Don't let the name fool you. "Nutcracker Man" preferred salad.

Tue May 3, 2011 11:31 AM ET




He had the powerful jaws and big chompers to crack the toughest of shells, but a new study has shown that the ancient human relative known as "Nutcracker Man" actually preferred to munch on grass.


"It most likely was eating grass, and most definitely was not cracking nuts," said University of Utah geochemist Thure Cerling, lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


With molars about triple the size of a modern man's, the human ancestor, Paranthropus boisei, is believed to have roamed the Earth between 1.2 million and 2.3 million years ago.


A skull found in Tanzania in 1959 quickly drew the nickname "Nutcracker Man" because of its giant teeth, but U.S. and Kenyan researchers now say the species grazed on the same wild fields as the ancestors of zebras, pigs and hippos.


"They were competing with them," said Cerling. "They were eating at the same table."


Researchers used a drill to pulverize tooth enamel, taken from already broken tooth samples from 22 individuals who lived in that period, and examined carbon isotope ratios that revealed what kind of food they were eating.


They could see that the specimens ate tropical grasses and herbs that use C4 photosynthesis, and not leaves, nuts and fruits that use C3 photosynthesis, the study said.


Only one similar diet has been seen in an extinct species of grass-eating baboon, the researchers said.


"The high proportion of C4 vegetation in the diet of Paranthropus boisei makes it different from any other hominin to date," said co-author Kevin Uno of the University of Utah. "The results make an excellent case for isotope analysis of teeth from other members of our family tree, especially from East Africa."



North America was populated by no more than 70 people 14,000 years ago, claims stunning new DNA research


Last updated at 8:29 PM on 9th May 2011


The next time you're having a disagreement with a work colleague or annoying neighbour, bear this in mind: Chances are you're related.

A new study of DNA patterns throughout the world suggests that North America was originally populated by no more than 70 people.

Most experts agree that, around 14,000 years ago, a group of humans crossed the  land bridge that connected what is now Siberia in Russia with Alaska.


But new research has shown just how small that group was, venturing into a vast continent from Asia during the last Ice Age.

Up to now DNA analyses of the intrepid and original 'founding fathers' looked at a particular gene, using estimates and academic assumptions on constant population sizes over time.

The new study, by Professor Jody Hey, came at the subject from a different angle - looking at nine genomic regions to account for variations in single genes, and assuming that sizes of founding populations changed over time.


Professor Hey, of Rutgers University, was quoted in Live Science as saying his method favoured 'actual genetic data over estimates used in previous calculations'.

He said: 'The estimated effective size of the founding population for the New World is about 70 individuals.'

Archeological evidence supports his calculation that the initial settlement of North America occurred between 12,000 and 14,000 years ago.

He said: 'The beauty of the new methodology is that it uses actual DNA sequences collected from Asian peoples and Native Americans, an approach that can provide a detailed portrait of historical populations.


Professor Hey said he focused on the genetics of people who spoke Amerind.

It is one of three main language groups in North America and is indicative of the earliest migrants who went on to populate the Americas.

Professor Hey's study is among a series of new findings that are challenging long-held views about the history and growth of the Americas, as advances in technologies such as DNA testing open new doorways to the past.

In March, a team of archaeologists near Austin, Texas, found evidence of stone tools possibly dating back 15,000 yearsm, smashing long-held theories about native settlement.


New method: Jody Hey, an evolutionary biologist and Professor of genetics at Rutgers University, studied various genomic regions in his research

The treasure trove of 15,528 artifacts, including chipping debris from working stones and 56 tools - such as blades, scrapers and choppers - was found at Buttermilk Creek.

Lead archaeologist Michael Waters, of Texas A&M University, described it as like finding 'like finding the Holy Grail', adding: ‘This is almost like a baseball bat to the side of the head of the archaeological community.'

The accepted wisdom among archaeologists is that the first people to colonise America were called the Clovis, 

Sometimes also referred to as the Llanos, the Clovis were a prehistoric race who first appeared in North America at the end of the last glacial period 13,500 to 13,000 years ago.

They are so named because of the discovery of their distinctive 'Clovis point' hunting tools in the 1930s at Clovis, New Mexico.

Archaeologists came to the conclusion that the Clovis were the first to inhabit North America because no evidence of an earlier civilisation had been found.

Several theories exist about their eventual decline and disappearance. The most common-held belief is that the Clovis culture merely adapted across America and eventually morphed into other cultures (such as the Folsom culture).

Another, more controversial theory, believes that their over-hunting of 'megafauna', like the mammoth, contributed to their extinction.

Another, known as the Clovis Comet event, suggests an extraterrestrial impact led to mass extinction and climate change that abruptly wiped out the Clovis.



Cornish Bronze Age hoard goes on display

7 May 2011 Last updated at 12:35


A Bronze Age hoard uncovered by a gardener on an island off Cornwall in 2009 is on public display.


The collection of 47 artefacts, found on St Michael's Mount, is on display in the island's castle.


Pieces - including axe-heads, daggers, ingots and a complete metal clasp - have been verified by the British Museum as being about 3,000 years old.


Archaeologists said the objects probably belonged to a blacksmith who had hidden them away for later use.


'Stashed away?'

The objects were discovered by Darren Little when he was clearing ivy and found an opening in some rock.


"I first found a small axe head, and, after some more investigation, founds ingots, pieces of swords and chisels," he said.


Although the age of the objects has been identified, archaeologists said they were not sure how they came to be where they were found.


National Trust archaeologist Jim Parry said: "They could have been stashed away when he was doing a deal and he didn't want to bring them with him, or it could have been a safe bit of overnight storage.


"He could have had a smith's working area in front of him and just tucked some pieces behind him, forgot about them and moved on."


2000-year-old wine unearthed in Henan province

16:59, May 11, 2011     


Scientists are sampling the liquid from the ancient copper pot.


During the excavation, archaeologists discovered an airtight copper pot covered in rust. They found the pot had a liquid weighing about half a kilogram in it.


A Western Han dynasty ancient tomb group was accidentally found at a construction site in Puyang city, China's Henan province, on April 10.


After a period of protective excavation of the tomb group, archaeologists found more than 230 ancient tombs in all, and a total of more than 600 cultural relics have been unearthed so far.


During the excavation, archaeologists discovered an airtight copper pot covered in rust. They found the pot had a liquid weighing about half a kilogram in it.


On May 10, the Beijing Mass Spectrum Center, which is a joint accrediting body based on the Chinese Academy of Science, identified the liquid in the ancient pot as wine. Therefore, the pot of wine unearthed from Puyang has been certified as the oldest wine found in China.


By Wang Hanlu, People's Daily Online



Pottery Fragments from Glastonbury Abbey cast new light on the Dark Ages


Archaeologists are gearing up to share their discovery that the history of Glastonbury Abbey site reaches right back to the Dark Ages. Previous studies of the Abbey’s pottery had identified early Roman, Anglo-Saxon, medieval and later material. Now, a one-day symposium hosted by Glastonbury Abbey, exploring exciting new research into the historic excavation archives 1908 – 1979, will show that human activity took place there as early as the third or fourth centuries BC.


John Allan, Consultant Archaeologist to Glastonbury Abbey, and one of the speakers at the Symposium, said: ‘We now realise that the Abbey site had a much longer history than previously known, reaching right back into prehistory and including the mysterious Dark Ages.  We hadn’t realised these periods were represented in the excavated pottery, until this project.


‘A scatter of exotic Saxon, Norman, medieval and later ceramics attests the great wealth of the abbey. Scientific analysis has now established the precise origins of some of these finds; the most distant come from Italy, Spain, Portugal and France.


‘The excavated pottery is also remarkably rich in elaborate jugs from Ham Green and Bristol, making a striking contrast with the finds from other sites in the area, such as those from the recent excavations at Shapwick.’


High level scientific research carried out on the fabric of the pottery has revealed very unusual trading and marketing patterns at the Abbey

Janet Bell, Glastonbury Abbey Curator, said: ‘High level scientific symposium, research carried out on the fabric of the pottery has revealed very unusual trading and marketing patterns at the Abbey, and connections with exotic places such as Tuscany, Valencia and Seville in the late medieval period.


‘The Abbey was using high quality tableware such as the Saintonge polychrome jug, from Western France (on display in the museum).  This probably came to the abbey through the Bordeaux wine trade in the 1300s, and would have most probably been used to serve wine at the the monks’ table. Other exotic finds include a tin glazed tile from Seville, that probably decorated the Abbot’s lodging around the time of Henry VIII’s reign.’


How did the research come about? In 1981, Ralegh Radford (Glastonbury Abbey Director of Excavations 1951 – 1964) published an interim report suggesting a series of churches, a Saxon enclosure ditch, potentially the earliest cloister in Britain, and craft-working activities including unique glass furnaces. Several attempts at full publication were never completed. Following Radford’s death in 1999, his excavation archive was retrieved and deposited with the National Monuments Record at Swindon, making the publication of a full report a feasible proposition.


The research has been conducted by the Archaeology Department at the University of Reading, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council.


Katherine Gorbing, Director of Glastonbury Abbey, said: ‘Abbey volunteers have also made an invaluable contribution to the project: Peter Poyntz-Wright, a member of the excavation team in the 1950s and 60s, has been transcribing his own original site notebooks, Doug Forbes is scanning photos and drawings, Lindsay Beach has audited and sorted finds ready for specialist study and our volunteer Collections Care Team have gallantly marked thousands of tile fragments and pottery shards.’



Viking ship not just ceremonial

May 9, 2011


For years, it was widely believed that the ancient Tune ship on display at the Viking Ships Museum in Oslo was used mainly as a so-called “grave ship,” perhaps even built for the purpose of being buried in the grave of an important Viking. Now a new doctoral dissertation claims that it was not only an ocean-going sailing vessel, but even grounded in its time and underwent repairs.


The Tune ship is the lesser-known and in the poorest condition of the three vessels on display at the museum. It was discovered on a farm on Rolvsøy, north of Fredrikstad, and excavated from a burial mound in 1867.

The grave was unusually large, measuring 80 meters in diameter and around four meters high, according to the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Oslo. The vessel, built around 900AD, was best preserved in the areas where it had been buried under thick clay.

Its remnants, however, paled when the stately Gokstad ship was discovered in 1880 and the Oseberg ship in 1903-04 on the other side of the Oslo Fjord. Now, archaeologist Knut Paasche of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) maintains in his newly finished doctoral dissertation that the Tune ship was also used on the high seas.

“Six planks forward on the starboard side are extended at the same place,” Paasche told newspaper Aftenposten this week. “No boatbuilder would do that, not even in Viking times. Repairs to the hull show in all clarity that the ship was damaged under the water line, that is, it had grounded.”

Paasche doesn’t believe the Tune ship was a ceremonial ship that only was rowed inland until it was brought ashore and used in the burial mound. His studies revealed both ruts and signs of wear and tear under the keel, which he contends show that the ship was in use for a long time.

“The discoveries show that the Tune ship was in use for several years before it wound up in the grave,” he told Aftenposten.

The Cultural History Museum now reports as well that the vessel “has probably been a fast, ocean-going vessel.” Right behind the mast, a burial chamber was built and in it lay a man. Even though the grave had been plundered before its excavation, research has revealed remains of burial gifts, parts of a ski, the skeleton of a horse and remnants of his weapons including a sword handle.

Paasche, using data scanning, has reconstructed the ship in full. That adds to the knowledge of the third ship in the Oslo museum.

“While the Gokstad ship was a large ocean-going trading vessel, and the Oseberg ship close to a pleasure yacht, the Tune ship was a fast-sailing courier ship along the coast,” Paasche told Aftenposten. He said it was equipped with unusually strong rigging for such a small vessel that also was built for 12 oarsmen.

Paasche believes the craftmanship also suggests that early residents of today’s Norway were sailing long before Viking times, given the knowledgeable boat-building behind the Tune ship. He said such building techniques could only have been rooted in maritime experience and handed down through generations.



Researchers bid to unearth Scotland's other Arthur's Seat

Published Date: 14 May 2011

By John Ross


FOR centuries the King's Knot has had experts in a tangle trying to explain its mysterious origins.

Theories about the earthen mound below Stirling Castle include an Iron Age structure, a Roman fort and even the Round Table where King Arthur gathered his knights.


But now, the latest scientific techniques will be used to probe a metre beneath the ground to get a clearer picture of the enigmatic site.


Stirling Local History Society (SLHS) and Stirling Field and Archaeological Society will join experts from Glasgow University Archaeology Department next week to conduct a geophysical survey of the entire area.


Glasgow University archaeology lecturer Dr Richard Jones, who will lead the team, said: "This is a fabulous opportunity to discover more about a site which has fascinated people down the centuries, and it's all the more exciting because we really don't know what - if anything - it will reveal. The survey equipment we use will sense beneath the ground, showing us any lost structures and features irrespective of how old they are."


There is documentary evidence that the area was a garden in the 16th century, although experts say deep ditches and trenches around the King's Knot seem inconsistent with a garden.


Extensive work on the royal gardens was carried out in the early 17th century for Charles I and it may have been then that the mound was given its final form.


The royal gardens at Stirling passed out of use during the 17th century. The first known record of the site being called the King's Knot is from 1767 when it was being leased for pasture.


There is a recorded Roman road approaching Stirling, which means there could have been at least one camp on the site.


SLHS chairman John Harrison said: "People have told stories about the King's Knot for hundreds of years and it has become linked with all sorts of ideas. But it's origins remain mysterious.


"The area was used as a garden in the 16th and 17th centuries, but when was the present 'cup and saucer' mound formed? Perhaps it was as late as the 1620s.


"But about 1375 the poet John Barbour says that 'the round table' was somewhere to the south of Stirling Castle and tradition continued to place 'the tabilll round' hereabouts. It is a mystery which the documents cannot solve. But geophysics may give us new insights.


"Some of our members and other members of the local community will help the specialists to reveal more about this remarkable and important site."


Archaeologist Stephen Digney, who has co-ordinated the project, said the area around Stirling Castle holds some of the finest medieval landscapes in Europe.



Italy: Archaeologists hunting for Mona Lisa unearth tomb and staircase

last update: May 12, 19:10

Florence, 12 May (AKI)


Archaeologists digging for the remains of a 16th-century woman believed to be the model for Leonardo's Mona Lisa masterpiece have found a crypt and a stairway to a probably second tomb inside a former medieval convent in central Florence.


"What we found today confirms the precise corroboration between the historical documents and the preliminary results that emerged from geo-radar soundings," said Stefania Romano, a spokeswoman for the group behind the excavation at the former convent of Saint Orsula.

The team of historians plan to use geo-radar equipment to locate the skull of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, who died in Florence in 1542 and is believed to have modeled for Leonardo's celebrated portrait, now hanging in the Louvre.

Once they locate the skull, the team will try and recreate a likeness of what the woman would have looked like, compare her to Leonardo's world-famous portrait and unlock the centuries-old mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa's identity.

The historians will compare the DNA with that of two her children buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church to prove her identity, although some experts says Leonardo's final portrait may be a composite of other faces.

The Mona Lisa has exceptionally large hands and some art historians believe the sitter was a man - Gian Giacomo Caprotti, apprentice to and alleged lover of the maestro. Many have wondered if a secret lies behind the model's famously cryptic smile.

But most modern scholars now agree the Mona Lisa sitter was Del Giocondo, the wife of a rich Florentine silk merchant who according to Leonardo sleuth Giuseppe Pallanti became a nun after her husband's death and died in the convent on July 15, 1542, aged 63.

The dig began on Wednesday in the hallways of the convent and Roman said the team's radar had shown there could be burials there dating back to Gherardini's time as little as two metres below the surface of what was formerly a cloister.

"In the next few days we will enter the most critical phase of the research, when the tombs are opened and we find if there are human remains inside or not," said Romano.

If found, Mona Lisa's body will be examined by archaeologists, art historians, anatomic pathologists, anthropologists and biologists, and the tomb and investigation finding with go on public display, according to Romano.

The excavation has sparked controversy, however, with a local princess who claims to be related to Del Giocondo calling it "sacrilegious" and saying the remains should be left in peace.