A new fossil skull of a bull confirms that beef has been "what's for dinner" since the dawn of humans.

By Larry O'Hanlon | Tue Feb 9, 2010 04:05 AM ET




The discovery of a new "missing link" species of bull dating to a million years ago in Eritrea pushes back the beef steak dinner to the very dawn of humans and cattle.


Although there is no evidence that early humans were actually herding early cattle 2.5 million years ago, the early humans and early cattle certainly shared the same landscape and beef was definitely on the menu all along, say researchers.


The telltale fossil is a skull with enormous horns that belongs to the cattle genus Bos. It has been reassembled from over a hundred shards found at a dig that also contains early human remains, said paleontologist Bienvenido Martinez-Navarro of the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. Martinez is the lead author of a paper reporting the discovery in the February issue of the journal Quaternary International.


"This means that the humans have been eating Bos since the beginnings of the genus Homo," said Martinez, referring to the genus to which humans belong.


The million-year-old skull of the new Bos species, dubbed Bos buiaensis, has features of both earlier and later forms of Bos, which make it essentially a missing link between more modern cow-like species found in Eurasia and the earlier African cattle ancestors found alongside hominids and dating back 2.5 million years.


"The most important point is that this Bos connects the African Bos with Eurasian bulls," and so confirms the long, uninterrupted coexistence of humans and cattle from the earliest times, he told Discovery News.


There are some researchers who might take issue with some of the details of the cattle family tree as Martinez and his colleagues have described it, but the overall conclusion seems sound, commented Sandra Olsen, curator of anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.


"One way or the other, hominids are associated with these creatures," Olsen told Discovery News.


The distinctive horns of the new Bos also broach some other interesting matters, said Olsen. For one thing, this was an animal that had to live out in open areas, just like early humans. It's very hard to imagine any animal with such long horns surviving in a forest, she said.


Then there is also a tantalizing resemblance between the newfound Bos and depictions of bulls in ancient petroglyphs found in western Saudi Arabia -- along the route once taken by humans out of Africa. The rock art shows exceptionally long-horned cattle being hunted by humans with bows, arrows and dogs, Olsen said. The petroglyphs are at least 5,000 years old, she said, but very hard to date exactly.


"(The new Bos species) look so much like the pictures in Saudi Arabia," said Olsen, "which people have thought were exaggerations."


The ancient pictures also include depictions of some of the other animals known to have left Africa by the same route: lions, cheetahs and hyena, she said.


The message from the new fossil echoes those being discovered about the prehistory of other domesticated animals, including horses, which Olsen has studied, in particular.


"We've seen over and over again," she said: "These are very long relationships."




A 4,000-year-old Greenland man possessed close genetic ties to modern Siberians

By Bruce Bower Web edition : Wednesday, February 10th, 2010   


A 4,000-year-old Greenland man just entered the scientific debate over the origins of prehistoric populations in the Americas.


A nearly complete sequence of nuclear DNA extracted from strands of the long-dead man’s hair — the first such sequence obtained from an ancient person — highlights a previously unknown and relatively recent migration of northeastern Asians into the New World about 5,500 years ago, scientists say.


An analysis of differences, or mutations, at single base pairs on the ancient Greenlander’s nuclear genome indicates that his father’s ancestors came from northeastern Siberia, report geneticist Morten Rasmussen of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen and his colleagues in the Feb. 11 Nature. Three modern hunter-gatherer groups in that region — the Nganasans, Koryaks and Chukchis — display a closer genetic link to the Greenland individual than do Native American groups living in cold northern areas of North America, Rasmussen says.


A largely complete mitochondrial DNA sequence from the ancient man’s hair, extracted by the same researchers in 2008, places his maternal ancestry in northeastern Asia as well.


Danish-led excavations more than 20 years ago unearthed four fragmentary bones and several hair tufts belonging to this ancient man, dubbed Inuk. His remains were found at a site from the Saqqaq culture, the earliest known people to have inhabited Greenland. Saqqaq people lived in Greenland from around 4,750 to 2,500 years ago. One popular hypothesis traces Saqqaq ancestry to Native American groups that had settled Arctic parts of Alaska and Canada by 11,000 years ago.


Inuk’s strong genetic ties to Siberian populations raise a different scenario. “We’ve shown that this ancient individual was not related to Native Americans but derived from an expansion of northeastern Asians into the New World and across to Greenland,” says geneticist and study coauthor Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen.


The team’s new comparative analysis of Inuk’s previously sequenced mitochondrial DNA indicates that the Saqqaqs diverged from their closest present-day relatives, Siberian Chukchis, an estimated 5,400 years ago. That calculation implies that ancestral Saqqaqs separated from their Asian relatives shortly before departing for the New World and rapidly traversing that continent to reach Greenland. No land bridge connected Asia to North America at that time, so migrants probably crossed the Bering Strait from what’s now Russia to Alaska by boat, Willerslev speculates.


His group also identified base pair patterns on Inuk’s nuclear DNA that are associated in modern populations with type A-positive blood and brown eyes, as well as thick, dark hair and large, flat front teeth typical of Asians and Native Americans. Inuk also possessed DNA signatures for an increased susceptibility to baldness, dry earwax characteristic of Asian populations, and a relatively slow metabolism and broad, short body commonly found in residents of cold climates.


DNA analyses of ancient humans and their ancestors usually face enormous technical challenges. Fossil bones get contaminated with the DNA of those who unearth these finds as well as with fungal and bacterial DNA. Measures to enrich ancient DNA include generating multiple samples of the same genetic sequences and isolating genetic fragments that show no signs of contamination.


Because DNA from hair contains little contamination from fungi or bacteria, Rasmussen’s team focused on Inuk’s locks. Frozen conditions following death also helped to preserve Inuk’s DNA and prevent significant contamination. The team generated 20 copies of his genome to confirm that significant contamination had not occurred.


About 84 percent of the DNA extracted from Inuk’s hair was his. Rasmussen’s team then sequenced 79 percent of Inuk’s nuclear DNA and identified more than 353,000 base pair mutations.


“It is amazing how well-preserved this ancient genetic sample is, presumably due to its rather young age and the permafrost in which it was found,” remarks geneticist Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.


In contrast, 40,000- to 70,000-year-old Neandertal bones studied by Pääbo’s team have yielded genetic sequences that, because of substantial contamination, generally include no more than 4 percent Neandertal DNA. Pääbo and his colleagues recently extracted and sequenced 63 percent of the total Neandertal genome from a bone (SN: 3/14/09, p. 5).  “I am envious,” Pääbo says, referring to the completeness and quality of Inuk’s recovered DNA.


Rasmussen and Pääbo agree that a major challenge will be to sequence ancient human genomes from places where remains have not been permanently frozen and most preserved genetic material consists of microbial, rather than human, DNA.


Another challenge is to gain a firmer grasp of genetic variation in modern Arctic populations, so that scientists can more precisely trace Inuk’s geographic roots. “It will become easier to make sense of the genetic data from Greenland as more and more present-day humans become sequenced over the next few years,” Pääbo says.



Bronze Age shipwreck found off Devon coast

One of the world's oldest shipwrecks has been discovered off the coast of Devon after lying on the seabed for almost 3,000 years.

By Jasper Copping

Published: 9:00PM GMT 13 Feb 2010


Experts say the "incredibly exciting" discovery provides new evidence about the extent and sophistication of Britain's links with Europe in the Bronze Age as well as the remarkable seafaring abilities of the people during the period.


Archaeologists have described the vessel, which is thought to date back to around 900BC, as being a "bulk carrier" of its age.


The copper and tin would have been used for making bronze – the primary product of the period which was used in the manufacture of not only weapons, but also tools, jewellery, ornaments and other items.


Archaeologists believe the copper – and possibly the tin – was being imported into Britain and originated in a number of different countries throughout Europe, rather than from a single source, demonstrating the existence of a complex network of trade routes across the Continent.

Academics at the University of Oxford are carrying out further analysis of the cargo in order to establish its exact origins.


However, it is thought the copper would have come from the Iberian peninsular, Alpine Europe, especially modern day Switzerland, and possibly other locations in France, such as the Massif Central, and even as far as Austria.


It is first time tin ingots from this period have ever been found in Britain, a discovery which may support theories that the metal was being mined in the south west at this time.

If the tin was not produced in Britain, it is likely it would have also come from the Iberian peninsular or from eastern Germany.


The wreck has been found in just eight to ten metres of water in a bay near Salcombe, south Devon, by a team of amateur marine archaeologists from the South West Maritime Archaeological Group.


In total, 295 artefacts have so far been recovered, weighing a total of more than 84kg.

The cargo recovered includes 259 copper ingots and 27 tin ingots. Also found was a bronze leaf sword, two stone artefacts that could have been sling shots, and three gold wrist torcs – or bracelets.


The team have yet to uncover any of the vessel's structure, which is likely to have eroded away.

However, experts believe it would have been up to 40ft long and up to 6ft wide, and have been constructed of planks of timber, or a wooden frame with a hide hull. It would have had a crew of around 15 and been powered by paddles.


Archaeologists believe it would have been able to cross the Channel directly between Devon and France to link into European trade networks, rather than having to travel along the coast to the narrower crossing between modern day Dover and Calais.


Although the vessel's cargo came from as far afield as southern Europe, it is unlikely it would have been carried all the way in the same craft, but in a series of boats, undertaking short coastal journeys.


The wreck site is on part of the seabed called Wash Gully, which is around 300 yards from the shore.


There is evidence of prehistoric field systems and Bronze Age roundhouses on the coast nearby and it is thought the vessel could have sunk while attempting to land, or could have been passing along the coast.


The coastline is notoriously treacherous and there is a reef close by which could have claimed the vessel.


The recovery work took place between February and November last year but the discovery was not announced until this month's International Shipwreck Conference, in Plymouth.

The finds have been reported to both English Heritage and the Receiver of Wreck, which administers all shipwrecks. The artefacts are due to be handed over to the British Museum next week.


They will be independently valued and the museum will pay the team for the items.

Mick Palmer, chairman of the South West Maritime Archaeological Group, said: "For the British Isles, this is extremely important. This was a cargo trading vessel on a big scale.

"There is more down there and we will carry on searching for it. We anticipate a lot more will be found."


Dave Parham, senior lecturer in marine archaeology at Bournemouth University and a member of the team, said: "What we are seeing is trade in action.


"We are not stuck with trying to work out trade based on a few deposits across a broader landscape. We are looking at the stuff actually on the boat being moved.

"Everything that is in the ship sinks with it and is on the seabed somewhere. What you would call this today is a bulk carrier. It was carrying what was for the time a large consignment of raw materials."


Dr Peter Northover, a scientist at the University of Oxford who has been analysing the find, said: "These are the produce of a multitude of countries, scattered right around Europe, up and down the Atlantic coast and inland.


"It came from a combination of places. It is showing the diversity of the trade.

"Metal traders and workers would have traded parcels of metal with each other. The metal would have moved in steps, along networks of contacts exchanging metal as and when they need it."

Dr Stuart Needham, a Bronze Age archaeologist, said: "This is genuinely exciting.

"Everyone knows that man has been walking around on land since time immemorial, but I think people now will be surprised to know how much they were plying the seaways at this time, up and down the Atlantic seaboard and across the Channel.


"There's a complex lattice of interactions across Europe happening throughout this period.

"A lot of stuff may have moved across land, but it is eminently possible at this stage that there were quite sophisticated maritime networks with specialist mariners – people who know how to read the tides and the stars and who are not just casually going out on the sea to do some deep sea fishing.


"If you have got specialist mariners plying the Atlantic seaways, there is every possibility they could be picking up material in different locations and stockpiling it.


"The mainstay of this exchange network might have been a number of vessels undertaking short journeys. It doesn't mean there weren't occasional vessels and people going longer distances."

One other Bronze Age vessel has previously been found near Salcombe, where just 53 artefacts were recovered. Another eight Bronze Age items have also been found at a third nearby spot, indicating another possible wreck.


The only other Bronze Age wrecks found in the UK have been located on land, or on the foreshore, at Dover and North Ferriby, on the Humber.


Ben Roberts, Bronze Age specialist at the British Museum, said: "It is an incredibly exciting find. What we have here is really, really good evidence of trade. We don't get many shipwreck sites.

"It is very rare to get a snapshot of this level of activity. It is very possible there were also animals and people going across the Channel too.


"We hardly ever get to see evidence of this cross Channel trade in action. It is a huge amount of cargo."


This happy band: from left Mick Palmer, Jim Tyson, Ron Howells, Mick Kightley and Mick Palmer



Urn X-ray picks up Roman remains

Thursday, February 11, 2010, 10:00


THE Romans had something to declare at Exeter Airport – 2,000 years after they arrived in Devon.


Passing through customs was a very old pot that the visitors had left behind during their stay in the county some time in the mid-70s AD.


The black-burnished urn was dug up during an archaeological dig in Cullompton and since then everyone has been wondering what was in it.


Rather than put a hand in and root about inside or hold it upside down and scatter the contents on the table, the pot was sent along to the airport which has a big X-ray machine usually devoted to ensuring airline passengers' security.


Staff from Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum – whose own X-ray gear was a bit small for the job – gathered round to see what would be revealed.



And in the end it was a 2,000-year-old dead Roman. Or at least, the remains of a dead Roman, along with some strange curved objects that may or may not be pieces of jewellery or brooches.


Jenny Durrant, the museum's assistant curator of antiquities, said experts would now be sifting through the remains to learn more. "It was very unusual to find an urn like this intact. It could have been a Roman soldier or may be even a well-off local person."


The find is helping rewrite the history of Cullompton. A Roman fort at St Andrews Hill in the Mid-Devon town, which was abandoned around the mid-70s AD, was discovered in 1984.



14th century Narasimha temple found

Andhra Pradesh - Guntur     


GUNTUR: A Vaishnavaite temple of Narasimhaswamy was found on Sunday by Puttakota villagers in the valley close to Mahadwaram of cantonment of erstwhile Reddi kings of Kondaveedu.


While the main deity is missing, the architecture of the temple suggests it was one of those from the early days of Reddi kings (1325 AD) establishing their capital at Kondaveedu and lived at the foothill and built some Vaishnavaite and Shaivaite temples for their religious purposes. This is one of the many such temples (about 15 of them) in and around the cantonment built by the kings, who ruled from this place and stayed there for more than 100 years.


The village president K. Anka Rao who visited the spot along with Kondaveedu Development Committee convener K. Siva Reddy said that this temple was not visible all these days due to the thick growth of trees. A roofed temple, like some on the hill-top, it has Jaya, Vijaya statues buried about 10 feet below ground.


Statues of the Dwarapalaks found at the place have been kept securely at that place and the Department of State Archeology Assistant Director E. Sivanagi Reddy has been informed of the new found treasure and they would take further action to protect it. Built with red stone, it is believed to be red granite as written in the history books on Kondaveedu, while these range of hills forming part of Eastern Ghats, constitute Charnockites variety of rocks.


Charnockite suite or series are a group of igneous rocks, variably metamorphosed of wide distribution and great importance in India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and Africa. The name was given by Dr T. H. Holland from the fact that the tombstone of Job Charnock, the founder of Calcutta, is made of a block of this rock, said Professor of Geology in Hindu College A. Subrahmanyam.


A museum displaying the history and archeology of Reddi kings needs to be set up on top of the hill said, Mr. Subhrahmanyam and to attract academicians and researchers on geological aspects of the rock formations and earth in this region, a geological museum integrated into the proposed one would serve a good purpose, he added.



Mythological love unearthed

- Experts dig up chamber used by King Bana to hide his daughter



Tezpur, Feb. 9: A secret chamber probably built by an Assam king to hide his lovelorn daughter from Krishna’s grandson has been dug up by archaeologists near Tezpur.


The find, experts are saying, could be a confirmation of the legendary love story of Aniruddha, Krishna’s grandson, and princess Usha, daughter of King Bana.


The underground chamber is part of a temple, ruins of which were discovered recently at Torajan Kumargaon, 4km from here.


Then called Sonitpur, Tezpur is littered with remnants of architecture dating back to King Bana’s time.


“We are more or less confirmed that the temple was built by King Bana. The underground chamber in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple is the interesting part and could have been built by the king to hide his love-struck daughter,” said Bimal Sinha, assistant director in the Archaeological Survey of India. Sinha is supervising the excavation being carried out by over 30 skilled workers.


“We will need another 30-35 days to unearth the sanctum sanctorum completely and then go for the secret chamber,” he added.


Bimal Sinha revealed that different sizes of bricks were used to build the temple and sticky mud was used to cement the bricks. Besides the brick structure, other items found at the site include stone beads.


Though there are many legends associated with King Bana, the most enduring one is the affair between his only daughter Usha and prince Aniruddha.


King Bana had kept Usha in a fortress surrounded by moats of fire, hence called Agnigarh, the remains of which are still found in and around Tezpur.


The king was afraid that the princess might choose someone he would not approve of.


Usha dreamt of Aniruddha without even meeting him and fell in love with him. Usha’s closest friend Chitralekha — an expert painter — made portraits based on the princess’s description of her lover and finally succeeded in painting the picture of Aniruddha.


Through her magical powers, Chitralekha managed to bring Aniruddha to Agnigarh.


Usha and Aniruddha were secretly married but King Bana came to know about their liaison.


The angry king threw Aniruddha into prison and Usha into a secret hideout.


When Krishna heard about his grandson’s imprisonment, he attacked Bana and defeated the king.


There are references to King Bana in the Gita and modern historians believe that the story of Usha and Aniruddha is true apart from a few exaggerated parts.


Archaeological finds dating back to the 6th and 17th century and belonging to King Bana’s reign are still seen in several places like Singri Gupeswar temple, Mahabhairab temple Bhairabi temple, Rudrapath temple and some exquisite stone carvings found at Bamuni Hills, in and around Tezpur town.



Excavation uncovers evidence supporting mosaic Jerusalem map

The map, from the Byzantine period, is the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Land of Israel.


11/02/2010 04:42


For the first time the main road of Jerusalem, dated 1,500 years ago, has been discovered. An Israel Antiquities Authority archeological excavation in the heart of Jerusalem’s old city confirms a description of the road on the Madaba Map – an ancient mosaic map from the sixth century CE, measuring eight by 16 meters, and located in a church in Madaba, Jordan.


The map, from the Byzantine period, is the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Land of Israel. What is notable on the map is the illustration of the entrance to Jerusalem from the west via a very large gate that led to a single, central thoroughfare on that side of the city.


Various evidence of the important buildings in Jerusalem that appear on the map has been uncovered over the years, but the large bustling street from the period when Jerusalem became a Christian city has not been discovered until now. The reason is that no archeological excavations have taken place in the region due to its centrality and the general busyness of the area.


But now, because of the need for a thorough treatment of the infrastructure at the location, the Jerusalem Development Authority has initiated rehabilitation work and is renewing the area’s infrastructure.


Dr. Ofer Sion, excavation director of the site, recalls, “After removing a number of archeological strata, at a depth of 4.5 meters below today’s street level, much to our excitement we discovered the large flagstones that paved the street.”


The flagstones, more than a meter long each, bear cracks from the burden of centuries.


According to Dr. Sion, “It is wonderful to see that David Street, which is teeming with so much life today, actually preserved the route of the noisy street from 1,500 years ago.”



Saudi Arabia announces a new archeological finding



Saudi Arabia has announced the discovery of a 7th century village, which has been unearthed in the Raaka district, Dammam, near the shores of the Arabian Gulf. The site contains a compound village, which contains more than 20 houses, containing rooms and accommodation units, in which coins, fractures of pottery, limestone (steatite), and glass pieces dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries AH (7th & 8th century AD) were found.


This valuable finding was a residential settlement belonging to the beginning of Islam; the Umayyad and Abbasid perhaps earlier, as deciphered from the pieces of pottery and porcelain, glass, steatite, and metal coins found there, that can be dated to 1st and 2nd centuries AH. The site features two-stage architecture; the first one represents the beginning of the residential units that might date back to the first century AH. The second phase witnessed several modifications to the original design of the housing units, as well as many other public utilities, in addition to the level of flooring over the old.


Dr. Ali Al Ghabban, vice president of the archeology and museums sector in SCTA, stated that it is one of the archaeological projects undertaken by SCTA in a number of regions in the Kingdom, pointing out that the excavations at the site began about two months ago by a Saudi team qualified by the Antiquities Office in the Eastern Province, under the supervision of the Antiquities and Museums Division of SCTA.


Each house consists of area of 16 x 12 m at an average and contains three or four rooms of different sizes in addition to an independent external courtyard. Perhaps one of these rooms was used for the storage of date palm, while the rest of the rooms were probably used for residential purpose. The courtyard contains a number of furnaces like the modern day "Tanors."


In the area of excavation, there are three archaeological hills; the first one is marked as area (A), located on the north side, the second one is area (B), located in the middle, and the third (C) is located in the southern part of the site. On the surface of the site, especially on the hills there is a widespread of pottery and broken glass pieces dating back to the early Islamic era. It is also bordered by stone walls along each side.


Next to each group of three houses that constitute the village is found a water system comprised of a circular water well built from medium-sized irregular stones brought in from the nearby seashore. The well is connected to an oval-shaped building, construed to be a water tank with two channels for drainage, one of them flows toward the north side while the other flows towards the south-eastern side. The structure of channels contains pottery jars to control the volume of water drained.


In the end, Dr. Al Ghabban expressed hope that the find would remind Saudis of a long and rich cultural heritage, stating, "These sites have historic value and will help in understanding the history of this region.”



Queen's helps produce archaeological 'time machine'

Public release date: 11-Feb-2010

Contact: Lisa McElroy



Queen's University Belfast


Researchers at Queen's University have helped produce a new archaeological tool which could answer key questions in human evolution.


The new calibration curve, which extends back 50,000 years is a major landmark in radiocarbon dating-- the method used by archaeologists and geoscientists to establish the age of carbon-based materials.


It could help research issues including the effect of climate change on human adaption and migrations.


The project was led by Queen's University Belfast through a National Environment Research Centre (NERC) funded research grant to Dr Paula Reimer and Professor Gerry McCormac from the Centre for Climate, the Environment and Chronology (14CHRONO) at Queen's and statisticians at the University of Sheffield.


Ron Reimer and Professor Emeritus Mike Baillie from Queen's School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology also contributed to the work.


The curve called INTCAL09, has just been published in the journal Radiocarbon. It not only extends radiocarbon calibration but also considerably improves earlier parts of the curve.


Dr Reimer said: "The new radiocarbon calibration curve will be used worldwide by archaeologists and earth scientists to convert radiocarbon ages into a meaningful time scale comparable to historical dates or other estimates of calendar age.


"It is significant because this agreed calibration curve now extends over the entire normal range of radiocarbon dating, up to 50,000 years before today. Comparisons of the new curve to ice-core or other climate archives will provide information about changes in solar activity and ocean circulation."


It has taken nearly 30 years for researchers to produce a calibration curve this far back in time.


Since the early 1980s, an international working group called INTCAL has been working on the project.


The principle of radiocarbon dating is that plants and animals absorb trace amounts of radioactive carbon-14 from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while they are alive but stop doing so when they die. The carbon-14 decays from archaeological and geological samples so the amount left in the sample gives an indication of how old the sample is.


As the amount of carbon -14 in the atmosphere is not constant, but varies with the strength of the earth's magnetic field, solar activity and ocean radiocarbon ages must be corrected with a calibration curve.


Most experts consider the technical limit of radiocarbon dating to be about 50,000 years, after which there is too little carbon-14 left to measure accurately with present day technology.


Further information on the work of Queen's Chrono Centre can be found online at http://chrono.qub.ac.uk/


Media inquiries to Lisa McElroy, Press and PR Unit. Tel: 44-0-28-9097-5384 or email lisa.mcelroy@qub.ac.uk.