Clues to Neanderthal hunting tactics hidden in reindeer teeth

May 16, 2011 by Sara Coelho, PlanetEarth Online


Scientists have found that our cousins the Neanderthal employed sophisticated hunting strategies similar to the tactics used much later by modern humans. The new findings come from the analysis of subtle chemical variations in reindeer teeth.

Reindeer and caribou are nowadays restricted to the northernmost regions of Eurasia and America. But many thousands of years ago, large reindeer herds roamed throughout Europe and were hunted by the Neanderthal people.

Kate Britton, an archaeologist now at the University of Aberdeen, and her colleagues were part of a team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, that studied the Jonzac Neanderthal site in France - a rock shelter believed to have been used over a long period of time as a hunting camp. The Jonzac site has many layers of flints from stone-tools and the bones of butchered animals riddled with cut marks.

One of the oldest layers, from about 70,000 years ago, is exceptionally rich in adult reindeer bones. Britton wanted to find out more about these reindeer and their migratory behaviour to understand Neanderthal hunting strategies better. And the way to do that is to look at the teeth and their chemical composition.

The reindeer teeth are made of calcium, phosphorus, oxygen, strontium and other elements. But not all the atoms of each element are the same. Some atoms, or isotopes, are heavier than others and may have slightly different chemical properties.

"Strontium isotope analysis is an effective way of looking at animal and human movements in the past," says Britton. "Strontium in your bones and teeth is related to the food and water you consume, and ultimately to the underlying soil and rocks of a particular area."

This means it's possible to look at the strontium isotopes in reindeer teeth and find out if they ate and drank always in the same area, or if they moved around.

Britton and colleagues collected second and third molars from three reindeer remains. The third molars develop a bit later than the second, "but given that both teeth develop incrementally, we can add up the isotope sequence from the two teeth to reconstruct a year in the life of the animal," she explains.

The results, published in the Journal of Human Evolution, show that the three reindeer have similar strontium isotope patterns. The ratio between heavy and light strontium isotopes increases slightly towards the crown of the second molar and decreases towards the top of the third molar. The trend suggests that these reindeer moved from one area to another and back again while their teeth were developing, via a similar migration route.

The reindeer were probably hunted close to the Jonzac site. "It could also be possible that these animals were from the same herd, and may even have been hunted at the same time - either during the same hunting episode or over a series of closely timed events," suggests Britton.

But the new isotope analysis suggests that the animals were not local. "The reindeer were probably travelling through the area during their annual spring/autumn migrations," Britton says.

The Neanderthal living at the time were probably aware of the reindeer migration patterns and planned their stays in Jonzac to make the most out of the moving herd.

"This sophisticated hunting behavior is something we see much later in the Upper Palaeolithic amongst modern human groups, and it's really fascinating to see that Neanderthals were employing similar strategies," concludes Britton.

More information: Britton, K., et al., Strontium isotope evidence for migration in late Pleistocene Rangifer: Implications for Neanderthal hunting strategies at the Middle Palaeolithic site of Jonzac, France, Journal of Human Evolution (2011), doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.03.004



Archaeologists uncover oldest mine in the Americas

Public release date: 19-May-2011

Contact: Kevin Stacey



University of Chicago Press Journals


Archaeologists have discovered a 12,000-year-old iron oxide mine in Chile that marks the oldest evidence of organized mining ever found in the Americas, according to a report in the June issue of Current Anthropology.


A team of researchers led by Diego Salazar of the Universidad de Chile found the 40-meter trench near the coastal town of Taltal in northern Chile. It was dug by the Huentelauquen people—the first settlers in the region—who used iron oxide as pigment for painted stone and bone instruments, and probably also for clothing and body paint, the researchers say.


The remarkable duration and extent of the operation illustrate the surprising cultural complexity of these ancient people. "It shows that [mining] was a labor-intensive activity demanding specific technical skills and some level of social cooperation transmitted through generations," Salazar and his team write.


An estimated 700 cubic meters and 2,000 tons of rock were extracted from the mine. Carbon dates for charcoal and shells found in the mine suggest it was used continuously from around 12,000 years ago to 10,500 years ago, and then used again around 4,300 years ago. The researchers also found more than 500 hammerstones dating back to the earliest use of the mine.


"The regular exploitation of [the site] for more than a millennium … indicates that knowledge about the location of the mine, the properties of its iron oxides, and the techniques required to exploit and process these minerals were transmitted over generations within the Huentelauquen Cultural Complex, thereby consolidating the first mining tradition yet known in America," the researchers write. The find extends "by several millennia the mining sites yet recorded in the Americas."


Before this find, a North American copper mine dated to between 4,500 and 2,600 years ago was the oldest known in the Americas.


Diego Salazar, D. Jackson, J. L. Guendon, H. Salinas, D. Morata, V. Figueroa, G. Manríquez, and V. Castro, "Early Evidence (ca. 12,000 BP) for Iron Oxide Mining on the Pacific Coast of South America." Current Anthropology 52:3 (June 2011). The issue is scheduled to publish online later this week.


Current Anthropology is a transnational journal devoted to research on humankind, encompassing the full range of anthropological scholarship on human cultures and on the human and other primate species. Communicating across the subfields, the journal features papers in a wide variety of areas, including social, cultural, and physical anthropology as well as ethnology and ethnohistory, archaeology and prehistory, folklore, and linguistics.



Inca success in Peruvian Andes 'thanks to llama dung'

By Caroline Anning

22 May 2011 Last updated at 02:36


BBC News


One of the world's greatest ancient civilisations may have been built on llama droppings, a new study has found.


Machu Picchu, the famous Inca city set in the Peruvian Andes, celebrates the centenary of its "'discovery" by the outside world this July.


Dignitaries will descend on site for a glitzy event in July marking 100 years since US explorer Hiram Bingham came upon the site, but the origins of Machu Picchu were far less glamorous.


According to a study published in archeological review Antiquity, llama droppings provided the basis for the growth of Inca society.


It was the switch from hunter-gathering to agriculture 2,700 years ago that first led the Incas to settle and flourish in the Cuzco area where Machu Picchu sits, according to the study's author Alex Chepstow-Lusty.


Mr Chepstow-Lusty, of the French Institute of Andean Studies in Lima, said the development of agriculture and the growing of maize crops is key to the growth of societies.


"Cereals make civilisations," he said.


Mr Chepstow-Lusty has spent years analysing organic deposits in the mud of a small lake, "more of a pond really," called Marcaccocha on the road between the lower-lying jungle and Machu Picchu.


His team found a correlation between the first appearance of maize pollen around 700BC - which showed for the first time that the cereal could be grown at high altitudes - and a spike in the number of mites who feed on animal excrement.


They concluded that the widespread shift to agriculture was only possible with an extra ingredient: organic fertilisers on a vast scale.


In other words, lots of llama droppings.


Llamas were and still are commonly used in the Peruvian Andes to carry goods and provide meat and wool.


Marcaccocha is situated next to an ancient trade route, and llamas transporting goods between the jungle and the mountains would stop to have a drink and "defecate communally".


"This provided fertiliser which was easily collectable as today by the local people for the surrounding field systems," Mr Chepstow-Lusty said.


As the Incas moved from eating wild quinoa to maize, which is higher in calories, their society developed in the Cuzco area.


Some 1,800 years after they first moved from hunter-gathering to agriculture, around 1100AD, a bout of prolonged warmer weather allowed the civilisation to really flourish, leading to the building of large stone settlements like Ollaytaytambo and Machu Picchu.


Today, the Incas are long gone, largely wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. But their descendents, the Quechua, still use llama droppings for fertiliser and cooking fuel.


"The valley is full of indigenous people who follow that way of life from 2,000 years ago," said Mr Chepstow-Lusty.


When the guests arrive in Machu Picchu to celebrate 100 years since Hiram Bingham brought it to the world's notice, they can perhaps thank the humble llama for the sight they see before them.



Early Bronze Age battle site found on German river bank

22 May 2011 Last updated at 07:38

By Neil Bowdler

Science reporter, BBC News


Fractured human remains found on a German river bank could provide the first compelling evidence of a major Bronze Age battle.


Archaeological excavations of the Tollense Valley in northern Germany unearthed fractured skulls, wooden clubs and horse remains dating from around 1200 BC.


The injuries to the skulls suggest face-to-face combat in a battle perhaps fought between warring tribes, say the researchers.


The paper, published in the journal Antiquity, is based primarily on an investigation begun in 2008 of the Tollense Valley site, which involved both ground excavations and surveys of the riverbed by divers.


They found remains of around 100 human bodies, of which eight had lesions to their bones. Most of the bodies, but not all, appeared to be young men.


The injuries included skull damage caused by massive blows or arrowheads, and some of the injuries appear to have been fatal.


One humerus (upper arm) bone contained an arrow head embedded more than 22mm into the bone, while a thigh bone fracture suggests a fall from a horse (horse bones were also found at the site).


The archaeologists also found remains of two wooden clubs, one the shape of a baseball bat and made of ash, the second the shape of a croquet mallet and made of sloe wood.


Dr Harald Lubke of the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Germany said the evidence pointed to a major battle site, perhaps the earliest found to date.


"At the the beginning of the Neolithic, we have finds like Talheim in Germany, where we have evidence of violence, but it doesn't look like this situation in the Tollense Valley where we have many humans there in the riverbed," he told the BBC.


"We have a lot of violence from blunt weapons without any healing traces, and we have also evidence of sharp weapons. There are a lot of signs that this happened immediately before the victims died and the bodies are not buried in the normal way."


The archaeologists found no pottery, ornaments or paved surfaces which might be suggestive of formal graves or burial rituals.


Many of the bones appear to have been transported some distance by the river, although some finds appear to be in their original position.


The researchers suggest the bodies may have been dumped in the river before being washed away and deposited on a sandbar. Alternatively, the dead could have been killed on the spot in "the swampy valley environment", the paper concludes.


Dr Lubke believes the real conflict may have been fought out further up the river, and that the bodies so far found represent just a fraction of the carnage wrought by the battle.


"This is only a sample, what we have found up until now - the modern river bed only cuts across part of the river bed of that time. There are likely to be many more remains.


"It's absolutely necessary to find the place were the bodies came into the water and that will explain if it really was a battle or something else, such as an offering, but we believe that a fight is the best explanation at the moment."


Evidence was also found among the human remains of a millet diet, which is not typical of Northern Germany at the time, which the researchers say may betray the presence of invaders.


While bronze pins of a Silesian design could suggest contact with the Silesian region 400km to the south-east, they say.



Bulgarian Archaeologists Uncover Sanctuary of Greek Goddess Demeter

May 17, 2011, Tuesday


A temple of Ancient Greek goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone has been discovered by a team of Bulgarian archaeologists near the town of Sozopol on the Black Sea.


The archaeological team of Prof. Krastina Panayotova found the Ancient Greek temple Tuesday during excavations on the Skamniy Cape where the archaeologists are exploring a fortress wall and a church that were part of a Byzantine imperial monastery.


Panayotova explained that the figurines and ceramics found in a concentrated spot are clear evidence of the cult for Demeter and Persephone.


"We have come across pieces before but this time the finding is concentrated in one location, in the wall of the tower that was built above it. It is connected with the cult for Demeter and Persephone. As there is a church here, we naturally expected a sanctuary from the Antiquity period," the archaeologist explained as cited by Focus.


The sanctuary is near the monastery complex "St. Apostles and 20 000 Martyrs" built in the first half of the 14th century by Anastasios Palaiologos, brother of the Byzantine Emperor.


Sozopol, whose name as an Ancient Greek colony was Apollonia, was a traditional Byzantine stronghold during the Middle Ages even though its hinterland was in Bulgarian hands. The town itself was conquered by the First Bulgarian Empire under Khan Krum in 812 AD but was later recaptured by Byzantium.


Sozopol was conquered by the Ottoman Turkish Empire only in 1459, six years after the fall of Constantinople; Bulgarian archaeologists have found evidence that the monastery "St. Apostles and 20 000 Martyrs" was set on fire and the town was ravaged during the invasion.


Sozopol appears to be one of the earliest centers of Christiniaty as in 2010 Bulgarian archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov found relics of St. John the Baptist on the St. Ivan island near the town.



Archaeology Volunteers uncover “lost” Castle

A castle that was once one of the most important buildings in the North Pennines and the gateway to the Bishop of Durham’s great deer park of Stanhope, is now revealing its secrets after centuries as a forgotten ruin.


Fifty volunteers from the North Pennines AONB Partnership’s Altogether Archaeology and backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage are busy uncovering the ruins of Westgate Castle in Weardale.


From the 13th until the early 17th century, Westgate Castle served as the ‘west gate’ into the Bishop of Durham’s great deer park, and functioned as an administrative headquarters for the Bishop’s extensive estate encompassing the Old Forest of Weardale.


By the mid 17th century it lay in ruins and its masonry was quarried for new buildings.


Paul Frodsham, the North Pennines AONB Partnership’s Historic Environment Officer said: “Today, nothing of its masonry survives above ground, but recent geophysical survey suggests that substantial walls survive buried below the surface. We’re not aiming to excavate the entire site, but just to uncover a sample of what survives in order to help inform plans for its future”.


Paul Frodsham added, “People often think archaeology is only something they read about in books or watch the experts do on TV. With the AONB Partnership’s Altogether Archaeology project, they can get out and try it themselves with appropriate professional training and supervision. The enthusiasm and commitment of local volunteers has been wonderful, and we hope to complete many more interesting projects in addition to Westgate Castle.”


Most of the volunteers are North Pennines residents, but some are from further afield. Samantha Angel, an archaeology undergraduate at the University of Central Florida said: “I heard about the Altogether Archaeology project from a relative and as I was in England this week I just had to sign up for the Westgate dig. I hope to work in Egypt, but wherever in the world my archaeological career takes me in future I will always remember that my first dig was at Westgate Castle

in England’s North Pennines!”


One of the most exciting discoveries was a set of steps leading down into the past.  Discovered near the end of the present excavations, this provides a tantalising and exciting find that can be investigated further in future work on the site.


Ian Reedman of Cowshill, who has taken part in several Altogether Archaeology modules, thinks it is fantastic that local people are being given training in how to do different types of archaeological fieldwork: “I’ve learnt about aerial photography, geophysical survey, landscape survey, documentary survey and excavation, and applying these new-found skills to studying the North Pennines is absolutely fantastic.


“Excavating structures and finds that have lain buried here at Westgate for 800 years is an exhilarating experience that I would recommend to anyone. I am coming to realise that archaeology is everywhere around us, just waiting for us to discover it. “


The Westgate excavations are directed by Trix Randerson of Archaeological Services Durham University, who says: “It is great for the University to be helping local communities uncover their heritage. I am very glad to have the chance to help the volunteers develop their fieldwork skills that I hope they will use on many more future projects throughout the North Pennines.”


 The Westgate excavations ended on Saturday 14 May, after which the ruins will be reburied. Paul Frodsham said: “It’s always a shame when ruins have to be reburied after so much hard work has gone into their excavation, but this project is teaching us a great deal about this very important site, and hopefully we will be able to do more work here in future.


“One thing is certain, local residents should be left in no doubt that although it may not appear spectacular today, 800 years ago this was probably the single most important building in the whole of Weardale.”



Unearthing the Crossrail skeletons

Tom Edwards | 11:59 UK time, Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Yesterday I was given exclusive access to the preparation work that's going on for the Crossrail tunnelling.


Millions of pounds are being spent on archaeological and geological surveys across the capital and they're coming up with some striking findings.


The archaeologists are currently working outside Liverpool Street Station.


Behind some metal hoardings - yards away from the 205 bus route - they've been digging trenches where Crossrail's ticket hall will be.


Here they've found a burial site close to the St Bethlehem hospital - which was the world's first and oldest institution to specialise in mental illnesses. I'm told it's where the word "bedlam" originates.


On the map here it's called "Bethlehem Church Yard"


There could be hundreds, if not thousands, of skeletons under the road. Slowly with trowels, the archaeologists are uncovering them.


We clearly saw three skeletons twisted and distorted after hundreds of years underground.


The archaeologists think this is a significant site and will be able to tell us a lot about how people lived (and died).


Many of the artefacts will end up in the Museum of London - other bodies will be exhumed to another site.


What's particularly striking, I thought, was this is archaeology done in difficult and demanding circumstances on a busy road surrounded by buildings.


The archaeologists have traffic management problems as it sits in the middle of Liverpool Street. They also have to avoid many pipes and cables from the utility companies.


It's not easy archaeology and is miles away from the stuff you sometimes see on TV. This is known as commercial archaeology.


It is happening at 20 sites along the route and it has to be completed as part of the planning regulations.


Underneath the Astoria nightclub (RIP), they found an old Crosse & Blackwell vault - perfectly sealed with jars still on the shelves.


These sites, by law, all have to be checked to make sure there is nothing of archaeological importance that will be destroyed. Only then will the construction begin.


I was also allowed into a warehouse in Silvertown full of boxes of soil.


Over a thousand boreholes have been drilled along the Crossrail route and each "core" is being examined here.


This is the largest geological survey that's ever taken place in the capital. And it's mapping the fault-lines and different soil types under the ground.


They want to reduce ground movement and make the Crossrail tunnelling as risk-free as possible.


Which soil they find will influence which type of construction they'll use underground.


So the actual tunnelling in central London may be years away, but plenty of work is already being done to prepare the way.



Dig finds Jewish ritual bath

Thursday, May 19, 2011





Archaeologists peeling back layers of history beneath a historic synagogue in Baltimore have uncovered what is believed to be the oldest Jewish ritual bath complex in the United States.


Hints of the presence of the 1845 bath, or "mikvah," were first detected during excavations in the Lloyd Street Synagogue in 2001. But further digging last winter has revealed about a quarter of a 5-foot-deep wooden tub, and linked it to a related cistern found in 2008, and to remains of a brick hearth once used to warm the bath's water.


"The idea of a ritual bath complex helps fill out the history of Jewish religious practice in this country," said Avi Decter, executive director of the Jewish Museum of Maryland, of which the old Lloyd Street Synagogue is now a part. "This is a very ancient practice, going back thousands of years."


The 1845 mikvah is just a few feet from a pair of more modern, tile-lined baths, built and used by the Shomrei Misheres Orthodox congregation that used the building after 1905.


The Lloyd Street archaeological excavations are being led by Esther Doyle Read, a lecturer in ancient studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and her students. They are funded by the museum, the Maryland Historical Trust and the university.


Read said mikvahs were a central part of Jewish life at the time, where men came for ritual purification before Friday prayers, women came for ritual cleansing after their monthly periods and converts were purified before entering the faith.


"It was a very busy place for this small community of German immigrants," Read said.


Barred by Maryland law from incorporating and owning property until 1828, she said, Jewish congregations would typically meet in private homes, where they would build their mikvah in the basement.


The mikvah excavated this winter appears to have been one of those.


No mikvahs have been found at any older synagogue in the United States.


When the congregation expanded its synagogue to the rear in 1860, it tore down the old mikvah house, filled in the bath and buried it beneath their new addition. The dig has turned up a wealth of artifacts in the fill dirt — broken wine bottles, crockery, buttons and other domestic items — none dating later than 1860.


The current excavations are taking place beneath what is now the basement floor of the 1860 addition. Read and her students first uncovered a corner of the mikvah there in 2001.


"We found an area that had wood in it that began to drop rapidly below the level of the basement floor," Read recalled. Suspecting what the wood might represent, she halted the dig. She needed to consult with the museum and with experts in wood preservation.


Similar mikvah complexes have been found in Germany and the Netherlands dating back at least to the 1500s, Read said. "The first congregation here was German, and they brought that cultural template to America."


She said it's not known where the Lloyd Street congregation built its new ritual bath complex after the 1860 expansion buried the old one. They later sold the building to St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, a congregation of Lithuanian immigrants. The Catholics later sold it to the Shomrei Misheres congregation, who built the two surviving tile mikvahs.


"Only in America," Decter said. "In Europe, Jewish and Christian congregations did not exchange buildings. But here in the United States, we take over each other's buildings regularly. … It's a very powerful story for us."