Rock-Shelter in Spain Evidences Early Human Use of Fire

Tue, May 27, 2014


Before the Neanderthals, these humans likely used fire about 800,000 years ago in southeastern Spain.

Rock-Shelter in Spain Evidences Early Human Use of Fire

In a report co-authored by Michael Walker and colleagues of Spain's Murcia University, scientists suggest that early humans who lived in the Cueva Negra (Black Cave) rock-shelter of southeastern Spain about 800,000 years ago used fire, and that they exhibited behaviors that indicated a cognitively sophisticated late early Pleistocene use of resources and tools in their environment. The detailed report is published in the upcoming Volume 15 of Popular Archaeology Magazine.

The rock-shelter, located in the face of a cliff overlooking the Quipar river and the small village of La Encarnación, became the subject of initial exploration by archaeologists in 1981. But full systematic excavations didn't begin until 1990, when an archaeological team led by Walker and colleagues with the Murcia University Experimental Sciences Research Group undertook detailed investigation that continued for another 25 field seasons. What they uncovered were 5 meters of sediment containing late Pleistocene (somewhat before 780,000 years ago) finds, including hominin (early human, possibly H. heidelbergensis) teeth, a rich artifact assemblage, and an array of ancient flora and fauna remains that bespoke an ancient climate of warm, moist environmental conditions. Their analysis and interpretation of the finds may have, they maintain, important implications  for early human behavior.

"The most important findings at Cueva Negra concern human activity," write Walker and colleagues in their report. "Undoubted evidence of fire has been uncovered."* They point to the evidence of sediment combustion, thermally altered chert and burnt animal bone found in a layer measured at 4.5 meters in depth.

But they qualify their interpretation.

"A fire-place is not a hearth," the authors continue. "The Cueva Negra could have brought glowing brands left by a forest fire into the cave to establish and tend a fire where rain and wind would not put it out. They may well have been less afraid of fire outside than other animals they saw fleeing from it (which could have led them to play with fire in order to drive animals towards natural death traps, such as swamps, enabling dismemberment and roasting). This does not mean they could reproduce or control fire: there is a dearth of archaeological evidence for hearths or fire-pits before 0.5 Ma."

Cueva Negra is not the only site that has evidenced early use of fire by early humans. For example, the site of Bnot Ya'akov Bridge in Israel has been claimed to show human control of fire some time between 790,000 and 690,000 years ago, and evidence has emerged at Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa for the use of fire by around 1 million years ago. There are also other sites showing this possibility in Africa and China. But Cueva Negra could be the earliest, if not one of the earliest, sites in Europe demonstrating this development.

Other findings suggested a clear mastery of material resources for survival. The assemblage of stone tool artifacts recovered (classified by the authors as "Acheulo-Levalloiso-Mousteroid") showed evidence of the use of three different core reduction methodologies or sequences, and that natural stone resources were exploited as much as 40 km downstream from the site and 30 km upstream.

Concludes Walker, et al., "Research at Cueva Negra throws new light, including fire-light, on the cognitive versatility, manual dexterity, and technical aptitude of early humans ca. 0.8 Ma in S.E. Spain. They exploited their surroundings in a competent fashion that implies precise knowledge and accurate awareness of what was available for survival."*

*Walker, Michael, et al., The Early Humans of Cueva Negra, Popular Archaeology, Vol. 15, June, 2014.



Caveman Campsite Unearthed at Construction Site in London

By Megan Gannon, News Editor   |   May 30, 2014 10:30am ET


Construction is underway on the south side of the Thames River in London's Battersea neighborhood on a shiny crystalline cube that will house the new U.S. Embassy. But long before the site was set aside for diplomacy, it may have been a caveman campground.


Archaeologists monitoring the building's construction over the last year uncovered traces of London's distant past — Stone Age tools, the charred remains of campfires, animal bones and a possible fish trap.


"Prehistoric sites in London are extremely rare and to have such a vast horizon preserved is quite significant," said Kasia Olchowska, a senior archaeologist at the Museum of London Archaeology, referring to the large surface area preserved. Olchowska patrolled the construction site from last July through April to examine and excavate any archaeological finds


The oldest artifact from the site is perhaps a Paleolithic flint. This sharp-sided rock is likely a flake, or a byproduct from the making of a bigger tool, though it also could have been used as a tool itself, Olchowska said.


Found among water-smoothed gravel, the flint was likely swept into place by a river channel. Researchers haven't pinpointed an exact age for the stone tool, because it's been washed away from its original context. Experts who looked at the flint think it was created no earlier than 500,000 years ago, but more likely crafted sometime between 100,000 and 12,000 years ago, Olchowska said. The researchers are hoping to narrow that time frame with further study.


The rest of the prehistoric surface uncovered at the construction site is up to 11,750 years old, carbon dating showed. At that time, the London area was wetter than it is today, with a network of channels that swirled around sandy islands, Olchowska said. The land was likely too wet for a permanent settlement, but the vast, open space may have been a good spot to set up camp for hunting and fishing expeditions.


Archaeologists uncovered several patches of scorched ground and burned animal bones, which may be evidence of campfires, Olchowska said.


"We think that [the fires] are potentially marking a spot that people were coming back to seasonally," Olchowska told Live Science.


In the southwestern corner of the site, the team also found two rows of disintegrating wooden stakes stretching over an area 39 feet (12 meters) long. These fences might represent an early fish trap used to round up a catch in a basket or net.


The team found other stone tools, too, including a 12,000-year-old plunging blade, which would have been set in bone or wood and used as a tool or weapon, and handheld Neolithic scrapers that would have been used for woodwork or hide-cleaning.


Near the embassy site, archaeologists have previously discovered other prehistoric archaeological remains, including a Bronze Age jetty and a 7,000-year-old timber structure near the Thames. The new discovery gives archaeologists a chance to reconstruct a wider area of prehistoric London, Olchowska said. She is putting together a history of this period in light of her findings at the embassy.



Neolithic houses built at Stonehenge - but not without modern tools

Twenty tonnes of chalk, 5,000 hazel rods and three tonnes of straw used on houses based on 4,500-year-old designs

Maev Kennedy

theguardian.com, Monday 2 June 2014 00.10 BST


The five re-created Neolithic houses at Stonehenge reveal the type of homes the builders of the ancient monument might have lived in 4,500 years ago. Photograph: Alistair Deane for English Heritage

Stonehenge has acquired new neighbours, four deceptively spacious detached houses, newly built in an area where planning permission even for a new cowshed is problematic.


The first fires have been lit, the first food – bread made from flour ground beside the hearth on a stone quern – cooked, and slightly to the surprise of their landlords, the first residents, some house martins, have moved in. From Monday visitors are welcome to duck their heads under the low lintels and come in.


English Heritage has based the four oval houses and a small store room on the foundations of real houses built 4,500 years ago at the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls, where archaeologists believe the people who built the most famous prehistoric monument in the world gathered for seasonal rituals and feasting. The height of the walls and the size of the roof could be estimated from the size of the foundations, but the roof structure remains guesswork – different techniques of thatch have been used on each house.


They were built over the winter beside the new Stonehenge visitor centre – and as an exercise in experimental archaeology, have already established that building in wattle and daub and thatch, over one of the wettest winters ever recorded, is a painful process. Twenty tonnes of chalk, 5,000 hazel rods, and three tonnes of wheat straw have gone into the houses, but the ground is still so waterlogged that some of the chalk floors laid weeks ago, which should be bone dry by now, are still as sticky as chewing gum.


The materials were authentic, but in order to get the houses finished for this season, the tools were not – cement mixers were used to mix the daub, wheelbarrows to carry the timber, and the baskets of logs by the hearths have been split with steel rather than stone axes.


The houses should have opened to the public weeks ago, but the work was going so slowly that after Christmas extra builders were conscripted. Bob Mitchell, a retired engineer who worked at Reuters and several other media organisations in the glory days of the old Fleet Street, and had volunteered with his partner to help in the visitor centre, joined a team including several teachers, a tour guide and a lawyer, spending happy days covered from head to toe in a gloopy mixture of powdered chalk, chopped straw and water.


"Jolly hard work, particularly on the really cold wet days," he recalled, "but it's quite something now they're finished."


Inside the final coat of daub was applied with rags, giving a smooth almost polished effect, and the result is surprisingly elegant. Furnished with timber and wicker beds and shelves, clay pots and jars, and a central hearth, the houses are surprisingly spacious and bright with light filtering through the thatch reflecting off the white walls.


The bread, Mitchell said, though not as good as the sourdough he makes himself, was "pretty tasty".



The 4,000-year-old whopper: Russian fisherman accidentally catches a rare Bronze Age figurine of a pagan god

Siberian Nikolay Tarasov, 53, wants no compensation for the find that local archaeologists have hailed as being 'unique and amazing'

Figurine has almond-shaped eyes, large mouth and an angry expression

Curators say the 12in-high statuette was carved in horn that later fossilised

The area around Tisul is known to have been inhabited in ancient times


PUBLISHED: 15:37, 26 May 2014 | UPDATED: 10:03, 27 May 2014


A Russian fisherman who expected nothing more than a haul of tench and carp ended up catching a 4,000-year-old pagan god statue from the bottom of a riverbed.


Local archaeologists have hailed Siberian Nikolay Tarasov's finding as 'unique and amazing' as well as 'probably worth its weight in gold'.


Mr Tarasov was fishing on a day off from his driving job in the village of Tisul in southern Russia.


Not your average catch: Archaeologists hailed the ancient find as 'unique and amazing' and 'worth its weight in gold'. The figurine has almond-shaped eyes, a large mouth with full lips, and a ferocious facial expression

Not your average catch: Archaeologists hailed the ancient find as 'unique and amazing' and 'worth its weight in gold'. The figurine has almond-shaped eyes, a large mouth with full lips, and a ferocious facial expression


He said: 'I used a net, rather than a line, and was hauling it in when I felt the net go heavy and thought it had snagged on a rock.


'I pulled it in by getting my pal to help and was going to chuck it away. But then I stopped when I saw it was a stone with a face.


'I washed the thing in the river - and realised it was a statuette.'


The figurine has almond-shaped eyes, a large mouth with full lips, and a ferocious facial expression.


'I took it to a local museum. I needed to sit down when the experts told me that this object was carved at the very beginning of the Bronze Age.


'On the reverse side on the head the carver etched plaited hair. Below the plait there are lines looking like fish scales. The people I showed it to quite literally jumped for joy.


'I suspected it might be a couple of hundred years old, but had not considered it might by older,' he told The Siberian Times.


The curators of the museum passed on the find to experts in the city of Kemerovo, where they dated it at more than 4,000-years-old, and explained it had been carved in horn which later fossilised. The statuette is 12in (30cm) long and 2in (5cm) wide.


Marina Banschikova, director of Tisul History Museum: 'Quite likely, it shows a pagan god.


'Items from this period are very rare, the only things we have dated approximately to the same age are a stone necklace and two charms in the shapes of a bear and a bird.


'Nikolay has given us this treasure free of charge. He didn’t ask for any kind of compensation - though it is probably worth more than if it was a gold statue.


'Now we have to devote more time studying his find which is both unique and amazing.'


The area around Tisul is known to have been inhabited in ancient times.


Currently the theories are that the statuette belonged to the Okunev or Samus cultures.


Okunev culture was a Bronze Age society dated to the first half of the 2nd millennium BC in Minusinsk Hollow of southern Siberia.


To sell it and make profit however was never on the mind of Mr Tarasov, who said: 'People should see it, and learn the history of their region. It is quite clearly precious for the museums of any country.'



The Bronze Age was a period characterised by the use of bronze, early forms of writing, and other early developments of urban civilization.


It is the second period of the three-age 'Stone-Bronze-Iron' system for classifying and studying ancient societies.


The Bronze Age was a time of intensive metal use and of developing trade networks and began around 4,000 years ago.


In order to make bronze, tin is mined and smelted separately, then added to molten copper to make a bronze alloy.


The overall period is characterised by the adoption of bronze in many regions, though the place and time of the introduction and development of such technology was not simultaneous.


Worldwide, the Bronze Age generally followed the Neolithic period, but in some parts of the world, the Copper Age is sandwiched between the Neolithic and Bronze Age.


The Altai Mountains, in what is now southern Russia and central Mongolia, have been identified as the point of origin of a cultural moment called the Seima-Turbino Phenomenon.


It's believed that climate change in the region around 2000BC and the following ecological, economic and political changes triggered a rapid and mass migration westward into northeast Europe, eastward into China and southward into Vietnam and Thailand across a frontier of some 4,000 miles.


This migration took place in just five to six generations and led to people from Finland in the west to Thailand in the east employing the same bronze making technology and, in some areas, horse breeding and riding.



Archaeologists find 2,300-year-old iron tooth implant found with Celtic woman’s remains

By Maev Kennedy, The Guardian

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 3:12 EDT


An iron tooth implant fitted about 2,300 years ago has been found in the grave of a young woman in northern France. Archaeologists believe it may have been fitted to beautify her corpse, as it would have been too excruciating to have had it hammered into the living jaw.


The corroded piece of metal is the same size and shape as the other incisors from her upper jaw – which did not survive as the timber tomb collapsed and crushed her skull – and its appearance may originally have been improved by a wooden or ivory covering.


The implant, the oldest of its kind discovered in western Europe, is 400 years older than one from another grave in France, found in the 1990s at Essonne. That unfortunate young man had lost all his top left molars, so the iron implant was probably to help him chew.


The new find replaced the only tooth lost by the woman, which would have caused her no practical problems but would have been very visible.


The French archaeologists, who report their discovery in the June edition of the Antiquity journal, say the discovery was totally unexpected.


Although the Celts were renowned for their craftsmanship in metal and timber, the team says little is known about their medical knowledge before the Romans overran their territories.


The woman was buried in a richly furnished timber chamber, originally surrounded by a wooden fence, near the graves of three other women, at Le Chene, south-east of Paris.


Buried with her were bronze torcs, anklets and bracelets, brooches and belt ornaments, coral and amber necklaces, and an iron currency bar, all in an elaborately constructed burial chamber and enclosure – all signs of wealth “of a refined and ostentatious elite”.


The items were found among a small heap of crushed bones, all that survived of the skeleton apart from the perfectly preserved teeth – and the iron implant.


False or replacement teeth have been discovered in skulls from ancient Egypt, including a 5,500-year-old one made of shell, intended to make the body as complete as possible for the afterlife. False teeth made of bone, or recycled animal teeth, were used by elite Etruscan women in Italy, where the Celts had trading connections and may have got the idea.


The archaeologists made some gruesome calculations about how far the spike would have been hammered into the pulp canal of nerves and blood vessels to anchor it soundly.


She may already have been dead when it was done, to improve the appearance of her corpse for the funeral service. If she was still alive it would have been an agonising process, and could have resulted in a fatal infection. “Iron is not biocompatible and the absence of sterile conditions would have provoked an unfavourable host response,” said the team of archaeologists.



East Lothian skeleton may be 10th Century Irish Viking king

30 May 2014 Last updated at 12:24


A skeleton discovered on an archaeological dig in East Lothian may be a 10th Century Irish Viking who was king of Dublin and Northumbria.


King Olaf Guthfrithsson led raids on Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame shortly before his death in 941.


The remains excavated from Auldhame in 2005 are those of a young adult male who was buried with a number of items indicating his high rank.


They include a belt similar to others from Viking Age Ireland.


The find has led archaeologists and historians to speculate that the skeleton could be that of King Olaf or one of his entourage.


Bones found at Auldhame

A jaw bone was part of the remains found at Auldhame which may belong to King Olaf

Olaf was a member of the Uí Ímar dynasty who, in 937, defeated his Norse rivals in Limerick and pursued his family claim to the throne of York.


He married the daughter of King Constantine II of Scotland and allied himself with Owen I of Strathclyde.


The theory that he could have been buried close to the Auldhame battle site was revealed as Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop visited a Neolithic monument in County Meath, Ireland.


The tour of Newgrange is being used to highlight archaeological links between Scotland and Ireland.


Ms Hyslop said: "This is a fascinating discovery and it's tantalising that there has been the suggestion that this might be the body of a 10th Century Irish Viking king."


Dr Alex Woolf, a senior lecturer in the School of History at the University of St Andrews and a consultant on the project, admits the evidence is circumstantial.


But he said: "Whilst there is no way to prove the identity of the young man buried at Auldhame, the date of the burial and the equipment make it very likely that this death was connected with Olaf's attack."



Unique Crusader-era monastery seal found in Jerusalem

By Nir Hasson | May 27, 2014 | 11:00 AM |   1


A rare seal from the Crusader era has been found in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel.


The lead seal, which dates to some 800 years ago, bears the likeness of St. Sabas, one of the most important people active in Jerusalem during the Byzantine period, some 1,500 years ago.


Despite the importance of St. Sabas — whose Syriac name is Mar Saba — to Christian history in Israel, no seals with his image had been found before.


St. Sabas was one of the most influential leaders of the Christian monastic movement that developed in the Judean Desert during the Byzantine period. He established several monasteries, but his crowning achievement was the construction of the Monastery of St. Sabas, referred to as the “Great Laura” in the Byzantine period.


Situated on a cliff overlooking the Kidron Valley outside the Old City of Jerusalem, it is the only monastery in the Judean Desert continuously inhabited since its foundation. At the time the seal was in use, the monastery had hundreds of monks. Today, about 10 Greek monks are in residence.


Ancient farm life


During the summer of 2012, the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted two archaeological salvage digs at Horbat Mizmil, an Arab village before 1948 and now a site slated for development in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Jerusalem.


It is the norm in Israel to examine land slated for development for antiquities. The salvage digs revealed the remains of a farmstead dating from the Byzantine period.


The archaeologists discovered that the site had been abandoned at the end of the Byzantine period, only to be resettled during the Crusader period (11th to 12th centuries). It continued to grow, reaching its maximum size during the Mamluk period (13th to 15th centuries).


It was during excavation of the Crusader-era layer that the seal with the saint’s bearded face was found. Other artifacts uncovered during the dig reflected daily life on the farmstead.


The seal, or bulla in Latin, was used to seal letters with wax, so they would not be opened by unauthorized people (or if they were, it would be obvious). It consists of two blank lead disks separated by a gap and connected by a string.


When sealing a letter, the disks were pressed together, creating a double-faced seal.


An official seal of approval


The 800-year-old seal is in excellent condition. The saint’s image, wearing a toga-like himation and holding a cross in his right hand, is discernible on one side of the seal. The reverse side bears an inscription in Greek: “This is the seal of the Laura of the Holy Sabas.”


The object was examined by Dr. Robert Kool of the Israel Antiquities Authority and professor Jean-Claude Cheynet of France, who identified it as a seal stamped by the Monastery of St. Sabas during the Medieval period.


Dr. Yuval Baruch, Israel Antiquities Authority’s archaeologist responsible for Jerusalem and its environs, presented the unique find to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III.


According to Benyamin Storchan and Benyamin Dolinka, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the excavated farmstead could be a farming settlement sold to the monastery in 1163 to 1164.


A document from the archives of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during the Crusader period mentions a farming settlement called Thora, the whereabouts of which are unknown. It is quite possible the document refers to this site, the archaeologists say.



Unique Silk Cloth Found in Emperor Henry VII's Coffin

MAY 29, 2014 06:00 AM



A unique silk cloth has been found in the tomb of German king and Holy Roman emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg (1275-1313), among bones and what remains of his boiled head, Italian researchers announced this week.


Resting in Pisa Cathedral, the remains of Henry VII were exhumed last fall with the aim of getting more insights into the emperor’s physical features and cause of death.


The research is still ongoing, but the opening of the sarcophagus has already revealed a medieval treasure trove.


"Along with the emperor's mortal remains, the coffin contained a crown, a scepter and an orb, all made in gilded silver. But the most unexpected find was a large, magnificent silk cloth," Moira Brunori, at the Center for Textile Restoration in Pisa, told Discovery News. "It's extremely well preserved." Brunori said.


As the researchers opened the coffin for the third time since Henry VII's death in 1313 -- previous investigations were carried in 1727 and in 1921 -- they found the emperor's bones wrapped in the silk cloth. The crown, scepter and orb were laid on top of the cloth.


The three objects were commonly associated with the emperor. Indeed a set of contemporary miniatures often show Henry VII wearing them during his journey through Italy.


Celebrated as the "alto Arrigo" (high Henry) in Dante's Divine Comedy, Henry is best remembered for his struggle to reestablish imperial control over the city-states of 14th-­century Italy.


He was crowned King of Germany in 1308 and two years later he descended into Italy with the aim of pacifying destructive disputes between Guelf (pro-papal) and Ghibelline (pro-imperial) factions. His goal was to be crowned emperor and restore the glory of the Holy Roman Empire.


After meeting strong opposition among anti-imperialist Guelf lords, Henry entered Rome by force, and was indeed crowned Holy Roman Emperor on June 29, 1312.


"He who came to reform Italy before she was ready for it," as Dante described Henry VII, died just a year after his coronation, having failed to defeat opposition by a secular Avignon papacy, city-states and lay kingdoms.


Henry died prematurely at Buonconvento, near Siena, on Aug. 24, 1313. Rumors of him being poisoned began to spread.


The emperor's body was hastily buried; two years later he was reburied in the Cathedral of Pisa.


"Not having enough time to treat the corpse for transportation, the emperor's followers burned his body, detached the head and boiled it. His bones were kept in wine to better preserve them," Brunori said.


Indeed researchers found in the coffin ashes and bones showing signs of burning.


Anthropological examination has revealed the skeleton belonged to a 40-year-old male who was 5 feet, 5 inches tall -- and who was used to kneeling in prayer.


Analysis has so far revealed a high concentration of arsenic in the bones, which could support the poisoning theory, although many drugs at that time were arsenic based.


Not much evidence has emerged about Henry's demise by malaria, which has long been considered by many scholars a likely cause of death.


As for the silk cloth, it is unclear how it ended up in the coffin.


"In 1921, it was described as a piece of cloth with little value," Brunori said. "Instead it's a unique example of the noble production of silk textiles dating back to the beginning of the 14th century."


More than 10 feet long and 4 feet wide, the exquisitely woven cloth features horizontal bands of around 4 inches showing alternating colors, a reddish nut-brown (originally red) and blue.


"The blue bands are embroidered in gold and silver with pairs of lions facing each other, while an elaborated monochromatic tone-on-tone decoration, currently indecipherable, is visible on the reddish bands," Brunori said.


A crimson strip edged with yellow, placed at the top of the piece of fabric, bears traces of an inscription. Other unique features are the finished edge along the length of the fabric -- to keep it from unraveling -- and the checked bands at the shorter ends marking the beginning and end of the piece.


"The chequered starting and finishing borders are typical of this period," leading textile expert Lisa Monnas told Discovery News.


"For textile historians, it is exciting to see a complete loom width of silk fabric from this date, and, if it has both starting and finishing borders, a complete piece. It would be even more exciting if the inscription could be deciphered," she added.


According to Brunori, the lions, the most characteristic emblem of sovereignty, as well as other decorations symbolizing power, indicate a clear link to the emperor.


"What makes this cloth unique is its size, the very high level of craftsmanship and its amazing preservation," Brunori said.


According to Gale Owen-Crocker, professor of Anglo-Saxon Culture at the University of Manchester and an expert on medieval clothing and textiles, such silks were treasured possessions of the rich and royal.


"Expensive silks have been found in medieval royal and ecclesiastical graves. St. Cuthbert, the seventh-century English ascetic and bishop had several precious silk cloths added to his tomb over a period of centuries," Owen-Crocker told Discovery News.


She noted that the body of King Cnut IV of Denmark, murdered in 1086, was relocated in 1100, when his shrine was constructed as a bed, with a yellow silk quilt on which the body was laid, and a silk pillow.


"The fascinating thing to me is the way they gave such precious things to the grave. Even though as Christians they believed in the eternal life of the spirit, not the body, they still treated the body with the utmost luxury," Owen-Crocker said.