then turned into a variety of bone and hide processing implements, as well as lethal spear points.


 “There were some questions about the validity of the earlier find, but our excavations have proved beyond doubt that the material discovered here was genuine and originated from fissures within the local sandstone. We also discovered older, more typical Neanderthal tools, deeper in the fissure. Clearly, Neanderthal hunters were drawn to the hill over a long period time, presumably for excellent views of the game-herds grazing on the plains below the ridge.”


The excavations suggest the site may not be unique. Similar sites with comparable fissure systems are thought to exist across south east England. The project now aims to prospect more widely across the region for similar sites.


Barney Sloane, Head of Historic Environment Commissions at English Heritage, said: “Sites such as this are extremely rare and a relatively little considered archaeological resource. Their remains sit at a key watershed in the evolutionary history of northern Europe. The tools at Beedings could equally be the signature of pioneer populations of modern humans, or traces of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy the region. This study offers a rare chance to answer some crucial questions about just how technologically advanced Neanderthals were, and how they compare with our own species.”


Source: University College London – UCL




Pursuit of Females Dates Way, Way Back

Fri Jun 13, 7:02 PM ET


Men fighting over women? Nothing new there, based on the findings of a prehistoric mass grave in southwest Germany.


Durham University-led researchers say that genetic evidence from 34 skeletons dating back to around 5000 B.C. shows the deaths were the result of a tribal war over the need for female companionship.


While adult females were found among the immigrant skeletons, only men and children were found among the native group of skeletons buried in the village of Talheim. The lack of local females, the researchers said, shows that they were captured instead -- a possible primary motivation for the attack.


"It seems this community was specifically targeted, as could happen in a cycle of revenge between rival groups. Although resources and population were undoubtedly factors in central Europe around that time, women appear to be the immediate reason for the attack," lead author Dr. Alex Bentley of Durham University's Anthropology Department, said in a prepared statement. "Our analysis points to the local women being regarded as somehow special and were therefore kept alive."


The findings are published in the journal Antiquity.


The team, which included researchers from University College London, University of Wisconsin and a German government body, made the conclusions based on the strontium, carbon and oxygen isotopes signatures of the skeletons' teeth. These give vital information about the skeletons' geological origin and diet.


While written accounts of fighting over women in the last hundred years exist, most archaeological evidence points to violence erupting over resources, overcrowding and property in more ancient times. The German findings for the first time strongly suggest violence took place over mates as early as prehistoric times, scientists said.


German skeletal experts first suspected the deliberateness of the prehistoric attack after determining that a blow to the left side of the head killed most of the victims. This suggested the victims were bound and killed, probably with a stone axe.




Oldest wheat found in Çatalhöyük

20 June 2008, Friday


The oldest known wheat was grown in Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic settlement in southern Anatolia, experts have found.


Professor Mahinur Akkaya from the Middle East Technical University's (ODTÜ) department of chemistry says the world's oldest wheat found so far comes from Çatalhöyük, this according to a series of DNA analyses made on 8,500-year-old wheat samples. "Our discovery is of great importance as it gives us significant insight into the birth of the first civilization in Anatolia. With our analyses, we have shown that the oldest known wheat was grown in Çatalhöyük," she said in an interview with the Anatolia news agency.


Akkaya and a group of professors from her university worked on the analyses. "While analyzing several wheat samples, we learned that Professor Gordon Hillman, an honorary professor of archaeobotany at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, had the world's oldest known wheat samples. We contacted him and he gave us a few kernels to analyze in comparison," she said. The analyses showed these samples to be 8,500 years old.


Akkaya, stressing that utmost care was taken with these kernels, noted that they, as Turkish scientists, were happy to have undertaken such an important discovery about Anatolia. "A previous analysis carried out on 6,000-year-old wheat samples had shown that wheat was grown in southeastern Diyarbakır's Karacadağ area. Our discovery has gone beyond this finding," she remarked.


"Generally, Turkish scientists go abroad to conduct such research and analyses or send samples to other countries to have them analyzed. But we carried out the analyses ourselves at our university. We will soon publish our findings in an international scientific journal," she added.




Shipwreck Yields World's Oldest Salad Dressing

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

June 20, 2008


Olive oil infused with fragrant herbs has been identified in an ancient Greek ceramic transport jar known as an amphora, along with another container of what could be the world's oldest retsina-type wine, according to a recent Journal of Archaeological Science paper.


It is the first time DNA has been extracted from shipwrecked artifacts -- the two large jars were recovered from a 2,400-year-old wrecked vessel off the Greek island of Chios. If the second jar indeed contained a retsina-like wine, which is preserved and flavored with a tree resin known as mastic, then the find would push back the known origins of mastic cultivation by 200 years.


"This (study) opens new possibilities for archaeologists -- now perhaps we can figure out what was carried in almost every 'empty' jar we find in land excavations or shipwrecks," researcher Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution told Discovery News.


"Maybe we can even go back to the amphorae, jars and cooking pots previously excavated and now sitting in museum storerooms around the world and ask new questions of each artifact," he added.


The discoveries resulted from an international collaboration involving Foley, Swedish scientist Maria Hansson, and Greek archaeologists Dimitris Kourkoumelis and Theotokis Theodoulou of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, overseen by Calliopi Preka-Alexandri and Vivi Vassilopoulou.


For the study, Hansson and Foley swabbed the jars with a chemical that allowed them to collect any genetic material inside. They then amplified and sequenced the DNA, comparing it to known DNA "signatures" from a database.


Since these signatures are unique for all plants and animals, they let researchers identify the source of the material in question.


There is little doubt the first amphora contained the herb-infused olive oil, which was likely used to dress and flavor meals. The scientists suspect the potent antioxidant properties of oregano helped to preserve the mixture over the millennia.


As for the second amphora, its DNA signature matched a plant from the Pistacia genus. That points to either pistachio nuts or mastic (scientific name Pistacia lentiscus).


Foley said the ancient Greeks were known to have shipped huge containers of nuts. One third-century B.C. wreck, in fact, contained jar after jar of them. But since the design of this particular amphora was most associated with wine shipments, mastic-flavored wine is the more likely choice.


Mastic, like some herbs, serves as both a flavoring and a preservative. It was the most popular wine preservative until the Romans started using chemicals called sulfites, which to this day are found in most wines.


Both shipwrecked containers appeared empty to the naked eye, but enough of their contents had been absorbed into the uppermost layers of the ceramic interiors to enable the discoveries.


Duccio Cavalieri of the Bauer Center for Genomics Research and his team used a comparable DNA method to identify common yeast in wine jars from Egypt. The yeast is still used to make modern wines, breads and beers.


"(Our) results indicate that this organism was probably responsible for wine fermentation by at least 3150 B.C.," Cavalieri and his colleagues wrote.


Given the success of the two DNA studies, this form of minimally invasive testing may now become the norm, replacing, in some cases, destructive scrapings and les precise identification methods such as gas chromatography.


Foley and his colleagues are working in Sweden now, but they plan to return to Greece soon to conduct further research there.




Coils of Ancient Egyptian Rope Found in Cave

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

June 20, 2008


The ancient Egyptian's secret to making the strongest of all rigging ropes lies in a tangle of cord coils in a cave at the Red Sea coast, according to preliminary study results presented at the recent congress of Egyptologists in Rhodes.


Discovered three years ago by archaeologists Rodolfo Fattovich of the Oriental Studies University of Naples and Kathryn Bard of Boston University, the ropes offer an unprecedented look at seafaring activities in ancient Egypt.


"No ropes on this scale and this old have been so well preserved in their original context -- in Egypt or elsewhere," Bard told Discovery News.


Carefully wrapped in coils by ancient Egyptian sailors almost 4,000 years ago, the ropes were found in a hand-hewn cave at the ancient Red Sea port of Marsa Gawasis, 23 kilometers (14 miles) south of Safaga.


"The cave is really spectacular. Over 30 coils of ropes lie on the ground as if they had just been left there. Amazingly, these ropes were stored in the same way as nowadays sailors store their shipping cords -- just coiling and tighting them in the middle," archaeologist and rope analyst Andre Veldmeijer told Discovery News.


Most of the coils were recovered from the back of the cave. There are at least two layers of ropes. In their report, Veldmeijer and colleague Chiara Zazzaro of the University of Naples, estimated that more than 60 complete coils of cords are stored in the long, deep cave.


"Each cord is about 30 meters (98 feet) long and is very thick. No doubt these ropes were made for strong, heavy duties, Veldmeijer said. "Basically, they were hauling truss components. They ran above the deck, secured at the bow and at the stern, to produce structural cohesion for the ship,"


The theory is supported by the fact that the estimated length of the Egyptian ships is about 10 meters (33 feet) shorter than the ropes' lengths. This shows that sailors had five meters (16 feet) at both ends to tie the ropes.


The researchers are still puzzling over the material the ancient Egyptians used to make such a strong cordage.


"It's really intriguing. We know that the ropes are made of vegetable fibers only," Veldmeijer said. "Moreover, they are of one type of vegetable fiber -- Egyptians never used different materials together to make ropes. We can exclude the usual, known materials, such as halfa grasses, papyrus and palm. It's possibly reed... We hope to solve the puzzle by the end of the year."


Meanwhile, excavation work at Marsa Gawasis continues. The site abounds with man-made caves cut into the rock. They all seem to be filled with seafaring remains.


"We found remains of ship timbers, anchors, expedition equipment, cargo boxes and pottery. Analysis has shown that these caves contain the world's oldest maritime artifacts," Fattovich said.


As for the ropes, the researchers believe they are the well-preserved riggings from an Egyptian seafaring expedition to the fabled Land of Punt (around present-day Somalia), in the 12th Dynasty, almost 4,000 years ago.


"We found hieroglyphic texts about these expeditions, and even some materials brought back from Punt, such as ebony, obsidian and pottery from eastern Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen," Bard said.


The most famous expedition to the mysterious and exotic Land of Punt was conducted during the reign of Queen Hatshepsut and is described in bas-relief inscriptions in her funerary temple at Deir el-Bahri.


"We are now excavating the harbor area. Other ship remains are coming to light. This is such an important site. There is much more to discover," Fattovich said.




Thracian Tomb Dated on 360 Year B.C. Found in Southern Tsarevo

Updated on: 19.06.2008, 19:05

Published on: 19.06.2008, 12:51

Author: Kristalina Ilieva


A Thracian tomb with semi cylinder arch was found by archaeologists in the territory of the south seaside Tserovo municipality.


Tombs of this kind haven't been found to the moment in the Strandja Mountain, the chief of the excavations works Daniela Agre informed.


Undoubtedly the tomb is of a local dynasty ruler, who used to govern Southeastern Thrace and most probably controlled the production of ore.


The tomb was incredibly beautiful with white soft limestone, but unfortunately is half destroyed by the treasure - hunters.


Although part of the tomb has been preserved and there the archaeologists found amphoras, gray Thracian ceramics and a build grave of white limestone. The scientists date the Thracian tomb on round 370 - 360 year before Christ.


According to the excavation works' director, the found tomb is of the kind of the Thracian tomb in the Sborianovo area, which is under the UNESCO protection.


The tomb with semi cylinder arch could be recovered and to be adapted for tourist's visits. The finds will be exposed in museums.




Ancient mummy opened: Scythian cavalier had bone disease

Fri, 20 Jun 2008 17:15:04 GMT


Goettingen, Germany - An autopsy on the body of an ancient Scythian cavalier found in the Altai Mountains shows he had a degenerative bone disease for several years before he died, German scientists said Friday. The 2006 find of the preserved body and the man's rich possessions on the Mongolian side of the mountains was a scientific sensation. The Scythians were a nation of horsemen in central Asia.


The man, who died about 2,300 years ago at the age of 50 or 60, would have been incapable of any demanding physical work for several years before his death, Michael Schultz, a palaeopathologist or scientist who studies diseases in ancient remains.


Schultz said the cause of the "bone-decaying process" was unclear and an explanation would not be suggested until the end of this year.


The 1.67-metre man would have belonged to the upper middle class of his society. The condition of his teeth showed he mainly ate meat.


"The teeth were barely worn. That's typical for nomads," said Schultz. The man's upper body was poorly preserved, only allowing the team of scientists to study a few ribs and vertebrae.


The study established the man had serious arthritis in the hands and hips and had chronic inflammation of the sinuses. At some point in his life, he had also broken his arm in a fall and suffered a middle-ear infection.


The remains of two horses, a fur coat and weapons were among the possessions which were found in the mound and are under conservation treatment in Novosibirsk, Russia, said Hermann Parzinger, the lead archaeologist on the excavation.


The burial chamber inside the manmade mound had very dry air, thanks to a lump of permanent ice beneath a wooden "floor". Parzinger said the remains had been more or less "freeze-dried" because of this.


The mummy, which was brought to Goettingen, northern Germany in December 2006, will be shipped to Ulan-Bator, Mongolia next month.




Ancient Christian "Holy Wine" Factory Found in Egypt

By Andrew Bossone

for National Geographic News

June 18, 2008


Two wine presses found in Egypt were likely part of the area's earliest winery, producing holy wine for export to Christians abroad, archaeologists say.


Egyptian archaeologists discovered the two presses with large crosses carved across them near St. Catherine's Monastery, a sixth-century A.D. complex near Mount Sinai on the Sinai Peninsula.


More presses are likely to be found in the area, which was probably an ancient wine-industry hub, according to Tarek El-Naggar, director for southern Sinai at Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.


Weeks after discovering the first wine press, excavators unearthed a nearly identical press with limestone walls, about 340 feet (100 meters) away. The find that may indicate the presence of many other presses in the area, El-Naggar said.


The discoveries so far include the presses, clay vessels called amphorae, and grape seeds. Archaeologists reported red residue on some walls.


Although the presses have not yet been conclusively dated, archaeologists believe the tools were made between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D.


Several gold coins picturing the Roman Emperor Valens, who ruled from A.D. 364 to 378, were also found near the presses. The wine presses could date to the same period, archaeologists say.


El-Naggar said the coins were produced in Antioch in today's southeastern Turkey. Similar coins have been found in Lebanon and Syria—the areas of origin for many of the grape varieties used for wine in ancient Egypt.


The wine made near Sinai was stored in the amphorae, standard vessels of the time for shipping wine, olive oil, grain, fish, and other items.


The wine would have been considered to be from a holy site and used in religious ceremonies—such as the Christian Eucharist—at St. Catherine's Monastery and abroad.


"I think the monastery was using [these presses] to make the holy wine, because it's near to Mount Moses [Mount Sinai]," El-Naggar said, referring to the site where some believe the prophet Moses received the Ten Commandments from God.


The wine presses have 4-foot-square (1.2-meter-square) basins, where monks would have used their feet to smash grapes. A hole at one end of each press likely fed into a lower basin, which caught the pressed juice.


The structures are similar to presses used by ancient Egyptians, beginning as early as 3,000 B.C., when pharaohs started a royal winemaking industry in the fertile Nile Delta.


There is no evidence, however, that ancient Egyptians produced wine in this part of the Sinai Peninsula.


Early Christians likely managed to grow grapevines and palm trees at the winery site because—at more than 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) above sea level—it would have been cooler than the surrounding desert.


"The reason the wild grape did not grow [in Egypt] originally is because the climate was not conducive to it. But if you manage it with irrigation, you can grow grapes in these hot climates," said Patrick McGovern, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, who was not involved in the new discovery.


An expert on ancient wine, McGovern said ancient Egyptian wine jars and stoppers often indicated the product's vintage, vintner, quality, and place of origin. "Egypt," McGovern said,




Team excavates Roman 'warehouse'


Archaeologists hope to find out more about what could be a 2,000-year-old warehouse over the next few weeks.


A team of 50 are taking part in the excavation of a corner of a Roman fortress in Caerleon near Newport.


The dig will open a large trench over the building, which is believed to have supplied the Roman legion.


Dr Peter Guest, of Cardiff University, said: "Store buildings are a largely unknown feature of legionary fortresses."


The experts from Cardiff and University College London will also keeping a blog updated of their progress in excavating the remains of a monumental courtyard building in the south-western corner of the fortress, which was known as Isca.


The building's existence was found during geophysical surveys and trial excavations last year.


It is hoped that this summer's dig will provide a wealth of new information about the storage facilities, provisioning, and supply of Roman soldiers in Britain.


Dr Guest, of Cardiff's school of history and archaeology said: "Our work is the first research excavation conducted on a military store in Britain.


"We hope that our findings will not only improve our knowledge of the fortress and its inhabitants, but also tell us more about the history of the fortress and Roman Britain.


"This is real archaeology in action and we are looking forward to an exciting summer in Caerleon."


As well as keeping in touch online, the public will invited to join twice-daily tours of the site, where they can see the latest archaeological finds.


Caerleon is one of the most important Roman sites in Britain, was one of three permanent garrisons, and was home to the second Augustan legion.


But excavations at the other sites in Chester and York are difficult, which makes the work at Caerleon unique.


By 74 AD, Caerleon had become the main administrative centre for the Roman army in Wales, and the site includes a bathhouse and an amphitheatre, which had a capacity for 6,000 spectators.


The project is supported by Cadw and the National Roman Legion Museum.


Site tours will run at 1100 and 1430 BST daily (except Saturdays) and special events are being organised for Caerleon's Roman Spectacular Military Weekend (28-29 June) and National Archaeology Week (12-20 July).