Greening Of the Sahara Desert Triggered Early Human Migrations Out Of Africa

ScienceDaily (Nov. 9, 2009)


A team of scientists from the NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and the University of Bremen (Germany) has determined that a major change in the climate of the Sahara and Sahel region of North Africa facilitated early human migrations from the African continent. The team's findings will be published online in the Nov. 9th instalment of Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Among the key findings are that the Sahara desert and the Sahel were considerably wetter around 9,000, 50,000 and 120,000 years ago than at present, allowing for the growth of trees instead of grasses.


The researchers studied marine sediments covering nearly 200,000 years collected from the seafloor off the coast of Guinea in West Africa. Strong off-shore winds transport large volumes of dust from the Sahara and Sahel to the study area. Mixed in with the dust are plant leaf waxes, which are blown long distances across the African continent to the Atlantic Ocean, where they were ultimately deposited on the seafloor at about 3 km depth.


Over thousands of years, layers of sediment accumulated on the seafloor, each layer containing evidence of past environmental conditions in Northern Africa. The plant leaf waxes are resistant to degradation and when trapped within layers of sediment, they can be very well-preserved for millions of years.


Based on analysis of plant leaf waxes the researchers could determine the relative importance of trees and grasses in the Sahara and Sahel regions. Trees generally require more water to survive than do tropical grasses, and so by analysing the plant leaf waxes to determine if they were produced by trees or grasses, the scientists could examine past precipitation changes in tropical Africa over the last 200,000 years.


During three discrete periods, ca. 120,000-110,000 years, 50,000- 45,000 and 10,000-8,000 years ago, substantially more trees grew in Sahara and the Sahel, indicating significantly wetter conditions than at present. The two oldest periods exactly coincide with times when the earliest humans were migrating out of East Africa to northern Africa, the Middle East, Asia and eventually Europe. At these times, the wetter conditions in central North Africa likely enabled humans to cross this normally inhospitable region, allowing them to migrate into other continents. When climate in the Sahara and Sahel turned dry again, humans were forced out of these areas causing genetic and cultural changes in already inhabited regions such as Northern Africa and the Middle East.


The researchers also looked for the causes of these major climate shifts to much wetter conditions in the Sahara and found that they were indirectly related to an increase in the strength of the major current system, the Atlantic Overturning Circulation (AOC). The researchers could assess the strength of this current by analysing fossilized tiny shells of small animals (benthic foraminifera).When the intensity of the AOC changes, this leads to changes in the chemical composition of the deep water masses, which is then reflected in the shells of benthic foraminifera. The researchers found that when the AOC weakened, more grasses were present in central North Africa indicating a drier climate. Likely, the weakening of the AOC was caused by increased freshwater input to the high-latitudes, leading to less saline surface waters. This freshwater input also caused surface cooling in these regions, in turn leading to movement of cold air from the high-latitudes to the tropics, and causing drier conditions in central North Africa.


Thus, early human migrations from the African continent were likely triggered by events originating far away in the North Atlantic.


This research project was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Research Centre/Excellence Cluster "The Ocean in the Earth System".


Adapted from materials provided by NIOZ Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research.



Vanished Persian Army Said Found in Desert

Bones, jewelry and weapons found in Egyptian desert may be the remains of Cambyses' army that vanished 2,500 years ago.

By Rossella Lorenzi | Sun Nov 08 2009 10:30 PM ET


Hundreds of bleached bones and skulls found in the desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert may be the remains of the long lost Cambyses' army, according to Italian researchers, Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni


The remains of a mighty Persian army said to have drowned in the sands of the western Egyptian desert 2,500 years ago might have been finally located, solving one of archaeology's biggest outstanding mysteries, according to Italian researchers.


Bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones found in the vast desolate wilderness of the Sahara desert have raised hopes of finally finding the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II. The 50,000 warriors were said to be buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C.


"We have found the first archaeological evidence of a story reported by the Greek historian Herodotus," Dario Del Bufalo, a member of the expedition from the University of Lecce, told Discovery News.


According to Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun after the priests there refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt.


After walking for seven days in the desert, the army got to an "oasis," which historians believe was El-Kharga. After they left, they were never seen again.


"A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear," wrote Herodotus.


A century after Herodotus wrote his account, Alexander the Great made his own pilgrimage to the oracle of Amun, and in 332 B.C. he won the oracle's confirmation that he was the divine son of Zeus, the Greek god equated with Amun.


The tale of Cambyses' lost army, however, faded into antiquity. As no trace of the hapless warriors was ever found, scholars began to dismiss the story as a fanciful tale.


Now, two top Italian archaeologists claim to have found striking evidence that the Persian army was indeed swallowed in a sandstorm. Twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni are already famous for their discovery 20 years ago of the ancient Egyptian "city of gold" Berenike Panchrysos.


Presented recently at the archaeological film festival of Rovereto, the discovery is the result of 13 years of research and five expeditions to the desert.


"It all started in 1996, during an expedition aimed at investigating the presence of iron meteorites near Bahrin, one small oasis not far from Siwa," Alfredo Castiglioni, director of the Eastern Desert Research Center (CeRDO)in Varese, told Discovery News.


While working in the area, the researchers noticed a half-buried pot and some human remains. Then the brothers spotted something really intriguing -- what could have been a natural shelter.


It was a rock about 35 meters (114.8 feet) long, 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) in height and 3 meters (9.8 feet) deep. Such natural formations occur in the desert, but this large rock was the only one in a large area.


"Its size and shape made it the perfect refuge in a sandstorm," Castiglioni said.


Right there, the metal detector of Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat of Cairo University located relics of ancient warfare: a bronze dagger and several arrow tips.


"We are talking of small items, but they are extremely important as they are the first Achaemenid objects, thus dating to Cambyses' time, which have emerged from the desert sands in a location quite close to Siwa," Castiglioni said.



Evidence of Lincolnshire's first pub

Saturday, November 14, 2009, 06:30


Evidence of the first ever pub in Lincolnshire has been found at a village near Lincoln.


The discovery has been documented in a new book called Exchange And Ritual At The Riverside.


The book has been published following an excavation of the Lower Witham Valley in 2004, and looks at life at Washingborough during the end of the Bronze Age.


Project manager and company director of Pre-Construct Archaeological Services Colin Palmer-Brown explained evidence of equipment used for brewing alcohol had been found at the site during archaeological excavation.


"Archaeology can only go so far, and reconstructing things can be difficult," he explained.


"However, we found remnants of a wooden tank, which may have been lined with skins, and could have had something to do with the brewing of beer.


"There may have been some sort of feasting done when people met at the riverbank, which including drinking alcohol and feasting on meat stew."


Principle author of the book and Bronze Age pottery specialist Dr Carol Allen confirmed the possibility of the site being used as a place to brew alcohol.


"Tanks, like the one found, could have been used for a number of reasons, such as brewing alcohol, cooking, or even to create a makeshift sauna," she said.


"It seems quite reasonable that they would brew ale by the riverbanks. There were also little cups found across the site, and a lot of stuff that appears to have been broken deliberately."



Roman ruins found under theatre

Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Wednesday, 11 November 2009


An ancient Roman ruin has been discovered by builders working on the £25.6m redevelopment of the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.


The townhouse, thought to date from between the late second and early third Centuries, is believed to have belonged to a wealthy citizen.


Archaeologists found the remains of the building's under-floor heating, leather shoes, seeds and a plate.


Experts will examine the remains before the redevelopment work resumes.


Archaeologist James Holman said: "It's quite unexpected.


"It's very unusual to find buildings of this type in this area of Canterbury, this side of the River Stour.


"It is a very high quality building, it would have had heated floors."


But he added: "A lot of it has been disturbed by earlier buildings, when they built this theatre in the 30s and when it was redeveloped in the 80s.


"A lot of the archaeology has been removed so there isn't enough of it left to preserve it in situ."


In March the owners of the Marlowe Theatre were given permission to build a 1,200-seat auditorium and a second 150-seat performance space on the current site.


The £25.6m redevelopment of the venue has been backed by host of stars from stage, screen and television.


In June Sonia Copeland-Bloom, the mother of actor Orlando Bloom, announced she was selling some of his possessions to raise money for the scheme.


Bloom appeared at the Marlowe Theatre early in his acting career and is now one of its patrons.



Severed heads among discovery at Sacsayhuamán

November 13, 2009


Above the Inca capital of Cusco (Q’osco) sits the important ceremonial site and one of human-kinds most impressive constructions called Sacsayhuamán, which despite its global fame still offers up secrets to investigators. Yesterday the discovery was announced of three burials, one of which contained the severed heads of the Inca’s enemies.


The discovery was made within the archaeological park of Sacsayhuamán in the area of Qowikarana, under threat from illegal settlements of the city’s poor.


Chief on-site archaeologist Washington Camacho explains that three separate burials were found – one of an older man buried with a ceremonial knife, one of a young boy, and a third that is altogether more interesting.


In a giant urpu or raqui, Quechua for a large ceramic vessel, were three severed heads, accompanied by a pair of tikachamas (smaller vessels) and cochas (ceremonial plates).


The archaeologist explains the current hypothesis based on what we know about Inca society. Camacho explains that after some of the more difficult or notable battles, the Incas would decapitate their enemies to later use their heads as offerings in religious rituals.


“The heads belong to the Huarichacas, an ethnic group that tried to invade sacred sites in southern Inca territory”, he explains. His theory is that emperor Pachacútec ordered the decapitation of the leaders of the invasion.


In this northern sector of the archaeological park, a number of big discoveries have been made in recent times. These include the discovery of nine tombs, two of children in faetal positions, who had also been sacrificed for religious ceremonies.


Also discovered were the remains of a series of mixed adobe-stone buildings and terraces that matched exactly a scale model found in rock nearby.


The area in which these discoveries were made is under serious threat as migrants to the city of Cusco illegally construct their homes within the protected area. It had been mostly unexplored since coming under supposed-protection decades earlier – when Cusco was the quiet sparsely populated town seen in the Charlton Heston movie Secret of the Incas (1954) – and has now been covered by shanty town, destroying or obstructing 95% of the area.


To completely restore the zone, including the re-purchase of erroneously titled stolen land, the authority that was supposed to protect it in the first place, Peru’s National Institute of Culture (INC), explains they need S/.10million, equivalent to $4million US. Despite the huge income from tourism in the region, corruption and stupidity keeps the money from going to where it needs to go. Instead, funds are put towards ridiculous plans to damage and exploit ancient sites further for monetary gain.


Other areas of the park yet to be explored are Pachacútec, Inca Montera, Siwina Cocha, Qosqolloq y Yauullipuquio.



Maya "Painted Pyramid" Reveals 1st Murals of Daily Life

November 12, 2009


A series of unusual Maya wall murals, complete with hieroglyphic captions, are providing archaeologists with a priceless look at day-to-day life in the empire circa A.D. 620 to 700.


Previously known Maya murals all depict the ruling elite, victories in battle, or religious themes.


But exterior walls on a "painted pyramid" buried for centuries in the Mexican jungle (pictured, a corner of the pyramid undergoing excavations) have shown Maya scholars something completely different.


The murals—discovered in 2004 at the Maya site of Calakmul—depict ordinary people enjoying much more casual pursuits, according to a new, detailed description of the wall art.


"There's really nothing like this in any of the [known] murals. These are totally unexpected," said Maya expert Michael D. Coe, curator emeritus at Yale University's Peabody Museum of Natural History and editor of the new paper.


"This is everyday life with people who are not upper-crust Maya but rather people engaged in everyday activities."


The colorful artwork shows the clothing and jewelry worn by various social classes in Calakmul, one of the largest cities of the Classic Maya period, which lasted from A.D. 300 to 900. (Take a Maya quiz.)


During this era, Calakmul was likely the capital of the Kan (Snake) Kingdom, which held great sway over the Maya world.


The murals also depict common foodstuffs as well as people involved in food preparation and distribution, including a "salt person" and a "tobacco person," as they are labeled in the hieroglyphs. (Related: "Ancient Farm Discovery Yields Clues to Maya Diet.")


Other scenes depict corn products that were essential to the Maya diet: A woman distributes a platter of tamales to a crowd in one panel, while a man and woman in another scene serve maize gruel.


What's more, the Calakmul murals' exterior location surprised experts, since other murals were found secreted away inside pyramids.


"In other words, they were public," Coe said of the Calakmul paintings. "They were to be seen by everybody." Luckily for Maya scholars, the painted pyramid's long burial helped preserve the unusual artwork.


Findings published online this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


—Brian Handwerk



Palace of Japan's warrior queen discovered

Archaeologists believe they have discovered the palace of Japan's "Boadicea" – the warrior Queen Himiko.

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

Published: 2:24PM GMT 11 Nov 2009


The building covering nearly 300 square metres was located close to the city of Sakurai and the former Japanese capital of Nara, 300 miles south-west of Tokyo.


Built on stilts, the structure was found beside three other aligned buildings, leading archaeologists to believe it is the site of Himiko's Yamatai palace.


"A building cluster that is placed in such a well-planned manner is unprecedented in Japan at that period in time," Hironobu Ishino, director of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology, told Kyodo News.


The discovery coincided with celebrations today to mark the 20th anniversary of the enthronement of the present emperor.


Queen Himiko is a popular character in Japanese history. She was apparently able to wield great power in the Yamatai Kingdom from around the end of the second century. Legends handed down from the time describe her as "being skilled with magic".


Japanese revere her as a heroic Boadicea-type figure who unified the kingdom after years of fighting with rival tribes, before her death around 248AD.


The precise location of Yamatai has been one of the most bitterly disputed issues in Japanese archaeology, with some claiming the kingdom was in present-day Kyushu. The latest finding supports the claim of central Japan to the queen's lands.


The researchers' conclusions on the palace are supported by a huge traditional keyhole-shape tomb which is nearby and may be the last resting place of the third-century relative of Emperor Akihito.


Excavation of the tomb could settle that debate once and for all, although the Imperial Household Agency appear to have ruled that out.


Security in Tokyo has been stepped up ahead of official celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the emperor's accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne, the longest royal dynasty in the world.


Akihito took over the throne after the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito, in 1989.


Ceremonies are to be held at the Royal National Theatre and 30,000 people are expected to attend a public ceremony later in the day.


More than 16,000 police have been mobilised to provide security and demonstrations by extreme left-wing groups opposed to the imperial system are planned just outside the grounds of the palace in central Tokyo. Clashes with nationalist groups are expected.



3rd-century building fuels debate over lost country





SAKURAI, Nara Prefecture--The site of a third-century building found in the Makimuku ruins here has reignited debate over the location of Yamataikoku, a mysterious and powerful country once ruled by Queen Himiko.


The discovery, announced by the Sakurai city board of education Tuesday, has strengthened the theory that the Kinai area was home to Yamataikoku, a country described in "Gishi Wajin-den," part of the Chinese book "Sanguo zhi" (History of the Three Kingdoms) written by Chen Shou in the late third century.


Proponents of the theory say the building, estimated at 19.2 meters by 12.4 meters with a floor space of 238 square meters, could have been a central facility in Yamataikoku.


However, those who back the theory that Yamataikoku was in Kyushu argue that a big building alone does not prove the Makimuku ruins were the center of the ancient country.


The lack of major buildings in the Makimuku ruins, which date back from the late second century to the early fourth century, had been considered a "weak point" in the Kinai theory. That is because "Gishi Wajin-den" described Yamataikoku as having a palace, a watch tower and castle fences.


The recently found building is not only the largest found at the site; it is also the biggest discovered in Japan from the early third century, which was during Himiko's reign.


According to the Sakurai board of education, the building was aligned with three smaller buildings from the early third century, whose sites had been earlier discovered to the west in the Makimuku ruins.


The central axis of each building forms a straight line. Each building is believed to have faced the same direction.


Such careful planning for buildings was common for palaces and temples during the Asuka Period from the late sixth century to the early eighth century. But it had not been found at sites from the early third century.


"The orderly alignment of the buildings from east to west is sure proof that they were part of the Yamataikoku royal palace," said Taichiro Shiraishi, director of the Chikatsu Asuka Museum in Osaka Prefecture. "They likely hit the jackpot this time."


Part of the site of the large building was destroyed by an L-shaped ditch believed to have been a gravesite.


Archaeologists determined that the large building was from the early third century because pottery found in the ditch was dated from the mid-third century.


Only 5 percent of the Makimuku ruins has been excavated. But work is now under way in a 390-square-meter area to shed light on the central part of the ruins and, archaeologists hope, to uncover sites of more buildings.


Despite the finding, Biten Yasumoto, editor in chief of the Yamataikoku periodical and a former professor at the Sanno Institute of Management, remains skeptical of the Kinai theory.


"Researchers backing the Kinai theory tend to date pottery about a century too early," he said. "And the sites of large buildings have been found in Kyushu, too. They alone cannot be associated with Yamataikoku."


Yasutami Suzuki, a professor of ancient history at Kokugakuin University, said the Kyushu theory used to be popular, but the Kinai theory has gained momentum in recent years thanks to archaeological research.


However, he noted that specific artifacts symbolizing royal power need to be unearthed to prove the site was indeed the center of Yamataikoku.(IHT/Asahi: November 12,2009)



Donegal brain surgeon at work in AD 800, burial site reveals



BRAIN SURGERY was being carried out in Ireland more than 1,000 years ago – and patients survived.


People with disabilities were treated with compassion and respect within their communities in medieval Ireland but TB and other diseases, possibly including cancer, claimed many lives while others died by the sword.


A multitude of insights about life and death in Gaelic Ireland were gleaned following the discovery of an unknown medieval church and the graves of about 1,300 men, women and children who lived along the banks of the river Erne at Ballyhanna, Co Donegal, several hundred years ago.


The burial ground, which spanned several centuries, was found during the construction of the Ballyshannon/ Bundoran bypass in 2003.


Last night, as part of Science Week Ireland, a team of archaeologists and scientists from Sligo Institute of Technology and Queen’s University Belfast, who are involved in the Ballyhanna project, outlined their findings to date.


Dr Jeremy Bird, head of the school of science at Sligo IT, who introduced the lecture The Science of a Cemetery, explained that one of the most exciting aspects of the project is an investigation into whether cystic fibrosis was present in the population 1,000 years ago.


This week human remains from the Ballyhanna site will be delivered to Prof Philip Farrell, an international expert on the disease, who is based at the University of Wisconsin in the United States.


Preliminary studies carried out by Prof Farrell and the Sligo-based team have found that is possible to get ancient DNA from human teeth discovered at Ballyhanna. This could provide evidence of cystic fibrosis in those buried at Ballyhanna.


Michael MacDonagh, a senior archaeologist with the National Roads Authority, said the unexpected discovery of a medieval church and so many ancient remains, dating back to the seventh century, was of major significance.


“It was an incredible discovery because it was completely unexpected. It is possible that because Ballyshannon suffered so disastrously during the Famine, that these burial grounds just fell out of local memory.”


Carbon dating has established that people were burying their dead at Ballyhanna from the 7th-9th centuries AD up to the 16th century but with a gap in between, which Mr MacDonagh said might be related to the Viking invasion.


During last night’s lecture, osteoarchaeologists Caitríona McKenzie and Eileen Murphy said that as well as identifying joint diseases, tuberculosis and possible cases of cancer, they concluded that several individuals met untimely deaths through violence, with their skulls displaying deep sword cuts.


One of the most interesting discoveries was the remains of a young female, who lived about AD 800, whose skull showed evidence of brain surgery. “We know that she survived the operation as the skull shows signs of bone growth after the hole was cut into it,” Mr MacDonagh said.


The team also discovered two cases of a genetic condition known as hereditary multiple exostosis, also known as bumpy bone disease, while in one case the legs of a young male had fused together.


“This man lived into his 30s which was a typical lifespan then. He would have had to be carried everywhere and he was obviously buried formally and with respect, which tells us something about how medieval society treated people with disabilities,” Mr MacDonagh added.



Australian farmer claims skull is Ned Kelly's

Forensic tests to determine whether skull handed in to authorities came from outlaw who was hanged in 1880

Toni O'Loughlin in Sydney

guardian.co.uk, Friday 13 November 2009 11.52 GMT


Forensic tests to determine whether skull handed in to authorities came from outlaw who was hanged in 1880


A farmer in Australia has handed in a skull for forensic testing, claiming that it is that of Ned Kelly, the country's most notorious outlaw.


Tom Baxter, from the remote town of Derby in Western Australia, says he had the skull in his possession for the past 30 years. This week he handed it in to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine after visiting the grave where a headless skeleton believed to be that of the outlaw was found last year.


Baxter did not explain how he had acquired the skull, saying only: "I don't even consider that it was an act of theft and I haven't admitted to being the person who took it."


The whereabouts of the bushranger's skull is one of Australia's most enduring historical mysteries: it was separated from his body soon after he was hanged in 1880 for murdering a policeman.


After a series of bank raids and a shoot-out in which three police were killed, Kelly's last stand was a 10-hour gun battle in which he was clad in homemade helmet and armour that became the stuff of legend.


Even before his death, such was the interest in Kelly that 30,000 people signed a petition protesting against his execution. After he was hanged, authorities removed his head and handed it to phrenologists to study for evidence of his criminal nature. Phrenology – the study of skulls to determine a person's character and mental ability – was popular in the 19th century


His torso was buried at Old Melbourne Gaol until its closure in 1929 when all the human remains buried there were transferred to Victoria's Pentridge prison. During the transferl, workers plundered a grave marked EK in the belief it was Kelly's, while the foreman collected the skull and handed it to the Australian Institute of Anatomy.


It was put on display in Old Melbourne Gaol, by then a museum, in 1971 but was stolen in 1978 and has been missing ever since.


Speculation over its whereabouts was renewed last year when archaeologists exhuming a mass grave at Pentridge prison found what they believe to be Kelly's skeleton.


Kelly's exploits have inspired films, TV series, songs and books – and a fierce debate about his place in Australian history. Opinion remains divided over whether he was a cold-hearted killer or a young man driven to crime because of poverty and social injustice.


Victoria state's attorney general, Rob Hulls, said forensic tests would be conducted to determine if the skull is authentic. A Kelly family descendant has previously offered to provide samples for genetic tests.


"To some he was a revered Aussie icon. To others he was nothing but a cold-blooded killer. Whatever people's views he is a dominant part of the historic fabric of this nation," Hulls said.


Jeremy Smith of Heritage Victoria said doubts remained about whether the skull displayed at the jail was Kelly's.


"I think with all things Kelly it's a complex trail. It's quite possible that the skull was confused or mixed with another skull, and the identities might have been mixed so we can't have a high degree of confidence."