·         Newly discovered fossils of early humans from Kenya demonstrate there were two species living alongside Homo erectus

·         China's World Heritage Site where Homo erectus fossils were found in the 1930s has been damaged in the recent Beijing floods

·         8,000 year old objects found in Israel have been likened to matches by archaeologists An almost intact Roman ship has been found off the Italian coast

·         An extraordinary burial of an Aztec woman has been found in Mexico City

·         Severed hands have been found in an ancient Egyptian palace

·         Archaeologists have uncovered a Roman mosaic in York



New Kenyan Fossils Shed Light On Early Human Evolution

ScienceDaily (Aug. 8, 2012)


Exciting new fossils discovered east of Lake Turkana confirm that there were two additional species of our genus -- Homo -- living alongside our direct human ancestral species, Homo erectus, almost two million years ago. The finds, announced in the scientific journal Nature on August 9th, include a face, a remarkably complete lower jaw, and part of a second lower jaw.


They were uncovered between 2007 and 2009 by the Koobi Fora Research Project (KFRP), led by Meave and Louise Leakey. KFRP's fieldwork was facilitated by the Turkana Basin Institute (TBI), and supported by the National Geographic Society, which has funded the KFRP since 1968.


Four decades ago, the KFRP discovered the enigmatic fossil known as KNM-ER 1470 (or "1470" for short). This skull, readily distinguished by its large brain size and long flat face, ignited a longstanding debate about just how many different species of early Homo lived alongside Homo erectus during the Pleistocene epoch. 1470's unusual morphology was attributed by some scientists to sexual differences and natural degrees of variation within a single species, whereas others interpreted the fossil as evidence of a separate species.


This decades-old dilemma has endured for two reasons. First, comparisons with other fossils have been limited due to the fact that 1470's remains do not include its teeth or lower jaw. Second, no other fossil skull has mirrored 1470's flat and long face, leaving in doubt just how representative these characteristics are. The new fossils address both issues.


"For the past 40 years we have looked long and hard in the vast expanse of sediments around Lake Turkana for fossils that confirm the unique features of 1470's face and show us what its teeth and lower jaw would have looked like," says Meave Leakey, co-leader of the KFRP and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. "At last we have some answers."


"Combined, the three new fossils give a much clearer picture of what 1470 looked like," says Fred Spoor, leader of the scientific analyses. "As a result, it is now clear that two species of early Homo lived alongside Homo erectus. The new fossils will greatly help in unraveling how our branch of human evolution first emerged and flourished almost two million years ago."


Found within a radius of just over 10 km from 1470's location, the three new fossils are dated between 1.78 million and 1.95 million years old. The face KNM-ER 62000, discovered by field crew member Elgite Lokorimudang in 2008, is very similar to that of 1470, showing that the latter is not a single "odd one out" individual. Moreover, the face's well-preserved upper jaw has almost all of its cheek teeth still in place, which for the first time makes it possible to infer the type of lower jaw that would have fitted 1470. A particularly good match can be found in the other two new fossils, the lower jaw KNM-ER 60000, found by Cyprian Nyete in 2009, and part of another lower jaw, KNM-ER 62003, found by Robert Moru in 2007. KNM-ER 60000 stands out as the most complete lower jaw of an early member of the genus Homo yet discovered.


The team working on the new finds included Christopher Kiarie (TBI), who carried out the laboratory preparation of the fossils, Craig Feibel (Rutgers University), who studied the age of the fossils, and Susan Antón (New York University), Christopher Dean (UCL, University College London), Meave and Louise Leakey (TBI, Kenya; and Stony Brook University, New York) and Fred Spoor (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig and UCL), who analyzed the fossils. The National Geographic Society funded the fieldwork, the Leaky Foundation funded geological studies, and the Max Planck Society supported laboratory work.

TBI is a privately funded, non-profit initiative founded by Richard Leakey and Stony Brook University, New York, that seeks to facilitate multi-disciplinary fieldwork within the Lake Turkana Basin in affiliation with the National Museums of Kenya. The primary research focus is human prehistory and related earth and natural science studies. For more information, visit TBI at: http://www.turkanabasin.org/discovery/knmer60000/



Peking Man World Heritage Site Among 160 Sites Damaged in Beijing Floods

Dig site endangered by potential landslide.

By Heritage on the Wire   Sun, Aug 12, 2012

June 2012, Cover Stories, Daily News


Beijing’s heaviest rainfall in six decades has affected 160 heritage sites, including the Peking Man World Heritage Site at Zhoukoudian, according to the city’s Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage.  In addition, at least 77 people died as a result of the storms, which have again raised questions about Beijing’s infrastructure, especially its antiquated drainage network.

At the Peking Man site, the deluge caused several minor landslides, disabled the site’s security system, and flooded a museum (no major exhibits were reportedly harmed).  Dirt and mud covered part of the archaeological dig at Zhoukoudian, halting researchers’ work for at least three days, according to Zhang Shuangquan, a Chinese archaeologist who has been excavating the site since 2009.

In an interview with China Daily, Zhang said he was most concerned about a potentially bigger landslide destroying the whole dig site, which is located on a cliff. The site is currently covered with plastic sheets, but it is the stratum at the top of the mountain — which is uncovered — that concerns Zhang the most.  If the rock stratum were to collapse, the site would lose much of its archaeological value, since researchers learn how people lived in the past by taking account of the depth of objects and human remains embedded in the soil.

“The geological movement is very slow, but it might reach a breaking point at any moment, maybe tomorrow or 10 years from now,” Zhang said.  “[If this happened,] a period of human civilization would be buried in mystery forever.”

Zhoukoudian, which attracts some 120,000 visitors and researchers every year, was discovered in 1921 by the Swedish archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson.  Since then, it has been the site of many archaeological discoveries, including one of the first specimens of Homo erectus, dubbed Peking Man. Some of the human and animal remains found at the site date back some 750,000 years.  In 1987, the site was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

While none of the recent damage to Zhoukoudian was severe, the flooding will hopefully convince Chinese cultural authorities of the need for a better site protection plan.

Click here to explore Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian on Global Heritage Network


The Global Heritage Fund is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization, an international conservancy dedicated to preserving endangered World Heritage Sites in developing countries to improve lives of local people. GHF enables successful, long-term preservation of the developing world’s most important archaeological sites and ancient townscapes, creating new opportunities for economic growth.  For more information about GHF and how you can help, go to www.globalheritagefund.org. 




Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

Wed Aug 8, 2012 09:32 AM ET

An almost intact Roman ship has been found in the sea off the town on Varazze, some 18 miles from Genova, Italy.


The ship, a navis oneraria, or merchant vessel, was located at a depth of about 200 feet thanks to a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) following tips from fishermen who had caught some jars in their nets.


The ship sank about 2,000 years ago on her trade route between Spain and central Italy with a full cargo of more than 200 amphorae.


Test on some of the recovered jars revealed they contained pickled fish, grain, wine and oil. The foodstuffs were traded in Spain for other goods.


"There are some broken jars around the wreck, but we believe that most of the amphorae inside the ship are still sealed and food filled," Lt. Col. Francesco Schilardi, who led the Carabinieri Subacquei (police divers), said.


The ship, which dates to sometime between the 1st Century B.C. and the 1st Century A.D., is hidden under layers of mud on the seabed, which has left the wreck and its cargo intact.


The vessel will remain hidden at the bottom of the sea until Italian authorities decide whether to raise it or not.


"Right now the area of the finding has been secured, and no fishing or water traffic is allowed," Lt. Col. Schilardi said.



Earliest Use of Mexican Turkeys by Ancient Maya

ScienceDaily (Aug. 8, 2012)


A new University of Florida study shows the turkey, one of the most widely consumed birds worldwide, was domesticated more than 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.


Researchers say discovery of the bones from an ancient Mayan archaeological site in Guatemala provides evidence of domestication, usually a significant mark of civilization, and the earliest evidence of the Mexican turkey in the Maya world. The study appears online in PLoS ONE.

The discovery of the turkey bones is significant because the Maya did not use a lot of domesticated animals. While they cultivated domesticated plants, most of their animal protein came mostly from wild resources, said lead author Erin Thornton, a research associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus and Trent University Archaeological Research Centre.

"We might have gotten the timing of the introduction of this species to the ancient Maya wrong by a significant chunk of time," Thornton said. "The species originates from central Mexico, outside the Maya cultural area. This is the species the Europeans brought back with them to Europe -- all domestic turkeys originated from Mexico."

Using archaeological evidence, comparisons of bone structure and ancient DNA analysis, scientists determined the turkey fossils belonged to the non-local species Meleagris gallopavo gallopavo, which is native to central and northern Mexico. The Mexican turkey is the ancestor of all domestic turkeys consumed in the world today and Mesoamerica's only indigenous domesticated animal. The discovery of the bones south of the turkey's natural range shows animal exchange occurred from northern Mesoamerica to the Maya cultural region during the Late Preclassic period from 300 B.C. to A.D. 100.

"This research has consequences for understanding Maya subsistence because they would have had access to a controlled, managed resource," Thornton said. "The turkey bones came from right within the ceremonial precinct of the site, so these are probably the remains of some sort of elite sacrifice, meal or feast."

The bones were recovered from the El Mirador archaeological site, one of the largest and most developed Preclassic locations found in the Maya lowlands. The site contains massive temple complexes, some of the largest Maya architecture ever constructed.

"Plant and animal domestication suggests a much more complex relationship between humans and the environment -- you're intentionally modifying it and controlling it," Thornton said.

Researchers assumed turkey bones previously recovered from Maya sites belonged to the native ocellated turkey, Meleagris ocellata. The new evidence means researchers may need to re-examine previously recovered bones, said Florida State University anthropology professor emeritus Mary Pohl.

"This study is extremely significant and I think it opens up a whole new perspective on the Maya and animal domestication," Pohl said. "I find it especially interesting that these turkey bones are in this very special pyramid context because people often think of turkeys as something to eat, but they were probably making some sort of special offerings of them, which would go along with the fact that they brought them in from a long distance."

Florida Museum researchers hope a new two-year, $185,000-grant from the National Science Foundation will help answer some of the questions the study has raised about the history of turkey rearing and domestication in Mesoamerica.

"The turkeys were brought in, they weren't local, but we don't know if they were brought in and then killed shortly after, used as a trade item or bred on-site after an even earlier introduction," Thornton said. "The El Mirador study is really just a tantalizing piece of the puzzle and we still have a lot left to learn and explore."

While the fossils were originally excavated in the 1980s, they were displayed in the Brigham Young University Museum of Peoples and Cultures until being sent to Thornton for identification in 2004.

Study co-authors include Kitty Emery and David Steadman of the Florida Museum of Natural History, Camilla Speller and Dongya Yang of Simon Fraser University, and Ray Matheny of Brigham Young University.



Mexican archaeologists discover 'unprecedented' Aztec burial

Skeleton of young woman surrounded by hundreds of human bones found five metres beneath Templo Mayor in Mexico City

Associated Press in Mexico City

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 8 August 2012 11.05 BST


Mexican archaeologists say they have found an unprecedented human burial in which the skeleton of a young woman is surrounded by piles of 1,789 human bones in Mexico City's Templo Mayor.


Researchers found the burial about five metres (15ft) below the surface, next to the remains of what may have been a sacred tree at one edge of the plaza, the most sacred site of the Aztec capital.


The National Institute of Anthropology and History said the find was the first of its kind, noting the Aztecs were not known to use mass sacrifice or the reburial of bones for the interment of a member of the ruling class.


University of Florida archaeologist Susan Gillespie, who was not involved in the project, called the find "unprecedented for the Aztec culture".


She said on Tuesday that when the Mayas interred sacrifice victims with royal burials, but they were usually found as complete bodies. And, except for special circumstances, the Aztecs, unlike other pre-Hispanic cultures, usually cremated members of the elite during their rule from 1325 to the Spanish conquest in 1521.


"Although the bodies of sacrificial victims have been found in burials of elite persons in Mesoamerica going back to at least the preclassic period, funerary deposits for Aztec elites have only rarely been encountered," said Gillespie.


The institute said some of the bones showed what may be cut marks to the sternum or vertebrae, places where a ritual heart extraction might leave a mark, but added that it did not seem likely the dead were sacrificed on the spot to accompany the burial because their bones were found separated.


The researchers discovered the skulls of seven adults and three children in one pile, long bones including femurs in another grouping, and ribs in another.


The physical anthropologist Perla Ruiz, who was in charge of the dig, said that might suggest the bones were disinterred from previous burials and reburied with the woman. While some pre-Hispanic cultures disinterred bones as part of ancestor worship, it is not clear the Aztecs did.


The burial dates to about 1481-1486, based on the "stage" of temple buildings at which they were found. The Templo Mayor, like many sites, was rebuilt by successive generations, one stage atop another.


Another unusual finding was the sacred tree, actually a rather battered oak trunk found planted on a small, round platform near the burial at what would have been the edge of the temple complex. It may be a couple of decades older than the burial.


The Aztecs, like other pre-Hispanic cultures, venerated trees, believing they had spiritual importance.


Institute archaeologist Raúl Barrera said it may be related to the four sacred trees the Aztecs believed held up the sky, but Gillespie noted it could also have been a tree or trunk brought in for an annual ceremony.


"It seems to have been positioned there for a span of time, perhaps for a special ceremony or to create a particular vision of a sacred landscape, but then abandoned as uses of that limited sacred space changed over time," Gillespie said.


Barrera said the tree trunk appeared to have been split, perhaps intentionally.



Severed Hands Discovered in Ancient Egypt Palace

By Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor | LiveScience.com – Fri, Aug 10, 2012


A team of archaeologists excavating a palace in the ancient city of Avaris, in Egypt,  has made a gruesome discovery.


The archaeologists have unearthed the skeletons of 16 human hands buried in four pits. Two of the pits, located in front of what is believed to be a throne room, hold one hand each. Two other pits, constructed at a slightly later time in an outer space of the palace, contain the 14 remaining hands.

They are all right hands; there are no lefts.

"Most of the hands are quite large and some of them are very large," Manfred Bietak, project and field director of the excavations, told LiveScience.

The finds, made in the Nile Delta northeast of Cairo, date back about 3,600 years to a time when the Hyksos, a people believed to be originally from northern Canaan, controlled part of Egypt and made their capital at Avaris  a location known today as Tell el-Daba. At the time the hands were buried, the palace was being used by one of the Hyksos rulers, King Khayan.  [See Photos of the Buried Hands]


The right hand

The hands appear to be the first physical evidence of a practice attested to in ancient Egyptian writing and art, in which a soldier would present the cut-off right hand of an enemy in exchange for gold, Bietak explains in the most recent edition of the periodical Egyptian Archaeology.

"Our evidence is the earliest evidence and the only physical evidence at all," Bietak said. "Each pit represents a ceremony."

Cutting off the right hand, specifically, not only would have made counting victims easier, it would have served the symbolic purpose of taking away an enemy's strength. "You deprive him of his power eternally," Bietak explained.


It's not known whose hands they were; they could have been Egyptians or people the Hyksos were fighting in the Levant. [The History of Human Combat]


"Gold of valor"

Cutting off the right hand of an enemy was a practice undertaken by both the Hyksos and the Egyptians.

One account is written on the tomb wall of Ahmose, son of Ibana, an Egyptian fighting in a campaign against the Hyksos. Written about 80 years later than the time the 16 hands were buried, the inscription reads in part:

"Then I fought hand to hand. I brought away a hand. It was reported to the royal herald." For his efforts, the writer was given "the gold of valor" (translation by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II, 1905). Later, in a campaign against the Nubians, to the south, Ahmose took three hands and was given "gold in double measure," the inscription suggests.

Scientists are not certain who started this gruesome tradition. No records of the practice have been found in the Hyksos' likely homeland of northern Canaan, Bietak said, so could have been an Egyptian tradition they picked up, or vice versa, or it could have originated from somewhere else.

Bietak pointed out that, while this find is the earliest evidence of this practice, the grisly treatment of prisoners in ancient Egypt was nothing new. The Narmer Palette, an object dating to the time of the unification of ancient Egypt about 5,000 years ago, shows decapitated prisoners and a pharaoh about to smash the head of a kneeling man.

The archaeological expedition at Tell el-Daba is a joint project of the Austrian Archaeological Institute’s Cairo branch and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.



Archaeologists claim objects are earliest 'matches'

8 August 2012 Last updated at 07:54

By Nick Crumpton

BBC News


Researchers from Israel say that mysterious clay and stone artefacts from Neolithic times could be the earliest known "matches".


Although the cylindrical objects have been known about for some time, they had previously been interpreted as "cultic" phallic symbols.


The researchers' new interpretation means these could be the earliest evidence of how fires were ignited.


The research was published in the open access journal Plos One.


The journal reports that the artefacts are almost 8,000 years old.


Although evidence of "pyrotechnology" in Eurasia is known from three quarters of a million years ago, this evidence usually takes the form of remnants of fire itself.


"We have fire evidence in modern humans and Neanderthals, from charcoal, ashes and hearths, but there was nothing ever found that was connected with how you ignite the fire," lead author Prof Naama Goren-Inbar of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem told BBC News.


But on a visit to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Professor Goren-Inbar recognised the shape of structures discovered at the Sha'ar HaGolan archaeological site as that found in tools used for purposes other than simply cultural ones.


"I saw this object and immediately it came to my mind that this was very, very similar to all the sticks that you see [used as] 'fire drills'. I made the connection and it slowly developed," she said.


By using electro-microscopy techniques, Prof Goren-Inbar and her colleagues identified tell-tale signs that the cylindrical clay objects may have been rotated at high speed, generating friction to ignite tinder.


They identified linear marks, or striations - at the conical ends of the cylinders which they interpret as being generated by spinning the "matches" within sockets found on "fire boards", which are known from other sites.


Burn-colouration reminiscent of scorch-marks was also found, as well as grooves evident higher up the objects, which may have been generated by a bow, used to spin the cylinders.


This evidence, the researchers write, is supported by known cultural evidence from the Neolithic as well as knowledge of traditional fire ignition techniques.


This new interpretation highlights the technological sophistication of the Sha'ar HaGolan inhabitants at this time, and the prevalence of these structures around a wide area of the Eastern Mediterranean may further indicate that clay matches were common at an earlier time period than other ignition technologies.


Prof Goren-Inbar told BBC News that the team intended to carry out further experimental work in order to validate their conclusions.



Roman mystery solved by fort find

Page last updated at 10:36 GMT, Wednesday, 3 September 2008 11:36 UK


Experts describe the discovery of a fort as filling in the "missing link" in Cumbria's Roman occupation.

A dig at Castlerigg, near Keswick, has uncovered a camp which dates back to the first Century.

It was discovered by chance during a search for a second stone circle or 14th Century castle.

The underground remains, which are the size of eight football pitches, back up theories of a Roman presence in the Keswick area.

The dig was led by Bassenthwaite Reflections, with the permission of English Heritage.

Aerial photographs and ground searches had revealed markings which were originally thought to be the remains of a manor house.

However, magnetometers, instruments which can detect buried walls, showed the large enclosed structure.

Archaeologist Mark Graham said he thought there was little doubt that the find was a temporary camp, capable of holding large numbers of troops.

"It could have been an important part of the first push to 'Romanise' the area, perhaps as early as 70 AD, a militarisation that extended across the county for 300 years," he said.

"It possibly serviced campaigns into Scotland and acted as a base for soldiers heading north, or withdrawing."

He added that there was nothing to see above the ground, but it was clear to see why the site was chosen.

"In sight of Castlerigg Stone Circle, which was already 3,000 years old at the time of the Roman occupation, the elevated position was strategically well placed for defence," Mr Graham said.

"It also has lovely views over Bassenthwaite and to other Roman camps at Troutbeck."

No formal excavation of the site is planned but its hoped further work will uncover important artefacts.




August 11, 2012 by HeritageDaily in Archaeology News, United Kingdom Comments (0)




However, several weeks into the project, workers came across something that caught their eye. Immediately work stopped and a team from Northern Archaeological Associates (NAA), who were on hand throughout the project, swooped in to carry out a detailed study of the site and confirmed the engineers had stumbled upon a Roman mosaic floor, dating back to the 3rd to 4th centuries AD.


It has taken two weeks to remove the section of floor; however, Yorkshire Water, has been closely liaising with York Council to try and minimise disruption to local residents, commuters and businesses as much as possible. Lee Laherty, Yorkshire Water Project Manager comments “Although we knew that the site could have historical significance, this find was a huge stroke of luck and we’re delighted that we’ve been able to remove such a significant artifact. Our work to replace the sewer will now continue and we would like to apologise for any delays to commuters and local businesses”.


Richard Fraser, archaeologist at NAA, said: “Once the tell-tale signs of the Roman tiles began to appear, Yorkshire Water stopped work so that we could fully excavate the site and record the remains. It’s a very interesting site, helping us to understand the extent of Roman activity in the area. Part of a mosaic showing a bull with a fish tail was discovered in this area of Toft Green during construction work in the 19th century.


“This newly discovered section may be part of the same mosaic and the excavation will provide important new information about the earlier find, which is now in the Yorkshire Museum. It had been thought that the Victorian sewer had largely removed the earlier Roman remains here, but the work has demonstrated that some sections were tunnelled and pockets of archaeology survive above these sections. If it wasn’t for Yorkshire Water’s responsible approach to its work in historic areas, this important evidence could easily have been missed”.


City of York Council archaeologist John Oxley said, “It’s not surprising that there has been a find like this due to the rich history this city is steeped in. I am very pleased that workman had the foresight to stop work and that everyone has worked together to ensure the safe removal of the floor. Yorkshire Water, Mott Macdonald Bentley and NAA deserve praise for their swift and creative actions”.





August 10, 2012 by HeritageDaily in Archaeology News, United Kingdom


Archaeologists digging in the historic Edinburgh street have discovered a series of buildings dating back to the 16th century and artefacts ranging from combs to a primitive board game.


The last phase of excavation of the site, which is being developed by SoCo, has revealed the street frontages of the 16th-century buildings previously discovered.


Experts have already described the finds as among the most important ever uncovered in the Capital.


The latest findings are the final phase of architectural work which has been going on for the past ten years, following a major fire which raged for more than 52 hours and destroyed 13 buildings in 2002.


City council Archaeology Officer John Lawson said: “This part of the dig was the last piece of the puzzle – when all the discoveries are put together, I think it will be one of the most important archeological finds in Edinburgh. We’re getting evidence of 500 years of Edinburgh history, covering everything from early mansions of the rich to the slums of the 19th century.”


The excavation is also believed to have uncovered the work of the famed Scottish architectural family the Adams.


Among the finds are street frontage walls of 16/17th-century houses and later tenements, artefacts including pottery, bone comb and possible fragment of a gaming board and a complex of stone-lined drains.


Mr Lawson added: “The exciting thing about this latest stage of the excavations is we are getting the frontages of the buildings themselves, which, usually, we don’t get.


“That’s really important because it allows people to map accurately the changes that took place in the Cowgate.


“We’re finding quite a lot of artefacts and we have a lot of evidence for the domestic use of the street, from the 16th century right through to the early 19th-century slums. It all encapsulates Edinburgh in microcosm. Hopefully, this will tell the story of the Capital.”


The archaeological findings, which it is hoped will remain with the council as part of the museums collection, will now undergo analysis.