Hobbits walked out of Africa

Leigh Dayton, Science writer | August 19, 2009

Article from:  The Australian


THE identity of the tiny human-like creature discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004 has become clearer -- and more astonishing -- thanks to a new analysis by Australian and Indonesian scientists.


According to a team led by Australian National University doctoral student Debbie Argue, not only is Homo floresiensis, nicknamed the hobbit, not a deformed modern human, as a handful of critics claim, but the small-brained, long-armed biped was the first human-like creature to walk out of Africa.


And it did so nearly two million years ago, roughly 100,000 years before a species most scientists believed was the first migrant. That was a somewhat more modern hominin -- a member of a group including humans and their ancestors -- that was discovered in Dmanisi, Republic of Georgia, variously identified as H.georgicus, H. ergaster or H. erectus.


"We're looking at a very archaic being indeed, one that appears to have gone its own evolutionary way long before our species emerged," Ms Argue said.


She noted that a population of hobbits lived on Flores from roughly 76,000 to about 13,000 years ago, seemingly unbothered by the emergence and expansion of modern humans.


"I think it's incredible that it lived until so recently," Ms Argue said. "Humans came down through Asia but missed Flores. It's lucky that Flores was hard to get to."


The findings, recently reported in the Journal of Human Evolution, back a similar argument made in the journal Science in 2007 that the hobbit's unique wrist anatomy suggested the 1m-tall creature came from a lineage that lived long before the common ancestor of people and Neanderthals.


Previously researchers suspected hobbits descended from H. erectus but had shrunk because of their confinement on an island.


In her study Ms Argue collaborated with discovery team co-leaders Mike Moorwood at the University of Wollongong in NSW and Thomas Sutikna at the Jakarta-based Indonesian Centre for Archeology. With ICA colleagues they compared 60 skull and skeletal features obtained from two individual hobbits to those of hominins, chimps and gorillas.


The technique, cladistic analysis, revealed hobbits probably took one of two evolutionary paths from Africa to Flores. One began 1.66 million years ago, the other 1.9 million years ago.


Three years ago a group headed by the University of Sydney's Richard Wright, including Ms Argue, reported complementary results in Journal of Human Evolution. They used a separate procedure, multivariate analysis, to determine which species the hobbit most resembled, not to tease out evolutionary relationships, as did Ms Argue's team.


Professor Wright said: "Before I did my analyses, I had an open mind about whether H.floresiensis was a deformed modern human or an early hominin.


"My analysis forced me to concluded that H.floresiensis was an early hominin in shape, like well-known fossils of H.erectus.


"So different methods and different data lead to the same result (ancient hominin, not deformed human).


"That's compelling science."



Agricultural Methods Of Early Civilizations May Have Altered Global Climate

ScienceDaily (Aug. 18, 2009)


Massive burning of forests for agriculture thousands of years ago may have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide enough to alter global climate and usher in a warming trend that continues today, according to a new study that appears online Aug. 17 in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.


Researchers at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County say that today's 6 billion people use about 90 percent less land per person for growing food than was used by far smaller populations early in the development of civilization. Those early societies likely relied on slash-and-burn techniques to clear large tracts of land for relatively small levels of food production.


"They used more land for farming because they had little incentive to maximize yield from less land, and because there was plenty of forest to burn," said William Ruddiman, the lead author and a professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. "They may have inadvertently altered the climate."


Ruddiman is a climate scientist who specializes in investigating ocean-sediment and ice-core records. In recent years he has searched across scientific disciplines – anthropology, archaeology, population dynamics, climatology – to gain insight into how humans may have affected climate over the millennia.


He said that early populations likely used a land-clearing method that involved burning forests, then planting crop seed among the dead stumps in the enriched soil. They would use a large plot until the yield began to decline, and then would burn off another area of forest for planting.


They would continue this form of rotation farming, ever expanding the cleared areas as their populations grew. They possibly cleared five or more times more land than they actually farmed at any given time. It was only as populations grew much larger, and less land was available for farming or for laying fallow, that societies adopted more intensive farming techniques and slowly gained more food yield from less land.


Ruddiman notes that with the highly efficient and intensive farming of today, growing populations are using less land per capita for agriculture. Forests are returning in many parts of the world, including the northeastern United States, Europe, Canada, Russia and even parts of China.


The positive environmental effects of this reforestation, however, are being canceled out by the large-scale burning of fossil fuels since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, which began about 150 years ago. Humans continue to add excessive levels of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, contributing to a global warming trend, Ruddiman said.


Five years ago, Ruddiman made headlines with a hypothesis that humans began altering global climate thousands of years ago, not just since the Industrial Revolution. That theory has since been criticized by some climate scientists who believe that early populations were too small to create enough carbon dioxide to alter climate.


According to projections from some models of past land use, large-scale land clearing and resulting carbon emissions have only occurred during the industrial era, as a result of huge increases in population.


But Ruddiman, and his co-author Erle Ellis, an ecologist at UMBC who specializes in land-use change, say these models are not accounting for the possibly large effects on climate likely caused by early farming methods.


"Many climate models assume that land use in the past was similar to land use today; and that the great population explosion of the past 150 years has increased land use proportionally," Ellis said. "We are proposing that much smaller earlier populations used much more land per person, and may have more greatly affected climate than current models reflect."


Ruddiman and Ellis based their finding on several studies by anthropologists, archaeologists and paleoecologists indicating that early civilizations used a great amount of land to grow relatively small amounts of food. The researchers compared what they found with the way most land-use models are designed, and found a disconnect between modeling and field-based studies.


"It was only as our populations grew larger over thousands of years, and needed more food, that we improved farming technologies enough to begin using less land for more yield," Ruddiman said. "We suggest in this paper that climate modelers might consider how land use has changed over time, and how this may have affected the climate."



China's founding legend may not be true

China's founding dynasty may just be a myth, say archaeologists.

By Dan Vergano


In a news report in the current Science, writer Andrew Lawler surveys a decade's worth of discoveries suggesting ancient China sprang from distinct regions, rather than possessing a single national culture some 4,300 years ago. "How China became China is no mere academic topic; it goes to the very heart of how the world’s most populous and economically vibrant nation sees itself and its role in the world," Lawler writes.


Since 2004, archeologists headed by Wang Wei of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing have begun tying together a broader picture of China's origins. “Most of us accepted that the Yellow River was the origin of Chinese civilization. But as we’ve done more research, we have found other cultural areas," Wei tells Science.


In particular, the Xia dynasty -- written about as the founder of the Chinese state by Confucius around 600 B.C. -- seems suspect. In 1959, Chinese archaeologist reported the discovery of the capital city of Xia,  dating from 2100 B.C. to 1600 B.C., but modern excavations and more recent dating, "challenge its status," writes Lawler. "Although not even half-complete, the project to define the origins of Chinese civilization has already laid to rest the notion of an imperial China rising from the central plains of the Yellow  River to bestow its gifts on backward hinterlands."



Face to face with the 5,000-year-old 'first Scot'

Published Date: 21 August 2009



AT FIRST glance, it appears little more than a tiny fragment of sandstone with a few crude scratches on the surface.


Yet this precious object is one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries made in Scotland – the earliest representation of a human face and body ever found north of the Border.


The face and its lozenge-shaped body – measuring just 3.5cm by 3cm – were carved on the Orkney island of Westray between 4,500 and 5,000 years ago.


The enigmatic figurine had lain undisturbed in the earth at the Links of Noltland – one of Orkney's richest archaeological sites – until just last week.


That was when archaeologists, carefully brushing away the mud from the fragment of sandstone, found Scotland's earliest human face staring back at them.


Yesterday, as the tiny object was displayed in public for the first time, Scotland's culture minister Mike Russell was the first to hail the importance of the remarkable discovery.


He said: "This is a find of tremendous importance – representations of people from this period are incredibly unusual in Britain.


"What we are seeing here is the earliest known human face in Scotland. It once again emphasises the tremendous importance of Orkney's archaeology."


The figurine was unearthed by Jakob Kainz, one of a team of archaeologists working at Historic Scotland's excavations on an ancient farmhouse at the Links of Noltland site – a prehistoric settlement in the dune system flanking Grobust Bay, on the north-west coast of Westray.


Historic Scotland senior archaeologist Richard Strachan said it was a find of "astonishing rarity" – the only known Neolithic carving of a human form to have been discovered in Scotland.


He said: "It was one of those 'eureka' moments. None of the archaeology team have seen anything like it before. It's incredibly exciting.


As some of the mud crumbled off, Jakob saw an eye, then another and a nose, then a whole face staring back."


Careful examination revealed a face with heavy brows, two dots for eyes and an oblong for a nose. A pair of circles on the chest are being interpreted as representing breasts, and arms have been etched at either side. A pattern of crossed markings could suggest the fabric of clothing.


Mr Strachan said: "There is a strong possibility that it has been a votive offering to mark the abandonment of the site. It may have been for ceremonial purposes."


Dr Gordon Noble, a Neolithic expert at Aberdeen University, said: "This is certainly a significant discovery. We have some Neolithic art in Scotland, but it is all abstract art designs."



3,000-year-old butter found in Kildare bog

Published Date: 19 August 2009

By Conor McHugh


AN OAK barrel, full of butter, estimated to be roughly 3,000 years old has been found in Gilltown bog, between Timahoe and Staplestown.


The amazing discovery of the barrel, which is being described by archaeology experts in the National Museum as a "really fine example" was found by two Bord na Mona workers.


The pair, John Fitzharris and Martin Lane, were harrowing the bog one day in late May when they noticed a distinctive white streak in the peat.


"We got down to have a look. We knelt down and felt something hard and started to dig it out with out bare hands," John explained.


"We could smell it. And it was attracting crows," he added.

What they found was an oak barrel, cut out of a trunk, full of butter.


It was largely intact, except for a gash towards the bottom of it caused by the harrow. It was head down, and had a lid; something that has excited the archaeologists.


"We couldn't believe it," said Mr Lane.


The barrel is also split along the middle, which is common with utensils filled with butter found in the bogs. A conservator at the National Museum, Carol Smith, told the Leinster Leader that the butter expands over time, causing the split.


The barrel is about three feet long and almost a foot wide, and weighs almost 35kgs, (77lbs).


The butter has changed to white and is now adipocere, which is essentially animal fat, the same sort of substance that is found on well-preserved bodies of people or animals found in the bog.


The two men put the barrel in the cab of their tractor and brought it back to their base.


"We put it in a black plastic bag," Mr Fitzharris explained.


And last Tuesday in the Conservation Department of the National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks, the two men were reunited with the barrel in the company of Monasterevin man and one of the museum's keepers, Pádraig Clancy, conservator Carol Smith, and the Leinster Leader.


Mr Clancy was contacted by Bord na Móna's archaeological liaison officer who reports to the museum on finds like this. He travelled to the site and took the barrel to Collins Barracks.


"It's rare to find a barrel as intact as that," Mr. Clancy explained, "especially with the lid intact, and attached. It's a really fine example."


He estimates that the barrel is approximately 3,000 years old, from the Iron Age.


At the moment it is being dried out by staff at the Conservation Department. Once dry it will be soaked in a wax-like solution which preserves it.


"At 35ks, it's a pretty big one," Ms. Smith explained. Other examples of bog butter they showed the Leinster Leader tended to be less intact and much smaller.


It is thought that the butter was put in the bog for practical reasons, rather than ritual.


"There are accounts dating back to the 1850's with people used to wash their cattle once a year in the bog and then put some butter back into the bog. It was piseogary," Mr. Clancy explained, adding that the butter was usually "stolen by the following week!


"It's open to interpretation, but we're inclined to think that 3,000 years ago they were just storing it."


Such a large amount of butter, he estimated would have probably been the harvest of a community rather than an individual farmer.

Ms. Smith and Mr. Clancy explained that bog butter has been tasted before, "but not by us!


"It's a national treasure, you can't be going hacking bits of it off for your toast!" Ms. Smith joked.


"It's important to say that we have a good relationship with Bord na Mona," Mr. Clancy explained. "They are one of the better organisations for reporting finds."


And the bogs of Kildare have yielded quite a lot of artefacts from the past, including spear heads, pottery and bodies.


"We've found no body parts in Gilltown bog," Ms. Smith said, before adding, "but here's hoping!"



Pyramid Found in a Field in Michoacan is a Yacata


MEXICO CITY.- Looking for a good place to sow avocado, Jose Humberto Tellez and Apolinar Piceno Guillen found a pyramid covered with weed in a plot located in Ario de Rosales municipality, Michoacan.


After retiring part of the weed from the monument, they took photographs and notified Michoacan INAH Center. Archaeologist Roberto Gonzalez Zuñiga went to Tipitarillo, observed the pictures and verified it is a Yacata, a base with a rectangular form that combines semi circular elements.


After covering the area, the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) expert ratified there is one 4 meters pyramid with a 20 by 14 meters rectangular base and 6 staggered bodies. Conservation state is good.


The monument could have been part of a Classic period (300-850 AD) ceremonial center, possibly influenced by Teotihuacan, informed the specialist, adding there are other elements in the site that are currently in exploration stage.


“By its construction and materials, the structure found is similar to those at Timbangato Archaeological Zone, near Patzcuaro, which is 9 meters high with a 35 meters base”.


The Yacata has 2 constructive stages; the lowest is better preserved because, apparently, in a late stage the highest was removed to conduct agricultural work. “It reached 25 meters long, 20 wide and 6 high”.


Where today is Michoacan, Purepecha culture developed during Prehispanic times, but archaeologist Gonzalez Zuñiga explained other groups inhabited there as well. “Mazahua, Nahua and Otomi peoples dwelled here, so it is difficult to affirm at the moment which of these cultures built the structure; by its location, I can determine it is not Purepecha”.


“First we have to register main features of the site by conducting a systematic cover of the area, and plan a research project”, he added.


The archaeologist declared that there was awareness of the12-15 hectares site since 2004, when municipal authorities covered the area to locate possible ecotourism potential areas.


Architect Maria Lizbeth Aguilera Garibay, director of Michoacan INAH Center, declared INAH Archaeological Salvage Direction has been asked for support to register the area with a GPS system, to determine its dimension and count on a graphic description to identify the site.


A revision of a Michoacan archaeological map edited several years ago is being conducted, which has information regarding 6 sites open to public visit, where other zones will be included. State and municipal authorities work jointly in this project.



Ancient remains found in Kivalina


August 20, 2009 at 11:13AM AKST


Construction workers unearthed the remains of three humans in Kivalina last month. The bodies are believed to have been members of a mysterious tribal group from about 1,000 years ago.


“It’s a very significant find,” said Peter Bowers, principal archeologist with Northern Land Use Research, which is studying the site. “Prior to the discoveries this summer, there was little known about the prehistory — prior to white contact — of the specific Kivalina locality.”


The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium was doing excavation for Kivalina’s new wastewater treatment plant when they came across some old bones, which an onsite archeologist determined to be animal bones. Construction resumed until more bones were found — this time human. And there were more.


Three bodies were found close to each other, two together and one in what could have been a wooden house. Archeologists won’t be certain how old the Kivalina remains are until radiocarbon dating is done, but they believe the bodies were members of the Ipiutak — a group that lived in Alaska from about 500 to 900 A.D. Artifacts found with the bodies show the elaborate, stylized engravings on ivory and artistic motifs that were characteristic of the group.


The discovery shows that Kivalina was occupied by humans about a thousand years longer than historians previously knew. It also sheds light on a mysterious group whose range and numbers are only just coming to light. Ipiutak are culturally distinct from the western Thule, who were whale hunters that are more clearly ancestors of the modern Inupiaq. Ipiutak hunted seals and smaller mammals on the coast but don’t seem to have hunted whale. Caribou bones and the use of wood suggest that they also used areas in the Interior.


The number of the Ipiutak is a matter of speculation amongst historians and pre-historians. Ipiutak remains were first found in Point Hope in the 1940s, in a settlement that may have housed hundreds — the largest settlement found so far north thus far. Ipiutak remains have since been discovered in Cape Krusenstern, Deering, Cape Espenberg, Barrow and, now, Kivalina.


How the Ipiutak would have sustained a village of hundreds on the resources of the area, without evidence of whaling, is a puzzle to historians and archeologists, as is where the Ipiutak went.


“It seems to be a prehistoric population that was functioning quite well on both the Siberian and the Alaskan side up until 900 AD,” Bowers said. Finding out what happened after that is “one of the mysteries we’re trying to solve and the reason this is important.”


After the Ipiutak faded out in Deering around 900 AD, the area was unoccupied for several hundred years, when the western Thule moved in to the area.


Historians don’t know why Deering was abandoned by humans for so long and then repopulated, but one theory for the relocation will probably sound familiar.


“It’s quite likely environmental changes,” Bower said. “The archeological record shows we’ve seen this in the past.”


Just as coastal communities are experiencing today, changes in temperature could have subjected Deering to more erosion and raised the sea level, driving inhabitants elsewhere until conditions became favorable.


As for the bones unearthed in Kivalina, city administrator Janet Mitchell said that the remains are being kept by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium until the excavation was finished in case more bodies are found. After that they will be turned over to the Espiscopal church in Kivalina for Christian burial, their plots marked with a simple cross and a plaque reading “unknown.”



German Archaeologists Labor to Solve Mystery of the Nok

By Matthias Schulz



Some 2,500 years ago, a mysterious culture emerged in Nigeria. The Nok people left behind bizarre terracotta statues -- and little else. German archaeologists are now looking for more clues to explain this obscure culture.


Half a ton of pottery shards is piled on the tables in Peter Breunig's workroom on the sixth floor of the University of Frankfurt am Main. There are broken pots, other storage vessels, a clay lizard and fragments of clay faces with immense nostrils.


The chipped head of a statue depicts an African man with a moustache, a fixed glare and hair piled high up on his head. He looks gloomy, almost sinister. Just a few days ago, the ceramics travelled 8,000 kilometres (5,000 miles) by sea from Nigeria, where they were unearthed.


Breunig runs an excavation near the Nigerian highlands of Jos, where the mysterious Nok culture once blossomed. Spanning more than 80,000 square kilometres (31,000 square miles), the tropical region they lived in was larger than Ireland. Its inhabitants lived in wooden huts and ate porridge made from pearl millet. Some women subjected themselves to bloody "scar ornaments" scratched into their breasts with knives. And, as archaeologists imagine it, smoke hung in the air as people fired masterly terracotta creations in kilns heated to 700 degrees Celsius (1,300 degrees Fahrenheit).


The most astonishing fact about what Breunig calls "a society without writing" is its age. It dates from around 2,500 years ago, a time when a wave of change in belief systems washed over other continents. Nok sculptors were contemporaries of Solon, Buddha and the early Mayans.


For years, people have believed that Africa was left behind at that time -- but Breunig knows better. "Around 500 B.C., the population exploded," he says. People that had been living a Stone Age-like nomadic existence suddenly settled. Breunig speaks of a "cultural Big Bang."


This region near the equator is still largely unexplored, and the German Research Foundation has allocated sizable funding toward that task. If the researchers from Frankfurt deliver promising results, they will continue to receive state funding until 2020.


With the help of some locals, German researchers set up their base last spring, which consists of nine mud huts in the village of Janjala. A flag with the image of Goethe, the symbol of Breunig's university, flutters on a mast. The Germans have drilled wells, and solar panels provide electricity.


Conditions there are hard. Murky water sloshes from the pump, and the solitary lightbulb in the main bricked-lined hut is the only one within 100 kilometres (62 miles). At night, owing to the heat, the researchers have gotten used to sleeping under the night sky, as wild dogs howl in the distance.


Bathed in the light of the morning sun, the team sets forth. With shovels, pickaxes, laptops and GPS navigation devices in tow, the excavators trudge past an enchanting tree savannah and granite hilltops rising like small islands.


In their excavations, the team encounters hardly any other traces of life. There are no skeletons preserved in the earth since the acidic soil dissolved all bones. Like their cemeteries, the temples and huts of the Nok have disappeared without a trace. No one knows what their farm animals, streets or religious ceremonies were like.


But the shards of clay statues are everywhere -- on rock slopes, in ancient refuse pits and in open spaces. Burrowing animals occasionally dislodge them from their original resting places.


The largest of these impressive figures can stand up to one meter (3.3 feet) tall and resemble what might be kings or members of a social elite. Others wear horned helmets or carved-out gourds on their heads. A third of these figures are women.


The clay figures are strangely uniform, almost as if they had been mass produced. The eyes are always triangular, the pupils are pierced, and the eyebrows are high and arched. They look sedate and immersed in their thoughts. Lightning-shaped tattoos adorn their cheeks.


Scientists are puzzled about who could have created this collection of curiosities. How, they ask, could such a fanciful world emerge 10 degrees latitude south of the equator and far away from the rest of the world's civilizations?


Particularly perplexing is the question of how the Nok people smelted iron. Excavators have found iron bracelets, arrowheads and knives. No sub-Saharan people made anything comparable at the time.


The German researchers, which include geologists and paleoethnobotanists, have now used state-of-the-art analytical devices to examine this area. They use X-ray fluorescence devices, for example, to detect shattered bones, and their infrared cameras should make the remnants of buildings visible. In their initial findings, they have learned that the Nok lived on millet, cowpeas and an olive-like fruit. And Breunig now believes that the statues "were made centrally in some large workshops."


Next winter, the high-tech caravan of researchers will move back into the bush with up to 40 excavation assistants. The project could finally shed some light on a phenomenon that is one of the biggest mysteries of early history.


In 1943, the British colonial civil administrator Bernard Fagg was the first to acquire a Nok figure, which had been used as a scarecrow in a yam field. Fagg encouraged the workers in the surrounding tin mines to come forward with any similar finds. Locals from more distant regions soon began bringing Fagg other artefacts, which brought his collection up to 150 pieces. They brought him amulets and clay elephants. They brought him a figure with a gigantic phallus reaching up to its head; another had vampire-like teeth.


For a long time, experts in Europe and the United States were largely unaware of the exciting findings. Only when a pioneer of thermoluminescent imaging presented new data in the 1970s did the archaeological community start to prick up its ears.


These findings led the community to ask a puzzling question: Was it possible that, between 600 B.C. and 300 A.D., when the Chinese started building the Great Wall and the Romans dotted their empire with triumphal arches, African master sculptors in faraway Nigeria were making statues of the highest aesthetic order out of mud coils?


The swiftest reaction to the sensational discovery came from people in the antiquities trade. In the late 1980s, Nok sculptures appeared sporadically in Brussels and Paris. Not only private collectors, but also state-owned museums, discreetly tapped into the fenced merchandise, and prices climbed as high as $50,000 (€35,000) per statue.


Then, in 1996, the sculptures came to the attention of the wider public when the exhibition "Africa: the Art of a Continent" travelled to London and Berlin. Still, at that time, it was mostly photos of the Nok works that went on display. The owners of the original statues -- mostly of whom were rich American collectors -- did not dare lend the exhibition their dubiously acquired African sculptures.


Interpol, the international law-enforcement agency, noted that the objects were being "systematically stolen" and that Africa's heritage was under threat from thieves. UNESCO finally put the sculptures on a list of objects that were illegal to import or export.


Still, these actions did little to temper the treasure-hunting fever in Nigeria. A gem mine near Kubacha, located in the tribal area of the Koro, emerged as an El Dorado for the sculptures.


"Extremely beautiful and barely damaged statues were discovered there in the tombs of the underground shelters," recounts one insider.


Miners there were constantly finding new choice pieces, including a rider on a fanciful horse and a figure holding a cat in a stranglehold.


Details about the mine are hard to come by. It is located in a semi-autonomous district ruled by Koro chief Yohanna Akaito with an iron fist. Akaito has sealed off the area with his private army, and even Nigerian government officials have no access.


One of the few whites who has been granted access to the area is Gert Chesi, and ethnologist and Voodoo researcher.


"The chief entertained me in his mud palace," Chesi says. "In the morning, trumpet calls woke us up, and then we went to the mine."


Chesi had an ulterior motive in coming here. He runs the "House of the People," a museum in Schwaz, Austria, which houses 50 Nok statues, the most splendid collection in the world. Once he was with Akaito, Chesi got right down to business.


Most museums purchased Nok artifacts without certificates and now hide them in their repositories. But Chesi makes no secret of his treasures.


"Each of our sculptures has an export license issued by Omotoso Eluyemi, the manager of the national museum," he says. "Everything was done legally."


It is true that the late Nigerian antiquities official's office could issue customs documents. But it would appear that he did this all too gladly -- while stuffing his pockets in the process.


Now and then, you hear mention of bodies. Eluyemi died on February 18, 2006. According to the official version of events, he choked on a glass of water at dinner and suffocated. But insiders are sure that the 58-year-old was poisoned.


These are the circumstances in which the archaeologists are operating.


In describing the situation on the ground, Breunig says that "thieves have rummaged through many thousand square meters of ground; there's one hole next to another."


Still, there is some hope for Africa's heritage. To this day, countless Nok villages lie untouched beneath the earth. In Ungwar Kura, for example, the team recently came across more than 130 millstones, which suggests that there was once a large village there.


The statues found there also contain new details. Some have boils and furuncles on their faces, while others appear to be high dignitaries. Foot rings, loincloths and arm chains ornament their bodies. While their hair is formed into buns and braids, twisted chains adorn necks like thick Christmas wreaths. "The social distinctions are clearly defined," Breunig says.


The researchers are still not sure what these peculiar adornments are supposed to indicate. Since stone pavement is often found near the statues, some have thought that they were situated in holy places or near altars. The archaeologists have found remnants of deliberately deposited jewellery chains alongside them, which might lend some degree of support to this hypothesis.


For the time being, though, the purpose of the Nok statues remains unclear. And then there's still the question of whether these objects have anything to do with the Nok people making contact with other people. Some archaeologists believe that the cultural renaissance resulted from contact with northern peoples, such as the Carthaginians, who might have arrived by desert. Still others point to the so-called "black pharaohs" of Sudan, who subjugated the whole Nile region between 750 and 670 B.C.


But, for his part, Breunig rejects the idea of such a far-reaching transfer of ideas. "It's 3,000 kilometres from Egypt to Abuja, and there was the obstacle of the Sahara in between," he explains. And, he adds, Africans didn't have camels in pre-Christian times. Instead, Breunig believes that Nok art evolved independently.


Still, the mysteries remain. If Breunig is correct, the Nok were isolated geniuses who created a tropical civilization out of nothing.


"There's no doubt that the Nok will continue to baffle us," Breunig says. "We're unearthing a magnificent part of the history of sub-Saharan Africa."



Portuguese archaeologists unearth General Wellington’s command post



Portuguese archaeologists on a dig inside the Alqueidão Forte (Sobral de Monte Agraço, north of Lisbon) made an important discovery this week when they unearthed what is believed to have been the headquarters of Luso-British troop commander General Wellington.


Located between Mafra and Torres Vedras, the fort is thought to have sheltered General Wellington’s troops serving the Torres Vedras line during the French invasions, between 1807 and 1814.


The General’s private quarters, a store room, a warehouse and a weapons locker were defined during the excavation. The division had been previously outlined in maps but this is the first time excavations were attempted to unearth them.


Of the weaponry storeroom, Archaeologist Artur Rocha explained to news agency Lusa “strategically it is one of the most important points within the fort as it offered privileged views in comparison to other war weaponry storerooms and the cannons’ positioned on the Torres Vedras line. That is why we believe the room was General Wellington’s command post”.


The ‘Torres Vedras Line’ was made up of 152 forts built between Torres Verdras and Vila Franca de Xira, between 1809 and 1812, with the intention of defending Lisbon from invading troops.


The weaponry storeroom that was recently uncovered is said to be one of the largest identified to date.


The good state of conservation that the storeroom was found in has allowed the archeologists to study construction techniques and materials that were used for construction at that time.


Alqueidão Forte is to be completely restored to accommodate visitors and integrate Torres Vedras’ ‘Historical Route’, a project involving the municipalities of Arruda dos Vinhos, Loures, Mafra, Sobral de Monte Agraço, Torres Vedras and Vila Franca de Xira.


Meanwhile, in related news, another archaeological team has confirmed that remnants of artefacts unearthed in the furnaces of Morraçal da Ajuda, Peniche, are in fact the first examples of Lusitanian pottery and are believed to have been used for storing fish and fish derivatives that were consumed during the time of the Roman Empire.


Fragments of amphorae were first discovered in 1998 but only now have experts been able to confirm their actual use.