Shared Genes With Neanderthal Relatives: Modern East Asians Share Genetic Material With Prehistoric Denisovans
ScienceDaily (Oct. 31, 2011)
During human evolution our ancestors mated with Neanderthals, but also with other related hominids. In this week's online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from Uppsala University are publishing findings showing that people in East Asia share genetic material with Denisovans, who got the name from the cave in Siberia where they were first found.
"Our study covers a larger part of the world than earlier studies, and it is clear that it is not as simple as we previously thought. Hybridization took place at several points in evolution, and the genetic traces of this can be found in several places in the world. We'll probably be uncovering more events like these," says Mattias Jakobsson, who conducted the study together with Pontus Skoglund.
Previous studies have found two separate hybridization events between so-called archaic humans (different from modern humans in both genetics and morphology) and the ancestors of modern humans after their emergence from Africa: hybridization between Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans outside of Africa and hybridization between Denisovans and the ancestors of indigenous Oceanians. The genetic difference between Neandertals and Denisovans is roughly as great as the maximal level of variation among us modern humans.
The Uppsala scientists' study demonstrates that hybridization also occurred on the East Asian mainland. The connection was discovered by using genotype data in order to obtain a larger data set. Complete genomes of modern humans are only available from some dozen individuals today, whereas genotype data is available from thousands of individuals. These genetic data can be compared with genome sequences from Neandertals and a Denisovan which have been determined from archeological material. Only a pinky finger and a tooth have been described from the latter.
Genotype data stems from genetic research where hundreds of thousands of genetic variants from test panels are gathered on a chip. However, this process leads to unusual variants not being included, which can lead to biases if the material is treated as if it consisted of complete genomes. Skoglund and Jakobsson used advanced computer simulations to determine what this source of error means for comparisons with archaic genes and have thereby been able to use genetic data from more than 1,500 modern humans from all over the world.
"We found that individuals from mainly Southeast Asia have a higher proportion of Denisova-related genetic variants than people from other parts of the world, such as Europe, America, West and Central Asia, and Africa. The findings show that gene flow from archaic human groups also occurred on the Asian mainland," says Mattias Jakobsson.
"While we can see that genetic material of archaic humans lives on to a greater extent than what was previously thought, we still know very little about the history of these groups and when their contacts with modern humans occurred," says Pontus Skoglund.
Because they find Denisova-related gene variants in Southeast Asia and Oceania, but not in Europe and America, the researchers suggest that hybridization with Denisova man took place about 20,000-40,000 years ago, but could also have occurred earlier. This is long after the branch that became modern humans split off from the branch that led to Neandertals and Denisovans some 300,000-500,000 years ago.
"With more complete genomes from modern humans and more analyses of fossil material, it will be possible to describe our prehistory with considerably greater accuracy and richer detail," says Mattias Jakobsson.
New dating of cave site upsets Neanderthal theory
Members of our species (Homo sapiens) arrived in Europe several millennia earlier than previously thought. This was the conclusion by a team of researchers, after carrying out a re-analyses of two ancient deciduous teeth.
These teeth were discovered in 1964 in the “Grotta del Cavallo”, a cave in southern Italy. Since their discovery they have been attributed to Neanderthals, but this new study suggests they belong to anatomically modern humans. Chronometric analysis, carried out by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit at the University of Oxford, shows that the layers within which the teeth were found date to ~43,000-45,000 cal BP. This means that the human remains are older than any other known European modern humans. The research work was published in the renowned science journal Nature.
Grotta del Cavallo, in Apulia, was discovered in 1960. It contained about 7 m of archaeological deposits spanning the period during which Neanderthals were replaced by modern humans. Two milk teeth were unearthed in 1964 by Arturo Palma di Cesnola (emeritus of the University of Siena) from the so-called Uluzzian archaeological layers. The Uluzzian culture has been described from more than 20 separate sites across Italy, and is characterised by personal ornaments, bone tools and colourants; items typically associated with modern human symbolic behaviour. But the teeth from Cavallo were identified in the 1960′s as Neanderthals who lived around 200,000 to 40,000 years ago. This attribution has been at the heart of a widely held consensus that the Uluzzian and the complex ornaments and tools within it were also produced by Neanderthals.
Comparison of micro-computed-tomography scans of teeth
Mesial view of the specimen Cavallo-B (deciduous left upper first molar), the first European anatomically modern human. The white bar in the figure is equivalent to 1 cm. Image: Stefano Benazzi
Stefano Benazzi, post-doc at the Department of Anthropology at University of Vienna, and his colleagues were able to compare digital models derived from micro-computed tomography scans of the human remains from Grotta del Cavallo with those of a large modern human and Neanderthal dental sample: “We worked with two independent methods: for the one, we measured the thickness of the tooth enamel, and for the other, the general outline of the crown. By means of micro-computed tomography it was possible to compare the internal and external features of the dental crown. The results clearly show that the specimens from Grotta del Cavallo were modern humans, not Neanderthals as originally thought.”
New chronometric analyses of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit
Katerina Douka, post-doc at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and History of Art at the University of Oxford, undertook a comprehensive programme of radiocarbon dating to establish a firm chronology for the finds. Previous dates for the Uluzzian were problematic and affected by contamination. Since the teeth were too small to date directly, Douka developed a new approach that focused on the dating of marine shells found in the same archaeological levels as the teeth. This approach showed that the modern human teeth must date to between ~43,000-45,000 years ago. Douka said, “Radiocarbon dating of Palaeolithic material is difficult because the levels of remaining radiocarbon are very low and contamination can be problematic. Shell beads are important objects of body ornamentation and have allowed us directly and reliably radiocarbon date items associated with these early Homo sapiens settlers of Europe.”
Uluzzian artefacts from Grotta del Cavallo, Apulia, southern Italy. Credit: Annamaria Ronchitelli and Katerina Douka
Uluzzian culture was made by modern humans
“What the new dates mean“, Benazzi summarised, “is that these two teeth from Grotta del Cavallo represent the oldest European modern human fossils currently known. This find confirms that the arrival of our species on the continent – and thus the period of coexistence with Neanderthals – was several thousand years longer than previously thought. Based on this fossil evidence, we have confirmed that modern humans and not Neanderthals are the makers of the Uluzzian culture. This has important implications to our understanding of the development of ‘fully modern’ human behaviour. Whether the colonisation of the continent occurred in one or more waves of expansion and which routes were followed is still to be established.”
Based on this fossil evidence, we have confirmed that modern humans and not Neanderthals are the makers of the Uluzzian culture
International collaboration makes it possible
Gerhard Weber, head of the Core Facility for Micro-Computed Tomography and deputy head of the Department of Anthropology at University of Vienna, commented on the discovery in the following way: “Human fossil material is very rare, particularly well preserved deciduous teeth. It is only thanks to the collaboration of several European institutions that fossil remains were accessible. The re-evaluation of the Cavallo material was only made possible through technical innovations developed in the last decade, known as ‘Virtual Anthropology‘. These new techniques developed for dental morphometrics and also new radiocarbon dating will help to address taxonomic questions associated with other contentious human fossil remains.”
The Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU): http://c14.arch.ox.ac.uk
Department of Anthropology at University of Vienna: http://www.anthropology.at/
Publication: The Early dispersal of modern humans in Europe and implications for Neanderthal behaviour. Benazzi, S., Douka, K., Fornai, C., Bauer, C.C., Kullmer, O., Svoboda, J., Pap, I., Mallegni, F., Bayle, P., Coquerelle, M., Condemi, S., Ronchitelli, A., Harvati, K., Weber, G.W. In. Nature, Nov. 3, 2011.
Humans ventured as far as Torquay more than 40,000 years ago
The early humans were pioneers who took advantage of a temporary warm spell to visit Britain during the last ice age
Ian Sample, science correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 2 November 2011 18.15 GMT
A fragment of human jaw unearthed in a prehistoric cave in Torquay is the earliest evidence of modern humans in north-west Europe, scientists say.
The tiny piece of upper jaw was excavated from Kents Cave on the town's border in the 1920s but its significance was not fully realised until scientists checked its age with advanced techniques that have only now become available.
The fresh analysis at Oxford University dated the bone and three teeth to a period between 44,200 and 41,500 years ago, when a temporary warm spell lasting perhaps only a thousand years, made Britain habitable.
The age of the remains puts modern humans at the edge of the habitable world at the time and increases the period over which they shared the land with Neanderthals, our close relatives who evolved in Europe and Asia.
Modern humans are known to have interbred with Neanderthals, leaving their mark in the genomes of many people alive today, and are implicated in their demise 30,000 years ago, perhaps by outcompeting them for food and other crucial resources.
The remains are close in age to the first examples of Aurignacian culture, exemplified by a range of artefacts from flint and bone tools to figurines and cave paintings that date from 45,000 to 35,000 years ago.
"We believe this piece of jawbone is the earliest direct evidence we have of modern humans in northwestern Europe, at a site at the very outermost limits of the initial dispersal of our species," said Tom Higham, deputy director of the Oxford radiocarbon accelerator unit, who led the study.
"It confirms the presence of modern humans at the time of the earliest Aurignacian culture, and tells us a great deal about how rapidly our species dispersed across Europe during the last ice age. It also means that early humans must have co-existed with Neanderthals in this part of the world, something which a number of researchers have doubted.
"For many years, people thought Europe was a bit of a backwater, a Neanderthal stronghold almost, but the dating we've done suggests that is not so clearcut," he said.
The early humans who arrived in Torquay were pioneers who ventured into Britain along with other animals and either retreated or were wiped out when temperatures plummeted again at the end of the warm spell.
The bone fragments were originally dated at Oxford in 1989, but the reliability of the dating was called into question when scientists spotted traces of modern glue that had been used to stick the teeth in place.
Too little of the specimen was uncontaminated to re-date the fragments directly, so Higham's team scoured the archives at Torquay museum for animal bones excavated above and below the spot where the jawbone was found.
Having collected the bones of wolf, deer, cave bear and woolly rhinoceros, the team used a new method called bone collagen ultrafiltration to remove modern contamination before dating the samples to between 50,000 and 26,000 years old. The team next used a statistical method to calculate the age of the human jawbone.
The findings are published in the journal Nature alongside another study that bolsters evidence for early human occupation in Europe.
In the second paper, researchers led by Stefano Benazzi at the University of Vienna, re-examined two milk teeth found in a cave in southern Italy in 1964.
The teeth, thought to be Neanderthal, were uncovered at the Grotta del Cavallo next to artefacts described as "Uluzzian", a culture defined by personal ornaments, bone tools and colourants.
Benazzi's team looked at the teeth afresh using digital scanners and concluded that they had the hallmarks of modern humans instead of Neanderthals. The teeth were too small to date directly, but decorative shell beads uncovered in the same archaeological layers as the teeth were found to be 41,000 to 45,000 years old.
The finding "undermines the idea that Neanderthals were engaged in highly symbolic behaviour," Benazzi said. Scientists have uncovered other evidence that suggests Neanderthals made Uluzzian tools and ornaments at sites in France, but at some of these, it is difficult to be sure that the artefacts are the work of Neanderthals.
Evidence of Earliest Known Modern Human in Northwest Europe Discovered
Wed, Nov 02, 2011
First excavated in 1927 from the limestone context of Kent's Cavern in southwestern England, the fragment of a modern human upper jaw bone (maxilla) containing three teeth was dated by Oxford University scientists in 1989 to about 35,000 B.P.
But there was a fly in the ointment.
The specimen had traces of modern glue on the surface, a result of the efforts to conserve the bone after discovery. This, according to scientists who examined the maxilla at a later time, would skew any results from dating the object.
Said Beth Shapiro, Shaffer Associate Professor of Biology at Penn State University and a member of a new research team examining the jawbone, "we knew we were going to have to do additional testing to re-date the bone."
But because the uncontaminated portion of the maxilla was considered too small for testing, the team had to extract data from the archives and collections in the Torquay Museum (of the Torquay Natural History Society located in Devon, England, the original excavators) and obtain other animal bone specimens from depths originally recorded above and below the location in the cave where the maxilla was found. Using the latest techniques, radiocarbon dates for bones of cave bear, deer, woolly rhinoceros and wolf were obtained. Applying Bayesian statistical-modelling, the scientists were then able to calculate a new age for the maxilla.
The new date: Between 44,000 and 41,000 years B.P.
"The new dating evidence we have obtained allows us, for the first time, to pinpoint the real age of this key specimen," says Tom Higham, Deputy Director of Oxford University's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and a member of the research team. "We believe this piece of jawbone is the earliest direct evidence we have of modern humans in northwestern Europe."
According to Shapiro, the new date range also provides evidence supporting the coexistence of Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans in Europe. "If the jawbone is, in fact, 44,000 to 41,000 years old, that means it was from a time when Neanderthals were still present in Europe, so we first had to confirm that the bone was from an anatomically modern human, and not a Neanderthal." The sampling material was insufficient for valid DNA sequencing, so the team used a virtual three-dimensional model based on CT scanning of the jawbone for detailed analysis. They then compared resulting data from the teeth of the jawbone with those of other modern human and Neanderthal fossils from a number of different archaeological sites. They found that early modern human dental characteristics predominated in the jawbone.
The findings present additional perspective and evidence on the advent and dispersal speed of early modern humans on the European stage. "The new date and identification of this bone from Kent's Cavern is very important, as we now have direct evidence that modern humans were in northwest Europe about 42,500 years ago," says Higham. "It confirms the presence of modern humans at the time of the earliest Aurignacian culture, and tells us a great deal about the dispersal speed of our species across Europe during the last Ice Age".
The Aurignacian period of human cultural development was represented by a tool industry in Europe and southwest Asia that included worked bone or antler points, flint tools of fine blades and bladelets struck from prepared cores . This culture is also known for some of the earliest known cave art, such as the paintings at Chauvet cave in southern France, as well as ivory beads, bracelets, pendants, and three-dimensional figurines. While Aurignacian material remains have been dated as old as 44,000 years, until now, the dates for early modern human remains in the same geographic areas have been no earlier than between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago.
Details and analysis of the findings are currently published in the journal Nature.
In addition to Shapiro, Higham, and Compton, other members of the research team included Chris Stringer, Roger Jacobi, and Chris Collins of the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom; Erik Trinkaus of Washington University in the United States; Barry Chandler of the Torquay Museum in the United Kingdom; Flora Gröning, Paul O'Higgins, and Michael Fagan of the University of Hull in the United Kingdom; Simon Hillson of University College London in the United Kingdom; and Charles FitzGerald of McMaster University in Canada.
The research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Natural Environment Research Council.
Ancient DNA provides new insights into cave paintings of horses
04 November 2011 York, University of
Under embargo until 07 November 2011 20:00 GMT
Embargoed to 7 November 2011 (3pm US Eastern Time, 8pm UK time)
An international team of researchers has used ancient DNA to shed new light on the realism of horses depicted in prehistoric cave paintings.
The team, which includes researchers from the University of York, has found that all the colour variations seen in Paleolithic cave paintings – including distinctive ‘leopard’ spotting - existed in pre-domestic horse populations, lending weight to the argument that the artists were reflecting their natural environment.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) today, is also the first to produce evidence for white spotted phenotypes in pre-domestic horses. Previous ancient DNA studies have only produced evidence for bay and black horses.
Archaeologists have long debated whether works of art from the Paleolithic period, particularly cave paintings, are reflections of the natural environment or have deeper abstract or symbolic meanings.
This is particularly true of the cave painting “The Dappled Horses of Pech-Merle” in France, which dates back more than 25,000 years and clearly depicts white horses with dark spots.
The dappled horses’ spotted coat pattern bears a strong resemblance to a pattern known as ‘leopard’ in modern horses. However, as some researchers believed a spotted coat phenotype unlikely at this time, pre-historians have often argued for more complex explanations, suggesting the spotted pattern was in some way symbolic or abstract.
Researchers from the UK, Germany, USA, Spain, Russia and Mexico genotyped and analysed nine coat-colour loci in 31 pre-domestic horses dating back as far as 35,000 years ago from Siberia, Eastern and Western Europe and the Iberian Peninsula. This involved analysing bones and teeth specimens from 15 locations.
They found that four Pleistocene and two Copper Age samples from Western and Eastern Europe shared a gene associated with leopard spotting, providing the first evidence that spotted horses existed at this time.
In addition, 18 horses had a bay coat colour and seven were black, meaning that all colour phenotypes distinguishable in cave paintings – bay, black and spotted – existed in pre-domestic horse populations.
Professor Michi Hofreiter, from the Department of Biology at the University of York, said: “Our results suggest that, at least for wild horses, Paleolithic cave paintings, including the remarkable depictions of spotted horses, were closely rooted in the real-life appearance of animals.
“While previous DNA studies have produced evidence for bay and black horses, our study has demonstrated that the leopard complex spotting phenotype was also already present in ancient horses and was accurately depicted by their human contemporaries nearly 25,000 years ago.
“Our findings lend support to hypotheses that argue that cave paintings constitute reflections of the natural environment of humans at the time and may contain less of a symbolic or transcendental connotation than often assumed.”
The data and laboratory work were led by Dr Melanie Pruvost, from the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and the Department of Natural Sciences at the German Archaeological Institute, both in Berlin. The results were replicated in laboratories at the University of York.
Dr Pruvost said: “We are just starting to have the genetic tools to access the appearance of past animals and there are still a lot of question marks and phenotypes for which the genetic process has not yet been described. However, we can already see that this kind of study will greatly improve our knowledge about the past. Knowing that leopard spotting horses were present during the Pleistocene in Europe provides new arguments or insights for archaeologists to interpret cave arts.”
Dr Arne Ludwig, from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, added: “Although taken as a whole, images of horses are often quite rudimentary in their execution, some detailed representations, from both Western Europe and the Ural mountains, are realistic enough to at least potentially represent the actual appearance of the animals when alive.
“In these cases, attributes of coat colours may also have been depicted with deliberate naturalism, emphasizing colours or patterns that characterised contemporary horses.”
Exact numbers of Upper Paleolithic sites with animal depictions are uncertain because of ongoing debates about the taxonomic identification of some images and dating. However, art of this period has been identified in at least 40 sites in the Dordogne-Périgord region, a similar number in coastal Cantabria and around a dozen sites in both the Ardèche and Ariège regions.
Where animal species can be confidently identified, horses are depicted at the majority of these sites.
Professor Terry O’Connor from the University of York’s Department of Archaeology was involved in the interpretation of the results. He said: “Representations of animals from the Paleolithic period have the potential to provide first-hand insights into the physical environment that humans encountered thousands of years ago. However, the motivation behind, and therefore the degree of realism in these depictions is hotly debated.
“The depictions of horses at Pech-Merle in particular have generated a great deal of debate. The spotted horses are featured in a frieze which includes hand outlines and abstract patterns of spots. The juxtaposition of elements has raised the question of whether the spotted pattern is in some way symbolic or abstract, especially since many researchers considered a spotted coat phenotype unlikely for Paleolithic horses.
“However, our research removes the need for any symbolic explanation of the horses. People drew what they saw, and that gives us greater confidence in understanding Paleolithic depictions of other species as naturalistic illustrations.”
Leopard complex spotting in modern horses is characterised by white spotting patterns that range from horses having a few white spots on the rump to horses that are almost completely white. The white area of these horses can also have pigmented oval spots known as ‘leopard spots’.
Dr. Monika Reissmann, from Humboldt University’s Department for Crop and Animal Sciences, explained: “This phenotype was in great demand during the Baroque Age. But in the following centuries the leopard complex phenotype went out of fashion and became very rare. Today leopard complex is a popular phenotype in several horse breeds including Knabstrupper, Appaloosa and Noriker and breeding efforts have intensified again because there is a growing interest in the restoration of these horses.”
The fact that four out of 10 of the Western European horses from the Pleistocene had a genotype indicative of the leopard complex phenotype, suggests that this phenotype was not rare in Western Europe during this period.
However, bay seems to have been the most common colour phenotype in pre-domestic times with 18 out of the 31 samples having bay genotypes. This is also the most commonly painted phenotype in the Paeolithic period.
Full bibliographic information
The full paper, “Genotypes of pre-domestic horses match phenotypes painted in Paleolithic works of cave art”, is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The study authors were: Professor Michi Hofreiter, Department of Biology and Professor Terry O’Connor, Department of Archaeology, both University of York, UK; Arne Ludwig, Department of Evolutionary Genetics,Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany; Melanie Pruvost, Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany and the Department of Natural Sciences, German Archaeological Institute, also Berlin; Rebecca Bellone, Department of Biology, University of Tampa, Tampa, USA; Norbert Benecke, Department of Natural Sciences, German Archaeological Institute, Berlin, Germany; Edson Sandoval-Castellanos, Laboratorio de Genética Ecológica y Evolución, Departamento de Ecología Evolutiva, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico; Michael Cieslak, Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Berlin, Germany; Tatyana Kuznetsova, Department of Palaeontology, Faculty of Geology, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia; Arturo Morales-Muñiz, Laboratory of Archaeozoology, Universidad Autonoma Madrid, Madrid, Spain; Monika Reissmann, Department for Crop and Animal Sciences, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany.
Notes for editors
Media Information: Caron Lett +44 (0) 1904 322029
· A gallery of photos is available to download at
or by contacting the University of York Press Office on 01904 322029.
Ground-breaking technology shows no second chamber at Newgrange
Newgrange...no dramatic announcements.
Wednesday, 9th November, 2011 4:47pm
The technology used in an attempt to find out whether a second passage tomb, which may also be aligned with a solstice event, exists at Newgrange had proved its worth during experimentation by a Slovakian team of scientists who visited the Boyne Valley, an Irish archaeologist said this week.
Dr Conor Brady, archaeologist and lecturer at Dundalk Institute of Technology, who lives at Slane, said that while there would be no "dramatic announcements" about discovery of a second chamber at Newgrange at this stage, the microgravitational technology used in the experiments had proven valuable to archaeologists and scientists.
The possibility that Newgrange could have a second passage tomb, which may also be aligned with a solstice event, was being explored by a team of Irish and Slovakians archaeologists using ground-breaking technology.
Already part of the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site, Newgrange is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland and if a second chamber was uncovered it would add to its already global iconic status.
Newgrange is synonymous with sunrise on the winter solstice but the possibility that it has another as yet unknown chamber is not being ruled out.
Dr Brady said this week that while the weather conditions encountered by the team at Newgrange created difficulty in the use of the highly-sensitive equipment, it had nevertheless shown that "it works".
The purpose of the microgravitational equipment was to detect underground cavities. The microgravity meter responds to variations in density in the ground beneath it.
Beer & Bullets to Go: Ancient 'Takeout' Window Discovered
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 28 October 2011 Time: 11:15 AM ET
Some 5,200 years ago, in the mountains of western Iran, people may have used takeout windows to get food and weapons, newly presented research suggests.
But rather than the greasy hamburgers and fries, it appears the inhabitants of the site ordered up goat, grain and even bullets, among other items.
The find was made at Godin Tepe, an archaeological site that was excavated in the 1960s and 1970s by a team led by T. Cuyler Young Jr., a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, who died in 2006.
A team of researchers took up his work after he died and recently published the results of the excavation, along with more recent research on the artifacts, in the book "On the High Road: The History of Godin Tepe" (Hilary Gopnik and Mitchell Rothman, Mazda Publishers, 2011). In addition a symposium was held recently where the takeout windows, among other research finds at Godin Tepe, were discussed.
The idea that they were used as takeout windows was first proposed by Cuyler Young and is based mainly on their height and location beside the central courtyard.
The windows could have been used by ordinary individuals or perhaps by soldiers "driving through" to grab some food, or even weapons. [See images of the ancient takeout windows]
The research shows that Godin Tepe started out, in prehistoric times, as a simple settlement. "For about 1,000 years the mound of Godin was occupied by a small village of farmers and shepherds," said Hilary Gopnik of Emory University, at a recent symposium at the Royal Ontario Museum.
That changed quickly. "Sometime in about 3,200 B.C. somebody razed those houses and built this oval enclosure," Gopnik said. The mud-brick structure had a central courtyard surrounded by buildings, including one particularly prominent structure with two windows.
"The windows and the walls of the main building are very unusual for architecture of this period, and they've been interpreted as a kind of takeout window," Gopnik said.
Inside the building, researchers discovered beveled-rimmed bowls (a pot type found throughout the Middle East), food remains, a fireplace and 1,759 sun-dried clay sling bullets, a weapon used for warfare and hunting. Clay tablets were also found within the structure.
"As far as I know, that is the only example of those odd, framing windows. We don't usually find windows at all," in the Middle East, Gopnik told LiveScience.
Clemens Reichel, a curator at the museum, said that while archaeologists do find openings that may have been air vents or cubby holes, windows are rare and are hard to identify.
"Dr. Gopnik is completely right in stating that attested windows in mud-brick architecture are rare. But it takes an experienced archaeologist to recognize an opening in a mud-brick wall — you have to be able to see the difference between mud-brick and compacted debris in such a cavity, and that can be very difficult," Reichel told LiveScience in an email.
Sling bullet with your food?
If these windows were used for takeout, what exactly was served?
A wide variety of food remains have been found at Godin Tepe. "There [were] lentils, there was goat bone, sheep bone, there was also beer and wine," Gopnik said. "We think those beveled-rimmed bowls were used for rations of grain."
As for a "drive-thru" spirits store, Gopnik said, "people have suggested that maybe they were delivering rations of beer, [but] that seems a little far-fetched."
The sling bullets, found in the building, may have been stockpiled near the end of the oval compound's life, possibly for distribution through the windows. "The compound was abandoned and partially burned in about 3,000 B.C. But whether this was purposeful or a peaceful abandonment remains a mystery," Gopnik said. [Read: History's Most Overlooked Mysteries]
While Gopnik argues that everyday Joes may have frequented this takeout joint, Virginia Badler, a doctoral student of Young's, suggests soldiers were the main patrons. As such, the oval compound may have been used to protect trade routes in the area, according to Badler, who contributed to the new book. Sitting on a high mound as it is, "you would have had quite a panoramic view," Badler told LiveScience.
Badler discussed several arguments supporting a military function for Godin Tepe, including the small, enclosed nature of the oval, which would have made it easier to protect the compound and see who was coming inside. Also, Mesopotamian rulers had problems protecting trade caravans at the time, and weapons, including a spear point, mace head and sling bullets, were found at Godin. "I have no doubt it's a fort," she said, "they wanted to funnel goods to the lowlands."
She said that when ancient military sites were abandoned in Mesopotamia, clay sling bullets were often left behind. She also suggested that the beveled-rim bowls found there may have been used for water rations rather than grain.
"There's no reason to have that beveling except that it's a wonderful place to put your lip when you drink out of it," Badler said, adding that she tried drinking out of one of these bowls. "I covered it with a very thin plastic bag, and I filled it with water," she said. "What the beveling does is it makes a very thin edge — it was extremely easy to drink out of the bowl."
A few of the bowls were also lined with bitumen, a substance used for waterproofing. "Why would you line a bowl that had grain in it, or porridge, with bitumen?"
The windows, in the scenario she proposes, would have been used to provision troops. "I think there was a local army queued up," she said. "I think they were giving out the weapons over here, and (at) the other window maybe they were giving out water and food."
So the compound would have served as a takeout place, though the food and bullets would have been provided to soldiers on their way to fight. "Here's your bread, here's your water, your rations for the day, and here's your (weapons), so get the marauders," Badler said.
The work was also described at a symposium held by the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies. Artifacts from the site are now part of an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Prehistoric Dartmoor burial reveals nationally important remains
16 November 2011
An excavation, co-ordinated by Dartmoor National Park Authority, has discovered a nationally important collection of Early Bronze Age remains in a burial site situated in Dartmoor National Park. The discovery could prove to be one of the most important archaeological finds of the last 100 years nationally.
The excavation has revealed that cremated human bone and burnt textile was placed within an animal hide or fur on top of a very thin leather and textile object, itself placed above a mat of plant material. At one end of the fur/ hide was a delicate woven bag or basket with fine stitching still visible. The contents inside included beautifully preserved shale disc beads, amber spherical beads and a circular textile band. A further layer of matted plant material covered these objects.
The burial cist was excavated in August 2011 and was located on Whitehorse Hill, northern Dartmoor, on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. The work was carried out by archaeologists from the Historic Environment Projects Team, Cornwall Council, led by Andrew Jones, with assistance from English Heritage (EH) and Plymouth University specialists.
The project was jointly funded by the Dartmoor National Park Authority (DNPA) and English Heritage, with contributions from a number of other local funders.
Cists are stone built chests which are used for the burial of cremations or inhumations, and are found in the south west of England and elsewhere but are rarely found with their original contents. Some 200 cists are known on Dartmoor. They may be sunk into the ground or positioned in barrows or mounds. On Dartmoor the Whitehorse Hill cist is the only known example set within a peat mound.
The cist was first discovered over 10 years ago when what appeared to be its end stone fell out of the peat mound which had been concealing it. Since that time the peat has slowly eroded away from the sides and the top of the peat mound. After several attempts to protect the cist, a Scheduled Monument, the decision was taken by the DNPA and EH to excavate it in order to recover any surviving archaeological and environmental information before the site and its context were lost. This was the first excavation of a Dartmoor cist for nearly one hundred years.
Located within peat at 600m altitude on one of Dartmoor’s highest tors, the cist offered high potential for good preservation of any remaining contents and an opportunity to better understand archaeological preservation within upland peat at a time of change in upland management.
The cist’s isolated location and elevated position well away from other known archaeology was unusual. This also caused some logistical problems in getting the necessary equipment and archaeologists up to the site. The Ministry of Defence was of great help providing transport and the use of its Observation Post on Hangingstone Hill as an overnight store.
During the late afternoon, three days into the excavation, the stones of the cist were dismantled and the large cover stone (measuring 0.8 x 0.6m) removed. This revealed a burial deposit lying in situ on the base stone of the cist. Visible remains included bone fragments, a shale bead and what appeared to be hair or fur. Two sharpened wooden stakes were also discovered outside the cist, one lying horizontally against one of the side walls and the other still vertically placed into the peat against one of the end stones.
It was immediately evident that micro-excavation in controlled conditions was essential as, once exposed, the organic remains were very vulnerable.
The entire deposit, including the granite base stone was wrapped and transported to the Wiltshire Conservation Service laboratory where ‘micro excavation’ has taken place, revealing a wealth of information that does not normally survive in most burials on drier soils.
Jane Marchand, Senior Archaeologist for Dartmoor National Park Authority and Whitehorse Hill Project Manager, said:
‘This is a most unusual and fascinating glimpse into what an early Bronze Age grave goods assemblage on Dartmoor might have looked like when it was buried, including the personal possessions of people living on the Moor around 4,000 years ago.’
A programme of analysis will now follow to examine the peat surrounding the cist. Studies of pollen, other plant remains and testate amoebae (microscopic single cell organisms) supported by radio carbon dating will provide evidence of vegetation and climate at the time of the burial.
There is also much specialist analysis to be carried out on the different items within the cist burial before conservation work can begin stabilising the finds under controlled conditions. This will allow further examination and study of the objects to find out how they were made and the materials used around 4000 years ago.
It is planned to rebuild the cist and reinstate it in the spot where it was found.
Interpol confirms Libyan treasure was looted
The largely forgotten cache of thousands of antiquities was taken by thieves months after the city was seized by rebel forces
By Martin Bailey. From News, Issue 229, November 2011
Published online: 31 October 2011
BENGHAZI. Interpol has alerted police forces to the theft of the so-called “Benghazi Treasure”, which was stolen from a bank vault in the city on 25 May. The theft of thousands of antiquities went unpublicised at the time, some three months after rebel forces had seized Benghazi from troops loyal to the late Muammar Gaddafi.
The looted treasure, which includes Greek and Roman gold, had been stored in two padlocked second world war military chests and a safe. It has never been displayed in Libya and its existence had been virtually forgotten, except by specialist archaeologists.
Francesco Bandarin, Unesco’s head of culture, working with Libyan archaeologists, is determined to hunt down the treasure; Interpol has alerted 188 national police forces. Information about the loss is scarce, but there is some new evidence, based on research by Italian archaeologist Serenella Ensoli, the Naples-based director of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Cyrene.
The antiquities had been deposited for safekeeping in the vaults of the National Commercial Bank in Omar al-Mukhtar Street, in the centre of Benghazi. The city was the main base of anti-Gaddafi rebels, who seized power there last February.
On 25 May, the two chests and the safe were apparently moved out of the vault, without proper authorisation, and sent to another bank building near the Hotel Dujal. Only one of the chests arrived, with the other chest and the safe going missing. To make matters worse, Ensoli suspects that the thieves went through the containers, looting the gold and silver and leaving the lesser material in the remaining chest, which went to the new location.
The Benghazi Treasure is the name given to a collection of the most important antiquities that were excavated in Cyrenaica after the first world war, when Italy occupied Libya following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
The finest items were found in 1917 at the Temple of Artemis in Cyrene, the largest Greek site in Africa, which is east of Benghazi. Dating from the fifth and sixth centuries BC, the gold included earrings, embossed heads and a plaque depicting a battle.
Other material came from the Hellenistic Palace of Columns in Ptolemais (between Cyrene and Benghazi), which was excavated from 1937. A third element is the Meliu collection of 2,000 coins.
The Benghazi Treasure comprises 364 gold coins, 2,433 silver coins, 4,484 bronze coins, 306 pieces of jewellery and 43 other antiquities, including statues. The story of its 20th-century history is only now emerging.
In 1942, when Allied forces were approaching Libya, Italian archaeologists packed up the treasure. Early the following year, they sent it to Rome in the military chests. In May 1944, the chests were moved for safekeeping to the northern city of Cremona and later to Val Brenta, in the Dolomites. After the war, the Libyan finds were returned to Rome and were deposited at the Museo Coloniale.
It was not until 1961 that the collection was finally returned to Libya. A typescript inventory was then compiled, unfortunately without photographs. On its return, the treasure was lodged in a bank vault in Benghazi, and remained there after Gaddafi seized power eight years later. In 1980, further archaeological finds were added to the material deposited at the bank.
Earlier this year, after Libyan rebels established the National Transitional Council in Benghazi, Fadel Ali Mohammed was appointed chairman of the archaeology department. On 2 June, he wrote to the attorney-general, reporting the theft of the treasure. Fadel also wrote to the Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini, asking for assistance in documenting the treasure. The main problem is that there are few surviving photographs of the thousands of objects, a situation Ensoli describes as “absolutely deplorable”. This will make it difficult to identify pieces should they ever appear on the market.
There have been reports that 500 coins and other antiquities from the Benghazi Treasure have turned up in Egypt, but these remain unconfirmed. It has also been suggested that the coins are being offered on the black market in Libya. The problem with individual coins is that without good photographs it will be difficult to prove their provenance, and to show that they were once part of the Benghazi Treasure. Unesco director-general Irina Bukova told a meeting in Paris that the loss represented “one of the largest thefts of archaeological material in history.” Unesco now hopes to send a mission to Tripoli and Benghazi to pursue inquiries.
UA scientists find evidence of Roman period megadrought
Public release date: 4-Nov-2011
Contact: Daniel Stolte
University of Arizona
A new study at the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research has revealed a previously unknown multi-decade drought period in the second century A.D.
Almost nine hundred years ago, in the mid-12th century, the southwestern U.S. was in the middle of a multi-decade megadrought. It was the most recent extended period of severe drought known for this region. But it was not the first.
The second century A.D. saw an extended dry period of more than 100 years characterized by a multi-decade drought lasting nearly 50 years, says a new study from scientists at the University of Arizona.
UA geoscientists Cody Routson, Connie Woodhouse and Jonathan Overpeck conducted a study of the southern San Juan Mountains in south-central Colorado. The region serves as a primary drainage site for the Rio Grande and San Juan rivers.
"These mountains are very important for both the San Juan River and the Rio Grande River," said Routson, a doctoral candidate in the environmental studies laboratory of the UA's department of geosciences and the primary author of the study, which is upcoming in Geophysical Research Letters.
The San Juan River is a tributary for the Colorado River, meaning any climate changes that affect the San Juan drainage also likely would affect the Colorado River and its watershed. Said Routson: "We wanted to develop as long a record as possible for that region."
Dendrochronology is a precise science of using annual growth rings of trees to understand climate in the past. Because trees add a normally clearly defined growth ring around their trunk each year, counting the rings backwards from a tree's bark allows scientists to determine not only the age of the tree, but which years were good for growth and which years were more difficult.
"If it's a wet year, they grow a wide ring, and if it's a dry year, they grow a narrow ring," said Routson. "If you average that pattern across trees in a region you can develop a chronology that shows what years were drier or wetter for that particular region."
Darker wood, referred to as latewood because it develops in the latter part of the year at the end of the growing season, forms a usually distinct boundary between one ring and the next. The latewood is darker because growth at the end of the growing season has slowed and the cells are more compact.
To develop their chronology, the researchers looked for indications of climate in the past in the growth rings of the oldest trees in the southern San Juan region. "We drove around and looked for old trees," said Routson.
Literally nothing is older than a bristlecone pine tree: The oldest and longest-living species on the planet, these pine trees normally are found clinging to bare rocky landscapes of alpine or near-alpine mountain slopes. The trees, the oldest of which are more than 4,000 years old, are capable of withstanding extreme drought conditions.
"We did a lot of hiking and found a couple of sites of bristlecone pines, and one in particular that we honed in on," said Routson.
To sample the trees without damaging them, the dendrochronologists used a tool like a metal screw that bores a tiny hole in the trunk of the tree and allows them to extract a sample, called a core. "We take a piece of wood about the size and shape of a pencil from the tree," explained Routson.
"We also sampled dead wood that was lying about the land. We took our samples back to the lab where we used a visual, graphic technique to match where the annual growth patterns of the living trees overlap with the patterns in the dead wood. Once we have the pattern matched we measure the rings and average these values to generate a site chronology."
"In our chronology for the south San Juan mountains we created a record that extends back 2,200 years," said Routson. "It was pretty profound that we were able to get back that far."
The chronology extends many years earlier than the medieval period, during which two major drought events in that region already were known from previous chronologies.
"The medieval period extends roughly from 800 to 1300 A.D.," said Routson. "During that period there was a lot of evidence from previous studies for increased aridity, in particular two major droughts: one in the middle of the 12th century, and one at the end of the 13th century."
"Very few records are long enough to assess the global conditions associated with these two periods of Southwestern aridity," said Routson. "And the available records have uncertainties."
But the chronology from the San Juan bristlecone pines showed something completely new:
"There was another period of increased aridity even earlier," said Routson. "This new record shows that in addition to known droughts from the medieval period, there is also evidence for an earlier megadrought during the second century A.D."
"What we can see from our record is that it was a period of basically 50 consecutive years of below-average growth," said Routson. "And that's within a much broader period that extends from around 124 A.D. to 210 A.D. – about a 100-year-long period of dry conditions."
"We're showing that there are multiple extreme drought events that happened during our past in this region," said Routson. "These megadroughts lasted for decades, which is much longer than our current drought. And the climatic events behind these previous dry periods are really similar to what we're experiencing today."
The prolonged drought in the 12th century and the newly discovered event in the second century A.D. may both have been influenced by warmer-than-average Northern Hemisphere temperatures, Routson said: "The limited records indicate there may have been similar La Nina-like background conditions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which are known to influence modern drought, during the two periods."
Although natural climate variation has led to extended dry periods in the southwestern U.S. in the past, there is reason to believe that human-driven climate change will increase the frequency of extreme droughts in the future, said Routson. In other words, we should expect similar multi-decade droughts in a future predicted to be even warmer than the past.
Routson's research is funded by fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the Science Foundation Arizona. His advisors, Woodhouse of the School of Geography and Development and Overpeck of the department of geosciences and co-director of the UA's Institute of the Environment, are co-authors of the study.
AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert! system.
Magical Viking stone may be real
A Viking legend which tells of a glowing "sunstone" that, when held up to the sky, disclosed the position of the Sun on a cloudy day may have some basis in truth, scientists believe.
6:30AM GMT 02 Nov 2011
The ancient race are believed to have to discovered North America hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus.
Now experiments have shown that a crystal, called an Iceland spar, could detect the sun with an accuracy within a degree – allowing the legendary seafarers to navigate thousands of miles on cloudy days and during short Nordic nights.
Dr Guy Ropars, of the University of Rennes, and colleagues said "a precision of a few degrees could be reached" even when the sun was below the horizon.
An Iceland spar, which is transparent and made of calcite, was found in the wreck of an Elizabethan ship discovered thirty years ago off the coast of Alderney in the Channel Islands after it sank in 1592 just four years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Viking legend tells of an enigmatic sunstone or sólarsteinn that, when held up to the sky, revealed the position of the sun, even on overcast days or below the horizon, the study reveals.
Magical Viking stone: key facts about daring sea raiders 02 Nov 2011
Viking stone: daring sea masters who inspired terror over raiding parties 02 Nov 2011
One Icelandic saga describes how, during cloudy, snowy weather, King Olaf consulted Sigurd on the location of the Sun. To check Sigurd's answer, Olaf "grabbed a sunstone, looked at the sky and saw from where the light came, from which he guessed the position of the invisible Sun"
Using the polarisation of the skylight, as many animals like bees do, the Vikings could have used to give them true bearings.
The Viking routes in the North Atlantic were often subject to dense fog and the stone could also be used to locate the sun on very cloudy days.
The researchers said such sunstones could have helped the Vikings in their navigation from Norway to America before the discovery of the magnetic compass in Europe.
They would have relied upon the sun's piercing rays reflected through a piece of the calcite. The trick is that light coming from 90 degrees opposite the sun will be polarised so even when the sun is below the horizon it is possible to tell where it is.
They used the double refraction of calcite to pinpoint the sun by rotating the crystals until both sides of the double image are of equal intensity.
Navigation was based on tables showing the position of the sun in the sky at various times of year, prior to the use of the compass by Europeans, around the 12th century.
Added the researchers: "The Alderney discovery opens new possibilities as it looks very promising to find Iceland spars in other ancient shipwrecks, or in archaeological sites located on the seaside such as the Viking settlement with ship repair recently discovered in Ireland."
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.
Conquistador Was Deep in U.S.: "Stunning" Jewelry Find Redraws Route?
"Surprise" may put 1500s Spanish expedition led by de Soto farther east.
for National Geographic News
Published November 1, 2011
Under a former Native American village in Georgia, deep inside what's now the U.S., archaeologists say they've found 16th-century jewelry and other Spanish artifacts.
The discovery suggests an expedition led by conquistador Hernando de Soto ventured far off its presumed course—which took the men from Florida to Missouri—and engaged in ceremonies in a thatched, pyramid-like temple.
The discovery could redraw the map of de Soto's 1539-41 march into North America, where he hoped to replicate Spain's overthrow of the Inca Empire in South America. There, the conquistador had served at the side of leader Francisco Pizarro.
A continent and five centuries away, an excavation organized by Atlanta's Fernbank Museum of Natural History found buried glass beads, iron tools, and brass and silver ornaments dating to the mid-1500s. The southern-Georgia location—where they'd been searching for a 17th-century Spanish mission—came to be called the Glass Site.
"For an Indian in the South 500 years ago, things like glass beads and iron tools might as well have been iPhones," said project leader Dennis Blanton, an independent archaeologist who until recently was Fernbank's staff archaeologist.
"These were things that were just astonishing to them. They were made of materials that were unknown and were sometimes in brilliant blue and red colors that were unmatched in the native world."
Blanton called the finding a "stunning surprise." Prior to the discovery, it had been generally accepted that de Soto and his men had crossed a river about 100 miles (160 kilometers) upstream of the site, but archaeologists hadn't suspect that the expedition had ventured so far south and east.
The trove of items—all of which could fit into a shoe box – represents the largest collection of early 16th-century Spanish artifacts ever found in the U.S. interior outside of Florida, according to Blanton, whose work was funded in part by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)
Quid Pro Quo?
Excavations by Blanton's team suggest a large building with a thatched, pyramid-shaped roof once stood at the Glass Site. The structure was surrounded by a ditch, contained a large central hearth, and may have served as an important ceremonial center or temple.
The concentration of Spanish artifacts at the Glass Site suggests de Soto may have participated in a gift-exchange ceremony with the town's chief and other leaders. It's not known what the Spaniards would have received in return, but they commonly asked for food, information, free passage, baggage carriers, and perhaps female company, Blanton said.
By comparing the archaeological results with journal accounts by the Spanish party, Blanton and his team think the Glass Site was an important village in a province ruled by the Ichisi Indians. The team also believes de Soto and his men stayed there between March 30 and April 2, 1540, according to journals.
The Man Who Fell to Earth
De Soto's party consisted of more than 600 men and hundreds of pigs and horses—animals that many of the Indians had never seen before.
"There are accounts in the chronicles of how Indians at first imagined the mounted men to constitute a single creature," Blanton said.
To encourage cooperation among the Indians and avoid conflict, de Soto sometimes claimed to be a god.
"De Soto took advantage of the fact that the Indians revered the sun and even at Ichisi made the claim to be descended from it," Blanton said.
By 1540 rumors of an "alien people" had already spread among Native Americans in southeastern North America, but few Indians would have encountered any Europeans in the flesh, he said.
"A de Soto encounter would have been for most, if not all, of the people at the Glass Site a wholly new—and undoubtedly startling—experience," Blanton said.
The fact that there is no evidence of mass killing or vandalism at the Glass Site suggests de Soto and his men were treated well during their stay, he added. And in fact Spanish journal records say the Spaniards were lavished with food and hospitality at an Ichisi village, which Blanton suspects was the Glass Site settlement.
This wasn't always the case.
"The Spaniards often treated the Natives very badly, and when the local people did not accede to their demands, de Soto would usually take the local leader hostage until he got his way," said Jeffrey Mitchem, a de Soto scholar with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, who was not involved in the discoveries.
"Usually their demands for food and young women wore out their welcome very quickly," Mitchem said, "so the natives were almost always trying to make them leave as rapidly as possible."
(Related: "Sixteen Indian Innovations: From Popcorn to Parkas.")
"Even More Spectacular" Than Thought?
Mitchem agreed that the discoveries support the idea that de Soto and his men camped for several days at the Glass Site.
"Many of the specific types of artifacts that have been found at [Glass Site] are the same types recovered from other sites that were contacted by the Hernando de Soto expedition," he said.
The new discoveries will not only help refine de Soto's expedition route, but could also provide valuable insight into how American Indian groups were organized in particular areas.
"As we identify specific Native American towns or villages described in the narratives, we can then look at what the Spanish narratives tell us about the political situation in those specific areas," Mitchem said.
The team has also explored another Georgia Indian site, called Deer Run, but the case for a de Soto encounter there is less conclusive, Blanton said.
While a visit by de Soto's party is the most likely explanation for the artifacts found at the Glass Site, Blanton says there may be another explanation: that the items were left by deserters of the lost Spanish colony of Ayllon. The settlement is known only from writings, and some scholars have proposed it was located on the Georgia coast.
(Related: "Search for America's 'Lost Colony' Gets New Boost.")
Though it's unlikely that the bead site harbored lost colonists, Blanton said, "if that proves to be true, then the Glass Site record is arguably even more spectacular."