Scientists reveal a first in Ice Age art

Public release date: 21-Jun-2011

Contact: John Gibbons





Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Florida have announced the discovery of a bone fragment, approximately 13,000 years old, in Florida with an incised image of a mammoth or mastodon. This engraving is the oldest and only known example of Ice Age art to depict a proboscidean (the order of animals with trunks) in the Americas. The team's research is published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


The bone was discovered in Vero Beach, Fla. by James Kennedy, an avocational fossil hunter, who collected the bone and later while cleaning the bone, discovered the engraving. Recognizing its potential importance, Kennedy contacted scientists at the University of Florida and the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute and National Museum of Natural History.


"This is an incredibly exciting discovery," said Dennis Stanford, anthropologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and co-author of this research. "There are hundreds of depictions of proboscideans on cave walls and carved into bones in Europe, but none from America—until now."


The engraving is 3 inches long from the top of the head to the tip of the tail, and 1.75 inches tall from the top of the head to the bottom of the right foreleg. The fossil bone is a fragment from a long bone of a large mammal—most likely either a mammoth or mastodon, or less likely a giant sloth. A precise identification was not possible because of the bone's fragmented condition and lack of diagnostic features.


"The results of this investigation are an excellent example of the value of interdisciplinary research and cooperation among scientists," said Barbara Purdy, professor emerita of anthropology at the University of Florida and lead author of the team's research. "There was considerable skepticism expressed about the authenticity of the incising on the bone until it was examined exhaustively by archaeologists, paleontologists, forensic anthropologists, materials science engineers and artists."


One of the main goals for the research team was to investigate the timing of the engraving—was it ancient or was it recently engraved to mimic an example of prehistoric art? It was originally found near a location, known as the Old Vero Site, where human bones were found side-by-side with the bones of extinct Ice Age animals in an excavation from 1913 to 1916. The team examined the elemental composition of the engraved bone and others from the Old Vero Site. They also used optical and electron microscopy, which showed no discontinuity in coloration between the carved grooves and the surrounding material. This indicated that both surfaces aged simultaneously and that the edges of the carving were worn and showed no signs of being carved recently or that the grooves were made with metal tools.


Believed to be genuine, this rare specimen provides evidence that people living in the Americas during the last Ice Age created artistic images of the animals they hunted. The engraving is at least 13,000 years old as this is the date for the last appearance of these animals in eastern North America, and more recent Pre-Columbian people would not have seen a mammoth or mastodon to draw.


The team's research also further validates the findings of geologist Elias Howard Sellards at the Old Vero Site in the early 20th Century. His claims that people were in North America and hunted animals at Vero Beach during the last Ice Age have been disputed over the past 95 years.


A cast of the carved fossil bone is now part of an exhibit of Florida Mammoth and Mastodons at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.



Iceman's Stomach Sampled—Filled With Goat Meat

Missing until 2009, mummy's stomach found to contain lumps of last meal.

Ker Than

for National Geographic News

Published June 23, 2011


Hours before he died, "Ötzi" the Iceman gorged on the fatty meat of a wild goat, according to a new analysis of the famous mummy's stomach contents.


The frozen body of the Copper Age hunter was discovered in 1991 in the Alps of northern Italy, where he died some 5,000 years ago.


(See pictures of a re-creation of the Iceman unveiled earlier this year.)


The circumstances surrounding Ötzi's death are not fully known, but the most popular theory—based in part on the discovery of an arrowhead in his back—is that he was murdered by other hunters while fleeing through the mountains.


Scientists previously analyzed the contents of Ötzi's lower intestine and determined that he ate a meal of grains along with possibly cooked red deer and goat meat up to 30 hours before his death.


But attempts using an endoscopic tool to sample Ötzi's stomach were unsuccessful.


The reason for the failure became clear in 2009, when scientists studying CAT scans of Ötzi discovered that the Iceman's stomach had shifted upward after death, to where the lower part of his lungs would normally be.


"Why it moved upward, we don't know," said Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, who was involved in the new investigation.


The team found the stomach by examining other associated organs, which had maintained their relative positions to one another when they shifted.


The team found gallstones in the gall bladder, for instance, and from there could identify the stomach.


As a result of the natural mummification process, Ötzi's stomach had shrunk considerably. But the researchers were able to get sample of its contents, which—like the intestines—contained evidence of meat and wheat grains.


What's more, the state of the partially digested food suggests the Iceman ate a substantial meal less than two hours before his death.


"The stomach content is yellowish to brownish colored and mushy, with some bigger pieces of meat and grain," Maixner said.


DNA analysis of the meat showed that it came from an ibex, a wild goat species whose males have large, backward-curving horns.


Ibex would have been much more common in Ötzi's day and would have been a good source of meat for hunters.


The animals are usually skittish around humans and will flee at the first opportunity, but a skilled hunter can creep up on one under the right circumstances.


For example, "during certain periods when the males are fighting each other, you can get as close as 20 to 50 meters [65 to 160 feet]," Maixner said.


According to past studies, such a distance would have been just within range of the bow and arrows that were found with Ötzi, he added.


It's unclear if the ibex meat was cooked, but it's possible that it was, especially since ash particles associated with other meals, possibly from cooking fires, were found in Ötzi's lower intestine, Maixner said.


Still, strands of animal hair and fly parts also found in Ötzi's stomach suggest the Iceman wasn't overly concerned with cleaning the meat before he ate it.


"It wasn't the most hygienic of meals," Maixner said.


The new Iceman research was presented at the 7th World Congress on Mummy Studies in San Diego, California, earlier this month.



UC Research Uncovers Late Bronze Age Fortress

The University of Cincinnati’s most recent research in Cyprus reveals the remnants of a Late Bronze Age (1500-750 B.C.) fortress that may have functioned to protect an important urban economic center in the ancient world.

Date: 6/20/2011 12:00:00 AM

By: Amanda Chalifoux

Other Contact: M.B. Reilly

Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-1824


A recent find by a University of Cincinnati archeologist suggests an ancient Cypriot city was well protected from outside threats. 


That research, by UC’s Gisela Walberg, professor of classics, will be presented at the annual workshop of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Center in Nicosia, Cyprus, on June 25, 2011.


Since 2001, Walberg has worked in modern Cyprus to uncover the ancient city of Bamboula, a Bronze Age city that was an important trading center for the Middle East, Egypt and Greece. Bamboula, a harbor town that flourished between the 13th through the 11th century B.C., sits along a highway on the outskirts of the modern village of Episkopi, along the southwestern coast of Cyprus and near the modern harbor town of Limassol. The area thrived in part because the overshadowing Troodos Mountains contained copper, and the river below was used to transport the mined materials.


Her most recent research at the site revealed the remnants of a Late Bronze Age (1500-750 B.C.) fortress that may have functioned to protect the urban economic center further inland, which does not seem to have been fortified.


Clues to the function of the structure were clear to Walberg. "It's quite clear that it is a fortress because of the widths and strengths of the walls. No house wall from that period would have that strength. That would have been totally unnecessary," she said, noting that one wall is 4.80 meters thick. "And it is on a separate plateau, which has a wonderful location you can look north to the mountains or over the river, and you can see the Mediterranean to the south -- so you can see whoever is approaching."


"We found the first walls, which we thought were interesting, in 2005," Walberg said. "But, we continued, and this year, we found a staircase – actually we had found two steps before of a similar staircase, but this time we found a whole staircase."


According to Walberg, the staircase seems to have been broken in a violent catastrophe, which throws lights on the early Late Bronze Age history in Cyprus, a period of which little is known but characterized by major social upheaval and cemeteries containing what a number of scholars have identified as mass burials.


The recent find is also particularly significant because there is another older site from the Middle Bronze Age nearby, within walking distance, of the fortress. Upriver exists remains of a large economic center, called Alassa, a center for trading agricultural products and metal.


"Our find, the fortress, fills the gap in time in between this early settlement and the very big, important economic center. It probably was the center, the core, from which urbanization began in the area," Walberg said.


Walberg is currently the Marion Rawson Professor of Aegean Prehistory in the Department of Classics at the University of Cincinnati. Her fieldwork experience includes participation in excavations in Sweden, Crete and Cyprus. She has also participated in archaeological surveys in Greece and Italy, and directed an excavation of a Mycenaean citadel (Midea) in mainland Greece.


Walberg's published works include 10 books and monographs. One is a report on the 1985-1991 excavations at Midea. She has also authored 81 articles and 20 reviews in American and international archaeological periodicals and lectured in many countries. Currently, Walberg is working on a book about the Bamboula excavations.



Egyptologists plan to restore 4,500-year old boat found near pyramid, hope for tourism boost

Archaeologists have begun the excavation process of a 4,500-year old wooden boat encased underground next to the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egyptologists announced Thursday.

 ( Khalil Hamra / Associated Press )

Thursday, June 23, 2011.

By Associated Press, Published: June 23

CAIRO, Egypt


Archaeologists have begun excavating a 4,500-year-old wooden boat found next to the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of Egypt’s main tourist attractions, Egypt’s top antiquities official said Thursday.


The boat is one of two buried next to the pharaoh Khufu in what appeared to be a religious custom to carry him in the afterlife. Khufu, also known as Cheops, is credited with building the Great Pyramid of Giza.


Sakuji Yoshimura, a Waseda University professor who is leading the restoration project with Egypt’s Antiquities Council, said scientists discovered that the second ship is inscribed with Khufu’s name.


Khufu founded the 4th Dynasty around 2680 B.C. and ruled Egypt for 23 years.


Zahi Hawass, Minister of State for Antiquities, called the excavation “one of the most important archaeological and conservation projects in the world.” He hoped its display would boost tourism in Egypt, which has fallen sharply since the country’s popular revolution that deposed President Hosni Mubarak in February.


The boat was originally found in 1954 along with another ship, which was restored and is regarded as one of the most significant discoveries on the Giza plateau for its age, size and condition. Experts say the ships are the oldest surviving vessels from antiquity.


The second boat is thought to be smaller than its sister ship, which is about 140 feet (43 meters) long.


Using a pulley system, a team of scientists lifted the first of 41 limestone slabs, each weighing about 16 tons, to uncover fragments of the ancient ship. Over the next two months, experts expect to unearth about 600 pieces from the boat’s underground resting place. Restoration is expected to take about four years, and then it will be displayed at the Solar Boat Museum near the huge pyramid, which routinely attracts millions of tourists, boosting one of Egypt’s most important industries.


Both boats were made from Lebanese cedar and Egyptian acacia trees.


The experts hope to restore the second ship as successfully as the first. Hawass said the boat’s condition was better than he expected. “I was really afraid when I first saw the wood,” he said. “I am very optimistic that in four years there will be another boat.”


The entombed boat remained untouched until 1987, when a team from the National Geographic Society threaded a tiny camera under the site’s limestone surface to see what lay beneath and found it. Other similar cavities nearby were empty.


After receiving a $10 million grant from Waseda University, Egyptian and Japanese scientists in 2008 began preparing for the ship’s excavation process, conducting environmental surveys and building a temperature and humidity controlled structure around the site.


After the excavation process is complete, scientists will devise a computerized schematic of the boat to aid in its reconstruction.




An epitaph on the tombstone of an ancient gladiator may be the oldest evidence of a ref's bad call.

By Rossella Lorenzi

Tue Jun 21, 2011 09:11 AM ET




The oldest evidence of a complaint about a ref’s blown call lies written on stone, according to a close examination of an 1,800-year-old epitaph.


Belonging to a gladiator named Diodorus, the tombstone shows a combatant standing victoriously over his defeated opponent, who sits on the ground begging for mercy.


Since the victorious gladiator is holding two swords, some experts suggested that he was a dimachaerus, a type of gladiator who fought with two swords.


But according to Michael Carter, a professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, the tombstone tells a different story.


"In the epitaph Diodorus clearly states that he knocked over his opponent Demetrius, but did not kill him. He even holds Demetrius' weapon, as well as his own," Carter told Discovery News.


Demetrius' submission should have been the end of the fight, but the summa rudis (literally "chief stick") -- the referee -- allowed him to get up and fight again.


"Diodorus ultimately lost the combat and died," Carter said.


The tombstone was discovered a century ago in Turkey and is now on display at the Musee du Cinquanternaire in Brussels, Belgium. According to the researcher, whose study appears in the current issue of the Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik (Journal for Papyrology and Ancient Epigraphics), the fight is reconstructed on the stone by Diodorus himself, speaking from beyond the grave through his epitaph.


Indicating that Diodorus was born in and fought in Amisus, on the Black Sea in Turkey, the inscription reads:


“After breaking my opponent Demetrius I did not kill him immediately. Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me."


Normally, the referee intervened to stop a fight as soon as one gladiator requested missio (release) by signaling submission.


The decision to grant or decline missio was then referred to the munerarius (the person who paid for the show) who in turn was expected to defer to the wishes of the people. But in this case, the referee allowed Demetrius to get up, pick up his weapon and fight again.


According to Carter, the reason for such a decision was a referee’s interpretation of the combat.


"The summa rudis must have interpreted Demetrius' fall as accidental, allowing him to get up again," Carter said.


Demetrius took advantage of the second chance and gave poor Diodorus the fatal blow.


According to Carter, the tombstone not only tells the unfortunate story of a gladiator, but it "provides rare evidence for some of the rules that seem to have governed gladiatorial combats."


"Unfortunately, no ancient writer really describes what these rules might have been. I think this tombstone for Diodorus refers to one of these rules," he said.


Indeed, knocking over an opponent might have not always been the end of the fight.


"I warn you to kill those whom you have defeated," reads another famous epitaph.


Belonging to Urbicus, a gladiator from Florence who might have suffered Diodorus's same fate, the epitaph is written on a tombstone on display at the Antiquarium museum in Milan.


Urbicus died at age 22, having fought 13 times.



Roman baths found on site of new City of York Council HQ

9:17am Tuesday 21st June 2011

By Mike Laycock

Chief reporter


WHAT did the Romans ever do for York?


Well, they certainly built some tremendous public baths – with hot and cold water – and archaeologists have now uncovered bathhouse foundations on the site of City of York Council’s new headquarters.


Three phases of buildings, dating from the late 2nd to early 3rd Century AD, have been found in good condition on land just inside the City Walls where York’s first railway station was built in 1840.


“In particular, one of these buildings has a curved or ‘apsidal’ end which we believe may be part of the caldarium or hot plunge,” said Nick Pearson, director of On Site Archaeology, which is carrying out the dig.


He said Roman coins and pottery, and fragments of a life size Roman pot, had also been found, adding: “This dig is uncovering some of the best quality Roman archaeology which has been found in York for the last twenty years.


“The significance of these finds will be recorded and form an important part in piecing together this fabulous city in years gone by.” Members of the public will have a chance to view the dig for themselves when open days are held this weekend, between 10 am and 4pm on Saturday and between 11 am and 3 pm on Sunday.


With free admission and plans to give hourly guided tours, on the hour, people should go to the site entrance just to the left of the railway memorial in Station Rise.


Steve McManaman, senior operations manager for Miller Construction, which is building the new headquarters, said as with all major projects, the company had an obligation to carry out a dig. “We knew that we would find the foundations for the Roman Baths,” he said.


“However, the archaeology team have also discovered some incredible artefacts and we are delighted to be able to share these with the local community. “York is renowned for its historical significance and these discoveries further reinforce the importance the city plays in building a picture of the past.


“The site is of huge regional and national importance and it is hoped that local residents and visitors to the city will come along and enjoy what promises to be an informative and enjoyable day.”



Archaeologists lower camera into early Mayan tomb

By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press – 2 days ago



A small, remote-controlled camera lowered into an early Mayan tomb in southern Mexico has revealed an apparently intact funeral chamber with offerings and red-painted wall murals, researchers said Thursday.

Footage of the approximately 1,500-year-old tomb at the Palenque archaeological site showed a series of nine figures depicted in black on a vivid, blood-red background. Archaeologists say the images from one of the earliest ruler's tombs found at Palenque will shed new light on the early years of the once-great city state.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History said archaeologists have known about the tomb since 1999, but have been unable to enter it because the pyramid standing above it is unstable and breaking into the chamber could damage the murals.

It said the floor appears to be covered with detritus and it is not immediately evident in the footage if the tomb contains recognizable remains. But archaeologist Martha Cuevas said the jade and shell fragments seen on the video are "part of a funerary costume."

The chamber was found in a heavily deteriorated pyramid complex known as the Southern Acropolis, in a jungle-covered area of Palenque not far from the Temple of Inscriptions, where the tomb of a later ruler, Pakal, was found in the 1950s.

While Pakal's tomb featured a famous and heavily carved sarcophagus, no such structure is seen in the footage of the tomb released Thursday. The institute said in a statement that "it is very probable that the fragmented bones are lying directly on the stones of the floor."

But Cuevas said the discovery shed new light on early rulers, and its proximity to other burial sites suggested the tomb may be part of a funerary complex.

"All this leads us to consider that the Southern Acropolis was used as a royal necropolis during that period," Cuevas said.

Susan Gillespie, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida who was not involved in the project, said "this is an important find for Palenque and for understanding Early Classic Maya history and politics," in part because the later rulers who made the city-state larger tended to build atop their predecessors' temples and tombs, making it hard to get at them.

"Palenque was a relatively important western Maya capital in the Early Classic, but with the buildup during the time of Pakal and some of his successors, those accomplishments were buried and thus difficult to assess, buried literally by Late Classic structures atop Early Classic ones," Gillespie wrote.

The later rulers wrote almost obsessively about Palenque's history in long stone inscriptions, but Gillespie noted that "finding archaeological confirmation of the earlier kings has been extremely difficult."

The tomb's floor occupies about 5 square meters (yards), with a low, Mayan-arch roof of overlapping stones. Experts say it probably dates to between 431 and 550 A.D., and could contain the remains of K'uk' Bahlam I, the first ruler of the city-state.

The tomb's existence was revealed by a shaft found near the top of the ruined pyramid, leading downward. But it was too narrow to provide any kind of view of the chamber. In late April, researchers lowered the tiny two-inch-long camera into the tomb using the six-inch (15-cm) wide shaft.

While the general public had not seen images of the interior of the tomb, video of it was made after the chamber was detected in 1999, noted David Stuart, a specialist in Mayan epigraphy at the University of Texas at Austin.

The images had circulated among researchers and been posted on the internet, and Stuart said that some evidence suggests the tomb "is the burial of a noted female ruler of Palenque named Ix Yohl Ik'nal, based on the date and on the identities of ancestral figures painted on the walls."

"The female ruler is mentioned in a number of the historical texts of the site," Stuart wrote.

It would not be the first tomb of a female noble found at Palenque; in 1994 archaeologists found the tomb of a woman dubbed The Red Queen because of the red pigment covering her tomb. But it has never been established that she was a ruler of Palenque, and her tomb dates from a later period, between 600 and 700 A.D.



A Crusader town emerges under an old Israeli port

By MATTI FRIEDMAN, Associated Press

ACRE, Israel (AP)


Off the track beaten by most Holy Land tourists lies one of the richest archaeological sites in a country full of them: the walled port of Acre, where the busy alleys of an Ottoman-era town cover a uniquely intact Crusader city now being rediscovered.

Preparing to open a new subterranean section to the public, workers cleaned stones this week in an arched passageway underground.

Etched in plaster on one wall was a coat of arms — graffiti left by a medieval traveler. Nearby was a main street of cobblestones and a row of shops that once sold clay figurines and ampules for holy water, popular souvenirs for pilgrims.

All were last used by residents in 1291, the year a Muslim army from Egypt defeated Acre's Christian garrison and leveled its remains.

The existing city, built by the Ottoman Turks around 1750, effectively preserved this earlier town, which had been hidden for centuries under the rubble.

"It's like Pompeii of Roman times — it's a complete city," said Eliezer Stern, the Israeli archaeologist in charge of Acre. He called the town "one of the most exciting sites in the world of archaeology."

The newly excavated area, part of a Crusader neighborhood, is set to open later this year.

Today, old Acre is a picturesque enclave jutting into the Mediterranean, home to 5,000 Arab citizens of Israel who live in dense warrens of homes that are themselves historic artifacts. Most residents are poor.

On a recent afternoon, a smattering of tourists walked through the old market, while at a sleepy fishing dock one boat's radio blared Katy Perry.

In 2001, Acre became Israel's first UNESCO World Heritage site. But whether because of its out-of-the-way location in the country's north or simply because it must compete with better-known sites like Jerusalem and the desert fortress of Masada, Acre has been overshadowed.

Jerusalem, for example, attracted an estimated 2.5 million foreign tourists last year, according to the Tourism Ministry. In contrast, during the same period, Acre's historic sites had 444,000 paying visitors — Israeli and foreign — according to the Acre Municipality. Old Acre has just one hotel with a total of 16 rooms.

Acre has existed for at least 4,500 years, but reached the height of its importance with the Crusader conquest in 1104.

Under Christian rule, the city became an unruly trading hub home to combative orders of soldier-monks, European factions that distrusted each other and sometimes fought in the streets, competing merchants from cities like Genoa, Venice and Pisa, and small populations of Jews and Muslims, all sharing an enclosed area that at its height was barely the size of two football fields.

A French bishop, Jacques de Vitry, reached Acre after a perilous sea journey in 1216. He was appalled.

"When I entered this horrible city and found it full of countless disgraceful acts and evil deeds, I was very confused in my mind," he wrote in a letter home.

Acre, he found, was "totally depraved." Murders took place constantly, the town was "filled with prostitutes," and residents — many of whom he believed to be outlaws who had fled their own lands — were "utterly devoted to pleasures of the flesh."

Acre was "like a monster or a beast having nine heads, each fighting the other," the bishop wrote.

Israeli excavations got under way in earnest in the 1990s, and some remnants of the city that de Vitry knew can already be visited. One is the fortress of the Hospitaller knights, with its pillared dining hall and storerooms, an orderly latrine and a dungeon whose stone walls still have holes for attaching shackles.

Also open is an underground passage constructed by the knights of the rival Templar order, leading from their own fortress to the port. Some used it on the day Acre fell to escape to Europe-bound vessels as their city, and the two-century-old Crusader kingdom, collapsed around them.

Underwater digs in Acre's harbor have revealed sunken fortifications and more than 20 lost ships. The most recent one to be found, armed with cannons and special shot used to shred enemy sails, dated to Napoleon Bonaparte's failed siege of the city in 1799.

Workers are now shoring up one of Acre's seawalls — which witnessed assaults by Napoleon, the Egyptian ruler Ibrahim Pasha, and a combined British, French and Austrian fleet — discovering, in the process, Napoleonic cannonballs and a Hellenistic pier more than two millennia old.

Acre, with its newer neighborhoods, has grown to a modern city of 56,000 people, two-thirds of them Jewish and the rest Arab. It has experienced occasional ethnic tension, as well as violence linked to poverty and the drug trade. But the streets feel safe, and residents are welcoming. The past, Acre's residents seem to recognize, is their city's primary resource.

"It's a whole ancient city underground," said Bassam Dabour, a storeowner in the Old City market. "It's beautiful — why not continue working?"

Because of Acre's importance and the complexity of conducting archaeological work in a living city, the government's Israel Antiquities Authority has made Acre something of a laboratory for conservation work. The authority recently turned an old Ottoman mansion into a conservation center for local and international students who included, this week, representatives from Britain, Russia, Poland, Puerto Rico and the U.S.

Shelley-Anne Peleg, who heads the center and serves as a liaison with local residents, said archaeologists have learned that Acre's history cannot be separated from the people who live there.

The Antiquities Authority runs programs seeking to educate residents, teaches municipal sanitation workers about the importance of preservation and works with women to revive local handicrafts.

There are signs that Acre's fortunes as a tourist destination might be about to change. In addition to the underground city, there are plans for a new museum, a youth hostel is about to open in the Old City, and an investor has received permission to turn a currently empty Turkish inn into a luxury hotel.

But efforts to increase tourism, Peleg said, must be done "in a way that doesn't take over the city and overpower the people who live here."

"When you look at the city, it's not just archaeology, and it's not just Ottoman buildings. One of our jobs is to look at the city from all directions, and there is heritage still alive in these alleys," she said.