Texas A&M-led study shows earliest American residents came at least 15,500 years ago

Public release date: 24-Mar-2011

Contact: Michael Waters



Texas A&M University

COLLEGE STATION, March 24, 2011


New discoveries at a Central Texas archaeological site by a Texas A&M University-led research team prove that people lived in the region far earlier – as much as 2,500 years earlier – than previously believed, rewriting what anthropologists know about when the first inhabitants arrived in North America. That pushes the arrival date back to about 15,500 years ago.


Michael Waters, director of Texas A&M's Center for the Study of First Americans, along with researchers from Baylor University, the University of Illinois-Chicago, the University of Minnesota, and Texas State University, have found the oldest archaeological evidence for human occupation in Texas and North America at the Debra L.


Friedkin site, located about 40 miles northwest of Austin. Their work is published in the current issue of Science magazine.


Waters says that buried in deposits next to a small spring-fed stream is a record of human occupation spanning the last 15,500 years. Near the surface is the record of the Late Prehistoric and Archaic occupants of the region. Buried deeper in the soil are layers with Folsom and Clovis occupations going back 12,000 to 13,000 years ago.

"But the kicker was the discovery of nearly 16,000 artifacts below the Clovis horizon that dated to 15,500 years ago," Waters notes.


"Most of these are chipping debris from the making and resharpening of tools, but over 50 are tools. There are bifacial artifacts that tell us they were making projectile points and knives at the site," Waters says. There are expediently made tools and blades that were used for cutting and scraping."


Multiple studies have shown that the site is undisturbed and that the artifacts are in place and over 60 "luminescence dates" show that early people arrived at the site by 15,500 years ago, Waters explains. Luminescence dating technique is a method used to date the sediment surrounding the artifacts. It dates the last time the sediment was exposed to sunlight.


For more than 80 years, it has been argued that the Clovis people were the first to enter the Americas, Waters says. He goes on to say that over the last few decades, there have been several credible sites which date older than Clovis found in North America -- specifically in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Oregon.


"However, this evidence is not very robust," Waters observes.


"What is special about the Debra L. Friedkin site is that it has the largest number of artifacts dating to the pre-Clovis time period, that these artifacts show an array of different technologies, and that these artifacts date to a very early time.


"This discovery challenges us to re-think the early colonization of the Americas. There's no doubt these tools and weapons are human-made and they date to about 15,500 years ago, making them the oldest artifacts found both in Texas and North America."


Waters has been working at the site since 2006, and analysis of the artifacts collected from the site is ongoing. Waters says, "These studies will help us figure out where these people came from, how they adapted to the new environments they encountered, and understand the origins of later groups like Clovis."


Funding for the project was provided by the North Star Archaeological Research Program and the Chair in First American Studies.


For more about the Center for the Study of the First Americans, go to http://csfa.tamu.edu/


Contact: Michael Waters at (979) 845-5246 or mwaters@tamu.edu, Blair Williamson, College of Liberal Arts, at (979) 458-1347 or bwilliamson@libarts.tamu.edu or Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or keith-randall@tamu.edu



Texas find suggests early-human camp

Discovery may be earliest evidence of man in N. America

Roy Wenzl - Mar. 25, 2011 12:00 AM

McClatchy Newspapers



Scientists along Buttermilk Creek north of Austin, Texas, have found flint knife blades, chisels and other human artifacts lying in a soil layer nearly 16,000 years old - a discovery they say will rewrite a major chapter of ancient human history.


For one thing, it is now the oldest and arguably most credible site of human occupation in North or South America; but there's more.


The discovery, by Texas A&M archaeologist Michael Waters and others, pushes back by 2,500 years the time when traditional science thought humans entered the New World from Siberia and founded the native peoples of North and South America.


"This discovery ought to be like a baseball bat to the side of the head," to past theories, Waters said.


Other ancient sites in the Americas usually produce only handfuls of artifacts, in soils with ages that scientists argue about. This site contained tools in layer after layer of soils stacked like layer cake, the youngest from modern times, the oldest layer containing 15,000 artifacts dated to 15,500 years ago.


The discovery strengthens the case for two theories that traditional archaeologists laughed at not long ago - that the first Americans came earlier than 13,000 years ago, and that they didn't walk over a land bridge into North America from Siberia, but came by skin boats at least 16,000 years ago (or long before) skirting along coastlines of the Aleutian Islands and then Alaska, Canada and America.


Waters believes they came by boat, hunting seals beside Ice Age glaciers a few miles at a time, surviving Ice Age weather, bringing families and pet dogs.


He thinks the first colonies in America sprouted tens of thousands of years ago along the Columbia River basin between Washington and Oregon, a region he said archaeologists should re-explore with renewed vigor.


This story is important to all of us, he said; most Americans think Columbus should be taught in schools; but the first discovery of America was more heroic than his voyage, and far older. It's a story that Waters and other scientists have spent decades trying to get right, including with dig sites in Kansas.


The first Americans, or Paleo Indians, were the first to explore the Rockies and Andes, the Mississippi, the Amazon. They were first to see giant elephants and bison roaming Ice Age Kansas. They dodged everything from giant Dire wolves, giant short-faced bears, saber-toothed cats, and American lions.


They took heroic risks - hunted elephants with spears, at arms' length; taste-tested possibly lethal plants to find which were good as food or medicine; hunted with grannies and children not only coming along but driving herds into hunter ambushes.


"One thought that deeply touches my sense of wonder is that they didn't really have to migrate once they got here," Waters said. "Everywhere they would go, they'd find a land empty of people, with huge amounts of resources. And yet they migrated all the way to the tip of South America, and the only explanation is the relentless human spirit of adventure. And they were bringing not only their wives and elderly but their pregnant wives and their babies."


The tools found in Texas are flint blades small and thin, designed by people who carried everything they owned. It is likely that flint tools made up only 5 percent or so of the belongings of these people.


Many of the tools are cutting blades used to whittle and shape bone and wood; there were no distinct spear points.


Waters thinks the Buttermilk people used the stone tools to make spear points from bone. Some tools had notches with convex edges - carving tools; some chisels had edges dulled from scraping hard surfaces.


One artifact gave Waters a thrill when found: a golf-ball-size nodule of hematite, worn flat on several sides the way schoolroom chalk wears flat. Hematite when mixed with animal and plant oils produces red ochre - paint to adorn spear shafts, clothing - or skin.


"These people from 15,500 years ago were decorating themselves," he said.


Rolfe Mandel, a geoarchaeologist with the Kansas Geological Survey who has discovered important sites in Kansas, said the Texas discovery is "a very big deal," in part because it strengthens the possibility that humans entered the New World as early as 24,000 years ago, near the peak rather than at the end of the last Ice Age.


Waters said he would not go that far; ("I can confirm only that they were here at least by 15,500 years ago.")


But Mandel and some geneticists say the evidence is growing.


Twenty-four thousand years ago would have been scoffed at by scientists only a few years ago. They believed people could not have come until 13,000 years ago.


The Texas discovery upends that, Mandel said. People didn't just enter Alaska and sprint with babies to Texas; (or to Monte Verde, a site in southern Chile dated at 14,500 years). They migrated, perhaps for centuries.


Mandel analyzed Waters' discovery paper for Science magazine, which reported it Thursday.


He said Waters found overwhelming evidence in a field of study where that almost never happens. Ancient Americans were so few, and created so few belongings that survived decay that most camp or hunting sites contain only a few flint flakes. But Waters found thousands of artifacts in excavation blocks only about 50 meters square.


Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/03/25/20110325ancient-texasartifacts0325.html#ixzz1HppgrTaU



Tacna: 37 pre-Inca tombs discovered in southern Peru

March 23, 2011



Thirty-seven pre-Inca tombs, which date back to between 800 and 1445 AD, were accidentally discovered last week while workers were digging trenches as part of the installation of a water system for the Boca del Río settlement, 60 kilometers from the city of Tacna in southern Peru.


Archaeologist Gladys Barreto, who was hired by the Boca del Río consortium to be in charge of executing the construction, said that half of the found tombs contain the remains of children. Also discovered were ceramics, symbolic depictions of boats, wooden harpoons and copper hooks.


Barreto believes that the remains are from the period known as the Late Regional Development and are evidence for the exchange between the cultures on the coast and those in the Andean valleys in the Tacna sierra.


She explained that the progression of this culture happened in parallel with similar developments going on in the Tambo and Arequipa valley, as well as regions in northern Chile.


Jesús Gordillo, archaeologist who studies Tacna cultures, says of the society’s development: “We are talking about advanced cultures, whose principal economic activity would have been fishing.”


He stressed that these remains, along with those found further north in Tomoyo, as well as other regions including the Sama valley, Vituña, the beaches Cánepa and Meca, Ite and Punta Picata shown that the Tacna coast was densely populated during that era.



Looters strip Latin America of archaeological heritage

A century after Machu Picchu's rediscovery, ancient Mayan and Moche sites are being ransacked for tourist baubles

Rory Carroll , Latin America correspondent, and Matthew Barker in Galindo

guardian.co.uk, onday 21 March 2011 18.59 GMT


Etched into the surviving art of the Moche, one of South America's most ancient and mysterious civilisations, is a fearsome creature dubbed the Decapitator. Also known as Ai Apaec, the octopus-type figure holds a knife in one hand and a severed head in the other in a graphic rendition of the human sacrifices the Moche practiced in northern Peru 1,500 years ago.


For archaeologists, the horror here is not in Moche iconography, which you see in pottery and mural fragments, but in the hundreds of thousands of trenches scarring the landscape: a warren of man-made pillage. Gangs of looters, known as huaqueros, are ransacking Peru's heritage to illegally sell artefacts to collectors and tourists.


"They come at night to explore the ruins and dig the holes," said Cuba Cruz de Metro, 58, a shopkeeper in the farming village of Galindo. "They don't know the history, they're just looking for bodies and for tombs. They're just looking for things to sell."


A looting epidemic in Peru and other Latin American countries, notably Guatemala, has sounded alarm bells about the region's vanishing heritage.


The issue is to come under renewed scrutiny in the run-up to July's 100th anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel in southern Peru, by US historian Hiram Bingham. He gave many artefacts to Yale university, prompting an acrimonious row with Peru's government which ended only this year when both sides agreed to establish a joint exhibition centre.


A recent report, Saving our Vanishing Heritage, by the Global Heritage Fund in San Francisco, identified nearly 200 "at risk" sites in developing nations, with South and Central America prominent.


Mirador, the cradle of Mayan civilisation in Guatemala, was being devastated, it said. "The entire Peten region has been sacked in the past 20 years and every year hundreds of archaeological sites are being destroyed by organised looting crews seeking Maya antiquities for sale on the international market."


Northern Peru, home to the Moche civilisation which flourished from AD100-800, had been reduced to a "lunar landscape" by looter trenches across hundreds of miles. "An estimated 100,000 tombs – over half the country's known sites – have been looted," the report said.


The sight breaks the heart of archaeologists and historians piecing together the story of a society which built canals and monumental pyramid-type structures, called huacas, and made intricate ceramics and jewellery.


The Moche, who pre-dated the Incas by 1,000 years, also painted murals and friezes depicting warfare, ritual beheading, blood drinking and deities such as the Decapitator, who has bulging eyes and sharp teeth. Analysis of human remains confirmed that throat-cutting was all too real but, in the absence of written records, archaeology must shed light on what happened.


In villages such as Galindo that is becoming all but impossible. Crude tunnels and caves make Moche ruins resemble rabbit warrens. Deep gashes cut into walls expose the brickwork below. Millennia-old adobe bricks are torn from the ground and scattered as though in a builder's yard.


Most huaqueros are farmers supplementing meagre incomes. Montes de Oca, one of three police officers tasked with environmental protection in a region of a million people, said he was overwhelmed. "I've been doing this for 28 years. There are three of us and one truck. It's insufficient but we do everything possible."


Ten miles away Huaca del Sol, one of the largest pyramids in pre-Columbus America, is an eroded, plundered shell. Here the culprits were not impoverished farmers but Spanish colonial authorities who authorised companies to mine for treasure, said Ricardo Gamarra, director of a 20-year-old conservation project.


"They diverted the river to wash away two-thirds of the huaca and reveal its insides," he said. "They mined through the walls and caused it to collapse in various places. It's impossible to guess how much was taken because we don't know how much was there."


Donations from businesses and foundations have helped Gamarra's team protect what is left, drawing 120,000 visitors each year, but of 250 other sites in the region just five have been protected. "In the mountains it's the same. It is full with archaeological sites, almost all of them have been destroyed," said Gamarra.


There has been good news from Chotuna, also in northern Peru, where archaeologists found frescoes in a 1,100-year-old temple of the Lambayeque civilisation, which flourished around the same time as the Incas.


Jeff Morgan, executive director of the Global Heritage Fund, urged Peru to funnel tourists away from Machu Picchu, overrun by two million visitors a year, to lesser known sites which could then earn revenue to protect their heritage.


The government should resist the temptation to pocket the money. "One of the biggest problems is the disconnect between local communities and management of the sites. We think locals should get at least 30% of revenues." Only then, said Morgan, would cultural treasures fom the Moche and other civilisations be saved.



Hydro crew hits historical bonanza

By: BILL REDEKOP / Open Road



Map-maker David Thompson, age 22 and on the first mission of his illustrious career, built his first fur-trade post in an area north of Cross Lake that had so little wild game his party nearly starved.

Making matters worse, Cree people there gave him the moniker, Ogakimatow, meaning "one who sneaks around," and believed contact with Thompson -- even looking at him -- could turn a person into a windigo, a cannibalistic spirit.

Thompson procured almost no furs or food from the Cree and almost died of starvation.

That fur-trade post, begun in October 1792, where Thompson struggled mightily but from which he embarked on a map-making career that made him one of the greatest Canadians, had never been found -- until now, say Manitoba government archeologists.

Last summer, in two piles of rocks exposed by a small forest fire and pointed out by a Manitoba Hydro crew who considered them curious, Manitoba government archeologists believe they have discovered David Thompson's missing trading post.

The rock piles are the remains of two chimneys, presumably from two log cabins Thompson and his party of five men built. One would have been the men's sleeping quarters and one a warehouse for furs and other goods. The site is Sipiwesk Lake on the Nelson River.

"It was lost and people have been trying to find it for over a hundred years," said provincial archeologist, Perry Blomquist. "We know where other (Thompson trading posts) are, but this was his very first one."

Blomquist, 32, led a team that included colleague Gordon Hill, local Cross Lake First Nation students, a guide and an elder. Within a day and a half of discovering the site, the crew uncovered a staggering 1,400 artifacts, and that's without digging, which will commence this June.

The artifacts include brass wire, pipe fragments, a knife blade, an axehead, beads, broken glass from kerosene-lamp flutes and even a tinderbox that would have once included a flint, striker and shavings for starting a fire.

What makes the find especially sweet for Blomquist is he is full-status Cree and one of the few aboriginal archeologists in the country. "It's really cool. It's working to protect the aboriginal culture of my own heritage," he said.

Thompson would go on to craft maps of extraordinary accuracy from the Lake of the Woods to the Pacific Ocean. The Thompson River in British Columbia is named for him. "This is the point from which all his great work started," Blomquist said.

Some local historians are skeptical, however. One argument is the fur-trade post seems too large for the short time Thompson spent there. There were other posts built in the area, too.

Blomquist said there is no doubt it's Thompson's. Found at the site is a Thomas Dormer pipe. The pipes were only manufactured between 1748-78 and puts the trading post in Thompson's era, he said. Also, those pipes were imported for trade with aboriginal people only by the HBC, for whom Thompson worked at the time. Thompson's was the first HBC trading post on Sipiwesk Lake, Blomquist said.

Also found was an axehead forged with insignia indicating it was from York Factory, the HBC distribution post on Hudson Bay. The location also fits with Thompson's description that the post was built between two points of rock that provided a harbour.

The department will not publish on its discovery until excavation is completed, which will take several years.

Manitoba Museum archeology curator Kevin Brownlee called the discovery "pretty awesome." It's significant because it is Thompson and his first post, and because Thompson's journals provide text to the discovery, which isn't usually available.

"It's a pretty remarkable story. Thompson was really young to be opening and starting a trading post in unknown territory. I look at today's 22-year-olds and I think, 'Man, this guy was just a child.' "

Thompson already had a permanent limp from a broken leg that didn't heal properly, and was blind in one eye from looking at the sun too eagerly during navigational training. Blomquist speculates that's why the local Cree feared he possessed evil powers.

The trading post at Sipiwesk Lake didn't amount to much. Thompson and his men departed eight months later, on May 28, 1793, but not before burning their buildings down, a common practice among company men so a rival like the North West Co. couldn't use them.

The province has been doing work on Sipiwesk Lake the past three years to record archeological sites, some dating back 8,000 years, and have found Knife River flint, which could only have come from Knife River, North Dakota, and obsidian rock from even farther afield, suggesting a vast trading network before Europeans arrived.




Explorer David Thompson's first trading post discovered in Manitoba

By: Scott Edmonds, The Canadian Press

Posted: 03/27/2011



Two little piles of stones surrounded by scrub pine in northern Manitoba may have given archeologists and historians a physical link to one of North America's greatest explorers and map-makers.

Archeologist Perry Blomquist believes the rocks at Sipiwesk Lake on the Nelson River are remnants of chimneys from the post and storehouse that was David Thompson's first venture as an independent fur trader.

Around them, Blomquist found more than 1,000 artifacts that he says prove it is the trading post that has been "lost" since it was first discovered by Joseph Tyrrell more than 100 years ago.

Tyrrell is the Canadian map-maker and geologist famous for his dinosaur discoveries in Alberta. But he was also a student of Thompson's life and searched for traces of the renowned explorer.

"We have J.B. Tyrrell's co-ordinates," said Blomquist, who says they also provide solid evidence this is Thompson's post. "He was all about fur-trade history."

Tyrrell used Thompson's map co-ordinates, taken from his journals, to locate the post. He then recorded his own directions to pinpoint his find.

Locating a site today with such outdated information isn't like plugging numbers into a modern global positioning system unit, he suggested.

It was lucky that Blomquist was already in the area on a regular archeological survey last year and was tipped to the location by a Manitoba Hydro crew, which had noticed the unusual rock piles.

"We know how they made the chimneys and when they collapse, they collapse in a certain fashion," he said.

The fact the site is roughly where both Thompson and Tyrrell said it would be, plus the period-specific artifacts a brief survey unearthed, are enough proof for the government archeologist that Thompson's first post has been rediscovered.

A team will be returning this summer for a more thorough investigation.

"We have to make sure it gets excavated properly."

Thompson is known for trailblazing and mapping through what was then a part of North America largely unexplored except for the aboriginal people who lived there and helped guide him on his journeys.

A child of Welsh emigrants to England (his real name was Daffyd Thomas), he signed up with the Hudson's Bay Co. in 1784 for a seven-year apprenticeship and set sail when he was just 14.

It was a harsh existence. The winters were brutally cold, spent in drafty buildings heated only by wood fires. As one clerk at York Factory wrote in 1743 of his life at the posts: "In four or five hours after the fire is out ... the inside of the wall of our houses are six or eight inches thick of ice."

Spring and summer replaced the cold with biting flies. But the furs sent back were worth a fortune in a Europe still in the grip of the Little Ice Age and provided a reason to send people such as Thompson ever further into the continent's interior.

He spent much of his apprenticeship clerking in Churchill and York Factory, principal outposts for the HBC on Hudson Bay, and when his seven years were up he asked for surveying tools as his parting gift. A suit of "fine clothes" was more traditional and apparently the company threw those in as bonus.

No image of Thompson survives. But he was described as "short and compact," blind in one eye — probably from looking too long at the sun to do quadrant calculations — and with a limp from a badly broken leg that never healed properly.

He spent a little less than a year at Sipiwesk Lake and at 22 was just learning the skills he would need, said Blomquist. Commercially, his year at Sipiwesk would probably not be rated a huge success.

Blomquist says the aboriginals in the area thought Thompson could turn people into the evil cannabalistic entity known as a wendigo and avoided him.

"It's bad news if people you're wanting to trade with don't want to come and see you out of fear."

He and his men almost starved and had to make regular trips to another HBC post to get supplies. But that launched what would be a spectacular career.

"He's coming out of an apprenticeship. He's trying to make a name for himself ... What happened at Sipiwesk House was fairly important."

The post itself had a fairly short life. Within a year or two of Thompson's departure, it was abandoned and its trading goods moved to another location. The buildings were burned.

"That was sort of common practice so the opposition couldn't make use of it."

Thompson's tenure with the HBC didn't last much longer.

In 1797, he joined the rival North West Company without giving the customary year's notice to HBC — quite a shock to the old company of adventurers. But his new linkage gave him more freedom to continue surveying and mapping the interior of what would become Canada.

For Blomquist, who is Cree, the discovery in northern Manitoba is about more than just textbook history.

"I love going up there to work and working with First Nations communities," he says.

"While I'm learning about these sites, digging them up, I'm learning about my own ancestors at the same time."




King Tut's grandmother was a legendary beauty, but high-resolution images of her mummified face suggest her complexion wasn't perfect.

By Rossella Lorenzi

Tue Mar 22, 2011 11:28 AM ET




King Tut's grandmother, the powerful and beautiful Queen Tiye, might have had an unattractive flat wart on her forehead, according to a mummy expert.


Located between the eyes, the small protuberance was found on the mummy of the so-called Elder Lady (KV35EL). Boasting long reddish hair falling across her shoulders, the mummy was identified in February 2010 by DNA testing as Queen Tiye, the daughter of Yuya and Thuya, wife of Amenhotep III, and mother of Akhenaten.


The skin growth had gone unnoticed until Mercedes González, director of the Instituto de Estudios Científicos en Momias in Madrid, spotted it looking at the mummy during a visit to the Cairo Museum.


"I got a high-resolution image of the mummy’s face from the Egyptian museum. From the enlargement, the small growth appears compatible with a flat wart or verruca plana," González told Discovery News


Slightly raised, flat and smooth, these harmless bumps of various colors are hyperplastic epidermal lesions produced by papilloma viruses (HPV). They usually occur on the face, neck and back of hands.


However, flat warts are not commonly found on the face of ancient Egyptian mummies.


"Until now I haven't seen anything similar," González said.


The wife of the 18th dynasty King Amenhotep III, the mother of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten and grandmother of King Tut, Tiye (who lived from 1415 to 1340 B.C.), is one of the most intriguing women in Egyptian history.


Described by her husband as "the lady of grace, sweet in her love, who fills the palace with her beauty, the Regent of the North and South, the Great Wife of the King who loves her," she was the most influential woman of Amenhotep III's 38-year reign.


Tiye sat by the king as an equal when portrayed in statues -- an achievement unparalleled in that time -- and appeared to be much loved by her husband.


The wealthy Amenhotep III erected a number of shrines for his queen, built her a palace, a white sandstone temple in Nubia, land of her ancestors, and even a monumental artificial lake, Lake Tiye, for her excursions in the royal barge.


"It has been quite a surprise to find a flat wart between the eyes of such an Egyptian queen," González said.


According to Frank Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project and Center for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, the protuberance is intriguing.


"It could be a flat wart, but we can't tell for sure. Pure fibroma [a fibroid tumor] would be also possible. It would be very interesting to take a sample for histology and DNA," Rühli told Discovery News.


Although the mummy undoubtedly has a small growth on the forehead, Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, is more cautious about labeling the growth -- or even the mummy.


"I call her the possible Queen Tiye, as there is some debate as to the attribution. And I think that without further study one should not dismiss the idea that it was a mole that got flattened during mummification," Ikram told Discovery News.



‘Talking fires’ link iron age hillforts

Gareth Evans, Western Mail

Mar 21 2011


A TEST to show how people in the Iron Age communicated using Welsh peaks was yesterday hailed a success.


Scores of volunteers flashed torches to each other from 10 hillforts in North Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire. The furthest link spanned 15 miles, between hills at Burton Point on the Wirral and Cheshire’s Maiden Castle.


The experiment was designed to see how easily Iron Age communities could interact from their hilltop homes thousands of years ago.


The Hilltop Glow event had been postponed from December due to bad weather.



Archaeologist Erin Robinson, from Denbighshire’s heather and hillforts project, said the experiment had captured the public’s imagination.


“Most of the hill forts across the surrounding landscape can be seen from each other,” she said.


“The experiment was aiming to see if the glowing fires could have been seen across the hills and acted as a communication or warning system.


“It was a hard thing to organise, but it seems to have captured the imagination of the communities involved. We brought the hills alive.”


Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/03/21/talking-fires-link-iron-age-hillforts-91466-28372643/#ixzz1HpsfMqPO



X-ray technique peers beneath archaeology's surface

By Jason Palmer

24 March 2011

Science and technology reporter, BBC News, Dallas


Striking discoveries in archaeology are being made possible by strong beams of X-rays, say researchers.


A report at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, showed how X-ray sources known as synchrotrons can unravel an artefact's mysteries.


Light given off after an X-ray blast yields a neat list of the atoms within.


The technique can illuminate layers of pigment beneath the surfaces of artefacts, or even show the traces of tools used thousands of years ago.


This X-ray fluorescence or XRF works by measuring the after-effects of X-ray illumination.


As atoms absorb the X-rays, the rays' energy is redistributed, and very rarely some is re-emitted as light.


Each atom releases a characteristic colour of light, yielding a full chemical analysis, and as such the XRF technique is gaining ground as a means to meticulously analyse artefacts from the past.


Intense sources

Small X-ray sources have been used in the past to get a laundry list of atoms generally present in art, but Robert Thorne of Cornell University in the US told BBC News that the intense, focused X-rays from enormous sources known as synchrotrons have more recently shown their potential.


"These give you extremely intense X-ray beams, and what that allows you to do is not just collect a spectrum from one point, but you can 'raster scan' your sample in front of the beam and collect the full chemical analysis at each point."



The technique has already been used to elucidate Roman and Greek inscriptions

Compared to handheld sources, he said, "you can get months' worth of photons delivered in a second, and that's critical".


Professor Thorne and his collaborators were in 2005 the first to use the technique to analyse inscriptions from Greek and Roman pottery.


The technique has been shown to shed light on layers of glaze beneath the surface of finished pottery.


It has even shown, in the case of an inscription that had worn entirely away, that minuscule amount of iron left by the chisel showed a pristine version of the inscription on what appeared to be smooth stone.


"We did an experiment at Diamond [Light Source in Oxford] last year on a heavily-worn surface, and we couldn't quite guess what the letters were," he said.


The translation said it was a decree involving three different individuals. We looked at the pattern of iron we saw from tool wear and pigments that one letter couldn't be consistent with the letter that had been put there - it turns out that letter changed the name of one of the people, and the story was about three brothers - just down to that one simple change."


More recently, the team - including Cornell physicist Ethan Geil and archaeologists Kathryn Hudson and John Henderson - has turned its attention toward the Americas. The technique is best used on artefacts whose inscriptions or decoration has worn away completely - but these, Professor Thorne said, are much harder to find because collectors and museums have until now viewed them as less valuable.


"That's what's exciting about working on pottery from Mesoamerica, because there's a ton of it in American collections, much of which we can get access to," he said.


"We're looking at some Mayan artefacts with some collaborators at Cornell and they're interested in the iconography of a particular subgroup within the Mayans.


"On the pottery a lot of the glaze has flaked off, so what you see is little black dots on the surface; it's very hard to tell if those black dots are glaze or dirt, but with the XRF you can tell."


Dr Thorne was guarded about the most recent results from the Mayan studies, which will be published soon.


"The message here is that physicists have developed this really fantastic technique to do full XRF imaging of objects.


"It's not a magic bullet - there never is in this business. But I think as a general tool for art and art historical and archaeological exploration, it's the best new thing to come out in a very long time."



Archaeologists unearth 150 Roman graves in Canterbury

MAR 25, 2011 by Kev Hedges - comments


Canterbury - An ancient burial ground has been uncovered by archaeologists in the southern England county of Kent. The Roman cemetery dates back to around 290AD.

It was during the late era of the Roman Empire when around 150 men, women and children were buried along St Dunstan's Street, a Roman suburb of Canterbury. The site had been home to Halletts garage for several years before it was pulled down and the local authority prepared the land for housing. That was until a skeleton was discovered by workmen.

Now archaeologists have been given a number of days to excavate and dig the ancient site before developers move back in. On the rear boundary of the site, which includes what is now a car park on Station Road West, a deep ditch has been unearthed. A synagogue was built here in 1762 and was demolished during the 18th century to make way for Canterbury West Railway Station.

Each skeleton will be carefully removed and lifted and experts will then determine sex, height, possible reason for death. They have already determined that they were all Christians as they all all facing from east to west.

Kent Online reports that the excavation is being carried by Canterbury Archaeological Trust. Its director Paul Bennett said: "We have found some very nice Anglo-Saxon loom weights and the remains of major buildings along the St Dunstan's frontage," he said. "The site was developed from the Anglo-Saxon period onwards and there were some very deep properties here, some going back 90ft, some had deep back gardens and we have found cess pits and wells".

Archaeologist Damien Boden told the BBC the challenge of working on such a dig was figuring out how each find would fit the overall picture. He said, "It is making sure you have got it right, at the end of the site, when you pack up, you know that you have dug it properly and you have got all the information you can and you couldn't do any more."

The archaeologists will move to the other side of the railway line in St Dunstan's and begin excavating the former Watling Tyres depot after the developers move in the Halletts garage site on Monday.


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