Desert finds challenge horse taming ideas

26 February 2013 Last updated at 01:59

By Sylvia Smith

BBC News


Recent archaeological discoveries on the Arabian Peninsula have uncovered evidence of a previously unknown civilisation based in the now arid areas in the middle of the desert.


The artefacts unearthed are providing proof of a civilisation that flourished thousands of years ago and have renewed scientific interest in man and the evolution of his relationship with animals.


The 300-odd stone objects so far found in the remote Al Magar area of Saudi Arabia include traces of stone tools, arrow heads, small scrapers and various animal statues including sheep, goats and ostriches.


But the object that has engendered the most intense interest from within the country and around the world is a large, stone carving of an "equid" - an animal belonging to the horse family.


According to Ali bin Ibrahim Al Ghabban, vice-president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, DNA and carbon-14 (radiocarbon) tests are continuing. But initial evidence suggests that the artefacts date back 9,000 years.


"These discoveries reflect the importance of the site as a centre of civilisation," he told BBC News.


"It could possibly be the birthplace of an advanced prehistoric civilisation that witnessed the domestication of animals, particularly the horse, for the first time during the Neolithic period."


The crucial find is that of a large sculptural fragment that appears to show the head, muzzle, shoulder and withers of an animal that bears a distinct resemblance to a horse.


The piece is unique in terms of its size, weighing more than 135kg.


Moreover, further discoveries on the same site of smaller, horse-like sculptures, also with bands across their shoulders, have opened the possibility that an advanced civilisation here may already have been using the accessories of domestication - tack - in order to control horses.


While archaeologists and other experts have held that horses were first tamed and exploited by man some 6,000 years ago in west Kazakhstan, experts are now starting to consider whether both location and date should be revised in light of these remarkable finds.


Whether yoking man and animal together in this way is supported by evidence is one of the many questions that face an international scientific team brought together to examine the finds.


Selected from a wide background of specialisations, their unique expertise is expected to paint a picture of life in the area during pre-historic times.


Michael Petraglia, professor of human evolution and prehistory at the University of Oxford has been working on the radiocarbon dating at Al Magar.


He says that the site dates back even further than first thought and can reveal much about the fluctuations between wet and dry periods in the Arabian Peninsula. He adds that the horse fragment dating links with the peninsula going through a wet phase.


"This is a crucial piece of information about an area that is now hyper arid but in the past must have been a lush river valley," he explains. "It confirms that there were savannahs and grassland in the vicinity," he explains.


Traces of other stone tools such as scrapers have been estimated as dating back more than 50,000 years. They were found at the site and suggest that Al Magar was a hospitable place for humans to settle in over thousands of years. In part this is due to its topography, or terrain.


Michael Petraglia says that in the past, the spot must have been a lush river valley: "There is a major valley across the area which once was a river running westward forming waterfalls and taking water to the low fertile lands west of Al-Magar," he explains.


"Al Magar was situated on both banks of the river. Man lived in this area before the last desertification or before the drastic climatic changes ended with the hot dry conditions and development of deserts."


Huge impact

The name Al Magar means gathering or meeting place. Juris Zarins, who worked in the early days of archaeology in Saudi Arabia and found tethering stones dating back to the Neolithic period, claims that the site is within an archaeological hot bed.


"There has not been enough exploration carried out," he says. "Discoveries like this could change things."


And indeed the finds have had a huge impact, sparking intense interest in Arabia's prehistory. Other finds made beyond the large and well-preserved Al Magar dovetail with current Arabian passions. Of particular interest are canine remains that resemble one of the oldest known domesticated dog breeds, the desert saluki, as well as traces of a dagger.



Arabian horses are famed around the world, but the region's equine traditions may date back even further

Abdullah Al Sharekh, an archaeologist at King Sa'ud University in Riyadh, and a pioneer of the Al Magar site, found statues within the precinct of a building. This, he says, may reveal vital clues about trade, migration and ritual. "The variety of the finds can tell us about social life and culture," he explains.


"This will take time but all the evidence is here."


The discovery of the large horse sculpture fragment has naturally awakened regional interest. This in turn has compounded curiosity about other important Arabian finds.


"It is an amazing discovery that raises all sorts of questions about when man stopped tracking down wild horses and began taming and exploiting them for transport," Mr Al Ghabban says.


"On this site there are very important symbols of authentic Arabian culture - equestrianism, falconry, the saluki hunting dog and wearing of the dagger."


More excavations are planned of yet other sites which have never been surveyed, and further studies are expected to unveil more important information on the Al Magar civilisation along with its impact on the history of Saudi Arabia.



Prehistoric necropolis discovered in Romania

28 February 2013


A team of archaeologists led by Professor Florin Drasovean made an impressive archaeological discovery in the the highway section Lugoj - Deva in Romania. The 50 tombs discovered in the village of Păru represent the largest Bronze Age necropolis ever found in Romania. Pottery and stone grinders used in funerary rituals, hundreds of homes dating back the 13th century BCE were also discovered by archaeologists.

     Research conducted during last summer led to the discovery of more than six sites  on the highway's segment Belint-Traian Vuia. Specialists from Banat Museum have already started studying the finds. The site found in Păru village is one of the most important sites discovered so far. This site dates back to the Bronze Age (12th-13th Century BCE) as it was dated by conventional methods.

     "Particularly important are the graves that shed new light on the funerary ritual at the end of the Bronze Age in north-eastern Banat. It was found that the dead were deposited on a pyre where items from the grave goods were also burned." This included "a table-altar of clay on which they brought funerary offerings, stone grinders and various pots that were used for the funeral banquet. Modern methods of radioactive carbon dating method shows that the necropolis at Păru dates between 1300 and 1200 BCE," Ph.D. Florin Drasovean said.

     So far, it is not decided whether the site at Păru will be opened for tourists in the near future, but most probably the findings will be displayed on archaeological museums in the area.


Edited from Argophilia (20 February 2013)



Temple of 'Jupiter the Stayer' found


Rome, February 28


The temple built by Romulus to celebrate the hand of Jupiter giving Roman troops their unstoppable force has been found at the foot of the Palatine Hill, Italian archaeologists say. The ruins of the shrine to Jupiter Stator (Jupiter the Stayer), believed to date to 750 BC, were found by a Rome University team led by Andrea Carandini. "We believe this is the temple that legend says Romulus erected to the king of the gods after the Romans held their ground against the furious Sabines fighting to get their women back after the famous Rape (abduction)," Carandini said in the Archeologia Viva (Living Archaeology) journal. According to myth, Romulus founded Rome in 753 BC and the wifeless first generation of Roman men raided nearby Sabine tribes for their womenfolk, an event that has been illustrated in art down the centuries. Carandini added: "It is also noteworthy that the temple appears to be shoring up the Palatine, as if in defence". Rome's great and good including imperial families lived on the Palatine, overlooking the Forum. Long after its legendary institution by Romulus, the cult of Jupiter the Stayer fuelled Roman troops in battle, forging the irresistible military might that conquered most of the ancient known world. In the article in Archeologia Viva, Carandini's team said they might also have discovered the ruins of the last Palatine house Julius Caesar lived in - the one he left on the Ides of March, 44BC, on his way to death in the Senate.



So, what did the Romans do for us? New digs reveal truth about Hadrian's Wall



Stretching the breadth of northern England, Hadrian's Wall is a majestic reminder of the ambition and might of the Roman Empire's conquest in Britain. Now, new archaeological evidence has suggested, contrary to previous belief, that the Romans far from co-existing peacefully with the locals, ejected them by force in order to build the 73-mile divide.


The Unesco World Heritage Site stretches from the Solway Firth in the west to Wallsend on the river Tyne in the east. Construction was ordered by the Emperor Hadrian and started in AD122. It was Roman Britain's most ambitious building project, designed primarily to mark the northern limit of the Empire.


For decades, archaeologists struggled to date the indigenous communities around the wall because the site yielded very few artefacts. The only way of dating these Roman and pre-Roman Iron Age settlements was to excavate what little there was. Since the 1970s, when serious excavation began, experts believed the local population living in the shadow of the wall had actually flourished under the Roman invaders. But the new evidence suggests the Roman legions actually cleared a 10-mile stretch in front of the wall by force.


By using carbon-dating techniques archaeologists have been able to pinpoint the chronology of the local settlements far more accurately than in the past. More than 60 radiocarbon dating tests were undertaken on Iron Age settlements between 2002 and 2008 around the Newcastle area, giving the most complete sample ever of Iron Age settlements north of the wall.


Data from the investigation, led by Nick Hodgson at TWM Archaeology, is to be published in Current Archaeology next week and is said to be one of the biggest discoveries about the way in which Hadrian's Wall shaped the country.


Dr Matthew Symonds, an expert on the wall and editor of Current Archaeology, said: "These new excavations suggest these settled farming communities... survived the first Roman appearance in the area. But it's only when Hadrian's Wall is built that they suddenly seem to go out of use."


The latest issue of Current Archaeology magazine, is on sale from 7 March (archaeology.co.uk)



Roman Remains Found Beneath London Bridge Station

BY M@ · FEBRUARY 27, 2013 AT 11:30 AM


Work to improve London Bridge station as part of the Thameslink upgrade is giving archaeologists their first access to this important historical site since the Victorians carved it up with railways around 150 years ago. Substantial Roman remains, as well as foundations and objects from the Saxon and Medieval times,  have recently been uncovered, reports SE1 website.


Besides the station dig, the area has recently seen extensive mud-shovelling to build The Shard and The Place, as well as reworking bridges and buildings around Borough Market. The turmoil is yielding a steady stream of discoveries on this most ancient part of London, settled by the Romans at the same time as Londonium across the Thames.


Perhaps the biggest find is the remains of one of the earliest buildings known in Southwark. A pit near Joiner Street has yielded 17 timber piles, part of a structure from the first century AD. Little is known about this eastern edge of Southwark in Roman times, and these are exciting times for excavators. Two years ago, a Roman baths was found on Borough High Street.


Most discoveries will go to the Museum of London. As part of planning consent, a display area of artefacts will also be constructed in the new London Bridge station.



Most Ancient Romans Ate Like Animals

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer | LiveScience.com – Fri, Mar 1, 2013


Ancient Romans are known for eating well, with mosaics from the empire portraying sumptuous displays of fruits, vegetables, cakes — and, of course, wine. But the 98 percent of Romans who were non-elite and whose feasts weren't preserved in art may have been stuck eating birdseed.

Common people in ancient Rome ate millet, a grain looked down upon by the wealthy as fit only for livestock, according to a new study published in the March issue of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. And consumption of millet may have been linked to overall social status, with relatively poorer suburbanites eating more of the grain than did wealthier city dwellers.

The results come from an analysis of anonymous skeletons in the ancient city's cemeteries.

"We don't know anything about their lives, which is why we're trying to use biochemical analysis to study them," said study leader Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist at the University of West Florida.

The ancient Mediterranean diet

Health studies out last week heralded the modern Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, fish and nuts, as a good way to avoid heart disease. In ancient Rome, however, diet varied based on social class and where a person lived.

Ancient texts have plenty to say about lavish Roman feasts. The wealthy could afford exotic fruits and vegetables, as well as shellfish and snails. A formal feast involved multiple dishes, eaten from a reclined position, and could last for hours.

But ancient Roman writers have less to say about the poor, other than directions for landowners on the appropriate amount to feed slaves, who made up about 30 percent of the city's population. Killgrove wanted to know more about lower-class individuals and what they ate. [Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]

To find out, she and her colleagues analyzed portions of bones from the femurs of 36 individuals from two Roman cemeteries. One cemetery, Casal Bertone, was located right outside the city walls. The other, Castellaccio Europarco, was farther out, in a more suburban area.

The skeletons date to the Imperial Period, which ran from the first to the third century A.D., during the height of the Roman Empire. At the time, Killgrove told LiveScience, between 1 million and 2 million people lived in Rome and its suburbs.

Roman locavores

To determine diets from the Roman skeletons, the researchers analyzed the bones for isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. Isotopes are atoms of an element with different numbers of neutrons, and are incorporated into the body from food. Such isotopes of carbon can tell researchers which types of plants people consumed. Grasses such as wheat and barley are called C3 plants; they photosynthesize differently than mostly fibrous C4 plants, such as millet and sorghum. The differences in photosynthesis create different ratios of carbon isotopes preserved in the bones of the people who ate the plants.

Nitrogen isotopes, on the other hand, give insight into the kinds of protein sources people ate.

"We found that people were eating very different things," Killgrove said. Notably, ancient Italians were locavores. Compared with people living on the coasts, for example, the Romans ate less fish.

There were also differences among people living within Rome. Individuals buried in the mausoleum at Casa Bertone (a relatively high-class spot, at least for commoners), ate less millet than those buried in the simple cemetery surrounding Casa Bertone's mausoleum. Meanwhile, those buried in the farther-flung Castellaccio Europarco cemetery ate more millet than anyone at Casa Bertone, suggesting they were less well-off than those living closer to or within the city walls.

Historical texts dismiss millet as animal feed or a famine food, Killgrove said, but the researcher's findings suggest that plenty of ordinary Romans depended on the easy-to-grow grain. One man, whose isotope ratios showed him to be a major millet consumer, was likely an immigrant, later research revealed. He may have been a recent arrival to Rome when he died, carrying the signs of his country diet with him. Or perhaps he kept eating the food he was used to, even after arriving in the city.

"There's still a lot to learn about the Roman Empire," Killgrove said. "We kind of think that it's been studied and studied to death over the last 2,000 years, but there are thousands of skeletons in Rome that nobody has studied … This can give us information about average people in Rome we don't know about from historical records."



Richard the Lionheart 'had mummified heart'

February 28, 2013 by Richard Ingham


Forensic scientists on Thursday announced they had delved into the embalmed heart of Richard the Lionheart, finding chemical evidence that the remains of England's Crusader king were handled with holy reverence.

Reduced to dust by eight centuries, the heart of the legendary warrior was analysed by modern lab technology. It indicates that the organ was treated with the veneration reserved for a Christian relic, said Philippe Charlier of the Raymond Poincare University Hospital in Garches, near Paris. "We found things that we didn't expect," said Charlier, one of the world's top historical pathologists. Mediaeval embalmers used mercury and tar-like creosote to preserve the heart, then applied frankincense, myrtle, daisy and mint to it so that it would smell sweet, his team found. The organ was then wrapped in linen and sealed for eternity inside a lead box. "The frankincense is something we have never seen until now. It is a substance whose use comes directly from divine inspiration," he said in an interview with AFP. "It was one of the three gifts brought by the Wise Men at Jesus's birth, and it was used by Joseph of Arimathea to help preserve Jesus's body at his death. So using it is a direct reference to Christ." The probe, reported in the journal Scientific Reports, sheds light on the contemporary status of a king that across Western Europe became the emblem of gallantry. Through today's prism, though, many historians say the Lionheart was a neglectful king and war mongerer who slaughtered thousands of hostages in his battle to wrest Jerusalem from Saladin. King Richard I died in 1199 at 41 while fighting the French in Chalus, central France, where he was shot in the left shoulder by a crossbow arrow, reputedly fired by a boy. He died 12 days later, presumably from septicaemia or gangrene, although some folk tales suggest the arrow was deliberately poisoned. In line with tradition, his body was "partitioned." Historical documents say most of his body was buried at Fontevraud Abbey in the western Loire Valley, close to the remains of his mother and father. His entrails were buried in Chalus, in what historians say may have been intended insult to the French. But the heart—an organ then believed to be the site of the soul—was buried in the cathedral at Rouen in Normandy, then an English possession. On July 31 1838, Rouen historian Achille Deville made an astonishing discovery. During an excavation of the cathedral, a lead box about the size of a large book tumbled into the crypt. The box was engraved with a funerary inscription—"HIC IACET COR RICARDI REGIS ANGLORUM" (Here lies the heart of Richard, king of the English)—and inside lay a brownish-white dust. Charlier's team was permitted to take two grammes (0.07 ounces) from the 80 grammes inside. They analysed the precious sample visually, using an electron microscope, before scanning it for chemical compounds with gas chromatography. The team were not authorised to test for DNA, which would have required a far bigger sample. In any case, the result would have been fuzzy given the presence of lead, which degrades DNA, said Charlier. Carbon-dating was also ruled out because of creosote. There was no clearly identifiable tissue, but there was an antibody reaction to myoglobin, a tell-tale protein found in human muscle, which implies the heart. Several bacteria and fungi species were spotted, but none confirming how Richard died. The scrutiny revealed a tiny scrap of linen and ancient pollen from poplar, oak and pine that probably came from airborne contamination before the box was sealed. Twelfth-century embalmers were usually cooks and butchers, who were used to cutting meat and removing offal and had access to herbs, spices and other aromatic substances, said Charlier. But—contrary to a popular image of the Middle Ages as being barbarous—the individual or individuals who worked on Richard's heart "were extremely skilled," combining complex metals, including liquid mercury, with vegetal residues. If the heart was reduced to dust, this was probably because water crept into the box over time, he said. The heart may have been carefully preserved for reasons of dogma, said the study, which drew on expertise from historians. According to calculations by a 13th-century English bishop, "Richard the Lionheart spent 33 years in Purgatory as expiation for his sins, and ascended to Heaven only in March 1232," it said. (c) 2013 AFP


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-richard-lionheart-mummified-heart.html#jCp



Researchers uncover earliest tobacco use in the Pacific Northwest

March 1, 2013


Native American hunter-gatherers living more than a thousand years ago in what is now northwestern California ate salmon, acorns and other foods, and now we know they also smoked tobacco—the earliest known usage in the Pacific Northwest, according to a new University of California, Davis, study. "The study demonstrates that tobacco smoking was part of the northwestern California culture very early ... shortly after the earliest documented Pacific Northwest Coast plank house villages," said the study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Testing organic residues extracted from pipes, researchers from the UC Davis Department of Anthropology and the Fiehn Metabolomics Laboratory of the UC Davis Genome Center confirmed tobacco was smoked, and likely grown in the region, by at least A.D. 860. Perhaps more importantly, the researchers say that additional studies may help them better understand the origins of nicotine addiction and the human management, geographic range extension and cultivation of tobacco. Indeed, as part of a second study, the authors have recently detected nicotine in ancient pipes from an 800-year-old site in the modern city of Pleasanton, Calif. "Despite the economic importance of tobacco today, we know very little about its antiquity," said Shannon Tushingham, a UC Davis archaeology research associate and primary author of the study. "We believe Native American use of tobacco and other psychoactive plants is quite ancient. The methods we developed provide an important breakthrough which can be applied on even older pipes throughout the ancient Americas." Prior to this recent testing, which used sensitive gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, researchers were unsure of the historical use of tobacco on the Pacific Northwest Coast. It was unclear, for example, whether European traders had brought tobacco to the area much later, or if some other plant had been smoked in the pipes, Tushingham said. Historic native peoples smoked a wide variety of plants, including tobacco, and pipes that researchers found at sites indicate smoking was an important part of ritual activities in the past. But archaeologists had found it difficult to detect what plants might have been smoked in the pipes because of the age and deterioration of pipes found. Early tobacco also had less nicotine content—less than 2 percent—and it is more difficult to detect than tobacco today, with a nicotine content of 4 to 8.5 percent, researchers said. After two years of experimentation, the researchers developed a chemical process where residue is extracted directly from the stone or clay matrix of the pipes, leaving the pipe intact. By applying the process to one complete pipe and various fragments found at village sites in Tolowa ancestral territory, researchers found the biomarker nicotine, indicating that tobacco had been smoked. The study sites are located in the traditional homeland of the Tolowa people, in the Smith River basin and vicinity of northwestern California. Co-authors of the study with Tushingham at UC Davis include Jelmer W. Eerkens, a professor of anthropology whose research centers on hunter-gatherers, and Oliver Fiehn, professor in the department of molecular and cellular biology and the genome center. The study is available online. Journal reference: Journal of Archaeological Science Provided by UC Davis


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-03-uncover-earliest-tobacco-pacific-northwest.html#jCp



Archaeologists find Friedrich Engels' club

2 March 2013 Last updated at 11:26


A club where Friedrich Engels spent time during his early years in England has been uncovered by archaeologists in Manchester.


Remnants of The Albert Club, founded by Germans in the 19th Century, were found during building work on the new £61m National Graphene Institute (NGI).


Engels joined the club when he arrived to work in Manchester in 1842.


The experience of Manchester workers inspired his book The Condition of the Working Class in England.


Engels was the co-author with Karl Marx of The Communist Manifesto in 1848.


NGI will house research into the substance graphene, which has been described world's thinnest, strongest and most conductive material.


Nobel Prize laureate Professor Kostya Novoselov intends to use a sink, discovered intact in the excavations, in the institute when it opens in 2015.


"It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to find these fascinating remains at the site of the institute," he said.


"We have been very careful to record these remnants of the Industrial Revolution and we will look to keep some artefacts for use in the new building or elsewhere," he added.


The club, named after Queen Victoria's German consort Prince Albert, was founded for Manchester's community of middle class Germans involved in the cotton trade.


It had been owned by architect Jeptha Pacey as his private villa, prior to its conversion into a private social club.


The cellars of five properties along the former Lawson Street have been discovered, together with the rear yards of larger houses that fronted on to Booth Street East.