Fishy find shows humans skilled anglers 42,000 years ago

By Tan Ee Lyn | Reuters – Sat, Jan 14, 2012

HONG KONG (Reuters)


Fish hooks and fishbones dating back 42,000 years found in a cave in East Timor suggest that humans were capable of skilled, deep-sea fishing 30,000 years earlier than previously thought, researchers in Australia and Japan said on Friday.

The artefacts -- nearly 39,000 fishbones and three fish hooks -- were found in a limestone cave in Jerimalai in East Timor, 50 metres (165 feet) above sea level, said Sue O'Connor from the Australian National University's department of archaeology and natural history.

"There was never any hint of (what) maritime technology people might have had in terms of fishing gear 40,000 years ago," O'Connor, the study's lead author, told Reuters by telephone from Canberra.

"(This study showed) you got ability to make hooks, you are using lines on those hooks. If you can make fibre lines, you can make nets, you are probably using those fibres on your boats."

"It gives us a lot of information on how people subsisted on these very small islands on their way to Australia," she said.

Modern humans were capable of long-distance sea travel 50,000 years ago as they colonised Australia, but evidence of advanced maritime fishing has been rare.

Researchers until now have only been able to find evidence of open-ocean fishing up to 12,000 years ago.

O'Connor and her colleagues, who published their findings in the journal Science, found the bones and hooks in a 1 sq metre "test pit" in the cave, 300 metres (985 feet) from the coast.

"All the bones we got inside were just the result of human meals, 40,000 years ago," said O'Connor.

"They were living in that shelter and we are fortunate that all the materials are preserved so well in that limestone cave, which preserves bone and shell really well," she said.

The fish hooks were apparently made from the shells of the Trochus, a large sea snail.

"They are very strong shell ... we think they just put bait on and dropped the hook in the water from a boat (at the) edge of a reef," O'Connor said.

The fish bones were traced to 23 species of fish, including tuna, unicornfish, parrotfish, trevallies, triggerfish, snappers, emperors and groupers.

"Parrotfish and unicorn were probably caught on baited hooks ... but tuna are deepwater, fast-moving fish. Tuna and trevallies were probably caught by lure fishing," O'Connor said.

(Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Paul Tait)



Archaeologists Uncover 3,000-Year Old Tomb in Egypt, with Remains of Female Singer

By SANGEETA GHOSH DASTIDAR: Subscribe to Sangeeta's RSS feed

January 16, 2012 12:25 PM GMT


A team of Egyptian and Swiss archaeologists have uncovered the tomb of a female singer, dating back 3,000 years, in the Valley of the Kings in Karnak, near Luxor, in Upper Egypt.


According to an official release by the Egyptian department of Antiquities, the new discovery was an accidental breakthrough by a team from Switzerland's Basel University. The team was led by Elena Pauline-Grothe and Susanne Bickel. 


The tomb has been identified as that of a woman named Nehmes Bastet - a singer for the highest deity Amon Ra - during the period 945-712 B.C. The information was inscribed on a wooden plaque within the tomb. The singer was also recognized as the daughter of the High Priest of Amon. The artifacts found on site led the excavators to believe she sang at the Karnak Temple, one of the most famous and largest open-air sites from the Pharaonic era.


"We were not looking for new tombs. It was close to another tomb that was discovered 100 years ago," Pauline-Grothe said.


The discovery is important because this is the first tomb unearthed from the historic Egyptian valley that has no lineage to the Egyptian royal family.


"It is the only tomb of a woman not related to the ancient Egyptian royal families ever found in the Valley of the Kings," said Mansour Boraiq, the top government official for the Antiquities' Ministry in the city of Luxor, in an Associated Press report.


Boraiq further said the coffin was remarkably well preserved and added that when the coffin was opened (later this week), archaeologists will most likely find a mummy and a mask molded to her face; made from layers of linen and plaster.


At the time of her death, Egypt was ruled by Libyan kings but the high priests who ruled Thebes, which is now within the city of Luxor, were independent. Their authority enabled them to use the royal cemetery for family members, Boraiq explained.


Media reports quote Pauline-Grothe as saying the tomb was not originally built for the singer but was altered to accommodate her approximately 400 years later, based on artifacts found inside. The archaeologists do not know the tomb's original occupant.


Finally, the singer's name - Nehmes Bastet - indicates she may have been protected by the feline deity Bastet.



Star Carr excavations enter exciting new phase


Archaeologists at the University of York have secured major European funding to carry out sophisticated new research at one of Europe’s most important Early Mesolithic sites.


A team led by Dr Nicky Milner has won a €1.5 million grant from the European Research Council to develop a high-resolution approach to understanding how hunter-gatherers adapted to climatic and environmental change between 10,000 and 8,000 BC at Star Carr in North Yorkshire.


Last year a team of archaeologists, from York and the University of Manchester, discovered Britain’s earliest surviving house. The house dates to at least 9,000 BC – when Britain was part of continental Europe. The research team unearthed the 3.5 metres circular structure next to an ancient lake at the site, near Scarborough, which archaeologists say is comparable in importance to Stonehenge. They also excavated a well preserved 11,000 year-old tree trunk with its bark still intact and the earliest evidence of carpentry in Europe.


The latest research aims to take advantage of new techniques to integrate high-resolution records of palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental change with the remarkable new archaeological record of postglacial sites around palaeo-Lake Flixton, including Star Carr.


The team will analyse human responses to environmental change during this postglacial period. Archaeological sites from the period are rare, and those with good organic preservation even rarer. Consequently there have been few opportunities to link palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental records with evidence for past human activity for the postglacial period.


Dr Milner said: “We know little about the lives of our ancestors who lived during the Preboreal – the postglacial period followed rapid climate change c. 9600 BC – the last major global warming event on earth. For more than a millennium, Northern Europe had been held in the grip of tundra-like conditions, but within a matter of decades temperatures soared by as much as 10oC, resulting in the generation of birch woodland.


“The hunter-gatherers who lived during this postglacial period have been characterised as highly mobile, dispersed and living in small groups, and there is much debate as to how they adapted to global warming.


“Recent discoveries at the Early Mesolithic site of Star Carr, which lies on the shore of palaeo-Lake Flixton, offer a new picture; one in which hunter-gatherers move into a new territory but then settle down and invest time and effort into building huts and large scale wooden structures with evidence for occupation that spans hundreds of years.”


The ERC grant  will fund three years of fieldwork involving 20 specialists followed by two years of analysis of their findings.


As we reported last month, UK Heritage Minister John Penrose designated Star Carr a scheduled monument for its exceptional archaeological importance.



Archaeologists ready for Bronze Age boat build

Saturday, January 14, 2012Western Morning News


The processes behind building the oldest boat ever found in Western Europe will be investigated by a team of modern- day maritime experts.


Archaeologists from the University of Exeter will lead the project at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth as they attempt to rebuild a sewn-plank boat, examples of which date to around 2000 BC. The Bronze Age vessels, which measured up to 16 metres in length, are thought to have been unique to England and Wales.


"Because none of the boats have ever been found as complete boats, this project will seek to understand how they were constructed, how to steer such a long boat, measure how fast it can go, understand how the crew used paddles, as sails were not evident, and how watertight it is," said Professor Robert Van de Noort, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter.


The hulls of these prehistoric boats were made by stitching together planks of wood using fibres from yew trees because nails had yet to be invented.


The boats helped to establish Cornwall as a trading region, ferrying gold and copper to and from Ireland.


The team plan to use only ancient tools, such as Bronze Age axes and adzes. "No-one has done this for 4,000 years so I am sure we will come up against some difficulties, but we think we have given ourselves enough time to give it a good go," said Prof Van de Noort.


The reconstruction will take place in an open workshop at the museum, giving visitors the chance to see the boat as it takes shape.


"This is really exciting, ambitious, challenging and unique. We are honoured to be hosting this never-been-done- before project, " said Andy Wyke, boat collections manager at National Maritime Museum Cornwall.



UK unveils rare Roman helmet mistaken for bucket

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON | Tue Jan 10, 2012 3:43pm GMT



A rare Roman cavalry helmet dating from Emperor Claudius' invasion of Britain nearly 2,000 years ago was unveiled on Tuesday after painstaking restoration lasting nearly a decade.


The so-called Hallaton Helmet was found 10 years ago during the excavation of an Iron Age shrine at Hallaton in Leicestershire, central England.


At the time, archaeologists used to finding more instantly recognizable gold and silver coins joked that they had unearthed a fairly modern "rusty bucket."


In fact what they had found was a treasure of considerable importance which experts said pointed to the close relationship between Roman invaders and some native Britons.


"The helmet doesn't seem to be damaged, so it could have been taken in battle but I think that's not terribly likely," Peter Liddle, community archaeologist for Leicestershire County Council, told Reuters.


"I think two things are the most likely -- this belonged to a Briton who has fought in the Roman Army and got back home in one piece or it was a diplomatic gift from the Romans to a local ruler to cement an alliance."


Both possibilities challenge the commonly held view that it was Romans versus Britons in and around 43 AD when Emperor Claudius' conquest began.


The site where the helmet was found is believed to be a major religious centre which has produced one of the largest number of Iron Age coins ever discovered in Britain.


The presence of pig bones also points to ritual feasting dating to the mid-1st century AD.


The remains of the once magnificent helmet had to be lifted from the site in a soil block and transported to the British Museum where experts spent years piecing together hundreds of fragments in a process likened to a 3D jigsaw puzzle.


Marilyn Hockey, head of ceramics, glass and metals conservation at the British Museum in London, said the project was one of the most challenging of her career.


"It's wonderful to be able to coax something like this out of the soil and to allow it to show itself off again," she said.


What Hockey discovered was a helmet built of sheet iron, once covered with carefully crafted silver sheet decorated in places with gold leaf.


The helmet's bowl features a wreath, symbol of military victory, and the scallop-shaped browguard shows the bust of a woman flanked by lions and other animals.


The cheek pieces depict a Roman emperor on horseback with the goddess Victory flying behind. Beneath his horse's hooves is a cowering figure, possibly a native Briton.


It is the only Roman helmet found in Britain with the majority of the silver-gilt plating surviving, and one of only a handful ever discovered.


The Hallaton Helmet will be displayed permanently at Harborough Museum in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, from January 28 alongside the other finds from the Hallaton Treasure.


The cost of the restoration and display of the finds was covered by Heritage Lottery Fund money worth around 650,000 pounds ($1 million) and other grants and contributions.


(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)



Roman villa 'rare and important for Peterborough' says archaeologist

14 January 2012 Last updated at 09:15


The villa, bath house and farm buildings are the first evidence of Roman occupation in east Peterborough


A "substantial, high-status" Roman villa discovered in Peterborough has shed new light on the city's occupants 2,000 years ago, archaeologists say.


Although the city - known as Durobrivae - was well-documented as a strategic area for the movement of Roman troops, there was little evidence of occupation - and no evidence of wealthy occupants in the east of the city.


Now Oxford Archaeology East and archaeologists from Peterborough City Council have discovered a 2nd Century villa and farm complex on the site of former allotments at Walton.


Dr Rebecca Casa Hatton said the two-storey villa, built in local limestone with "fine mosaic floors" and wall plaster painted red and green, was "a statement of the owner's wealth".


The city council archaeologist said: "Although we knew there might be buildings on the site, we weren't prepared for what we found.


"It became clear that this was a very grand villa and every day we were finding more."


The villa was built around a cobbled courtyard.


Further stone buildings, some of which also had painted and plastered walls, together with a tile kiln, suggested the main structure was at the centre of a farm estate.


Archaeologists working at the site said sweating chambers and an underfloor heating system indicated its residents "enjoyed the ritual of a hot, sauna-like bath".


Everyday pots and jars, ceramics for special occasions and bronze coins, brooches and pins were also found.


As well as the Roman villa, archaeologists found evidence of Iron Age occupation dating to about 100BC.


"All of this indicates this site was important both in Roman and pre-Roman times," Mrs Casa Hatton said.


"People came here and decided to make a statement of their wealth and status by building a fantastic, unprecedented Roman villa."


She said the closest similar site was the Roman palace (praetorium) at Castor, a few miles to the west of Peterborough.


The palace dates from about 250AD and is thought to be one of the largest excavated Roman complexes in the country.


"All in all this new site is quite an amazing one for Peterborough because of its importance and rarity," Mrs Casa Hatton said.


"It's important not only at a local level, but regionally and possibly even nationally."


The excavation was funded by developer Bellway Homes, with contributions from the Peterborough City Council.


The land is now being developed but the finds will be preserved at the city museum.


A public display will also be held at the Paston and Gunthorpe Community Centre on 28 January.



Unique discovery of jade necklace from ancient Mayan ruler at Tak’alik Ab’aj

MONDAY, 09 JANUARY 2012 07:32



Guatemala, Rethaluleu, Asintal. Takálik Ab´aj. Discovery of the necklace of the ancestor of the Mayan- Señor de la Greca - Lord of the Fret Design, the Return to the ancestor at Tak’alik Ab’aj. This is the latest finding at the ancient city of Tak'alik Ab'aj. Tak'alik Ab'aj fulfilled for almost two millenniums, a rich and vigorous role in Mesoamerican history.


The sculptured monuments buried there through the centuries, whose tops still emerge from the ground, gave way to the name, which in the K'iche' language means Standing Stone. Tak'alik Ab'aj is an ancient pre-Hispanic city situated in El Asintal, Department of Retalhuleu at the pacific piedmont of Guatemala. This important long distance trade and cosmopolitan cultural center is transcendent because of its long history which endured 1700 years (800 B.C. - 900 A.D). At its beginnings Tak'alik Ab'aj interacted and participated with the Olmec culture, and at its surmise, was one of the protagonists in the development of the early Maya culture.


Deep inside Structure 6, one of the most important ceremonial buildings of the Central Group at Tak’alik Ab’aj, in 2011 the team of the National Archaeological Park Tak’alik Ab’aj, lead by archaeologists Christa Schieber de Lavarreda and Miguel Orrego Corzo of the Guatemalan head office for Cultural and Natural Heritage, Ministry of Culture and Sports, concluded with the excavation of a very special offering yielding a necklace of more than 70 beads of jadeite of different forms and outstanding beauty. This “Necklace offering” is situated more than 4 m at the bottom of the building and was deposited there between 190 b.C. and 10 a.D. (Late Preclassic); it is the most ancient of a series of ritual acts succeeding each other through centuries orbiting around one same vertical axis. This sequence of extraordinary offerings apparently corresponds to dedication rituals to the different architectonic versions from Late Preclassic to Early Classic.


The “Necklace offering”, due to its special nature, appears to represent the departing point to which are focused the subsequent later offerings. Among those, highlights the notorious “Jadeite mosaic offering” which build the two miniature ceremonial heads discovered in 2010 (see news Guatemala-Times 10 of May 2010 http://www.guatemala-times.com/archeology/takalik-abaj/1555-mysterious-mayan-ceremonial-head-found-at-takaalik-abaaj-.html), giving place to the creation of the allegoric name – “Señor de la Greca” (“Lord of the Fret design”) – for a personage which must have had been one of the most powerful rulers of Tak’alik Ab’aj. At the archaeological site of this ancient city various cases of evidences have been found which tell us about the act of returning or referring to the parting points or ancestral orientations, or “calling into presence” the ancestors themselves. In the present case, the “Necklace offering” may refer to the ancestor of the powerful ruler named “Señor de la Greca” (Lord of the Fret design).


The characteristics of the “Necklace offering” invite to think about the possibility that it may represent the burial of an infant or more plausibly an exhumation undertaken in Late Preclassic times, introduced into the middle preclassic version of Structure 6. The extraordinary beauty and quality of the jadeite necklace manifests an utmost expression of status, and the radiocarbon date of 190 b.C. to 10 a.D. of the content of a vessel at the southern end of the space framed by cobble stones in the manner of a very narrow cist, situates this offering or possible burial – 100 years prior to the magnificent royal burial No. 1 discovered some years ago at Tak’alik Ab’aj – as one of the earliest with such an outstanding piece of jewelry.


This date might go even further back in time, possibly Middle Preclassic if the interpretation as an exhumation can be confirmed, which would put into evidence even more the magnitude of this kind of early manifestation of power at Tak’alik Ab’aj.


With this purpose, this year analysis of the presence of calcium and phosphor traces in the material directly associated to the necklace will be undertaken with the cooperation of the Department of Archaeology and Chemistry of University del Valle of Guatemala, as well as the archaeologists expect to be able to date some organic remains.


With this last finding a new precious “bead” has been added to the “necklace” of the most significant discoveries in the last years at Tak’alik Ab’aj, and which have brought us closer to the possible actors behind those historic events and whose signature remains manifest in their material legacy. Some of these personages were immortalized in some of the sculptures at Tak’alik Ab’aj, and their names and important dates of their lives as rulers were sculpted in stone. But it has not been possible to decode those ancient texts, so these personages have made themselves acquainted to the archaeologists by means of their public buildings and artistic expressions.



US diving crew finds wreck of British submarine used in second world war

HMS Olympus struck a mine off the coast of Malta as it tried to evade German and Italian warships on 8 May 1942

Richard Luscombe in Miami

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 11 January 2012 19.02 GMT


Explorers have discovered the wreck of a British submarine that sank off the coast of Malta in one of the worst naval disasters of the second world war.


Nearly 90 men lost their lives when HMS Olympus struck a mine and sank as it tried to evade German and Italian warships blockading Grand Harbour in the early hours of 8 May 1942.


A team of divers from a Florida-based exploration trust found the wreck while surveying the ocean floor off Malta last year. They announced their findings to the British government and the Royal Navy this week.


The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is expected to now formally designate the site.


"We are extremely excited by this discovery, it's a very important piece of Malta's history during the war," said Timmy Gambin, archaeological director of the Aurora Trust, a foundation set up to promote knowledge of maritime cultural history.


"The Royal Navy ran a large number of operations using submarines in and out of the island for many purposes, not least as a magic carpet ferrying fuel, ammunition and food, and Olympus played an extremely important role."


The trust, which has headquarters in Key Largo and a logistical base in Malta, visited the wreck, seven miles off the coast, twice last summer. During the second dive in September it sent down a remotely operated vehicle equipped with video cameras to capture images that confirmed the 80-metre-long vessel's identity.


"We had suspicions it was the Olympus. Armed with our research on the features of the submarine, where the guns were, the placing and types of the rudder and propeller, we were able to identify her," Gambin said.


"Except for the damage from the mine she was in pristine condition, sitting upright as if she'd been placed on the seabed."


He stressed that Aurora had treated the site with "every sensitivity possible" given that so many lives were lost.


Many of the crew aboard HMS Olympus – an Odin-class submarine built in Clydebank in 1927 – when it sank were survivors from the recent sinkings of three other Royal Navy submarines in the area by German bombers.


The British naval base at Malta was a crucial staging post for convoys moving through the Mediterranean to support Allied operations in north Africa, but it suffered heavy losses.


"What happened with the Olympus is a sad and tragic story," Gambin said. "Many survived the blast and sinking but not the swim back to shore."


There were only 11 survivors, while 89 men, disorientated by the darkness and distance from shore, perished, according to George Malcolmson, archivist of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, Gosport, Hampshire.


"One of the survivors told me how he looked back from the water to the incongruous sight of all these shoes and boots lined up in neat rows on the deck as the sub was sinking," he said.


Aurora has passed video footage from the dives to the British embassy in Washington and sent photographs to the submarine museum.


"It's a double-edged sword," Malcolmson said. "On one hand I'm pleased that for some people it's nice to know where there loved ones died but the publicity dredges up the possibility of intrusion and interference from people who are less concerned with the sanctity of a British war grave."