Space Shuttle Images Reveal Ancient Egyptian Lake Bed

By Alexandra Witze, Science News   December 1, 2010  |  2:24 pm


A huge lake once waxed and waned deep in the sandy heart of the Egyptian Sahara, geologists have found.


Radar images taken from the space shuttle confirm that a lake broader than Lake Erie once sprawled a few hundred kilometers west of the Nile, researchers report in the December issue of Geology. Since the lake first appeared around 250,000 years ago, it would have ballooned and shrunk until finally petering out around 80,000 years ago.


Knowing where and when such oases existed could help archaeologists understand the environment Homo sapiens traveled while migrating out of Africa for the first time, says team leader Ted Maxwell, a geologist at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Modern humans arose in Africa about 200,000 years ago.


“You realize that hey, this place was full of really large lakes when people were wandering into the rest of the world,” he says.


Since then, desert winds have eroded and sands have buried much of the region’s landscape, says Maxine Kleindienst, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto. But during next summer’s field season, she and her colleagues will be checking for ancient shorelines at the elevations suggested in the new paper.



Other studies have found evidence of mega-lakes in Chad, Libya and Sudan at various points over the past 250,000 years. The new study targeted Egypt, some 400 kilometers west of the Nile, where in the 1980s researchers reporting finding fish fossils in the desert.


That discovery, says Maxwell, triggered scientists to think about how those fish could have gotten there. In 2000, astronauts on the space shuttle Endeavour used a radar instrument to take high-resolution pictures of the area’s topography. Maxwell and his colleagues recently analyzed those pictures to deduce how water would have drained across northeastern Africa over the past few hundred thousand years, ever since the Nile was born.


In Egypt, west of the Nile Valley in a region known as Tushka, the researchers spotted a low-lying area where water would have pooled after overflowing from the river, carrying fish with it. At its maximum, this ancient lake would have stretched for 350 kilometers, down to the modern-day Sudan border.


At the time, the Tushka area had more rainfall than today and would have been covered by grasslands, says Maxwell. Heavy rain in highlands to the south, from where the Nile flows, would have caused the lake to grow; dry spells shrank it. “This lake was going up and going down in size, doing all kinds of things over multiple thousands of years,” he says.


Something similar is going on today at a smaller scale, says Mohamed Abdelsalam, a geologist at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Just northeast of where the huge paleolake once lay, the Nile also overflowed, starting in 1998. A series of five small “new lakes of the Sahara” was born. Deprived of water since 2003, these lakes have since almost entirely dried out, says Abdelsalam.


Today, for water, Egyptians rely almost exclusively on the Nile and its annual floods. The ancient lakes, says Maxwell, suggest that such flooding was already under way, at least to some degree, a quarter million years ago.



One scientist's hobby: recreating the ice age

November 28, 2010 By ARTHUR MAX , Associated Press


Wild horses have returned to northern Siberia. So have musk oxen, hairy beasts that once shared this icy land with woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. Moose and reindeer are here, and may one day be joined by Canadian bison and deer.


Later, the predators will come - Siberian tigers, wolves and maybe leopards.

Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing these animals to the land where they once roamed in millions to demonstrate his theory that filling the vast emptiness of Siberia with grass-eating animals can slow global warming.

"Some people have a small garden. I have an ice age park. It's my hobby," says Zimov, smiling through his graying beard. His true profession is quantum physics.

Climate change is felt most sharply in the Arctic, where temperatures are warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. Most climate scientists say human activity, especially industrial pollution and the byproducts of everyday living like home heating and driving cars, is triggering an unnatural warming of the Earth. On Monday, negotiators representing 194 countries open a two-week conference in Cancun, Mexico, on reducing greenhouse gases to slow the pace of climate change.

Zimov is trying to recreate an ecosystem that disappeared 10,000 years ago with the end of the ice age, which closed the 1.8 million-year Pleistocene era and ushered in the global climate roughly as we know it.

He believes herds of grazers will turn the tundra, which today supports only spindly larch trees and shrubs, into luxurious grasslands. Tall grasses with complex root systems will stabilize the frozen soil, which is now thawing at an ever-increasing rate, he says.

Herbivores keep wild grass short and healthy, sending up fresh shoots through the summer and autumn. Their manure gives crucial nourishment. In winter, the animals trample and flatten the snow that otherwise would insulate the ground from the cold air. That helps prevent the frozen ground, or permafrost, from thawing and releasing powerful greenhouse gases. Grass also reflects more sunlight than forests, a further damper to global warming.

It would take millions of animals to change the landscape of Siberia and effectively seal the permafrost. But left alone, Zimov argues, the likes of caribou, buffalo and musk oxen multiply quickly. Wherever they graze "new pastures will appear ... beautiful grassland."


The project is being watched not only by climate scientists but by paleontologists and environmentalists who have an interest in "rewilding."

"This is a very interesting experiment," said Adrian Lister, of the Natural History Museum in London. "I think it's valid from an ecological point of view to put back animals that did formally live there," he told AP Television News. He disapproved of suggestions to rewild non-native species - for example, relocating elephants and rhinos to the American plains.

Zimov began the project in 1989, fencing off 160 square kilometers (40,000 acres) of forest, meadows, shrub land and lakes. It is surrounded by another 600 square kilometers (150,000 acres) of wilderness.

It is an offshoot of the Northeast Science Station, which he founded and where he has lived for 30 years. Already icebound by October, the park is 40 kilometers (25 miles) inland from the station, accessible only by boat in summer and by snow vehicles after the rivers freeze.

A 32-meter (105-foot) tower inside the park gives constant readings of methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor. The data feeds into a global monitoring system overseen by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Zimov's research on permafrost, greenhouse gas emissions and mammoth archaeology has attracted world scientists to his laboratories, a small cluster of cabins and a tiny chapel on a rocky bluff above a channel of the Kolyma River. A 20-bed barge is used for field trips in summer, and a $100,000 hovercraft is on order. Zimov sometimes uses an old Russian tank to bring supplies from the Chinese border, 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away.

Part of the station's attraction - and deterrence - is its remoteness. It is 6,600 kilometers (4,000 miles) and eight time zones east of Moscow. The nearby town of Chersky, with some 5,000 people, has few amenities, and the nearest city, Yakutsk, is a 4-1/2 flight. Many researchers, particularly Americans, prefer to work in Alaska or northern Canada, which are more accessible.

"Most of the Arctic is in Russia, and yet most of the Arctic research isn't," said Max Holmes, of Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, director of the Polaris Project, which has sent undergraduates to the station for the last three summers.

Zimov started the park with a herd of 40 Yakutian horses, a semi-wild breed with a handsomely long mane that is raised by Yakuts and other native people for their meat. Short, sturdy and broad-backed, they survive harsh Siberian winters with the help of a furry hide, thick layers of fat and the ability to paw through a meter (3 feet) of snow to forage.

Of his first herd, Zimov said 15 were killed by wolves and bears, 12 died from eating wild hemlock that grows in the park, and two slipped through the perimeter and made their way back some 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) to their original pastures.

But he bought more. Now the horses have learned to avoid poisonous plants and to resist predators. Over the last three years, more colts were born and survived than horses lost.

The challenge is to find the right balance between grazers and predators, and how to help his animals get through their first winters.

His workers still give occasional buckets of grain to the horses to supplement their diet with salt. About half the horses come regularly to the cabin where a caretaker stays year-round. The other half are rarely seen except for their tracks.

Zimov also has had problems with the moose that he brought inside his enclosure. Moose still live in small numbers in surrounding forests, and the males jump back and forth over the 6-foot-high fence.

In September he traveled to a nature reserve on Wrangel Island, about five hours by boat across the East Siberia Sea, and brought back six 4-month-old musk oxen. One died a few weeks later. The others are kept in a small enclosure and fed hay until they can fend for themselves.

His objective is to see whether a thriving population of grazing animals will regenerate grasslands that disappeared long ago, which would slow and even halt the accelerating pace of permafrost thaw. So far, he says, the results are encouraging.

Today he has 70 animals in the park. He wants thousands to restock Siberia. To bring 1,000 bison from North America would cost $1 million, Zimov says, a small price to pay.

"If permafrost melts, 100 gigatons of carbon will be released this century," he said. "What's $1 million? One regular grant."

©2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



Unveiling Rock Art Images: A Pilot Project Employing a Geophysical Technique to Detect Magnetic Signatures

By Jennifer Milani 29/11/2010 06:12:00


The use of geophysical techniques in archaeology has become widespread, however these methods have rarely been applied to rock art research. There is a need to record and document rock art images as they face deterioration from environmental, industrial and human impacts. This project trials the use of magnetic susceptibility (MS) meter to non-invasively detect and spatiallly resolve ochre rock art images

Ochre is frequently used in rock art production and previous research in other contexts has shown that it emits a MS signature due to its inherant magnetic characteristics. These ochre images can be hidden behind silica or carbonate crusts or may deteriorate ove time limiting their visibility. The rock art images that lie behind such crusts are likely to be protected from weathering and are amenable to dating using such techniques as uranium mass spectometry (AMS).

This research demonstrates that, if present in sufficient abundance, red ochre can be imaged and spatially resolved with a MS meter when applied to a rock face in a varietyof geological environments. The type of binder used, pre-application heating or the rocktype itself does not appear to have  a significant effect on the viability of the technique. More important to the success of a survey is the equipmentsetting, spatial resolution of the survey and the use of a correction to control instrument drift. Imaging ochre beneath a proxy crust was trialled without success; however this is attributed to poor survey design rather than a fundemental problem with the technique. The success of this trialdemonstrates the validity of contimuing investigations in the emerging field of rock art geophysics ad highlihts the importance of future trials on field sites.

For further information contact

Jennifer Milani, Master of Archaeology

Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia




Farmers slowed down by hunter-gatherers: Our ancestors' fight for space

Public release date: 3-Dec-2010

Contact: Lena Weber



Institute of Physics


Agricultural – or Neolithic – economics replaced the Mesolithic social model of hunter-gathering in the Near East about 10,000 years ago. One of the most important socioeconomic changes in human history, this socioeconomic shift, known as the Neolithic transition, spread gradually across Europe until it slowed down when more northern latitudes were reached.


Research published today, Friday, 3 December 2010, in New Journal of Physics (co-owned by the Institute of Physics and the German Physical Society), details a physical model, which can potentially explain how the spreading of Neolithic farmers was slowed down by the population density of hunter-gatherers.


The researchers from Girona, in Catalonia, Spain, use a reaction-diffusion model, which explains the relation between population growth and available space, taking into account the directional space dependency of the established Mesolithic population density.


The findings confirm archeological data, which shows that the slowdown in the spreading of farming communities was not, as often assumed, the result of crops needing to adapt to chillier climates, but indeed a consequence of the struggle for space with prevalent hunter-gatherer communities.


In the future, the researchers' model could be used for further physical modeling of socioeconomic transitions in the history of humanity. As the researchers write, "The model presented in this work could be applied to many examples of invasion fronts in which the indigenous population and the invasive one compete for space in a single biological niche, both in natural habitats and in microbiological assays."


The researchers' paper can be downloaded for free from Friday 3 December 2010 here: http://iopscience.iop.org/1367-2630/12/12/123002/fulltext



Multiple burials at Orkney Neolithic site

2 December 2010 Last updated at 10:03


Archaeologists have recovered remains from at least eight people after initial excavation at a Neolithic tomb site in Orkney discovered in October.


A narrow, stone-lined passageway leads to five chambers, two of which have been part-excavated so far.


Fragments of skull and hipbone have been unearthed, some carefully placed in gaps in the stones, suggesting the 5,000-year-old site is undisturbed.


The bones point to a range of ages at death including a child of about six.


It is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to look at a Neolithic community, says Orkney Islands Council's county archaeologist, Julie Gibson.


Orkney contains some of the best preserved Neolithic remains in Europe. Just a few hundred metres from the dig at Banks on Ronaldsay lies the larger Tombs of the Eagles complex where remains of more than 300 people were found.


But the recent find is the first undisturbed burial of a Neolithic community to be discovered in Scotland in three decades.


"Science has moved on a lot in the last few years," says Gibson.


"It is now possible to find out where someone grew up, for instance. And in the case of the Amesbury Archer, found near Stonehenge, it could be seen that he had travelled from the Alps.


"It is by no means certain that all the people in this tomb will have been born here."


There are signs of rituals taking place at the site, for instance the complex was filled with layers of earth suggesting repeated use over a period of time. And large stones were used in the construction and sealing of the chambers.


The site was discovered accidentally during landscaping with a mechanical digger which damaged one end of the complex. The underground site is now subject to flooding and archaeologists are keen to investigate the site while it remains undisturbed.


Initial excavations carried out by the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology have now been completed and there are plans to return to the site in the summer. The dig has been sponsored by Orkney Islands Council and Historic Scotland.


The archaeological team have posted online videos illustrating the excavations.


http://www.forestry.gov.uk/newsrele.nsf/AllByUNID/8F39E72FC224AABF802577D2004D9456 Important archaeological find preserved in Scotland thanks to slow motion tree felling



A pre-historic archaeological find in the Scottish Highlands has been secured for future investigation – thanks to some inventive ‘slow-mo’ tree felling.

The find – a late prehistoric galleried dun – was discovered at a site in Strath Glass, near Cannich, during checks carried out by Forestry Commission Scotland staff of a forest block of mature Douglas fir that was due to be felled.


The dun - part of an Iron Age building tradition common throughout the Highlands and islands of Scotland – would have served as a homestead defending their occupants - and their grain and livestock – but also demonstrating land ownership.


Commission Archaeologist, Matt Ritchie, said:


“This is really a find of national significance and it was important that we preserved the site and prevented it being damaged while felling operations were being carried out.


“It was quite a delicate task because the dun is about 21m in diameter overall and we had to clear 23 fully mature trees from it.”


Working with specialist contractor, Highland Tree Care, the Commission’s team rigged up a rope cradle that effectively acted as a brake, catching the trees and lowering them slowly to the ground for processing.


Matt added:


“It was a quick and successful operation. I’m really pleased that we managed to get those trees out of there with out causing any damage to the site.


“There are no plans to excavate or restore the site, but we will recommend the site to Historic Scotland for scheduling. It is relatively undisturbed and there are likely going to be significant buried archaeological deposits throughout.


“A very interesting and important site!”


Unknown and unrecognized when the site was planted in the 1950s, the dun is defined by a defensive outwork enclosing the dun and a massive dry-stone wall, with internal and external courses visible at several stretches. Depressions in the wall also mark the positions of galleries.


The Commission will now focus on keeping the immediate area around the site clear of trees and scrub vegetation.



Roman Circus project in Colchester under threat

By Stephen 01/12/2010 04:03:00


The people behind the Colchester’s Roman circus are having to work on an alternative plan to be able to move forward with the heritage centre envisioned for the site. The site was part of the British Army’s garrisons, which is based in Colchester.

Colchester Archaeological Trust the driving force behind the project has been seeking investors to help it buy the Sergeants mess which is the main building currently occupying the site.  The plan is to convert into a tourist attraction and educational base for visitors to the ancient chariot-racing arena.

The plans for the site have are to create a three-dimensional display in the garden of the Sergeants' Mess using special viewing screens to help recreate what the gates would have looked like.

It is hoped to permanently expose under a weather protective cover the central part of the gates and construct stumps of the correct size showing the positions of the various parts of the rest of the gates.

Visitors to the site will be able to look through two screens, one inside the circus, the other outside, to get a good idea of what the original building would have looked like.  The gardens according to the plans for the site will be professionally designed and planted so to create a pleasant and attractive place to visit.

The interpretation centre would include a tearoom, the profits from which would be used to make the facility free. The intention behind the plan is to create an important tourist attraction and venue which would be of economic value to the town and provide local people and visitors with an attractive facility where they could sit down, enjoy the surroundings and buy a cup of coffee to help towards the running costs.

The Trust hope the interpretation centre and the garden would act as the gateway to the circus itself, where low grassed mounds coupled with surface marking would enable visitors to walk around the footprint of the building and grasp the enormous size of the original structure.

However the plan has hit a major barrier in that it has still failed to generate enough funds in its appeal to proceed with the project. In addition to the appeal, the trust has one investor on board, Dr Georgene Wade, who will pay £200,000 to convert about a quarter of the Sergeants mess into a house.

Regardless of the shortfall, the Trust currently has £200,000 in the bank, which was raised from the public appeal, and on this bases trust bosses have decided to move forward with the plan

Director of the project Philip Crummy, stated the trust was considering ways of getting the project back on track without the £275,000 shortfall

He said: “There are some options we are exploring and we are expecting to be able to make a decision, as to what happens next, by December 10.

“We are anxious to resolve the thing, but we are having difficulty. We thank people for their patience.”

While Mr Crummy has not revealed what these options were, but admitted money was very tight, adding: “It’s all on a knife-edge.”

The old Army building, in Le Cateau Road, known as the sergeants’ mess, are wanted for the heritage centre because the starting gates of the Roman circus, discovered in 2004, are buried in is garden grounds.

Bill Hayton, who helped run the fundraising appeal, said the best option would have been to carry on collecting money. He added: “The plan at the moment only allows for the bare minimum of visitor facilities. “If the archaeological trust had kept the original fundraising team involved, we could have got the money to buy a bigger piece of the building.”

The trust was against a further fundraising campaign as it wanted investors to take on a stake in the building and share the cost of repair work.


Also see: http://www.archnews.co.uk/latest-news/4033-alternative-plan-for-colchester-roman-circus-centre-chelmsford-weekly-news.html

Copyright:  Archnews

All rights reserved 2010



2,300-Year-old Maya ruins destroyed for pastureland

Published December 03, 2010


Mexico City


An ancient Mayan residential complex some 2,300 years old was destroyed by heavy machinery in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucutan to clear the land for pasture on a private ranch, officials told Efe.

According to experts at the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, the Maya site near the town of Chicxulub dates to the 300 B.C. Preclassical Period and is registered as No. 15 in the Yucutan archaeological catalog.

"The presence of remains were previously known in the area and for that reason INAH will act quickly," the communications chief of the public institute, Julio Castrejon, said.

He also said that, as a first step, the national coordinating team for judicial and archaeological matters went to the Yucatan on Thursday to prepare a technical appraisal of the presumed damages.

A previous inspection carried out Wednesday by archaeologists Angel Gongora and Victor Castillo determined that the ancient Mayan settlement covering 1 square kilometer (250 acres) suffered "irreversible" damage because the nucleus of the settlement was directly affected, the daily Reforma said Thursday.

"If that is so, the loss is total and irreparable," Gongora said.

Both experts said that among the rubble left by the earthmoving equipment they found the remains of walls, roofs and stairways, and a block from a cylindrical column believed to form part of the portico of one of the buildings.

Also toppled and cleared away were seven structures and two altars that stood in the main square. The largest building was more than 3 meters (10 feet) tall.

Though at first the owner of the premises, Ricardo Ascencio Maldonado, denied what had happened, he later admitted that the work was done to level the ground for pastureland, the reason he used heavy earthmoving machinery, the newspaper said.

He said that he bought the land three months ago and no one ever told him it was an archaeological site, in spite of which INAH has summoned him to testify before its attorneys to get to the bottom of what happened.

"Our duty is to protect the nation's cultural heritage and we will act according to that principle," Castrejon said.



Read more: http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/entertainment/2010/12/03/year-old-maya-ruins-destroyed-pastureland/#ixzz17FbLHvRe



Ancient Canoe Recovered in Florida



State archaeologists are beaming following a very unexpected discovery in North Florida.


They recovered an ancient dugout canoe in a lake south of Tallahassee. They estimate it's anywhere from 500 to 800 years old.


The canoe is in solid shape considering its age. It was buried in the mud in the middle of the lake and that helped protect it from the pounding waves.


The boat is about 23-feet long and just over a foot wide. Florida's Historic Conservator James Levy said it could probably carry about six people.


Levy marvels at the carved tabs on each end of the canoe.


"It's very well made. The craftsman who made it really knew what he was doing," he said. "There's been some other canoes in the state found with these same features scattered ...so it's not restricted to just one part of the state. The style may even be one that's used all over the Southeast."


Levy said it looks as though American Indians hollowed out a pine tree with fire and stone tools to build the canoe.


It's very waterlogged so the boat will remain wrapped in plastic at the State Archives Building to prevent it from drying out too quickly.


"The worst thing in the world would be for it to be removed from the water and put in the bright sunlight ... because then you get a lot of shrinking and cracking," said Levy. "With it being wrapped up in plastic, we hope to minimize that."


Eventually, the canoe will go on display somewhere in Florida, but the location has not been picked.



Updated: 9:16 AM Dec 1, 2010

[UPDATE] Old American Indian Canoe Recovered in Lake Munson

A father and son discover an ancient artifact in a lake just outside of Tallahassee. Eyewitness News reporter Jennifer Milton tells us about a native American canoe that's believed to be hundreds of years old.

Posted: 12:15 AM Dec 1, 2010

Reporter: Jennifer Milton/ AP

Email Address: jennifer.milton@wctv.tv


D.W. Jones has discovered a piece of history. The 16-year old, his daughter and his father Dennis were spending the day at Lake Munson near Tallahassee when they stumbled upon an ancient American Indian Canoe that historians believe could be 500 to 800 years old.


"How is this thing still here for it to be so old you know. It's just like you see, you know you get a piece of fire wood and two years later it's rotten and destroyed. But, just something to be 800 years old and be wood, it's unbelievable," said Jones.


Historic conservators believe the 23 foot long dugout canoe belonged to the Apalachee Indian tribe who used to fish, hunt and gather food in the water. Historical experts say they are blown away by its superior condition.


"The technology that they had at the time to be able to build a canoe this nice, it's pretty amazing to me, when you look at it, how crisply and cleanly it's made and the tools that they had available, shells, sharks teeth, flint," said James Levy.


The enormous canoe took 12 people nearly 6 hours to excavate the rare artifact in tip-top shape.


"Whoever did it was really good because it has sharp 90 degree corners on it and nice clean platforms on the end with just good,sharp edges, so they were very good at it," said Levy.


The canoe is currently at the Museum of Florida History but conservators plan to examine the item further and eventually will put it on display.


More than 350 dugout canoes have been discovered in Florida, but around 1 in 50 are in good condition.



An American Indian dugout canoe believed to be 500 to 800 years old has been recovered from the muck of a lake bed south of Tallahassee.

State archaeologists said Tuesday, November 30 that the 23-foot-long canoe is unusual because it is well-preserved and each end is finely carved.

More than 350 dugout canoes have been found in Florida, some dating back 6,000 years, but most are degraded from repeated periods of wetting and drying.

The canoe was exposed when Lake Munson was drawn down. Crawfordville resident Dennis Jones first reported the canoe to the Florida Museum of History.

Archaeologists removed it Monday so it can be conserved and exhibited and to protect it from curiosity seekers who tried to dig it out.