Oldest human faeces show Neanderthals ate vegetables

By Jonathan Webb

Science reporter, BBC News


Analysis of the oldest reported trace of human faeces has added weight to the view that Neanderthals ate vegetables.


Found at a dig in Spain, the ancient excrement showed chemical traces of both meat and plant digestion.


An earlier view of these early humans as purely meat-eating has already been partially discredited by plant remains found in their caves and teeth.


The new paper, in the journal PLOS One, claims to offer the best support to date for an omnivorous diet.


Poo is "the perfect evidence," said Ms Ainara Sistiaga, a PhD student at the University of La Laguna on the Canary Islands, and the study's first author, "because you're sure it was consumed".


Neanderthal illustration

The view of Neanderthals as purely carnivorous is now contradicted by several findings

Ms Sistiaga and her colleagues collected a number of samples from the remnants of a 50,000-year-old campfire in the El Salt dig site, a known Neanderthal habitation near Alicante on Spain's Mediterranean coast.


A year later, the samples were analysed in a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Ms Sistiaga is a visiting researcher.


Significant plant intake

The team used a technique called gas chromatography to separate the chemicals bound up in the ancient samples. This was combined with mass spectrometry to figure out which molecules were present and in what quantities.


Importantly, the relative concentration of an ester called coprostanol - used to detect human sewage - suggested that several samples were in fact traces of fossilised faeces.


The faecal matter came from the very top layer of the fire remains. Ms Sistiaga explained this probably means it was left behind after the fire was extinguished, perhaps on the periphery of another nearby campfire.


"The fire was not active at the moment of the deposit - it makes sense," she said with a chuckle.


In thin sections of soil from exactly the same area, the team also identified small "coprolites" - whole pieces of fossilised poo - which showed characteristics of human faeces, including their physical structure and a high phosphate content which makes them glow under blue light.


Dated at about 50,000 years old, based on the layer in which it was found, this is the oldest human excrement ever identified. Ms Sistiaga said her samples easily pre-date other fossilised faeces, belonging to modern humans (Homo sapiens) and found in Egyptian mummies and ancient Greek latrines.


The key finding, however, came from the chemical make-up of the miniscule traces of faeces in the campfire ashes. All these samples were dominated by products of meat digestion, but one in particular showed significant amounts of plant-derived esters as well.


So although the Neanderthal's predominant food source was meat, Ms Sistiaga explained that the chemistry of her sample suggested a "significant intake of plants".


Fossilised bits of faeces, or "coprolites", which glow under blue light because of their high phosphate content, were found nearby the tell-tale samples with high levels of plant-derived chemicals

"If you find it in the faeces, you are sure that it was ingested," she told BBC News. "This molecular fossil is perfect to try to know the proportion of both food sources in a Neanderthal meal."


Based on the history of the area, the vegetable matter that supplemented these ancient humans' mostly meaty diet could have been a mixture of berries, nuts and root vegetables.


Dr Stephen Buckley is an archaeologist at the University of York, who has previously reported evidence of plant matter in the dental tartar of Neanderthals - some of it cooked, and some of it possibly medicinal.


He described the new research as "something new and different" and a "hugely welcome addition" to the question of Neanderthal diet, which remains controversial among scientists.


"The start point, the teeth, and the end point, the faeces, show the same thing," Dr Buckley told the BBC. "The evidence is clear at both ends, if you like."


"It will be much harder, now, for people to dig their heels in and try to argue that Neanderthals just ate meat and not plants to any degree."


He added that their diet probably varied depending on where they lived.


"If you're in central Germany, it might make sense to eat more meat - the climate is cold, and you need more calories. But if you're in Spain, where there was a milder climate, then there might be more of a reason to consume plants."


Diet has been suggested as one of the reasons for the Neanderthals' extinction, some 30-40,000 years ago. As meat-eaters, the explanation goes, they were out-competed by the more adaptable Homo sapiens.


"Increasingly, it's obvious that the picture needs to be revised," Dr Buckley said.


Ms Sistiaga agrees: "We believe Neanderthals probably ate what was available in different situations, seasons, and climates," she said.



Archaeologists discovered a meteorite fragment in a 9 thousand years old hut



Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology (IAE) PAS in Szczecin discovered a meteorite fragment inside the remains of a hut dating back more than 9,000 years in Bolków by the lake Świdwie in Western Pomerania.

It is a natural pyrite meteorite fragment with cylindrical shape and porous, corrugated side surface. It has a height of 8 cm, width of 5.3 cm at the base and 3.5 cm at the top.


"The meteorite was brought to the shelter as a special object, +not of this world+, which must have been obvious to the contemporary men, knowledgeable of stone raw materials. The thing became an object of belief, and maybe even shamanic magic" - told PAP Prof. Tadeusz Galiński of IAE, head of the research project. According to the discoverer, this is the first such find in the history of archaeology.


According to the professor, the discovered fragment is surprisingly heavy. "In addition, the side profile shape suggests various associations; the original finder millennia ago probably saw in it shapes of a mysterious world of spirits" - added the scientist.


Extraordinary discovery was accompanied by numerous tools made of flint, wood, bone and antler, and a rich group of objects associated with the spiritual culture: an amulet, bone spear tip with engraved ornament and so-called magic stick made of antler, decorated with geometric motifs.


In addition to the remains of the pole hut, which contained the meteorite, archaeologists discovered a second, almost identical structure. In both of them, excavated in peat layer, in the central part there were preserved traces of hearths.


Excavations in Bolków have continued for several years. The meteorite discovery was made during last year's work, but only now, thanks to specialized studies, researchers were able to determine the origin of the unusual object.


Excavations are conducted by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS. The research project is funded by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education under the National Programme for the Development of Humanities.


PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland, Szymon Zdziebłowski



4,000-Year-Old Burial with Chariots Discovered in South Caucasus

By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor   |   June 25, 2014 07:04am ET


An ancient burial containing chariots, gold artifacts and possible human sacrifices has been discovered by archaeologists in the country of Georgia, in the south Caucasus.


The burial site, which would've been intended for a chief, dates back over 4,000 years to a time archaeologists call the Early Bronze Age, said Zurab Makharadze, head of the Centre of Archaeology at the Georgian National Museum.


Archaeologists discoveredthe timber burial chamber within a 39-foot-high (12 meters) mound called a kurgan. When the archaeologists reached the chamber they found an assortment of treasures, including two chariots, each with four wooden wheels.


The team discovered ornamented clay and wooden vessels, flint and obsidian arrowheads, leather and textile artifacts, a unique wooden armchair, carnelian and amber beads and 23 golden artifacts, including rare and artistic crafted jewelry, wrote Makharadze in the summary of a presentation he gave recently at the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, held at the University of Basel in Switzerland.


"In the burial chamber were placed two four-wheeled chariots, both in good condition, [the] design of which represents fine ornamental details of various styles," Makharadze wrote. Thechamber also contained wild fruits, he added.


While the human remains had been disturbed by a robbery, which probably occurred in ancient times, and were in a disordered position, the archaeologists found that seven people were buried in the chamber. "One of them was a chief and others should be the members of his family, sacrificed slaves or servants," Makharadze told Live Science in an email.


A time before the horse


The burial dates back to a time before domesticated horses appeared in the area, Makharadze said. While no animals were found buried with the chariots, he said, oxen would have pulled them.


Other rich kurgan burials dating to the second half of the third millennium B.C. have also been found in the south Caucasus,said Makharadze in another paper he presented in February at the College de France in Paris. The appearance of these rich burials appears to be connected to interactions that occurred between nomadic people from the Eurasian steppes and farming communities within and near the south Caucasus, Makharadze said.


These interactions appear to have led to some individuals, like this chief, getting elaborate burials. The newly discovered armchair symbolizes the power that individuals like the chief had. "The purpose of the wooden armchair was the indication to power, and it was put in the kurgan as a symbol of power," Makharadze said in the email.


The kurgan was found in eastern Georgia near the municipality of Lagodekhi and was excavated in 2012.



French archaeologists discover an exceptional Gallic chariot tomb at Warcq in France

The excavation has currently revealed only the upper levels of this 15 m² funerary chamber.


A combined team composed of archaeologists from the Ardennes departmental archaeology unit and from Inrap is currently excavating a Gallic aristocratic tomb at Warcq (Ardennes). Curated by the State (Drac Champagne-Ardenne), this site is located on the route of the A304 motorway being constructed by the Dreal between Charleville-Mézières and Rocroi. Starting on 3 June for a three week period, archaeologists and an anthropologist have been working to uncover this chariot tomb. This type of aristocratic tomb emerges in the 7th century B.C. – during the first Iron Age – and ends with the end of the Gallic period. The oldest chariots have four wheels (like that found at Vix), while those from the second Iron Age have only two. The deceased person – who could be male or female – was generally inhumed on the chariot, which was an object of prestige and a symbol of social status. Champagne-Ardenne is famous for such tombs (particularly at Bourcq and Semide in the Ardennes), which are generally dated to the start of the second Iron Age (5th-4th century B.C.). The excavation has currently revealed only the upper levels of this 15 m² funerary chamber. The chamber was covered with wood in the form of planks supported by a central span and with supports on the pit walls. Several elements of the chariot have already been revealed: the iron wheel bands, whose interiors are covered with gold leaf, probable hub decorations in bronze set with glass paste, and some planks. Finally, in the south east angle, decorative elements in bronze still connected to the wood of the shaft have been discovered. These atypical objects do not as yet enable an accurate determination of the chronology of the chariot tomb. Another rare feature is the discovery along the western wall of two small horses whose bones are still articulated. All of these elements appear to offer very few parallels with previously excavated chariot graves, emphasising still further the exceptional nature of this discovery. The Ardennes departmental archaeology unit The purpose of the Departmental archaeology unit of the Ardennes General Council is to reduce intervention times and to promote and communicate archaeological discoveries to the citizens of the department and to the scientific community. Employing 6 permanent agents, it was certified on 22 June 2009 by the Ministry of Culture and Communication for the realization of diagnostic operations within the department, and for the excavation of Gallo-Roman and Medieval sites. This certification was recently renewed for 5 years, starting on 22 June 2014. Over the past five years, this departmental unit has realized 84 diagnostic operations across 458 hectares.


More Information: http://artdaily.com/news/71116/French-archaeologists-discover-an-exceptional-Gallic-chariot-tomb-at-Warcq-in-France?#.U7EHNJRdVBE[/url]

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Treasures of gold in the Chariot Tomb

PUBLISHED ON 28/06/2014

By William Levy


Under the spotlight last week, after glowing articles in Le Figaro, Libération, Le Monde or Le Point (a report will also be broadcast this weekend on TF1, before a visit Monday AFP), the tomb chariot of Warcq never ceases to reveal every day new treasures.

The aristocrat of the tribe of the Remi, who was buried here, in the first or second century BCE, according to Celtic tradition of burying their heads chariot glad archaeologists. The progress of excavation (which is € 200,000 and will be extended by one week, as the grave is rich), has in recent days to confirm the thesis of departure: there is indeed a single burial.

"  This is really falls apart , explains Bertrand Reed, chief of the Archaeological Unit of the General Council. For its size (15 m2), its location, its time (to -150 instead of - usually 500) ornaments and good state of conservation of volume. " The skeleton was unearthed Wednesday. Shins appeared first. One can easily discern the lower body between the pelvis and ankles. It is placed on the tank.

Four horses and a pig

It is still unclear whether it is a man or a woman. Anthropologist Inrap (National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research) said it will, for knowledge, "a first biological examination of the pelvis and skull. If that is not enough, because the skeleton is very damaged, it will study the ornaments of the tomb: as it is a woman or a man, objects related to the home or art of war is rather found. " To date, the decor consists of three integers vases (but broken by the collapse of the ceiling of the burial chamber).

On the left arm of the skeleton appear beads, which could be elements of his coat. All around, two new horses were discovered, in addition to the first two. The four horses are small (about 1.30 m at the withers) and are integers: according to experts, they were sacrificed to go with their master. A small animal, perhaps a pig, was also found. The archeozoologist, scheduled to arrive Tuesday will say more about the animals buried there. On the tank, inside wheel is covered with gold, and hubs are decorated with bronze and inlaid with glass paste. There is still a week to dig the grave, described as "exceptional" and "extraordinary" by the national press.



Archaeology students find 6,000-year-old house remains at Yarnbury Henge, Grassington

7:17am Thursday 26th June 2014 in News

Craven Herald


A GROUP of archaeology students have discovered the remains of the oldest wooden house so far found in the Dales - and used by its earliest farmers.


The timber structure, unveiled at Yarnbury Henge near Grassington, dates from almost 6,000 years ago, a time when agriculture in Britain was in its infancy.


The Bradford University students uncovered the house as part of a dig at the Henge which has been going on for almost three weeks.


Alex Gibson, reader in British Prehistory at the university, who is leading the dig, said the discovery was "very exciting and very significant."


He explained: "It's a rectangular timber structure and similar remains found elsewhere in Britain gives us a fairly precise chronological window - we can pinpoint it to around 3,800BC. Farming in Britain started around 4,000BC, so these remains relate to the first farming in the Dales. Obviously we are all very excited."


Students put in a trench through the bank and ditch at the henge, which is among the most well-known archaeological sites in the north, and took lots of soil samples. They have also found fragments of a Bronze Age urn which are almost certainly parts of the same pot which was found on an excavation of the site in 1922.


Alex said: "We found an old excavation trench from then - the fragments have the same pattern, so we are almost certain they are from the same urn. It's been a highly successful excavation."


Twelve students from the university's Archaeological Sciences department were involved in the dig, helped by members of the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group. They have started to 'backfill' the site this week.


Geophysicists from Austria have also been involved,covering about 15 hectares on the site, and first identified the timber structure remains.


Alex said: "It's been a real team effort and I don't think anyone thought we would be quite so successful when we started."



Welsh 'sock' saves the 3,500-year-old Djoser Pyramid

Jun 29, 2014 06:00 By Tryst Williams


The 3,500-year-old Djoser Pyramid - the world's oldest brick building - is being restored by Welsh


What do you do if the world’s oldest pyramid is falling down? Call in expert engineers from Wales, of course.


When Egypt’s 3,500-year-old Step Pyramid suffered earthquake damage, the country’s department of Egyptian Antiquities got on the phone to Newport firm Cintec.


The company, experts in stabilising historic buildings, sent engineer Dennis Lee and a team to help save the Third Dynasty Pyramid – the first large stone building in the world.



No one has ever tried anything as dangerous or ambitious inside a pyramid before but working in temperatures of up to 40C they held up the monument with grout-filled “socks”.


Lead Cintec engineer Dennis said: “It was nerve-wracking. It’s not a crumbling wall in front of you, it’s right over your head.


“It’s also very historic so you have to take everything very slowly. When I drilled the first hole there were 50 archeologists and people from the department of Egyptian antiquities watching. That made me nervous!”


Political unrest in Egypt has now halted the vital work and Dennis is worried the building, also known as The Pyramid of Djoser, will suffer more damage.


Starting work just after revolution in the country saw Dennis and his team forced to return to Wales earlier this year when trouble erupted again.


“I was staying on the outskirts of Cairo, 20 minutes’ drive from the site and there were demonstrations but I didn’t see any violence personally,” the 54-year-old specialist engineer added.


“Our work is on hold now because of the unrest, which is frustrating because we needed another three months.”


The ancient pyramid, located in Saqqara, a sacred burial ground, had been neglected as well as suffering earthquake damage, and was not secure when the team had to leave – although they are in regular contact with Egyptian colleagues working on it with them.


Now Dennis can’t wait to get back to the site where he crawled on his stomach though newly-discovered tunnels beneath the ancient pyramid.


“There are catacombs and tunnels going on for 12km,” he added.


“It is a bit claustrophobic down there but it is exciting. They found new tunnels while I was there and there are beautiful blue tiles in the burial chambers and hieroglyphics on the tomb doors.


“It’s too dangerous for tourists to go inside but they can glance in.”


To reach the crumbling ceiling Dennis placed air bags on a 28m scaffold, before drilling holes in the ceiling’s stones.


The team inserted steel rods into the holes, each wrapped in a fabric “sock”.


With the rods in place the socks were filled with special grout, invented in Wales by Cintec, which has worked on some of the world’s most famous buildings such as Buckingham Palace, as well as mosques, pyramids and bridges worldwide.


* Watch Dennis Lee and the team at work on Gohebwyr: Jason Mohammed tonight at 8pm on S4C and July 2 at 10.30pm on S4C.



Colosseum was bustling medieval bazaar in Dark Ages, archaeologists find

Archaeologists unearth evidence showing that the Colosseum was colonised by ordinary Romans during the medieval period, centuries after it was used for gladiatorial combat and wild animal hunting spectacles

Nick Squires By Nick Squires, Rome2:58PM BST 27 Jun 2014


Its gory past as an arena for gladiatorial battles and gruesome public executions is well known, but archaeologists have discovered that the Colosseum later fulfilled a very different role - as a bustling medieval bazaar full of houses, stables and workshops.

As the glory of Rome faded and the empire crumbled in the face of barbarian invasions in the fifth century, the giant arena was colonised by ordinary Romans, who constructed dwellings and shops within its massive stone walls.

Archaeologists have dug beneath some of the 80 arched entrances that lead into the Colosseum and have found the foundations of homes, terracotta sewage pipes and shards of crockery, dating from the ninth century AD.


They believe that people lived within the arena from the ninth century until at least 1349, when it was badly damaged by an earthquake.

One of their most intriguing discoveries is the figurine of a tiny monkey, carved in ivory, which was probably used as a pawn in a chess game.


The dig was carried out by archaeologists and students from the American University of Rome and Roma Tre, another university in the city, in collaboration with cultural heritage experts.

“Thanks to these excavations we’ve been able to identify an area of housing from the late medieval period,” said Rossella Rea, the director of the Colosseum.

“The Colosseum was used as an amphitheatre from around AD80 until about 523AD. It was then inhabited from the end of the ninth century until the 14th century.”

Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, a professor of medieval archaeology and the director of the dig, said: “By the sixth century, the Colosseum was no longer being used as a gladiatorial arena.”


Historians disagree on when exactly the Roman Empire collapsed, but it was in a state of gradual decline from at least the fourth century AD.

Romulus Augustus, the last emperor of the Western Roman Empire - by then separated from Byzantium in the east - was deposed by a Germanic chieftain in 476 AD.

Construction of the Colosseum began under the Emperor Vespasian in AD 72 on the site of a newly drained lake in the grounds of Nero’s Domus Aurea, a huge palatial complex.

The Colosseum could seat around 50,000 spectators and could be emptied in just 10 minutes via its multiple exits, known in Latin as “vomitoria”.


The amphitheatre was inaugurated in AD 80 with a lavish spectacle in which an estimated 5,000 wild animals, including leopards and lions, were killed.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, it was plundered for stone, and the iron and lead clamps that held the massive blocks of travertine together were also pillaged.

The Colosseum is currently undergoing a cleaning and restoration project, with the £20 million cost of the work paid for by Tod’s, an Italian company that makes high-end shoes and leather bags.

The first phase of the cleaning is due to be completed on July 7, after which restorers will move onto a different section of the monument.

The project is expected to be finished in March 2016.



Archaeologists Uncover A Trove Of Rare Inca Calculating Devices

George Dvorsky


Archaeologists working in Peru have discovered 25 well-preserved quipus, an ancient string-based device used to solve mathematical problems and to assist in record-keeping.


The find was made in the archaeological complex of Incahuasi, south of Lima, Alejandro Chu, reports Peru This Week. The items were found in ancient warehouses, or kallancas, and not in a funerary context as is the norm, making this a rather unique find. The placement of the quipus suggests they were used for administrative purposes. Incahuasi was one of the most important strategic cities built by the Incas in the valley of Lunahuana.


Quipu (also called "khipus" or "talking knots") typically consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings from llama or alpaca hair. They aided in data collection and record-keeping, including the monitoring of tax obligations, census records, calendrical information, and military organization. The cords contained numeric and other values encoded on knots in a base-10 positional system. Some quipu had as many as 2,000 cords.


The Khipu Database Project describes quipus and how they worked:


Most of the existing khipu are from the Inka period, approx 1400 – 1532 CE. The Inka empire stretched from Ecuador through central Chile, with its heart in Cuzco, a city in the high Andes of southern Peru. Colonial documents indicate that khipu were used for record keeping and sending messages by runner throughout the empire. There are approximately 600 khipu surviving in museums and private collections around the world.


The word khipu comes from the Quechua word for "knot" and denotes both singular and plural. Khipu are textile artifacts composed of cords of cotton or occasionally camelid fiber. The cords are arranged such that there is one main cord, called a primary cord, from which many pendant cords hang. There may be additional cords attached to a pendant cord; these are termed subsidiaries. Some khipu have up to 10 or 12 levels of subsidiaries. Khipu are often displayed with the primary cord stretched horizontally, so that the pendants appear to form a curtain of parallel cords, or with the primary cord in a curve, so that the pendants radiate out from their points of attachment. When khipu were in use, they were transported and stored with the primary cord rolled into a spiral. In this configuration khipu have been compared to string mops.


Each khipu cord may have one or many knots. Leland Locke was the first to show that the knots had numerical significance. The Inkas used a decimal system of counting. Numbers of varying magnitude could be indicated by knot type and the position of the knot on its cord. Beginning in the 1970's, Marcia and Robert Ascher conducted invaluable research into the numeric significance of khipu, and developed a system of recording khipu details which is still in wide use today among khipu researchers. More recently, researchers such as Gary Urton have recognized the depth of information contained in non-numeric, structural elements of khipu.

Regrettably, many of these quipus were destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, making this recent find all the more precious.





246 of 300 signatures

Campaign created by Andy Brockman  Icon-email

Dear Councillor Mackintosh,


We are asking you to listen to the Arts Council, the Museums Association, the Arts Fund, a growing roll call of museum professionals and above all members of the community in Northampton and prevent Northampton becoming a cultural pariah on your watch, by withdrawing the statue of the Egyptian scribe Sekhemka from sale at Christie's on 10 July.

Why is this important?


The proposed sale of the statue of Sekhemka matters to everyone because the issue stretches far beyond one of a single local council attempting to sell off the treasures it holds in trust for one local community and breaching the Museums code of ethics to do it.  It is just the latest in a series of sales, or proposed sales of commercially valuable, nationally or internationally important items from local museum collections including those at Croydon and Southampton.  The commercial sale of such material also impacts on people many thousands of miles away as it indirectly supports the illegal trade in looted antiquiteis and art. 


It is time a line was drawn and local authorities, like Northampton, are shown that the way to solve budget cuts forced by Central Government, is not to impoverish their local culture and put at risk other people's culture, by engaging in speculation on the commercial art and antiquities market.


The sale of Sekhmeka is opposed as unethical and in breach of the Museums Association Code of Ethics by the Museums Association itself, the Arts Council, the Arts Fund, every major UK Museum with an Egyptology collection and a roll call of museum and heritage professionals.


You claim the sale will help you build a £14 million extension to the museum, but the math's do not work.  Even if Sekhmeka reaches its top estimate you will still only raise less than a quarter of the sum you claim to have budgeted for the proposed extension.


Besides, even if you do build the new museum, you will have nothing to put in it.  The sale of Sekhemka will result in Northampton Council losing its Museums Association Accreditation, cutting off Northampton's museums and gallery spaces from any public, charity or lottery funding.


FOI material shows you have already spent over £40k, to facilitate the sale of Sekhemka.  That is the equivilent of the salary of a teacher and a museum curator who could be telling the children of Northampton about the statue and all the other treasures you hold in trust in Northampton's museums.


The proceeds of the sale will not all even go to the people of Northampton because you have agreed to hand over 45%,  as much as £2.7 million, as a free gift to the Marquis of Northampton, one of the richest men in Britain.


It is a free gift because you have announced that Northampton Council Tax payers will be picking up the legal and auction house costs, not the Marquis.


...and the sale may not even be lawful-  you refuse to release the legal advice you and the Marquis have been given because the precise ownership of the statue is disputed and you may also be open to judicial review over the sale itself.


Finally, the eyes of the World are on Northampton and this unnecessary, unethical sale and your actions have an impact far beyond Northampton.  The sale of cultural objects like the statue of Sekhmeka boosts the hammer price of antiquities and indirectly supports the criminals and even terrorists in places like Iraq and Syria, who traffick antiquities from all over the world for sale in the developed world.