Early Humans Made Stone Handaxes Earlier Than Previously Thought, Study Says

New-found evidence pushes more advanced toolmaking back another 350,000 years.

June 2011, Cover Stories, Daily News

By Dan McLerran   Wed, Aug 31, 2011


A major early human stone toolmaking industry has been pushed back in time as much as another 350,000 years, according to a recent study carried out by scientists at Columbia University and published this week in Nature. The discovery also revisits questions about the origins of an early human ancestor and the coexistence of disparate early human species in Africa.


Led by lead study author Christopher Lepre, a geologist who also has joint appointments at Rutgers and Lamont-Doherty universities, a joint French and American team explored, removed and dated samples of mudstone sediment deposits using magnetic polarity analysis from a site called Kokiselei, near the northwestern shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya. Magnetic polarity analysis, part of the process of Paleomagnetic dating, an absolute dating technique, is the evaluation of the shifts or reversals in the Earth's magnetic field through geologic time as it is reflected or "recorded" by changes in rocks and minerals found in volcanic and sedimentary deposits. The results of the analyses were converted to years to determine the age of the tested sediments. 


What they found was surprizing. Yielding a date of approximately 1.76 million years B.P.E., the targeted deposits were considerably older than they had anticipated. Moreover, these same sediments at Kokiselei contained stone tool assemblages identified with the Acheulian stone tool industry, an industry for which the oldest samples have been previously dated in Konso, Ethiopia, to about 1.4 million years ago, and in India, between 1.5 million and 1 million years ago. These tools, considered the second "great leap" in early human stone toolmaking, greatly expanded the possibilities for early humans, particularly in terms of food preparation and possibly even hunting. “You could whack away at a joint and dislodge the shoulder from the arm, leg or hip,” says Eric Delson, a Lehman College paleoanthropologist not involved in the study. “The tools allowed you to cut open and dismember an animal to eat it.” This utility implies a certain level of dexterity and the ability by the maker to think ahead, or plan. The most common and prolific example of such stone tools is the Acheulian Handaxe, found in abundance at sites across East Afrca as well as in Europe and Asia.


The same sediments also contained stone tools of a simpler industry, the Oldowan, thought to be a predecessor to the Acheulian. The Oldowan is suggested by some scientists to be the handiwork of an early hominid called Homo habilis, the fossils of which were first discovered by Louis and Mary Leakey in the early 1960's and is thought to have lived from approximately 2.3 to 1.4 million years ago. But now, the new Kokiselei dating has pushed back the advent of the Acheulian industry by about 350,000 years.

Said Lepre, “We suspected that Kokiselei was a rather old site, but I was taken aback when I realized that the geological data indicated it was the oldest Acheulian site in the world.”


The Acheulian is most often associated with Homo erectus, considered by many scientists to be a human ancestor that lived as much as 2 million years ago.  It was in the western Lake Turkana area where famous anthropologist Richard Leakey discovered the most complete early human fossil skeleton ever found. Called Turkana_Boy, it was dated to 1.5 million years B.P.E. and was classifiable to either early Homo erectus or Homo ergaster.  It is to this day considered to be one of the benchmark finds for early humans. 


The Acheulian tools at Kokiselei were located immediately above a sediment layer associated with a polarity reversal called the “Olduvai Subchron", named after Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania where famous anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey made their history-making hominin fossil and Oldowan stone tool finds in the 1930's. In a recent study conducted by Lepre and Kent, they determined that a Homo erectus skull found at Koobi Fora Ridge on the east side of Lake Turkana was also located above the Olduvai Subchron interval. This meant that the Homo erectus skull and the Acheulian tools in West Turkana were about the same age.


This early human species is also thought to be the first that dispersed on a global level, ranging across both Asia and Africa before becoming extinct possibly about 70,000 years ago. Many researchers suggest that Homo erectus evolved in East Africa, where many of the oldest fossils have been discovered; however, the discovery of equally ancient Homo erectus fossils at Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia in the 1990s has led other researchers to suggest a possible Asian origin. The puzzling question is that Homo erectus in Dmanisi, Georgia was still using the simpler Oldowan-like chopping tools, when now in West Turkana, according to the new study, early humans had already developed the more sophisticated hand axes, picks and other innovative tools that anthropologists have assigned to the Acheulian. Add to this the evidence of two separate stone tool industries, the simpler, more primitive "chopper" technology of the Oldowan, and the more sophisticated, chiseled-edge technology of the Acheulian, existing side-by-side within the same time horizon at Kokiselei, and a more complicated picture emerges. The study results, in light of the Dmanisi finds, have presented new implications for the timing and dispersal of Homo erectus and the Acheulian industry, and directs the researchers to an interesting new hypothesis.

States Lepre, et.al.:


"Our data indicate that the earliest development of the Acheulian occurred in Africa at 1.76 Myr ago and was contemporaneous with or perhaps pre-dated the earliest hominin dispersals into Eurasia. Yet, the difference between the ages for the oldest known Acheulian artefacts in the world from Africa and the oldest known Acheulian artefacts from Eurasia raises the likelihood that the first Eurasian hominins derived from an African population lacking Acheulian culture. Potentially, two hominin groups coexisted in Africa at 1.76Myr ago. One of these groups could have developed the Acheulian technology but remained in Africa. The other could have lacked the cognitive ability and/or technological knowledge to manufacture the Acheulian technology and did not carry it into Eurasia. This division may indicate different behavioural aptitudes for separate African species (for example, H. erectus sensu lato versus Homo habilis sensu lato) or a within-species cultural disparity. In any event, it seems that a second hominin dispersal with Acheulian technology or a diffusion of this technology took place later, leading to the widespread occurrence of this Early Stone Age tradition in the circum- Mediterranean area and elsewhere after 1 Myr ago."[1]


The researchers now hope to uncover more about the ancient environment in which the early humans lived, shedding new light on how environmental elements and their change effected the course of human evolution. Scientists know now that the East African landscape was becoming generally drier over a period of millions of years, with periodic wet and drier periods, but generally changing from a predominantly woodland environment to that of savannah grassland.

Says Lepre, “We need to understand also the ancient environment because this gives us an insight into how processes of evolution work—how shifts in early human biology and behavior are potentially caused by changes in the climate, vegetation or animal life that is particular to a habitat.”

They are currently excavating a site in Kenya more than 2 million years old to obtain a better understanding of the earlier Oldowan period.


The study’s other authors are: Helen Roche, Sonia Harmand, Jean-Philippe Brugal, Pierre-Jean Texier and Arnaud Lenoble at France’s National Center of Scientific Research; Rhonda Quinn, Seton Hall University; and Craig Feibel, Rutgers University.

Full details of the study can be accessed in this week's edition of the journal Nature.

Institutions involved in the study are:

The Earth Institute, Columbia University , which mobilizes the sciences, education and public policy to achieve a sustainable earth. Through interdisciplinary research among more than 500 scientists in diverse fields, the Institute is adding to the knowledge necessary for addressing the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. With over two dozen associated degree curricula and a vibrant fellowship program, the Earth Institute is educating new leaders to become professionals and scholars in the growing field of sustainable development. We work alongside governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals to devise innovative strategies to protect the future of our planet. www.earth.columbia.edu


Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory A member of The Earth Institute, it is one of the world's leading research centers seeking fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world. More than 300 research scientists study the planet from its deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and in every ocean. From global climate change to earthquakes, volcanoes, nonrenewable resources, environmental hazards and beyond, Observatory scientists provide a rational basis for the difficult choices facing humankind in the planet's stewardship. www.ldeo.columbia.edu


[1] Christopher J. Lepre, He ́le`ne Roche, Dennis V. Kent, Sonia Harmand, Rhonda L. Quinn, Jean-Philippe Brugal, Pierre-Jean Texier, Arnaud Lenoble & Craig S. Feibel; An earlier origin for the Acheulian, doi:10.1038/nature10372.



Neanderthal survival story revealed in Jersey caves

30 August 2011 Last updated at 03:10

By Becky Evans

Digging For Britain


New investigations at an iconic cave site on the Channel Island of Jersey have led archaeologists to believe the Neanderthals have been widely under-estimated.


Neanderthals survived in Europe through a number of ice ages and died out only about 30,000 years ago.


The site at La Cotte de St Brelade reveals a near-continuous use of the cave site spanning over a quarter of a million years, suggesting a considerable success story in adapting to a changing climate and landscape, prior to the arrival of Homo sapiens.


The story of this excavation and its finds will feature on the latest series of Digging For Britain on BBC2 in September, with Dr Alice Roberts


The La Cotte ravine has revealed the most prolific collection of early Neanderthal technology in North West Europe, including over 250,000 stone tools. These include stones with sharpened edges that could be used to cut or chop, known as hand axes.


"Archaeologists have developed new ways of looking at stone tools since La Cotte de St Brelade was excavated in the 1970s," says Dr Beccy Scott from the British Museum and the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project.


"We have been using these techniques to look at how Neanderthals were making and using the tools they left at La Cotte."


The huge amounts of carefully manufactured tools show just how technologically skilled early Neanderthal groups were.


"The artefacts from the site don't just tell us about what people were doing at the site itself, but throughout the landscapes that are now underneath the channel," continues Dr Scott.


La Cotte is fundamental to our understanding of Neanderthal behavioural development

"Neanderthals were travelling to Jersey already equipped with good quality flint tools, then reworking them, very, very carefully so as not to waste anything. They were extremely good at recycling."


La Cotte's collapsed cave system contains intact ice age sediments spanning a quarter of a million years, revealing a detailed sequence of Neanderthal occupation and occasional abandonment, against a background of changing climate.


"The site is the most exceptional long-term record of Neanderthal behaviour in North West Europe," says Dr Matt Pope from the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.


"At La Cotte, we get to see far more than a glimpse of their behaviour, we get to see generation upon generation of Neanderthals returning to the same place under lots of different environmental conditions."


Jersey at this time was linked to mainland Europe and La Cotte would have been a sheltered cave, allowing occupation.



·         Neanderthals looked much like modern humans only shorter, more heavily built and much stronger, particularly in the arms and hands.

·         Their skulls show that they had no chin and their foreheads sloped backwards.

·         The brain case was lower but longer housing a slightly larger brain than that of modern humans.

·         As almost exclusively carnivorous, both male and female Neanderthals hunted.

·         Evidence of a huge number of injuries - like those sometimes seen in today's rodeo riders - suggests that hunting involved dangerously close contact with large prey animals.


Neanderthals abandoned the site during the coldest, glacial phases, when much of Britain was frozen.


Understanding how they reacted to the onset of these cold periods will allow archaeologists a greater insight into the limits of Neanderthal tolerances.


The site has been the focus of archaeological research for over 100 years and scientists believe more discoveries are yet to be made.


"We are also starting to look beyond the site and into the waters of the bay with the purpose of attempting to find new sites preserved on the sea bed," says Dr Martin Bates from the University of Wales, Trinity St Davids.


"We know from work around the Cotentin (peninsula in Normandy) that such sites exist and if we were lucky enough to find similar sites around Jersey, it would add significantly to our understanding of the Neanderthals and their landscape."


The story of this excavation and its finds will be featured in the BBC2 series Digging for Britain in early September. The Jersey research was also the subject of a BBC Radio 4 documentary earlier this month.



Tomb found at Stonehenge quarry site

1 September 2011 Last updated at 04:11

By Louise Ord

Assistant producer, Digging for Britain


The tomb for the original builders of Stonehenge could have been unearthed by an excavation at a site in Wales.


The Carn Menyn site in the Preseli Hills is where the bluestones used to construct the first stone phase of the henge were quarried in 2300BC.


Organic material from the site will be radiocarbon dated, but it is thought any remains have already been removed.


Archaeologists believe this could prove a conclusive link between the site and Stonehenge.


The remains of a ceremonial monument were found with a bank that appears to have a pair of standing stones embedded in it.


The bluestones at the earliest phase of Stonehenge - also set in pairs - give a direct architectural link from the iconic site to this newly discovered henge-like monument in Wales.


The tomb, which is a passage cairn - a style typical of Neolithic burial monument - was placed over this henge.


The link between the Welsh site and Stonehenge was first suggested by the geologist Herbert Thomas in 1923.


This was confirmed in 2008 when permission was granted to excavate inside the stone circle for the first time in about 50 years.


The bluestones were transported from the hills over 150 miles (240km) to the plain in Wiltshire to create Stonehenge, the best known of all Britain's prehistoric monuments.


Two of the leading experts on Stonehenge, Prof Geoff Wainwright and Prof Timothy Darvill, have been leading the project at Carn Menyn.


They are now excavating at the site of a robbed-out Neolithic tomb, built right next to the original quarry.


They knew that the tomb had been disturbed previously, so rather than excavate inside, they placed their small trench along its outer edge.


Prof Darvill said: "It's a little piece of keyhole surgery into an important monument, but it has actually lived up to our expectations perfectly."


The area has many springs, which may have been associated with ritual healing in prehistoric times - and their existence may be the reason why these particular stones were quarried for another monument so far away.


Prof Wainwright said: "The important thing is that we have a ceremonial monument here that is earlier than the passage grave.


"We have obviously got a very important person who may have been responsible for the impetus for these stones to be transported.


"It can be compared directly with the first Stonehenge, so for the first time we have a direct link between Carn Menyn - where the bluestones came from - and Stonehenge, in the form of this ceremonial monument."


A new series of BBC Two's Digging for Britain begins at 21:00 on Friday, 9 September.



Iron age hill fort excavation reveals 'possible suburbia'

Size of settlement suggests Ham Hill site was a town rather than a defensive structure, archaeologists believe

Stephen Bates

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 1 September 2011 00.01 BST


The most intensive investigation ever undertaken of Britain's largest iron age hill fort is expected to reveal new details of how Britons lived 2,000 years ago – and maybe even that they were almost as suburban as we are.


Stretching across 80 hilltop hectares, behind three miles of ramparts, the fort, at Ham Hill in Somerset, and the outline of its history have been known for many years.


The Durotriges tribe, which lived on the hill, was subdued in AD45 by soldiers of the 2nd Legion under the command of the future emperor Vespasian, but what the Romans found there: a street system lined with houses on their own plots of land, is what archaeologists from Cambridge and Cardiff universities hope to uncover more fully in excavations over the next three summers.


"There was a main road going through and regular enclosures with round houses in them – it looks rather like suburbia," said Christopher Evans, director of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. "We are not going to find Conan Doyle's Lost World up on the plateau."


As the ramparts were much too extensive for the occupants of the hill to defend on their own, attention is turning to whether the people who lived there were actually developing a community or collective identity for themselves. Although there have been bronze age finds from an earlier era, it is still not known when the hill was occupied and the ramparts built.


Niall Sharples from Cardiff university's school of history, archaeology and religion said: "It is a bit of an enigma. Ham Hill is so big that no archaeologist has ever really been able to get a handle on it. As a result there has never been a thorough campaign of excavations and nobody knows how the settlement was organised inside.


"People think of these places as defensive structures, but it is inconceivable that such a place could have been defended. Thousands of people would have been required: militarily it would have been a nightmare. Clearly it was a special place for people in the iron age: but when did it become special, why and how long did it stay that way?"


The initial dig this summer has uncovered human remains, including one full skeleton and the bones of a dog, as well as artefacts from domestic life including tools and pottery. The inhabitants had paddocks for animals and grain storage pits.


The excavation, which is focusing on a one hectare area, will take place under the eyes of walkers and visitors to a country park which now covers the hill, just west of Yeovil.


There is an open day with tours this Saturday between 11 am and 4pm, and information boards at the site and eventually iPod talks will allow people to follow the progress of the dig.


The excavation is being funded by a local quarrying company which wants to open up part of the hill so that it can continue to provide the distinctive local hamstone which has been used for building in the area since Roman times.



Remains of horses and chariots found in 3,000-year-old tomb in China

Lying side by side, these horses have drawn a chariot in an ancient tomb for the past 3,000 years, which was recently discovered. The perfectly preserved remains of five chariots and 12 horses (Picture: Photoshot)


The equine bones, found in the Chinese city of Luoyang, have remained undisturbed since the early Western Zhou dynasty.

Archaeologists believe the 12 horses lying on their sides show the animals were slaughtered before burial, not buried alive.

As well as the horses and five chariots, bronzes and ceramics have escaped the clutches of history’s grave robbers.

Archaeologists are convinced that the perfectly preserved tomb belongs to an official or a scholar of standing, given the pottery, metal weaponry and inscriptions.

The tomb, a vertical earthen pit, has excited historians since it was discovered during the construction of a hospital.

It gives an unprecedented insight into the funeral customs in the early Western Zhou dynasty.

It was the time of the great Chinese philosophers of ancient times, including Confucius.

The latest find is reminiscent of the famous terracotta army of thousands of preserved soldiers, which was discovered in 1974 in the Lintong district.

It had also remained undisturbed for thousands of years.


Read more: http://www.metro.co.uk/news/874221-remains-of-horses-and-chariots-found-in-3-000-year-old-tomb-in-china#ixzz1X4FvtLDp



Bronze Age excavation project begins in Cornwall

3 September 2011 Last updated at 16:36


A 10-day excavation project at a Bronze Age site in Cornwall has begun.


Organisers hope they will find more information on a settlement at the site near Lanyon.


Previous excavations have revealed Middle Bronze Age and Iron Age artefacts, said archaeologist, Dr Andy Jones.


There are at least 12 roundhouses at the site, which are believed to be approximately 3,500 years old, he added.


Since the last excavations in the 1980s, the site has been covered by dense vegetation.


Julian German, Cornwall Council cabinet member for historic environment, said: "This excavation will be a wonderful opportunity to see the remains of this ancient settlement uncovered by archaeologists."


Adrian Rodda, from the Cornwall Archaeological Society, said: "The excavation of this site will provide further information about the occupation of the settlement, as well as looking at the impact of bracken on sensitive archaeological remains."


The work is being funded by English Heritage, Cornwall Archaeological Society, Cornwall Heritage Trust, and Cornwall Council.



Dunning Iron Age find shows Roman-Pictish link

31 August 2011


Iron Age dwelling remains uncovered in Perthshire could cast "new light" on early Scottish history.


Archaeologists working near the village of Dunning found an Iron Age broch which has evidence of early contact between the Picts and the Roman Empire.


The broch - a drystone wall structure - is the first of its kind to be found in the Scottish lowlands for 100 years.


Evidence shows that the Roman dwelling was destroyed by fire and then probably reoccupied by a Pictish warlord.


It was uncovered by a team from the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (Serf) project.


Brochs were the preferred residence of the elite during Roman times. The team said the "exquisitely preserved" Dunning example was built at the top of a hill and offers a 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside.


It was also "massively fortified" with 5m (16.4ft) thick drystone walls.


It appears to have been destroyed by fire before the Picts built a palisaded fortress directly on top of the site.


Professor Stephen Driscoll, director of the Serf project, said: "There can be no doubt that we have located one of the major centres of Pictish power from the 1st and 2nd Centuries.


"The scale of the architecture is colossal and the tower-like structure would have visually dominated its surroundings."


A wide range of Roman trade goods have been discovered in the broch, including a bronze patera, a glass vessel and an unusual lead bowl.


The Professor of Historical Archaeology at the University of Glasgow said it was "not unreasonable" to conclude the broch was the seat of a Celtic chieftain who collected luxury objects from the Roman world.


He added: "The artefacts are of particular interest as they date to the time of the first contact with the Roman world and offer numerous clues to how the Picts might have begun their interactions with the Roman Empire."


Serf archaeologists believe the broch is the best example of an Iron Age Roman site being reoccupied by the Picts.


The excavation was directed by Dr Heather James, from Northlight Heritage, one of Serf's partner organisations.


Major sponsorship for the project comes from the University of Glasgow, Historic Scotland, the British Academy and the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust.



Forteviot dig uncovering new story of Scotland's past

A major new discovery by archaeologists working in Perthshire is set to rewrite early Scottish history.

By Mark Mackay

Published online : 03.09.11 @ 07.34am


The colossal and exquisitely-preserved Iron Age broch uncovered near Dunning is thought to have once been the seat of a Celtic chieftain.


Though just a fraction of the site has been excavated, the findings have already been hailed by the Scottish Government and could have "potentially far-reaching implications" for how we view our history.


The incredible discoveries already made in and around the structure are believed to date from very first contact between the Picts and the Roman Empire. They reveal evidence of trade between the two peoples from the outset, with a variety of high-value items from the continent drawn from the earth.


Behind the excavations once again has been a team from the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project, which comprises the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and Chester and students and volunteers from across Scotland, Europe and North America.


The team has enjoyed a string of successes in recent years, the most notable of which was the discovery of an early Bronze Age burial at Forteviot in Perthshire, later a Pictish royal centre.


Within the 4000-year-old grave the archaeologists found a stunning bronze dagger and beautifully preserved flowers thought to be the earliest floral tribute ever discovered in the UK.


To the astonishment of the team, this latest excavation has proven to be even more significant, as the broch structure was found to be filled with evidence of early contact between the Picts and Romans.


The massively fortified dwelling, the preferred residence of the elite during Roman times, is the first of its kind to be discovered in the Scottish Lowlands in around 100 years.


Situated at the top of a hill to offer occupants 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside, the broch's drystone walls stand in excess of two metres high and five metres thick.


The SERF team uncovered evidence that after the broch was destroyed by fire, the Picts built a palisaded fortress directly on top of the site, which was likely occupied by a Pictish warlord.


Stephen Driscoll, professor of historical archaeology at Glasgow University and director of the SERF project, said: "There can be no doubt that we have located one of the major centres of Pictish power from the 1st and 2nd centuries. The scale of the architecture is colossal and the tower-like structure would have visually dominated its surroundings.


"It's not unreasonable to see this as a seat of a Celtic chieftain, who collected a wide range of luxury objects from the Roman world perhaps through trading with the Romans or possibly even serving in the Roman army.


"The artefacts are of particular interest as they date to the time of the first contact with the Roman world and offer numerous clues to how the Picts might have begun their interactions with the Roman Empire.


"This is the best example of an Iron Age Roman site being reoccupied by the Picts. We have long suspected that this happened, but now we can examine the Picts' relationships with the Romans in much more detail."


Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop described the wealth of information coming from the excavation as "incredible".


"It has potentially far-reaching implications for how we view our history," the MSP said. "To be able to reveal such an exceptional site that holds impressive architecture, artefacts and has been used and reused over generations to give us new understanding of Celts, Picts and Romans is outstanding and I would like to congratulate the team for their hard work and dedication."


The finds from the broch's interior include a wide range of Roman trade goods in excellent condition, including a bronze patera, a glass vessel, an unusual lead bowl, bangles of coloured glass and bronze and beads of glass and amber, as well as fragmented objects of bronze, iron and lead.


The team also uncovered characteristic native artefacts including a decorated stone lamp, a spindle whorl and weaving comb.


Professor Driscoll added: "The majority of the known Lowland brochs were excavated poorly by antiquarians or were not as well preserved as the items we've uncovered.


"The discovery of such items is particularly valuable as it will allow this high-quality material to be examined in a disciplined manner."



Roman Remains Found at Charles Street, Dorchester

Posted Fri, 09/02/2011 - 08:07 by Jon Milward


Wessex Archaeology has just completed a four week excavation within the southern part of the Charles Street Development in Dorchester. Neil Holbrook, of Cotswold Archaeology has been acting as archaeological consultant on behalf of the developers, Simons Developments and WDDC. A watching brief is currently being maintained on groundwork being undertaken by Cowlin Construction and their subcontractors associated with the construction of West Dorset District Council’s new offices, library and adult learning centre.


As the site occupies an area near to the southern edge of the Roman town of Durnovaria it was predicted evidence of Roman town life would be uncovered during the works. The prediction proved correct; immediately below the modern overburden, the remains of Roman houses were uncovered.


These buildings were built around 100AD and were orientated according to the town’s street plan, which it has been possible to map using evidence from other excavations in Dorchester.


These houses were in the vicinity of the southern wall of the Roman town and the public baths. They were well built with stone wall foundations and according to convention at the time were adorned with painted plaster walls, areas of mosaic floors and tiled roofs. As represented by the discovery of a column base one house may also have had a colonnaded walkway, perhaps around a courtyard or garden area.


Deposits associated with these buildings contained artefacts representative of everyday domestic life including pottery, coins, animal bones and also the burial of a baby.


The houses survived until they were systematically demolished around 300 AD. After this no further structures were built and robbing of useful building material continued right up until the 17th Century.


Beneath the floors of the Roman houses large deposits of rubble had been used to level off the site prior to their construction. Amongst this material were finds including a fragment of a Kimmeridge shale bracelet, pieces of Spanish amphora (used to transport olive oil) and a collection of gaming counters made out of chalk and pieces of pottery.


After the results of the fieldwork have been assessed if you would like to learn more about this site and the inhabitants of Roman Durnovaria, Wessex Archaeology will be hosting a talk on the project, details of which will be posted here. There will also be a report which will be available to download from our archaeological reports section. On completion of the project, all finds will be deposited with the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester.



Archaeologists uncover amphitheatre used to train gladiators near Vienna

The ruins are a 'sensational discovery' with a structure to rival the Colosseum in Rome, archaeologists say

Associated Press

guardian.co.uk,        Tuesday 30 August 2011 19.54 BST


Archaeologists say they have located and excavated the ruins of a huge amphitheatre used to train gladiators east of Vienna, describing it as a "sensational discovery".


They claim that the ruins found through ground radar measurements rival the Colosseum and the Ludus Magnus in Rome in their structure. The Ludus Magnus is the largest of the gladiatorial arenas in the Italian capital, while the Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built in the Roman empire.


A statement on Tuesday from the Carnuntum archaeological park gave no details about when the find was located and excavated.



Archaeologists dig at Pillar of Eliseg near Llangollen


Archaeologists are launching a new dig to try to unearth the secrets of a 9th Century stone monument on a prehistoric mound.


Bangor and Chester university experts will begin excavations at the Pillar of Eliseg near Llangollen, Denbighshire.


It is part of work by historical monuments agency Cadw to conserve the mound and better explain it to people.


Last year excavations focussed on the mound, which was identified as an early Bronze Age cairn.


Professor Nancy Edwards from Bangor University told BBC Radio Wales: "We are looking at the relationship between the pillar and the early Bronze Age cairn on which it stands.


"Last year we did an exploratory excavation just to uncover areas and see what might remain underneath.


"This year we are going back to the cairn to one particular trench because we discovered evidence last year of the dig into the top of the cairn in 1773.


"This was at the point where the pillar had fallen and the local landowner Trevor Lloyd decided he was to resurrect it.


"He did this dig and claimed afterwards to have found a stone cist with a body in and pieces of silver and things.


"Now I think this is probably all legend rather than real."


There will be an open afternoon at the archaeological site on 16 September.


The Pillar of Eliseg was originally a tall stone cross but only part of a round shaft survives set within its original base.


It once bore a long Latin inscription saying that the cross was raised by Concenn, ruler of the kingdom of Powys, who died in AD 854, in memory of his great-grandfather, Eliseg, who had driven Anglo-Saxon invaders out of the area.


There will be an open afternoon at the archaeological site on 16 September



Intact 5th Century merchant ship found in Istanbul

Tuesday August 30, 2011


During the continuing archaeological excavations at the Yenikapı Marmaray construction site in Istanbul, the world’s best preserved shipwreck, a merchant vessel whose contents and wooden parts are in exceptionally good condition, was revealed.


Archaeologists believe the ship dates to the fourth or fifth century CE and that it sank in a storm, but remarkably most of the amphorae on the ship are still in perfect condition.


The excavations started in 2004 at the construction site and reached back 8,500 years into the history of İstanbul. Skeletons, the remains of an early chapel and even footprints, in addition to 35 shipwrecks, have been uncovered by archaeologists so far.


The ship was loaded with pickled fry (a type of small fish) and almonds, walnuts, hazels, muskmelon seeds, olives, peaches and pine cones

The 15 to 16-metre-long, six-metre-wide shipwreck loaded with dozens of amphorae found last May brings new historical data to life. The amphorae differ from previous finds. It is assumed that the ship was completely buried in mud and this oxygen-free atmosphere protected it and its contents from further damage. The ship was loaded with pickled fry (a type of small fish) and almonds, walnuts, hazels, muskmelon seeds, olives, peaches and pine cones were also found on the wreck in incredible condition.


Songül Çoban, an archaeologist on the excavation, says they need a further two months to completely uncover the shipwreck, which was found four-five metres below sea level, adding that they were working eight hours a day and that such a detailed excavation was incredibly demanding.


The Yenikapı vessel is one of the best examples of a shipwreck in the world in terms of both the actual structure and the cargo. When the wreck was first discovered, the mud above it was cleared away and the damaged upper layer of amphorae was removed piece by piece, after which the team began removing the undamaged amphorae below them. Once all of the artefacts have been retrieved, the hull of the ship will be given to İstanbul University.


It is thought that bronze nails were used in ship construction starting in the fourth or fifth century, prior to which they only used wooden pegs

The bronze nails found on the ship give clues about the age of the vessel and makes it an outstanding sample. It is thought that bronze nails were used in ship construction starting in the fourth or fifth century, prior to which they only used wooden pegs. Information about the destination of the ship and perhaps even it’s home port will be inferred by means of the artefacts found onboard.


The archaeological excavations of the fourth century port of Theodosius at the Yenikapı Marmaray construction site started back in 2004 and since then, 40,000 artefacts have been registered, while over 150,000 pieces are still being being studied.


To date, 35 wrecked ships that sank between the fifth and 11th centuries CE have been uncovered, 30 are merchant vessels equipped with sails, while the rest are oared galleys. The dig at Yenikapı features the largest number of shipwrecks  discovered in any one location anywhere in the world, with a team of 45 archaeologists and a further 265 staff members, consisting of architects and art historians still working at the excavation site.



Black Death Bacterium Identified: Genetic Analysis of Medieval Plague Skeletons Shows Presence of Yersinia Pestis Bacteria

A team of German and Canadian scientists has shown that today's plague pathogen has been around at least 600 years.

ScienceDaily (Aug. 29, 2011)


The Black Death claimed the lives of one-third of Europeans in just five years from 1348 to 1353. Until recently, it was not certain whether the bacterium Yersinia pestis -- known to cause the plague today -- was responsible for that most deadly outbreak of disease ever. Now, the University of Tübingen's Institute of Scientific Archaeology and McMaster University in Canada have been able to confirm that Yersinia pestis was behind the great plague.

The results of the research are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previous genetic tests indicating that the bacterium was present in medieval samples had previously been dismissed as contaminated by modern DNA or the DNA of bacteria in the soil. Above all, there was doubt because the modern plague pathogen spreads much more slowly and is less deadly than the medieval plague -- even allowing for modern medicine.

The international team of researchers has for the first time been able to decode a circular genome important for explaining the virulence of Y. pestis. It is called pPCP1 plasmid and comprises about 10,000 positions in the bacterium's DNA. The sample was taken from skeletons from a London plague cemetery. The working group in Tübingen, led by Dr. Johannes Krause used a new technique of "molecular fishing" -- enriching plague DNA fragments from tooth enamel and sequencing them using the latest technology. In this way, the fragments were connected up into a long genome sequence -- which turned out to be identical to modern-day plague pathogens. "That indicates that at least this part of the genetic information has barely changed in the past 600 years," says Krause.

The researchers were also able to show that the plague DNA from the London cemetery was indeed medieval. To do that, they examined damage to the DNA which only occurs in old DNA -- therefore excluding the possibility of modern contamination. "Without a doubt, the plague pathogen known today as Y. pestis was also the cause of the plague in the Middle Ages," says Krause, who is well known for his DNA sequencing of ancient hominin finds, which help trace relationships between types of prehistoric man and modern humans.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Universitaet Tübingen, via AlphaGalileo.

Journal Reference:

Verena J. Schuenemann, Kirsten Bos, Sharon Dewitte, Sarah Schmedes, Joslyn Jamieson, Alissa Mittnik, Stephen Forrest, Brian K. Coombes, James W. Wood, David J. D. Earn, William White, Johannes Krause, Hendrik N. Poinar. Targeted enrichment of ancient pathogens yielding the pPCP1 plasmid of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1105107108