Indo-European languages originate in Anatolia

23 August 2012 Radboud University Nijmegen


The Indo-European languages belong to one of the widest spread language families of the world. For the last two millennia, many of these languages have been written, and their history is relatively clear. But controversy remains about the time and place of the origins of the family. A large international team, including MPI researcher Michael Dunn, reports the results of an innovative Bayesian phylogeographic analysis of Indo-European linguistic and spatial data. Their paper 'Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family' appeared this week in Science.


The majority view in historical linguistics is that the homeland of Indo-European is located in the Pontic steppes (present day Ukraine) around 6000 years ago. The evidence for this comes from linguistic palaeontology: in particular, certain words to do with the technology of wheeled vehicles are arguably present across all the branches of the Indo-European family; and archaeology tells us that wheeled vehicles arose no earlier than this date. The minority view links the origins of Indo-European with the spread of farming from Anatolia 8000-9500 years ago.


Lexicons combined with dispersal of speakers


The minority view is decisively supported by the present analysis in this week's Science. This analysis combines a model of the evolution of the lexicons of individual languages with an explicit spatial model of the dispersal of the speakers of those languages. Known events in the past (the date of attestation dead languages, as well as events which can be fixed from archaeology or the historical record) are used to calibrate the inferred family tree against time.


Importance of phylogenetic trees 


The lexical data used in this analysis come from the Indo-European Lexical Cognacy Database (IELex). This database has been developed in MPI's Evolutionary Processes in Language and Culture group, and provides a large, high-quality collection of language data suitable for phylogenetic analysis. Beyond the intrinsic interest of uncovering the history of language families and their speakers, phylogenetic trees are crucially important for understanding evolution and diversity in many human sciences, from syntax and semantics to social structure.




Full bibliographic information

R. Bouckaert; S.J. Greenhill; A.J. Drummond; R.D. Gray; Q.D. Atkinson University of Auckland P. Lemey KU Leuven M. Dunn Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics M. Dunn Radboud University Nijmegen:

Mapping the Origins and Expansion of the Indo-European Language Family, Science 24 August 2012



Stone Age skull-smashers spark a cultural mystery

16 August 2012 by Jessica Hamzelou


AN UNUSUAL cluster of Stone Age skulls with smashed-in faces has been found carefully separated from the rest of their skeletons. They appear to have been dug up several years after being buried with their bodies, separated, then reburied.


Collections of detached skulls have been dug up at many Stone Age sites in Europe and the Near East - but the face-smashing is a new twist that adds further mystery to how these societies related to their dead.


Juan José Ibañez at the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona says the find may suggest that Stone Age cultures believed dead young men were a threat to the world of the living.


No one knows why Neolithic societies buried clusters of skulls - often near or underneath settlements. Some think it was a sign of ancestral veneration. "When people started living together [during the Neolithic period], they needed a social cement," says Ibañez. Venerating ancestors might have been a way of doing this. But the violence demonstrated towards the skulls in the latest cluster suggests a different story.


The 10,000-year-old skulls were found in Syria. Like those found in other caches, they have been cleanly separated from their spines, suggesting they were collected from dead bodies that had already begun to decompose. Patterns on the bone indicate that some had been decomposing for longer than others, making it likely that they were all gathered together for a specific purpose.


Most of the skulls belonged to adult males between 18 and 30 years old. One - belonging to a child - was left intact; one was smashed to pieces; the remaining nine lacked facial bones. "There was a pattern," says Ibañez. "The top of the skull and the jaw were there, but they were missing all of the bones in between." His team believes the facial bones were smashed out with a stone and brute force. "There were no traces of cutting," he says (American Journal of Physical Anthropology, DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22111).


Ibañez reckons Stone Age people believed they would receive some benefit - perhaps the strength of the young men the skulls once belonged to - by burying them near or beneath their settlements. Why the faces were smashed in invites speculation.


It may have been an act of spite or revenge, says Ibañez. Or the skulls may have been brought together to create a "community of the dead", perhaps in order to spiritually interact with the living.


"The post-mortem violence suggests young men were seen as carrying a particular threat," says Stuart Campbell at the University of Manchester, UK. Destroying their facial structures may have been a way of destroying the individuals' identities, he says.


Liv Nilsson Stutz at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, says the act could have helped deal with grief. "Taking away facial identity could be a way of separating the dead from the living," she says.



Bronze Age pottery sherd from Isles of Scilly could be earliest British depiction of a boat

By Richard Moss | 22 August 2012


More than most archaeological periods from pre-history, Britain’s Bronze Age is constantly being re-assessed as archaeologists and historians find new evidence of its richness and complexity.


Now the boundaries of what we know about this increasingly sophisticated period are being pushed even further by a small pottery sherd which is currently on display at the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall.


The piece of pottery was found during archaeological excavations of a Late Bronze Age roundhouse on St Agnes, on the Isles of Scilly, in 2009, and some archaeologists believe it clearly shows etched lines that resemble a sailing ship.


For Sean Taylor, an archaeologist with the Cornwall Council Historic Environment Service (CCHES), the find could be hugely significant for our understanding of the Bronze Age.


“The sherd is part of a small thick-walled vessel, perhaps a cup or beaker, and it’s highly unusual in that it has been inscribed, prior to firing, with a freehand design,” he explains.


“If this is a ship, and it does look like a masted ship, then this is the earliest representation of a boat ever found in the UK.”


Taylor believes the inscription could represent a Phoenecian trading vessel, which was blown off course and was seen by our Bronze Age forebears as it passed the Scillies.


“This would have been a remarkable sight worth commemorating, hence it being drawn on a pot," he says.


“However, masted boats are not known in this country until the first century BC. This sherd dates back to 1000-800BC confirming the importance and rarity of this object.”


The sherd, which is on display as part of the museum’s exhibition, 2012BC: Cornwall and the Sea in the Bronze Age, was found by archaeologists from the CCHES on a site owned by the Cornwall Rural Housing Association.


2012BC: Cornwall and the Sea in the Bronze Age runs at the National Maritime Museum until September 30 2012.



'Mr Treasure' finds Nottinghamshire's biggest hoard of ancient weapons

Friday, August 24, 2012Nottingham


A METAL detector enthusiast has been dubbed "Mr Treasure" after striking it lucky for a second time in uncovering a hidden hoard of ancient weapons.


The 3,000-year-old stash was found by Maurice Richardson who uncovered the Newark Torc (a type of choker necklace) in 2005.


The Bronze Age sword blades, axe and spear heads were declared treasure at Nottingham Coroner's Court this week so they can be bought by a museum.


Experts hailed his efforts and say it is probably the biggest-ever haul of its type found in the county.


Mr Richardson found the weapons in a field near Tuxford in January last year and reported the discovery to museum staff.


They were then assessed by the British Museum so their fate could be decided by this week's treasure inquest.


Assistant deputy coroner for Notts, Stephanie Haskey, ruled that they should be classed as treasure. This means they can now be bought by Bassetlaw Museum.


Mr Richardson, 63, a self-employed tree surgeon, said: "It's not the money that interests me, it's the historical value – that's why I do it and I'll carry on, every weekend."


He added that he ended up finding the 18 weapons and other objects, now dubbed the "Tuxford Hoard", after he got lost while combing some land with the owner's permission.


He said: "I'd been in the field for some time and it was getting dark. I wasn't too familiar with the area and took the wrong route to my car.


"I took a short cut across the field and I still had my metal detector on and all of a sudden it came up with a strong signal."


After digging 18 inches down below the grass and mud, he started to come across the haul, piece by piece.


It is thought the weapons were buried for safe keeping by a travelling Bronze Age metal worker who never returned to get them.


Bassetlaw Museum curator Sam Glasswell said: "We will be looking to acquire them; it's a very important and significant find for us.


"To just find the Torc would have been the find of a lifetime for most people.


"Maurice really is 'Mr Treasure' in our eyes."


The hoard will now be valued by a panel of experts who will say what price should be offered for the find.


The cash, likely to be a few hundred pounds, will be split between Mr Richardson and the landowner.


Although historically very significant, the hoard is not as financially valuable as the Iron Age Torc – a 2,000-year-old gold choker found by Mr Richardson near the town in 2005.


Newark and Sherwood District Council later bought it for £350,000, split between Mr Richardson and the landowner, and then loaned it to the British Museum.


Ursilla Chester, senior archaeological officer for Notts County Council, added: "The Tuxford Hoard is a big collection – one of the biggest from Notts of its type.


"Most archaeologists feel a bit uncomfortable about metal detector finds – there's no secret about that – but we know Maurice always reports them and it's so refreshing to have someone like him who is so keen on the history."


Mr Richardson, a grandfather of three, added: "I remember finding the first bit of metal, holding it up to the skyline and realising it was an axe.


"When I find anything like this I wonder about who the person was who left it and who it belongs to.


"There will always be a never-ending amount of questions and no answers."


Mrs Glasswell added that Bassetlaw Museum would put the Tuxford Hoard on display after the buying process – expected to take some months – is completed.



Archaeological dig in Devon unearths Roman influence

August 17, 2012

Excavation of Romano-British settlement in Ipplepen village.


Excavations are underway to unearth the mysteries of Devon’s newly discovered settlement dating back to Roman times.

Following the recent discovery of over 100 Roman coins in fields several miles west of Exeter, evidence of an extensive settlement including roundhouses, quarry pits and track ways was found from a geophysical survey. The site covers at least 13 fields and it the first of its kind in Devon which could force us to rewrite the history of the Romans in Britain. Dr Ioana Oltean and Dr Martin Pitts, the University of Exeter’s Roman archaeology specialists, together with Danielle Wootton, Devon Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), Sam Moorhead, National Finds Adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins for the PAS at the British Museum, and Bill Horner, County Archaeologist at Devon County Council are leading the archaeological research which is proving to show the influence of Roman culture to be greater than previously thought. Dr Oltean explained: “It is not a Roman town, but a native village which may have been in existence before the Roman period. However, it traded actively with the Romans, shown by the initial collection of coins found and the ornate pottery, usually found near large cities and military camps and not in villages where most people would have used basic wooden bowls. The uniqueness of this Romano-British settlement is shown in the level of coins and types of pottery found, indicating that an exchange in goods and money was happening in the area, on a much larger scale than known in other villages in Britain at this period of time.” The excavation uncovered the remains of a round house, which were types of houses lived in by native Britons during the Iron Age. They were typically round structures with, a thatched roof and the lower walls were made of stone or wattle and daub, and were unlike the Roman houses which were usually square in shape. The presence of Roman pottery indicates that the round house was still used after the Romans arrived. Danielle Wootton said, “Previously there was little evidence of any Roman influence beyond the Roman city of Exeter. We are starting to see more evidence of Roman influence further into Devon and Cornwall, through new discoveries such as Calstock and now this large Romano-British settlement. What is interesting on the site is that, despite the presence of Roman pottery and coins, the inhabitants are still living in native roundhouses, as Britons had done for centuries before, so they are maintaining some traditional ways whilst adapting to the influence of the Roman empire. We hope to continue with future research in the area to uncover more information and piece together the jigsaw of the extent of Roman influence in the county. The project is providing the wider community and University of Exeter students with an exciting opportunity for fieldwork experience and training. Volunteers from international environmental charity Earthwatch have travelled from Australia, Canada, the USA, and the Caribbean, specifically to work on the largest known Romano-British settlement in Devon and Cornwall."

The site was initially discovered by metal detectorists Dennis Hewings and Phillip (Jim) Wills, who recorded all their finds with archaeologist Danielle Wootton. She explained: “This is a great example of metal detectorists and archaeologists working together. Dennis and Jim have thoroughly detected the area over the years and recorded every scrap of metal. The villagers and landowners have been very supportive of our project, and the local history society has been actively involved. After over a year of planning, it is great to see the project up and running and to involve Jim and Dennis, local villagers, University of Exeter students, and volunteers from overseas.” Dr Ioana Oltean added: "In addition, this is an excellent opportunity for our students to learn how to be field archaeologists and how to communicate their findings with the public, including local enthusiasts, international volunteers and internet audiences.” Sam Moorhead, National Finds Adviser for Iron Age and Roman coins for the PAS at the British Museum, believes that this is one of the most significant Roman discoveries in the country for many decades. He said: “It is the beginning of a process that promises to transform our understanding of the Roman invasion and occupation of Devon.” The excavation is being funded by the University of Exeter, The Portable Antiquities Scheme, Earthwatch Insitute, the British Museum and Devon County Council An Open Day to see the excavations and talk to the archaeologists and volunteers involved in the project is on Friday 17 August. The event is in Ipplepen village, between 11am and 3.30pm and is a free of charge and open to all members of the public. Ipplepen Community Hub (Methodist church) will provide more information about the location of the field excavation on the day. Provided by University of Exeter


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-08-archaeological-devon-unearths-roman.html#jCp



Archaeologists investigate sea find of gilded bronze lion

Underwater artifacts discovered near Riace Bronzes site



(ANSA) - Reggio Calabria, August 21 - Archaeologists are investigating the discovery of a gilded bronze lion found off the coast of Calabria not far from where the famed Riace Bronzes were discovered 40 years ago. Armour in bronze and copper was also found by a diver and two tourists in the area that is now closed to the public as investigators probe the details of the find. One of the divers who made the discovery said there may be a ship and other important artifacts there as well. "When I went into the water, I saw a statue that was stuck between the rocks and a piece of the ship," explained Bruno Bruzzaniti. "The tides, however, cover everything and then you must be really fortunate to be able to see other items that are still at the bottom of the sea." The discovery sounds similar to that of the iconic Riace Bronzes, 2,500-year-old statues representing ancient warriors which were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holidaymaker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast. That find turned out to be one of Italy's most important archaeological discoveries in the last 100 years. Those statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two metres, they are larger than life. The newly discovered bronze lion is said to be about 50 centimetres high and weighs 15 kilograms. Also found in the area of the lion were remains of vases and other statues. An early hypothesis suggests that all these newly found items were aboard a ship that sank just off the Calabrian coast. However, it's up to experts in the Cultural Heritage department to determine the precise age of the artifacts and piece together what happened that left the objects strewn around the sea bed. "We think these are pieces of value and the important thing is that they be safeguarded and protected," said Bruzzaniti. "It's a great discovery for the whole of Calabria." It's believed the discovery was made last week, but authorities say they weren't informed until Monday. If so, that's contrary to regulations that oblige explorers to report historic finds within 24 hours, said Simonetta Bonomi, superintendent for archaeological and cultural heritage of Calabria,. "There are a number of elements that must be...clarified," she said Tuesday.



Divers uncover evidence of Viking port

Published: Aug. 21, 2012 at 3:27 PM

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Aug. 21 (UPI)


Archaeologists say 100-yard jetties found at the site of an ancient Viking village in Sweden suggest a coastal marketplace not previously imagined.


Researchers said divers working off the coast of the Bjorko island near Stockholm found jetties significantly longer than initially believed, which could provide valuable clues about Viking culture and habits, TheLocal.se reported Tuesday.


Marine archaeologists said they now estimate the village was 30 percent bigger than previously believed.


A marketplace may have been based in the waters of the harbor, they said.


"We have found stone piers in deep water and these were rare for this age," research leader Andreas Olsson said. "Timber, logs and poles as well.


"Previously, it was not thought that the Vikings could build stone piers at a depth of eight meters (26 feet)."


The jetties, five times longer than previously believed, show evidence of the Vikings' extensive trade system, Olsson said.


"The remains of the port structures show that it was actually a port, not just small jetties jutting out onto the beach as previously thought," he said.


The discovery was made near the village of Birka, which is generally considered Sweden's oldest settlement and has been a U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site since 1993.


Read more: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2012/08/21/Divers-uncover-evidence-of-Viking-port/UPI-33651345577239/#ixzz24gBYDdpO



Richard III could be buried under Leicester car park, archaeologists say

Experts from University of Leicester believe ground was once site of medieval church, but that discovery is still a 'long shot'

The Guardian, Friday 24 August 2012


Over the centuries many fables have arisen about the final resting place of Richard III. Photograph: Getty

Archaeologists are hoping to find the lost grave of King Richard III under a Leicester car park, which they believe was once the site of a church where the medieval monarch was buried more than 500 years ago.


Richard III, the last Plantagenet, ruled England from 1483 until he was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. It is believed his body was stripped and despoiled and brought to Leicester, where he was buried in the church of the Franciscan Friary, known as Greyfriars.


But the exact whereabouts of the church have become lost over time and it is rumoured the monarch's bones could have been thrown in to the River Soar after the dissolution of the monasteries. Experts are hoping to dispel the rumours and uncover the site of the church and the monarch's remains.


Richard Buckley, co-director of the archaeology service at the University of Leicester, said: "The big question for us is determining the whereabouts of the church on the site, and also where in the church the body was buried.


"Although in many ways finding the remains of the king is a long shot, it is a challenge we shall undertake enthusiastically. There is certainly potential for the discovery of burials within the area, based on previous discoveries and the postulated position of the church."


Any discovered remains will be DNA-tested to confirm that they are those of Richard III.


The Richard III Society, which promotes research into the monarch, has been involved in the project.


Philippa Langley, from the society, said: "This search for Richard's grave is only one aspect of the ongoing research effort to discover the real Richard III. After his defeat his reputation suffered enormous disparagement at the hands of his opponents and successors, the Tudors. The challenge lies in uncovering the truth behind the myths.


"Richard III is a charismatic figure who attracts tremendous interest. Partly because he has been so much maligned in past centuries and partly because he occupies a pivotal place in English history. The continuing interest in Richard means that many fables have grown up around his grave.


"Although local people like Alderman Herrick in 1612 knew precisely where he was buried – and Herrick was able to show visitors a handsome stone pillar marking the king's grave in his garden – nevertheless at the same time unlikely stories were spread of Richard's bones being dug up and thrown into the river Soar. Other fables, equally discredited, claimed that his coffin was used as a horse-trough.


"This archaeological work offers a golden opportunity to learn more about medieval Leicester as well as about Richard III's last resting place – and, if he is found, to re-inter his remains with proper solemnity in Leicester cathedral."



Israeli archaeologist digs into Nazi death camp

By ARON HELLER, Associated Press – 4 days ago 



When Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi decided to investigate his family's unknown Holocaust history, he turned to the skill he knew best: He began to dig.

After learning that two of his uncles were murdered in the infamous Sobibor death camp, he embarked on a landmark excavation project that is shining new light on the workings of one of the most notorious Nazi killing machines, including pinpointing the location of the gas chambers where hundreds of thousands were killed.

Sobibor, in eastern Poland, marks perhaps the most vivid example of the "Final Solution," the Nazi plot to wipe out European Jewry. Unlike other camps that had at least a facade of being prison or labor camps, Sobibor and the neighboring camps Belzec and Treblinka were designed specifically for exterminating Jews. Victims were transported there in cattle cars and gassed to death almost immediately.

But researching Sobibor has been difficult. After an October 1943 uprising at the camp, the Nazis shut it down and leveled it to the ground, replanting over it to cover their tracks.

Today, tall trees cover most of the former camp grounds. Because there were so few survivors — only 64 were known — there has never been an authentic layout of the camp, where the Nazis are believed to have murdered some 250,000 Jews over an 18-month period. From those few survivors' memories and partial German documentation, researchers had only limited understanding of how the camp operated.

"I feel like I am an investigator in a criminal forensic laboratory," Haimi, 51, said near his home in southern Israel this week, a day before departing for another dig in Poland. "After all, it is a murder scene."

Over five years of excavations, Haimi has been able to remap the camp and has unearthed thousands of items. He hasn't found anything about his family, but amid the teeth, bone shards and ashes through which he has sifted, he has recovered jewelry, keys and coins that have helped identify some of Sobibor's formerly nameless victims.

The heavy concentration of ashes led him to estimate that far more than 250,000 Jews were actually killed at Sobibor.

"Because of the lack of information about Sobibor, every little piece of information is significant," said Haimi. "No one knew where the gas chambers were. The Germans didn't want anyone to find out what was there. But thanks to what we have done, they didn't succeed."

The most touching find thus far, he said, has been an engraved metal identification tag bearing the name of Lea Judith de la Penha, a 6-year-old Jewish girl from Holland who Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial confirmed was murdered at the camp.

Haimi calls her the "symbol of Sobibor."

"The Germans didn't discriminate. They killed little girls too," he said. "This thing (the tag) has been waiting for 70 years for someone to find it."

Haimi's digs, backed by Yad Vashem, could serve as a template for future scholarship into the Holocaust, in which the Nazis and their collaborators killed about 6 million Jews.

"I think the use of archaeology offers the possibility of giving us information that we didn't have before," Deborah Lipstadt, a prominent American Holocaust historian from Emory University, said. "It gives us another perspective when we are at the stage when we have very few people who can speak in the first person singular."

She said that if the archaeological evidence points to a higher death toll at Sobibor than previously thought, "it is not out of sync with other research that has been done."

Haimi's basic method is similar to what he does at home, where he does digs for Israel's antiquites authority in the south of the country — cutting out squares of land and sifting the earth through a filter. Because of the difficult conditions at Sobibor and the sensitive nature of the effort, he is also relying on more non-invasive, high-tech aids such as ground-penetrating radar and global positioning satellite imaging.

Based on debris collected and patterns in the soil, he has been able to figure out where the Nazis placed poles to hold up the camp's barbed wire fences.

That led him to his major breakthrough — the mapping of what the Germans called the Himmelfahrsstrasse, or the "Road to Heaven," a path upon which the inmates were marched naked into the gas chambers. He determined its route by the poles that marked the path. From that, he determined where the gas chambers would have been located.

He also discovered that another encampment was not located where originally thought and uncovered an internal train route within Sobibor. He dug up mounds of bullets at killing sites, utensils from where he believes the camp kitchen was located and a swastika insignia of a Nazi officer.

Along the way, he and his Polish partner Wojciech Mazurek, along with some 20 laborers, have stumbled on thousands of personal items belonging to the victims: eye glasses, perfume bottles, dentures, rings, watches, a child's Mickey Mouse pin, a diamond-studded gold chain, a pair of gold earrings inscribed ER — apparently the owner's initials — a silver medallion engraved with the name "Hanna."

He also uncovered a unique version of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis, made out of metal instead of cloth, which researchers determined to have originated in Slovakia.

Marek Bem, a former director of the museum at Sobibor, said the first excavations began at the site in 2001, with several stages before he invited Haimi to join in 2007. He said the mapping of the 200-meter (yard) long Himmelfahrsstrasse opens the door for looking for the actual gas chambers.

"We are nearer the truth," he said. "It tells us where to look for the gas chambers."

Haimi is not allowed to take any of the items out of Poland, but he consults regularly with Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research, which helps him interpret his findings and gives them historical perspective.

Dan Michman, head of the institute, said Haimi's research helps shed light on the "technical aspects" of the Holocaust. It also grants insight, for example, on what people chose to take with them in their final moments.

"His details are exact and that is an important tool against Holocaust denial. It's not memories, it's based on facts. It's hard evidence," he said.

But the accurate layout is Haimi's greatest contribution, allowing researchers to learn more about how it functioned, said Deborah Dwork, director of the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

She said some critics have suggested that the sites of former death camps are "sacred" and "should remain untouched." But she said she believes the excavation is justified. "I feel that our need for knowledge outweighs those concerns."

Once his work in Sobibor is done, Haimi hopes to move on to research at Treblinka and other destroyed death camps.

Though archaeology is usually identified with the study of ancient history, Haimi thinks that with survivors rapidly dying it could soon become a key element in understanding the Holocaust.

"This is the future research tool of the Holocaust," he said.

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.