Researchers Find the First Horse Whisperers

livescience.com – Sat Nov 28, 9:31 am ET


Paleolithic hunters in Europe and Asia began exploiting horses for meat thousands of years ago when the last continental glaciers disappeared, yet the origin of horse domestication long has eluded archaeologists - for some captivating reasons.


One of the biggest reasons is that for many centuries, horse skeletons did not significantly differ in size or physical structure from those of their wild ancestors, making early taming and use of the animal more difficult to identify.


But as part of an international team of archaeologists, my colleagues and I may be getting closer to the beginnings as we look for clues in Kazakhstan.


Our team conducted extensive research at three sites belonging to the Botai culture in the northern part of the country, at locations dated to the Copper Age around 3,500 B.C.


We selected the region because it was here in the heart of the Eurasian steppe where the tarpan, a small wild horse, thrived after they had vanished from most parts of the world. It was estimated that the tarpan lived successfully in the area through most of the Holocene, beginning about 11,700 years ago, before going extinct in the early 20th century.


Upon examining the sites, we found evidence that could point to the early phases of horse domestication and help explain its initial impacts on society. We found that early domesticated horses were eaten, milked and ridden.


More than 90 percent of the animal bones from the main site of Botai, a vast collection estimated at around 300,000, were from horses. Stone-tool butchering marks on the bones indicated a community whose diet consisted primarily of horsemeat. In addition, there was evidence that horses were sacrificed for religious purposes.


Some of the most common artifacts in all Botai settlements are tools made from horse mandibles that were used to prepare rawhide thongs necessary for equipment such as bridles, hobbles and whips. This supported the idea that the Botai horses were ridden.


To me, the most compelling evidence that the Botai kept horses was the fact that they suddenly appeared in large, permanent settlements.


The main site of Botai had over 160 houses, which raises a question: If the people were still just pedestrian hunters with no form of livestock or agriculture, how could they sustain large communities for years without soon depleting the wild horses? And why would they focus so heavily on just one species of large game?


Still, this array of evidence was not sufficient to convince many scholars that the Botai were some of the earliest horse herders in the world, so we kept searching for more definitive proof.


With the assistance of geologists Michael Rosenmeier and Rosemary Capo, we collected soil samples from inside suspected corrals. The samples contained high levels of phosphorus and sodium, as well as traces of lipids that signal the presence of manure. Corrals would have been essential for keeping herds of horses on the open steppe.


Finally, after more than a decade of research, our team discovered residues of mare's milk in pottery. One of our team members, Alan Outram, collected modern samples of horsemeat and milk from Kazakhstan for comparison and brought some of our potsherds to Richard Evershed and Natalie Stear, at Bristol University, for biochemical analysis.


Lipids in the sherds signaled the presence of either horsemeat or milk, but only after years of research did these dedicated chemists discover that a deuterium (hydrogen isotope) marker indicated that the fats from horses in some sherds were collected during the summer - the main season when mare's milk is available.


With the identification of this by-product of domestication, we have compelling evidence that the Botai were indeed horse herders, since milking wild mares would be incredibly difficult.


Finding these early beginnings of modern horse domestication was akin to discovering a watershed moment. Few would dispute the fact that horse domestication was pivotal in human history. Since they were first domesticated, their cultural value has grown and their roles diversified to include transportation, herding, haulage, plowing, dairy production, warfare, sports, and many other functions.


Moreover, no other animal has had such a tremendous impact on geopolitics, chiefly through the successes of imperial cavalries, and no other beast has had so many occupations. Horse domestication certainly has changed the course of human culture as we know it.



Native American artifacts thousands of years old halt sewer installation in Warwick, R.I.

01:00 AM EST on Tuesday, November 24, 2009

By Barbara Polichetti

Journal Staff Writer


WARWICK — The discovery of Native American artifacts dating back thousands of years –– plus the likelihood that there are many more beneath the streets of neighborhoods off Tidewater Drive –– have stalled an effort to bring sewers to the coastal area.


Archaeologists retained by the Warwick Sewer Authority have been unearthing a variety of artifacts in test trenches for more than three years and recently issued a report stating that the Mill Cove area was probably home to generations of Native Americans, with artifacts from about 3,000 years ago through the 1600s.


Given those findings and the need for far more extensive archaeological study before any sewer construction could begin, the WSA is exploring less-disruptive engineering methods while other city officials say that sewers may be out of the question for the neighborhoods just north of Warwick Neck.


“I’m committed to trying to find a way,” WSA Director Janine Burke said. “There are people out there who need sewers and who want sewers.”


She noted that the city and the WSA recognize the importance of the artifacts and are staying in contact with the federal Environmental Protection Agency as it negotiates with the Narragansett Indians about the historical significance of the area and what construction work could be done there. According to reports from Alan Leveillee of Public Archaeology Laboratory Inc., test trenches have revealed ceramic chards, tools, human bone fragments, pot molds and more.


John Brown, historical preservation officer for the Narragansett Indians, said that the cove and adjacent coastal land around Old Mill Brook was clearly a significant site in Native American history. The artifacts indicate that the area was settled by Native Americans long before Europeans landed on the New England shore, he said, and that the area probably had multiple uses –– including shellfishing, agriculture, living areas and ceremonial grounds.


“This has been an ongoing issue for the past several years,” Brown said, emphasizing that while the Narragansetts are committed to preserving their heritage, they are also sensitive that there are health and environmental issues involved with the sewer project. “We’re working cooperatively with everyone involved,” he said.


THE NEIGHBORHOODS off Tidewater Drive are among several that are slated for sewers as the WSA continues the daunting task of trying to expand the sewer system in a densely populated city where most homes were built with either cesspools or septic systems.


About 70 percent of the city has sewer mains, Burke estimated, but not everyone has opted to tie into sewers where they are available. Resident of some areas, such as the Governor Francis neighborhood, are protesting — objecting not only to the cost of the assessment they must pay for having a sewer line at their property, but also to the prospect of abandoning costly septic systems that they say are still working fine.


It’s a different story around the Mill Cove area, she said, because many of the houses have cesspools that will be subject to mandatory replacement under a state law that requires that they be replaced under specific circumstances, including proximity to coastal areas. She said that the WSA is looking at different engineering methods that might enable the agency to run the lines below the archaeologically sensitive areas.


She said the WSA is also working with Councilman John DelGiudice, who represents the area.


DelGiudice said that, given what’s been found and that the amount of land involved has not been determined, it is time to look for ways to help residents who might be forced to replace their cesspools.


DelGiudice and Councilman Stephen Colantuono arranged a recent meeting with Warwick’s congressional representatives in the hope that some funding could be found to assist residents if they have to replace their cesspools and do not have public sewers as an option.


“The Native American findings are so significant that this project could be held up for five years or more,” DelGiudice said, adding that he is hopeful that the city and sewer authority can set up a program that would partially pay for residents’ new septic systems and offer them low-interest loans for the remainder.


He said a new septic system can cost $10,000 or more, and “I believe that a fair amount of people will be affected and are going to need some assistance.”



Parthian grave with astounding artifacts found in Iraq

By Mohened Ali

Azzaman, November 19, 2009


An Iraqi excavation team has uncovered a grave with magnificent finds dating to the Parthian period.


The grave’s artifacts have astonished scientists for their beauty and magnificence. “The discovery includes 216 artifacts all belonging to the Parthian Period,” said Antiquities Department spokesman Abdulzahara al-Talaqani.


Talaqani said the finds are at least about 2000 years old and the new grave is the largest to be excavated from the same period in Iraq.


The Parthians were a Persian dynasty and their name is probably drawn from the Persian dialect they spoke, historically known as Parthava.


They established an extensive empire which included Iran, Mesopotamia and other regions. They ruled Iraq for more than three centuries while their empire survived from 247 BC to 224 AD.


Talaqani said the grave occupies 306 sq. meters and consists of several floors connected by special staircases.


He said Iraqi excavators also came across “pottery pieces of glass all in good condition and that digging is continuing.”


The team working on the Parthian grave is one of nine other teams currently excavating Iraq’s ancient treasures.


The acting head of the Antiquities Department Qais Hassan said: “The grave exhibits important architectural features. The dead were buried in it with their belongings such as gold, precious stone and pottery.”


Hassan declined to give details about the location of the grave for security reasons.


“It is not the first time the pick-axes of foreign and Iraq scientists strike Parthian treasures. But this time Iraqi pick-axes have brought to light the largest and the finest Parthian grave which has astonished and surprised us,” Hassan said


He said the great care taken “of the architecture, decoration and building of the grave is a sign that the grave does not belong to ordinary people but to the royalty.”



UQ archaeology digs into the life behind Pompeii


Brisbane may be 2000 years and half-a-world away from Pompeii, but it hasn't stopped a UQ archaeologist from digging up some hidden treasures.


Dr Andy Fairbairn, a senior lecturer in archaeology with UQ's School of Social Science, is working on a project looking at the life inside one of the world's most famous dig sites.


“The archaeology at Pompeii has moved on over the last 30 years, away from the big ticket items of the temples and the like to the minutiae of what everyday life was like in the ancient Roman city,” Dr Fairbairn said.


He does this by collecting samples from what would have been the toilets of the day to see the types of food were eaten.


“This type of archaeology is a bit slower than unearthing buildings, but it is very valuable as it allows us to piece together a picture of the economic and social development of the city,” he said.


“Even if we have to go through 2000 year old excrement to do it.”


He said his team of volunteer archaeology students patiently go through hundreds of bags of samples collected in Pompeii, looking for seeds and other plant material to build up a picture of what was being eaten and traded.


“Samples come from an excavation near one of the main entrances to the city led by Australian ex-pat Dr Steven Ellis (Cincinnati, USA), on the way to the theatre and gladiators,” he said.


“And what the excavation is showing so far is that the city was moving away from the production of goods in dispersed cottage industries to more specialised industrial production and trading,” he said.


Dr Fairbairn said while it may seem strange to have an Australian archaeology team working on ancient Roman sites, UQ's reputation in the field was strong, especially in archaeological science.


“Across UQ we have a very strong archaeology group doing work all over the world, including Turkey, India, Africa, Hawaii and Central America” he said.


“Due to the profession being quite small in Australia, we often specialise in a particular area and then collaborate with other groups around the world as appropriate.”


Media: Dr Andy Fairbairn (07 3365 2780) or Andrew Dunne at UQ Communications (07 3365 2802, 0433 364 181).



Heian tomb yields tweezers

Saturday, Nov. 21, 2009


Staff writer


A makeup kit containing a pair of 17-cm iron scissors and iron tweezers 8.5 cm long has been discovered in the tomb of a woman who lived at the end of the Heian Period (794-1192), archaeologists said recently.


Also found inside the tomb, in Nishiwaki, Hyogo Prefecture, were a clay pot 6 cm in diameter and a 5.7-cm porcelain pot as well as a 9-cm bronze mirror made in China, according to officials of the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Archaeology in Harimacho.


"It's very, very rare to discover ancient makeup implements," Shiro Yamashita, the museum's head of public relations said Thursday by phone.


The discovery is particularly precious because "few (historical) materials that tell something about the life of women living outside ancient capitals remain," Yamashita said.


The makeup kit was found inside the tomb together with other belongings of the woman, whose social status was presumably high.


The woman may have had a close relationship with an influential person who ruled the local area on behalf of a lord who lived in Kyoto, the capital at that time, Yamashita said.



Wreckage of 17th-century Dutch cargo ship found near Brazil


Monday, November 30, 2009 16:01 IST

Budapest (Hungary)


A team of Hungarian marine archaeologists has found the wreckage of a Dutch cargo ship that sank near the Brazilian coast over three centuries ago.


Voetboog was a three-mast flyboat, which left the port of Batavia (now Jakarta) for The Netherlands with a 109-member crew on board, the expedition leader Attila K. Szaloky told MTI, a Hungarian news agency.


Owned by the Dutch East India Company, the Fluyt ship carried silk, spices, tea, Japanese and Chinese porcelain as well as nearly 180,000 pieces of Dutch golden ducats.


"The estimated value of the wreckage is about 1 billion dollars," said Szaloky.


Sailing on the Atlantic, the ship was probably caught by a storm and its only chance to get home was to stick close to the Brazilian coast.


For reasons unknown, however, it sank near the coast of Pernambuco state on May 29, 1700.


The team of Octopus Association for Marine Archaeology found the wreckage in October 2008, but announced the discovery only after the first phase of examinations came to an end.


The objects found in the depths suggest that it is indeed the wreckage of Voetboog, which is lying on the seabed under several metres thick of sediment.


"Over the past 309 years, the ship has virtually disintegrated," Szaloky said.


The finds will be brought to surface and conserved in line with Brazilian law.


Dig to start at Shakespeare site


Archaeologists are preparing to excavate the site of Shakespeare's final home to find out more about the history of the building.


The New Place, in Stratford-upon-Avon, was built in 1483 and is thought to be where the playwright died in 1616.


The building itself was demolished in 1759, but it is thought remains of the old house are still underground.


Archaeologists will start initial tests on the site on Tuesday and a full dig could be carried out next year.


The experts from Birmingham Archaeology will be searching for the foundations of the New Place and will be looking through the original wells and possibly rubbish pits.


When the New Place was originally built in the 15th Century, it was made of innovative materials such as brick.


It was made to be one of the most distinguished buildings around and was thought to be the second-largest house in the town.


It was demolished by the then owner the Reverend Gastrell, and the site was excavated in the 1860s.


At the site of the New Place today is a landscaped garden which is looked after by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.


Visitors can still see the later cellar walls of the 17th Century mansion but little remains above ground of the house Shakespeare would have lived in.


Dr Diana Owen, director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: "Our purpose would be to create a modern record of New Place, providing us with a better understanding of the site, and potentially revealing new information about the house in which Shakespeare died and the way in which the family lived there."



Stone wall may have defended Canada's oldest British settlement

By Randy Boswell, Canwest News ServiceNovember 22, 2009


Archeologists in Cupids, Nfld., have unearthed the remains of a stone wall that may have housed cannons to defend Canada's first English settlement, established on the shore of Conception Bay in 1610. Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visited the site earlier this month during their royal tour of Canada.


Archeologists at the historic Newfoundland colony visited earlier this month by Prince Charles have made a tantalizing new find: the remnants of a stone wall apparently built to defend Canada's earliest English settlement.


Buried under soil and rubble dumped by 19th-century residents of Cupids — the Conception Bay village set to celebrate its 400th anniversary next year — the wall was hidden until this summer within a thicket of aspen trees north of the enclosed townsite where experts have already unearthed building foundations and artifacts from the original 17th-century colony.


The newly discovered remains suggest the wall might have housed seaward-facing cannons to ward off attackers in the early 1600s, an era when rival fishermen from France, Spain and Portugal — as well as the notorious English pirate Peter Easton — sometimes menaced the fledgling coastal community.


"We found this feature in September and had it uncovered during the royal visit," Bill Gilbert, the site's chief archeologist, told Canwest News Service. "I did mention it briefly to the prince but the tour was so short — only 20 minutes — that we didn't get to go into anything in too much detail."


If the 46-centimetre-thick wall proves to be what it looks like at first glance — a bulwark protecting Britain's first foothold in the future Canada — the discovery will add another layer of significance to a site already rich with symbolism.


Like the traces of earliest French settlements at St. Croix Island off New Brunswick's southern coast (1604) and at Quebec City (1608), the archeological finds at Cupids represent the beginnings of a permanent European presence in the northern half of the New World.


"If this feature does turn out to be a defence work or redoubt, then it is quite significant — but then again, all the discoveries at the site are significant given that this is the first English settlement in Canada," Gilbert said. "We have, among other things, the first English dwelling house and storehouse in Canada and the first English cemetery."


The property where the barrier was unearthed was only purchased by the provincial government last year. The clearing of trees and bushes this summer initially revealed a linear mound and then — after some digging by Gilbert's team in September and November — the buried base of the stone wall from four centuries ago.


"At this point, it is too early to say what the structure was used for," said Gilbert. "However, its location outside the enclosure and overlooking the harbour with a clear view to the west, north and east suggests that it may have played a role in the defence of the settlement."


Gilbert points out that the founder of the Cupids colony, English merchant John Guy, noted in a May 1611 letter that the settlers had erected three cannons "to command the harboroughs" in case of hostile encounters.


"It seems unlikely that anything other than some sort of defence works would have been placed in such a strategic and exposed position," said Gilbert.


Prince Charles, who studied archeology at university and appeared enthralled while touring the Cupids' site in early November, hailed the courage of Guy and his colonists for blazing a trail for future New World settlers.


"The story of Cupids is the story of Canada," said the future king, whose distant ancestors granted the royal charters securing Britain's claims to Newfoundland and other North American colonies.


"It is emblematic of the resilience and determination of those who came later to these shores in different times and in different circumstances," he noted. "The unifying factor, it seems to me, is that they all came with a purpose, a dream to create something new."

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service