Archaeologists unearth earliest man-made cave houses

www.chinaview.cn 2009-01-25 11:49:50

by Xinhua writers Fu Shuangqi, Feng Guo and Zuo Yuanfeng

XI'AN, Jan. 25 (Xinhua)


Archaeologists have unearthed the earliest man-made cave houses and privately-owned pottery workshops in China which date back 5,500 years.


After four years of excavation, a row of 17 cave houses were found on a cliff along the Jinghe River in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, Wang Weilin, deputy director of the Shaanxi Archaeology Institute and chief archaeologist of the excavation, told Xinhua.


They were built between 3,500 to 3,000 BC, near the Yangguanzai village of Gaoling county, 20 km away from the provincial capital Xi'an.


Wang said the row of houses are within a 16,000-square-meter site which is being excavated.


The cave houses belonged to a late Neolithic culture named Yangshao. It originated in the middle reach of the Yellow River and was considered a main origin of Chinese civilization. Yangshao is best known for red pottery ware with painted patterns and animals.


Each cave house, with an area of about ten square meters, was divided into two rooms. One was dug into the cliff side, the other, possibly made of wood and mud, was built on the outside of the cave, Wang said.


Archaeologists also found pottery kilns and caves to store pottery beside the houses as well as pottery wares, fragments and tools.


"Most of the cave houses had a pottery kiln beside it. We believe these cave houses were homes to families of pottery makers," Wang said.


In previous excavations of Neolithic settlements in China, one pottery kiln was usually used by all families, he said. "Here we found the earliest evidence that a certain group of people were specialized in making pottery, a sign of division of labor."


Caves storing pottery also show private ownership of property had emerged, Wang added.


North of the cave houses, archaeologists also discovered sections of a moat averaging six to nine meters wide.


Pottery unearthed from the moat's bottom showed it also belonged to the Yangshao culture from between 4,000 to 3,500 BC.


"To dig it, lots of laborers must have been mobilized. Without an effective social mechanism, it would be hard to build a project like this," Wang said.


A area covering 245,000 square meters inside the moat, equal to about the size of 46 American football fields, has not been unearthed.


"We haven't excavated the settlement inside the moat but its scale was seldom seen at this age," Wang said.


"As far as I know, the area inside the moat could be the largest and best preserved among settlements of this age," said Prof. Yan Wenming, a history expert with the School of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University.


There were several other settlements of the same age nearby the discovery, but they were much smaller.


This one was very much likely to be an ancient town," said Wang.


Archaeologists divide the Yangshao culture into three stages: between 5,000 to 4,000 BC, the middle period from 4,000 to 3,500 BC, and the one from 3,500 to 3,000 BC.


"We know little about how people lived and were related in the middle stage. The discovery of this settlement offers a very rare and valuable chance to study this stage," said Chen Xingcan, deputy director of the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).


Early Yangshao settlements have mainly been found in Shaanxi, but during the middle stage people spread to nearly half of what's considered today's China. Discoveries have been made in the north near the Great Wall, south to the Yangtze River, east to Shandong Province and west to Gansu and Qinghai provinces, Wang said.


"This was the first time for cultural integration and might have laid the foundation for today's China. But we still don't know how this happened and why," he said. "We think this settlement is very important to exploring human society at this critical stage."


The finding at the Yangguanzai site was selected one of the six major archaeological findings of 2008 by the CASS last week.


Yangshao culture was named after its first settlement at Yangshao village of Henan Province neighboring Shaanxi. It was discovered by Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson and his Chinese colleague Yuan Fuli in 1921.



Hangi pit final treasure

Claire Connell - The Marlborough Express | Friday, 23 January 2009

SCOTT HAMMOND, The Marlborough Express


A 700-year-old hangi pit, the first one of its kind found in New Zealand, has been discovered on the final day of the three-week Wairau Bar excavation, but it will be left largely unexamined.


The exceptional find has been described as bad timing, because the excavation has ended, with no plans to continue digging.


Excavation work stopped yesterday, and the team closed the site today. The purpose of the dig was to prepare for the return of Rangitane tupuna (human remains) and artefacts which were taken from the site up to 70 years ago.


Leader Richard Walter said a huge, stone-lined hangi pit had been found in one of the artefact excavation sites.


"It had been dug and constructed as a hangi, and filled in with rubbish."


The team uncovered a rubbish pit last week containing dog and bird bones. Further digging this week revealed the two-metre-deep hangi pit.


"We have never seen one like this before on any archaeology site in the country. We were not expecting to find it.


"It was completely new to us and we are very interested in finding out about it."


Dr Walter, an associate professor of the University of Otago's anthropology department, said there could be several more on the site. Analysis would reveal the significance of the pit.


The discovery of the hangi pit was described as bad timing by Dr Walter, because archaeologists begin to close up the site today.


"Often during an excavation, we find something new at the finish and then we have to stop that's archaeology."


There were no plans to return to excavate the site.


The excavation has revealed moa and bird bones, stone adzes, the remains of three houses and a Haast's eagle bone.


"We have addressed Rangitane's concerns and got the quality of information that we really wanted.


"We can walk away pleased with our work, and with no regrets.


"But we still have that idea that there is still research here for future generations."


Dr Walter said the team was leaving with new information about the site that it did not have before, including the findings of the 700-year-old house remains and the hangi pit. The team also had better quality site maps and better site samples. It will spend tomorrow night in Blenheim before leaving on Sunday.


Material found on site will be taken to the University of Otago for analysis over the next two years, with bird bone taken to Canterbury Museum.


Rangitane chairperson Judith MacDonald said the archaeologists had done a fantastic job.


"We are now looking forward to the next step in bringing our people home."


Rangitane development manager Richard Bradley said: "I feel really positive about what the future of the site holds for our people and Maori people in general."


Anyone entering the site could face criminal conviction and a maximum fine of $40,000. "Archaeologists in New Zealand are always worried about looters and fossickers," Dr Walter said. "I think people will come over, but Rangitane will be watching the site."


The two-hectare area has been prepared for the reburial of Rangitane tupuna and artefacts taken by the Canterbury Museum for display and study purposes between 1938 and 1959.


Three sites would be used for the tupuna reburial in April. The area is also being excavated for artefacts. The project is a partnership between Rangitane, Canterbury Museum, the Department of Conservation and the University of Otago.



Danube Delta Holds Answers to ‘Noah’s Flood’ Debate

January 22, 2009

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January 22, 2009

Source: Media Relations


Did a catastrophic flood of biblical proportions drown the shores of the Black Sea 9,500 years ago, wiping out early Neolithic settlements around its perimeter? A geologist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and two Romanian colleagues report in the January issue of Quaternary Science Reviews that, if the flood occurred at all, it was much smaller than previously proposed by other researchers.


Using sediment cores from the delta of the Danube River, which empties into the Black Sea, the researchers determined sea level was approximately 30 meters below present levels—rather than the 80 meters others hypothesized.


“We don’t see evidence for a catastrophic flood as others have described,” said Liviu Giosan, a geologist in the WHOI Geology and Geophysics Department.


Ten thousand years ago, at the end of the last glacial period, the Black Sea was a lake—cut off from the Sea of Marmara and beyond it the Mediterranean by the Bosphorus sill. Debate in geological and archaeological circles has focused on whether, as glaciers melted and global sea levels began to rise, the Bosphorus sill overflowed gradually or whether a flood broke through the sill, drowning some 70,000 square kilometers and wiping out early Neolithic civilizations in the region. In addition to questions about the rate of the flood, investigators continue to debate the extent of the flood -- a debate centered around what the level of the Black Sea was 9,500 years ago. 


In the late 1990s, Columbia University researchers Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman examined the geological evidence and estimated the Black Sea level at the time of the flood was approximately 80 meters lower than present day levels. They suggested that the impact of a Black Sea flood could have forced the movement of early agriculturist groups to central Europe and established the story of Noah and his ark, as well as flood myths among other peoples.


The source of the uncertainty fueling the Black Sea flood debate is the difficulty of finding reliable sea level markers to date the flood.  “Sea level is like the Holy Grail,” said Giosan. “You can’t really talk about a flood if you don’t know the exact levels of the sea level in both the Black Sea and outside it in the Mediterranean. And that’s what we tried to find.”


Scientists examine the geochemistry of sedimentary deposits for evidence of fresh water fauna and the morphology of features on the seafloor, trying to infer drowned beaches or wind-generated dunes, but there are pitfalls associated with these indicators. Sediments are subject to erosion by waves and currents, and sand deposits formed by underwater currents can misleadingly be interpreted as dunes or beaches. “Instead, what we use as indicators of sea level is the level of the Danube River delta plain, an immense landform that cannot be mistaken for something else,” Giosan stated.


A delta is formed when a river empties into a body of water. It dumps sediments and builds a flat plain—the delta—that is within a couple of meters of the shore and is, therefore, an indicator of sea level. In 2006, a team led by Liviu Giosan showed that contrary to Soviet-era data suggesting large oscillations of Black Sea level, the development phases of the Danube delta demonstrate that the level was more or less as today in the last 6000 years.


To extend their record back in time beyond 6000 years, in 2007, Giosan and his colleagues drilled a new core to 42 meters depth at the mouth of the Danube River, the largest river emptying into the Black Sea. Their goal was to reconstruct the history of that part of the delta—before and after the flood—through an examination of the sediments. In analyzing the delta sediment from the new core as well as others taken in the region, Giosan’s team discovered fresh water deposits of the newly forming delta dating back approximately 10,000 years, subsequently overlaid by fine marine sediments, followed by the modern delta deposits.


“It’s amazing,” said Giosan. “The early delta was forming in a fresh water lake just a couple of hundred years before the flood. And after the flood you have these marine deposits overlaying the whole delta region.”


Using sediment cores to reconstruct the delta with accurate dates is challenging. To attach a date to the layers of a core, scientists use radiocarbon dating on the fossil shells of animals found in the core—for instance, clams or snails. But in energetic areas, waves can erode sediment on the seabed and heave up older shells, depositing them in “younger” sediments. To address these concerns, Giosan and his team used an approach that had not been used before in the Black Sea. They employed high resolution dating performed at WHOI’s Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) facility and only used “articulated” bivalves – those where both sides of the shell were still attached as they are when alive. The shells are held together by an organic substance that degrades easily when they are dead, so the valves usually separate when the animal dies. When bivalves are found intact, it means they were not moved by waves and they are likely to be in situ.


Once the researchers dated and reconstructed the delta plain, they could determine sea level for the Black Sea. They found that the Black Sea level at the time of the flood was around 30 meters below present levels. Determining how much water poured over the Bosphorus sill remains problematic. There is no direct reconstruction of the sea level for the Marmara, but, according to Giosan, indirect methods put it at approximately 5 to 10 meters above the Black Sea level at the time of the flood.


“So if this is true, it means that the magnitude of the Black Sea flood was 5 or 10 meters but not 50 to 60 meters,” said Giosan. “Still, having flooded the Black Sea by 5 meters can have important effects, for example, drowning of the Danube Delta and putting an area of 2,000 square kilometers of prime agricultural land underwater. This has important implications for the archaeology and anthropology of southern Europe, as well as on our understanding of how the unique environment of the Black Sea formed.”


Funding for this project was provided by the WHOI Coastal Ocean Institute.


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the oceans’ role in the changing global environment.


Last updated: January 23, 2009



Scientists: Earthquakes, El Ninos fatal to earliest civilization in Americas

Public release date: 19-Jan-2009

Contact: Michael Moseley



University of Florida


GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- First came the earthquakes, then the torrential rains. But the relentless march of sand across once fertile fields and bays, a process set in motion by the quakes and flooding, is probably what did in America's earliest civilization.


So concludes a group of anthropologists in a new assessment of the demise of the coastal Peruvian people who built the earliest, largest structures in North or South America before disappearing in the space of a few generations more than 3,600 years ago.


"This maritime farming community had been successful for over 2,000 years, they had no incentive to change, and then all of a sudden, 'boom,'" said Mike Moseley, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. "They just got the props knocked out from under them."


Moseley is one of five authors of a paper set to appear next week in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The people of the Supe Valley along the central Peruvian coast did not use pottery or weave cloth in the settlements they founded as far back as 5,800 years ago. But they flourished in the arid desert plain adjacent to productive bays and estuaries. They fished with nets, irrigated fruit orchards, and grew cotton and a variety of vegetables, according to evidence in the region unearthed by Ruth Shady, a Peruvian archaeologist and co-author of the paper. As director of the Caral-Supe Special Archaeological Project, Shady currently has seven sites in the region under excavation.


Most impressively, the Supe built extremely large, elaborate, stone pyramid temples -- thousands of years before the better-known pyramids crafted by the Maya.


"They're impressive, enormous monuments," Moseley said.


The largest so far excavated, the Pirámide Mayor at inland settlement Caral, measured more than 550 feet long, nearly 500 feet wide and rose in a series of steps nearly 100 feet high. Walled courts, rooms and corridors covered the flat summit.


The Supe seemed to thrive in the valley for about 2,000 years. But around 3,600 years ago, an enormous earthquake -- Moseley estimates its magnitude at 8 or higher -- or series of earthquakes struck Caral and a nearby coastal settlement, Aspero, the archaeologist found. With two major plates scraping together not far offshore, the region remains one of the most seismically active in the world.


The earthquake collapsed walls and floors atop the Pirámide Mayor and caused part of it to crumble into a landslide of rocks, mud and construction materials. Smaller temples at Aspero were also heavily damaged, and there was also significant flooding there, an event recorded in thin layers of silt unearthed by the archaeologists.


But the flooding and temples' physical destruction was just the dramatic opening scene in what proved to be a much more devastating series of events, Moseley said.


The earthquake destabilized the barren mountain ranges surrounding the valley, sending massive amounts of debris crashing into the foothills. Subsequent El Niños brought huge rains, washing the debris into the ocean. There, a strong current flowing parallel to the shore re-deposited the sand and silt in the form of a large ridge known today as the Medio Mundo. The ridge sealed off the formerly rich coastal bays, which rapidly filled with sand.


Strong ever-present onshore winds resulted in "massive sand sheets that blew inland on the constant, strong, onshore breeze and swamped the irrigation systems and agricultural fields," the paper says. Not only that, but the windblown sand had a blasting effect that would have made daily life all but impossible, Moseley said.


The bottom line: What had for centuries been a productive, if arid, region became all but uninhabitable in the span of just a handful of generations. The Supe society withered and eventually collapsed, replaced only gradually later on -- by societies that relied on the much more modern arts of pottery and weaving, Moseley said.


With much of the world's population centers built in environmentally vulnerable areas, the Supe's demise may hold a cautionary tale for modern times, the researchers said. El Niño events, in particular, may become more common as global climate change continues.


"These are processes that continue into the present," said Dan Sandweiss, the paper's lead author and an anthropology professor and graduate dean at the University of Maine.


Affirmed Moseley, "You would like to say that people learn from their mistakes, but that's not the case."


The other authors of the paper are David Keefer, a geologist and geoarchaeologist with the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute, and Charles Ortloff, a consulting engineer who has spent the past three decades working in the Andes.



Latest technology used to unearth ancient Newbuildings tunnels

Published Date: 23 January 2009

By Staff reporter


Groundbreaking archaeological technology - never before used in the North - is being employed to help unearth a set of 1000 year-old tunnels on the outskirts of Derry.

The work, undertaken by the Newbuildings and District Archaeological and Historical Society (NDAHS), hopes to pinpoint the location of a souterrain - taken from the French word for underground - on land at Gortinure Road, just outside the Co Derry village..


Thought to date back to the early Christian period, the tunnel's exact location has become shrouded in mystery.


Richard Brennan, of NDAHS said Lottery funding had allowed the team to employ the latest technology in the current survey, which got underway yesterday and will finish on Monday.


"We applied for and were successful in getting funds from the Lottery and that has allowed us to employ Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey.


"This radar technology has never been used in Northern Ireland before.


"There has always been anecdotal evidence and we have spoken to people who over the years who have worked in the field and felt the spade disappear into the land."


He said early indications from the survey were extremely positive.


"It seems we have discovered the lines of the tunnel are following that at the moment. If we can pinpoint the exact location, a full dig of the site will begin in July."


During a previous unsuccessful excavation in 2005, further evidence of Derry's past was uncovered with the discovery of a previously unknown rath - or ringfort.


Mr. Brennan said the latest work builds on the experiences of previous attempts to find the tunnels.


"Belfast Archaeologist Firm, Gahan and Long, who worked here in 2005 are scheduled to come back in July. At that time they only had a licence to work on finding the tunnels. Work had to be halted with he discovery of the rath. A full dig on the tunnels will give us a great insight into the past."


He said the tunnel could date to even earlier than 800AD, a time originally attributed to the souterrain. Mr. Brennan said it is possible they could have been built as a place of refuge in a time when Vikings would have sailed up the River Foyle and have carried out raids



Roman mosaic floor is uncovered in a Cotswold field

Tuesday, January 20, 2009, 08:00


A ROMAN mosaic has been uncovered by two metal detector enthusiasts in a Cotswold field.


John Carter and Paul Ballinger say their find could be of national significance.


The amateur sleuths spotted tesserae – cube-shaped mosaic tiles – and a metal spear at a ploughed field near Kemble.


They dug to expose what they think is part of an intricate mosaic floor which could be on a par with the fourth century Great Orpheus Pavement at Woodchester, near Stroud.


John, 52, who lives at Brockworth, and Paul, from North Cerney, are thrilled.


John said: "We couldn't believe what we'd found – it was extraordinary.


"We're keen metal detectorists and field walkers and we'd been on this farm two years ago. I'd noticed some pottery and building materials on a bank in a field but the farmer said it was going to have trees planted on it.


"So we never went back, until now. We got there and the field had been heavily ploughed. All of a sudden I said 'Look at that' and there was a little line of tesserae.


"I said 'There must be a floor down there' and then in among the tesserae was an iron spear about six to eight inches long.


"I went 'crikey' so we dug down gently about 15in and there in the bottom of the hole was a mosaic floor. We brushed it with our fingers then took some of little blocks home to wash and found they were grey, white and red.


"I knew it was a quality floor."


The duo returned to expose one metre square of the site, the exact location of which is strictly under wraps.


John said: "We saw part of a frieze with beasts on and reckon we were quite near the centre. It's absolutely beautiful and a work of art. We think it's possibly in the same league as the Woodchester floor, which is officially 'the largest Roman floor mosaic known in north west Europe'."


The friends have registered the find with county council archaeologists and are liaising with Cirencester's Corinium Museum.


County archaeologist Tim Grubb said: "If it is a Roman mosaic, it would obviously be very exciting as all Roman villas are nationally important archaeological sites.


"But we don't yet know the exact site and if anything else has been recorded there.


"Mosaics are best preserved under the ground and there's very little chance, unless the landowner wants to stump up a considerable amount of money, that anything would be done with it."