600,000 year old stone tool mill discovered in China

March 7th, 2011 4:42 am ET


Xinhau News reported the discovery of an early to middle Pleistocene stone tool making factory used by Homo erectus in the Lushi Basin, South Luo River, in central China on March 6, 2011. The discovery was published in the Journal of Human Evolution.


The discovery was dated using pedostratigraphic analysis, optically stimulated luminescence, and magnetostratigraphic analysis to between 600,000 and 620,000 years of age. The site is representative of flake and core technology and is similar in comparison to other sites in China where Homo Eerectus has been found.


Homo Erectus was a tool maker. Their tools were simple. This is the first discovery of a "factory" for tool making which may indicate a higher level of sophistication in the organization of Homo Erectus society than was previously known.


The discovery was a collaborative effort by Australian and Chinese researchers.




"Ages for hominin occupation in Lushi Basin, middle of South Luo River, central China"




Huayu Lu A,


Xuefeng Sun A, Shejiang Wang B, Richard Cosgrove B, Hongyan Zhang A, Shuangwen Yi A Xiaolin Ma C, Ming Wei B and Zhenyu Yang D


A School of Geographic and Oceanographic Sciences, The MOE Key Laboratory of Coast and Island Development,


Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China


B Archaeology Program, School of Historical and European Studies, La Trobe University. Victoria 3086, Australia


C Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Zhengzhou 450000, China


D School of Earth Sciences and Engineering, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China


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Early humans began in southern Africa, study suggests

8 March 2011

By Mark Kinver, Science and environment reporter, BBC News


Hunter-gatherer groups in southern Africa were among the most genetically diverse populations


Modern humans may have originated from southern Africa, an extensive genetic study has suggested.


Data showed that hunter-gatherer populations in the region had the greatest degree of genetic diversity, which is an indicator of longevity.


It says that the region was probably the best location for the origin of modern humans, challenging the view that we came from eastern Africa.


The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


"Africa is inferred to be the continent of origin for all modern human populations," the international team of researchers wrote.


"But the details of human prehistory and evolution in Africa remain largely obscure owing to the complex histories of hundreds of distinct populations."


Co-author Brenna Henn, from Stanford University, California, said the team's study - the most comprehensive of its kind - reached two main conclusions.


"One is that there is an enormous amount of diversity in African hunter-gatherer populations, even more diversity than there is in agriculturalist populations," she told BBC News.


"These hunter/gatherer groups are highly structured and are fairly isolated from one another and probably retain a great deal of different genetic variations - we found this very exciting."


Dr Henn added: "The other main conclusion was that we looked at patterns of genetic diversity among 27 (present-day) African populations, and we saw a decline of diversity that really starts in southern Africa and progresses as you move to northern Africa."


She explained that the team's modelling was consistent with the serial founder effect. This refers to a loss of genetic variation when a new population is established by a very small number of individuals from the original, larger population.


"Populations in southern Africa have the highest genetic diversity of any population, as far as we can tell.


"So this suggests that this might be the best location for (the origins) of modern humans."


Chris Stringer, a leading palaeontologist based at the Natural History Museum, London, said: "The new paper... suggests that the genes of the Namibian and Khomani bushmen (southern Africa), Biaka pygmies (Central Africa) and the Sandawe (East Africa) appear to be the most diverse, and by implication these are the most ancient populations of Homo sapiens."


Professor Stringer, who was not involved in the study, added: "This is a landmark study, with far more extensive data on... hunter gatherer groups than we have ever had before, but I am cautious about localising origins from it."


He said that the ranges of these groups were currently quite limited, but rock paintings by ancient populations that had been linked to the Bushman hinted that they were once far more widespread.


"It seems more likely that the surviving hunter-gatherer groups are now localised remnants of populations that formerly ranged across much of sub-Saharan Africa 60,000 years ago," he told BBC News.


Professor Stringer said that he no longer thought that there was a single "Garden of Eden" where we evolved. Instead, he said, "distinct populations in ancient Africa probably contributed to the genes and behaviours that make up modern humans".



Heritage status for WA ochre mine site

Paul Cleary From: The Australian March 08, 2011 12:00AM


A 30,000-YEAR-OLD ochre mine in outback Western Australia has been granted national heritage status by the federal government, a move that will help protect the historic site from encroaching iron ore developments.


The Wilgie Mia ochre mine in the Weld Range, northeast of Geraldton, is where Aborigines extracted red, yellow and green ochre, which was then traded across Australia, as far away as north Queensland.


Its bright red ochre is still used for Aboriginal art, law and healing activities.


There is a considerable amount of rock art in the vicinity, as well as the archeological remains of an ancient tool factory. The site has also been a centre of traditional ceremonies.


The listing means the Wilgie Mia mine joins places such as Kakadu and Uluru as areas protected by Australia's national heritage regime.


The listing will not prevent development, but Heritage Minister Tony Burke says it means any activity likely to have a significant impact on the site's value would need to be referred to the environment minister.


The government estimates that as much as 19,600 cubic metres of ochre and rock, weighing about 40,000 tonnes, was removed from the mine using techniques such as tunnelling and scaffolding.


China's Sinosteel Midwest Corp plans to develop a 300 million tonnes a year iron ore operation in the area.


Traditional owner Colin Hamlett says the listing will provide some protection, but points out it will cover only 2000ha around the mine.


He says ochre from Wilgie Mia and Little Wilgie Mia is still used for traditional ceremonies and is regarded as the best ochre in Australia.


"We use it for law camps. People from the Western Desert use it as well. We take it to the Pilbara, too, and use it there when we go there for ceremony and law business," he says.


"All the people around the region would get their ochre from there. People say that it is the best ochre in Australia."


He says protection of the site would be part of negotiations now under way with Sinosteel.


The negotiations cover jobs for local Aborigines, training and a royalty sharing agreement.


"We should be able to protect the area. It will make it more difficult [to harm it]," he says.


Hamlett says that according to the dreamtime version, the ochre mine marks the spot where a kangaroo, wounded near the coast, shed a lot of blood before it died.


Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, which assists indigenous groups with native title negotiations, worked with the Wajarri Yamatji native title group to research the significance of the area and to ensure that relevant cultural information was included in the final heritage listing report that went to the federal minister.



Prehistoric tools in Greek highlands may have been used by some of Europe's last Neanderthals

By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS , Associated Press

Last update: March 9, 2011 - 12:20 PM


ATHENS, Greece - High in the wind-swept mountain ridges of northern Greece, archaeologists have made a surprising discovery: hundreds of prehistoric stone tools that may have been used by some of the last Neanderthals in Europe, at a time when hunter-gatherers were thought to have kept to much lower altitudes.


The two sites used between 50,000 to 35,000 years ago were found last summer in the Pindos Mountains, near the village of Samarina — one of Greece's highest — some 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of Athens.


At an altitude of more than 1,700 meters (5,500 feet), the Pindos Neanderthal sites are the highest known so far in southeastern Europe, although that's probably because nobody thought of searching so high before, archaeologist Nikos Efstratiou said Wednesday.


"It's not that such sites don't exist," Efstratiou told The Associated Press. "For the first time, Greek archaeology has gone to the mountains."


Efstratiou and a team of Italian colleagues started the Pindos survey in 2003, pinpointing more than 200 small concentrations of up to a dozen tools. But last summer's discoveries were much richer, and their location challenged theories that modern humans' extinct, thickset cousins were constrained in their movements to lowland areas.


"We found hundreds of tools, which means that these people continuously visited and revisited these locations, for hundreds or thousands of years," said Efstratiou, a professor at the University of Thessaloniki.


"They were moving at high altitudes of up to 2,200 meters ... and not lower, along river beds, which we believed until now was the only course these groups followed."


The closest extinct relative to modern people, Neanderthals lived in much of central and southern Europe and western Asia from about 400,000 years ago to about 30,000 years ago. They coexisted with modern humans for 30,000 to 50,000 years, and recent genetic research suggested that the two species interbred.


The story of the Neanderthals in Greece remains as elusive as their skeletal remains. While several lower-lying sites have been found, only a single tooth has survived from their users.


Paleoanthropologist Katerina Harvati said the discovery of Paleolithic stone artefacts in great concentrations in the Pindos highlands "is certainly important."


"(The discovery) will help us understand the lifestyle and capabilities of prehistoric people like Neanderthals and early modern humans and their reactions to climatic shifts during the Late Pleistocene" period, which ended about 12,000 years ago, she told the AP in an e-mail.


Harvati, who is head of Paleoanthropology at the Tubingen/Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoecology in Germany, was not involved in the Pindos project.


Efstratiou believes the Neanderthals were drawn to the water-rich highlands by the animals they hunted, which favored the open, treeless spaces, and an abundance of flint that they chipped into tools and weapons.


"We found flint blades and sharp-tipped implements ... with which they hunted and skinned their prey," he said.


"It appears that these late groups of Neanderthal hunter-gatherers may have been among the last that survived in Europe," he added. "Although not everybody agrees on this, it seems that because climate conditions in central Europe were very unfriendly, they moved south in search of warmer areas.


"And then they disappeared, leaving their place to modern humans — but that is another prehistoric mystery."


The team's findings will be presented at an archaeological conference in northern Greece on Thursday.



Stonehenge Being Scanned With Lasers

Posted on: Thursday, 10 March 2011, 06:10 CST


Modern laser scanning is being implemented to study Stonehenge and to search for hidden clues about how and why the ancient wonder was built.


Researchers said they are surveying all visible sides of the standing and fallen stones. Some ancient carvings have been found in previous studies, including a famous Neolithic “dagger.” The work is expected to be completed by the end of March.


“The surfaces of the stones of Stonehenge hold fascinating clues to the past,” English Heritage archaeologist Dave Batchelor, told BBC News.


The team is looking for ancient “rock art,” but also for more modern carvings, in a comprehensive study of the site.



Sir Christopher Wren is believed to be one of many who left their mark at the site. Wren is the architect who designed London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. His family had a home nearby the site, where he is known to have spent time, adding credibility to the claim of finding the name “Wren” in the stones.


The new research is the most accurate digital model to date for the world famous monument, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The survey is measuring details and irregularities in the stone surfaces to a resolution of 0.5 mm -- or 1/100 of an inch.


A previous survey in 1993 was photographic only, and measured to an accuracy of only 2cm -- three-quarters of an inch.


“This new survey will capture a lot more information on the subtleties of the monument and its surrounding landscape,” Paul Bryan, head of geospatial surveys at English Heritage, told the British news agency.


Laser scanning is also being used to map the earthworks immediately around the stone circle, and the surrounding area, as part of a wider project.


English Heritage proposed a new $40 million visitor center at Stonehenge. It also wants to close parts of the A344 roadway, which runs just yards away from the site. Funding for the project was withdrawn last year, but the Heritage Lottery Fund has promised $16 million. English Heritage is also seeking additional funding and is confident it can raise the monies needed.



Human remains found in Bronze Age pots

9 March 2011


Two Bronze Age burial pots containing human remains have been found at the base of a standing stone in Angus.


Archaeologists excavated the ground around the Carlinwell Stone at Airlie, near Kirriemuir, after it fell over earlier in the winter.


Both pots - known as collared urns - could be up to 4,000 years old and were typically used in early Bronze age cremation burials.


The 7ft (2.1m) high monolith will be re-erected on Friday.


One of the pots is about 4in (10cm) in diameter, and the other is about 8in, the archaeologists said.


Melanie Johnson, from CFA Archaeology of Musselburgh, said: "The pots are typical of early Bronze Age cremation burials.


"People were burned on pyres and their remains gathered, put into pots and buried upside down in a pit."


Ms Johnson said there was "plenty of bone" inside the pots, which would be enough to determine the gender and age of the person, and if they had illnesses or trauma wounds.


"They will be taken to a lab in Edinburgh, and radio-carbon dated," she added.


John Sheriff, an investigator with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, said it was impossible to date the stone precisely but it is very likely to be neolithic or Bronze Age, and could "easily" be 4,000 years old.


He said: "This goes some way to proving that Carlinwell Stone is a genuine prehistoric standing stone, rather than something put up later.


"There was a fashion for putting up rubbing stones for cows during the 19th Century to stop them ruining the dykes by pushing against them, and they looked like standing stones, but we can say for sure this is prehistoric because of its great height.


"Human bones were found at the base of the stone in the early 18th Century, and my hunch is they were also Bronze Age, although it's possible there is no connection."


Soil samples from around the stone's socket will be analysed and any organic material found radio-carbon dated if possible.


That would go some way to solving the mystery of whether the stone was erected to mark the graves, or whether the pots were put in place afterwards.



Six Nations 2011: Stadio Flaminio dig to reveal Roman 'City of the Dead'

After Wales took on Italy in Rome, archaeologists are poised to excavate a 2,000-year-old necropolis under the rugby stadium

Tom Kington, The Observer, Sunday 27 February 2011


The archaeologist stares down into the enormous hole that edges up to the back of Rome's rugby stadium and gestures helplessly. "Make no mistake, this Roman necropolis we have found stretches right under the pitch."


Marina Piranomonte is talking about the Stadio Flaminio, after seeing how the "City of the Dead" she has dug up behind Gate 7 has fared under the winter rains. With 23 funeral inscriptions, dozens of bronze coins, oil lamps and more than 1,000 ceramic fragments found since digging started in 2008, Piranomonte believes the necropolis could be "immense," containing up to 50 tombs linked by a grid of streets.


"The Via Flaminia [an ancient Roman road] is 120 metres that way," she says, waving at a line of parked cars and modern housing. "It's possible the necropolis extends that far." Turning, she points across the stadium car park. "About 800 metres that way some tombs, spotted during a dig in the 19th century, could form part of the complex."


Despite the risk of jokes about Italy's players getting buried here, the find could prove an extra draw for Six Nations games. In coming seasons, when the dig is finished, visitors will be able to see live rugby and dead Romans on one ticket. Sadly for Wales fans whose team played Italy here on Saturday, they missed out on a glimpse of the five tombs Piranomonte has unearthed to date, since a protective layer of soil placed on top of the remains at the end of last summer will only be removed when digging resumes after the game.


"So far we have found inscriptions with Greek names, which suggest that Greek freedmen [former slaves] were buried here," Piranomonte says. Thanks to the regular flooding from the nearby Tiber, the remains have been well preserved under clay. "The site dates back to the first century BC, but medieval pottery suggests the tombs became dwellings after the Romans. We have found staircases installed by people who built second floors over the tombs for extra rooms."


The find puts the stadium on a par with other Rome buildings that boast their own private Roman digs. Even the Ikea carpark on the ring road has a chunk of Roman masonry on display.


Rugby fans unsatisfied with imagining what lies behind the cordoned-off dig at the stadium this season can head for a coffee to the nearby concert-hall complex, which was shunted a few yards during construction when builders discovered and restored a Roman villa.


That lucky find apart, archaeologists know a wealth of tombs and villas that followed the Via Flaminia out of town now sit hidden beneath scruffy factories and mechanics' workshops. Eyeing the Roman tomb that disappears under the back of the stadium, Piranomonte says she suspects that Pier Luigi Nervi, the ground's architect, had not let Roman heritage get in his way when he dug his foundations in the late 1950s. "I think he saw the tombs but pushed on without telling anyone."


Nervi's flowing, curvaceous stadium is itself an architectural jewel in a neighbourhood that has become a Roman enclave for modern building. The must‑see Maxxi modern art gallery, designed by the London-based Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, is five minutes away and is hosting an exhibition dedicated to Nervi's work.


Next to the gallery is a disused weapons factory that mayor Gianni Alemanno wants to level and rebuild as an opera house. Alemanno is also mulling moving rugby matches to the nearby Stadio Olimpico from the smaller Flaminio.


Back at the stadium, Piranomonte is preparing for this summer's dig and has only another 20 metres of asphalt she can excavate before she gets to the street. "I feel it is very apt to dig here since rugby has it roots in the Roman game of harpastum," she says. Exported around the empire by legionaries, harpastum involved keeping possession of a ball by skipping tackles and passing to team‑mates. The exact rules are unknown, but it is clearly similar to rugby.


"The game took off in Britain and we have a source who recounts how the Romans were defeated 1-0 by a British team in 276AD," she says. "This was the first in a series of defeats that has not yet stopped unfortunately, but at least I am hoping the British will be envious of our necropolis."




The eruption of Mount Vesuvius broke apart a tomb inscription for a husband and wife. Now the names have been joined again.

By Rossella Lorenzi

Mon Mar 7, 2011 08:31 AM ET




A married couple from Pompeii have been reunited with the recovery of a missing piece of a 2000-year-old marble puzzle made of several inscribed fragments.


Broken apart and buried during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the pieces belonged to a tomb inscription.


They were unearthed in 1813 along the Via dei Sepolcri in Pompeii near a burial tomb known as "Tomb of the Marble Door."


Still under construction at the time of the eruption, the tomb featured a door made of a single piece of marble, but carved to resemble the sort of folding wooden doors typical in Pompeian houses.


Although unfinished, the tomb had already been used for a number of burials.


"Most likely, the inscription had been displayed in some temporary fashion to be later embedded in the face of the tomb once the structure was completed," Peter Kruschwitz and Virginia Campbell at the University of Reading wrote in the journal Tyche.


But it never made it there. Smashed to pieces by the eruption, the inscription, or what remained of it, was stored in the huge deposits of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.


Later reassembled by piecing together six fragments, it read: "L(ucius) Caltilius L(uci) l(ibertus) Coll(ina tribu) [P]amphilus [...]ae uxori [...]mo."


While four pieces referred to "Lucius Caltilius Pamphilus, freedman of Lucius, member of the Collinian tribe," two fragments contained the Latin word "uxori," indicating a wife.


Kruschwitz and Campbell identified the missing spouse by scrutinizing photographs of various fragments of inscriptions stored at the Naples museum.


"According to the original excavation report, the fragmentary inscription consisted of seven pieces of marble. The missing piece was in the same museum, but until now, has not been recognized as part of the same inscription," Campbell told Discovery News.


Containing nothing but the name of a female -- Servilia -- and the first part of a phrase, the fragment reads: "Seruiliae [...] amico anim [o ...]."


Although there are some other small pieces missing, the inscription is now legible and reads: "Lucius Catilius Pamphilus, freedman of Lucius, member of the Collinian tribe, for his wife Servilia, in a loving spirit."


After spending nearly 2,000 years apart, Lucius Catilius Pamphilus and Servilia were finally reunited.


"What makes the story so beautiful is the way the inscription was fragmented, with the name of the wife separated of that of the man, and the 'in a loving spirit' bit left with the wife's fragment," Kruschwitz told Discovery News.


Clearly an outsider to the Pompeian establishment, Caltilius Pamphilus was a former slave who took great pride in his status.


"You can see this by the way he displays his tribal affiliation in the inscription," Kruschwitz said.


The Caltilii family became fairly powerful at a slightly later phase of Pompeii, under the rule of Nero. It has been alleged that a man, Quintus Coelius Caltilius Iustus, a duovir of 52/53 A.D. (someone who embarked on a political career and became member of the governing body of the city) was indeed an offspring of this couple.


Giuseppe Camodeca, professor of Roman history and Latin epigraphy at the University of Naples "L'Orientale," agrees that the piece with the Servilia's name is the right one.


"I'm totally convinced about the juxtaposition," said Camodeca, who several years ago physically reassembled the first six fragments at the museum in Naples.



Archaeological dig uncovers Roman activity near Stroud

8 March 2011


A study has begun into items found in an archaeological dig near Stroud.


The excavation at a site at Ebley Road in Stonehouse has revealed evidence of some of the earliest Roman activity known in the Stroud Valleys.


A large rectangular enclosure dating back to the 1st Century was found and more than a dozen human skeletons were unearthed from it at the end 2010.


Cotswold Archaeology's Cliff Bateman said the findings showed how densely populated the area was in Roman times.


The archaeological dig at Foxes Field was carried out ahead of a new housing development at the site.


Evidence was also discovered of late Neolithic/early Bronze Age and late Iron Age activity, including a tree throw (a bowl-shaped cavity created in the subsoil) containing at least four drinking vessels which date from 2600 BC to 1800 BC.


Post-excavation work, including washing, dating and analysis of the discoveries, has now begun at Cotswold Archaeology's base at Kemble.


Project manager Cliff Bateman said: "Most of our work is undertaken in advance of developments such as this but are usually undertaken throughout the whole of the country, so to work locally in the Stroud Valleys was obviously exciting.


"We previously knew of the Roman settlements at Standish, Frocester and Eastington as well as the famous mosaic at Woodchester, so the current findings continue to show how densely populated the local area was in the Roman period."


Thirteen human burials were excavated within the Roman enclosure at Ebley Road in Stonehouse.


Archaeologists said one of the most notable burials was a grave that contained the skeletons of two individuals which were closely flexed together, and the discovery of a number of iron nails around the edge of two of the graves, suggesting the bodies were buried inside coffins.


One of the burials contained a coin dating back to AD 324-30, which was found near to the mouth area.


Experts say it was customary to place a coin in the mouth of an inhumation as a fare for the ferryman Charon for safe passage across the River Styx in the afterlife.


A full study into the objects found is due to take a year to complete, and the finds will be donated to the Museum in the Park in Stroud.


The human remains will be reburied locally.



What did the Romans ever do for us (if they didn't build our roads)?

Dig unearths highway built before Emperor Claudius invaded

By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

Friday, 11 March 2011


Archaeologists have found Britain's oldest properly engineered road, and the discovery could change the way we look at a key aspect of British history. Now, many of the country's key A roads – long thought to be Roman in origin – could now turn out to be substantially more British than scholars had thought.


The discoveries, in Shropshire, suggest that ancient Britons were building finely engineered, well-cambered and skilfully metalled roads before the Emperor Claudius's conquering legions ever set foot in Britain in the middle of the 1st century BC.


"The traditional view has often been that Iron Age Britons were unsophisticated people who needed to be civilised by the Romans," said Tim Malim, an archaeologist from the UK environmental planning consultancy, SLR, who co-directed the Shropshire excavation. "It's an attitude that largely has its roots in the late 19th century when Britain saw itself very much as the new Rome, bringing civilisation to the rest of the world." The Shropshire road was built, the archaeologists believe, up to 100 years before the Romans conquered Britain. The archaeologists suspect that the road may have been 40 miles long.


So far, they have found two sections, totalling 400m, but their alignment suggests that the road connected two key political centres of the Iron Age tribal kingdom of the Cornovii, the Cornovian "capital", the Wrekin hill-fort near modern Telford, and Old Oswestry hill-fort, near modern Oswestry.


The discovery of the road, revealed in the BBC History Magazine, is for the first time demonstrating the sophistication of British Iron Age cross-country road construction.


First a brushwood foundation (made of elder) was laid down. Then a layer of silt was placed on top of the brushwood, and finally a layer of cobbles was set into the silt to provide a good surface. A kerb system, kept in place by timber uprights, was even constructed to prevent the Iron Age highway slumping. The road was regularly maintained, and resurfaced at least twice during its life.


The excavations, funded by the UK's largest building materials company, Tarmac, have also provided remarkable information about the wheeled traffic using the Iron Age highway.


Prior to the final phase of use, there is no evidence for heavy wheeled vehicles. But in the very late Iron Age, there seems to have been a dramatic increase in heavy traffic, with evidence of the deep ruts caused by large wheeled vehicles, almost certainly carts carrying agricultural produce. The rut evidence suggests that the vehicles had axle widths of 1.9m and wheels which were 12 to 17cm wide.


The findings are likely to prompt archaeologists in other parts of Britain to re-examine some more straight-as-a-die typically Roman-looking roads to see whether they too were originally British native Iron Age ones.