Article created on Sunday, July 20, 2014


During ongoing excavations in northern Sudan, Polish archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Poznań, have discovered the remains of a settlement estimated to 70,000 years old. This find, according to the researchers, seems to contradict the previously held belief that the construction of permanent structures was associated with the so-called Great Exodus from Africa and occupation of the colder regions of Europe and Asia.

The site known as Affad 23, is currently the only one recorded in the Nile Valley which shows that early Homo sapiens built sizeable permanent structures, and had adapted well to the wetland environment.

This new evidence points to a much more advanced level of human development and adaptation in Africa during the Middle Palaeolithic.


Locating the “village”

“Discoveries in Affad are unique for the Middle Palaeolithic. Last season, we came across a few traces of light wooden structures. However, during the current research we were able to precisely locate the village and identify additional utility areas: a large flint workshop, and a space for cutting hunted animal carcasses, located at a distance” – explained project director Dr. Marta Osypińska.

The researchers are also working on a list of animal species that these early humans hunted. Despite the relatively simple flint tools produced using the Levallois technique, these humans were able to hunt both large, dangerous mammals such as hippos, elephants and buffalo, as well as small, nimble monkeys and cane rats (large rodents that inhabited the wetlands).


Palaeolithic hunters

This year, the researchers intended to precisely date the time period in which the Palaeolithic hunters lived here, using optically stimulated luminescence.

“At this stage we know that the Middle Palaeolithic settlement episode in Affad occurred at the end of the wet period, as indicated by environmental data, including the list of hunted animal species. But in the distant past of the land such ecological conditions occurred at least twice” about 75 millennia and about 25 millennia ago. Determining the time when people inhabited the river bank near today’s Affad is the most important objective of our project “- said prehistory expert Piotr Osypiński.

The Polish team is working with scientists from Oxford Brookes University, who are helping to analyse the geological history of the area. The results will help determine climatic and environmental conditions that prevailed in the Central Nile Valley during the late Pleistocene and hope to identify factors that contributed to the excellent state of preservation at the Affad 23 site.

Source: PAP



Romanian cave holds oldest human footprints

Monday, July 21, 2014


Human footprints found in Romania’s Ciur-Izbuc Cave represent the oldest such impressions in Europe, and perhaps the world, researchers say.


Human footprints such as this, found in a Romanian cave almost 50 years ago,  are much older than originally thought, dating to around 36,500 years ago [Credit: D. Webb]


About 400 footprints were first discovered in the cave in 1965. Scientists initially attributed the impressions to a man, woman and child who lived 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. But radiocarbon measurements of two cave bear bones excavated just below the footprints now indicate that Homo sapiens made these tracks around 36,500 years ago, say anthropologist David Webb of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and his colleagues.



Ötzi’s “non-human” DNA

15 July 2014 European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano


EURAC and University of Vienna discover an opportunistic pathogen in an Iceman tissue biopsy


Ötzi’s human genome was decoded from a hip bone sample taken from the 5,300 year old mummy. However the tiny sample weighing no more than 0.1 g provides so much more information. A team of scientists from EURAC in Bolzano/Bozen together with colleagues from the University of Vienna successfully analysed the non-human DNA in the sample. They found evidence for the presence of Treponema denticola, an opportunistic pathogen involved in the development of periodontal disease. Thus, by just looking at the DNA, the researchers could support a CT-based diagnosis made last year which indicated that the Iceman suffered from periodontitis. The results of the current study have recently been published in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE.


Much of what we know about Ötzi – for example what he looked like or that he suffered from lactose intolerance – stems from a tiny bone sample which allowed the decoding of his genetic make-up. Now, however, the team of scientists have examined more closely the part of the sample consisting of non-human DNA. “What is new is that we did not carry out a directed DNA analysis but rather investigated the whole spectrum of DNA to better understand which organisms are in this sample and what is their potential function”, is how Frank Maixner, from the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bozen/Bolzano, described the new approach which the team of scientists are now pursuing.


“This ‘non-human’ DNA mostly derives from bacteria normally living on and within our body. Only the interplay between certain bacteria or an imbalance within this bacterial community might cause certain diseases. Therefore it is highly important to reconstruct and understand the bacterial community composition by analysing this DNA mixture,” said Thomas Rattei, Professor of Bioinformatics from the Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science at the University of Vienna.


Unexpectedly the team of scientists, specialists in both microbiology as well as bioinformatics, detected in the DNA mixture a sizeable presence of a particular bacterium: Treponema denticola, an opportunistic pathogen involved in the development of periodontitis. Thus this finding supports the computer tomography based diagnosis that the Iceman suffered from periodontitis. Even more surprising is that the analysis of a tiny bone sample can still, after 5,300 years, provide us with the information that this opportunistic pathogen seems to have been distributed via the bloodstream from the mouth to the hip bone. Furthermore, the investigations indicate that these members of the human commensal oral microflora were old bacteria which did not colonise the body after death.


Besides the opportunistic pathogen, the team of scientists led by Albert Zink – head of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman – also detected Clostridia-like bacteria in the Iceman bone sample which are at present most presumably in a kind of dormant state. Under hermetically sealed, anaerobic conditions, however, these bacteria can re-grow and degrade tissue. This discovery may well play a significant part in the future conservation of the world-famous mummy. “This finding indicates that altered conditions for preserving the glacier mummy, for example when changing to a nitrogen-based atmosphere commonly used for objects of cultural value, will require additional micro-biological monitoring,” explained the team of scientists who will now look closer at the microbiome of the Iceman.


Full bibliographic information

Frank Maixner, Anton Thomma, Giovanna Cipollini, Stefanie Widder, Thomas Rattei, Albert Zink: Metagenomic Analysis Reveals Presence of Treponema denticola in a Tissue Biopsy of the Iceman. 18 Jun 2014 | PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099994



Mass grave site found in Italy

2014-07-21 07:30


Archaeologists in Italy have uncovered a cemetery in the 2 700-year-old ancient port of Rome where they believe the variety of tombs found reflects the bustling town's multi-cultural nature.


Ostia "was a town that was always very open, very dynamic", said Paola Germoni, the director of the sprawling site, Italy's third most visited after the Colosseum and Pompeii.


"What is original is that there are different types of funeral rites: burials and cremations", she said this week.


The contrasts are all the more startling as the tombs found are all from a single family, "in the Roman sense, in other words very extended", Germoni said.


The discovery is the latest surprise at Ostia after archaeologists in April said that new walls found showed the town was in fact 35% bigger than previously thought, making it bigger than ancient Pompeii.


Ostia, which was founded in the 7th century BC and is believed to have covered an area of 85Ha, was once at the estuary of the Tiber River and is now about 3km from the sea because of silting.


The place where the latest burials were found is inside a 15 000 square metre park close to a Renaissance castle on the edge of the main excavated area of the town, which had docks, warehouses, apartment houses and its own theatre.


The port was founded by Ancus Marcius, the fourth king of Rome, to provide his growing city with access to the sea, ensuring it would be supplied with flour and salt and to prevent enemy ships from going up the Tiber.


Around a dozen tombs have been found so far at the site, some of them including lead tablets with inscriptions containing curses to ward off potential looters.


The cemetery "shows the free choice that everyone had with their own body, a freedom people no longer had in the Christian era when burial became the norm", Germoni said.


The latest excavations, which began in 2012, have also revealed an aristocratic home with a polychromatic floor.


Thirty students from the American Institute for Roman Culture are also taking part and could be seen at work under the cypress trees next to the ancient basalt-block Roman road that once connected Ostia to the capital.


Hailing from Canada, Switzerland and the United States, the budding archaeologists were spending a few weeks in Rome on the dig as part of their studies.


"It's a dig that is very rich in different experiences", said Darius Arya, a US archaeologist who heads the institute.


They "are discovering restoration work but also a more anthropological approach with excavations of tombs", he said.




Oldest potholes known to man found in Devon

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: July 16, 2014


It seems Roman charioteers were complaining about them just as much as today's Devon drivers.


The evidence comes with a Roman road, discovered on an archaeological dig, with repairs to the road surface, showing that pot holes in Devon's roads are nothing new.


The excavation at Ipplepen, run by the University of Exeter, is back on site following the discovery of a complex series of archaeological features thought to be part of the largest Romano-British settlement in Devon outside of Exeter.


Wheel ruts found in the newly excavated road surface are thought to be like those at Pompeii caused by carts being driven over them.


This is cause for excitement according to archaeologist Danielle Wootton, the Devon Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme. She said: “The road must have been extensively used, it’s intriguing to think what the horse-drawn carts may have been carrying and who was driving them. This is a fantastic opportunity to see a ‘snap shot’ of life 2000 years ago.”


The dig, directed by Dr Imogen Wood has uncovered a few more Roman coins, two of which date from between AD 43 to AD 260 and around six late Roman 4th century coins. One can be accurately dated to AD 335 - 341. However, the location of personal artefacts, such as the newly discovered Roman hair pin,brooch and bracelet are equally as thrilling for the archaeological team.


The pin would have been used to hold the hair together much in the same way similar items are used today. Danielle Wootton said: “Roman women had some very elaborate hairstyles which changed through time like our fashions do today. Hairpins were used to hold complex hairstyles like buns and plaits together and suggests that Devon women may have been adopting fashions from Rome. This period in history often gets flooded with stories about Roman soldiers and centurions; this is interesting as they are artefacts worn by women.”


Green and blue glass beads have been unearthed, which suggests that colourful necklaces were also worn. Two amber beads have been discovered which are likely to have travelled many miles possibly from the Baltic coast to their final location at Ipplepen in the South Devon.


Ms Wootton said:“During the Roman period amber was thought to have magical, protective and healing properties.These very personal items worn by the women that lived on this site centuries ago have enabled us to get a glimpse into the lives of people living everyday lives on the edges of the Roman Empire.”


Pottery has also been discovered by the Archaeology Department’s students and local volunteers on the excavation. Dr Imogen Wood, University of Exeter said: “The pottery recovered suggests people were making copies of popular roman pottery for cooking and eating, but also importing a small amount of fine pottery from the continent such as drinking cups and Samian bowls for dinner guests to see and envy.”


The excavation is being carried out until the end of July and is likely to reveal further exciting finds which will help to further our understanding between Roman Britain and its native population. An Open Day for members of the public to view the Ipplepen dig and its Roman Road is on Sunday 20 July between 10am and 4pm.


Directions to the dig, involves going to The Hub information point at Ipplepen Methodist Church, Ipplepen, TQ12 5SU between 10am - 4pm. There will be displays at the Hub and the opportunity to talk to people taking part in the dig. From the Hub, visitors will be directed to the excavation where official tours of the site will take place throughout the day. There will be children's art making activities with local artist Joe Webster and the opportunity to meet some 'real- life' Roman re-enactors to on the day.


The archaeology information point at the Hub will continue to be open on Mondays- Fridays from 10am - 4.30 until the 31st July.


University of Exeter archaeologist, Dr Ioana Oltean said:"This season’s excavations are proving to be a real success. We are beginning to demonstrate the importance of this site in the Roman period when the road going through the settlement connected Ipplepen with the Roman world and brought here not only coins, but also pottery and personal goods used in everyday life."


The dig is funded by the University of Exeter, Portable Antiquities Scheme, British Museum and Devon County Council.


Read more: http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Oldest-potholes-known-man-Devon/story-21644657-detail/story.html#ixzz386zda0ql



Burgenland's 'Stonehenge' discovery

Published: 17 Jul 2014 09:23 GMT+02:00

Updated: 17 Jul 2014 09:23 GMT+02:00


In a sensational find for Austrian archaeologists, aerial photographs taken two years ago on the southern outskirts of the Burgenland town of Rechnitz have revealed the existence of circular trenches dating back to the Neolithic Period.


The mysterious millennia-old sites are currently being surveyed by experts who believe they once served both as a giant calendar and a place for rituals.


It appears that circa 5,000 BC there was a large circular area in a field on the southern outskirts of Rechnitz, surrounded by wooden poles. It was only after aerial photographs were taken of the district that remnants of an ancient trench system became visible.


Archaeologist Klaus Löcker told the ORF that the concentric circular trenches - some up to four metres deep - will now be made visible using magnetic measuring techniques.


Inside the trenches are defensive walls with multiple entrances.


Descriptions of Rechnitz's history usually state the area was settled in the Celtic period, around 500 BC. It now appears there was in fact a human settlement in the area over 5,000 years before Christ.


"This is quite unique in Burgenland," said Mayor Engelbert Kenyeri.


The purpose of these circular earthworks has long puzzled experts, but it now seems they were used as a calendar, and held ritual significance for neighbouring populations.


"That is roughly equivalent to Stonehenge, only about 2,000 years older," said archaeologist Franz Sauer.


The criteria for site selection are a complete mystery. There are similar trench systems in Austria's Weinviertel and Bavaria, however the two discovered at Rechnitz are the first in Burgenland.


"Such circular trenches are always positioned on a gentle slope, in order to give a clear view of the sky for the observation of the heavenly bodies," explained Sauer.


The advent of aerial archaeology in the 1970s has enabled the study of ancient sites to take on a whole new dimension.



Northampton town centre dig reveals rare medieval linen

19 July 2014 Last updated at 19:40


Fragments of rare medieval linen and serpentine marble have been discovered by archaeologists at a dig in Northampton town centre.


The excavation is in St John's Street, at the location of Northamptonshire County Council's new £43m headquarters.


Jim Brown, from the Museum of London Archaeology, said the marble is "part of something quite valuable", possibly a portable altar.


Excavation on the 1,400 sq m site continues until late August.


The two 50mm (2in) scraps of linen were found in the base of a tank, which helped preserve them

Serpentine marble from Northampton

Similar serpentine marble has been used in a German portable altar from the 13th Century

The extensive dig began along Fetter Street, where a medieval bread oven, an early 13th Century well shaft and trading tokens were discovered.


However, the St John's Street frontage remains "are much better preserved and far more complex".


A "very nice piece of serpentine marble" was excavated and it is "not beyond the realms of possibility" that it could have been part of a portable altar, according to Mr Brown.


"Some very nice pieces of antler, a lovely collection of honestones for sharpening knives, two scraps of medieval linen and a good preservation of industrial features have been uncovered," he added.


"Due to the rarity of [linen] being preserved, it doesn't turn up very often, and when found is usually in dockland places."


The timber and stone-lined tanks uncovered were probably used for tanning and were the sources of most of the finds

Large numbers of honestones, animal bones and antlers uncovered also point to the area being used by tanners

The affluence of late 12th and early 13th Century Northampton has been revealed by the evidence of stone walls.


As well as the "more grandiose" projects such as the castle and various ecclesiastical buildings, many town merchants replaced their timber buildings with stone houses.


The site has been explored ahead of construction starting on Project Angel, part of a major regeneration scheme in the town that includes the opening of a new bus station and changes to the town's railway station.


Medieval stone walls, Northampton

This part of Northampton declined in the 14th Century, the stone was removed and the pits filled in