Paleorivers across Sahara may have supported ancient human migration routes

Public release date: 11-Sep-2013

Contact: Kallie Huss



Public Library of Science


Three ancient river systems, now buried, may have created viable routes for human migration across the Sahara to the Mediterranean region about 100,000 years ago, according to research published September 11 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Tom Coulthard from the University of Hull, UK, and colleagues from other institutions.


Simulating paleoclimates in the region, the researchers found quantitative evidence of three major river systems that likely existed in North Africa 130,000-100,000 years ago, but are now largely buried by dune systems in the desert. When flowing, these rivers likely provided fertile habitats for animals and vegetation, creating 'green corridors' across the region. At least one river system is estimated to have been 100 km wide and largely perennial. The Irharhar river, westernmost of the three identified, may represent a likely route of human migration across the region. In addition to rivers, the researchers' simulations predict massive lagoons and wetlands in northeast Libya, some of which span over 70,000-square kilometers. "It's exciting to think that 100 000 years ago there were three huge rivers forcing their way across a 1000km of the Sahara desert to the Mediterranean -- and that our ancestors could have walked alongside them" said Coulthard.


Previous studies have shown that people travelled across the Saharan mountains toward more fertile Mediterranean regions, but when, where and how they did so is a subject of debate. Existing evidence supports the possibilities of a single trans-Saharan migration, many migrations along one route, or multiple migrations along several different routes. The existence of 'green corridors' that provided water and food resources were likely critical to these events, but their location and the amount of water they carried is not known. The simulations provided in this study aim to quantify the probability that these routes may have been viable for human migration across the region.


Citation: Coulthard TJ, Ramirez JA, Barton N, Rogerson M, Brücher T (2013) Were Rivers Flowing across the Sahara During the Last Interglacial? Implications for Human Migration through Africa. PLoS ONE 8(9): e74834. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074834


Financial Disclosure: The authors have no support or funding to report.


Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


PLEASE LINK TO THE SCIENTIFIC ARTICLE IN ONLINE VERSIONS OF YOUR REPORT (URL goes live after the embargo ends): http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0074834



Archaeologists Recover Ancient Boat Near Great Pyramid in Egypt

Wed, Sep 11, 2013 AddThis


It was like looking at wood planks and timbers that were cut from their trees and shaped just a few decades ago. But these pieces were thousands of years old. About 4,500 years old, in fact.

With a sense of urgency, a team donned in special white hazmat-like suites, gloves and face-masks, like surgeons, swiftly yet methodically removed, handled and examined scores of carefully and artfully cut pieces of wood. They were priceless, because these specimens were as old as the pyramids of Egypt and they were in danger of beginning to disappear before their excavator's eyes, like phantoms, if they weren't handled and processed appropriately. These were parts of Pharaoh Khufu's solar funerary vessel, anciently disassembled and packed meticulously into a stone pit grave beneath the sand at the foot of Khufu's great pyramid over 4,500 years ago. Khufu was ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom pharaoh at that time, or WAS before this boat was buried. But in 1987 the seal of the entombed boat had been breached and water, insects and fungi began to degrade the ancient, vulnerable wood. Severe damage had occurred as a result to some parts of the wood, and scientists found themselves in a race against time to recover the vessel before the outside world did more damage.


The find is currently touted to be among the greatest discoveries and excavation projects in Egypt's long history of archaeological research. Like it's sister boat excavated and assembled decades ago and now housed in the "Solar Boat Museum" adjacent to the Great Pyramid of Khufu on the Giza Plateau, this was a boat type known as a "solar barge", a ritual vessel designed to carry the resurrected pharaoh with the sun god Ra across the heavens in the afterlife. It may never have touched water in real life, but this is a matter of further research.

With the help of a Japanese scientific team and technical experts from Japan's Waseda University and the Japanese Institute for Restoration Research, members of the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities and other Egyptian antiquities experts hope to be able to study and preserve, as well as completely assemble, the ancient bark. Apart from the sensational remains themselves, the boat, the Egyptian authorities anticipate, promises to provide another window on Old Kingdom Egypt, not just for scholars and historians, but for throngs of fascinated citizens and tourists, as well.

“The boat is a spectacular piece of engineering and building, and also provides insight into technology, trade, and aesthetics” effuses Salima Ikram, head of the Egyptology Unit at the famed American University in Cairo. “It is truly amazing to think that King Khufu actually might have travelled on this boat, after having ordered it to be made from cedar logs brought all the way from what is modern day Lebanon.”

Eventually, Egyptian authorities hope that future vistors will see a fully assembled boat housed and displayed on the Giza Plateau. The first solar boat, which has drawn countless tourists for many years, will be moved to the new Egyptian Museum.



Mycenean Palace and Linear B Tablets Discovered in Sparta Area

By A. Papapostolou on September 11, 2013


A new excavation in the Xirokambi area of Aghios Vassilios west of Sparta, in the Peloponnese, Greece, has revealed a richness of Mycenean artefacts in the area, including the remains of a palace, Linear B tablets, fragments of wall paintings, and several bronze swords.


The excavation, led by emeritus ephor of antiquities Adamantia Vassilogrambrou, was presented publicly at the biennial Shanghai Archaeology Forum at the end of August as one of 11 sites showcased from different parts of the world.


The Aghios Vassilios excavation began in 2010, after Linear B tablets were found in the area in 2008, pointing to the existence of a powerful central authority and distribution system. The deciphered texts were devoted to perfume and cloth production, the trade of which was controlled by a palace administration in the Mycenean era.


Evidence of a central palace administration was confirmed also by the architecture, which is dated to the 14th century BC, while contact with Crete was confirmed by the finding of a double axe, a feature of the island’s palace culture.


Artefacts found include seals, a multitude of ceramic and bronze vessels, and 21 bronze swords. According to the evidence, a sudden fire that broke out either at the end of the 14th century or the beginning of the 13th destroyed the three buildings on the site which were never rebuilt at the same location.

(source: ana-mpa)



China finds ancient tomb of 'female prime minister'

12 September 2013 Last updated at 11:29


The ancient tomb of a female politician in China, described as the country's "female prime minister", has been discovered, Chinese media say.


The tomb of Shangguan Wan'er, who lived from 664-710 AD, was recently found in Shaanxi province. Archaeologists confirmed the tomb was hers this week.


She was a famous politician and poet who served empress Wu Zetian, China's first female ruler.


However, the tomb was badly damaged, reports said.


The grave was discovered near an airport in Xianyang, Shaanxi province, reports said.


A badly damaged epitaph on the tomb helped archaeologists confirm that the tomb was Shangguan Wan'er's, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.


Experts described the discovery as one of "major significance", even though it had been subject to "large-scale damage".


"The roof had completely collapsed, the four walls were damaged, and all the tiles on the floor had been lifted up," Geng Qinggang, an archaeology research associate in Shaanxi, told Chinese media.


"Hence, we think it must have been subject to large-scale, organised damage... quite possibly damage organised by officials," he said.


Shangguan Wan'er was a trusted aide of Wu Zetian, who ruled during China's prosperous Tang dynasty.


She was killed in a palace coup in 710 AD.


Her story has intrigued many in China, and has even inspired a TV series.



Heartbreaking stories from 2,000 years ago surface in the catacombs

Sunday, 15 September 2013, 08:30 , by Noel Grima


A young mother buried with a baby on her arm. Two young people buried side by side in a tomb for one person, sex indeterminate. A remnant of a shoe found next to them. A cup containing the bones of a baby buried in an amphora that was later filled with sand.


These, and other discoveries have been made recently in the ongoing archaeological excavations at two contiguous Rabat catacombs, the St Augustine and the St Paul catacombs.


Heritage Malta (HM) held a day-long seminar on Friday to celebrate the work undertaken by the agency in its 10 years of existence.


Apart from the policy speeches, of which more later, the rest of the day was spent with a series of presentations by Heritage Malta experts outlining the work that is currently being done.


In Rabat, as David Cardona explained, excavation work is being carried out both in the St Augustine Catacombs, which contains three hypogea, and in the adjoining St Paul Catacombs, the largest complex of catacombs in Malta, which includes 23 catacombs that originally formed part of a larger cemetery complex which includes the St Agatha Catacombs across the road.


So far, only two catacombs at St Paul’s Catacombs are open to the public. The idea is to open up the entire site later on.


Extensive excavation works have been carried out in a field to create a new visitor centre for the site. Even here, a number of features have been found.


One intriguing issue regards the catacombs and quarries. It would seem the area was used for quarrying before it was turned over to burials. The same happened at Salina and the Abbatija tad-Dejr catacombs. It is now thought that the hollows left by the old quarries were later used as ossuaries – which would explain why ossuaries inside the catacombs are so few in number.


As to the excavations at the Ghajn Tuffieha Roman Baths, this is an ongoing excavation which is seeing the re-discovery of features first exposed in 1929-30 although boxes of remains found then seem to have disappeared after they were taken away in the 1960s.


Mario Galea and Maria Elena Zammit explained the ongoing environmental monitoring at the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum.


In the 1990s restoration, four houses on top were pulled down, visitor flow was restricted and air-conditioning installed. But still, the most important prehistoric site in Malta continues to suffer from water and rain infiltration and the monitoring has shown that even the presence of a small number of persons destabilizes the environment.


Turning to the modern era, Ray Spiteri explained the restoration of Mattia Preti’s ‘St Paul Liberating Malta from the Turkish Siege of 1427’, done by the artist and his bottega in 1688 for the Mdina Cathedral.


Today, the experts do not talk of restoring the painting but more of conserving it. This leads them to first study and document all their findings before tackling the painting itself.


In this painting, St Paul is shown wearing a blue, star-studded robe, flying with his horse over the heads of the Turkish soldiers.


Analysis of the painting showed some Preti pentimenti, as one usually finds in later Preti paintings – the lapel of a Turkish soldier is adjusted, as also his hand on the sword. What appear as Maltese flags in the distance originally were pennants and one can also glimpse the old campanile of the former Mdina cathedral before it collapsed in the 1693 earthquake.


David Bugeja gave a riveting description of the conservation and restoration of what is known as the Filfla Triptych. This is so called because it was said this painting, one of the oldest surviving panel paintings in Malta, used to hang in the cave-church there was on Filfla. Nowadays, Prof. Mario Buhagiar holds it was the old altarpiece of the of the Virgin from the Bubaqra church.


It was later taken to the Zurrieq parish church where it was hung, quite precariously, in front of an air grill in the vestry. Today, after being restored, it is hanging in the office of the archpriest but even this is not the proper place for it, the conservators said.


The painting is on spruce (injam tal-abjad) and the conservators were able to discover through collaboration with a Viterbo institute, the wood came from the Alps and was cut in 1498. The dating 1604 on its back may not have been original and may even have been the date of the first restoration of the painting.


David Cardona, Lindsay Galea and Sharon Sultana described the ongoing work to collect, classify and conserve the vast photographic material that used to be kept stored in very inadequate ways mainly at the National Museum of Archaeology.


Many do not know that Daguerreotype was discovered in 1839 and a Horace Venet took the first known photo of Malta in March 1840, and that the first studio was set up in 1849.


The HM collection contains over 11,000 glass negatives including photos taken by official photographer Edward Alfred Gouder and photos taken by Sir Temi Zammit.


Godwin Vella explained the ongoing restoration of the Inquisitors’ Palace in Vittoriosa, the only Inquisitors’ Palace open to the public in the whole world. Mr Vella’s talk entitled “From Mausoleum to Museum” spoke about the building itself is as ‘an anthology of building techniques over the years and a landmark of architectural expression’.


Head of Conservation Joseph Schiro explained how Malta’s appreciation of its history has grown in the 10 years of HM existence and has moved from focusing on restoration to conservation and preservation, a very important culture change.


His talk included a riveting description of the restoration of the Byzantine prayer book that used to belong to Padre Ottomano, the son of Sultan Ibrahim who was caught by the Knights in a Turkish galley and brought to Malta where he became a Dominican priest.


The book itself is an heirloom kept by the Valletta Dominican friars.


Policy issues


While both the new chairman, Dr J.M. Buttigieg, and the new CEO, Kenneth Gambin, seemed to have little to say about HM’s future policy, both Parliamentary Secretary Jose Herrera who opened the proceedings and Dr Anthony Pace, the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage who closed the proceedings had much to say.


Dr Herrera announced that the 260 workers in the Restoration Unity at the Works Division would be shifted to HM in the future.


HM must foster synergy with academia and especially with NGOs. Some NGOs have been given sites to manage and he intends to propose the continuation of such agreements but he seemed to draw the line at those NGOs who turn such agreements into money-making enterprises.


Dr Herrera also urged HM to be more responsive to local councils who do not have the funds to take proper care of the heritage in their localities.


HM will be given an important role to play in V18. Malta has a cultural heritage it can be proud of and HM must turn the V18 experience into branding Malta in an inimitable way.


As Dr Herrera, Mr Pace spoke off the cuff. Malta has an inimitable cultural heritage which makes up our identity as a people, our social aesthetic heritage. The future must be based on sustainability and must include areas that were not covered in the day’s presentation, such as language and music. So far, a lot has been done with the help of funds coming from the EU but in the future it must be self-sustaining and viable.


In 200 years’ time, people will be studying the new Cirkewwa Road just as today we study the Knights’ and the British fortifications.


It was a pity that the day-long presentation did not include any reference to the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra conservation efforts, and the holding of the Mattia Preti and similar exhibitions. Nor did it include any word on current restoration works at Fort St Angelo and St Elmo.


And although it celebrated the 10 years of HM’s existence and the presentations themselves showed how Malta has progressed in these 10 years, it did not include just one word of appreciation to all those who, in one way or another, worked at HM all these years. Ma tarax.



Unearthed... the horrors of Hitler's WW2 death camp in Treblinka

A POWERFUL, disturbing TV documentary about the Nazi death camp Treblinka is set to silence the “lies” of those who deny the Holocaust.

By: David Stephenson. Published: Sun, September 15, 2013


As part of a new series of films about Nazi Germany on Channel 5, Treblinka: Inside The Murder Factory will tell the exclusive story of an exhaustive excavation of what is called “Treblinka 2”.


It will expose the true nature, scale and operation of one of Hitler’s biggest extermination camps, that for 70 years has kept hidden one of the most appalling secrets of the Second World War.


The wooded site in Poland 50 miles north-east of Warsaw was bulldozed in 1943 by the Nazis in an attempt to destroy all evidence of what had taken place and even today the exact location of the gas chambers, where more than 870,000 Jews and gypsies were murdered, is still not known.


But this film follows British forensic archaeologist Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls who has spent three years piecing together the first forensically accurate picture of “Treblinka 2” and her work, in conjunction with museum authorities at Treblinka, is intended to provide a conclusive account of the camp.


In an interview as she began her work, Dr Colls, who lectures at Staffordshire University, said: “When the Nazis left in 1943 they thought they had destroyed it. They had knocked down the buildings and levelled the earth. They had built a farmhouse, installed a Ukrainian ‘farmer’ and had planted trees.”


But her work has revealed a number of pits across the site and she said: “If they thought they had removed all evidence of their crime, they hadn’t. For a forensic archaeologist, there is a vast amount to study. Victims arrived at a fake railway station, and were made to undress and walk naked to the gas chambers along the ‘Road to Heaven’.


“Another five pits of varying sizes are located nearby. Given their size and location, there is a strong case for arguing that they represent burial areas.”


Discussing her findings she said: “It is clear that the ash contains many bones. Bone fragments can still be seen on the surface of the ground, especially after rain.


“Considerable evidence also exists to suggest not all of the bodies were exhumed and cremated [by the Nazis]. Photographs show bodies littering the landscape as late as the early Sixties.”


She hopes her work will lead to long-term collaboration with the Treblinka museum, bringing new insights into the camp which will allow its victims to be appropriately commemorated.


Inside Treblinka is part of a groundbreaking new season of Channel 5 documentaries about the Nazi regime which also includes the real-life quest for the Holy Grail, which inspired the film Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, and a secret plan by Adolf Hitler to fly German planes into Manhattan skyscrapers in an eerie portent of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.


Simon Raikes, Channel 5’s commissioning editor, said: “These films offer a dramatic new perspective on the regime by taking the viewer inside the minds of the Nazi leadership.


“What was their vision for the Everlasting Reich? And what did they do to try and achieve it?


“From the ludicrous quest to find their Aryan roots and harness the supernatural, through the chilling attempt to breed a racially ‘pure’ new generation of Nazi children, to the brutal industrialisation of genocide in the death camps, this season will reveal the true horror of what the Nazis were planning and unfold the absurd, mind-boggling, incomprehensibly evil things they did in pursuit of their plans.”