Stone Age flour found across Europe

Starch residues on stone tools suggest early humans ate a balanced diet.

Ewen Callaway


Once thought of as near total carnivores, early humans ate ground flour 20,000 years before the dawn of agriculture. Flour residues recovered from 30,000-year-old grinding stones found in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic point to widespread processing and consumption of plant grain, according to a paper published online this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1.


"It's another nail in the coffin of the idea that hunter–gatherers didn't use plants for food," says Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the study. Work in recent years has also uncovered a handful of Stone Age sites in the Near East with evidence for plant-eating.


The meat-centric view of early modern humans stems partly from the fact that meat-eating leaves a more indelible mark in the archaeological record than omnivory, says Laura Longo, an archaeologist at the University of Siena in Italy and an author on the paper.


Stone blades used for hunting and animal bones bearing cut-marks are common finds, whereas plants leave few relics. Complicating matters, archaeologists typically washed the grinding tools used to process plants, removing any preserved plant matter, says Longo.


Beginning in the early 2000s, Longo and her colleagues started analysing unwashed stone tools from a 28,000-year-old human settlement in central Italy called Bilancino. Patterns of wear on the sandstone tools suggest that they were used for grinding, like a mortar and pestle. The stones were also coated with several kinds of microscopic starch grains. Longo and her colleagues identified the grains based on their shape as belonging to the root of a species of cattail and the grains of a grass called Brachypodium.


The researchers also found grinding tools coated with cattail and fern residues at human sites in southern Moravia in the Czech Republic and south of Moscow, all dated to roughly 30,000 years old.


Unlike Neolithic humans, who domesticated and cultivated grains such as wheat and barley, these hunter–gatherers relied on wild vegetation. However, many of the plants found by Longo and her team were widely distributed, offering a reliable, even nutritious source of food, she says. For example, once ground and cooked, the cattail rhizomes** contain nearly as much energy as domesticated cereals, the researchers calculate.


Bar-Yosef says that the study proves that flour-making was common to early modern humans. "I'm pretty sure that you're going to have many more cases where there is evidence for the use of plants by humans."


Bruce Hardy, a paleoanthropologist at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, expects that flour-making dates back even further than 30,000 years. "This is not isolated to a small group of people. It's a regular part of subsistence for humans," he says.


After all, humans, ancient or modern, just aren't equipped to live on a diet of meat alone. "If you get that much meat in your diet not balanced out with other nutrients, you get protein poisoning," says Hardy.



Revedin, A. et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences advance online publication doi:10.1073/pnas.1006993107 (2010).


** “grains” changed to “rhizomes” by archaeology.ws editor, Win Scutt on advice of Brad Foley.





5,000-year-old door found in Europe

Published: 4:15PM BST 20 Oct 2010


Archaeologists in the Swiss city of Zurich have found a 5,000-year-old door that may be one of the oldest ever found in Europe.


Chief archaeologist Niels Bleicher says the ancient poplar wood door is 'solid and elegant' with well-preserved hinges and a 'remarkable' design for holding the boards together


Niels Bleicher, the chief archaeologist, said the ancient poplar wood door is "solid and elegant" with well-preserved hinges and a "remarkable" design for holding the boards together.

Using treee rings to determine its age, Bleicher believes the door could have been made in the year 3,063BC, around the time construction on Britain's Stonehenge monument began.


"The door is very remarkable because of the way the planks were held together," he said.

Archeologists working at the dig for what is intended to be a new underground car park have found traces of at least five Neolithic villages believed to have existed at the site between 3,700 and 2,500 years BC.

Other objects discovered include a flint dagger from what is now Italy and an elaborate hunting bow.



Archaeologists uncover early Neolithic activity on Cyprus

By Daniel Aloi

Oct. 20, 2010


Cornell archaeologists are helping to rewrite the early prehistory of human civilization on Cyprus, with evidence that hunter-gatherers began to form agricultural settlements on the island half a millennium earlier than previously believed.


Beginning with pedestrian surveys of promising sites in 2005, students have assisted with fieldwork on Cyprus led by professor of classics Sturt Manning, director of Cornell's archaeology program. The project, Elaborating the Early Neolithic on Cyprus (EENC), has involved undergraduate and graduate students from Cornell, the University of Toronto and the University of Cyprus.


Their findings were published recently in the leading archaeological journal Antiquity, after being reported to Cyprus' Department of Antiquities and presented at an annual archaeological conference there.


"Up until two decades ago, nobody thought anybody had gone to Cyprus before about 8,000 years ago, and the island was treated as irrelevant to the development of the Neolithic in the Near East," Manning said. "Then Alan Simmons (now at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas) discovered a couple of sites that seemed to suggest Epipaleolithic peoples went there maybe about 12,000 or 13,000 years ago, much earlier than anyone had thought possible. The big question started to become in the field, well, what happened in between?"


Subsequent finds pushed the Neolithic evidence on Cyprus back to around 10,000 years ago, but "no one has been able to fill in a 2,000-year gap between this possible first evidence of humans ever going near the island and apparent evidence of proper settlement and farming and agriculture," Manning said.


Based on their survey work since 2006, Manning and colleagues focused efforts on a potentially very early Neolithic site in central Cyprus at Ayia Varvara Asprokremnos (AVA).


"We found this site by doing the opposite of the normal strategy -- people had been looking around the coast," Manning said. "The coast around 11,000 years ago basically is now 50 to a couple hundred meters offshore from the present coastline, because sea level has risen. We [said we] should go inland, and look at the type of place that a hunter-gatherer on the island might try to be a hunter-gatherer or an incipient agriculturalist."


The AVA site "had early Holocene soils, was near the key resources for a human population about 11,000 years ago, and [our surveys] produced lots of evidence of stone tool production," he said. "It was right in the bend of the only permanent river in this whole area of Cyprus, so it seemed to be a perfect strategic spot for an early hunter-gatherer."


There was chert nearby to make stone tools, and hand augur tests found intact soil samples and a single small lithic flake "we thought to be of the right technology to be very early in date," Manning said.


During seasons of fieldwork in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the team excavated several hundred square meters of the site, and intensively surveyed the surrounding area. Six different charcoal samples from the excavations were carbon-dated and securely estimated to be from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period, the initial phase of the Near Eastern Neolithic -- "the very origins of the agricultural revolution," Manning said.


"The dates came out to be almost 11,000 years old from today, so we're talking the earlier ninth millennium B.C. … which puts them around half a millennium earlier than any other Neolithic that's ever been recognized or claimed and dated on the island of Cyprus," he said. "More dramatically, these dates mean that Cyprus, an island tens of miles off the Levantine coast, was involved in the very early Neolithic world, and thus long-distance sea travel and maritime communication must now be actively factored into discussions of how the Neolithic developed and spread."


Manning terms the results "part of a field reassessment -- these findings, Cyprus and the maritime component to the development of the Neolithic will now all have to be part of the conversation. These and other findings may change how prehistory is taught at universities and colleges."


The fieldwork and carbon dating were supported by the Department of Classics and the Provost's Special Research Fund.



Ancient Shipwreck Points to Site of Major Roman Battle

By Clara Moskowitz, LiveScience Senior Writer

posted: 18 October 2010 01:44 pm ET


The remains of a sunken warship recently found in the Mediterranean Sea may confirm the site of a major ancient battle in which Rome trounced Carthage.


The year was 241 B.C. and the players were the ascending Roman republic and the declining Carthaginian Empire, which was centered on the northernmost tip of Africa. The two powers were fighting for dominance in the Mediterranean in a series of conflicts called the Punic Wars.


Archaeologists think the newly discovered remnants of the warship date from the final battle of the first Punic War, which allowed Rome to expand farther into the Western Mediterranean.


"It was the classic battle between Carthage and Rome," said archaeologist Jeffrey G. Royal of the RPM Nautical Foundation in Key West, Fla. "This particular naval battle was the ultimate, crushing defeat for the Carthaginians."


The shipwreck was found near the island of Levanzo, west of Sicily, which is where historical documents place the battle.


In the summer of 2010, Royal and his colleagues discovered a warship's bronze ram — the sharp, prolonged tip of the ship's bow that was used to slam into an enemy vessel. This tactic was heavily used in ancient naval battles and was thought to have played an important role in the Punic fights.


The ram is all that's left of the warship; the rest, made of wood, apparently rotted away.


"There's never been an ancient warship found — that's the holy grail of maritime archaeology," Royal told LiveScience. "The most we have are the rams and part of the bow structure."


Yet a ram alone can reveal intriguing clues about what these archaic vessels were like.


"The ram itself gives you a good idea of how the timbers were situated, how large they were, how they came together," Royal explained.


The new ram is the third such recent discovery near that site.


In 2008, the same team uncovered a beaten-up warship ram with bits of wood still attached, which the scientists were able to carbon-date to around the time of the end of the first Punic War.


Another ram that had been pulled out of the water by a fishing boat three years earlier in the same area bore an inscription dating it to the same time period.


This third ram, Royal said, is almost identical in shape and size to the one found in 2008.


"At this point you've got to begin to say, 'We have for the first time archaeologically confirmed an ancient naval battle site,'" Royal said.


The researchers can't be absolutely sure whether the new ram belonged to a Roman or a Carthaginian ship, but Royal's betting on the latter.


The inscription on the first ram, brought up by the fishermen, was in Latin, establishing that one as Roman. It was decorated with intricate carvings, including rosettes.


By comparison, the rams found in 2008 and this year are plain, with no decorations, and rough finger marks still left from when the cast was made.


"They were very utilitarian, very hastily made," Royal said.


That fits in with the historical accounts of the Carthaginians. While Rome already had a standing fleet before the war, "the ancient sources state that the Carthaginians hurried to rush a fleet together very quickly and then outfitted the ships and sent them off," Royal said.


Plus, because the Carthaginians were the losing side of this battle, more of the sunken ships belonged to them than to Rome.


All in all, the evidence points toward the newly discovered ram belonging to Carthage, Royal said.


Royal and Sebastiano Tusa of Sicily's Superintendent of the Sea Office are co-directors of the RPM Nautical Foundation. For more information about their work, visit the RPM site.



York's 'Headless Romans' (gladiators, according to some) had exotic origins and diet

Submitted by Ann on Wed, 10/20/2010 - 15:37


In 2004, a group of 80 individuals were discovered at Driffield Terrace, in York. They were buried between the late 1st and early 4th centuries AD, on a large cemetery on the outskirts of Eboracum, the Roman town of York.


They are unusual because they are all believed to be male, most are adults – and more than half had been decapitated. When these 30 bodies were buried some got their heads in the right place – on their shoulders. Others saw their heads placed between their knees, on their chests or down by their feet. In one double burial the two bodies even had had their heads swapped over.


Where these 'headless Romans' native Yorkshire-men or incomers, and might their origins be linked to the way they were buried? New research using isotope analysis has shown that the 'Headless Romans' found in a cemetery in York came from as far away as Eastern Europe.


A group of archaeological scientists from the University of Reading and the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory in Nottingham took samples of teeth and bone and analysed isotopes – atoms of the same element with different atomic weights – of strontium, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen.


Scientists normally just look at strontium and oxygen isotopic systems to work out someone's origins. But this time the archaeologists looked at the four isotopes together, combining information about the individual's diet with the type of climate and geological setting they grew up in. At least two had a diet rich in plant – probably millet – that wasn't grown in Britain at that time.


If anything, it's the diversity of their backgrounds rather than any common origin that was the defining feature for this group of burials.

“This approach was very important in this case, because it has given us information about these unusual burials that would have been missed if only strontium and oxygen had been analysed,” said Dr Gundula Müldner of the University of Reading.


Isotopes are absorbed by our teeth and bones from our food, drinking water and the air. Their proportions vary around the world due either to differences in regional geology or climate, so they provide important clues about where individuals grew up or spent most of their lives.


“It's the first time that consumers of C4 plant products have been reported for any archaeological period in Britain,” said Dr Müldner. “Oxygen (O) and strontium (Sr) are fixed in dental enamel as our teeth form. The enamel doesn't change much subsequently, so oxygen and strontium levels can be matched fairly closely to the geology and climate of the place we grew up.”


Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) isotopes are absorbed from our food and can be measured from dentine or bone collagen samples. They tell scientists about terrestrial and marine foods in an individual's diet as well as the balance of plant and animal protein. They also distinguish plants that photosynthesis in different ways to produce different proportions of the isotopes C3 and C4.


However, as most diets look similar, isotopically speaking, over large parts of temperate Europe, C and N isotopes are not usually thought particularly useful for understanding how people have moved around.


From the 80 individuals discovered at Driffield Terrace, 18 were tested for oxygen and strontium. The strontium analysis showed that 11 of them grew up on food that wasn't grown locally. Two oxygen results were well outside the estimated range for Britain – one of the persons spent his childhood in a cooler climate and the other in a warmer one.


Where possible the team tested four isotopes in the same individual. In combination, the oxygen and strontium isotopes indicated that just five of the men tested grew up in York. The others either came from elsewhere in the north of England, or as far as France, Germany or central southern Europe or the Mediterranean.


In total 68 individuals were tested for carbon and nitrogen. Five of them were markedly different from local populations. Two in particular had eaten diets with distinctly high carbon isotope ratios, indicating the consumption of C4 plants – or the products of animals raised on them.


The only 'C4 plant' cultivated in Europe at the time was millet, but it was almost certainly not grown in Britain during this period, possibly because the climate was too wet. To have eaten enough of their distinctive diets to produce these unusual isotope results, the scientists conclude, these two individuals must have come from abroad.


“This was one of the most exciting results for me,” says Müldner. “It's the first time that consumers of C4 plant products have been reported for any archaeological period in Britain.”


Crucially, a number of the individuals identified as incomers from the carbon and nitrogen results would not have been picked though strontium and oxygen analysis alone.


Compared to what is known so far from cemeteries across York, the 'Headless Romans' do seem to have much more exotic origins than groups with less unusual burial rites. But the study didn't find any consistent link between their geographical origins and whether they were decapitated.


“If anything,” says Müldner, “it's the diversity of their backgrounds rather than any common origin that was the defining feature for this group of burials.”


There are many theories about 'the identity' of the headless Romans – and their decapitators. In 2006, isotope analysis suggested that three of the men were from Northern Europe (including Britain), one from the Alps, one from the Mediterranean, and the final one from north Africa. The 80 could have been soldiers or even – according to the 2006 Timewatch special 'The Mystery of the Headless Romans' – men from Emperor Severus' household, executed by Caracalla. 


June this year, it was announced York's headless Romans might have been Gladiators – the subject of the Channel 4 documentary 'Gladiators: Back from the Dead'.  Evidence cited for Driffield Terrace being the 'worlds only well-preserved gladiator cemetery', is the discovery of a 'large, carnivore bite mark' and a high incidence of substantial arm asymmetry. Further, some healed and unhealed weapon injuries and possible hammer blows to the head (a feature attested as a probable gladiatorial coup de grâce at another gladiator cemetery at Ephesus in Turkey).


Surely, the 30 decapitated individuals died a violent death, but they could also have been criminals – one of the skeletons was found with heavy lead leg-shackles, or even members of a religious cult.


Oxygen Analysis and Archaeology


The research is part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project ‘A Long Way From Home: Diaspora Communities in Roman Britain’, which earlier identified the 'Upper Class' (and early-christian) Ivory Bangle Lady buried at York as African. The research by  Dr Gundula Müldner, Chenery and Dr Hella Eckardt is published as The 'Headless Romans': multi-isotope investigations of an unusual burial ground from Roman Britain in the Journal of Archaeological Science (2010).



York Archaeological Trust find Roman vase at Hungate dig in York

11:30am Saturday 23rd October 2010


A RARE glimpse into the world of Roman funeral rituals is on offer to visitors to DIG in York.


Archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust, who are excavating the Hungate site, have unearthed a small Roman cemetery which has so far revealed 20 burials and six cremations. In two graves, which contained the remains of Roman citizens, was an assembly of rich grave goods.


Among the grave goods on display in the Grave Matters exhibition at DIG now until February next year are intricate jet and shale jewellery, glass necklace beads, a glass perfume bottle and pottery vessels from Britain and beyond. Visitors can see the finds up close and can discover the background to how the items arrived at Hungate and the methods used by the Trust to excavate and then conserve them.


The findings will be on show in the exhibition area within DIG, York Archaeological Trust’s hands-on excavation attraction at St Saviourgate, York. The Hungate dig is York’s biggest excavation in more than 25 years and the exhibition will change four times a year to show the latest finds and new archaeological developments. To find out more about DIG and the new Grave Matters exhibition, visit digyork.com or phone 01904 615505.



Site of 'Britain's oldest hospital' uncovered


Wednesday, 20 October 2010


A site which may house Britain's earliest known hospital has been uncovered by archaeologists.


Radio carbon analysis at the former Leper Hospital at St Mary Magdalen in Winchester, Hampshire, has provided a date range of AD 960-1030 for a series of burials, many exhibiting evidence of leprosy, on the site.


A number of other artefacts, pits, and postholes also relate to the same time including what appears to be a large sunken structure underneath a medieval infirmary.


Before this new claim, most historians and archaeologists thought that hospitals in the Britain only dated from after the Norman conquest of 1066.


"This is an important archaeological development," said Dr Simon Roffey from the University of Winchester which conducted the dig.


"Historically, it has always been assumed that hospitals were a post-conquest phenomena, the majority founded from the late 11th century onwards.


"However, our excavations have revealed a range of buildings and, more significantly, convincing evidence for a foundation in the 10th century.


"Our excavations at St Mary Magdalen offer an intriguing insight into a little known aspect of the history of both Winchester and England. It is undoubtedly a site of national importance."


Among the earliest known hospitals in the UK is Harbledown in Canterbury founded by Lanfranc in the 1070s, following the Norman Conquest.


Professor Nicholas Orme, a leading researcher on medieval hospitals, added: "I have only studied the documentary evidence but I could not find any such evidence for a hospital before 1066 except perhaps as an activity within a monastery or minster.


"A late Anglo-Saxon hospital would surely be a first for archaeology and indeed for history."


Winchester was the capital of England throughout a large part of the Anglo-Saxon period and after the Norman Conquest. The capital was moved to London from the Hampshire city in the 12th century.



Archaelogists may have discovered 12th century royal court in Aber

Oct 21 2010 by Rayyan Parry, North Wales Weekly News


ARCHAEOLOGISTS in Abergwyngregyn may have discovered one of the most iconic royal buildings of the 12th century.

Up to 20 archaeologists are digging into the history of the area which has links to the medieval Prince Llewellyn.

The dig has already unearthed a building which archaeologists say could be a royal court.

“A small friendly village today, Aber is a poorly known gem of Welsh national history,” said Snowdonia National Park archaeologist John Roberts, who is heading the project.

“The project is giving people a chance to find out more about Aber’s iconic past and to explore its rich ancient landscape for themselves.

“We have opened up quite a large trench in the field near the motte and the foundations of the medieval hall and other buildings which might date to the same period are looking really dramatic.

“We will have to rebury the site at the end of the excavation and hope people take the chance to see it beforehand at our open days.”

Six schools have taken full advantage of the history of their local area with field trips to the sites last week.

Open days will be held on October 27-30 to show people what they have found. The site is a two minute walk from the village bus stop and car park – just follow the signs.



Pre-Inca mummies discovered in Lima

THU, 21 OCT 2010 2:26P.M.


Four 1,150-year-old mummies have been discovered in an ancient burial site in Lima, archaeologists revealed yesterday.

The preserved bodies are believed to be the remains of an elite woman and three children, one of which may have been sacrificed. All came from the Wari, or Huari, culture, a pre-Inca civilisation that spread along the Peruvian coast between 600 and 1,000 AD.

The discovery was made in the Huaca Puccllana archeological complex in Lima's Miraflores neighbourhood. The semi-circular tomb was found at the top of the site's main pyramid - a 25-metre structure made of adobe and clay - and was untouched by looters.

So far archeologists have been unable to determine the age or sex of the primary mummy, but the ornamental offerings left with the body - including several ceramic vessels and textile bags decorated with amorphous drawings - suggest that it was a woman.

Archeologist Gladys Paz was led to the tomb after discovering its adobe roof.

"This time, we have found an intact tomb for this era - we are talking the second part of the 'horizonte medio' era or 850AD - with an age of 1,150 years. Around the tomb, a principle bundle with a fake head has been noted, along with three accompanying bundles, which for their size would have been children. Two of them are from high social rank and one was probably sacrificed," said Paz.

As the only intact Wari tomb to have been found at the top of the pyramid, it is a important discovery for those studying the period. Mummies and offerings previously found in the area have been found in poor condition.

Huaca Puccllana was one of the most important sites for Lima Culture, a pre-Incan civilization, before it became taken over by the Wari. It is a site that attracts large numbers of students and tourists from around the world.



Odd Pyramid Had Rooftop Homes, Ritual Sacrifices?

At rare Peru site, elites linked to copper industry lived on high, experts say.

A newly excavated platform atop a pyramid at the Huaca Colorada site looks out on the Peruvian desert.

John Roach

for National Geographic News

Published October 21, 2010


Yes, it's yielded human remains—including five females who may have been ritually sacrificed. But it's the signs of life that make a half-excavated Peruvian pyramid of the Moche culture stand out, archaeologists say.


"Often these pyramidal mounds were built as mortuaries more than anything else," said excavation co-leader Edward Swenson. (See pictures from the tomb of the Moche "king of bling.")


"In most instances [a pyramid] is not where people live, it is not where they were cooking their food," the University of Toronto archaeologist added.


But the newly exposed 1,400-year-old flat-topped pyramid supported residences for up to a couple dozen elites, who oversaw and perhaps took part in copper production at the site, evidence suggests.


The pre-Inca pyramid dwellers likely presided over important rituals, feasted on roasted llama and guinea pig, and drank corn beer, according to archaeologists working at the site.


Among the signs of occupation are at least 19 adobe stands where large vessels of water and corn beer were stored, as well as scattered llama, dog, guinea pig, and fish bones and traces of coca leaves and red peppers.


"There's a far more robust domestic occupation than what we would have expected," said expedition co-leader John Warner, an archaeologist with the University of Kentucky.


Thriving along Peru's arid northern coast from about A.D. 100 to 800, the Moche culture was composed of independently governed agricultural societies. These groups shared a common religion and a knack for irrigation systems, intricate ceramics, and metallurgy.


In August 2009 Swenson and colleagues began excavating a long mound at the roughly 60-acre (24-hectare) Huaca Colorada site in the Lamayaeque region's southern Jequetepeque Valley.  The settlement dates to the Late Moche period, about A.D. 500 to 800.


During the first month of the dig, the team uncovered the mud-brick pyramid within the mound as well as the residences. Later digging turned up evidence of human sacrifice on a rooftop platform: detached body parts and the corpses of five young women, all with signs of ritual burning and one with a rope around her neck.


Measuring about 1,300 feet (390 meters) wide by 460 feet (140 meters) deep, the pyramid is Huaca Colorada's most prominent feature.


Built on a slope, the pyramid appears almost flat when viewed from the north. On its the southern side, however, the monument rises about seven stories at its tallest point—an imposing sight to anyone approaching from that direction.


"They very cleverly utilized the topography to their advantage, to give the appearance of monumentality," Warner said.


Excavations indicate that the Huaca Colorada pyramid may have been home to a group of elite coppersmiths.


On lower levels of the pyramid, for example, are smelting pits, where copper tools and ornaments were fashioned, the archaeologists say. The team also found knives, spatulas, and other copper goods on the pyramid.


It may seem odd that Moche copper workers would have wanted to live above the store, Warner said. For one thing, "copper production is a pretty nasty business from an ecological point of view."


For example, intense fires would have been required to maintain the 1,984-degree-Fahrenheit (1,084-degree-Celsius) temperature necessary for melting copper. The blazes would have cloaked the mound in a dirty, smoky haze, he said.


"It's pretty fascinating that it is occurring in such close proximity to what we right now interpret to be elite residential quarters," Warner said.


Still, the University of Toronto's Swenson said, it's possible the workers lived the high life precisely because of the copper production.


"We know that within a Moche context that metallurgical production is not something that can be understood simply as an economic utility divorced from Moche religious and cultural values," he said.


"It was probably something that was steeped with certain ritual understanding."


The unusual nature of Huaca Colorada originally attracted the archaeologists, as the site seems to have been neither an elaborate religious structure nor a political center nor a rustic capital for the surrounding farming community.


"There seem to be some powerful individuals here," but of a unique sort, Swenson said.


Even the murals have a rare flavor. They include well-known figures from Moche iconography such as a serpent and a warrior, but the craftsmanship is informal, almost graffiti-like, compared with murals at other Moche sites.


"Were they allowed a certain amount of prestige and control over their own status—and maybe the labor of others—because of their role in the metallurgical arts?" Swenson said. "It's a possibility."


The pyramid excavation is in its infancy, according to Swenson, and that raises hopes that the monument may yet reveal more about the poorly understood Moche.


Moche expert Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, for one, is looking for clues as to how the famously independent Moche settlements interacted. The Catholic University of Peru archaeologist is the director of a decades-long excavation at San Jose de Moro, a Moche ceremonial center in the Jequetepeque Valley famed for the discovery of several highly decorated priestesses. (The National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News, partially funds the San Jose excavation.)


Castillo hopes that comparisons of the Colorada finds with those from San Jose de Moro will help clarify whether, as he suspects, the Moche of the valley regularly gathered at San Jose for ritual celebrations.


"The way to approach this quite peculiar aspect of Moche society—religious centralization rather than economic or political—is by looking at San Jose de Moro and the complex sites around it," Castillo said via email.


What's more, Huaca Colorada, being on a rather elevated site on the edge of the Andes, "will be critical to understand the demise of the Moche in the Jequetepeque Valley, because most of the land around the site was wiped away by a huge flood somewhere around the end of the Moche," said Castillo, who isn't involved in the pyramid project.


The Huaca Colorada excavations, he added, should provide "quite a lot of information on the way of life of the Moche in their terminal years."



Scientists suggest that cancer is purely man-made

October 14, 2010

Dividing Cancer Cells. Image: University of Birmingham

(PhysOrg.com) –


Cancer is a modern, man-made disease caused by environmental factors such as pollution and diet, a study by University of Manchester scientists has strongly suggested.


The study of remains and literature from ancient Egypt and Greece and earlier periods – carried out at Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology and published in Nature Reviews Cancer – includes the first histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy.

Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, with few references to cancer in literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity. The disease rate has risen massively since the Industrial Revolution, in particular childhood cancer – proving that the rise is not simply due to people living longer.

Professor Rosalie David, at the Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “In industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.”

She added: “The important thing about our study is that it gives a historical perspective to this disease. We can make very clear statements on the cancer rates in societies because we have a full overview. We have looked at millennia, not one hundred years, and have masses of data.”

The data includes the first ever histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy by Professor Michael Zimmerman, a visiting Professor at the KNH Centre, who is based at the Villanova University in the US. He diagnosed rectal cancer in an unnamed mummy, an ‘ordinary’ person who had lived in the Dakhleh Oasis during the Ptolemaic period (200-400 CE).

Professor Zimmerman said: “In an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases. The virtual absence of malignancies in mummies must be interpreted as indicating their rarity in antiquity, indicating that cancer causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialization”.

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The team studied both mummified remains and literary evidence for ancient Egypt but only literary evidence for ancient Greece as there are no remains for this period, as well as medical studies of human and animal remains from earlier periods, going back to the age of the dinosaurs.

Evidence of cancer in animal fossils, non-human primates and early humans is scarce – a few dozen, mostly disputed, examples in animal fossils, although a metastatic cancer of unknown primary origin has been reported in an Edmontosaurus fossil while another study lists a number of possible neoplasms in fossil remains. Various malignancies have been reported in non-human primates but do not include many of the cancers most commonly identified in modern adult humans.

It has been suggested that the short life span of individuals in antiquity precluded the development of cancer. Although this statistical construct is true, individuals in ancient Egypt and Greece did live long enough to develop such diseases as atherosclerosis, Paget's disease of bone, and osteoporosis, and, in modern populations, bone tumours primarily affect the young.

Another explanation for the lack of tumours in ancient remains is that tumours might not be well preserved. Dr. Zimmerman has performed experimental studies indicating that mummification preserves the features of malignancy and that tumours should actually be better preserved than normal tissues. In spite of this finding, hundreds of mummies from all areas of the world have been examined and there are still only two publications showing microscopic confirmation of cancer. Radiological surveys of mummies from the Cairo Museum and museums in Europe have also failed to reveal evidence of cancer.

As the team moved through the ages, it was not until the 17th century that they found descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers and the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours have only occurred in the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin’s disease in 1832.

Professor David – who was invited to present her paper to UK Cancer Czar Professor Mike Richards and other oncologists at this year’s UK Association of Cancer Registries and National Cancer Intelligence Network conference – said: “Where there are cases of cancer in ancient Egyptian remains, we are not sure what caused them. They did heat their homes with fires, which gave off smoke, and temples burned incense, but sometimes illnesses are just thrown up.”

She added: “The ancient Egyptian data offers both physical and literary evidence, giving a unique opportunity to look at the diseases they had and the treatments they tried. They were the fathers of pharmacology so some treatments did work

“They were very inventive and some treatments thought of as magical were genuine therapeutic remedies. For example, celery was used to treat rheumatism back then and is being investigated today. Their surgery and the binding of fractures were excellent because they knew their anatomy: there was no taboo on working with human bodies because of mummification. They were very hands on and it gave them a different mindset to working with bodies than the Greeks, who had to come to Alexandria to study medicine.”

She concluded: “Yet again extensive ancient Egyptian data, along with other data from across the millennia, has given modern society a clear message – cancer is man-made and something that we can and should address.”

More information: A copy of the paper ‘Cancer: an old disease, a new disease or something in between?’ is available at http://www.nature. … nrc2914.html

Provided by University of Manchester (news : web)



Neolithic Immigration

How Middle Eastern Milk Drinkers Conquered Europe

10/15/2010 12:07 PM

By Matthias Schulz


New research has revealed that agriculture came to Europe amid a wave of immigration from the Middle East during the Neolithic period. The newcomers won out over the locals because of their sophisticated culture, mastery of agriculture -- and their miracle food, milk.


Wedged in between dump trucks and excavators, archeologist Birgit Srock is drawing the outline of a 7,200-year-old posthole. A concrete mixing plant is visible on the horizon. She is here because, during the construction of a high-speed rail line between the German cities of Nuremberg and Berlin, workers happened upon a large Neolithic settlement in the Upper Franconia region of northern Bavaria.


The remains of more than 40 houses were unearthed, as well as skeletons, a spinning wheel, bulbous clay vessels, cows' teeth and broken sieves for cheese production -- a typical settlement of the so-called Linear Pottery culture (named after the patterns on their pottery).


This ancient culture provided us with the blessing of bread baking. At around 5300 BC, everyone in Central Europe was suddenly farming and raising livestock. The members of the Linear Pottery culture kept cows in wooden pens, used rubbing stones and harvested grain. Within less than 300 years, the sedentary lifestyle had spread to the Paris basin.


The reasons behind the rapid shift have long been a mystery. Was it an idea that spread through Central Europe at the time, or an entire people?


Peaceful Cooperation or Invasion?


Many academics felt that the latter was inconceivable. Agriculture was invented in the Middle East, but many researchers found it hard to believe that people from that part of the world would have embarked on an endless march across the Bosporus and into the north.


Jens Lüning, a German archaeologist who specializes in the prehistoric period, was influential in establishing the conventional wisdom on the developments, namely that a small group of immigrants inducted the established inhabitants of Central Europe into sowing and milking with "missionary zeal." The new knowledge was then quickly passed on to others. This process continued at a swift pace, in a spirit of "peaceful cooperation," according to Lüning.


But now doubts are being raised on that explanation. New excavations in Turkey, as well as genetic analyses of domestic animals and Stone Age skeletons, paint a completely different picture:


At around 7000 BC, a mass migration of farmers began from the Middle East to Europe.

These ancient farmers brought along domesticated cattle and pigs.

There was no interbreeding between the intruders and the original population.

Mutated for Milk


The new settlers also had something of a miracle food at their disposal. They produced fresh milk, which, as a result of a genetic mutation, they were soon able to drink in large quantities. The result was that the population of farmers grew and grew.


These striking insights come from biologists and chemists. In a barrage of articles in professional journals like Nature and BMC Evolutionary Biology, they have turned many of the prevailing views upside down over the course of the last three years.


The most important group is working on the "Leche" project (the name is inspired by the Spanish word for milk), an association of 13 research institutes in seven European Union countries. The goal of the project is to genetically probe the beginnings of butter, milk and cheese.


An unusual circumstance has made this research possible in the first place. Homo sapiens was originally unable to digest raw milk. Generally, the human body only produces an enzyme that can break down lactose in the small intestine during the first few years of life. Indeed, most adults in Asia and Africa react to cow's milk with nausea, flatulence and diarrhea.


But the situation is different in Europe, where many people carry a minute modification of chromosome 2 that enables them to digest lactose throughout their life without experiencing intestinal problems. The percentage of people with this modification is the highest among Britons and Scandinavians (see graphic).


It has long been known that these differences are based on Europeans' primeval origins. But where did the first milk drinker live? Which early man was the first to feast on cow's milk without suffering the consequences?


Groups Did not Intermingle


In a bid to solve the mystery, molecular biologists have sawed into and analyzed countless Neolithic bones. The breakthrough came last year, when scientists discovered that the first milk drinkers lived in the territory of present-day Austria, Hungary and Slovakia.


But that was also where the nucleus of the Linear Pottery culture was located. "The trait of lactose tolerance quickly became established in the population," explains Joachim Burger, an anthropologist from the University of Mainz in southwestern Germany who is a member of the Leche team.


Deep-frozen thighs are stacked in Burger's laboratory, where assistants wearing masks saw open skulls. Others examine bits of genetic material from the Stone Age under a blue light.


The group will hold a working meeting in Uppsala, Sweden in November. But even at this stage it is already clear that large numbers of people from the Middle East once descended upon Central Europe.


There are also signs of conflict. The intruders differed from the continent's Ice Age inhabitants "through completely different genetic lines," Burger explains. In other words, the two groups did not intermingle.


Tension Between Locals and Incomers


This isn't exactly surprising. The old hunter-gatherers on the continent had long been accustomed to hunting and fishing. Their ancestors had entered Europe 46,000 years ago -- early enough to have encountered the Neanderthals.

The early farmers moving into Central Europe were sophisticated compared with these children of nature. The farmers wore different clothing, prayed to other idols and spoke a different language.


It was these differences that probably led to tensions. Researchers have discovered that arsonists set the villages of the Linear Pottery culture on fire. Soon the farmers built tall palisades to protect their villages. Their advance was blocked for a long time by the Rhine River, however.


There are signs that bartering and trade existed, but the two groups did not intermingle sexually. Burger suspects that there was probably a "strict ban on intermarriage."


The farmers even protected their livestock from outside influences, determined to prevent the wild oxen known as aurochs from breeding with their Middle Eastern cows. They feared that such hybrids would only introduce a new wild element into the domesticated breeds.


Their breeding precautions were completely understandable. The revolutionary idea that man could subjugate plants and animals went hand in hand with enormous efforts, patience and ingenuity. The process took thousands of years.


Getting Animals Under Control


The beginnings can now be delineated relatively well. About 12,000 years ago, the zone between the Zagros Mountains in present-day Iran, Palestine and Turkey was transformed into a giant field experiment.


The first farmers learned to cultivate wild emmer and einkorn wheat. Then they went on to domesticate animals. Goats had been successfully domesticated in Iran by about 9,000 BC. Sheep and pigs were domesticated in southern Anatolia.


Enormous settlements soon sprang up in the region known as the Fertile Crescent. Çatalhöyük, known as "man's first metropolis," had about 5,000 inhabitants, who lived in mud huts packed tightly together. They worshipped an obese mother goddess, depicted in statues as a figure sitting on a throne decorated with the heads of carnivores.


One of the most difficult challenges was the breeding and domestication of Middle Eastern wild cattle. The male specimens of the species weighed up to 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) and had curved horns. People eventually drummed up the courage to approach the beasts somewhere in the central Euphrates Valley.


They found different ways of getting the cattle under control. One Neolithic sculpture depicts a steer with a hole punched through its nasal septum. Removing the testicles was also quickly recognized as a way of improving the animals' temperament. Once the wild cattle had been castrated, they could finally be yoked.


The clever farmers realized that if they gave calves from other mothers to the cows, their udders would always be full of milk.


No Taste for Milk


Oddly enough, the Mesopotamian farmers didn't touch fresh milk. A few weeks ago, Joachim Burger returned from Turkey with a sack full of Neolithic bones from newly discovered cemeteries where the ancient farmers were buried.


When the bones were analyzed, there were no signs of lactose tolerance. "If these people had drunk milk, they would have felt sick," says Burger. This means that at first the farmers only consumed fermented milk products like kefir, yogurt and cheese, which contain very little lactose.


Even more astonishing, as recent excavations in Anatolia show, is the fact that the ancient farmers did not leave their core region for almost 2,000 years. They had put together the complete "Neolithic cultural package," from the rubbing stone to seeds, "without advancing into other areas," says archeologist Mehmet Özdogan.


The coastal zones were long avoided. The people who lived there were probably fishermen who defended themselves against the new way of life with harpoons.


Renegade Settlers


The crossing of the Bosporus did not occur until sometime between 7000 and 6500 BC. The farmers met with little resistance from the hunter-gatherer cultures, whose coastal settlements were being inundated by devastating floods at the time. Melting glaciers had triggered a rise in the sea level of over 100 meters (330 feet).


Nevertheless, the advance across the Balkans was not a triumph. The colonists' dwellings there seem small and shabby. At the 47th parallel north, near Lake Balaton in modern-day Hungary, the advance came to a standstill for 500 years.


The Linear Pottery culture, which was the first to shift to the northern shore of Lake Balaton, gave the movement new life. Lüning talks about "renegade" settlers who had created a "new way of life" and a "reform project" on the other side of the lake.


With military determination, the advancing pioneers constantly established new settlements. The villages often consisted of three to six windowless longhouses, strictly aligned to the northwest, next to livestock pens and masterfully constructed wells. Their tools, picks and bowls (which were basically hemispheric vessels) were almost identical throughout Central Europe, from Ukraine to the Rhine.


Migration and Mass Murder


The settlers, wielding their sickles, kept moving farther and farther north, right into the territory of backward peoples. The newcomers were industrious and used to working hard in the fields. Clay statues show that the men were already wearing trousers and shaving. The women dyed their hair red and decorated it with snail shells. Both sexes wore caps, and the men also wore triangular hats.

By comparison, the more primitive existing inhabitants of the continent wore animal hides and lived in spartan huts. They looked on in bewilderment as the newcomers deforested their hunting grounds, tilled the soil and planted seeds. This apparently upset them and motivated them to resist the intruders.


In the Bible, Cain, the crop farmer, slays Abel the shepherd. In the Europe of the Neolithic Age, conditions may have been just as violent. One of the most gruesome discoveries is a mass grave that has been dubbed the "Talheim Death Pit" in the German town of that name. The pit is filled with the remains of 34 bodies. The members of an entire clan were apparently surprised in their sleep and beaten to death with clubs and hatchets. So far, archeologists haven't been able to figure out whether the incomers killed the existing inhabitants, or vice versa.


Drinking Milk by the Bucketful


It is clear, however, that the dairy farmers won out in the end. During their migration, they encountered increasingly lush pastures, a paradise for their cows. An added benefit of migrating farther to the north was that raw milk lasted longer in the cooler climate.


This probably explains why people soon began drinking the abundant new beverage by the bucketful. Some had genetic mutations that enabled them to drink milk without getting sick. They were the true progenitors of the movement.


As a result of "accelerated evolution," says Burger, lactose tolerance was selected for on a large scale within the population in the space of about 100 generations. Europe became the land of the eternal infant as people began drinking milk their whole lives.


The new food was especially beneficial for children. In the Neolithic Age, many small children died after being weaned in their fourth year of life. "As a result of consuming healthy milk, this could be greatly reduced," Hamburg biologist Fritz Höffeler speculates. All of this led to population growth and, as a result, further geographical expansion.


'White Revolution'


Does this explain why the inventors of the sickle and the plow conquered Europe so quickly, leading to the demise of the old hunter-gatherers?


Imagine, if you will, a village of the Linear Pottery culture in the middle of winter. As smoke emerges from the top of a wooden hut, the table inside is surrounded by rosy-cheeked children drinking hot milk with honey, which their mother has just prepared for them. It's an image that could help explain why people adopted a sedentary way of life.


Burger, at any rate, is convinced that milk played a major part in shaping history, just as gunpowder did much later. "There was once a white revolution," he says.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan





Alcohol's Neolithic Origins: Brewing Up a Civilization (12/24/2009)


Stone Age Mystery: German Excavation Reveals Signs of Mass Cannibalism (12/08/2009)


The Not-So-Fertile Crescent: Climate Change Threatens Cradle of Civilization (04/16/2008)




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