Site hints at Asian roots for human genus

New finds in Caucasus suggest non-African origin for ancient Homo species

By Bruce Bower Web edition : Monday, June 6th, 2011    Text Size


Early members of the genus Homo, possibly direct ancestors of people today, may have evolved in Asia and then gone to Africa, not vice versa as many scientists have assumed.


Most paleoanthropologists have favored an African origin for the potential human ancestor Homo erectus. But new evidence shows the species occupied a West Asian site called Dmanisi from 1.85 million to 1.77 million years ago, at the same time or slightly before the earliest evidence of this humanlike species in Africa, say geologist Reid Ferring of the University of North Texas in Denton and his colleagues.


The new Dmanisi discoveries point to an Asian homeland for H. erectus, the scientists propose online June 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


“Dmanisi was occupied repeatedly for roughly 80,000 years and supported a population that was well established and probably quite mobile,” Ferring says.


Evidence remains meager for the geographic origins of the Homo genus, says anthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Several scenarios of Homo evolution are possible, and it’s possible that humankind’s genus got its start in Asia with H. erectus.


Researchers have abandoned the long-standing view that a small-brained hominid from East Africa known as Homo habilis, which first appeared about 2.4 million years ago, evolved into H. erectus. Recent fossil finds showing that the two species coexisted in East Africa for several hundred thousand years have undermined that assumption. Ferring’s team suspects that an as-yet-unidentified African hominid reached Asia before 1.85 million years ago and evolved into H. erectus.


With the new Dmanisi dates, “it certainly looks as though the African origin of H. erectus must be reconsidered,” remarks Harvard University anthropologist Philip Rightmire.


Wood regards H. habilis fossils as apelike enough to be reclassified as part of the Australopithecus lineage, which includes a more than 3-million-year-old species represented by a partial skeleton known as Lucy. Other researchers, though, champion 2-million-year-old Australopithecus fossils from South Africa as direct precursors of Homo (SN: 5/7/11, p. 16).


The new Dmanisi discoveries come from just beneath soil that previously yielded 1.77-million-year-old H. erectus fossils, including skulls with surprisingly small brain cases suggestive of an early form of the species (SN: 9/22/07, p. 179). Excavations produced 73 stone tools for cutting and chopping, as well as 34 bone fragments from unidentified creatures. The artifacts came from a series of H. erectus camps at Dmanisi between 1.85 and 1.78 million years ago, the scientists say.


Measurements of reversals in Earth’s magnetic field and of the rate of decay of the element argon in a series of volcanic ash layers provided age estimates for the new finds.



'Incredibly exciting' rare pre-Ice Age handaxe discovered on Orkney

A Palaeolithic handaxe has been found by a local walker on an Orkney beach.

07 June 2011 17:05 GMT


An “incredibly rare" pre-Ice Age handaxe which may have been used to kill woolly mammoths, has been found on an Orkney beach.


The Palaeolithic - or Old Stone Age - tool, which could be anything between 100,000 and 450,000 years old, is one of only ten ever to be found in Scotland. The axe, which was found on a stretch of shore in St Ola by a local man walking along the beach, is the oldest man-made artefact ever found in Orkney.


The stone tool, which is around five-and-a-half inches long, has been broken, and originally would have tapered to a point opposite the cutting edge, but at some point in time, the point broke off and someone reworked the flint to its present straight edge.


Orkney-based archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones, who has studied the axe, described its discovery as "incredibly exciting".


Ms Wickham-Jones, who a lecturer in archaeology at Aberdeen University, said: "This axe is definitely older than 100,000 years - so old it's become geology.


"It was made and used an incredibly long time ago - pre-Ice Age - and whoever made it would have been familiar with animals long since extinct - the woolly mammoth, for example.


“I find that really mind-blowing.


"If it really comes from Orkney, it would change our understanding of the whole of Scotland. It would set back our known history from 14,000 years ago to at least 100,000 years ago.


"The problem is that we cannot tell if it in fact is from Orkney or Scotland. As it was found on a beach, without anything else from that era, there are several options on how it got here.


"It might have been ballast of a sailing ship --which could have come from anywhere and which could have dropped it here last week, or 200 years ago.”


“As Britain wasn't an island at that time - nor were the Orkneys - and the conditions in Scotland were much the same as anywhere else, I find it very likely that people were living here.


"The problem is that glaciers of the later ice-age have changed the Scottish landscape and therefore it is much harder to find any proof of their existence here than it is for instance in England, which wasn't covered in ice.


"I don't think the axe is made on the islands as there is not enough flint here to produce such a big block of stone. But it would be possible that they had taken with them from somewhere else, or traded it with other people.


“That would explain why it was reworked after it was broken.


"I fear we're never going to be able to give the definite answer to this question, but it is absolutely worth doing more research on it.


"A site visit will be first on the agenda.”


Julie Gibson, County Archaeologist for Orkney, said she had never expected to find "such an incredible thing" in Orkney.


She said: "As it was found by itself on a beach, we have to remain sceptical. We cannot just assume it was dropped by a local guy following a mammoth.


"There is always a corner of doubt - just because we don't have any proof of Stone-Age people living here, it doesn't mean they didn't.


"We're definitely going to take a careful look at the shore bank to see if we can find any proof that the axe could be made and used here."


The Palaeolithic - or Old Stone Age - started about 2.6 million years ago and lasted till the end of the Pleistocene around 10,000 BCE.


It is a long period of tiem in which hunter-gatherers gradually evolved from early members of the genus Homo such as Homo habilis - who used simple stone tools - into fully behaviourally and anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens).


In Britain, the earliest evidence of human activity dates from about 700,000 years ago. The earliest proof of people in Scotland dates from 14,000 years ago.



The axeman cometh 450,000 years ago

Published Date: 08 June 2011

By John Ross


WHEN Alan Price found himself with an hour to spare he decided to walk along the beach looking for the semi-precious stones which are often washed ashore.

Instead, he stumbled upon an ancient axe which could be up to 450,000 years old and may change our understanding of Scottish history.


The 14cm-long flint axe discovered on the shore at St Ola in Orkney was described as "incredibly exciting" by Caroline Wickham-Jones, a lecturer in archaeology for the University of Aberdeen.


She believes the flint axe dates from the Palaeolithic period, or Old Stone Age, of prehistory and could be anything between 100,000 and 450,000 years old.


Palaeolithic axes are incredibly rare, with fewer than ten being found in Scotland.


Mr Price, 62, a full-time carer with a keen interest in archaeology, recognised his find as an axe head but was astonished to learn how old it was.


"I put my van in for a MOT and had an hour to spare so I thought I'd take a walk along the shore," he said. "It was just lying there among the gravel. I was actually looking for small, red agates which I used to find there years ago.


"I couldn't believe what I saw. I knew it was an axe but I didn't know it was palaeolithic. I'm interested in archaeology and have an eye for it. I've found things in the past like bits of pottery, but this is definitely the most significant discovery.


• Background: Harsh and brutal world of early man


"It's very rare in Scotland and has great historic value. It was really nice to see the response of Julie Gibson - the archaeologist I took it to. It then struck me that it might really be a really significant find."


The axe has been broken and originally would have tapered to a point opposite the cutting edge. But at some stage the point broke off and someone reworked the flint to its present straight edge.


Ms Wickham-Jones said: "This axe is definitely older than 100,000 years - so old it's become geology. Whoever made it would have been familiar with animals long since extinct - the woolly mammoth, for example. I find that really mind-blowing.


"If it really comes from Orkney, it would change our understanding of the whole of Scotland. It would set back our known history from 14,000 years ago to at least 100,000 years ago."



Ancient Farmers Started the First 'Green Revolution'

by Michael Balter on 7 June 2011


The 1960s marked a turning point for agriculture in Asia: that's when plant breeders launched a "green revolution" in rice production, selecting variants of a single gene that boosted yields across the continent. A new study finds that prehistoric farmers were revolutionaries, too. They apparently harnessed that same gene when they first domesticated rice as early as 10,000 years ago.


The history of rice farming is very complex, but the basic facts are well established. All of today's domesticated rice belongs to the species Oryza sativa, which descends from the wild ancestor Oryza rufipogon. O. sativa has two major subspecies, japonica (short-grain rice grown mostly in Japan) and indica (long-grain rice grown mostly in India, Southeast Asia, and southern China).


During the 1960s, plant breeders working in Asia greatly increased rice yields by selecting for mutations in a gene called semi-dwarf1 (SD1), which shrinks the length of the plant's stem. Dwarf plants require less energy and nutrients, raising the number of rice grains that can be harvested, and they are also less vulnerable to being knocked over by storms, which can decimate rice fields.


To see what role SD1 might have played during the early domestication of rice, a team led by plant geneticist Makoto Matsuoka of Nagoya University in Japan examined the evolutionary history of mutations in this gene that could be associated with shorter stem length. The enzyme produced by SD1 is known to control a biochemical pathway that promotes growth in the stems and leaves of the rice plant, so the team measured the effects of different SD1 mutations by introducing genes with those mutations into bacteria and seeing how much enzyme was produced.


Matsuoka and his colleagues identified an ancient mutation called SD1-EQ that was closely associated with shorter stem length. And while this mutation was found in japonica and to a lesser extent in indica varieties, it did not appear in the wild ancestor O. rufipogon. This suggested that SD1-EQ might have been selected for during the domestication of rice.


For further evidence, the team looked at the variability of genes that lie adjacent to SD1 in the genome, in 16 varieties of japonica, 15 varieties of indica, and 16 varieties of O. rufipogon. Usually, when genes have been favored by selection, neighboring genes show much less variation among different individuals. The team found that genetic diversity around the SD1 gene in japonica was only 2% of that in O. rufipogon—suggesting that a variant of SD1 in fact had been selected in ancient times. The SD1 region in indica, however, still had 75% of the diversity of the wild ancestor.


In its report online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Matsuoka and his colleagues conclude that the stem-shortening mutation SD1-EQ arose during prehistoric times in japonica, when the plant was first being domesticated. They suggest that japonica and indica each evolved from O. rufipogon long before rice domestication began and then were independently domesticated in different regions. Later, the SD1-EQ mutation found its way into indica plants, perhaps through crossbreeding of the two subspecies.


The findings fit well with the archaeological record of early rice production, particularly in northern China, says archaeobotanist Dorian Fuller of University College London. Wild rice, Fuller points out, is a plant that prefers large bodies of standing water. "It produces extremely tall, long [stems] in order to grow in deeper water." But the earliest rice farmers cultivated the plants at the margins of wetlands, where the water was not as deep. In doing so, they might have unconsciously selected for shorter plants, Fuller says.


Early farmers might have also consciously cultivated shorter plants, given their greater yield and ability to survive storms, adds Susan McCouch, a plant geneticist at Cornell University. This deliberate selection of dwarf plants, McCouch says, in effect led to genetic selection for the SD1-EQ gene by farmers who had no knowledge of modern genetics.



Broken idols of Keros: British archaeologists explain Greek mystery

Cambridge scientists dig up evidence of beautiful marble figurines broken then buried by Greeks 4,500 years ago

Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The Guardian,

Friday 10 June 2011


To say it has been an archaeological mystery may be an understatement: why are fragments of beautiful but deliberately smashed bronze age figurines buried in shallow pits on a small, rocky Greek island whose main inhabitants have always been goats?


Today, academics at Cambridge University will release findings that shed light on the 4,500-year-old puzzle of Keros, a tiny Cycladic island in the Aegean.


It appears Keros was the ceremonial destination for a ritual that involved islanders breaking prized possessions and making a pilgrimage with fragments for burial.


"It is rather remarkable," said Professor Colin Renfrew, who led the most recent excavations.


"We believe that the breaking of statues and other goods was a ritual and that Keros was chosen as a sanctuary to preserve the effects."


The Keros story began in 1963 with Renfrew himself. Then a long-haired research student – he is now Lord Renfrew – he stepped off a caïque boat on to the island (human population: two goatherders) after being tipped off about a site of archaeological interest.


"I was amazed to find fragments of marble bowls and marble figurines," said Renfrew. The fragments were of a type of sculpture found across the Cyclades, examples of which can be seen in the British Museum and have inspired artists including Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore.


The Keros sculptures were almost all broken. Archaeologists found thousands of marble vessel fragments and hundreds of figurine body parts, such as a pair of thighs, a folded arm or an elongated foot.


The matter rested there until 1987 when Renfrew, by now the Disney professor of archaeology at Cambridge, returned to Keros to begin more serious excavation.


That led him to the discovery that the breakages were not the result of careless looting. "It became clear that this was a very strange site."


In 2006 Renfrew found an unlooted site of buried broken figurines and the remains of a settlement on an islet about 100 metres away, Dhaskalio.


There the team found evidence of a kind of bronze age guesthouse where visiting villagers would have congregated on their pilgrimage.


Geological examinations showed it was built from imported marble rather than the flaky local limestone.


The team had found – from around the same time the Pyramids were being built – evidence of huge amounts of marble being transported across the sea to build Dhaskalio.


Renfrew's theory is that Cycladic villagers would have used the figurines and bowls in a ritualistic way, perhaps carrying them in processions as icons are carried in Greek villages today.


"After they had been used for some time, perhaps decades, the time would come that it would go out of use," he said. So they were broken and fragments taken to "one remarkable ritual centre".


Renfrew said it was likely that the islanders would go to Keros at regular intervals, in much the same way that the ancient Greeks held the Olympics every four years.


"No doubt it was a ceremony of renewal – a new generation of icons being used and a new generation of people growing up."


The evidence suggests fragments were ritualistically deposited on Keros for about 400-500 years, until around 2000BC.


Renfrew said there were still many more puzzles at Keros and Dhaskalio to be answered. The latest research will be published as a basis for further investigations.



Ancient Settlement discovered in the Ethiopian Highlands

Monday, June 6, 2011


An ancient settlement has been discovered in the Ethiopian highlands using non invasive geophysical surveys. This discovery will help tell the story of ancient indigenous cultures in the Horn of Africa and their exchange with nearby civilizations.


In early May, Jorg Fassbinder from the Geophysics Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) in Munich and his colleague Margaret Schlosser of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) began a joint project.


Together, they surveyed the ground of a suspected settlement in the north-western Ethiopian highland region of Tigray, home to the town of Yeha which was believed to be a major centre of the Diamat Kingdom established around 700 BCE.


The team used a magnetometer to detect local anomalies in the geomagnetic field which could be indications of hidden objects beneath the subsurface including structural walls, graves, hearths and refuse pits. Such technology has been used only rarely in countries near the Equator, as the magnetic field lines here run parallel to the Earth’s surface making it difficult to identify buried archaeological structures. Magnetometers are particularly useful, however, as non-evasive, non-destructive tools.


“The new evaluation method developed by Fassbinder’s research team was successful,” said the on-sight excavation director Pawel Wolf. “With the first test excavations, stone walls, burial sites and local waste items like animal bones and pottery shards were found dating back to different eras. Among them were also ceramic shards with characteristics from the Ethio-Sabaean Period dating back to the first millennium BCE.”


In 2008, Ethiopian archaeologists made the astonishing discovery of a perfectly preserved sacrificial altar in neighbouring Meqaber Ga’ewa, a previously unknown location near the city of Wuqro. The altar bore a remarkable royal inscription in Old South Arabian bearing the name Yeha.


In 2008, Ethiopian archaeologists made the astonishing discovery of a perfectly preserved sacrificial altar in neighbouring Meqaber Ga’ewa

According to Kebede Amare, head of the Tigray Cultural Department, this is the southernmost find believed to belong to the Diamat Kingdom. Located in present day Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, the civilization had sophisticated irrigation plans, made use of ploughs, grew millet and made iron tools and weapons.


Of particular importance to researchers, is whether the kingdom was comprised of indigenous peoples or a mix of indigenous peoples with the ancient Sabaeans who came to dominate the Red Sea.


Since very little archaeological research has been done on the Diamat Kingdom, the discovery of the royal inscription takes on special importance. According to Norbert Nebes of the University of Jena, the royal inscription is the first such recorded evidence of the ancient town of Yeha.


Since 2008, DAI archaeologists have excavated not only a temple dedicated to the Sabaean moon god Almaqah in Meqaber Ga’ewa, they have discovered additional sites of a previously unknown settlement from this important historical period. In Ziban Adi, one of the most promising sites uncovered, they excavated the foundation walls of another sanctuary atop a 3-metre high hill of ruins in 2010.


Countless pottery shards found in the surrounding grain fields suggest an intensive settlement was located around the ancient religious building. For the archaeologists, who are concerned not only with the cultural influence of the South Arabian Kingdom of Saba in the Horn of Africa, but in the study of indigenous African cultures, the settlement’s discovery raises high hopes that the remains of a town from this period will eventually be discovered. Thus far, only a few archaeological sites are known.


This research is part of the German-Ethiopian scientific cooperation between the DAI’s Orient Department, the Tigray Cultural Agency and the University of Jena. The geophysical measurements are based on cooperation between the DAI and the LMU München.




Markings in red paint found within the Great Pyramid by a camera-toting robot are likely numerals used by builders.

By Rossella Lorenzi

Tue Jun 7, 2011 12:19 PM




Mysterious hieroglyphs written in red paint on the floor of a hidden chamber in Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza are just numbers, according to a mathematical analysis of the 4,500-year-old mausoleum.


Shown to the world last month, when the first report of a robot exploration of the Great Pyramid was published in the Annales du Service Des Antiquities de l'Egypte (ASAE), the images revealed features that have not been seen by human eyes since the construction of the monument.


Researchers were particularly intrigued by three red ochre figures painted on the floor of a hidden chamber at the end of a tunnel deep inside the pyramid.


"There are many unanswered questions that these images raise," Rob Richardson, the engineer who designed the robot at the University of Leeds, told Discovery News. "Why is there writing in this space? What does the writing say? There appears to be a masonry cutting mark next to the figures: why was it not cut along this line?" Richardson wondered.


Luca Miatello, an independent researcher who specializes on ancient Egyptian mathematics, believes he has some answers.


"The markings are hieratic numerical signs. They read from right to left, meaning 100, 20, 1. The builders simply recorded the total length of the shaft: 121 cubits," Miatello told Discovery News.


The royal cubit, the ancient Egyptian unit of measurement used in the construction of the pyramid, was between 52.3 and 52.5 cm (20.6 to 20.64 inches) in length, and was subdivided into seven palms of four digits (four fingers) each, making it a 28-part measure.


According to Miatello, who has written about the pyramid's numerical patterns in the journal Ankh, and also more recently in PalArch's Journal of Archaeology of Egypt/Egyptology, multiples of 7, 9 and 11 cubits occur frequently in the design of the Great Pyramid.


Built for the pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu, the Great Pyramid is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo and has long been rumored to have hidden passageways leading to secret chambers.Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of four narrow shafts deep inside the pyramid since they were first discovered in 1872.


Two shafts, extend from the upper, or "King's Chamber" and exit into open air.


But the lower two, one on the south side and one on the north side in the so-called "Queen's Chamber" disappear within the structures, deepening the pyramid mystery.


Robots have previously explored and sent back pictures from these 8-inch-square shafts, indicating that both shafts are blocked by a stone door. These stones are approximately equidistant (63.6 meters) from the Queen’s Chamber.


The new robot, named Djedi after the magician who Khufu consulted when planning the layout of this pyramid, has gone further than anyone has ever been before in the monument.


The project, led by Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs, began with the exploration of the southern shaft of the Queen's Chamber.


The robot was able to climb inside the walls of the shaft while carrying a bendy camera, small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone door at the end of the tunnel.


This gave researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond. It was at that time that the micro snake camera sent back images of 4,500-year-old markings.


"The floor of the chamber has a red ochre mason's line running parallel to the shaft from just beyond the rear of the first blocking stone to the second blocking stone," Hawass and colleagues write in ASAE.


"There is also a black mark where the red line meets the second blocking stone. To the right of, and at approximately 45 degrees to the red line are three red ochre figures," they added.


According to Miatello, the red markings and figures were made by the workers during the pyramid construction.


"Precise mathematical rules were followed in the design of the pyramid's tunnels," Miatello said.


"We have considered several interpretations of the painted figures, including the possibility that they record the length of the shaft. Our strategy is to keep an open mind and only draw conclusions when we have completed our work. However, if this really is a written measurement of the shaft length then it's very exciting," project mission manager Shaun Whitehead, of the exploration company Scoutek UK, told Discovery News.


Hawass and colleagues agree that the markings are mason's marks or hieratic characters.


"The two main figures are similar to the hieratic number 21," they write in their report.


According to James P. Allen, a Wilbour Professor of Egyptology and Chair of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies at Brown University, the figures can indeed show the numbers indicated by Miatello.


"The signs are not easy to read, but Dr. Miatello's reading is entirely plausible," Allen, author of "The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Writings from the Ancient World" and a leading expert on hieroglyphics, told Discovery News.


The Djedi project researchers expect to carry additional analysis of the red ochre markings in August, when the robot, equipped with a higher resolution bendy camera will return to the pyramid for further surveys.



'Spectacular' archaeological site provides details of ancient life

11:44 a.m., June 7, 2011


For almost two decades, archaeologist Steven Sidebotham has been uncovering—literally, layer by layer—the secrets of an ancient, multicultural Egyptian city that reveals a new chapter of its story each time he visits.


This year, for example, the UD history professor's archaeological dig at the Red Sea port city of Berenike found a pet cemetery containing the remains of 17 dogs and cats, ship timbers and other sailing artifacts from the harbor area and a trove of objects from an early Roman trash dump.


"This is an amazing, huge site with excellent preservation" because of the desert climate, Sidebotham said. "We've probably covered about 2 percent of the surface, so there are still several lifetimes' worth of work to be done. We'll never be finished with it."


The project began in 1994 and has survived government upheavals, administrative delays, changing international partnerships and even this year's political turmoil that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Operating on a shoestring budget that often includes infusions of his own money, Sidebotham and his colleagues have documented a thriving culture that existed in the city for some 800 years, beginning around the 3rd century B.C.


"This project is not just my research; it's my life," Sidebotham said. He writes annual field reports detailing his findings and has authored or co-authored several books, the most recent of which is Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route, published in January by the University of California Press. In 2008, the Discovery Channel featured his work in the documentary "When Rome Ruled Egypt."


On the edge of Egypt's eastern desert, known to natives as "the red land," Berenike thrived as a trading port for goods from Europe, Asia and southern Arabia. Sidebotham's digs have turned up such varied items as Indian-made pottery and beads, a figurine of Venus, timbers made of cedar from Lebanon, a clay jar containing decorative silver pieces, Roman glass, sapphires and other gems, a mother-of-pearl cross and sliver of Turkish marble used as veneer for walls. One large jar found embedded in the courtyard floor of a temple contained nearly 17 pounds of black peppercorns, which had been imported from India in the first century.


In addition to such objects, the project also has yielded much information about life in and around the city, Sidebotham said. Findings include elephant teeth and what was likely a holding pen for the animals used as ancient military vehicles, artifacts from several religions and a variety of deities and evidence of 12 different written languages including one that is as yet unidentified.


Writings on scraps of papyrus have yielded everything from a personal letter to a bill of sale for a donkey. And human remains indicate that the city was home to people of all ages as well as backgrounds.


"Berenike was a very cosmopolitan place where people—men, women and children, many of whose names and ethnic and social statuses we have discovered—lived, worked and perished," Sidebotham writes in his latest report summarizing work at the site this January and February.


"It was a cultural melting pot where the common interest was making a great deal of money from the lucrative trade…that passed both ways through the emporium."


Sidebotham, who has been hooked on archaeology since he was a high school "Army brat" living in Turkey and was able to see ancient ruins just a short drive from where his teachers were talking about them in class, has been digging since 1972. He first went to Egypt in 1965, studied at the American University in Cairo from 1969-71 and first excavated in Egypt in 1980.


His work at Berenike began as a joint project between UD and Leiden University in the Netherlands. When his co-director moved to UCLA, that institution partnered with Delaware. The project was suspended from 2002-2008 due to political and military situations in Egypt but now has resumed for three seasons in a partnership with the University of Warsaw's Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology.


Tight budgets mean that less time and manpower is now available, Sidebotham said, but he noted that the past three years have had "really spectacular" results that he has every intention of continuing.


"Digging is not like doing a lab experiment, where you can do it over and over," he said. "You get one chance to do it, and it's important to do it right."


Article by Ann Manser



Stone circle found by amateur archaeologists on Ilkley Moor

10 June 2011


Amateur archaeologists are celebrating discovering another prehistoric stone circle on Wharfedale's moors. The identification of the previously undocumented cairn on Ilkley Moor (West Yorkshire, England) marks the latest in a series of signficant finds made by a small team of local volunteers over the past year.

     Paul Bennett, Michala Douglas and Paul Hornby stumbled upon the circle, which they believe is an ancient burial site, along with another smaller monument while searching the moor earlier this year. It follows previous discoveries by the group and their friends, which included the finding of a large tomb and several other cairns at Snowden Crags and Askwith Moor in 2010.

     "The circle is upon Ilkley Moor, though we want to keep its exact location quiet until we've done more work on the site, which is going to take months. This is the third previously undiscovered, prehistoric circular monument we've found on the moors north and south of Ilkley in the last few months" Mr Bennett said. "This one seems to be another burial circle. Its edges are defined by at least 25 small stones, but a very minor, non-intrusive excavation seemed to indicate that there are numerous smaller stones all round the edge, making it structurally similar to the Snowden Moor cairn circle," he added.

     "There's a cup-marked stone on one of the stones on its eastern side. Most of the other stones are buried or just beneath the surface so we need to carefully examine it and see what more can be found. The circle measures roughly 27 feet from north to south, and 24 feet east to west. The site seems to be at least Bronze Age, perhaps earlier," Mr Bennett concluded, criticizing the area's professional archaeologists for being slow to respond to such discoveries or pay them due attention.


Edited from Ilkley Gazette (6 June 2011)



Archaeologists discover skeleton in doctor’s garden

Press release issued 8 June 2011


A skeleton, possibly dating from Roman times, has been unearthed by archaeologists from the University of Bristol during a dig in the garden of vaccination pioneer Dr Edward Jenner in Berkeley, Gloucestershire.


The archaeologists, led by Professor Mark Horton and Dr Stuart Prior, have been excavating part of the garden of The Chantry, the former country home of vaccination pioneer, Dr Edward Jenner (1749-1823), during a series of annual digs since 2007.  They have already established that Berkeley is an important Anglo-Saxon site with a mynster of the same scale and status as Gloucester.

Last week, they uncovered a skeleton believed to date from the Roman or possibly sub-Roman (that is the ‘Dark Ages’) period.  The Roman occupation of Britain ended in 410AD, making this an extremely rare find of great historical significance.


As the skeleton was painstakingly excavated it became clear that it was cut in half by a later ditch.  Roman material was found in this ditch, which could have either been deposited by the Romans themselves or later inhabitants of the area as they were robbing the Roman buildings nearby.


The skeleton is known to be adult but its sex has not yet been determined.  It was found underneath the sealed remains of part of the Anglo-Saxon Mynster, founded in the 8th century.  This latest discovery, however, clearly puts Berkeley on the map as an even earlier religious site than previously thought.


Professor Mark Horton said: “This was a completely unexpected but really important discovery because it fills in the history between the Roman villa that we believe is on the site and the Anglo-Saxon monastery discovered during earlier digs.


“It just goes to show that you never quite know what lies under your feet.  It is unlikely that Dr Jenner was aware of these unexpected neighbours lurking at the bottom of his garden.”


Sarah Parker, Director of Dr Jenner’s House said: “Year on year the archaeology and recorded data that the University of Bristol uncovers from Dr Jenner’s garden never ceases to amaze.  It reinforces the importance of this historic site alongside the Birthplace of Vaccination.  We are very pleased to be working with the university, sharing history being made being with the public.”


One of the expert archaeologists and archaeo-detectorist, Peter Twinn, will be giving a talk about this year’s finds at Dr Jenner’s House in the Old Cyder House, on Thursday 21 July 2011 (7.30pm), entitled Flints, Musket Balls and a Knight’s Tale: Archaeological Finds from Berkeley.



Ancient statue unearthed from silt


Cuttack, June 9


An intricately carved khondolite stone statute of a lion has been recovered from the silt being excavated from the Barabati fort moat.


Labourers engaged in levelling the excavated material, dumped along the banks of the Mahanadi river, spotted the three-feet tall statue, which is believed to be 800 years old. The two wheels, engraved on two sides of the statue, resemble the Konark wheel.


 “I have sought a report from the archaeologists camping at the site. Once we get that, we can form a definite opinion about the find,” said superintending archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), A.K. Patel, adding that the Barabati fort was a monument belonging to the 13th century Ganga dynasty. Patel said similar artefacts had been recovered from the ruins of the fort even in the past.


“We got information that a huge stone statue of a lion was recovered from the silt, which had been excavated from Barabati fort moat and dumped along the Mahanadi riverbed,” said Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC) executive engineer, Ashok Kumar Parida.


According to the CMC officials, the statue was kept under their possession throughout the night and today handed over to officials of the ASI. At present, the statue is at the ASI’s camp office within the Barabati fort area.


The ASI is developing a well laid-out garden on the fort precincts while the CMC is engaged in removal of silt and renovation of the moat encircling the outer perimeter of the fort. The silt removal is being done with the help of machines.


“Nobody had anticipated the recovery of such a statue from the moat, which used to act as a defence against attacks by enemies trying to capture the fort,” said Parida.


At present, seven excavators, 20 trucks, 40 tractors and around 100 labourers are engaged in excavating silt from the moat. Around 70 per cent of the work had been over and the remaining part was expected to be completed soon, Parida said.


Recovery of the statue has enthused historians who believe that more statues and other artefacts could be recovered from the site if the excavation work is done in a more precise manner.


“Usually, recovery of the lion statue could indicate possibility of the existence of a temple because such figures were normally found on the entrance of temples. The ASI should initiate steps for both horizontal and vertical excavation at the site,” said historian Kharabel Mohanty.


The ASI, during the excavations in 1989 at the fort, had recovered more than 300 statues of different kinds and sizes, which were fragments of a temple. The excavation process was completed in 1994.


During another excavation a few years ago, the ASI had recovered skeletal remains of an elephant within the Barabati fort. The ASI officials said that steps would be taken to preserve the statue of the lion in keeping with the guidelines.



The Road to Aqaba: Archaeologists Explore the Great Arab Revolt

A team of archaeologists resurrect the material vestiges of the Great Arab Revolt, that piece of history popularized by public icon T.E. ("Lawrence of Arabia") Lawrence.

April 2011, Cover Stories, Daily News

Sun, Jun 05, 2011


If you are thinking that this has something to do with the revolts that are occurring today across the Arab world, you would be wrong. Aside from the turmoil that is making current headlines about that region of the world, archaeologists are quietly and systematically exploring the pieces and landscape left behind by the events of World War I in the deserts of Jordan. You might recall the cinematic images of Lawrence of Arabia, leading a surprise attack with Arab forces on camel-back into Aqaba and later ambushing Ottoman-controlled trains along the Hejaz railway.  Remember the movie?  For the past five years archaeologists working in Jordan have been showing us that there is more to the war story that defined the context of these events. They will return again in November, 2011, this time to investigate the historic road to Aqaba that T.E. Lawrence and many others took to wrest control of the strategic city from the Ottoman Turks. It was a key element for eventual victory in World War I. Investigations will also include an exploration of Abu al Lissan, the site of a major historic battle between the Hashemite and Ottoman forces.

Through the efforts of a scientific team that includes Dr. Neil Faulkner, Dr. Nicholas Saunders, and David Thorpe of the University of Bristol and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, they hope to uncover the remains and historic landscape context of the road between Ma'an and Aqaba, a strategic route that was heavily contested between British forces and those of the Arab Hashemite forces between June of 1917 and September, 1918.  "We wish to contrast the archaeological imprint here with that already investigated on the railway," reports Faulkner, et. al.  "We also hope to initiate a major oral history project in this more heavily settled region."

In previous seasons, the team had investigated and excavated a variety of locations, including select locations in the area of the famous Hejaz railway route, the course through which the Ottoman forces transported critical supplies to their stronghold southward at Medina. The supply and control of Medina was key to winning the war. It was the embattled Hejaz railway that was the subject of attacks by the irregular, insurgent forces under Prince Feisal of the Hashemites, led in part by T.E. Lawrence, the legendary military intelligence officer who had developed a close bond with Feisal and enjoyed the confidence of British General Allenby. Says Faulkner, et.al., "It has now been established that the high ground around the Hijaz railway was heavily entrenched in 1916-18, and the impression grows of a large-scale counter-insurgency operation in southern Jordan between July 1917 and October 1918 -- testimony to the Arab military effort. It has been established that there is an excellent presence of remains reflecting the character of the Ottoman military occupation in the later stages of the war." 

The Great Arab Revolt is often cited as one of the first examples of the effectiveness of guerilla warfare or tactics on an occupying military power.


The archaeological team also plans to investigate the fortifications and battle site of Abu al Lissan, the site of a major battle between Ottoman and Hashemite forces. Investigations will first involve a survey to determine the archaeological potential of the site, and a preliminary investigation of other fortifications guarding the mountain pass road in the vicinity of the modern-day village associated with the site. 

Because the historic defensive infrastructure in the areas investigated belonged predominantly to the Ottoman forces, most of the artifact and architectural footprints being explored are that of the Ottoman Turks; however, work in 2010, for example, involved surveys of a series of stone alignment complexes near Wuheida that indicated evidence of fire-pits, tents and enclosures identified with Prince Feisal's Northern Army, encamped here from February to September of 1918 about 15 km southwest of Ma'an along the Aqaba road.

"It seems fitting that they [the archaeological team] are looking at and digging up this stuff," remarked one observer of the project. "T.E. Lawrence was himself a practicing field archaeologist at the beginning of his professional life. He dug in the Middle East alongside some big names in the field of archaeology."

T.E. Lawrence worked as an archaeologist in 1911 under D.G. Hogarth and R. Campbell-Thompson of the British Museum at Carchemish in northern Syria, where he first "bit his teeth" in the field. He went on to work with Sir Flinders Petrie at Kafr Ammar in Egypt, and then back to Carchemish with Sir Leonard Woolley (see photo right, Woolley on left, Lawrence on right). He continued to work as an archaeologist until the outbreak of World War I. His most notable archaeological endeavor involved a project with Woolley in 1914, when they were co-opted by the British military to act as a smokescreen for a strategic military survey of the Negev Desert. Although the project, primarily a non-military one, focused on the search for the "Wilderness of Zin" as referenced in the Bible, it also entailed extensive mapping of the Negev area to pinpoint features of strategic relevance such as sources of water. This was important to the British military as they knew that the Negev would need to be crossed by Ottoman forces to attack Egypt and British interests there in the event of war. 

The "Great Arab Revolt Project" is based at the University of Bristol in the U.K.  It is supported by the Department of Antiquities of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, HRH Prince Hassan, the Jordan Museum, the al-Hussein bin Talal University, the Council for British Research in the Levant, and Current World Archaeology Magazine.

More information about the Project and how to participate can be found at http://www.jordan1914-18archaeology.org/.


Introducing the July/August issue of British Archaeology,

available from Friday June 10




Digging for the origins of our modern landscape

Gabor Thomas has been directing major excavations of Anglo-Saxon remains at Bishopstone, East Sussex, and Lyminge, Kent. He compares the results of the two projects, and asks what light they throw on the origins of villages and the English landscape





First sight – our full page photo of a new artefact – features the detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Colored vases, in the UK for the first time. Ai is arguably the world’s most important practising artist, and his controversial use of antiquities is deeply archaeological



A major research project – the largest of its kind anywhere, by far – has opened up radically new perspectives on early Britain. It shows in unprecedented detail how farming and associated new technologies first spread across the British Isles, paving the way for modern times. There are also profound implications for archaeology around the world: radiocarbon analysis is now so precise that events occurring within single generations can be dated, allowing histories to be written when there was no writing.


In details published here for the first time, Alasdair Whittle, Frances Healy and Alex Bayliss argue that farming first reached Britain with small-scale colonisation in the Thames estuary a generation or two before 4000BC. Over the next 200 years the new practices spread across the rest of Britain and Ireland, and hunting-gathering seems to have disappeared as a major way of life. The first monuments were long burial mounds, from at least 3800BC and serving a few dominant families rather than the wider community. Of bigger impact were “causewayed enclosures”. These marked off large areas of land, typically on hilltops, for periodic communal gatherings. They are first seen just before 3700BC in the south-east, and then across most of Britain for a further two centuries. Before the new study, archaeologists had been unable to distinguish when or where these changes occurred as separate events.



Archaeologists in Wiltshire have excavated a huge heap of bones: the remains of at least 25 cattle, five sheep, a pig and a horse, and the left side of an adult man. The butchered animals were buried in 400BC when an existing village was defended with a large bank and ditch. They may represent the funeral of a significant person who added status to the enclosure’s protection – or the man could have come from a competing community, and was buried with the spoils of a raid.



Caunton Properties Ltd would like to build 29 new homes in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. The site is close to a Norman minster, and touches a little known but possibly uniquely significant Roman villa. Will Bowden thinks it is too important to be excavated during a development.



When an amateur archaeologist found ice age animal remains and flint tools in gravel at a Dutch wharf, he showed that preserved beneath the North Sea are remains of great significance for our understanding of early humans in northern Europe. But how could archaeologists hope to study these remains off Norfolk? The sea floor is under 17-33m of water, sand is shaped by the strong currents into 6m high ridges and visibility is notoriously poor. Now an English Heritage-funded project has shown how – and found deposits contemporary with Britain’s first humans.



Matthew Pope reviews a graphic novel set on the edge of the North Sea 10,000 years ago.



Seven great films archaeologists say you should see.



When the Welsh Royal Commission takes to the sky, it finds major ancient monuments below. Toby Driver reflects on a quarter century of aerial reconnaissance and discovery.



In his last editorial, the editor wrote of a “new, people’s archaeology”, a phrase picked up by the Times. Introducing his own slant, James Dixon presents an archaeological view of the recent riots in Bristol.



Exclusive details of the discovery that a mound in the grounds of Marlborough College, Wiltshire, is the exact contemporary of Silbury Hill. It is the second largest mound known from prehistoric Britain, and a major addition to the neolithic landscape that includes the stone circles at Avebury.





* Britain in archaeology

Getting to the bottom of murder stories in Kent and Derbyshire

* Letters

The cost of treasure and the challenge of archives

* Greg Bailey on broadcasting

Greg listens to Farming Today

* My archaeology

David Clarke looks back on a life in Scottish museums

* Science

Sebastian Payne looks at new ways of examining rock art

* Mick’s travels

Mick Aston goes to west Dartmoor

* Books

Hunter-gatherers, modern Britain and Bishopstone

* Briefing

The UK's only archaeological events listing, with exhibition reviews

* CBA correspondent

Don Henson looks at successes and challenges in education

* Spoilheap

Archaeologist David Elkington is not all he seems to be


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