8,000-year-old remains of early Anatolians discovered in Istanbul

Monday, March 28, 2011

ISTANBUL - Radikal


Two skeletons dating back 8,500 years, making them the oldest ever found in what is now Turkey, have been discovered during archaeological excavations in Istanbul’s Yenikapı area.


“Such remains have not been discovered during the excavation before; these are the oldest graves in Anatolia,” said Dr. Yasemin Yılmaz, an expert on anthropology and prehistory, who expressed excitement about the find.


According to Yılmaz, the use of wooden blocks – preserved to this day – to cover the coffins makes them distinctive from other finds.


Since the excavations around Yenikapı, the site of the ongoing construction on the Marmaray tunnel underneath the Marmara Sea, started in 2004, many shipwrecks, amphoras, cemeteries and around 40,000 artifacts have been uncovered in the area.


Several archaeologists have collaborated with some 200 workers to carefully excavate a 60,000-square-meter area where many traces of human history have been discovered 16 meters belowground and nine meters below sea level. The two ancient coffins were found 40 days ago but only revealed recently by the excavation team.


The find was the first time a coffin was found together with its wooden cover within the city walls, said Sırrı Çömlekçi, who is leading the Marmaray excavations. Typically, cut wood decays in around 15 to 20 years, but these samples have lasted for more than eight millennia thanks to a black clay material that has preserved them to the present day, said the archaeologist.


“We can clearly say that the artifacts found next to the graves date back to 6500 B.C. These coffins also date back to the same period. Their exact age will be revealed using carbon-14 dating. After DNA tests are applied, we will find out from where these people came to Anatolia and learn information about their roots,” Çömlekçi said.


Work in the excavation area, covered with white tents, is being conducted with major and fastidious research. Archaeologists sitting beneath a huge tree use cotton buds to clean the clay and mud from a skeleton.


“Istanbul is said to have a 2,500-year-old history. With the Marmaray excavations, we have revealed that Istanbul has an 8,000-year-old history,” Çömlekçi said. “This is the biggest open-air excavation. There is no such research in any other place. The artifacts being found here illustrate the richness of the history of Istanbul and Anatolia.”



Researchers Explore Origins of Urbanization in Iraqi Marshlands

By Dan McLerran   Thu, Mar 31, 2011

Researchers embark on a mission to explore early systems and settlements that provided a foundation for the great Mesopotamian cities that followed.


Looking at this land area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers today, one sees mostly desert with scattered settlements. In recent years, it has been part of the visible backdrop for combat and military operations, land patrolled by soldiers executing their duties in the war-torn country of Iraq. But below the surface, according to a team of researchers, lie what could be new evidence of the remains of ancient man-made systems and settlements that defined the beginnings of urbanization and the foundations of the great Mesopotamian civilizations that followed.

Preliminary surveys and investigations began last year when a team of three researchers, assistant professor of anthropology Carrie Hritz of Penn State University, Jennifer Pournelle, research assistant professor, School of the Environment, University of South Carolina, and Jennifer Smith, associate professor of geology, Washington University in St. Louis, carried out research of the Tigris-Euphrates delta region to find traces that would help them initiate an exploration of the connection between wetland resources and the emergence of some of the first cities. They are looking at archaeological sites from the 4th Millennium, B.C. up to the Islamic period. "We were looking for evidence of past marshland and shoreline environments," said Hritz. "We, myself and colleague Dr. Jennifer Pournelle, identified possible features such as possible ancient beach ridges on satellite imagery and were hoping to verify that on the ground. We found some evidence for preserved ancient field systems in the former marshes but were unable to provide a relative date."

Few can imagine wetlands in some of the areas they were surveying. But before 1950, this part of the delta region was rich with marshland. Between 1950 and the 1990s, the region was systematically drained by the Iraqi government to, ostensibly, make way for agricultural development. Politics played a role. Saddam Hussein drained the areas as part of his plan to control Shia dissidents living there. Most of the Marsh Arabs who traditionally inhabited the area were relocated, leaving it substantially depopulated of its former long-time residents. Now, returning the region back to marshland has been made a national priority.


Now working against the clock, the research team is piecing together the resources needed to explore the region while it is dry so that evidence can be more easily identified, recovered and recorded.

Getting started was not easy.  Says Hritz, "Ultimately, we found that the only way to get into the country that was cost effective was to go on a tour with a British tour company."  During the tour, they spent time with a private guide conducting a geoarchaeological survey, then gave lectures at the University of Basra and met with key individuals to establish collaborative relationships and discuss the role that the University could play in the research. One of the first things on the agenda would be to determine what has already been done.  "Foreign investigations in Iraq stopped in the 1990s," said Hritz, "Iraqis continued research, but because their work is unpublished, we are unsure of where they surveyed. However, says Hritz, "Iraqi archaeologist Abdul Amir Hamdani has conducted archaeological survey in the former marshes recently and we eagerly await the publication of his results".

Ultimately, the results of their work in the region may have an important impact on our understanding of the origins of urbanization and the emergence of the first cities. "Our interest is in early settlement," Hritz said at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archaeology on March 31. "The early period of settlement is always linked to the development of agriculture." And, she maintains, the marshes had all the resources necessary to sustain early human settlement following the hunter-gatherer era. "Southern Mesopotamia is one of the earliest locations to provide evidence for the importance of irrigation agriculture in the rise of social complexity. This relationship has been explored on the irrigable plains of the alluvium but due to a combination of factors such as lack of navigable roads in the past and the water in the marshes, the marshes have seen little formal exploration."

Discovery aside, the work will be designed to benefit scholarship and research resources in Iraq itself. The University of Basra will play a prominent role in that effort.  "One thing we were able to do was to move forward the process to get the University of Basra access to JSTOR (an online database of more than 1,000 academic journals)," said Hritz. "They now have access."



Millions of Mummy Puppies Revealed at Egyptian Catacombs

Wynne Parry, LiveScience Senior Writer,

LiveScience.com – Wed Mar 30, 1:15 pm ET


The excavation of a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Egyptian desert has revealed the remains of millions of animals, mostly dogs and jackals. Many appear to have been only hours or days old when they were killed and mummified.

The Dog Catacombs, as they are known, date to 747-30 B.C., and are dedicated to the Anubis, the Egyptians' jackal-headed god of the dead. They were first documented in the 19th century; however, they were never fully excavated. A team, led by Paul Nicholson, an archaeologist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom, is now examining the tunnels and their contents, they announced this week. [Image of mummified puppy remains]

They estimate the catacombs contain the remains of 8 million animals. Given the sheer numbers of animals, it is likely they were bred by the thousands in puppy farms around the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis, according to the researchers. The Dog Catacombs are located at Saqqara, the burial ground for the ancient capital Memphis.

"Our findings indicate a rather different view of the relationship between people and the animals they worshipped than that normally associated with the ancient Egyptians, since many animals were killed and mummified when only a matter of hours or days old," Nicholson said. "These animals were not strictly 'sacrificial.' Rather, the dedication of an animal mummy was regarded as a pious act, with the animal acting as intermediary between the donor and the gods.

In 1897, the French Egyptologist Jacques De Morgan published a map of the necropolis of Saqqara, which included a plan for the Dog Catacombs, but no information about the date or circumstances of their discovery, Nichols wrote in the September/October 2010 issue of Archaeology Magazine.

"In fact, virtually nothing is known about these catacombs," he wrote.



Nanotechnology to protect rock tombs in southern Turkey

Thursday, March 31, 2011

MUĞLA - Anatolia News Agency

Nanotechnology, which is the production and use of materials at the smallest possible scale, will be used to restore and protect ancient rock tombs in the Aegean province of Muğla. A project has been prepared and will be presented to TÜBITAK for the protection of tombs with this technology. It will be the first time nanotechnology will be used for protecting cultural assets in Turkey


The 2,400-year-old rock tombs in Dalyan in the Aegean province of Muğla’s Ortaca district is set to be protected through the use of nanotechnology.


Professor Cengiz Işık, head of excavations at the Kaunos archaeological site, said the idea to protect the rock tombs came up last year during the visit of Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay. It then led to the creation of the Scientific and Technological Council of Turkey, or TÜBITAK’s, Support Program for Research Projects of Public Institutions.


Işık said the project that has been prepared for protecting the rock tombs would be presented to TÜBITAK. “The project will be realized through nanotechnology. It will be the first time that nanotechnology is used for cultural assets. This practice on Kaunos's rock tombs will be an improvement for other cultural assets.”


Işık said when the project is carried out highly specialized powders consisting of nanoparticles will be applied to the rock surfaces in square-centimeter doses. The nanoparticles will be specially designed to be chemically compatible with the rocks and will be used to clean, restore and protect the surfaces of the rock tombs. “In this way, the tombs will be restored and protected.”


Işık said the embargo on visits to the rock-cut tombs in Dalyan was implemented as a result of their petitions in previous years. “The ban for visits still continues. There are large and small rocks in the sloped area. There is a constant risk that visitors might fall. Until the necessary precautions are taken, a ban is the right decision.”


Telmessos Ancient Theater will also be protected


Muğla Culture and Tourism Director Kamil Özer announced that work had also begun to protect Fethiye’s 5,000-person capacity Telmossos Ancient Theater, dating back to the early Roman era.


He said the relief, restoration and restitution projects were approved by the Protection Committee for Muğla Culture and Environmental Assets for the Telmessos Theater, where excavations were completed in 1994.


“Because the Telmessos Theater is located in the center of the city and on the sea coast, it receives too much interest from tourists visiting Fethiye. The necessary budget for its restoration will be provided this year,” Özer said.


Özer said 22 ruins, 12 excavations and five archaeology museums in the city contributed greatly to the town’s promotion. “We hope that the number of visitors to the ruins will increase in 2011. There are 12 ongoing excavations in the city at the moment; it will increase to 13 this year. We believe that the restoration projects revive ruins.”


In the meantime it has been announced that the Amnytas and Ion rock tombs in central Fethiye were also to be protected.


What is nanotechnology?


The mathematical definition of “nano” is one-billionth; so for example, a nanosecond is one-billionth of a second. Nanotechnology is the science of manufacturing and utilizing extremely small particles and devices, sometimes as small as single atoms and molecules. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, which is approximately 80,000 times thinner than a human hair.




The thigh bone of a huge extinct mammal may have helped inspired a beast or two in classical mythology.

By Rossella Lorenzi

Thu Mar 31, 2011 05:00 AM ET




The bone of a large extinct creature, once treasured by the ancient Greeks, has finally found a permanent home in England.


Known as the Nichoria bone, the blackened fossil is part of the thigh bone of an immense extinct mammal that roamed southern Greece perhaps a million years ago. The bone was collected by ancient Greeks and may have even helped inspire certain beasts in Greek classical mythology. It was then rediscovered 40 years ago.


Since then the fossil had largely vanished from the public eye.


"It was presumed lost until 1998. Following my inquiries, the fossil was found stored in a cellar at the University of Minnesota. It then spent last decade in various U.S. labs," Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar in Classics and History of Science at Stanford University, told Discovery News.


The historic fossil has been welcomed by curators at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England.


"This venerable bone deserves to be displayed. It is one of only two large vertebrate fossils that were deliberately collected in antiquity and unearthed by archaeologists in Greece," Mayor said.


Large fossil remains of prehistoric species, like this petrified thigh bone, might have been the inspiration for many legendary beasts of classical mythology, according to Mayor, who described the fossil for the first time in her 2000 book "The First Fossil Hunters."


Uncovering the roots of several myths, the book, whose revised edition has been published this month, showed that prehistoric fossils exist in the very places where myths about giant beings arose.


"Most likely, the ancient Greeks found the bone in the lignite deposits of the Megalopolis basin, known in antiquity as the 'Battleground of the Giants.' There, the dense concentration of large fossil bones inspired the belief that entire armies of giants were blasted by Zeus's thunderbolts," Mayor told Discovery News.


Perhaps revered as the thigh bone of a mythic giant, the Nichoria bone was discovered on the ancient acropolis at Nichoria between 1969 and 1975 by archaeologists of the Minnesota Messenia Expedition.


The fact that it was carefully stored on the acropolis, which stood some 35 miles from the lignite deposits where the bone was probably found, shows that the ancient Greeks had a great interest in fossils.


"The bone provides further confirmation that the ancient Greeks already found such specimens and ascribed special significance to them," Hans-Dieter Sues, senior scientist and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., told Discovery News.


Identified in 1978 as the femur of a "Pliocene elephant," the bone was lost for two decades. Rediscovered in 1998 in the Archaeometry Laboratory of the University of Minnesota, Duluth, it remained uncatalogued until Mayor recognized its significance.


She took the fossil to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it was examined by paleontologist Nikos Solounias, an expert in Greek fossils of the Miocene to Holocene epochs.


Solounias identified the bone as the distal end of the femur of a woolly rhinoceros, or possibly a Chalicotherium, a large herbivore, and dated it to the Pleistocene era (2 million to 10,000 years ago).


According to Solounias, the rusty-black color of the fossil bone indicates that it was most likely collected from the lignite deposits near the ancient town of Megalopolis. Carried by the ancient Greeks to the sunny acropolis of Nichoria, and then unearthed two millennia later, the bone traveled extensively in the last decade.


From Greece, across the Mediterranean and Atlantic, it went to Minnesota, then east to Princeton, New Jersey and New York City to be identified by paleontologists. Then west again to Bozeman, Montana, where it was professionally stabilized by restorers at the Museum of the Rockies, to prevent further breakage.


"It was then transported overland to Palo Alto, Calif., where it rested on my desk, as I searched for a proper home in a leading museum," Mayor said.


This spring, the relic traveled back over the Atlantic, from California to its final home at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where it will be displayed in the Greek and Roman Antiquities Gallery.



Scientists trace violent death of Iron Age man

28 March 2011 York, University of


An Iron Age man whose skull and brain was unearthed during excavations at the University of York was the victim of a gruesome ritual killing, according to new research.


Scientists say that fractures and marks on the bones suggest the man, who was aged between 26 and 45, died most probably from hanging, after which he was carefully decapitated and his head was then buried on its own.


Archaeologists discovered the remains in 2008 in one of a series of Iron Age pits on the site of the University’s £750 million campus expansion at Heslington East. Brain material was still in the skull which dates back around 2500 years making it one the oldest surviving brains in Europe.


A multi-disciplinary team of scientists, including archaeologists, chemists, bio-archaeologists and neurologists, was assembled to attempt to establish how the man’s brain, could have survived when all the other soft tissue had decayed leaving only the bone.


The team is also investigating details of the man’s death and burial that may have contributed to the survival of what is normally highly vulnerable soft tissue. The research, which was funded by the University of York and English Heritage, is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


Archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust, commissioned by the University to carry out the exploratory dig before building work on the campus expansion started, discovered the solitary skull face-down in the pit in dark brown organic rich, soft sandy clay.


Since the discovery, the brain and skull have been kept in strictly controlled conditions, but scientists have examined samples using a range of sophisticated equipment including a CT scanner at York Hospital and mass spectrometers at the University of York.


Samples of brain material had a DNA sequence that matched sequences found only in a few individuals from Tuscany and the Near East. Carbon dating suggests the remains date from between 673-482BC.


Peri-mortem fractures on the second neck vertebrae  are consistent with a traumatic spondylolisthesis and a cluster of about nine horizontal fine cut-marks made by a thin-bladed instrument, such as a knife, are visible on the frontal aspect of the centrum.


Histological studies found remnants of brain tissue structures and highly sensitive neuroimmunological techniques, together with analyses, demonstrated the presence of a range of lipids and brain specific proteins in the remains.


The scientific team is now investigating how these lipids and proteins may have combined to form the persistent material of the surviving brain and what insight this may give on the circumstances between death, the burial environment and preservation of the Heslington brain.


The team is headed by Dr Sonia O’Connor, a Research Fellow in Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford and an Honorary Visiting Fellow at the University of York. It included scientists from the Departments of Archaeology, Biology and Chemistry at York, Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford, the Biocentre and the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Manchester University and the UCL Institute of Neurology in London.


Dr O’Connor said: “It is rare to be able to suggest the cause of death for skeletonised human remains of archaeological origin. The preservation of the brain in otherwise skeletonised remains is even more astonishing but not unique.”


“This is the most thorough investigation ever undertaken of a brain found in a buried skeleton and has allowed us to begin to really understand why brain can survive thousands of years after all the other soft tissues have decayed.”.


Despite the place that ‘trophy heads’ appear to have played in Iron Age societies and evidence for the preservation of human remains in the Bronze Age, the researchers say there is no evidence for that in this case. Analyses found no biomarkers indicating deliberate  preservation by embalming or smoking.


Dr O’Connor added: “The hydrated state of the brain and the lack of evidence for putrefaction suggests that burial, in the fine-grained, anoxic sediments of the pit, occurred very rapidly after death. This is a distinctive and unusual sequence of events, and could be taken as an explanation for the exceptional brain preservation.”



More findings from Stanley Park High School archaeological dig

7:40am Wednesday 30th March 2011

By Matt Watts


A large number of animal sacrifices found on an archaeological dig have shown Carshalton was likely to have been a key spiritual site in the Iron Age.


Ancient Roman remains of buried babies and animals were unearthed last summer at an archaeological dig on the site of the new Stanley Park High School.


Now a consultant archaeologist who worked on the dig has said more than a hundred animal sacrifices on the site, including sheep, a pig, a horse, a goat and dogs show it must have attracted a large number of people.


Duncan Hawkins said: “It was extraordinary. Normally the number of ritual pits found in a settlement is two or three, but on this site we found more than 30."


He said he believed the number of sacrifices was because it was close to a Bronze age circular enclosure – an early example of a stone circle like Stone Henge - that lay under the site of the former Queen Mary’s Hospital.


He said it was one of the most important finds in London in the past 30 years.


Some 15 child bodies were also found. The high humber was because of the high infant mortality rate.


Mr Hawkins will be giving a talk on the dig's findings at the Richard Mayo Centre, United Reformed Church in Eden Steet, Kingston, at 7.30pm as part of a tour of historical societies.