Dental exam shows Neanderthal man cooked and ate vegies

From: The Australian December 29, 2010 12:00AM


WASHINGTON: Neanderthals were not just meat-eaters, say researchers who believe the ancient near-human creatures cooked a variety of plants.


Researchers in the Department of Anthropology at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum examined the dental calculus -- the layer of hardened plaque -- in seven fossilised teeth of Neanderthal individuals whose remains were unearthed at archeological sites in Iraq and Belgium. They found grains from plants, including a type of wild grass and traces of roots and tubers, trapped in plaque build-up.


Many of the particles "had undergone physical changes that matched experimentally cooked starch grains, suggesting that Neanderthals controlled fire much like early modern humans", the researchers wrote in a paper that was published yesterday in the Proceedings of the


Stone artifacts have not provided evidence that Neanderthals used tools to grind plants, suggesting they did not practise agriculture, but the new research indicates they cooked and prepared plants for eating.


"These lines of evidence indicate Neanderthals were investing their time and labour in preparing plant foods in ways that increased their edibility and nutritional quality."


The discovery challenges the theory that Neanderthals were largely carnivores who became extinct, in part, because they couldn't compete with early humans, who had a varied diet and were better nourished.


The squat, low-browed Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East for 170,000 years but all evidence of them disappears about 28,000 years ago.



Neanderthals ate well-balanced diet


Researchers from George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution have discovered evidence to debunk the theory that Neanderthals’ disappearance was caused in part by a deficient diet – one that lacked variety and was overly reliant on meat. After discovering starch granules from plant food trapped in the dental calculus on 40-thousand-year-old Neanderthal teeth, the scientists believe that Neanderthals ate a wide variety of plants and included cooked grains as part of a more sophisticated, diverse diet similar to early modern humans.


“Neanderthals are often portrayed as very backwards or primitive,” said Amanda Henry, lead researcher and a post-doctoral researcher at George Washington University. “Now we are beginning to understand that they had some quite advanced technologies and behaviours.”


Dr. Henry made this discovery together with Alison Brooks, professor of anthropology and international affairs at GW, and Dolores Piperno, a GW research professor and senior scientist and curator of archaeobotany and South American archaeology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C., and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama.




The discovery of starch granules in the calculus on Neanderthal teeth provides direct evidence that they made sophisticated, thoughtful food choices and ate more nutrient-rich plants, for example date palms, legumes and grains such as barley. Until now, anthropologists have hypothesized that Neanderthals were outlived by early modern humans due in part to the former’s primitive, deficient diet, with some scientists arguing Neanderthals’ diets were specialized for meat-eating. As such, during major climate swings Neanderthals could be out competed by early humans who incorporated diverse plant foods available in the local environment into their diets.


Drs. Henry, Brooks and Piperno’s discovery suggests otherwise. The researchers discovered starch granules in dental calculus – which forms when plaque build-up hardens – on the fossilized teeth of Neanderthal skeletons – excavated from Shanidar Cave in Iraq and Spy Cave in Belgium. Starch granules are abundant in most human plant foods, but were not known to survive on fossil teeth this old until this study. The researchers also determined from alterations they observed in the starch granules that Neanderthals prepared and cooked starch-rich foods to make them taste better and easier to digest.


“Neanderthals and early humans did not visit the dentist,” said Dr. Brooks. “Therefore, the calculus or tartar remained on their teeth, preserving tiny clues to the previously unknown plant portion of their diets.”


Dr. Henry is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Hominid Paleobiology program at the George Washington University, where she also received her Ph.D. in January 2010. Her research focuses on the uses of plant foods by human ancestors. In January 2011, Dr. Henry will begin leading an independent research group focusing on the evolution of human diet at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Dr Brooks’ research focuses on the evolution of modern human behaviour. Dr. Piperno is a pioneer in the detection and study of plant microfossils and the evolution of human diets.


“This significant finding provides new insight on the plight of the Neanderthals,” said Peg Barratt, dean of GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “It’s also an excellent example of our dynamic partnership with the Smithsonian to further advance learning and discovery.”


The research was supported by a National Science Foundation IGERT award, a Wenner Gren Foundation doctoral dissertation award, a Smithsonian Institution pre-doctoral fellowship, a National Science Foundation HOMINID award to the Smithsonian Institution and a selective excellence award from the George Washington University.


Microfossils in calculus demonstrate consumption of plants and cooked foods in Neanderthal diets (Shanidar III, Iraq; Spy I and II, Belgium) PNAS Amanda G. Henry,  Alison S. Brooks & Dolores R. Piperno


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Ancient rock art's colours come from microbes

28 December 2010 Last updated at 01:19


A particular type of ancient rock art in Western Australia maintains its vivid colours because it is alive, researchers have found.


While some rock art fades in hundreds of years, the "Bradshaw art" remains colourful after at least 40,000 years.


Jack Pettigrew of the University of Queensland in Australia has shown that the paintings have been colonised by colourful bacteria and fungi.


These "biofilms" may explain previous difficulties in dating such rock art.


Professor Pettigrew and his colleagues studied 80 of these Bradshaw rock artworks - named for the 19th-Century naturalist who first identified them - in 16 locations within Western Australia's Kimberley region.


They concentrated on two of the oldest known styles of Bradshaw art - Tassel and Sash - and found that a vast majority of them showed signs of life, but no paint.


The team dubbed the phenomenon "Living pigments".


"'Living pigments' is a metaphorical device to refer to the fact that the pigments of the original paint have been replaced by pigmented micro-organisms," Professor Pettigrew told BBC News.


"These organisms are alive and could have replenished themselves over endless millennia to explain the freshness of the paintings' appearance."


Among the most frequent inhabitants of the boundaries of the artwork was a black fungus, thought to be of the group of fungi known as Chaetothyriales.


Successive generations of these fungi grow by cannibalising their predecessors. That means that if the initial paint layer - from tens of thousands of years ago - had spores of the fungus within it, the current fungal inhabitants may be direct descendants.



Black fungi with yellow "fruiting bodies" (left), alongside red bacteria, give one work its colours

The team also noted that the original paint may have had nutrients in it that "kick-started" a mutual relationship between the black fungi and red bacteria that often appear together. The fungi can provide water to the bacteria, while the bacteria provide carbohydrates to the fungi.


The exact species involved in these colourations have yet to be identified, and Professor Pettigrew said that the harsh conditions in the Kimberley region may hamper future research.


However, even the suggestion of these "living pigments" may explain why attempts to date some rock art has shown inconsistent results: although the paintings may be ancient, the life that fills their outlines is quite recent.


"Dating individual Bradshaw art is crucial to any further understanding of its meaning and development," Professor Pettigrew said.


"That possibility is presently far away, but the biofilm offers a possible avenue using DNA sequence evolution. We have begun work on that but this will be a long project."


Didier Bouakaze-Khan, a rock art expert from University College London, said that "there's a general consensus that what we're looking at might not purely be pigment as it was applied when the depictions were made", but that studies like this one would help archaeologists worldwide to take into account what effects life itself may be having on the art.


"It's very interesting and very exciting what they're showing - that there's some microorganisms going into the pigments and not destroying them, which is usually what's associated with the effect," he told BBC News.


Speaking about African rock artists, he said that "they had an intimate knowledge of ingredients theye were using and knew how long they would last, the rate of decay and how dark they would go and so on - not necessarily them controlling it, but they were definitely aware."


As such, Dr Bouakaze-Khan said it would be interesting to investigate whether the Bradshaw artists knew about the long-term effects of the specific pigments they used in their works.



Celtic tomb hailed as great archaeological find

Published: 28 Dec 10 15:26 CET


In a discovery described as a “milestone of archaeology,” scientists have found a 2,600-year-old aristocratic burial site at the Celtic hill fort at Heuneburg in Baden-Württemberg.


The noblewoman's tomb, dating from early Celtic times, measures four metres by five metres, and is exceptionally well-preserved. It contained gold and amber jewellery that makes possible for the first time the precise dating of an early Celtic grave.


Using heavy cranes, the excavation team lifted the entire burial chamber out of the ground as a single block of earth and placed it on a special truck so that it could be carried off for further analysis.


The dig leader and state archaeological chief Dirk Krausse labelled the find a “milestone of archaeology.”


Judging by the ornamentation in the chamber, the archaeologists believe the tomb was built for a woman from the nobility of the Heuneburg fort, though this couldn’t be said with certainty until further investigations could be made under laboratory conditions.


This will be done by the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in Stuttgart. Initial results are expected to be announced in June 2011.


The Heuneburg hill fort site is considered one of the most significant archaeological sites in central Europe and possibly the oldest settlement north of the Alps.


It has been the focus of intense interest because it reflects socio-political developments in early Celtic Europe when, after about 700 BC, wealth, population and political power began to be concentrated in small areas.


It was the area of a large settlement from about 700 BC and became one of the key centres of power and trade in southern Germany.



Mosaics found in SE Turkey lead to unearthing of ancient Roman city

Monday, December 27, 2010

KAHRAMANMARAŞ - Anatolia News Agency


The ancient city of Germenicia, which has been underground for 1,500 years, is being unearthed thanks to mosaics found during an illegal excavation in 2007 under a house in Southeast Turkey. Excavations are ongoing in the area, with authorities aiming to completely reveal the mosaics and the city, and then turn the site into an open-air museum


The accidentally found mosaics led to the unearthing of the Roman-era city of Germenicia in the southeastern province of Kahramanmaraş. When the work is complete, the area will become an open-air museum.

Mosaics found during an illegal excavation in the southeastern province of Kahramanmaraş have led to the unearthing of an ancient city called Germenicia, which remained underground for 1,500 years. The mosaics, found under a house in the Dulkadiroğulları neighborhood, are expected to shed light on the history of the city.


The Roman-era city of Germenicia was unearthed by chance during an illegal excavation in the basement of a house. Preliminary examinations showed that the mosaics were high-quality contemporaries of those unearthed in the ancient cities of Zeugma and Yamaçevler. The first steps have been taken to completely unearth Germenicia and its mosaics, with houses in the area expropriated by the Culture Ministry.


Speaking to Anatolia news agency, Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Seydi Küçükdağlı said the location of Germenicia was shown as Kahramanmaraş on ancient maps, but archaeologists had been unable to determine its exact location because no architectural remnants of the city had been found.


He said the accidentally found mosaics, first stumbled upon during the illegal excavation in 2007, were the reason for finding the 1,500-year-old city. “Although the city was very important and magnificent – it even printed its own money at the time – it remained underground as a result of invasions and fires,” he said.


Küçükdağlı said excavations were initiated under the coordination of the Kahramanmaraş Museum Directorate at the end of November. “After the first mosaic was found, we examined the region and registered 19 parcels of land that could be important. We have expropriated five parcels and excavations have started on three. The houses where the mosaics were found have been torn down and a protective cover installed at the site.”


Küçükdağlı said excavations would continue, and when completed the area would become an open-air museum to be visited by tourists.


He said seven archaeologists were participating in the excavation. “The mosaics have changed the future of the buried city. They are on the ground level of two-story magnificent villas built in the late-Roman period around 400 A.D. and will give us clues about the daily social life at the time.”


Küçükdağlı said the Culture Ministry also decided to carry out academic excavations in the region, adding that they sent invitations to 44 universities with archaeology departments and expected their response.


He said the fifth International Mosaics Corpus would be held in June in Kahramanmaraş and that the symposium would provide information about the history of the mosaics.


Archaeologists believe there are more remnants of the ancient city of Germenicia, which is named after the father of Roman Emperor Caligula, in the Namık Kemal neighborhood in the foothills of Ahir Mountain. They believe the city was buried by landslides and avalanches caused by a severe earthquake.


Research has shown the region likely featured as many as 100 villas with 15-20 rooms each. Excavation work on the newly unearthed mosaics so far has suggested they were likely floor decorations in one of those villas.



Mayan King's Tomb Discovered in Guatemala

A well-preserved tomb of an ancient Mayan king has been discovered in Guatemala by a team of archaeologists

Posted: December 30, 2010


PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University]—A well-preserved tomb of an ancient Maya king has been discovered in Guatemala by a team of archaeologists led by Brown University’s Stephen Houston. The tomb is packed with carvings, ceramics, textiles, and the bones of six children, who may have been sacrificed at the time of the king’s death.


The team uncovered the tomb, which dates from about 350 to 400 A.D., beneath the El Diablo pyramid in the city of El Zotz in May. The news was made public yesterday during a press conference in Guatemala City, hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Sports, which authorized the work.


Before making the actual discovery, Houston said the team thought “something odd” was happening in the deposit they were digging. They knew a small temple had been built in front of a sprawling structure dedicated to the sun god, an emblem of Maya rulership. “When we sunk a pit into the small chamber of the temple, we hit almost immediately a series of ‘caches’—blood-red bowls containing human fingers and teeth, all wrapped in some kind of organic substance that left an impression in the plaster. We then dug through layer after layer of flat stones, alternating with mud, which probably is what kept the tomb so intact and airtight.”


Then on May 29, 2010, Houston was with a worker who came to a final earthen layer. “I told him to remove it, and then, a flat stone. We’d been using a small stick to probe for cavities. And, on this try, the stick went in, and in, and in. After chipping away at the stone, I saw nothing but a small hole leading into darkness.”


They lowered a bare light bulb into the hole, and suddenly Houston saw “an explosion of color in all directions—reds, greens, yellows.” It was a royal tomb filled with organics Houston says he’d never seen before: pieces of wood, textiles, thin layers of painted stucco, cord.


“When we opened the tomb, I poked my head in and there was still, to my astonishment, a smell of putrification and a chill that went to my bones,” Houston said. “The chamber had been so well sealed, for over 1600 years, that no air and little water had entered.”


The tomb itself is about 6 feet high, 12 feet long, and four feet wide. “I can lie down comfortably in it,” Houston said, “although I wouldn’t want to stay there.”


It appears the tomb held an adult male, but the bone analyst, Andrew Scherer, assistant professor of anthropology at Brown, has not yet confirmed the finding. So far, it seems likely that there are six children in the tomb, some with whole bodies and probably two solely with skulls.


And who was this man? Though the findings are still very new, the group believes the tomb is likely from a king they only know about from other hieroglyphic texts—one of Houston’s specialties in Maya archaeology. “These items are artistic riches, extraordinarily preserved from a key time in Maya history,” said Houston. “From the tomb’s position, time, richness, and repeated constructions atop the tomb, we believe this is very likely the founder of a dynasty.”


Houston says the tomb shows that the ruler is going into the tomb as a ritual dancer. He has all the attributes of this role, including many small ‘bells’ of shell with, probably, dog canines as clappers. There is a chance too, that his body, which rested on a raised bier that collapsed to the floor, had an elaborate headdress with small glyphs on them. One of his hands may have held a sacrificial blade.”


The stone expert on site, Zachary Hruby, suspects the blade was used for cutting and grinding through bone or some other hard material. Its surface seems to be covered with red organic residue. Though the substance still needs to be tested, “it doesn’t take too much imagination to think that this is blood,” Houston said.


“We still have a great deal of work to do,” Houston said. “Remember, we’ve only been out of the field for a few weeks and we’re still catching our breath after a very difficult, technical excavation. Royal tombs are hugely dense with information and require years of study to understand. No other deposits come close.”


Houston, a 2008 MacArthur fellow, is the Dupee Family Professor of Social Science and professor of anthropology at Brown.


Houston’s co-director of the site is Edwin Román. He is working with a group of Brown graduate students and researchers, including Thomas Garrison, a former postdoctoral fellow at the Joukowsky Institute and the Department of Anthropology, and graduate students Sarah Newman, Nick Carter, James Doyle, Alex Knodell, and Alex Smith. Scherer, the bone analyst, is working with graduate student Kate Blankenship and undergraduate Morgan Ritter-Armour on the laboratory portion of the analysis.


The work at El Zotz has been supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.



Archaeologists to probe Sherwood Forest's 'Thing'


A team of experts hope to shed new light on one of Nottinghamshire's most mysterious ancient monuments.

A 'Thing', or open-air meeting place where Vikings gathered to discuss the law, was discovered in the Birklands, Sherwood Forest, five years ago.

In January 2011 experts plan to survey the hill and see if they can detect signs of buried archaeology and the extent of the site.

The site was found by three local historians after a treasure hunt.

It started after husband and wife team Lynda Mallett and Stuart Reddish, along with their friend John Wood, came into possession of a 200 year old document.

It described a walk around part of Sherwood Forest which marked an ancient boundary.

They searched for the boundary on the landscape and found a place called Hanger Hill on which stood three stones.

The historians, from Rainworth, researched further and found that the same place was called Thynghowe on a 1609 map.

This was significant.

"A 'thyng' is the name of a Viking assembly site while a 'howe' is possibly a Bronze Age burial ground," said Lynda.

Lynda and Stuart then formed The Friends of Thynghowe and invited members from the three local historical societies to join them.

Over the last five years they have researched the site, establishing its importance.

References to Nottinghamshire's Thynghowe have been found in an ancient Forest Book dating back to the 1200s.


The site is also thought to be a bronze age burial mound.

It is thought that Thynghowe may have marked the boundary between the Anglo Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Northumberland.

However, it may date back much further, as 'howe' is a term often used to indicate a prehistoric burial place.

"It's a very exciting find," said Stuart. "We're talking about 4,000 years of history in the heart of Sherwood Forest."

This and other Viking meeting place locations were chosen for their acoustics.

Stuart said a voice spoken at the meeting place in the Birklands can be heard from hundreds of yards away.

Research has found that the site was used for centuries.

"We've got documentary evidence that people met there right up to the 1800s. Local people were still meeting up there and raising each others spirits 200 years ago," said Stuart.

The site has now been recognised as a national rarity by English Heritage and added to their National Monument Record.

Funded by local donations The Friends of Thynghowe have been working hard to increase public awareness of the site's history.

"We've put a marked trail in, we've produced leaflets and booklets," said Lynda. "We've done a lot of work to promote this."



Every April they also host an annual walk around Thynghowe, explaining all the history of the site. In 2011 it will be held on 16 April.

And they are now putting in an application for Heritage Lottery funding to develop 'trail tales' for school children.

"So they can start to connect these exciting stories with the real history of Sherwood Forest," said Lynda.

"This is our real cultural heritage," added Stuart. "We love Robin Hood, we love the Major Oak but this is real history. This represents families that have lived in the area and it belongs to the people of the area."

A topographical survey using total station and GPS will take place from 17 to 22 January 2011.

Archaeologists from University College London will also be present using magnetometry to reveal the extent of the site and what may be beneath the ground.

Friends of Thynghowe and interested members of the public are invited to come along and help on Thursday, 20 and Saturday, 22, 9.30am - 12.30pm and / or 1.30pm - 4.30pm. Booking is essential.

If you are interested in attending on either or both of these dates please contact Alex Price, the Local Improvement Schemes Project Officer on 07753625571.