Neanderthals didn't like sprouts either

Thursday, 13 August 2009



Spanish researchers say they're a step closer to resolving a mystery of evolution - why some people like Brussels sprouts but others hate them.


They have found that a gene in modern humans that makes some people dislike a bitter chemical called phenylthiocarbamide, or PTC, was also present in Neanderthals hundreds of thousands of years ago.


The scientists made the discovery after recovering and sequencing a fragment of the TAS2R38 gene taken from 48,000-year-old Neanderthal bones found at a site in El Sidron, in northern Spain,


The findings appear in a report released by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.


"This indicates that variation in bitter taste perception predates the divergence of the lineages leading to Neanderthals and modern humans," they say.


Substances similar to PTC give a bitter taste to green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage as well as some fruits.


But they are also present in some poisonous plants. So having a distaste for it makes evolutionary sense.


"The sense of bitter taste protects us from ingesting toxic substances," the researchers say.


What intrigued the researchers most is that Neanderthals also possessed a recessive variant of the TAS2R38 gene, which made some of them unable to taste PTC - an inability they share with around one third of modern humans.


"This feature ... is a mystery of evolution," they say.


"These (bitter) compounds can be toxic if ingested in large quantities and it is therefore difficult to understand the evolutionary existence of individuals who cannot detect them."


The report's lead author, Professor Carles Lalueza Fox of the University of Barcelona, speculates that such people may be "able to detect some other compound not yet identified."


This would have given them some genetic advantage and explain the reason for the continuation of the variant gene.


Neanderthals and modern humans shared a common ancestor from which they diverged about 300,000 years ago.


Excavations since 2000 at the site at El Sidron, in the Asturias region, have so far recovered the skeletal remains of at least 10 Neanderthal individuals.


The squat, low-browed Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East for around 170,000 years, but traces of them disappear some 28,000 years ago. Their last known refuge being Gibraltar.


Why they died out is a matter of debate because they existed alongside modern man.



Early modern humans use fire to engineer tools from stone

Discovery places complex cognition at 72,000 years ago, and perhaps far earlier

Public release date: 13-Aug-2009

Contact: Carol Hughes

Arizona State University


Evidence that early modern humans living on the coast of the far southern tip of Africa 72,000 years ago employed pyrotechnology – the controlled use of fire – to increase the quality and efficiency of their stone tool manufacturing process, is being reported in the Aug. 14 issue of the journal Science. An international team of researchers, including three from the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, deduce that "this technology required a novel association between fire, its heat, and a structural change in stone with consequent flaking benefits." Further, their findings ignite the notion of complex cognition in these early engineers.


"Our illumination of the heat treatment process shows that these early modern humans commanded fire in a nuanced and sophisticated manner," says lead author Kyle Brown, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cape Town, and field and lab director in Mossel Bay, South Africa, for ASU's Institute of Human Origins.


"We show that early modern humans at 72,000 years ago, and perhaps as early as 164,000 years ago in coastal South Africa, were using carefully controlled hearths in a complex process to heat stone and change its properties, the process known as heat treatment," explains Brown.


"Heat treatment technology begins with a genius moment – someone discovers that heating stone makes it easier to flake," says Curtis Marean, project director and a co-author on the paper. Marean is a paleoanthropologist with the Institute of Human Origins and a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


"This knowledge is then passed on, and in a way unique to humans, the technology is slowly ratcheted up in complexity as the control of the heating process, cooling and flaking grows in sophistication," Marean says.


This creates a long-chain technological process that the researchers explain requires a complex cognition, and probably language, to learn and teach.


The heating transformed a stone called silcrete, which was rather poor for tool making, into an outstanding raw material that allowed the modern humans to make highly advanced tools.


The focus of Brown's research involves experimentally replicating the types of tools and production debris found at African archaeological sites to understand how and why people made and used these tools.


"In numerous field surveys with co-author David Roberts, who is a leading expert on silcrete formation, we were unable to locate stone outcrops with material that matched the fine-grained texture and often reddish color of the silcrete artifacts we excavated at Pinnacle Point," Brown says. "The silcrete we had collected was just not suitable for tool production."


Most of the silcrete they found was intensively flaked. It was unusual to find a piece larger than a few centimeters. However, one day in 2007, while Brown and Marean were at the Pinnacle Point Site 5-6 (PP5-6) they found a huge flake of silcrete embedded in ash – the largest piece of silcrete they had ever seen on an archaeological site, nearly 10 centimeters in diameter.


"It looked like it had been accidentally lost in a fire pit," Brown notes. He recalls how many of the silcrete tools from the site had a sheen or gloss that reminded him of tools he had examined in North American collections that were heat-treated.


"That is when we developed the heat treatment idea," Marean says. "The co-association of the ash cemented to the silcrete, the red color of the silcrete, and its inexplicably large size was the genesis conditions of our eureka moment."


To test their theory, Brown placed some of the silcrete stone beneath their fire pit one evening, building a hot fire over the top.


"When I returned to dig the stone out the following day, the results were amazing. After heating, the silcrete became a deep red color and was easily flaked. Most importantly, it looked exactly like silcrete from site PP5-6. Using heated silcrete we were then able to produce realistic copies of the actual silcrete tools," Brown says.


"Here are the beginnings of fire and engineering, the origins of pyrotechnology, and the bridge to more recent ceramic and metal technology," Brown says.


According to Marean, the silcrete bifaces are re-usable tools with many potential functions: effective hunting weapons, excellent knives and items of value for exchange.


"This explains why people would invest so much effort at wood collection and heat treatment for their production," Marean says.


And, the hearths used to test their theory "were designed to mimic what people in the past may have done. So, not only did we heat silcrete, but we barbecued (a 'braai' in South Africa) steaks and chops at the same time as measuring the temperature profiles with our thermocouple," Marean says.


"Our discovery shows that these early modern humans had this complex cognition," Brown says.


"This expression of cognitive complexity in technology by these early modern humans on the south coast of South Africa provides further evidence that this locality may have been the origin location for the lineage that leads to all modern humans, which appeared between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago in Africa," explains Marean.


"There is no consensus as to when modern human behavior appears, but by 70,000 years ago there is good evidence for symbolic behavior," he says. "Many researchers are looking for technological proxies for complex cognition, and heat treatment is likely one such proxy.


"Prior to our work, heat treatment was widely regarded as first occurring in Europe at about 25,000 years ago," Marean says. "We push this back at least 45,000 years, and, perhaps, 139,000 years, and place it on the southern tip of Africa at Pinnacle Point."


The African location was at the center of another discovery by Marean – the documentation of the earliest evidence for exploitation of marine foods and modification of pigments – reported in the Oct. 17, 2007, journal Nature.


"Combined, these results sharply advance our knowledge of modern human origins, and show that something special in human cognition was happening on the coastline of South Africa during this crucial final phase in human origins," Marean says.


He adds that some time around 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, "these modern humans left the warm confines of Africa and penetrated into the colder glacial environment of Europe and Asia, where they encountered Neanderthals.


"By 35,000 years ago these Neanderthal populations were mostly extinct, and modern humans dominated the land from Spain to China to Australia," Marean says.


"The command of fire, documented by our study of heat treatment, provides us with a potential explanation for the rapid migration of these Africans across glacial Eurasia – they were masters of fire and heat and stone, a crucial advantage as these tropical people penetrated the cold lands of the Neanderthal," says Marean.


NSF, others fund SACP4


Other members of the research team and co-authors of "Fire As an Engineering tool of Early Modern Humans," include David Baun, University of Cape Town; Andy I.R. Herries, University of New South Wales and University of Liverpool; Zenobia Jacobs and Michael C. Meyer, University of Wollongong, Australia; Changal Tribolo, CNRS-University of Bordeaux, France; David L. Roberts, Council for Geoscience, Republic of South Africa; and Jocelyn Bernatchez, Institute of Human Origins, ASU.


They work together on the South African Coast Paleoclimate, Paleoenvironment, Paleoecology, Paleoanthropology Project, known as SACP4, which is directed by Marean, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Hyde Family Foundation, and supported by Arizona State University research and academic units including the Institute of Human Origins, Institute for Social Science Research, and School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


"Our team, working at Pinnacle Point near Mossel Bay, is a leader in revealing the process of how we became who we are today, and we are doing this with state-of-the-art fieldwork and laboratory analysis at this locality," Marean says.


He notes the specifics of the discovery involved combining thermoluminescence, magnetic analysis, optically stimulated luminescence dating, experimental stone tool production, mechanical testing, and field archaeology.


Arizona State University (www.asu.edu)

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (http://clas.asu.edu)

Institute of Human Origins (http://iho.asu.edu)

School of Human Evolution and Social Change (http://shesc.asu.edu)



Ancient Weapons Point to First Use of Fire for Tools?

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

August 13, 2009


With the tell-tale sheen of heat-treated rock, a 72,000-year-old cache of stone weapons found in Africa suggests humans began using fire to create tools nearly 50,000 years earlier than previously thought, a new study says.


Scientists had thought people began manipulating fire to create tools in Europe about 25,000 years ago.


But the new finds suggest that people in what is now South Africa discovered that heating a stone called silcrete would make it easier to flake, allowing them to shape more advanced blades, knives, and other tools.


These early engineers likely used some of these tools, mounted on handles, to hunt and butcher wide range of prey, from the aggressive Cape buffalo (Cape buffalo picture) to the tiny mole rat, according to the authors of the study, to be published tomorrow in the journal Science.


This sophisticated control over fire reflects advanced smarts, and marks the turning point when we became "uniquely human," said study leader Kyle Brown, an archaeologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.


"These people were extremely intelligent," Brown said. "These are not the image of the classic cavemen, of brutish people that are stumbling around the landscape and, in spite of themselves, surviving.


"These are the people that [may have] even colonized the rest of the world," he said.


As part of the study, the researchers replicated the processes the early Africans likely would have used to make the stone tools. Heated over a fire pit, the silcrete flaked and took on a glossy red color.


Such craftsmanship required thinking ahead, a sign of high intelligence, Brown said. People had to collect firewood, build the fire, work the stone, and then afix the handle to the stone using natural adhesives.


"Because [this is] such a sophisticated technology, this is something that would involve language to pass it on to the next generation," he added.


But paleoanthropologist John Shea isn't convinced by the idea that "heat treating" stone was a sign of the transition to modern human behavior.


"People rush immediately to look for evidence of a transforming event in the course of Homo sapiens evolution to distinguish modern humans from so-called early ones," said Shea, of Stony Brook University.


"My position is that you shouldn't assume this transformative event—you have to prove it," Shea said.


To begin with, scientists would need to verify that the various human species preceding H. sapiens in South Africa did not also heat-treat stones.


Even so, Shea praised the study, saying it will inspire people to seek out other heat-treated stone tools undetected in the African record.


The tools were apparently created during a burst of cultural growth, when the human population was slowly recovering from a severe glacial period.


At the South African sites, humans were designing jewelry, such as shell beads, and grinding up ochre to paint themselves and decorate their caves, study leader Brown said.


Heat-treating stone could have been "one of the technologies in their toolkits that allowed [them] to adapt to different areas as they expanded out of Africa," Brown said.


But heat treatment probably didn't improve the tools, and may have even made them more likely to shatter, Stony Brook's Shea said.


Instead the flashy artifacts might have been ways that "some humans showed off that they had time on their hands," Shea said.


"Going into woods with a bunch of arrows that would shatter on impact is another way of saying, I'm a really good hunter; I don't need backup."



Pre-Stonehenge House Reveals Domestic Life

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Aug. 11, 2009


The remains of a 9,000-year-old hunter-gatherers' house, uncovered during construction at an airport, have been unearthed in Great Britain's Isle of Man. The house was surrounded by buried mounds of burnt hazelnut shells and stocked with stone tools, according to archaeologists working on the project and a report in the latest British Archaeology.


It is the earliest known complete house on the Isle of Man and one of Britain's oldest and best-preserved houses, according to the report. The find also offers a glimpse of domestic life 4,000 years before Stonehenge.


Based on the many ancient shells found surrounding its exterior, the home's first inhabitants must have eaten a lot of hazelnuts.


"There were presumably so many hazelnuts near the house as a result of processing and consumption of these within the building," project manager Fraser Brown of Oxford Archaeology North told Discovery News.


"They may have been burnt because the shells were discarded into a fire after consumption of the fruit," he added. "When the hearth sweepings were cleaned from the building, the burnt nutshells and all else were cleaned to the periphery. Hazelnuts would have been an abundant and highly nutritious source of food that could easily be gathered in the autumn and stored for consumption through lean winter months."


A pit containing the structure's remains is about 23 feet wide and 12 inches deep. A ring of postholes around the edge, along with carbonized timbers, suggests the building's supports were about 6 inches thick.


In addition to the hazelnut shell mounds, the archaeologists also found a few hammer and anvil stones as well as approximately 14,000 flint artifacts that the researchers say once made up stone tools, such as fishing spears.


"(The hunter-gatherer residents) probably had a permanent base near the sea so that they could have easy access to marine resources, but given the small size of the Isle of Man, it would have been a simple matter to foray inland to exploit the different resources available there," Brown said.


Once the residents arrived at the island by boat, they probably would have not strayed far from home since "they could obtain all that they needed locally," which could be the reason they set up a permanent home.


Remains of another hunter-gatherer home, found over two decades ago just 492 feet from this latest discovery, also contained a hearth, small stone tools and numerous hazelnut shells.


Mike Pitts, an archaeologist who is also the editor of British Archaeology, still wonders why burnt hazelnut shells would have been buried so prominently around the houses.


"Perhaps the smell of the burnt shells had some significance?" Pitts speculates. "Was it comforting, redolent of good meals, or could it have had a more complex, ritual meaning?"


Andrew Johnson, curator of Field Archaeology at Manx National Heritage in the Isle of Man, helped to monitor the recent excavation work.


Johnson told Discovery News, "I would regard the finds as being of national importance for the Isle of Man, and certainly of international significance in that they add to what at present is only a very small number of Mesolithic buildings found in Northwest Europe."



'Neolithic cathedral built to amaze’ unearthed in Orkney dig

From The Times

August 14, 2009


A huge Neolithic cathedral, unlike anything else which can be seen in Britain, has been found in Orkney.


Archaeologists said that the building would have dwarfed the island’s landmarks from the Stone Age — the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. Nick Card, who is leading the dig at the Ness of Brodgar, said that the cathedral, which would have served the whole of the north of Scotland, would have been constructed to “amaze” and “create a sense of awe” among those who saw it.


It is about 65ft in length and width and would have dominated the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness which stand on either side. These important sites, dating back about 5,000 years, might have actually been peripheral features of Orkney’s Stone Age landscape. Mr Card said: “In effect it is a Neolithic cathedral for the whole of the north of Scotland.”


The shape and size of the building are clearly visible today, with the walls still standing to a height of more then 3ft — although they would have been far taller when built. They are 16ft thick and surround a cross-shaped inner sanctum in which the 40-strong excavation team has found examples of art and furniture made from stone.


The cathedral was surrounded by a paved outer passage which the archaeologists believe could have formed a labyrinth that would have led worshippers through darkness to the chamber at the heart of the building.


The team has also discovered that a standing stone which is split by a hole shaped like an hourglass was incorporated into the structure, something never seen before in buildings from the period.


“A building of this scale and complexity was here to amaze, to create a sense of awe in the people who saw this place,” Mr Card said. “The perfection of the stonework is beautiful to look at. This is architecture on a monumental scale and the result is the largest structure of its kind anywhere in the north of Britain.


“Today it is still so impressive and when you look down on it from above it is almost jaw-dropping. It is a real privilege to work here and we feel that this was a very special place.”


Colin Richards, reader in archaeology at Manchester University and a leading expert on the period, said that the building would have stood at the heart of Neolithic Orkney. “A structure of this nature would have been renowned right across the north of Scotland — and is unprecedented anywhere in Britain,” he said.


The dig, which has been operating since 2003, involves archaeologists from Orkney College and from Aberdeen, Glasgow and Cardiff universities. Volunteers have also travelled from the United States, Italy, Sweden and Ireland to take part.


Last summer the team established that there was a very large building on the site, but it is only now that the true scale of the cathedral has been unearthed. The Ness of Brodgar site, which covers 2.5 hectares, has been described as potentially as important as the Skara Brae village, the world heritage site on the islands.



4,000-year-old timber circle found in Tyrone


The remains of a timber circle from more than 4,000 years ago have been uncovered by archaeologists in County Tyrone.


The timber circle was found by the Headland Group near Ballygawley in 2006/2007 as part of an excavation project linked to the A4 and A5 road improvements scheme.


Project Officer at Headland Archaeology, Kirsty Dingwall, said radiocarbon dating had confirmed it was from around the middle of the third millenium BC, "although some elements of it may be earlier".


"The specific use of timber circles are not well understood but it is thought that they were used as ritual sites, perhaps for feasting or for commemorating the dead," she said.


"The find is very significant for archaeology and for Northern Ireland in particular, as very few timber circles have been fully excavated.


"It might seem that stone circles are more common as they survive better, but we are learning more and more about this type of site and how widespread they were.


"The postholes containing the timbers were carefully excavated and the pottery and charcoal found on the site are now undergoing close inspection and analysis by the Headland experts to reveal more about the activities which took place in the timber circle.


"The results of the analysis will be submitted to the Roads Service in 2010."


Kirsty said the circle near Ballygawley was an example of a "relatively rare type of site, generally dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Age".


She said it was "made up of two concentric rings of timbers focussed on a central area, which appear to have replaced an earlier series of large pits".


It "had a large monumental porch on one side with a line of substantial timbers along the front, which would have formed an impressive façade for anyone approaching the circle".


"The outer ring of the double circle comprised pits holding four posts in a square arrangement, which would themselves have pinned sections of wattle or planked walling in place," she added.


"As a result, we can be fairly certain that it would not be possible to see into the centre of the circle from the outside, unlike other timber circles elsewhere in the British Isles, or at stone circles such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire or Callanish in Scotland, where an observer would have had glimpses of the activity.


"As timber circles are generally thought to have some form of ritual importance, the issue of restricting the views of what was happening inside the circle is an interesting one."


Kirsty said the archaeological investigations undertaken as part of the A4 and A5 road improvements scheme were "currently undergoing post-excavation analyses and reporting which are likely to throw interesting new light on the prehistoric archaeological record of the area".


The Department for Regional Development said road construction would not be affected by the discovery of the timber circle remains.



5,000 year-old sites found

Published Date: 14 August 2009

By Ian Cullen


Archaeologists have unearthed eight neolithic sites in Derry, some more than 5,000 years old, the 'Journal' can exclusively reveal.


The exciting discoveries were made during work on the new Maydown dual carriageway and include a pair of well-preserved 5,000 years-old Neolithic houses and 4,000 years-old Bronze Age burial places known as 'ring-ditches'.


The highly significant archaeological discoveries, which came to light yesterday following a 'Journal' investigation, also include Bronze age pottery, flint tools and human bones.


Archaeology firm John Cronin & Associates found the ancient remains in recent weeks. They're working on behalf of Lagan Group and Roads Service during work on the A2 Maydown to City of Derry Airport road dualling scheme. The company has confirmed that six of the sites have already been "fully excavated and recorded".


The firm's Archaeological Site Director, Martin McGonigle, described the finds as "exciting".


"Two Neolithic houses have been excavated near Cloghole Road and were found to be rectangular structures, probably built of very large upright timber posts and planks, with substantial heavy roofs. The discovery of Neolithic houses of this scale is unusual, not many examples have been excavated to date and it is therefore an exciting discovery for this area of Northern Ireland."


A large quantity of finds have been retrieved from there including pottery, flint tools and a porcellanite handaxe, all indicating the likely domestic use of the site.


The other key find, an extensive ring-ditch measuring around 30 metres in diameter, has been excavated at Longfield.


John Cronin & Associates' Project Manager, Kate Robb, said; "Ring-ditches are a Bronze Age burial site where people dug a circular ditch and the cremated remains of humans were buried in pits inside the enclosed circular area and in the ditch."


She said the site could cover several generations. Pottery, burnt bone and flint implements had been recovered.


Ms Robb added: "Through full excavation we can not only understand better these site types but we also now have a detailed archaeological record of the area for future generations."


Now detailed illustration, environmental analyses, scientific dating and interpretation of the sites is to be undertaken.


A DRD spokesperson said that the ongoing digs "are not expected to affect the road scheme programme".



London's earliest timber structure found during Belmarsh prison dig

Public release date: 12-Aug-2009

Contact: Dave Weston

University College London


London's oldest timber structure has been unearthed by archaeologists from Archaeology South-East (part of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL). It was found during the excavation of a prehistoric peat bog adjacent to Belmarsh Prison in Plumstead, Greenwich, in advance of the construction of a new prison building. Radiocarbon dating has shown the structure to be nearly 6,000 years old and it predates Stonehenge by more than 500 years. Jacobs Engineering UK Ltd acted as the managing consultants, on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, and the work was facilitated by Interserve Project Services Ltd.


The structure consisted of a timber platform or trackway found at a depth of 4.7m (about the height of a double decker bus) beneath two metres of peat adjacent to an ancient river channel (image available). Previously, the oldest timber structure in Greater London was the timber trackway in Silvertown, which has been dated to 3340-2910 BC, c. 700 years younger.


Wetlands adjacent to rivers such as the Thames were an important source of food for prehistoric people, and timber trackways and platforms made it easier to cross the boggy terrain. The structure discovered at Plumstead is an early example of people adapting the natural landscape to meet human needs. The peat bogs which developed at Plumstead provided ideal conditions to preserve organic materials, which in other environments would have rotted away. The peat not only preserved wood, but also other plant matter - down to microscopic pollen grains - which can inform us about the contemporary landscape.


English Heritage, the government's advisor on the historic environment, provides planning advice in respect of archaeology within Greater London and was involved in the discovery at the Plumstead site.


Mark Stevenson, Archaeological Advisor at English Heritage said: "The discovery of the earliest timber structure in London is incredibly important. The timber structure is slightly earlier in date than the earliest trackways excavated in the Somerset Levels, including the famous 'Sweet Track' to Glastonbury, which provide some of the earliest physical evidence for woodworking in England.


"This large area of development has been the subject of extensive building recording of the old Royal Arsenal (East) site as well as detailed work to map the buried ancient landscape."


Archaeology South-East Senior Archaeologist Diccon Hart, who directed the excavation, commented: "The discovery of the earliest timber structure yet found in the London Basin is an incredibly exciting find. It is testament to the hard work and determination of those who toiled under very difficult conditions to unearth a rare and fascinating structure almost 6,000 years after it was constructed."


Other notable finds from the archaeological excavation include an Early Bronze Age alder log with unusually well-preserved tool marks made by a metal axe. This item has been laser scanned at UCL's Department of Civil, Environmental and Geometric Engineering and is currently undergoing conservation treatment prior to its display in Greenwich Heritage Centre, Woolwich (image available).


The study of the samples will continue for the next couple of years as the archaeological team learns more about this intriguing structure and the environment in which it was built.




Grave discovered at royal centre


Archaeologists have discovered an early Bronze Age grave and artefacts at the site of a centuries old royal centre.


The 4000-year-old burial chamber was uncovered near Forteviot, Perthshire.


Few remains of the body were found, but the archaeologists said it would have lain on a bed of quartz pebbles in sand, in a large stone coffin.


A bronze dagger with a gold band was discovered inside the grave, along with a leather bag, wooden objects and plant matter, which could be floral tributes.


The discovery was made by archaeologists from Glasgow and Aberdeen universities.


They found a large sandstone slab, weighing four tons, in 2008 but had to wait a year for it to be lifted.


Last week, a crane was brought in and the 4,000 year old grave was revealed.


Along with the grave goods, carvings were also found on the underside of the slab.


It is thought the markings may represent an axe and show that the deceased was an important person.


Dig co-director, Dr Kenneth Brophy, said: "The high quality of preservation is virtually unique in Britain and is of exceptional importance for understanding the important centuries when metals were first introduced into Scotland."


Forteviot is seen as an important Pictish royal centre.


The death of Kenneth MacAlpin, one of the first kings of a united Scotland, was recorded at the palace of Forteviot in 858 AD.


Professor Stephen Driscoll, another co-director working on the dig, said: "This excavation is part of a long-term project to study the link between the emerging kingdom of medieval Scotland and its ancient prehistoric remains.


"This burial provides the strongest evidence of the presence of ancestral graves which may have been regarded as mythological heroes by the Picts who were also buried nearby in Forteviot."



As old as the pyramids … the dagger unearthed from tribal leader's grave

Published Date: 12 August 2009

By Tim Cornwell


ARCHAEOLOGISTS in Perth-shire have unearthed a spectacular early Bronze Age grave containing a gold-banded dagger still wrapped in its 4,000-year-old sheath.


The discovery follows drama at the site last week, when a giant crane was brought in to lift a four-tonne capstone that had sealed an ancient burial chamber for four millennia.


While few traces survive of the body buried in the primitive stone coffin, found near the village of Forteviot, several clues suggest the remains are those of a tribal leader or warrior of "tremendous importance".


More astonishing, said archeologists, were the organic materials preserved in the sealed grave. They include a wooden bowl, what may be a leather bag, plant fragments and tree bark. There were gasps of astonishment from watching archeologists when the grave, which dates back to the time of the construction of the Egyptian pyramids, was revealed intact.


"The high quality of preservation is of exceptional importance for understanding the centuries when metals were first introduced into Scotland," said Dr Kenneth Brophy, of the University of Glasgow. He is co-director of the Strathearn Environs & Royal Forteviot (SERF) project, which also involves experts from the University of Aberdeen.


Only two or three daggers from this period have been found in Scotland, but this find is even more unusual.


Dr Brophy said: "It is also incredibly rare to find some kind of animal skin wrapped around the dagger. The metal is in good condition. It's a spectacular and unusual find."


The materials have been brought to Edinburgh for conservation and examination, and are currently being kept in cold storage at the laboratory of the AOC Archaeology Group.


Rated of national importance, the finds are likely to become part of the National Museum of Scotland's collection. Markings on the underside of the capstone may be pecked carvings of an axe. Two more axes may also have been pecked into the stone next to where the head would have lain.


Dr Brophy said: "They dug a huge hole, then placed a stone coffin in the ground, about a metre long and 70 centimetres across. The body would have lain crouched on its side. Then they placed a four-tonne stone on top of it. They would have used ropes and pulleys of some kind. It would have been very crude techniques."


And he added: "The scale of the effort and the unique carvings are all pointing to a person of huge importance."


The grave had been laid in a bed of quartz pebbles in sand. The Bronze Age chamber was placed in a complex of Stone Age sites at Forteviot, dating perhaps as early as 3,000BC.




IT MAY have taken Bronze Age man months to do the original job, but yesterday a team of volunteers began a challenge to build a replica of a 3,000-year-old log boat in 21 days.


The 10m-long vessel, to be hewn from the trunk of a single Douglas fir, is being built on the shores of Loch Tay in a joint project involving Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust and the Scottish Crannog Centre.


The two groups have commissioned Damian Goodburn, who specialises in prehistoric methods of woodwork, to lead the team.


The aim is to recreate the Bronze Age vessel known as the Carpow log boat, which was discovered in the Tay, near Abernethy, nine years ago.


The Carpow log boat was recovered in 2006 and is currently undergoing conservation at the National Museums of Scotland.


Dr Steven Timoney, the outreach officer with the heritage trust, said the team were using a mixture of both Bronze Age and modern day tools to ensure they meet their deadline.



Cave Complex Allegedly Found Under Giza Pyramids

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Aug. 13, 2009


An enormous system of caves, chambers and tunnels lies hidden beneath the Pyramids of Giza, according to a British explorer who claims to have found the lost underworld of the pharaohs.


Populated by bats and venomous spiders, the underground complex was found in the limestone bedrock beneath the pyramid field at Giza.


"There is untouched archaeology down there, as well as a delicate ecosystem that includes colonies of bats and a species of spider which we have tentatively identified as the white widow," British explorer Andrew Collins said.


Collins, who will detail his findings in the book "Beneath the Pyramids" to be published in September, tracked down the entrance to the mysterious underworld after reading the forgotten memoirs of a 19th century diplomat and explorer.


"In his memoirs, British consul general Henry Salt recounts how he investigated an underground system of 'catacombs' at Giza in 1817 in the company of Italian explorer Giovanni Caviglia," Collins said.


The document records that the two explored the caves for a distance of "several hundred yards," coming upon four large chambers from which stretched further cave passageways.


With the help of British Egyptologist Nigel Skinner-Simpson, Collins reconstructed Salt's exploration on the plateau, eventually locating the entrance to the lost catacombs in an apparently unrecorded tomb west of the Great Pyramid.


Indeed, the tomb featured a crack in the rock, which led into a massive natural cave.


"We explored the caves before the air became too thin to continue. They are highly dangerous, with unseen pits and hollows, colonies of bats and venomous spiders," said Collins.


According to Collins, the caves -- which are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years old -- may have both inspired the development of the pyramid field and the ancient Egyptian's belief in an underworld.


"Ancient funerary texts clearly allude to the existence of a subterranean world in the vicinity of the Giza pyramids," Collins told Discovery News.


Indeed, Giza was known anciently as Rostau, meaning the "mouth of the passages."


This is the same name as a region of the ancient Egyptian underworld known as the Duat.


"The 'mouth of the passages' is unquestionably a reference to the entrance to a subterranean cave world, one long rumored to exist beneath the plateau," Collins told Discovery News.


Collins' claim is expected to cause a stir in the Egyptological world.


Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, has dismissed the discovery.


"There are no new discoveries to be made at Giza. We know everything about the plateau," he stated.


But Collins remarks that after extensive research, he found no mention of the caves in modern times.


"To the best of our knowledge nothing has ever been written or recorded about these caves since Salt’s explorations. If Hawass does have any report related to these caves, we have yet to see it," Collins said.



Two thousand year-old remains of Emperor Vespasian's house discovered

A team of British and Italian archaeologists have discovered the remains of a lavish villa belonging to the emperor Vespasian, exactly 2,000 years after his birth.

By Nick Squires in Rome

Published: 7:00AM BST 07 Aug 2009


The archaeologists have unearthed reception rooms, colonnades, mosaic floors and traces of a hot bath complex at a site in mountainous countryside near the town of Rieti, north of Rome.


The villa is close to the ancient Roman village of Falacrinae, where Vespasian was born in AD 9.


Its discovery coincides with events in Rome and elsewhere in Italy marking the 2000th anniversary of his birth.


"We've found a monumental villa with elaborate floors made of marble brought from quarries in Greece and North Africa," said Dr Helen Patterson, of the British School at Rome, the archaeological institute involved in the excavation.


"There's also a very extensive bath complex which is just beginning to emerge. It's the only large villa in the area, and the size and dating fits in perfectly with Vespasian.


"Until we find a stone or marble inscription saying 'Vespasian lived here', we can't be 100 per cent certain, but it seems very likely. It's in a perfect position, overlooking a river and the old Via Salaria trade route."


The head of the team of 25 British and Italian archeologists, Professor Filippo Coarelli of the University of Perugia, said: "It's a very important find. It's a rich villa which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere."


Before becoming emperor, Titus Flavius Vespasianus had a successful military career, commanding the second legion in the invasion of Britain in AD 43 and penetrating as far as Devon and Cornwall in an attempt to subdue the south-west.


He later became governor of the province of Africa and a trusted aide to the emperor Nero.


He is best known for ordering the construction of the Colosseum in Rome but is also remembered for his decision to tax the collection of urine, which was valued for its ammoniac properties. Even now, public urinals in Italy are known as "vespasiani".


"The villa is in what would have been a very small, very remote village," said Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School at Rome.


"He was a local boy made good. He was the first of a series of emperors who did not come from Rome itself. Given where he was from, to have risen to the position of emperor was amazing."



Hadrian’s Wall was built of wood

By HELEN COMPSON helen.compson@hexham-courant.co.uk

Last updated 09:46, Friday, 14 August 2009


A HEXHAM archaeologist has challenged perceived wisdom with startling claims that Hadrian’s Wall was originally built of wood.


In a 65,000 word thesis published on his website, Geoff Carter says his hypothesis answers some age-old questions.


Archaeologists have long wondered why the ditch that runs parallel is several feet away from the Wall itself, reducing its effectiveness as a deterrent to invaders.


They also question why the ditch curves inwards towards each of the milecastles.


The answer, says Mr Carter, is that the ditch was originally dug at the foot of a timber wall that was put up as a temporary measure.


The temporary wall ran between each of the milecastles, providing a swift means of defence against marauding Scots while auxiliaries built the permanent stone wall behind.


Mr Carter has become a specialist over the years in structural archaeology and, in particular, postholes – quite literally, the holes left in the ground by wooden posts.


For some time now, archaeologists have known about three mysterious lines of postholes running in front of Hadrian’s Wall, he said.


But in his thesis he disagrees with current theory that they originally held nothing more than pointed sticks that provided another obstacle to attack.


“I demonstrate that these thousands of post holes, six posts every 4ft, are the foundation of massive timber ramparts 10ft wide, about 20ft tall, and quite probably stretching all 117kms from coast to coast.


“The temporary timber wall joined the turrets together during the six years it took to build the stone wall behind it.


“This explains why the ditch is so far from the Wall, and why it respects the postholes of the timber wall and curves in towards the turrets.”


He estimates over 2.5 million trees would have been used in the construction – making it one of the largest timber structures ever built – only to be dismantled when the Hadrian’s Wall we know today was completed.


Julius Caesar himself lends validity to the hypothesis through the descriptions he wrote in Account of the Gallic War, a book prized by archaeologist and historian alike.


It documents Caesar’s campaigns to subjugate Gaul between 58 and 51 BC.


The climax of the war, and the book, is the siege of Alesia, a hillfort in France where the Gaulish leader Vercingetorix was holed up with most of his army.


Outside, the Romans built a series of encircling siege works around the hillfort, and then a second set of defences to protect their siege works from attack.


All made out of timber, Caesar claims the first 18kms was built in three weeks.


Mr Carter said, on that basis, it could have taken as little as 20 weeks to build the wooden Hadrian’s Wall from coast to coast.


“Of course it wasn’t that simple, but the Roman army was good at this sort of thing.


“It’s what they did for a living and to some extent their lives depended on it”, he said.


“Creating the 117kms corridor was probably achievable within a year.”


It took another six years to complete the stone wall that replaced it.



17th century theatre uncovered in Dublin

Friday, 14 August 2009 22:35


An archaeological excavation in Dublin has uncovered the foundations of a 17th century theatre and a number of artefacts from theatrical performances.


The excavation, which ends today, is part of a multi-million euro programme to reinstate the Smock Alley Theatre on its original site.


For more than a century from establishment in 1662, Smock Alley - then known as Smoke Alley - put Irish theatre on the European map.


It was the first theatre in Dublin to secure a royal patent, issued following Oliver Cromwell's death, and had close ties with Covent Garden in London, with which acts were shared.


It is now being reinstated on its original site by the River Liffey in the heart of the capital, where an archaeological excavation has just been completed.


Until it closed in 1787 Smock Alley staged premiers by notable Irish playwrights, among them Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his father Thomas.


Thespians that performed at the theatre included noted Shakespearean actor David Garrick.


On Monday, Smock Alley's original foundations will be sealed and preserved.


The project to re-open the theatre will cost €8m, almost half of which has been raised by a substantial Government grant, and some philanthropic donations.