Bukit Bunuh: a major Palaeolithic site in Malaysia

26 February 2011


Archaeologists recently announced that a 4 km square Palaeolithic complex in Bukit Bunuh (Malaysia) is in fact one of the oldest geochronologically dated sites outside Africa, with occupations dating back to more than 1.83 million years ago, and later occupation phases from 40,000 years ago and 30,000 years ago.

     "Evidence indicates that this site had always been occupied," said Assoc. Prof. Mokhtar Saidin, the Director of the Centre for Global Archaeological Research, Universiti Sains Malaysia. "Bukit Bunuh was chosen as the site for early settlement as it not only provided the natural resources needed to make stone tools but was an ancient environment that had water resources from ancient lakes, flora and fauna," he said.

     The discovery of a series of hand-axes, announced on 2009, indicated that this is the only Palaeolithic site in the world with a stone tools workshop that continued to be used periodically from 1.83 million years ago. Research at Bukit Bunuh has also uncovered evidence supporting the theory that the disappearence of the local Paleolithic culture was caused by a meteorite impact 1.83 million years ago. This was provided by geomorphologic evidence, the presence of suevite stone - a type of rock formed by the impact of meteorite - and the geology of the area.

     Last month, the Malaysian National Heritage Department submitted a report to UNESCO; a team from the agency of the United Nations is expected to visit the site in July this year and the results will be announced next year. "This recognition is crucial to ensure that the artefacts, including thousands of suevite stones in this area are preserved as national heritage. There should be on-going research to get a true picture of the people who settled in this area since 1.83 million years ago and this can change several theories about the Palaeolithic people such as the nomadic theory and movement of prehistoric man," said Mokhtar.


Edited from Researchsea.com (18 February 2011)



11,500-Year-Old Remains of Cremated 3-Year-Old Discovered

by Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

24 February 2011



An archaeological dig in Alaska has uncovered the oldest human remains ever found in Arctic or Subarctic North America – the cremated skeleton of a 3-year-old.


The chlid's burned bone fragments were found in a fire pit in the remains of an ancient house near the Tanana River in central Alaska. Researchers date the cremation to 11,500 years ago. After the child's body was burned, researchers report in the Feb. 25 issue of the journal Science, the house and hearth were buried and abandoned.


"The fact that the child was cremated within the center of the house … this was an important member of society," said study author Ben Potter, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.


The child's remains aren't the only thing about the find that excites Potter and his colleagues. The Paleoindian inhabitants of Alaska left few structures behind; usually, archaeologists discover outdoor hearths and specialized tools that suggest temporary work sites or hunting camps. The house that became a child's grave is the first house structure found from this time period in northern North America. The most similar site found is on the Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia, Potter said during a press conference.


The cremated child lived and died at the very end of the "last cold snap of the last Ice Age," Potter said. The Bering Land Bridge that once connected eastern Siberia and Alaska still may have been open, or was only recently inundated by rising sea levels. The newly discovered house sits in an area called the Upward Sun River site, which would have been well vegetated, Potter said. The inhabitants stoked their cooking fires with poplar wood.


Within the fire pit, the researchers discovered the cooked bones of small animals, including salmon, rabbits, ground squirrels and birds. The presence of salmon (and young ground squirrels), peg the site as a summer settlement, Potter said. The presence of the child, who could have been as young as 2 or as old as 4 based on the development of the adult teeth, suggests that women were present as well, said study researcher Joel Irish, a dental anthropologist at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.


"In prehistoric times, weaning would come as late as maybe 3 years old," Irish said. "So this child was probably still breastfeeding."


The researchers also found four used stone tools at the site, along with stone flakes left over from tool-sharpening.


By sifting through the layers in the fire pit, the researchers were able to reconstruct the house's inhabitants' summer. They fished and hunted small game, either cooking it in the hearth or disposing of bones and other leftovers there. When the child died, he or she – researchers can't say for sure, though they're hoping to find out – was placed on his or her back in the hearth and burned for one to three hours.


The child's cremation site may have been a former cooking pit, but Potter and Irish don't suspect cannibalism. The child's body wasn't disturbed during the burn, they said, and no limbs were carted off to the dinner table. The house's foundation was filled in after the cremation, suggesting a respectful burial, Potter said.


The child's cause of death can't be determined, and only about 20 percent of the skeleton survived the fire (Potter first realized he'd found human remains when he uncovered a molar tooth). The teeth do provide some clues as to the child's ancestry, Irish said. He or she had shovel-shaped front teeth, a genetic trait common in northeast Asian and Native American populations.


"This child does have some affinity to native populations," Irish said.


As such, the researchers worked with native groups in every step of the scientific process. When Potter found the first molar, he immediately halted the dig to consult with local native communities and the owner of the land. The researchers plan to try to extract DNA from the bones, both to see if they can tell the child's gender and to see if they can genetically link him or her to living or ancient native populations. What will happen to the bones after that has not yet been decided, Potter said.


The find is a "very significant discovery and contribution to North American archaeology," said E. James Dixon, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico who was not involved in the dig. The find fits a pattern, Dixon said, in that 25 percent of remains found that are older than 10,000 years are children.


"It suggests that there is a relatively high infant mortality rate across North America at the time, and this reinforces that pattern," Dixon told LiveScience.


The child's young age hit close to home for the research team, Potter said.


"We both have young children around the same age," Potter said of himself and Irish. "That was quite remarkable for both of us to be thinking, beyond the scientific aspect, that yes, this was a living breathing human being that died."



Ancient cities sprung from marshes, researcher finds

February 24, 2011


For more than a century, archaeologists have believed that ancient Mesopotamian cities – places like Uruk and Ur – were born along the banks of the great rivers of the Middle East and depended mainly on irrigation of surrounding deserts for their survival.


Dr. Jennifer Pournelle, a research assistant professor in the School of the Environment at the University of South Carolina, has a different theory. She believes that the great cities of southern Iraq grew and thrived in vast lowland marshes fed by those rivers, not along the banks of rivers themselves.

Last fall, Pournelle led the first American research team of archaeologists to visit Iraq in more than 25 years. And what she and her colleagues found has caused the start of a shift in thinking about how ancient urban landscapes evolved.

“Clearly, the earliest cities were not strung out along rivers like pearls on a strand. Rather, they were spread across the river delta within and along the margins of marshlands,” said Pournelle, who combines excavation records and archaeological site maps with aerial and satellite imagery, in order to reconstruct ancient environments.

The research team, which included archaeologist Carrie Hritz (Pennsylvania State University) and geologist Jennifer Smith (Washington University in St. Louis), explored the lowlands of the Tigris-Euphrates river system in southern Iraq. Pournelle’s work pieces together the contribution of wetland resources to the emergence, growth and reproduction of cities in the earliest, longest-lived urban heartland in the world.

Most of the previous archaeological data in Iraq was collected from 1900 through the 1950s, when little attention was paid to plants and animals, she said. The environmental contexts for museum objects and architecture were largely undocumented. When recorded at all, they emphasized grain agriculture and domesticated livestock.

“Things like reeds, fish, shellfish, birds and turtles – the things that make up wetlands – were thought of as unimportant and so were largely ignored,” she said. “But at the very least, marsh resources were the ‘third leg’ of a triad that also included conventional agriculture and grazing livestock across desert rangelands. The rise of multiple cities around 3000 B.C. was due in part to their proximity to the rich marshes – and I would argue that their long-term survivability was utterly dependant on them.”


Pournelle’s work was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s High Risk Research in Physical Anthropology and Archaeology Program. During the trip, Pournelle and her team visited 17 field locations in southern Iraq and received permission to open a collaborative, three -year geo-archaeology effort with faculty from the universities of Baghdad (geology) and Basrah (geology and marine sciences) and the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage.

“Our mission was to meet with the local representatives, site curators, guards and others, and ask, ‘What are the needs? And what are the attitudes toward Americans resuming work?’ ” said Pournelle, a former Army officer and civilian development advisor who said she started looking for signs of progress in Iraq about 18 months ago. “The political landscape of Iraq has been largely remade since the 1980s. We need to build new working relationships.”

What she found was an openness toward researchers desiring to study the area and learn about its past and present. For example, at Basra University at the head of the Persian Gulf, faculty members have reached out to the English-speaking world, looking for opportunities to collaborate across multiple departments. Pournelle said the University of South Carolina’s School of Earth, Ocean and the Environment is pursuing multi-disciplinary research projects and opportunities in Iraq.

“The archaeology is exciting, but this goes way beyond archaeology,” she said. “Iraq’s strategic importance is not going away, and this state has already made a huge investment there. Southern Iraq’s current problems are a lot like our own – water resources management, coastal and port development management, pollution control and environmental management, given extremely limited budgets. The difference is we’ve been juggling these concerns for a few hundred years; they’ve been juggling them for a few thousand. We have a lot to learn from each other.

Pournelle is planning a multi-year project in Iraq to do further research, including taking a closer look at densely packed building foundations, fields and canals previously submerged beneath Lake Hammar.

“In form, scope, scale and state of preservation, this archaeological landscape is unique,” she said. “It is worthy of inscription on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage register.

“Iraq is a place we can study, from its deep past through its foreseeable future, in order to understand the impacts and consequences of natural and human interactions with environments,” she said. “I want to investigate the role of wetlands in the long-term sustainability of cities everywhere. In southern Iraq, we have an 8,000-year-long archaeological record and a 5,000-year-long historical record of how that worked. There’s nowhere else like that in the world.”


Provided by University of South Carolina



New Discovery ‘will rewrite Stonehenge’s history’

Published by University of Leicester Press Office

Friday 25th February 2011 - 11:04am


Researchers from Leicester and Wales have shed new light on the origins of bluestones at Stonehenge- long believed to have come from ‘sacred hills’ in Wales.


Geologists from the National Museum Wales, University of Leicester and Aberystwyth University, have uncovered new evidence of its origins - which brings into question how the rocks were brought to the Salisbury Plain.


One type of bluestone at Stonehenge, the so-called ‘spotted dolerite’, was convincingly traced to the Mynydd Preseli area in north Pembrokeshire in the early 1920s. However, the sources of the other bluestones - chiefly rhyolites (a type of rock) and the rare sandstones remained, until recently, unknown.


Now the team of geologists have further identified the sources of one of the rhyolite types, which also provides the opportunity for new thoughts on how the stones might have been transported to the Stonehenge area.


Their findings are published in the March 2011 edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.


Dr Richard Bevins, Keeper of Geology at Amgueddfa Cymru, in partnership with Dr Rob Ixer, University of Leicester and Dr Nick Pearce of Aberystwyth University, have been working on the rhyolite component of the bluestones, which leads them to believe it is of Welsh origin.


Through standard petrographical techniques combined with sophisticated chemical analysis of samples from Stonehenge and north Pembrokeshire using laser ablation induction coupled mass spectrometry at Aberystwyth University, they have matched one particular rhyolite to an area north of the Mynydd Preseli range, in the vicinity of Pont Saeson.


The Bluestones are a distinctive set of stones that form the inner circle and inner horseshoe of Stonehenge. Much of the archaeology in recent years has been based upon the assumption that Neolithic Age man had a reason for transporting bluestones all the way from west Wales to Stonehenge and the technical capacity to do it.


Dr Ixer, who has been attached to the University of Leicester Department of Geology for two decades, said:  “For almost 100 years the origins of the bluestones and how they got to Salisbury Plain from Southwest Wales has been matter of great debate but now due to a combination of expertise, abundant material and new techniques it is becoming possible to finally answer those questions.


“From the 8,000 samples of rock available, the exciting part was to match the Stonehenge rocks with rocks in the field in order to find their geographical source -  this was initially done microscopically. However this is difficult as rocks from every outcrop have to be described and matched and that takes detailed long term knowledge- Dr Richard Bevins from National Museum Wales has 30 years experience of sampling and collecting just these rocks in southwest Wales and once the very unusual mineralogy of some of the debitage was recognised microscopically he was able to identify the source of a major group of volcanics to Pont Season north of the Preseli Hills.


“The important and quite unexpected result based on microscopical work needed to be confirmed and this has been done recently based on very detailed mineralogical analysis with Dr Nick Pearce from the University of Aberystwyth.


“The first result was the recognition that the huge sandstone Altar stone does not come from Milford Haven but from somewhere between West Wales and Herefordshire and has nothing to do with the Preseli Hills. This calls into question the proposed transport route for the Stonehenge bluestones.


“The second unexpected result was that much of the volcanic and sandstone Stonehenge debris does not match any standing stones (so far only 2 stones out of thousands from the debris match)- it may be the debris is all that is left of lost standing stones- it is difficult to see what else it could be.


“The third is that the geographical origins for many of the Stonehenge rocks are not from impressive outcrops high on the hilltops but in less obvious places, some deep in valleys.”


Dr Ixer said that work already undertaken and more in progress suggests that, unlike the belief of the last 80 years, namely that all of the Stonehenge bluestones were from taken from the top of ‘sacred’ Preseli hills and moved southwards to the Bristol Channel and then onto Stonehenge, most or all of the volcanic and sandstone standing stones and much of the debris at Stonehenge comes from rocks in the low-lying ground to the north and northwest of the Preseli Hills and, if, they were moved by man, then they travelled initially in the Irish sea before heading south and east.


“But as ever Stonehenge asks more questions than it answers. These Stonehenge surprises will continue for a few years to come and once again the history of Stonehenge will have to be re-written.”



New discovery throws further light on the origins of famous bluestones of Stonehenge

By Culture24 Staff | 22 February 2011


The ongoing debate surrounding the source of the famous bluestones formimg the distinctive inner circle and horseshoe of Stonehenge has taken another turn after new findings emerged from Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.


One type of bluestone, the so-called spotted dolerite, was convincingly traced to the Mynydd Preseli area of North Pembrokeshire in the 1920s, but the origins of many of the others have remained a mystery. Now geologists at the museum in Cardiff believe they have identified the source of one of the rhyolite types.


A team led by Keeper of Geology Dr Richard Bevins has been using “standard petrographical techniques” and “laser ablation induction coupled mass spectrometry” on samples from Stonehenge and Pembrokeshire.


Their findings, which involve the application of zircon chemistry as a new tool for “provenancing rhyolitic lithics”, point to a source for the stones in an area north of the Mynydd Preseli range, in the vicinity of Pont Saeson.


The results, which are due to be published in the March 2011 edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science, may also provide some new clues about how and why the stones were transported to the Stonehenge area.


“It has been argued that humans transported the spotted dolerites from the high ground of Mynydd Preseli down to the coast at Milford Haven and then rafted them up the Bristol Channel and up the River Avon to the Stonehenge area,” explained Dr Bevins.


“However, the outcome of our research questions that route, as it is unlikely that they would have transported the Pont Saeson stones up slope and over Mynydd Preseli to Milford Haven.”


Doctor Bevins, who admitted that trying to match stones from the famous henge with rocks in Pembrokeshire was “like looking for a needle in a haystack”, said that an alternative route should now be considered for their transportation from Pembrokeshire to Salisbury Plain.


The findings may also throw some new light on the belief held by some archaeologists that the stones were transported by the actions of glacier sheets during the last glaciation.


Stonehenge scholar Mike Parker Pearson, Professor of Archaeology at Sheffield University, said the findings were “a hugely significant discovery" and would fascinate Stonehenge enthusiasts.


“It forces us to rethink the route taken by the bluestones to Stonehenge and opens up the possibility of finding many of the quarries from which they came. It’s a further step towards revealing why these mysterious stones were so special to the people of the Neolithic.”


Dr Bevins and his team are now looking for the sources of the other Stonehenge volcanic and sandstone rocks.



Garden dig leads to a grave discovery

Friday, 25 February 2011


Pat Tiernan is a keen fan of television's 'Time Team' and amateur archaeology. But he never thought a dig in his back garden would unearth items up to 4,000 years old.


After starting work on an extension to his home in Collinstown, Co Westmeath, he was astonished to discover a skeleton and other items.


Pretty soon a team from the National Museum was excavating and evaluating his find which included human remains and a Bronze Age bowl.


Mr Tiernan credited the TV show with helping him identify the find.


The find was made following a recent spell of bad weather at the bungalow in Rickardstown.


Pat explained: " I looked out the window and saw bones protruding out the back and I saw the pot. They looked too big for ordinary animal bones and too small for large animal bones. I kind of clicked it because I was used to looking at a bit of 'Time Team'," he said.


Since a visit to Newgrange, Mr Tiernan had developed an interest in ancient Irish art and archaeology. "It is funny that I should find this being so into the Celtic stuff for so long," he said.


A team from the National Museum of Ireland described the find as "significant". "They reckon it is between 4,000-4,500 years old," Mr Tiernan said.


Assistant keeper at the museum, Padraig Clancy, went to the site along with colleagues Andy Halpin and Carol Smith. Mr Clancy said it has yet to be determined whether the Bronze-Age remains were those of a man or a woman.


"The very interesting thing about Rickardstown is a similar bowl was found by a Mr Thomas O'Farrell in the 1940s at a quarry," he revealed. "This find fits the Bronze Age burial tradition which were often isolated burials."


He also thanked Pat for his quick thinking. "Due to his prompt recognition of it, it did save the bulk of the vessel."


The finds will be analysed and preserved at the museum.


Read more: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/republic-of-ireland/garden-dig-leads-to-a-grave-discovery-15095717.html#ixzz1FAOGi6bs



Libya's Roman sites unscathed by unrest so far

Sun, 27th Feb 2011 06:15

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

RABAT, Feb 27 (Reuters)


Libyans appear determined to safeguard their rich cultural heritage during the popular unrest against leader Muammar Gaddafi, protecting it from the looting seen in neighbouring Egypt's revolution just weeks ago.


Conquered by most of the civilizations that held sway over the Mediterranean, Libya's rich cultural heritage includes Leptis Magna, a prominent coastal city of the Roman empire, whose ruins are some 130 km (80 miles) east of Tripoli.


The birthplace of emperor Septimius Severus, its amphitheatre, marbled baths, colonnaded streets and a basilica are considered the jewel in the crown of its Roman legacy.


While communication with Libya difficult sketchy amid the uprising against Gaddafi's four decade rule, two archaeologists who frequently work in the country said cultural artefacts appeared to have been spared the ravages suffered during Egypt's recent revolt.


'So far there are no records whatsoever of any areas from the cultural heritage of Libya being affected by the troubles,' said Hafed Walda, a Libyan who advises the country's department of antiquities and once led an excavation at Leptis Magna.


'We're always worried about this in terms of chaos. It's going in the right direction so far but I'm not sure it will carry on like this. I don't know,' he said from his London base.


In January, looters broke into the Egyptian Museum, home to the world's greatest collection of Pharaonic treasures, smashing several statues and damaging two mummies, while police battled anti-government protesters in the streets.


An Egyptian crossing into Tunisia told Reuters on Saturday that Sabratha -- an ancient Roman town with an amphitheatre and reconstructed theatre where Benito Mussolini watched performances during Italian colonial rule -- was in the hands of civilians, but the information could not be corroborated.


The Benghazi-based newspaper Quryna had reported earlier in the week a large number of government troops had deployed there.


'Libya is my second home and all this is the worst nightmare,' said British archaeologist Paul Bennett, in Libya three weeks ago in the Cyrenaica region where protests began.


'I hear stories of looting from work camps and alike, these are all relatively remote areas and I suspect local militia are keeping control in villages and towns.


'There are roadblocks ... local people are protecting their property and their neighbours and in doing so are looking after the cultural heritage as well,' Bennett, who is also head of mission at the Society of Libyan Studies in London, said.


He said a team of archaeologists had been evacuated a few days ago and he was in touch with friends and colleagues there.


'All seems to be ok. I don't have particular concerns that museums will in any way be affected by all this,' he said.


'I'm confident local people will protect (them) and the department of antiquity staff will ensure everything is in order and kept safe.' The department in Tripoli was not reachable for comment.


Libya's archaeological work began in earnest in the 1930s when fascist Italy, the colonial power, hoped to demonstrate the Roman presence and prove Italy's historical dominance of the Mediterranean. That work also led to the discovery of oil.


Archaeology took a back seat after Gaddafi's 1969 revolution although some foreign archaeologists continued work, making finds even during the low point of relations with the West.


'It's been neglected by the regime for quite a while. At one time it was seen as not Libyan heritage as such but imperialist,' Walda said.


The Gaddafi government had sought to improve resources and infrastructure in recent years, he added, amid efforts to develop tourism.


'I'm hoping attitudes will change -- we want the department of antiquity to be seen as part of the Libyan identity and the future of Libya,' Walda said.


Both he and Bennett said they hoped to return to Libya. 'We can only hope the situation will stabilise and we'll be back working together very soon,' Bennett said. 'That's my dream anyway.'


(Editing by Jon Boyle) Keywords: LIBYA PROTESTS/HERITAGE


(maghreb.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com; tel: +212 5 3772 6518; fax: +212 5 3772 2499)



Roman fort dig near Neath school unearths new secrets

21 February 2011


Excavation work on the site of a Roman fort near a school has revealed what archaeologists believe are structures never previously seen in the UK.


The dig in the playing fields of Dwr-y-Felin Comprehensive Upper School in Neath has uncovered sections of the defences of the 1st Century building.


These include a defence tower partially set outside its ramparts allowing soldiers to shoot at gate attackers.


A fort was in occupation on the site until at least the 3rd Century.


Richard Lewis, head of projects at the Glamorgan/Gwent Archaeological Trust, said: "It's certainly of high importance in Wales and the UK because nobody has been able to expose as large an area as we have".


The trust was asked by Neath Port Talbot council to carry out the work before a new teaching block was built on the playing field.


The fort of Nidum was discovered in the 1950s, and according to the trust, it would have been occupied by a unit of auxiliaries, who were regarded as high quality troops but "less prestigious than the legions".


They protected the fort against the fierce local tribe, known as the Silures, who were native to much of south, mid and west Wales.


Mr Lewis said: "There are some very unusual defences. We can't find anything like it anywhere else.


"They did exist 200 or 300 years later but they were very, very unusual (for the 1st Century).


"The Romans had an extremely efficient field army and their best form of defence was attack."


The structure was initially built from timber, and the later stone version was built in the early part of the 2nd Century in a slightly different position.


The trust said its excavations had "given us a whole new understanding of the early fort and the area outside its north-west gate".


The work has shown that the timber fort was protected by four parallel ditches and a rampart, with a tower.


Their combined width was more than 12m (39ft), which Mr Lewis said provided "formidable" defences.


"There's no road leading out and it appears that this is as far as they've got in a very, very hostile area. It basically tells us that that the Silures were rampant and they really needed good defence."


The tower had two of its four posts set on the outside of the rampart, which the trust believes "would have allowed soldiers to shoot at anyone attacking the gate".


Workers have also identified what they call another unique feature in the face of the rampart. They uncovered a trench for a palisade - a defensive fence of stakes - to prevent the collapse of the rampart, and possibly to support a lifting mechanism.


The work on the site was finished last week and it will be preserved before the school building work is carried out on top.


The team are posting daily video updates and a blog about the excavations on the 360 Productions website.



Archaeology team tells Queen, "We want to dig up Henry VIII"

by Sean McLachlan on Feb 21st 2011 at 8:30AM


Two American archaeologists have asked the Queen of England for permission to dig up Henry VIII and use the latest techniques to reconstruct his face. Bioarchaeologist Catrina Whitley and anthropologist Kyra Kramer popped the question because they're interested in seeing how accurate the royal portraits of the famous king really are. They also want to perform DNA tests to see if he suffered from a rare illness that might have driven him insane.


Facial reconstruction on skulls is nothing new and has been steadily improving over the years. It's used in archaeology to study ancient people and by CSI teams to identify murder victims.


Drs. Whitley and Kramer would like to open Henry VIII's grave in St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle and measure his skull. They can then create an accurate image of what he looked like in real life.


While this is interesting and is sure to make lots of headlines, of more historic importance is their plan to analyze the king's DNA to test for McLeod Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can lead to schizophrenia. Historians have long wondered why an intelligent, level-headed leader became an erratic tyrant in later life. His wives must have wondered too.


No word yet from Queen Elizabeth on whether she'll allow her predecessor to be exhumed.