Dating of neanderthal fossil suggests they died out earlier than previously thought

06 May 2011 University College Cork


Under embargo until 09 May 2011 18:00 GMT

STRICTLY EMBARGOED UNTIL 7 pm (Irish time) or 3pm (EST) Monday May 9, 2011

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Direct dating of a fossil of a Neanderthal infant suggests that Neanderthals probably died out earlier than previously thought. Researchers have dated a Neanderthal fossil discovered in a significant cave site in Russia in the northern Caucasus, and found it to be 10,000 years older than previous research had suggested. This new evidence throws into doubt the theory that Neanderthals and modern humans interacted for thousands of years. Instead, the researchers believe any co-existence between Neanderthals and modern humans is likely to have been much more restricted, perhaps a few hundred years. It could even mean that in some areas Neanderthals had become extinct before anatomically modern humans moved out of Africa.


The research, directed by University College Cork and the University of Oxford in collaboration with the Laboratory of Prehistory at St Petersburg, Russia, and funded by Science Foundation Ireland is published today in PNAS Online Early Edition. The research centres on Mezmaiskaya Cave, a key site in the northern Caucasus within European Russia, where the team directly dated the fossil of a late Neanderthal infant from the Late Middle Paleolithic layer and a series of associated animal bones. They found that the fossil was 39,700 years old, which implies that Neanderthals did not survive at the cave site beyond this time.  This finding challenges previous claims that late Neanderthals survived until 30,000 years ago in the northern Caucasus, meaning that late Neanderthals and modern humans were not likely to experience any significant period of co-existence.


The new dating evidence throws new light on when the Neanderthals became extinct and why. The research team believes that Neanderthals died out when the modern humans arrived or that they had already become extinct before then, possibly because of climate change, dwindling resources, or other scenarios.


The research suggests that if we are to have accurate chronologies the data needs to be revised, improved and corrected so possible associations between Neanderthal extinctions, dispersals of early modern humans and climatic events can be properly assessed. Previous dating processes seem to have ‘systemically underestimated’ the true age of Late Middle Paleolithic and Early Upper Paleolithic deposits, artifacts and fossils by up to several thousand years, says the paper.


Lead author Dr Ron Pinhasi, from University College Cork, said: ‘It now seems much clearer that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans did not co-exist in the Caucasus, and it is possible that this scenario is also true for most regions of Europe. Many of the previous dates for late Neanderthal occupation or sites across Europe are problematic. This is simply an outcome of the fact that the association between the dated material and late Neanderthals is not always clear because we cannot always be certain whether archaeological stone tool assemblages, such as the Mousterian, that has been attributed in the case of Europe to Neanderthals, was not in some cases actually produced by modern humans. We have to directly date Neanderthal and anatomically modern human fossils to resolve this.’


Co-author of the paper Dr Tom Higham, Deputy Director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, said: ‘The latest dating techniques mean we can purify the collagen extracted from tiny fragments of fossil very effectively without contaminating it. Previously, research teams have provided younger dates which we now know are not robust, possibly because the fossil has become contaminated with more modern particles. This latest dating evidence sheds further light on the extinction dates for Neanderthals in this key region, which is seen by many as a crossroads for the movement of modern humans into the wider Russian plains. The extinction of Neanderthals here is, therefore, an indicator we think, of when that first probably happened.’






Attached files

Dr Ron Pinhasi, University College Cork, Ireland

Notes for editors

‘Revised age of late Neanderthal occupation and the end of the Middle Paleolithic in the northern Caucasus’ by Ron Pinhasi, Thomas Higham, Liubov Golovanova and Vladimir Doronichev is published in PNAS Online Early Edition on 9 May 2011 (embargoed until 7pm Irish time or 3pm EST).


The research is funded by Science Foundation of Ireland (SFI) Research Frontiers Programme.


For more information, please contact Dr Ron Pinhasi from University College, Cork, on 00 353 1 5160861 or 00 353 (0) 87 2655134; email: ron_pinhasi@yahoo.com


or Dr Thomas Higham on (mobile)00 44 ( 0)7595 380202; email Thomas.higham@rlaha.ox.ac.uk


About Archaeology at University College Cork


The Archaeology Department at University College Cork is an emerging centre for the study of physical anthropology and human origins.


For further information, please contact: Ruth McDonnell, 00-353- 21-4903000, r.mcdonnell@ucc.ie



25,000-year-old cave paintings discovered in Spain

BILBAO | Wed May 4, 2011 2:57pm EDT



Paintings depicting horses and human hands made by prehistoric humans around 25,000 years ago have been discovered in a cave in northern Spain, regional officials said on Wednesday.


The red paintings, found by chance by archaeologists looking for signs of ancient settlements, were made around the same time as the Altamira Cave paintings -- some of the world's best prehistoric paintings discovered in northern Spain in 1879.


"It was a chance finding," archaeologist Diego Garate told Reuters.


"Although they were difficult to spot because they are badly deteriorated, our experienced eye helped us to identify them."


Experts will further explore the caves for evidence of prehistoric utensils or tools, officials said.


The first homo sapiens arrived in small groups in northern Spain around 35,000 years ago.


They cohabited for a time with the last of the Neanderthals and then developed a significant culture known as the Upper Palaeolithic, producing stone blade tools and decorating cave walls.


(Reporting by Arantza Goyoaga, Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Michael Roddy)



Princess sheds new light on early Celts

2 May 2011 Last updated at 02:13

By Stephen Evans

BBC News, Baden-Wuerttemberg

German experts are carefully taking apart a complete Celtic grave in the hope of finding out more about the Celts' way of life, 2,600 years ago, in their Danube heartland.


It wasn't the most glorious final journey for an aristocratic Celtic lady who, in life, clearly had a bit of style.


She died just over 2,600 years ago and rested in peace until a few months ago when her grave was dug up in its entirety - all 80 tonnes of it - and transported on the back of a truck through countless German towns.


In the grave, too, was a child, presumed to be hers. Their last inglorious journey ended in the back yard of the offices of the archaeological service of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.


When the truck arrived, the grave encased almost entirely in concrete, was unloaded and a tent constructed around it.


The archaeologists decided that removal of the whole grave would allow them to use the most modern resources of analysis, from computers to X-rays.


From the gantry above a pit, archaeologists leant down and scraped the earth from the bones and jewels speck-by-speck.


What emerged was the lady, the child and their ornaments.


Because of the amount of gold and amber jewellery, they are assumed to be important, a princess and the young prince or princess. It indicates that the early Celts had an aristocratic hierarchy, which has been a matter of dispute among archaeologists.


"It is the oldest princely female grave yet from the Celtic world," said Dr Dirk Krausse, who is in charge of the dig.


"It is the only example of an early Celtic princely grave with a wooden chamber."


The archaeologists are excited because this grave was preserved by the water-sodden soil of the region so that the oak of the floor was intact, for example, and that puts an exact date on it. The oak trees were felled 2,620 years ago, so, assuming they were felled for the grave, our lady died in 609BC.


The grave had also not been robbed down those 26 centuries, unlike many others.


This means that the jewellery is still there, particularly beautiful brooches of ornate Celtic design in gold and in amber.


We usually think of the Celtic heartland as the western edges of Europe - Wales, Scotland and Ireland and Brittany in France.


But Dr Krausse says the real Celtic heartland was actually in the region in the upper reaches of the Danube, from where the Celts could trade.


"Celtic art and Celtic culture have their origins in south-western Germany, eastern France and Switzerland and spread from there to other parts of Europe," said Dr Krausse.


They were then squeezed by the tribes from the north and the Romans from the south, so that today they remain only on the western edges of the continent.


The lady in the grave reveals the Celts to have been a rather stylish people with a love of ornament, examples of which are coming out of the mud of the grave in the tent in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart.


From the gantry above the grave, Nicole Ebenger-Rest has been doing much of the painstaking excavation.


As well as the rings and brooches, she uncovered the teeth of the Celtic princess. But what also excited her were specks of cloth or food or other organic matter which might reveal a way of life.


"It is a skeleton but it's still a human being so you have a natural respect," she said, looking her fellow human being in the face, across the divide of 26 centuries.


"It's a natural respect between two people."



Archaeologists find 2,600-year-old Celtic Princess buried in Germany

By KATE HICKEY , IrishCentral.com Editor

Published Saturday, May 7, 2011, 7:16 AM

Updated Saturday, May 7, 2011, 8:27 AM


German archaeologists are examining a Celtic grave in the Danube heartland when they found the remains of a Celtic princess, from 2,600 years ago, buried with her gold and amber jewelry.


The princess had remained in her final resting place since about 609BC. Just months ago the German experts began to dig out the 80 tonnes of clay covering the grave to remove it bring it their offices where it could be examined.


Experts believe that the manner that she was buried, with expensive jewels, shows that she was of a high social rank. The brooches found are particularly beautiful with Celtic designs in gold and amber. According to BBC reports the remains of a child were also found in the grave. The child is presumed to be the princess'.


The entire grave and the surrounding clay were unearthed, put onto a truck and transported to the office of archaeological service of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart. The grave, incased in concrete, ended its journey in the back garden of the offices protected by a tent.


They will now use X-rays to examine the find. On the scene, from the top of the hole they had dug, archaeologists found bones and jewels but now modern resources will allow them a more in depth and delicate examination of the grave.


Those working on the grave believe that the remains belong to a Celtic princess and their child, a prince or princess. However this matter is a point of dispute among archaeologists.


Dr Dirk Krausse, who is the lead on the dig, said "It is the oldest princely female grave yet from the Celtic world…It is the only example of an early Celtic princely grave with a wooden chamber."


The grave was preserved in the water-logged soil. It is so intact that they have been able to put an exact date on the woman's death. The oak they found in the floor of the chamber was felled 2,620 years ago. Assuming they were cut down specifically to build the chamber, the princess died in 609BC. Also surprisingly the grave had not been robbed over the last 2,600 years.


Working from above the grave, in the tent, Nicole Ebenger-Rest, has been doing much of the excavation. She has uncovered the teeth of the Celtic princess as well as specks of cloth, food or other organic matter which may reveal a great deal about the Celts way of life.


She said it's difficult to relate to and fathom that fact that this woman lived 26 centuries ago. She said "It is a skeleton but it's still a human being so you have a natural respect…It's a natural respect between two people."



Ancient Caithness site 'occupied for 1,000 years'

2 May 2011 Last updated at 04:54

By Steven McKenzie

BBC Scotland Highlands and Islands reporter


The site of one of Scotland's most important mainland broch settlements may have been home to early people for up to 1,000 years, evidence suggests.


Archaeologists and volunteers have uncovered what could be the remains of walls dating back to 700 to 500 BC at Nybster in Caithness.


Andy Heald, of AOC Archaeology, said further investigations would need to be made to confirm the structure's age.


Evidence of possible Pictish and medieval occupation has been recorded.


A key feature of the site are the remains of a massive stone wall roundhouse, known as a broch.


Caithness has more brochs per square mile than any other part of Scotland, according to Highland Council.


Examples of the ancient buildings are also found on Orkney.


What lies beneath Nybster has intrigued the dig team, which is being led by AOC Archaeology and Caithness Archaeological Trust.


Mr Heald said he believed the site may have been occupied long before the Iron Age and provided habitation to various communities for 1,000 years.


He said: "We have dug down to what might be the earliest wall on the site and this wall may have been used to seal off the site as a territory, as if someone was saying 'this land is mine'.


"Typical of sites like these, it was reused and modified at different times."


Archaeologists are wary of any alterations that may have been made to the site during excavations led by Sir Francis Tress Barry in the early 19th Century.


A series of stone steps that may have been constructed on Sir Francis' instructions have been uncovered at the settlement.


From his Highland home at Keiss Castle, the British consul to Spain explored the ruins of nearby Caithness brochs.


According to an obituary written following his death in 1907, Sir Francis found the remains of elk, wolf, wild boar and a great auk, an extinct seabird.


Older artefacts found in the latest dig include the core, or centre, of a cannel coal bracelet.


The smooth circular stone was cut to create the hole in the bracelet.


It also suggests trade between the residents of Nybster and other parts of the Highlands because the nearest source of cannel coal is 50 miles (80km) away in Brora, in Sutherland.


Pieces made of bone have also been found.



Aerial surveys of Viking shipyard on Skye

5 May 2011 Last updated at 06:58


Aerial surveys are being carried out over Skye to help archaeologists investigate a 12th Century Viking shipbuilding site.


Boat timbers, a stone-built quay and a canal have already been uncovered at Loch na h-Airde on Skye's Rubh an Dunain peninsula.


The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) has launched the air surveys.


Staff hope to pinpoint new sites for investigation.


Working with marine archaeologists, RCAHMS also hope to find potential dive sites for searches for the remains of ships and other artefacts.


Archaeologists now believe the loch was the focus for maritime activity for many centuries, from the Vikings to the MacAskill and Macleod clans of Skye.


RCAHMS said the loch and canal would likely have been used for protecting boats during winters and also for their construction and maintenance.


Colin Martin, a marine archaeologist specialising in ship wrecks, has been investigating Loch na h-Airde.


He said: "This site has enormous potential to tell us about how boats were built, serviced and sailed on Scotland's western seaboard in the medieval period - and perhaps during the early historic and prehistoric eras as well.


"There is no other site quite like this in Scotland."


RCAHMS aerial survey manager Dave Cowley said the sea had been vital for connecting communities in the past.


He added: "The aerial perspective gives us an excellent sense of this, showing the inter-relations of land and sea, and helping us to understand how people may have travelled, traded - and fought - on the waters around Scotland's western isles."


In 2009, a crofter uncovered an ancient anchor while digging a drain on the Isle of Skye.


Graeme Mackenzie, 47, made the find after hiring an excavator to open the drain on rough pastureland 50yds (48m) from his home near Sleat.


Rain had partly washed away the bottom of the drain and exposed a corroded 4in (10cm) iron spike.


National Museums Scotland said the type of anchor was in use from the Viking period until the Middle Ages.


Experts were unable to date it any more precisely.



Archaeologists find new Viking site in Temple Bar

Wed, 3:08 PM 2,028


A VIKING SETTLEMENT has been uncovered in Temple Bar during building work to build a retractable canopy over Meeting House Square.

The settlement is believed to have been originally situated on what would have been an island in the middle of the River Poddle but would have been destroyed by flood waters in the 10th or 11th century.

Dermot McLaughlin, CEO of the Temple Bar Cultural Trust, posted a video blog in March that a “medieval, timber structure” had been uncovered. Further archaeological investigations found the two Viking homes at Meeting House Square, in the centre of Temple Bar. Bits of pottery from a slightly later era were also found at the site, when it was uncovered two weeks ago.

The discoveries were made during building for the erection of four large retractable umbrella-style canopies that will provide shelter over the square in inclement weather. Currently the square plays host to a food market on Saturdays and a host of events, festivals and outdoor film screenings during the summer months. The new improvements are intended to help make the space useable year-round.

Temple Bar is to celebrate 20 years of the Trust this year.



Dig uncovers medieval industries in Bury St Edmunds

5 May 2011 Last updated at 16:32


Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of medieval industry on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds town centre.


The clay ovens and leather tanneries appear to date from the 12th-16th Centuries.


Housing developers called county historians after they found mortar and flint footings for wooden buildings.


Andrew Tester, project officer for Suffolk County Council, said: "We know a lot about the centre of the town, but not about this part."


The precise location of the site is not being publicised to protect the dig.


The Warren Map of 1740 showed the area to be fields - so this is the first evidence of previous development.


Alongside the clay ovens, the archaeologists have found a series of sunken barrels.


They think these were to store lime putty which was used to create mortar, plaster and lime-wash for building.


Mr Tester said: "It's very exciting. Hopefully we'll be able to find more of these barrel wells and find out definitively what they were used for."


Around 50 cattle horns have been found.


They were probably a waste product of the leather industry, although they were used as drinking vessels and as an alternative to glass in lamps when cut thinly.


Mr Tester said most big houses would have had an oven for malting barley for brewing.


"Water was less appetising whereas beer is naturally sterilised, so it was good for you," he said.


The archaeological team expects to spend a month at the site before the housing developers begin their work.


Items such as coins and buckles will be removed, but the clay ovens will be filled in and built over.



The Old Leather Man: controversy over digging up a legend

by Sean McLachlan (RSS feed) on May 3rd 2011 at 10:00AM


Investigators in Connecticut are planning to uncover a local legend, but they're facing a backlash of public sentiment.


An archaeological team will open the grave of The Old Leather Man, a mysterious wanderer who from 1883 to 1889 walked a 365 mile loop from the lower Hudson River Valley into Connecticut and back. It took him 34 days to make the journey and he was so punctual that well-wishers used to to have meals ready for him when he showed up. He spoke French but little English, slept only in caves and rock shelters, and never revealed information about himself. He got his name from his homemade, 60 lb. suit of leather.


His grave in Ossining's Sparta Cemetery brings a regular flow of the curious, but local officials are afraid it's too close to the street and is a safety hazard. They plan to dig up The Old Leather Man and move him to a different part of the cemetery. They also want to take a DNA sample. Legend claims he was a heartbroken Frenchman named Jules Bourglay, but Leather Man biographer Dan W. DeLuca says this is an invention of a newspaper of the time.


The DNA might prove a clue to who he really was and that's where the controversy starts. History teacher Don Johnson has set up a website called Leave the Leatherman Alone, saying that his privacy should be respected. Judging from all the comments on his site, he seems to have a fair amount of backing.


As a former archaeologist I love unraveling a good mystery but I have to agree with Mr. Johnson on this one. The Old Leather Man obviously wanted his identity to remain unknown, and just because he was a homeless man why should his wishes be ignored? He never committed any crime besides vagrancy, he died of natural causes, and there are no known inheritance issues, so what's the need?


As a teenager growing up in the Hudson Valley, I loved the mysteries of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states--the strange rock constructions, the Revolutionary War ghosts, Mystery Hill, and, of course, The Old Leather Man. Most of this is the stuff of imagination, but The Old Leather Man was real, living person.


And because of that, we should let his mystery remain buried.