Early humans settled in Arabia

Jul 06, 2012

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY

Stone Age tools uncovered in Yemen point to humans leaving Africa and inhabiting Arabia perhaps as far back as 63,000 years ago, archaeologists report.


"The expansion of modern humans out of Africa and into Eurasia via the Arabian Peninsula is currently one of the most debated questions in prehistory," begins an upcomingJournal of Human Evolution  report led by Anne Delagnes of France's Université Bordeaux. The archaeologists report from the site of Shi'bat Dihya located in a wadi, or gully, that connects Yemen's highlands to the coastal plains of the Red Sea.


The age of the site puts it squarely at a time when early modern humans were thought to be first emigrating from Eastern Africa to the rest of the world. "The Arabian Peninsula is routinely considered as the corridor where migrating East African populations would have passed during a single or multiple dispersal events," says the study.


"It has also been suggested that the groups who colonized South Asia rapidly expanded from South and East Africa along the Arabian coastlines around 60 ka BP (60,000 years ago), bringing with them a modern behavioral package including microlithic (stone) backed tools, ostrich-eggshell beads or engraved fragments. However, this scenario is not supported by any 'hard' archaeological evidence from the Arabian Peninsula. Up until recently, the absence of stratified contexts (archaeological sites) from the entirety of the region has rendered issues concerning the timing and trajectories of the earliest expansions of modern humans into the region largely theoretical."


One new site is the study's subject, Shi'bat Dihya, located along the Wadi Sudud (see map below). Excavating down to a level dating to perhaps 63,000 years ago, when the region was quite arid, the team found some "5,488 artifacts" -- Stone Age blades, pointed blades and pointed flakes, nearly an inch long or longer, as well as the bones of 97 animals, mostly cows, horses, pigs and porcupines.


Finding tool-makers so far inland, nearly 75 miles from the coast, surprised the study team, as most models of human expansion picture our ancestors migrating along the coasts on their way to Europe and Asia. "The adaptation of the occupants of Wadi Sudud to an arid environment significantly nuances the environmental determinism inherent in nearly all models concerning the peopling of southern Arabia," says the study.


"The bioenvironmental setting of the Wadi Surdud basin certainly accounts for the attractiveness of the region, even during arid periods. In the context of the Saharo-Arabian arid belt, the medium altitude foothills form ecological niches with long-lasting and predictable sources of water and herbivores that provided ideal conditions for human settlement."


Most intriguing, the stone tools found at the site fall into the tradition of older Stone Age tools, rather than ones associated with the early modern humans thought to have left Africa roughly 60,000 years ago. They might have belonged to descendants of earlier modern human migrants from Africa who established themselves in Arabia despite its desert conditions. Or maybe they belonged to a sister human species, our Neanderthal cousins, suggest the researchers:


"Our fieldwork at the Wadi Surdud in Yemen demonstrates that during the period of the supposed expansion of modern humans out of Africa (60,000 to 50,000 years ago), and their rapid dispersal toward south-eastern Asia along the western and southern Arabian coastlines, the interior of this region was, in fact, occupied by well-adapted human groups who developed their own local technological tradition, deeply rooted in the Middle Paleolithic. Future research will likely reveal whether the archaeological assemblages recovered from the Wadi Surdud can be associated with the descendents of anatomically modern human groups who occupied the Arabian Peninsula during (this era) or the southernmost expansion of the Neanderthals."



Sea surrenders pristine Roman sarcophagus

By The Art Newspaper. From In The Frame

Published online: 06 July 2012


Diving school trainer Hakan Gulec came across more than fish and flotsam during a recent trip to the bottom of the ocean near Antalya off the coast of southern Turkey. An object protruding through the sand on the sea bed caught Gulec's attention, prompting the intrepid explorer to dislodge and photograph the mystery find. According to Hürriyet Daily News, he then showed his images to officials at Alanya museum who were taken aback by the discovery: a striking, well-preserved sarcophagus adorned with Medusa heads, cupids holding up garlands and dancing women at the corners."The Alanya museum has gained a new piece of art," said its director Yasar Yildiz. "The figures on it show that it dates from the Roman period." But where has it come from? Perhaps it was made in the famous sculpture school at Aphrodisias further up the coast, which produced sculptural works for the Roman empire.



Archaeologists dig up bog army bones in Denmark

By John Acher

COPENHAGEN | Wed Jul 4, 2012 1:22am IST


(Reuters) - Danish archaeologists said on Tuesday they had re-opened a mass grave of scores of slaughtered Iron Age warriors to find new clues about their fate and the bloody practices of Germanic tribes on the edge of the Roman Empire.


Bones of around 200 soldiers have already been found preserved in a peat bog near the village of Alken on Denmark's Jutland peninsula.


Experts started digging again on Monday, saying they expected to find more bodies dating back 2,000 years to around the time of Christ.


"I guess we will end up with a scale that is much larger than the 200 that we have at present," Aarhus University archaeologist Mads Kahler Holst told Reuters.


"We have only touched upon a very small part of what we expect to be there ... We have not seen anything like this before in Denmark, but it is quite extraordinary even in a European perspective," he added, speaking by phone from the site on damp grazing meadows near Jutland's large lake of Mossoe.


The first bones, belonging to people as young as 13, were discovered in 2009. Cuts and slashes on the skeletons showed they had died violently, said Holst. But nothing was known for sure about the identity of the killers, or their victims.


"That is one of the big mysteries ... We don't know if it is local or foreign - we would expect it to be local," Holst said.


"We think it is a sacrifice related to warfare and probably the defeated soldiers were killed and thrown into the lake," he said.


The remains are from the beginning of the Roman Iron Age, though Roman armies never reached so far north.


"It was the time when the Roman Empire had its greatest expansion to the north," Holst said. But even that push only got the Romans as far as modern day Germany, a few hundred kilometers to the south of the Danish site.


"This conflict could have been a consequence of the Roman expansion, its effect on the Germanic world," Holst said.


He said the discovery could shed new light on what happened in those centuries beyond the borders of the Roman Empire.


"It will also tell about what level of military organization existed in this northern European area," he said.


Similar discoveries of sacrificed warriors from a few hundred years earlier have been made at Celtic sites in France, Holst said.


The soggy conditions at Alken have delayed decomposition so the remains are unusually well preserved, he said.


The remains are so well preserved that experts will be able to analyze their DNA - a rare achievement in remains so old, said Ejvind Hertz, curator of archaeology at Skanderborg Museum.


Preliminary DNA tests have been carried out at a laboratory on six teeth and two femur bones. "There was not much in the femurs but there was in the teeth - teeth are good at preserving DNA," Hertz said.


The DNA of people who lived at that time would not normally differ from the DNA of today's Scandinavians. If differences are found, it could point to a foreign army from southern Europe, Hertz said.


(Reporting by John Acher; Editing by Andrew Heavens)



How Dobat discovered the hidden Viking town


Back in 2003, Andres Dobat could only dream of the archaeological adventure that lay ahead of him.


He was a student at the University of Kiel in Germany, where he had a specific interest in the area around the Viking cityof Hedeby by the Danish-German border. The young man found it odd that there weren’t more Viking towns in the area.


He thought that perhaps the area hadn’t been studied well enough. So that’s what he set out to do.


He consulted the archaeological archives and checked which areas in the regions his colleagues had previously made archaeological finds from the Viking Age. He then travelled to these areas with his metal detector.

In a bay near the town of Füsing he found the jackpot when his metal detector discovered a gold bracelet.

He had a feeling that there could be more to discover at that location. So he asked a colleague to fly him around the fields in the area. The soil is much more fertile in the places where the walls of the old Viking houses stood. So fertile in fact that corn in this area stays mature for longer than grains in surrounding areas. On photographs he took on the flight, the young archaeologist caught a glimpse of the outlines of houses in the cornfield near Füsing. He didn’t doubt for a second that these were pit-houses. It was clear that the area harboured great archaeological treasures, but it was also clear that more sophisticated tests were needed to determine how big the houses were.

Using geophysical measuring tools, archaeologists from the University of Kiel measured the magnetic field just above the surface in the area. The measurements showed that the soil contained over 100 pit-houses and numerous objects waiting to be excavated.


In 2010, Dobat received a grant from the Carlsberg Foundation to fund an excavation. Thanks to the great finds, the excavations were allowed to continue in 2011 and 2012.



Legendary Viking town unearthed

The hidden centre of power for the first Danish kings may well have popped up from the soil in Northern Germany. Archaeologists have surprisingly found some 200 houses and piles of weapons.

By: Niels Ebdrup

July 2, 2012 - 05:00


Danish archaeologists believe they have found the remains of the fabled Viking town Sliasthorp by the Schlei bay in northern Germany, near the Danish border.


According to texts from the 8th century, the town served as the centre of power for the first Scandinavian kings.


But historians have doubted whether Sliasthorp even existed. This doubt is now starting to falter, as archaeologists from Aarhus University are making one amazing discovery after the other in the German soil.


"This is huge. Wherever we dig, we find houses – we reckon there are around 200 of them,” says Andres Dobat, a lecturer in prehistoric archaeology at Aarhus University.


“And the houses we have dug up so far were filled with finds: beads, jewellery, pieces of broken glass, axes, keys and arrowheads.”


One of the first Scandinavian towns

The finds support the archaeologists’ interpretation that the town belonged to the Viking elite and functioned as a military strategic centre.


“Both Dannevirke and Hedeby – two of the world’s largest monuments from the Viking Age – could be controlled from this place,” says Dobat.



Caltrops are very unpleasant to step on, and that makes them a useful tool in wars – and apparently they were used as early as in the Viking Age. (Photo: University of Aarhus)

“We’re still not fully aware of what significance this site has had. But our excavations have already given us a completely new perspective on many things, including the military organisation in the Viking Age and the nature of the first towns in Scandinavia.”


A strategic location

The first written sources for the history of Denmark – the Royal Frankish Annals from 804 – say that Sliasthorp played an important role in the Viking Age.


The aggressive Viking king Godfred, the text says, decided to turn the town into a military power centre near the border of the early Danish kingdom. At the start of the 9th century he arrived with his army to what was then a small settlement and turned it into a key strategic military location.


Strategically it was a clever choice of location:


The long Dannevirke fortification was located only a few hundred metres to the south. So when there was a need for troop reinforcements at the border to the Carolingian Empire in Germany, they could easily step in from Sliasthorp.

The town’s numerous pit-houses could accommodate all of King Godfred’s warriors. This enabled the king to strike back in case Jutland was attacked by Charlemagne (c. 742-814), who ruled what we now know as Germany. He headed a superpower, which had just conquered and forcibly Christianised all of Northern Germany and which could potentially occupy Jutland too.

With its location by the Schlei bay, Viking ships could easily transport personnel, weapons and food to and from the town.

Sliasthorp was attacked by warriors

It appears that King Godfred was wise to make preparations to defend himself in Southern Jutland. The archaeological finds back up the written sources, showing that the king's military power centre was later attacked.


“We have found the remains of a huge longhouse which was burned down at some point during the 10th century,” says Dobat.


"The house was more than 30 metres long and nine metres wide, and in the remains of the pillars that once stood by the wall and the entrance, we found arrowheads and caltrops. This suggests that the house was attacked in a military conflict and burned down.”


The king lived with the chief


King Godfred was king of the Danes from before 804 to around 810 – some 150 years before King Gorm the Old.

Godfred is the first Danish king who we know for sure existed. We know this from the Royal Frankish Annals, which was written by King Godfred’s enemies to the south – the Carolingians. The books detailed the power relations in and around the Carolingian Empire.

Godfred was in all likelihood not the only king in the area we today call Denmark. But we do know that loyal chiefs secured his power in Jutland and perhaps also southern Norway.

The attack took place long after King Godfred's death. But even if he had been alive, it’s still unlikely that he witnessed the attack. Back then, kings were always on the go and rarely spent long periods at Sliasthorp.


As a consequence, the daily running of the town is likely to have been administered by the town chief, who lived in the lavish longhouse.


King Godfred and his men only lodged in Sliasthorp when they had business in the area.


Silasthorp, a town for the elite

The king wasn’t the only one travelling in and out of the Viking town. The town’s population figures fluctuated several times within the same year, depending on whether there was a need for craftsmen and soldiers in the area. Only a select group of the absolute elite Vikings lived in Sliasthorp over extended periods.


Based on the industrial design and the building style, Dobat reckons that a majority of the houses in the town were only used a few weeks a year. At times there were 100 people in the town; other times perhaps over 1,000.


“We are in pre-Christian times. So it’s conceivable that people gathered in the houses when they had sacrificial feasts, political mass meetings, military training, or if something was going on at Dannevirke.


All the dirty business was in Hedeby

Sliasthorp, which was the size of 14 football pitches, was much smaller than the nearby Hedeby, which spread over 50 football pitches.



‘Silasthorp’ means ‘the estate – or the town – by the Schlei’

The new finds show that the town was used for around 300 years, roughly between the years 700 and 1,000.

The archaeologists have so far found more than 500 metal objects in the town, including jewellery, riding equipment and weapons, such as knives and arrowheads.

There are around 200 pit-houses on the site. These houses were used as seasonal residences. They also discovered a large longhouse and ten slightly smaller ones.

“In the Viking Age, people spread out,” says Dobat. “Craftsmen, the marketplace and all the other dirty things were in one city. The elite – religious leaders and the military – had however withdrawn to another town. So the regional elite did not live in Hedeby. It was located some five kilometres away.


“Our studies have given us a completely new view on the anatomy of the very earliest cities. It differs greatly from what we see in the Middle Ages and today.”


The new find is no less interesting to a historian than to an archaeologist. Lasse A. C. Sonne, who holds a Phd in Viking history and is a lecturer at the Saxo Institute at the University of Copenhagen, is fascinated by the news:


“If Dobat has discovered at royal estate in that area it is of course interesting – not least if the town can be linked to Hedeby,” he says.


“From the Viking town of Birka, near Stockholm, Sweden, we know a similar model. There the great city lay isolated on one island, and on the neighbouring island was a royal estate from which the city could be governed.”


Historians and archaeologists have long debated whether it was merchants who founded cities in the Viking Ages, or whether it was the towns’ chiefs.


“If Dobat’s interpretation of the finds is correct, they – together with finds from Birka and others – paint a picture where chiefs were involved, and where large Viking cities didn’t just emerge out of the blue,” says Sonne.


It appears that the Dannevirke fortification was built by men who lived in Sliasthorp.

Archeological datings show that Sliasthorp and Dannevirke grew large in the same year. King Godfred probably rearmed the area to protect its military alliance in Scandinavia against the Carolingian threat from Germany.

This could indicate that Dannevirke and Sliasthorp were built to ensure a military unity – and not as a border like the ones we know today.

In the Viking Ages, the Norse kings didn’t have clearly defined kingdoms. Rather, they were warriors and politicians, who managed to forge alliances between regional chiefs.

And sure enough, the datings have revealed that Sliasthorp was built some 100 years before Hedeby.


So the newly discovered town may very well have been the place from which the merchant city of Hedeby was planned.


Andres Dobat believes this means that the entire urban development in the northern German/southern Denmark region began with Sliasthorp.


“This is common European history. We have actually found the origins of what we today call Hamburg,” says Dobat.


"When the Vikings built this town and Hedeby, they were a precursor of Schleswig, which in the early Middle Ages was the great trading city in the region. Schleswig, in turn, was the precursor of Lübeck, which today has given way to Hamburg. We’re digging at the roots of world economy.”


The excavation work is still being done. Since Dobat discovered the first objects with his metal detector in 2003, there have been two excavations – in 2010 and 2011.


Later this summer the team, which also consists of archaeologists from the universities of Harvard, Cambridge and Paris, will travel back to the exciting area near the town of Füsing, some 30 kilometres south of the Danish-German border.



Large Roman cemetery discovered in Norfolk

3 July 2012 Last updated at 18:30


Archaeologists have discovered 85 Roman graves in what has been hailed as the largest and best preserved cemetery of that period found in Norfolk.


The site at Great Ellingham, near Attleborough, has been excavated over the last four months and the findings have now been revealed.


Among the skeletons, which have been exhumed for further study, there were some which were beheaded after death.


The cemetery is thought to date from the 3rd/4th Century.


The excavation was part of a planning process following an application for the residential development of a site in Great Ellingham.


Complete burials and isolated finds of human bones have been recorded at, and immediately adjacent to, the site since the late 1950s.


An archaeological evaluation by trial trenching in November 2011 by Chris Birks Archaeology revealed Roman burials and isolated finds of human bone, confirming the cemetery extended into the proposed development site.


The works have been co-funded by the landowner and developer.


Chris Birks said: "Even from the results of the evaluation, we never expected to find 85 burials, the most previously being recorded in Norfolk was about half this amount."


He said one particular feature that had been identified from the excavations is the seemingly deliberate placement of flints around the skull.


One burial represents a decapitation burial where the head has been placed by the feet, which Mr Birks said was "surprisingly not an unknown type of burial from other Roman cemeteries".


"Analysis and research by a human bones specialist will no doubt shed more light on these and the other burials," said Mr Birks.


The only grave goods found at the site was an iron finger ring.


"The population represented by this cemetery was most probably a rural settlement reliant on farming practices though, at present, we don't know where this settlement was," said Mr Birks.


David Gurney, historic environment manager at Norfolk County Council, said: "Only 300 Roman burials have been found in Norfolk. This discovery is a fantastic opportunity to look at these skeletons, to find out clues about their life and diets."


All the burials at Great Ellingham have now been removed.



Archaeologists Uncover Gold Treasure Near Herzliya

One of the largest gold treasures ever to be discovered in Israel was uncovered last week at an archaeological dig near Herzliya.

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By Chana Ya'ar

First Publish: 7/8/2012, 1:59 PM


One of the largest gold treasures ever to be discovered in Israel was uncovered last week at an archaeological dig near Herzliya.


The treasure, more than 100 gold pieces and weighing approximately 400 grams (nearly one pound), is estimated at a worth of more than $100,000.


The coins were found hidden in a partly broken pottery vessel at the Appollonia National Park, where archaeologists say the former Crusader town of Apollonia-Arsuf once thrived. The dig is being carried out under the joint auspices of Tel Aviv University and the Nature and Parks Authority.


Included among the items found were 108 gold coins, including 93 that weighed four grams each, and 15 that weighed 1 gram each. The gold was not new and clearly was part of someone's family treasure or business investment. The coins were minted in Egypt approximately 250 years prior to their burial under the floor tiles of the 13th century CE fortress that has been under excavation for more than 30 years.


A large cache of arrowheads – hundreds, in fact – and other weaponry, including stones used in catapults, also was found. Archaeologists said the find indicated a fierce battle had taken place at the time the Mameluks seized the area from the Crusaders.


TAU Professor Oren Tal pointed out that the manner in which the treasure was hidden indicated its owner's intention of returning to reclaim it. "I think the stash was deliberately buried in a partly broken vessel, which was filled with sand and buried under the floor tiles so if anyone were to discover it, he would simply believe it to be a broken pot, and ignore it.”


Appollonia National Park director Haggai Yoynana added that if one were to add the treasure to the findings of the weaponry, “it tells the story of a prolonged siege and a harsh battle.”


According to the website of the Biblical Archaeological Society, the clash has been identified as the Battle of Arsuf, between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart.


The Crusader fortress had been uncovered at the site some time ago, along with remains of a port city dating back to the time of the Phoenicians. Archaeologists have also found the remains of a Roman villa, a well-preserved market street from the Early Islamic period and a massive gate complex.



Archaeologists dig up clue to early independence bid

By Ralph Riegel

Sunday July 08 2012


ARCHAEOLOGISTS have made a landmark discovery that could help answer the question that has puzzled Irish historians for over 200 years.


Could an invasion of Ireland by Napoleon's French forces have succeeded and triggered Irish independence more than century earlier than it was actually won?


A team of experts -- led by Rubicon Archaeology -- has discovered a near pristine gun emplacement on Bere Island in west Cork.


They have also revealed tantalising hints that Britain's coastal defensive network was much more formidable than first thought -- and would have left the French facing their own 19th Century version of D-Day and Germany's Atlantic Wall.


Until now, it had been presumed that only bad weather, poor planning and luck had kept crack French troops away from the Irish coast.


Rubicon's Damian Shiels said that, over the next month, they hope to be able to piece-together the precise defensive network that the British put in place to foil a feared French landing.


"It is very exciting -- we have only really begun our excavations and we've already uncovered a gun emplacement that would have featured two 18-pound cannons," he told the Sunday Independent.


For the first time, a major excavation and survey will involve locals -- and Bere Island residents are being encouraged to participate in the archaeological works from July 27 to August 11.


"The local community will be helping to produce the results that will benefit both archaeology and hopefully their own efforts to attract people to the island," he added.


The survey -- which has been funded by the Heritage Council -- aims to focus attention on Ireland's 18th and 19th Century military infrastructure, an area that has been largely neglected over recent decades.


While Ireland's Martello Towers are iconic remnants of the Napoleonic era, the precise effectiveness of Britain's coastal defences against the French has long remained a source of controversy.


Some military historians believe that a properly organised French invasion would have met with initial success -- and pointed to the incredible victories briefly enjoyed by a tiny French force in Mayo under General Humbert.


However, Mr Shiels and his 20-strong team believe that the coastal defences ordered by Britain from 1790 to the 1850s -- and inspected by none other than the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley -- may have been very effective if operated properly.


"The gun emplacement we have excavated boasts stunning views out over Berehaven Bay -- if the gunners knew their stuff, any boat coming into range would have had a major problem," he said.


The closest Ireland came to a major French invasion was in December 1796 when United Irish leader Wolfe Tone arrived in Bantry Bay with 15,000 French troops. However, bad weather and poor leadership meant the landing didn't happen and the fleet sailed back to France. A furious Wolfe Tone said they were close enough to Bantry to have thrown a biscuit ashore.


A French army did land in Mayo in 1798 under General Jean Joseph Humbert. However, the force included only 1,000 French troops and, after surprising initial success, was defeated by a much larger British force in Leitrim.


- Ralph Riegel



X-rays reveal secrets of Roman coins

New technique could dramatically speed up assessing the significance of archaeological finds

Maev Kennedy

guardian.co.uk, Monday 9 July 2012 15.24 BST


Scientists have used a new x-ray technique to produce spectacular 3D images of Roman coins that were corroded inside pots or blocks of soil.


The rotating images built up from thousands of two-dimensional scans are so clear that individual coins can be identified and dated, without a single battered denarius – the Roman currency – being visible to the naked eye. The advantage of the new method – developed by a unique collaboration between archaeologists and scientists at the British Museum and Southampton University – is that it means coins can be identified and even dated much more quickly and without risking damage to them.


Roger Bland, a coins expert who is also head of the Portable Antiquities and Treasure schemes for reporting archaeological finds, based at the British Museum, said: "The initial results are very encouraging and in some cases remarkable. The techniques could have profound implications for the way we assess and study finds in the future, producing results in a few hours that would take a conservator weeks or even months."


Bland astonished the team at Southampton by sitting down with a sheaf of printouts and then identifying and dating each individual coin, including silver denarii from the reigns of Marcus Aurelius, Vespasian, Trajan and Hadrian, which were all still clumped together in a pottery cup, one of two found by an amateur with a metal detector in a field near Selby, Yorkshire.


The coins have since been painstakingly extracted from the pot and cleaned to confirm that the identification was spot on, and have gone on display in the British Museum's new Money gallery.


 The hoard is still going through the Treasure process, and the British Museum hopes to acquire it. Uniquely, according to Eleanor Ghey, the archaeologist studying the find, chaff was found mixed with the coins, suggesting a ritual offering of food and money.


The technique could dramatically speed up assessing the significance of archaeological discoveries. With treasure finds – such as the huge Frome hoard of coins, or the dazzling Staffordshire hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold – under the present system finders and landowners, and museums which might want to raise funds to acquire them, all have to wait months or years.


Unlike conventional excavation, the technique avoids the risk of damage to corroding metal. As the method evolves it should be possible to fully study some objects without ever exposing them to daylight.


The x-ray technology at Southampton was originally developed to scan Rolls Royce turbine blades for flaws. Professor Ian Sinclair, director of the μ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography, who is currently running an elephant's skull through the system to test its capabilities, said it was the largest of its kind and unique in Britain.


Dr Graeme Earl, an archaeologist member of the university's Archaeological Computing Research Group, said they were still learning the potential of the combined power of the x-ray machine, the knowledge of the academics and the skills of those producing the computer-generated images. "This gives archaeologists and conservators around the world the opportunity to virtually examine, excavate, and 'clean' objects."


He added: "We're still finding out what it can do – but anything up to roughly the size and shape of a rubbish bin, we'll have a crack at."