Cretan tools point to 130,000-year-old sea travel

AP foreign, Monday January 3 2011

ATHENS, Greece (AP)


Archaeologists on the island of Crete have discovered what may be evidence of one of the world's first sea voyages by human ancestors, the Greek Culture Ministry said Monday


A ministry statement said experts from Greece and the U.S. have found rough axes and other tools thought to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old close to shelters on the island's south coast.


Crete has been separated from the mainland for about five million years, so whoever made the tools must have traveled there by sea (a distance of at least 40 miles). That would upset the current view that human ancestors migrated to Europe from Africa by land alone.


"The results of the survey not only provide evidence of sea voyages in the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years earlier than we were aware of so far, but also change our understanding of early hominids' cognitive abilities," the ministry statement said.


The previous earliest evidence of open-sea travel in Greece dates back 11,000 years (worldwide, about 60,000 years — although considerably earlier dates have been proposed).


The tools were found during a survey of caves and rock shelters near the village of Plakias by archaeologists from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Culture Ministry.


Such rough stone implements are associated with Heidelberg Man and Homo Erectus, extinct precursors of the modern human race, which evolved from Africa about 200,000 years ago.


"Up to now we had no proof of Early Stone Age presence on Crete," said senior ministry archaeologist Maria Vlazaki, who was not involved in the survey. She said it was unclear where the hominids had sailed from, or whether the settlements were permanent.


"They may have come from Africa or from the east," she said. "Future study should help."


The team of archaeologists has applied for permission to conduct a more thorough excavation of the area, which Greek authorities are expected to approve later this year.


Archaeologists on the island of Crete have discovered tools they believe prove that man sailed the sea tens of thousands of years earlier than previously thought.


A Greek Culture ministry statement said experts from Greece and the United States have found rough axes and other tools thought to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old close to shelters on the island’s south coast.


 “Every textbook may have to be rewritten,” says Curtis Runnels, a professor of archaeology in the College of Arts & Sciences at Boston University, one of a team that worked on the Greek island of Crete in 2008 and 2009.


The researchers unearthed Palaeolithic tools dating back at least 130,000 years, suggesting that humans travelled by sea much earlier than previously hypothesized.


Sponsored by the National Geographic Society, Runnels, Thomas Strasser of Providence College, and Eleni Panagopoulou of the Greek Ministry of Culture travelled to Crete in 2008 and 2009.


Before this research, the first confirmed sea crossing was that of Homo sapiens travelling to Australia 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. The first travel across the Mediterranean Sea, where Crete is located, was thought to have occurred about 12,000 years ago. The tools the archaeological team found seem to prove that people were living on Crete much earlier, and that because the island has been isolated for five million years, whoever made them must have arrived by sea.


Among the artefacts were hand axes, cleavers, and scrapers made from local quartz rock

Artefacts were found in caves and rock shelters located in Preveli Gorge, where freshwater rivers and streams have eroded rocky sediment. Among the artefacts were hand axes, cleavers, and scrapers made from local quartz rock. According to Runnels, the tools may have been used to hollow out large tree trunks, to turn them into boats.


“We have also been contacted by archaeologists interested in early boats and early seafaring who are very excited by these finds,” he says.


The team’s discovery puts centuries-old beliefs about movements of early humans out of Africa into question, according to Runnels, and will have worldwide implications. “Every hypothesis is suddenly on the rack,” he says.


The Greek Culture Ministry stated that “The results of the survey not only provide evidence of sea voyages in the Mediterranean tens of thousands of years earlier than we were aware of so far, but also change our understanding of early hominids’ cognitive abilities“.  The previous earliest evidence of sea travel was 60,000 years ago, so the findings upset the current view that human ancestors migrated to Europe from Africa by land alone.


This is not the first time Runnels has been involved in research that could shift paradigms. In the 1980s and 1990s, he helped show that the people of prehistoric Greece caused catastrophic environmental change through soil erosion and deforestation. “That work challenged a long-held belief that prehistoric peoples were careful stewards of the natural environment,” he says.


Other research by Runnels in Greece revealed that Neanderthals were not related to Homo sapiens.


Rough stone implements such as the ones found on Crete are associated with Heidelberg Man (600,000 – 400,000 years ago) and Homo Erectus (1.8 – 1.3 million years ago), extinct precursors of the modern humans.  


“Up to now we had no proof of Early Stone Age presence on Crete,” explained senior ministry archaeologist Maria Vlazaki in the statement.


The archaeologists have applied for permission to conduct a more thorough excavation of the area, which Greek authorities are expected to approve later this year.


Other large Mediterranean islands, such as Cyprus and Sardinia, will also need to be examined to learn more about early human occupation.



7,000-year-old timbers found beneath MI6 Thames headquarters

Archaeologists hail oldest wooden structure ever found on river, despite security services' armed response to researchers

Maev Kennedy

The Guardian,            Thursday 6 January 2011


When MI6 set up home on the banks of the Thames one secret escaped its watchful eyes. The oldest wooden structure ever found on the river, timbers almost 7,000 years old, have been discovered buried in the silt below the windows of the security services' ziggurat headquarters at Vauxhall, south London.


The archaeologists who uncovered the six hefty timber piles had to explain to the security services what they were up to when armed police turned up after they were spotted pottering about on a foggy day in the mud, armed only with tripods, cameras and measuring equipment – not, as one spectator had apparently reported, shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.


"They accepted there wasn't much damage we could do with a tripod," said Gustave Milne, the archaeologist who leads the Thames Discovery programme that has been surveying the entire prehistoric foreshore, uncovering centuries of ancient wharves, fish traps, jetties and ship timbers.


The timbers, partly scoured bare by erosion of the river bed, the largest up to a third of a metre in diameter, were discovered in work during exceptionally low tides last February, but carbon dating work – revealed in the new edition of London Archaeologist journal – has only recently been completed, proving that the trees were felled between 4790 BC and 4490 BC.


Although the site is now exposed only at the lowest tides, the ancient Thames was narrower and deeper, and Milne believes that 7,000 years ago the timbers may have been built on dry land, possibly at the highest point of a small island.


"The find is very interesting, because in the mesolithic period the people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, living in temporary camps – not at all given to building substantial structures like this," Milne said.


"At the moment we don't have enough timbers to give any kind of alignment, they're not in a straight or a circle – but they could have supported a substantial platform with some form of domestic structure or dwelling."


The site is just where a smaller river, the Effra, enters the Thames, and it was clearly important to the prehistoric Londoners. The archaeologists, working with experts from the Museum of London and English Heritage, also found worked flint from the same date as the timbers, older pottery, and just upstream, on the far side of the modern Vauxhall bridge, a much later Bronze Age structure.


"There may have been a ford, it may have had some religious significance, or it may just have been very rich hunting grounds – but it was clearly what my colleague at the Museum of London calls 'a memorable place'," Milne said.


"We're just sorting out which are the lowest new year spring tides to go back for another look – if Mr Bond will let us."



Archaeologists may have found 5,000-year-old civilization in southern Iran

Tehran Times Culture Desk



A team of archaeologists working on Bam riverside in Kerman Province have recently unearthed ruins of a large ancient site, which are believed to belong to a 5000-year-old civilization.


The site was discovered while excavating for a construction project in the Khajeh Askar region near the city of Bam, team director Nader Alidadi-Soleimani told the Persian service of the Mehr News Agency on Tuesday.


“Unfortunately, part of the site was damaged during the excavation,” he said.


“Based on the artifacts unearthed there, the site was one of the early places of human habitation in Iran, whose inhabitants had a connection with other civilizations such as the Jiroft civilization,” he explained.


The team has also discovered a number of pieces of intact pottery and shards. Study of the artifacts suggests that use of potter’s wheel was not common at the site.


Alidadi-Soleimani also said that two styles of burial, one for a man and another for woman, have been identified at two cemeteries discovered at the site.


One of the bodies was buried in a fetal position and another was lying face up.


The bodies had been buried with various artifacts. A seashell containing chromatic material used for women’s cosmetics was found beside one of the bodies.


The Jiroft civilization was discovered next to the Halil-Rud River in Kerman Province in 2002 when reports surfaced of extensive illegal excavations and plundering of priceless historical items in the area by locals.


Since 2002, five excavation seasons have been carried out at the Jiroft site under the supervision of Yusef Majidzadeh, leading to the discovery of a ziggurat made of more than four million mud bricks dating back to about 2200 BC.


Many ancient ruins and interesting artifacts have been excavated by archaeologists at the Jiroft ancient site, which is known as the “archeologists’ lost heaven”.


After the numerous unique discoveries in the region, Majidzadeh declared Jiroft to be the cradle of art. Many scholars questioned the theory since no writings or architectural structures had yet been discovered at the site, but shortly afterwards his team discovered inscriptions at Konar Sandal Ziggurat, causing experts to reconsider their opinions about it.


The Konar Sandal inscriptions are older than the Inshushinak inscription, suggesting that the recently discovered inscriptions link Proto Elamite script, which first appeared in Susa about 2900 BC, with Old Elamite, which was used between about 2250 and 2220 BC.


Many Iranian and foreign experts see the findings in Jiroft as signs of a civilization as great as Sumer and ancient Mesopotamia. Majidzadeh believes that Jiroft is the ancient city of Aratta, which was described as a great civilization in a Sumerian clay inscription




Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

Mon Jan 3, 2011 09:29 AM ET


The tomb of King Tut’s wife, a buried pyramid, the Great Pyramid’s secret doors, and the final resting place of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony: these discoveries could await us in 2011, according to Dr. Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.


Hawass, one of the world's leading Egyptologists, gave an exclusive interview to Discovery News at an exhibition of images from ancient Egypt taken by photographer Sandro Vannini. Hawass’ many-years-long effort to solve the mystery behind the Great Pyramid’s secret doors and Cleopatra’s burial place is well known.


Less publicized has been his search for a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings and a buried pyramid in the Dashur area.


“We took satellite images over an area in Dashur and we could see that a pyramid is buried underneath the ground. Right now we are excavating this pyramid,” Hawass told Discovery News.


Located some 50 miles south of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, Dashur is the site of several pyramids. The best known are the “Bent” pyramid, so named because of its sloping upper half, the “Red" pyramid, named after the reddish limestone from which it is built, and the “Black” pyramid of Amenemhat III.


Hawass believes the buried pyramid might belong to a king of the 13th Dynasty (1782-1650 BC), a period marked by rivalry over the throne, with many kings reigning for a short time.


We do not know the name of the king yet. There are many missing kings in the 13th Dynasty,” Hawass said.


At the present time, Hawass seems to concentrate most of his efforts in the Valley of the Kings, where he hopes to uncover tomb KV64.


Indeed, 63 tombs have been already discovered since the valley was first mapped in the 18th century, with 26 of them belonging to kings.


Called KV64, as it will be the 64th tomb discovered, the tomb is likely to be a Queen’s burial.


“We found some indication that this tomb could be for Ankhesenamun, the Queen of Tutankhamun,” Hawass said.


Born as Ankhesenpaaten around 1348 BC, she was the third daughter of the Pharaoh Akhenaten and Nefertiti.


She probably changed her name into Ankhesenamun when she became the Great Royal Wife of Tutankhamun, most likely her half brother, at the age of 13.


Recent DNA tests have established that the two female fetuses buried in the tomb of Tutankhamun were most likely his offspring.


The mother is not yet genetically identified, although the data obtained from KV21A, one of two late 18th dynasty queens buried in tomb KV 21, pointed to this mummy as the mother of the fetuses.


Unfortunately, the researchers were not able to identify her as Ankhesenamun.


If KV64 is indeed Ankhesenamun’s tomb, new light might be shed on the family lineage of King Tut, especially if the Queen’s mummy is found.


“I hope this will be an intact tomb for Queen Ankhesenamun,” Hawass said.



Urartian king's burial chamber opened for first time

03 January 2011, Monday



Burial chambers of Urartian King Argishti and his family in the western wing of the ancient castle in the eastern province of Van was opened for the first time.


The Anatolia news agency took photographs and video of the burial chambers which were closed to visitors.


Centered around the Lake Van in the eastern Turkey, the Urartian Kingdom ruled from the mid 9th century BC till its defeat by Media in the early 6th century BC. The most splendid monuments of the Urartian Kingdom take place in Van since the city was the capital of the kingdom.


Built on a rocky peak, the castle, one of the most significant samples of the Urartian architecture, was brought to daylight during excavations headed by lecturer Altan Cilingiroglu of the Ege University. The castle draws hundreds of Turkish and foreign visitors each year.


Argishti I was the sixth known king of the ancient kingdom, reigning from 786 BC to 764 BC. As the son and the successor of Menua, he continued the series of conquests initiated by his predecessors. Victorious against Assyria, he conquered the northern part of Syria and made Urartu the most powerful state in the post-Hittite Near East.


His burial chamber in the west wing of the Van Castle is composed of five separate sections. There are Urartian inscriptions on the walls.



Urartian king's burial chamber opened for first time in Eastern Turkey


The burial chambers of Urartian King Argishti I and his family in the western wing of an ancient castle in the eastern Turkish province of Van have been opened for the first time.


“The burial chamber is in the western part of Van castle and bears workmanship of the highest quality. It is reached through a 24-step staircase,” said Rafet Çavuşoğlu, a professor at Van Yüzüncü Yıl University’s Archaeology Department.


King Argishti I was buried in a rock burial chamber called “Horhor Cave,” said the professor, who specially opened the doors to the graves to Anatolia news agency.


Van castle, which is 120 meters by 80 meters and was built on a rocky peak along Lake Van, has been the site of recent excavations headed by lecturer Altan Çilingiroğlu of Ege University.


Çavuşoğlu said Urartian writing on the wall of the burial chamber was very interesting.


“There are nail holes in spaces between doors opening to the chambers inside. These holes were used to hang torches and gifts,” said the Yüzüncü Yıl professor. “There are four inner chambers and each chamber has four alcoves on the walls. The location of the alcoves and doors and the dimension of the chambers are similar to each other.”


He said religious ceremonies were held in the hall in burial chambers and valuable objects were buried in the adjacent chambers.


“The burial chambers are described as caves in the 17th-century Ottoman plan and Evliya Çelebi’s travel book. They served as an armory, a food depot and a workshop in the time of the Ottomans,” he said.


Before kingdom in ancient times

Centered in eastern Anatolia, the Kingdom of Urartu ruled between the ninth and sixth centuries B.C. until its defeat by Media in the early 6th century B.C. The best monuments of Urartu exist in Van as the city was the capital of the kingdom with the name Tushpa.


The ancient castle, which has traces of a 3,000-year-old civilization and is composed of five separate sections, draws hundreds of visitors from Turkey and overseas every year. However, because the burial chambers of Urartian King Argishti I and his family are kept closed to visitors, only Anatolia was allowed in to take photographs of the graves’ interior.


Argishti I was the sixth known king of the ancient kingdom, reigning from 786 B.C. to 764 B.C. As the son and the successor of Menua, he continued a series of conquests initiated by his predecessors. Victorious against the Assyrians, he conquered the northern part of Syria and made Urartu the most powerful state in the post-Hittite Near East.



Polish archeologists discover Roman fort in Ukraine

04.01.2011 12:48


Roman legionary quarters have been discovered on the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea by Polish archeologists.


A team of Polish archeologists supervised by Radoslaw Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski from the Archeology Institute at the University of Warsaw have discovered a house of a Roman legionary consisting of several spacious rooms in Balaklava in the Crimea.


“The discovery suggests that there must have been a Roman fort here. We aren’t sure yet how big it was and where the borders were but we hope to find an answer to these questions,” says Karasiewicz-Szczypiorski.


The archeologists established that in 1 A.D. a settlement on the Crimean peninsula, which was later to become Balaklava, was burnt. In 2 A.D. it was conquered by the Romans who built the fort including legionary quarters.


“The building that we discovered was several times remodeled: old walls were pulled down and new were erected, floors and roofs were repaired. In 3 A.D. the house was destroyed by fire and much later, probably between 15th and 16th  centuries a Tatar settlement replaced the Roman fort,” says the archeologist..



Remnants of boozy village found beneath downtown San Francisco

By: Kamala Kelkar 01/05/11 8:00 PM

Examiner Staff Writer


By the time it boasts all its glory, the “Grand Central of the West” will actually sit on the site of an ancient village archeologists recently dusted off one relic at a time on their hands and knees.


They found dozens of vestiges — dolls, a piece of a tent, tableware and “many, many liquor bottles” — that tell stories dating as far back as 1848 under a roughly 100-square-foot portion of a parking lot near First and Minna streets by the future Transbay Transit Center. Underneath the asphalt, archeologists rummaged through what used to be shopkeepers’ and entrepreneurs’ homes that once sat between two enormous sand dunes.


“This working class came from all over. Eleven feet down, there was tableware manufactured in Philadelphia and coins not minted as money that also came from Philadelphia,” lead archeologist Heather Price said. “And from the ground surface all the way to 12 feet below, we found fancy serving platters ... and many, many liquor bottles.”


Twelve feet down, Price said, they found pieces of a tent that roaming miners might have used on their way up to Gold Country.


“The supercool stuff was 12 feet deep,” she said. “We got down to just immediately after the Gold Rush, like 1850 and maybe even late 1840s.”


At that time, the shoreline of San Francisco Bay was about 1½ blocks away. Then the 1906 earthquake and fire pulverized the homes, and the sand was leveled for industrial development.


Now the personal lives of people who lived through the 1800s are sitting in a laboratory in Lafayette until they are processed, catalogued and possibly displayed in the new transit center.


The $4 billion, 1 million-square-foot hub is scheduled to open in 2017.


Construction projects in The City often require that developers prove they are not disrupting any potentially significant historic deposits and have archeologists on site.


Price works for the consulting company William Self Associates, which was hired by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority to check out the land’s history for that reason before construction began.


And that requirement has led to several more treasures at other dig sites throughout The City.


Another recent example was in October when the National Park Service was remediating lead-riddled paint that had chipped into the dirt at the base of a home at Fort Mason. The home used to be a hospital and park officials, who had an archeologist on hand, came across human bones just inches below the surface.


“We’re not talking skeletons, we’re talking vertebrae. There were no skeletons intact,” said Alexandra Picavet, a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “I’m glad we came upon it instead of the property owner because we knew what to do and we had an archeologist.”


Also in October, Presidio Trust archeologists unearthed a “dairy box,” or a primitive refrigerator, and a kiln that might be more than 200 years old.


And there is almost always a chance of coming across remains from The City’s first inhabitants, the Muwekma Ohlone indians. Their bones have been unearthed at the foot of the Bay Bridge, among several other spots, and archeologists say they might just as easily be found at the transit center.


Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/development/2011/01/remnants-boozy-village-found#ixzz1AZLoUdmv