First Americans Brought Anthrax?
for National Geographic News
March 23, 2009
Humans were dying of anthrax in North America much earlier than thought—perhaps after scavenging the remains of infected animals while migrating from Asia during the Ice Age—a new study says.
"We've always thought that anthrax was an Old World disease that was brought to the New World by Europeans" around 1500, said study coauthor Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University.
But the new report suggests that ancient humans entering the continent thousands of years earlier imported the disease after crossing the Bering land bridge, which once connected present-day Alaska and eastern Siberia.
Scientists think anthrax originated in Africa or the Middle East thousands of years ago. One popular theory to explain its presence in North America is that it was brought over by Christopher Columbus and others beginning in the late 15th century.
According to this scenario, anthrax first appeared in the southern United States or Mexico and spread northward to Canada and the Arctic Circle.
But new genetic tests of hundreds of samples of one of North America's most common forms of anthrax suggest the disease actually spread from north to south. Anthrax in the Arctic Circle, for example, is more closely related to strains in Europe and Asia than to anthrax in the southern United States.
The tests also suggest anthrax first appeared in North America about 13,000 years ago, about when scientists think humans crossed the Bering land bridge.
Humans traversing the land bridge could have scavenged carcasses of bison and other mammals killed by anthrax.
"The movement of animal products such as bones and meat and hide and hair is very effective at spreading anthrax," Keim said.
While some parts of the new theory are speculative, it "makes a lot of sense" overall, said Gary Andersen, a microbial ecologist at California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who was not involved in the study.
"I think a lot of scientists will be convinced on the strength of the DNA evidence."
Findings detailed online in the journal PLoS One.
Germany’s Stone Age Cannibalism
Tens of thousands of ancient human bones found in Germany suggest that victims were not killed just to satisfy hunger, writes Pierre Le Hir in Le Monde
Wednesday March 25th 2009
The German city of Speyer, in Rheinland-Palatinate, well known for its Romanesque cathedral, also boasts some much more macabre relics. A collection of skulls, shin bones and vertebrae might not seem unusual in an archaeology museum, but these particular remains are special. They all show signs of having been cut, scraped or broken, indicating that their owners were cannibalised.
"Look at these grooves, running from the base of the nose to the back of the neck, or here on the temples," says Andrea Zeeb-Lanz, the regional head of archaeology, holding up a skull. "The grooves show, beyond all possible doubt, that the flesh was torn off." It takes good eyesight to catch the fine parallel incisions made by the cutting edge of the flint stone. She then shows me a piece of thigh-bone the end of which has been crushed. Judging by the state of the bone tissue, it was smashed shortly after the victim was killed.
All these human remains were found at the stone-age site at Herxheim, near Speyer. About 7,000 years ago farmers, who grew wheat and barley, raised pigs, sheep and cattle, settled here, building a village of four to 12 houses, the post holes of which have survived. At the time the first farmer-stockherders were moving into Europe, supplanting their hunter-gatherer predecessors. The Herxheim settlers came from the north (between 5,400 and 4,950BC) and belonged to the Linear Pottery culture.
Two lines of ditches were dug around the settlement. They can't have been defensive because they weren't continuous. Nor were they intended for use as an ossuary, as the Linear Pottery people generally buried or burned their dead. However, during a rescue dig just before the area was developed as an industrial estate, in some of the ditches archaeologists uncovered tens of thousands of human bones.
During the first series of excavations, at the end of the 1990s, the numerous injuries visible on the skeletons were taken as evidence that the victims had been massacred. But in 2008 Bruno Boulestin, an anthropologist at Bordeaux University, examined the fragments recovered from one of the trenches, pointing out that nearly 2,000 samples belonged to fewer than 10 individuals.
"It is impossible to establish direct proof of cannibalism. But here we have systematic, repetitive gestures, which suggest that the bodies were eaten," says Boulestin. The marks of breaking, cutting, scraping and crushing indicate that the bodies were dismembered, the tendons and ligaments severed, the flesh torn off, the bones smashed. The vertebra were cut up to remove the ribs, just as butchers do today with loin chops. The tops of skulls were opened to extract the brains. Another telling clue is that there are proportionately fewer bones containing marrow, particularly vertebrae and short bones, suggesting they were set aside.
A quick investigation of the bones in neighbouring ditches showed that they had suffered the same fate. Extrapolating to the whole site, only half of which was excavated, about 1,000 people must have been butchered. There is no other example in prehistory of a mass grave of this size. "We are dealing with an exceptional event," says Zeeb-Lanz. Other cases of neolithic cannibalism have certainly been identified, in particular in France, at the caves at Fontbrégoua and Adaouste, near the south coast, or at Les Perrats, further west, but never on this scale.
What can this bloodbath mean? The potsherds found among the human remains suggest it must have occurred over a period of no longer than 50 years. There is nothing to imply the victims were killed for food. Only under extreme conditions would 100 or so farmers have been able to overcome about 10 times their number. The archaeologists have therefore concluded that this was some form of ritual killing. In some cases the tops of skulls were arranged to form a nest, scattered with pottery fragments, broken adzes, jewellery made of shells, the paws and jawbones of dogs.
There are two main types of ritual cannibalism, as the historian Jean Guilaine and palaeopathologist Jean Zammit explain in The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory. Exocannibalism targets people outside the community: by eating a conquered enemy the aim was not so much to feed on their body as to make them disappear for ever, appropriating their strength, energy and valour.
Endocannibalism, within a community, was a token of affection, the recognition of a bond that needed to be maintained. The scientists have also excluded this possibility, given the small size of the village. But wartime exocannibalism also seems unlikely, as it would have involved raids on remote communities to bring back hordes of prisoners and their pottery.
The team that discovered the site have come up with another hypothesis. Members of the Linear Pottery culture deliberately gathered here, with their prisoners and pottery, to take part in sacrificial ceremonies.
"At this time, the Linear Pottery culture was undergoing a crisis, which led to its disappearance," says Zeeb-Lanz. "Perhaps they hoped to prevent the end of their world through some ceremony, of which cannibalism was just a part."
Archaeologist Discovers Cyprus' Oldest Religious Site
Friday, March 27, 2009
An Italian archaeologist claimed Friday to have discovered Cyprus' oldest religious site, which she said echoes descriptions in the Bible of temples in ancient Palestine.
Maria Rosaria Belgiorno said the 4,000-year-old triangular temple predates any other found on the east Mediterranean island by a millennium.
"For sure it's the most ancient religious site on the island," she told The Associated Press from her home in Rome. "This confirms that religious worship in Cyprus began much earlier than previously believed."
But authorities on the island say they cannot confirm her claim before further study.
"That the site is dated to around 2,000 B.C. is certain, but the interpretation that it's a temple or a sacred site has yet to be confirmed," Cyprus Antiquities Department official Maria Hadjicosti told state radio.
The 200-sq.-meter (2,150-sq.-foot) building was discovered last year outside Pyrgos, a village near the south coast, where previous digs unearthed a settlement dating to 2,000 B.C. that included a perfumery, winery and a metal workshop.
Belgiorno, who heads an Italian archaeological mission in Cyprus, initially disclosed the find to English-language The Cyprus Weekly.
She said evidence points to a monotheistic temple with a sacrificial altar that resembles Canaanite places of worship described in the Bible.
"The temple has a very peculiar shape for a building, which is very rare."
Belgiorno said a key piece of evidence linking the site to Biblical accounts of temples in ancient Palestine is a pair of 6-meter (20-foot) stone "channels" extending from either side of the altar that allowed sacrificial animals' blood to flow out of the structure.
Other evidence includes a stone water basin, which she said might have been used in the ritual cleansing of the channels.
Belgiorno said the temple was situated across from the industrial area in the heart of the settlement, which she estimates covered 35 hectares (86 acres). Most of the settlement now lies under village homes and holiday villas.
The industrial area was built around a large mill producing olive oil that was used as fuel to fire up the metal workshop and as a perfume base.
Although it is difficult to say with certainty, she said the settlement was home to around 500 people. Their origins are unclear, but they had trade links with ancient Egypt and Palestine, she said.
A major earthquake destroyed the settlement in 1,850 B.C.
The earliest settlements excavated so far on the island date back to around 9000 B.C. Cyprus then saw successive waves of colonization, including Phoenicians, Mycenaean Greeks, Romans and — in the Middle Ages — Franks and Venetians. It was conquered by Ottoman Turks in 1571, and became part of the British Empire in 1878 before winning independence in 1960.
Violence between Cyprus' majority Greek community and the Turkish community broke out shortly after, and the island has been divided along ethnic lines since a Turkish invasion in 1974 — prompted by a failed coup aimed at union with Greece.
Ironware piece unearthed from Turkey found to be oldest steel
A piece of ironware excavated from a Turkish archaeological site is about 4,000 years old, making it the world's oldest steel, Japanese archaeologists said on Thursday.
Archaeologists from the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan excavated the 5-centimetre piece at the Kaman-Kalehoyuk archaeological site in Turkey, about 100 kilometers southeast of Ankara, in 2000. The ironware piece is believed to be a part of a knife from a stratum about 4,000 years old, or 2100-1950 B.C., according to them.
An analysis at the Iwate Prefectural Museum in Morioka showed that the ironware piece was about 200 years older than one that was excavated from the same site in 1994 and was believed to be the oldest steel so far made in 20th-18th centuries B.C.
The ironware is highly likely to have been produced near the Kaman-Kalehoyuk site as a 2-cm-diameter slag and two iron-containing stones have also been excavated, Kyodo news agency quoted the archaeologists as saying.
Hideo Akanuma, an archaeologist at the Iwate Prefectural Museum, said the fresh finding led to a change in the history of iron and steel production, noting that such production was earlier thought to have begun in the Hittite kingdom dating in the 14th to 12th centuries B.C.
5,000-year-old home of capital's first farmers discovered
Published Date: 23 March 2009
By BRIAN FERGUSON
THE remains of a hilltop home believed to be about 5,000 years old have been discovered on the outskirts of Edinburgh, The Scotsman can reveal.
The Neolithic roundhouse, found on a site where a quarry is due to be expanded, is one of the oldest prehistoric buildings to be discovered in the capital.
Archaeologists have hailed it as one of the most important finds ever made in Edinburgh because of its age – about the same as Skara Brae in Orkney – and unique location.
It is also expected to help fill in a largely unknown chapter in Scottish history, when farming had only recently spread to Britain from Europe.
The site, at Ravelrig Hill, near Dalmahoy, enjoys spectacular views across the Lothians and Fife, including landmarks such as Arthur's Seat.
Experts believe the roundhouse was probably built by one of the first families of farmers to start producing their own food in the area.
Experts from Glasgow University's Archaeological Research Division (Guard) have spent several months working in the area, which is already home to the remains of two prehistoric hill forts. The house, remains of which were found in a huge circular ditch, was surrounded by a larger egg-shaped enclosure.
Although no materials such as pottery have been discovered, archaeologists have been able to date flint recovered from the site, and the remains of an internal fireplace were found.
The site is thought to be roughly the same age as the cairn at Cairnpapple Hill, which is widely regarded as Scotland's most prehistoric burial site and can be seen from Ravelrig Hill.
Donna Maguire, project director for Guard, said there may once have been a number of settlements on the hill, lost when quarrying began in the area more than 150 years ago.
The discovery was only made because Edinburgh City Council insisted that an archaeological dig was carried out before construction giant Tarmac was allowed to expand its quarrying operation in the area.
Ms Maguire told The Scotsman: "We had no idea we would find anything like this, so it was hugely exciting. There's been very little like this discovered anywhere in the Central Belt. It dates from around the time of early farming but very little is known of that era in Scotland and that's why it's so significant.
"It was clearly built at the top of the hill because of its location overlooking the landscape. In a way, it was intended to make people see it and regard it as an important landmark."
John Lawson, the city council's archaeologist, said: "Although remains of buildings discovered at Cramond within the last ten years have been dated to 8,500 years ago, this is one of the most significant prehistoric sites to have been found in the wider Edinburgh area for many years."
All materials recovered are being taken away for analysis. The discovery is not expected to delay work to expand the quarry. Tarmac has been quarrying there since 1987.
Airport dig unearths 1500 BC settlement
By Nigel Baudains
EVIDENCE of a prehistoric settlement has been discovered in fields that could be used for an airport runway extension.
Archaeologists working for the Public Services Department have uncovered signs of life in St Peter’s some 3,500 years ago on land at the west end of the current landing strip.
‘We don’t tend to find archaeology of where people lived - we only seem to get the places where the dead were buried with dolmens and suchlike,’ said States archaeology officer Phil de Jersey.
‘There was certainly late Bronze Age occupation here from 1500 BC to 1000 BC with pottery and flints present from the remains of the structures, postholes, and at least one ditch where there had been a lot of burning, for some reason.’
There was also a scattering of medieval pottery. However, there was no real evidence of structures, which might show the area had been farmed.
The States bought the fields, which are bordered by La Route de Plaisance and La Rue de la Mare, last year for £135,000.
An option under consideration for upgrading the airport runway is to extend it into them.
Bronze Age sauna discovered on site earmarked for park and ride scheme
A Bronze Age sauna and one of the oldest prehistoric roundhouses in the UK have been unearthed on a site earmarked for a park and ride scheme in Somerset.
By Telegraph Reporter
Last Updated: 4:12PM GMT 24 Mar 2009
Archaeologists have uncovered 3,000 years of history at the site near the junction of the A358 and the M5 at Cambria Farm, in Taunton, Somerset.
The Iron Age roundhouse with a diameter of 56ft (17m) is one of the largest prehistoric roundhouses ever found in Britain.
It is thought to date from around 700BC and has been uncovered alongside three other roundhouses.
A mound of burned stones indicating a 2,500-year-old sauna has also been discovered as well as the remains of a Roman farm.
A number of skeletons, all but one Roman, have also been unearthed after archaeologists spent more than three months on site.
Other finds have included a pair of Roman shears, three Iron Age spearheads, loom weights and Roman brooches, as well as large amounts of pottery.
Steven Membury, historic environment officer at Somerset County Council, said: "We think the site began about 2,500 BC with ritual use around a spring where the burned stones were found.
"The idea that the stone indicate 'sweat houses' is just one theory.
"We can tell that the huge roundhouse burned down but we think we have one surviving post which we will be able to carbon date.
"Another of the roundhouses dates from around 400-100BC, and we have found Glastonbury ware pottery inside.
"It's the first opportunity we have ever had to look at an Iron Age settlement like this."
Construction work will begin on the park-and-ride scheme next month.
Roman wall escapes archaeologists' trowels
Thursday, March 26, 2009, 08:08
MEDIEVAL recyclers may have helped themselves to parts of Gloucester's Roman wall to build their own homes. That's one of the more unusual theories to come out of an archaeological investigation in the centre of Gloucester.
Gloucestershire County Council's archaeology team was given the chance to explore an area where the Kimbrose Triangle meets Southgate Street before work begins in the summer to connect the Docks to the city centre in a more defined way.
And although they made a number of significant discoveries, they were frustrated in their search for the line of the old Roman wall. The section between Parliament Street and Ladybellegate Street is the only piece of the city's Roman wall that has not been physically accounted for.
It was hoped that the recent dig may uncover it.
Gloucestershire County Council project officer Paul Nichols said: "We found Roman deposits about one metre below the pavement level. The earliest deposits were soil layers containing shards of Roman pottery and fragments of wall plaster.
"Above that was a mortar floor surface, which we believe was the internal floor of a Roman building.
"We didn't find any evidence for the Roman wall, suggesting that we were just inside the line, but it's also possible that parts of it may have been recycled and used to build later buildings. It was certainly a worthwhile exercise and we will be providing a full report that will be of benefit to city planners."
Kimbrose Triangle and Southgate Street are to be pedestrianised to form a link between the city centre and the docks' designer outlet centre.
The nearest remains of the wall are inside Gloucestershire Furniture Exhibition Centre on the corner of Southgate Street and Parliament Street, and Blackfriars. Henry Hurst uncovered the wall at Bearland in 1969. It runs under Berkeley Street, to the nearest corner of the Cathedral, to St Aldate Street, through King's Walk, Brunswick Road, and Parliament Street.
"They could have been just inside the city wall, if the wall is there," said Gloucester Civic Trust's Nigel Spry. "It may be that it's been taken away during later periods to use in other buildings.
The site in Kimbrose Way is rich in later history too. It gets its name from St Kyneburgh, who was apparently killed and thrown down a well near the city's south gate.
Wanting to remain a virgin, she fled an arranged marriage and was adopted by a Gloucester baker.
But the baker's wife killed her out of jealousy. St Kyneburgh's chapel was built there and later converted in the 16th Century into almshouses by Sir Thomas Bell, who ran a cap factory at the nearby Blackfriars Priory after its dissolution.
British Museum finds relics of 39 saints after 100 years
Discovery made by curator when 12th-century German portable altar was opened for the first time
The Guardian, Tuesday 24 March 2009
The new medieval gallery at the British Museum is full of beautiful images of saints in ivory, stone, gold and wood - but invisible to visitors, it also holds the bones of 39 real saints, whose discovery came as a shock to their curator.
The relics, packed in tiny bundles of cloth including one scrap of fabric over 1,000 years old, were found when a 12th-century German portable altar was opened for the first time since it came into the British Museum collection in 1902.
It was in for a condition check and cleaning, before going on display in the gallery that opens tomorrow - but to the amazement of James Robinson, curator of medieval antiquities, when it was opened a linen cloth was revealed, and inside it dozens of tiny bundles of cloth, each neatly labelled on little pieces of vellum.
The most precious was the relic of St Benedict, an Italian who in the early 6th century was credited as the father of the western monastic tradition, founding monasteries and establishing guiding principles still followed at many monasteries. The relic was wrapped in cloth that was itself an extraordinary object, a piece of silk from 8th or 9th century Byzantium.
Each Roman Catholic altar-stone is supposed to contain at least one relic of a saint, usually in the form of minute flakes of bone. There was a clue on the back of the museum's altar in a list of names beginning slightly implausibly with John the Baptist, and including saints James, John and Mary Magdalene.
There are many reliquaries in the gallery, in the form of crosses, pendants and rings, including one owned by a saint, the Georgian queen Kethevan who was executed by Shah Abbas in 1624 for refusing to convert to Islam. Almost all have long since lost their contents in the centuries of religious and political upheaval which scattered them from palaces and monasteries and eventually brought them to the British Museum. A relic of bone fragments was discovered almost 30 years ago in a spectacular lifesize head of St Eustace, but the relic was sent back to Basle cathedral in Switzerland which was forced to sell the golden reliquary in 1830.
The newly discovered saints will remain in Bloomsbury. Robinson said they were cared for and rearranged into the 19th century, the date of the most recent piece of fabric, but at some point one was lost as there are 40 engraved names but only 39 saintly bundles.
Secrets of mass grave revealed
By Freya McClements
In 1832, 57 emigrants from Donegal, Derry and the surrounding counties set sail for a new life in America.
They found work on the railroads, but within weeks they were all dead, struck down by cholera - or possibly even murdered by locals who believed the immigrants had brought the disease with them.
The men were buried where they had died, in a mass unmarked grave along 'Duffy's Cut', the section of the Philadelphia and Columbia railroad they helped to build.
For the last five years, Dr Frank Watson and a team from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania have been searching for the men's remains - and on Friday, they made the breakthrough they were waiting for.
"We discovered the first two skulls.
"I myself was able to pull out of the first grave the skull of a man who we believe was called John Ruddy, an 18-year-old who came over as a labourer from Donegal to work on the railroad.
"We also found the skull of an adult man and some leg and toe bones, and a good bit of one of their skeletons."
For Dr Watson and the rest of his team, it was an emotional moment.
"It was almost like a dream.
"There was excitement mixed with sadness that these poor men ended up in such an ignominious site, dumped alongside a hillside at Duffy's Cut.
"But it was also joyous, because we'll now be able to commemorate these men and remember them.
"What we would hope to do is to return some of the bones of these Irishmen back to their native land," said Dr Watson.
Brian Hegarty's great-great-uncle Bernard left Derry in 1832 to work on the railroad.
They may never know for certain, but the Hegarty family believes he may have been one of the men who died at Duffy's Cut.
Bones found so far at the Duffy's Cut site
Two skulls as well as leg, toe and other bones have been found at the site
"Our family got a letter from him just after he arrived in America to say that he'd found work on the railroad, and that was it.
"They never ever heard from him again.
"Whether he did die there or not, it's a fantastic breakthrough, absolutely remarkable.
"With the advances in DNA testing they might be able to identify them and to even trace relatives, and we might find that there are still relatives alive here in Ireland.
"It would be incredible if some of the bodies could now be brought home and reinterred on consecrated ground," said Mr Hegarty.