Neanderthals and humans had ample time for interbreeding
20 August 2014
Researchers have accurately dated Neanderthal extinction across Europe, showing there was considerable overlap with early modern humans arriving from Africa.
Neanderthals coexisted with early modern humans in Europe for several thousand years, a six-year study has revealed.
By dating 196 samples of bone, charcoal and shell across 40 key European sites from Russia to Spain, researchers have found that Neanderthals were extinct by 39,000 years ago.
The first Homo sapiens, the early modern humans, arrived in Europe from western Asia, and ultimately Africa, around 45,000 years ago. The two populations coexisted in Europe for several thousand years, allowing plenty of time for contact between them.
By dating samples from transitional sites, which contain tools either from the first early modern humans in Europe or the last Neanderthals, researchers found that the two groups overlapped for between 2,600 and 5,400 years.
Neanderthals did not all become extinct at the same time, the study shows. Their disappearance was staggered, suggesting that they were replaced by early modern humans as a result of local population extinctions, rather than being quickly overrun.
The research, published today in the journal Nature, was led by Prof Thomas Higham from Oxford University and included work by Museum archaeologist Dr Roger Jacobi, who is sadly now deceased.
Rather than early modern humans rapidly replacing Neanderthals, Prof Higham said that the study ‘supports a more complex picture, one characterised by a biological and cultural mosaic that lasted for several thousand years’.
Twenty thousand years of interactions
While no archaeological evidence has been found to show that the Neanderthals and early modern human groups lived closely together, modern human DNA proves that interbreeding took place. Modern people descended from the early humans who arrived from Africa carry about 2% Neanderthal DNA in their genomes today.
Museum human origins expert Prof Chris Stringer said that we don’t yet know how often or precisely where Neanderthals and early modern Europeans interbred. But we do know that Neanderthals in Asia probably interbred with early modern humans somewhere between 50-60,000 years ago, much earlier than the time of their overlap in Europe.
This means that the two populations potentially interacted for up to 20,000 years, starting in Asia about 60,000 years ago and ending about 39,000 years ago in Europe when the last Neanderthals went physically extinct.
Some Neanderthal sites show evidence of more advanced technology and behaviour in the last few thousand years before they went extinct, suggesting that acculturation, or cultural transmission of tools and behaviour between the two groups, took place.
The last Neanderthals
The study used techniques that purified the samples for carbon dating, removing any influence of modern carbon material that could make dates appear younger. Several sites in Spain, for example, that were previously thought to be some of the last outposts of late-surviving Neanderthals, were dated as much older in this study.
Some known Neanderthal sites, such as those in Siberia, have still not been accurately dated, so there is a possibility of some late-surviving populations being identified there.
‘But the overall pattern seems clear,’ said Prof Stringer. ‘The Neanderthals had largely, and perhaps entirely, vanished from their known range by 39,000 years ago.’
What wiped out the Neanderthals?
Around the time of the Neanderthals’ extinction, an episode of natural climate change caused cold and dry conditions across Europe.
‘It remains to be seen whether that event delivered the final straw to a Neanderthal population that was already low in numbers and genetic diversity, and trying to cope with economic competition from incoming groups of Homo sapiens,’ said Prof Stringer.
Earliest evidence of snail-eating
By Maria Dasi-Espuig
21 August 2014 Last updated at 11:00
Palaeolithic humans in Spain began eating snails 10,000 years earlier than their Mediterranean neighbours, study reveals.
Snails were an extra food source for ancient humans, important for their survival and adaptation.
The findings revealed that Homo sapiens living in the Benidorm area were the first recorded group to include snails in their diet, some 30,000 years ago.
The paper is published in the journal Plos One.
Archaeologists working in Cova de la Barriada have found large and concentrated amounts of snail shells among stone tools and other animal remains in pits that were used for cooking during the early Gravettian era - 32,000 to 26,000 years ago.
Lead author Dr Javier Fernández-López de Pablo, from the Catalan Insitute of Human Palaeoecology and Evolution, told BBC News: "What this suggests is that these groups [of humans] had already opted for a strategy of diet diversification that allowed them to increase their population."
The snail shells were found among stone tools and animal remains
Diet has been changing throughout human evolution.
In contrast to traditional ideas about the diets of earlier human species, Homo sapiens is known to have broadened its diet to include plants, freshwater fish, molluscs and land snails.
Dr Alex Pryor from the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the latest study, explained: "Humans evolved in Africa and then spread out and colonised the whole of Eurasia, and in each of these new environments they were moving in and adapting.
"They were experimenting with things that had not been done before. The paper also refers to the period when an explosion of art is going on, which is another aspect of people experimenting."
He added: "You see people beginning to use more of the smaller resources… I see the land snail as another example of catching small animals."
However, it is still unclear exactly when and how this happened.
Homo sapiens living along the Mediterranean coast of northern Africa, France, Italy, Greece and the Middle East are also known to have eaten snails, but started eating them 10,000 years later.
Dr Fernández-López de Pablo said the new fossils are "clearly the oldest record [of snail consumption] we have so far".
Molluscs and snails are considered intrusive in archaeological sites because other animals also eat them and can transport and accumulate the remains.
"It is one of the most difficult elements to interpret," explained Dr Fernández-López de Pablo.
"Here we find huge amounts, very concentrated and very well selected, next to clear evidence of human activity."
Early humans selected only large snails that corresponded to adult specimens
The researchers are sure that the snail remains were produced by humans because of the similarity and composition of the shells.
The 112 samples of Iberus alonensis that have been excavated at the site were relatively large and of similar size, indicating that the ancient humans carefully picked adult snails in order to conserve the species.
Further analysis using high-resolution microscopes showed that the shells' levels of aragonite - a mineral based on calcium, carbon and oxygen - are consistent with those after roasting the shells for a prolonged time.
The Iberus alonensis snail is indigenous to the Iberian Peninsula and lives in dry terrains among rosemary, lavender and thyme.
Romans were already known to harvest snails, which were considered as elite food 2,000 years ago.
Nowadays, snails are regarded as a delicacy in Spain and are part of the country's gastronomy, used in dishes like paella.
They even have their own yearly festival in Lleida, Catalonia, where people meet to celebrate and eat tonnes of snails.
"Next time you come to Spain and eat snails, you'll have a nice story to tell," said Dr Fernández-López de Pablo.
Centuries-old baby rattle among Kültepe findings
KAYSERİ - Doğan News Agency
A team from Ankara University Archaeology Department, headed by Professor Fikri Kulakoğlu, has been working in the area and unearthed the rattle, which dates back to 4,000 B.C.
Kulakoğlu said works had been continuing there for 69 years. He said, “Archaeological excavations have been carried out in Kültepe since 1948. Here it is possible to find what we [commonly] find in houses today. [We have found] Pots and pans, glasses, oven, seats and etc. We have seen all of these things in the excavations for nearly 70 years. There are also very interesting objects. We have found a toy, which we estimate to date back to 4,000 years ago, being the oldest in the world.”
The professor said more than 50,000 people were living in Kültepe 4,000 years ago, adding, “There are very fine objects from a big metropolitan. We sometimes think the population was above 70,000. Some of them were Assyrians, but most of were Anatolians. Of course, not all of them were adults. Among them are young people, children and babies. We naturally found objects that we associate with babies. For example, one of them is a rattle. It is made of kiln and has pebbles inside. It makes a sound when it is shaken just like baby rattles we all know today.”
What Lies Beneath Stonehenge?
A groundbreaking survey of the site has turned up tantalizing new clues to what really went on there
By Ed Caesar
SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE | SUBSCRIBE
We walked the Avenue, the ancient route along which the stones were first dragged from the River Avon. For centuries, this was the formal path to the great henge, but now the only hint of its existence was an indentation or two in the tall grass. It was a fine English summer’s day, with thin, fast clouds above, and as we passed through fields dotted with buttercups and daisies, cows and sheep, we could have been hikers anywhere, were it not for the ghostly monument in the near distance.
Faint as the Avenue was, Vince Gaffney hustled along as if it were illuminated by runway lights. A short, sprightly archaeologist of 56, from Newcastle upon Tyne in northeast England, he knows this landscape as well as anyone alive: has walked it, breathed it, studied it for uncounted hours. He has not lost his sense of wonder. Stopping to fix the monument in his eyeline, and reaching out toward the stones on the horizon, he said, “Look, it becomes cathedralesque.”
Gaffney’s latest research effort, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, is a four-year collaboration between a British team and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology in Austria that has produced the first detailed underground survey of the area surrounding Stonehenge, totaling more than four square miles. The results are astonishing. The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected. “There was sort of this idea that Stonehenge sat in the middle and around it was effectively an area where people were probably excluded,” Gaffney told me, “a ring of the dead around a special area—to which few people might ever have been admitted....Perhaps there were priests, big men, whatever they were, inside Stonehenge having processions up the Avenue, doing...something extremely mysterious. Of course that sort of analysis depends on not knowing what’s actually in the area around Stonehenge itself. It was terra incognita, really.”
Nobody has yet put a spade in the ground to verify the new findings, which were painstakingly gathered by geophysicists and others wielding magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars that scan the ground to detect structures and objects several yards below the surface. But Gaffney has no doubt of the work’s value. “This is among the most important landscapes, and probably the most studied landscape, in the world,” he says. “And the area has been absolutely transformed by this survey. Won’t be the same again.”
The joys and frustrations of all archaeological study—perhaps all historical inquiry—come into particularly sharp relief at Stonehenge. Even to the most casual observer, the monument is deeply significant. Those vast stones, standing in concentric rings in the middle of a basin on Salisbury Plain, carefully placed by who-knows-who thousands of years ago, must mean something. But nobody can tell us what. Not exactly. The clues that remain will always prove insufficient to our curiosity. Each archaeological advance yields more questions, and more theories to be tested. Our ignorance shrinks by fractions. What we know is always dwarfed by what we can never know.
Take the big question: Was Stonehenge predominantly a temple, a parliament or a graveyard? Was it a healing ground? We don’t know, for sure. We know that people were buried there, and that the stones are aligned in astronomically important ways. We also understand, because of the chemical composition of animal bones found nearby and the provenance of the stones, that people traveled hundreds of miles to visit Stonehenge. But we cannot say, with certainty, why.
Try a simpler question: How did the bluestones, which weigh between four and eight tons apiece, arrive at the site, nearly 5,000 years ago, from 170 miles away in North Wales? Land or sea? Both alternatives explode with possibilities, and nobody has an impregnable theory. Mike Parker Pearson of University College London is working on a new idea that the bluestones might have been lifted onto huge wooden lattices and carried by dozens of men to the site. But it’s just a theory. We can’t know, definitively. We can only have better-informed questions.
The ineffability of Stonehenge has not dulled our appetite. The site has long proved irresistible to diggers. In 1620, the Duke of Buckingham had his men excavate right in the center of the monument. Although they did not know it at the time, they dug on the site of a prehistoric pit. Buckingham’s men found skulls of cattle “and other beasts” and large quantities of “burnt coals or charcoals”—but no treasure, as they had hoped.
In the 19th century, “barrow-digging,” or the excavation of prehistoric monuments and burial hills, was a popular pastime among the landed gentry. In 1839, a naval officer named Captain Beamish dug out an estimated 400 cubic feet of soil from the northeast of the Altar Stone at Stonehenge. As Parker Pearson notes in his book Stonehenge, Beamish’s “big hole was probably the final blow for any prehistoric features...that once lay at Stonehenge’s center.”
Work at Stonehenge became less invasive. In 1952, Willard Libby—the American chemist and later a Nobel Prize winner—used his new radiocarbon dating technique on a piece of charcoal from a pit within Stonehenge to date the monument to 1848 B.C., give or take 275 years. That date has since been refined several times. The prevailing opinion is that the first stones were erected on the site around 2600 B.C. (although the building of Stonehenge was carried out over a millennium, and there were centuries of ritual activity at the site before the stones were in place).
In 2003, Parker Pearson conducted his own survey, concentrating on the nearby settlement at Durrington Walls and the area between there and the River Avon. Based on huts, tools and animal bones he uncovered, he concluded that Durrington Walls likely housed the workers who built Stonehenge. Based on an analysis of human remains he later excavated from Stonehenge, he also surmised that, far from being a site of quotidian religious activity, Stonehenge served as a cemetery–a “place for the dead.”
The Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project is different from everything that came before it. When Gaffney and his team started their work, they were less interested in theories than in data. To that end, they concentrated on taking what amounts to a three-dimensional and yards-deep photograph of the entire landscape. “The perceived wisdom was driven by the monuments we knew about,” says Gaffney. “We’ve put in the data between the monuments.”
Chris Gaffney, Vince’s younger, slighter and less voluble brother, was one of the instigators of this new approach. The duo’s grandfather was a metalwork teacher from Newcastle with an interest in archaeology, who took his clever grandchildren on trips to Hadrian’s Wall, the old barrier between the Roman Empire and the blasted north. Small wonder that Vince became an archaeologist and Chris a geophysicist, now at the University of Bradford.
The Gaffney brothers’ interest in new technologies that were becoming available to archaeologists led them to the first GPS-guided magnetometer systems. A magnetometer has sensors that allow a geophysicist to see evidence of historic building, and even ancient ditch-digging, beneath the soil by mapping variations in the earth’s magnetic field. The GPS-guided versions were able to pinpoint some of those discoveries to within one centimeter. The Gaffneys believed that Stonehenge scholarship needed a massive magnetometer- and radar-led survey of the whole site. “We just didn’t know if anything’s there,” Vince Gaffney recalled. “So we’re constructing various hypotheses on the basis of something we don’t know.”
Around the same time, an Austrian archaeologist named Wolfgang Neubauer, now of the Boltzmann Institute, was hoping to conduct large-scale projects all over Europe using tools including GPS magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar. Neubauer’s team had also developed software to process the 40 or 50 gigabytes of raw data that these instruments could create in a day. Suddenly, instead of waiting weeks or months to see what the machines had found, it was possible to cover several acres with magnetometers and radar in a day and to display that information on a screen almost instantaneously.
One of the areas Neubauer wanted to scan was Stonehenge, and in the spring of 2009 he contacted Vince Gaffney. A few months later, the Boltzmann Institute and the University of Birmingham—plus several other British and European universities, museums and companies that contributed expertise and resources—began their collaboration at Stonehenge.
Their first days on site, Gaffney recalled, were “like a geophysical circus has come to town.” Tractors pushed the ground-penetrating radars, which looked like high-powered lawn mowers. All-terrain vehicles dragged the magnetometer sensors on long strings. Delicate instruments covering hard, uneven ground kept mechanics and technicians busy. “I have seen one of our magnetometers shear clear apart in front of me,” said Gaffney. “It was back in service the next day.” In all, the fieldwork took about 120 days, spread over four years.
In a multimedia room at the University of Birmingham there was a vast touch screen, six feet by nine, on which a new map of the Stonehenge landscape appeared. Gaffney pointed out the key features.
There was Stonehenge itself, marked by the familiar circles. To the north was the long, thin strip called the Stonehenge Cursus or the Greater Cursus, which was demarcated by ditches, and ran east to west for nearly two miles. (The Cursus was given its name by the antiquarian William Stukeley in the 18th century because it looked like an ancient Roman race course. Its construction predates the first building work at Stonehenge by several hundred years.) Gaffney also pointed out the Cursus Barrows—hillocks containing mass human graves—just south of the Cursus itself, and King Barrow Ridge to the east.
Scattered all over the map were blotches of black: features without names. These were new finds, including the more than 15 possible new or poorly understood Neolithic monuments. Gaffney emphasized possible, acknowledging that it will require digging—“the testimony of the spade”—to discover precisely what was there.
Standing in front of this constellation of evidence, he seemed unable to decide where to start, like a child at the Christmas tree. “These are little henge monuments,” he said, touching the screen to highlight a group of black smudges. “Nice little entrance there, and a ditch. These things we know nothing about.”
He saved his greatest enthusiasm for the discoveries that had been made in the Cursus. This feature, said Gaffney, had always been thought of as a “bloody great barrier to the north of Stonehenge.” Nobody knew quite what it was for. Because the Cursus runs east to west, archaeologists have always believed that its presence owes something to the passage of the sun. The monument must be significant: It was dug in the fourth millennium B.C. using antler picks—hundreds of thousands of man-hours went into its construction.
The Hidden Landscapes Project’s instruments discovered several new clues. First of all, they found gaps in the ditch, in particular a very large break in the northern side, to allow people to enter and exit the Cursus. Now, instead of seeing the Cursus exclusively as a monument that encouraged movement along the path of the sun, east to west, Gaffney began to consider these gaps as “channels through the landscape” to guide the movement of people north to south.
A bigger discovery, Gaffney says, was a “bloody huge” pit about five yards in diameter at the eastern end of the Cursus. Today it lies buried at least three feet below the surface of the ground. Such a pit was much too large for a practical use—for instance, burying trash—because of the labor involved in digging it. In the archaeologists’ minds it could only have ritual implications, as “a marker of some kind,” Gaffney said. What’s more, if you drew a straight line between the pit and the heelstone at Stonehenge, it ran directly along the final section of the Avenue, on the path of the sunrise on the summer solstice.
“We thought, That’s a bit of a coincidence!” Gaffney recalled. “That was the point at which we thought, What’s at the other end? And there’s another pit! Two pits, marking the midsummer sunrise and the midsummer solstice, set within a monument that’s meant to be something to do with the passage of the sun.”
With his hands passing over the map, Gaffney showed how—on the longest days of the year—the pits formed a triangle with Stonehenge marking sunrise and sunset.
Nobody had ever seen these pits before,” he continued. “But they link the area of Stonehenge with the Cursus directly. Either these things have been put inside the Cursus to mark these points, or the Cursus has been wrapped around them.”
What was so interesting about the Cursus pits was that they told a story about the landscape. The “sunrise” pit was visible from Stonehenge, but the “sunset” pit was not—it was nestled behind a ridge, and could have been seen only if there had been fire and smoke coming from it. (At some point the pits will have to be excavated for evidence of such activity.) These discoveries fed into a larger understanding of Stonehenge as “diachronic”—operating in light and dark, sunrise and sunset, day and night.
“The point I think we’re coming to,” said Gaffney, “is that increasingly we can see the area around Stonehenge as providing extensive evidence for complex liturgical movement—which we can now understand, largely because we know where things are.”
Parker Pearson, for his part, takes a cautious view of the new research. “Until you dig holes, you just don’t know what you’ve got,” he told me in his office at University College London. “What date it is, how significant it is. [There are] extraordinary new features coming up, and we’re thinking well, what are they?”
To be sure, he said the data from the Hidden Landscapes Project “backs up the pattern we’ve already been seeing for some years. We have an excessive number of solstice-aligned monuments in that landscape. Nowhere in the rest of Europe comes even close.” He added, “This is fantastic stuff that’s been done, and it’s raised a whole series of new questions,” he said. “It’s going to take years.”
The clouds shifted in front of the sun, dappling the landscape with shadow. Gaffney and I were walking the Avenue, 300 yards or so from Stonehenge, and in the distance a string of barrows gleamed like opals. Although he acknowledged the fallibility of all archaeological projection (“In the end,” he said, “we are all wrong”), his work has led him to a new interpretation of how Stonehenge was used.
Gaffney’s idea was not to focus on Stonehenge itself, but on “processionality” within the whole landscape. He imagined people moving around the area like Roman Catholics processing through the Stations of the Cross. He recalled an Easter Friday ritual he saw in Croatia, in which a “bloke with a cross” led fellow barefoot celebrants on a miles-long trip. In Gaffney’s view, the building of the great stone circle was a “monumentalizing” of a similar, if heathen, procession.
As we walked downhill through the fields, Gaffney stopped from time to time to point out the hillocks in which “the illustrious dead” were buried. He also noted how the Avenue was not a straight line between the Avon and Stonehenge, but rather a series of tacks that brought the visitor to the Stonehenge site in a “theatrical” way, along the line of sunrise on the summer solstice.
He thrust himself into the mind of a Bronze Age visitor to the site. “You will have seen nothing like it,” he said. “It would have been massively impressive.” Soon we descended into a valley called Stonehenge Bottom, only a hundred yards or so from the great stones. “They’re disappearing....Watch, just watch!” he said.
Within a few yards, the monument became invisible. When you picture Stonehenge in your mind’s eye, you imagine the concentric rings of vast stones standing in a desolate open landscape, visible for miles around. But now, here we were, a hundred yards away, and the thing had gone.
We stood in a field, watched by some lethargic cows, and savored the strangeness of the moment. Then, as we stepped uphill, Stonehenge re-emerged on the horizon. It happened fast. The lintels, then the great sarsens, then the smaller bluestones were suddenly before us.
Gaffney’s voice lifted. He spoke about Jerusalem Syndrome: the feeling of intense emotion experienced by pilgrims on their first sighting of the Holy City. In the prehistoric world, there was no conception of God as he was understood by the later Abrahamic faiths. But, said Gaffney, as Stonehenge reappeared before us, “whatever the ancient version of Jerusalem Syndrome is, that’s what you’re feeling now.”
Bronze Age Irish Cooking Trough
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
GALWAY, IRELAND—On Ireland's western coastline, archaeologists have unearthed an oaken structure that they suspect is a complete Bronze Age fulacht fiadh, or wooden cooking trough. The structure was was exposed by storms last winter and spotted by a local resident. "It is very significant, as it is unusual to find a fulacht fiadh at such a level of preservation, but the sea obviously conserved it when levels began to rise,” Ireland's Underwater Archaeology Unit's Finnbar Moore told the Irish Times. Radiocarbon dating of the structure puts its construction around 1700 B.C., when the area would have been covered in forests and lagoons. Archaeologists took the opportunity to survey around the fulacht fiadh before excavation. "It highlights the fact that there was several thousand years of human activity in this area before sea level rise, and this part of the coastline, and further, is akin to a time capsule—with enormous potential,” says Moore. To read more about fulachtaí fia, read ARCHAEOLOGY's "Letter From Ireland: Mystery of the Fulacht Fiadh."
Ancient Phoenician boat believed found in Maltese waters
Monday, August 25, 2014, 09:46
Divers have discovered what could be the oldest shipwreck in the Mediterranean - a 700BC Phoenician boat found about a mile off Gozo.
Justice and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici said the wreck is in waters 120 metres deep. The divers found around 50 amphora of seven different types - indicating the vessel had been in different harbours.
They also found 20 lava grinding zones weighing some 35 kilos each. Samples have been raised to the surface for study. The whole operation is being supervised by the Superintendence of National Heritage.
Project co-director Dr Timmy Gambin said the boat was probably some 50 feet long.
The site is being explored by GROplan Project, funded by the French National Research Agency. The project is developing underwater photogrammetry. The University of Malta is involved in the project as well as institutions in France and US.
The Phoenician people were based in present-day Lebanon and were known as traders who travelled across most of the Mediterranean.
Siberian Elders Vote to Bury Ice Mummy to Ward Off Earthquakes, Floods
ADAM GAUNTLETT | 20 AUGUST 2014 1:42 PM
The Siberian council of elders really doesn't want the gate to the underworld to stay open.
The Siberian Ice Maiden, also known as the Princess of Ukok, Altay Princess or Ochi-Bala, is to be put back in her tomb thanks to a campaign by Altay Region spiritual leaders and elders, who are worried that as long as she stays in the hands of scientists the gate to the underworld will remain open. Locals blame the removal of the Ice Princess for recent floods and earthquakes, and want her returned as soon as possible.
"The council of elders has taken its decision," says councilman Akay Kine. "So the mummy of the revered woman will finally be buried." Nobody is entirely sure how; the scientists studying her are bound to object, legislation concerning the archaeological find will need to be changed so the mummy can be treated as simple human remains, and the council has yet to agree how the burial will take place. Some kind of ceremony is needed, but what?
The Ice Maiden, discovered in 1993, is a 5th Century BCE burial, over 2,500 years old, and is one of the most significant recent Russian archaeological discoveries. Also one of the most controversial, as local activists have fought to prevent further excavations at the site and to return the body to its tomb.
The facial reconstruction seen here represents part of the problem; though the artist recreated what appears to be a Caucasian face, with no Mongolian features, Altai experts complain the artist made her completely European. DNA testing has since confirmed the Ice Maiden cannot be an ancestor of the people living in the Altay Region now, and has more in common with Germans or Basques than the Altay people.
Polish archaeologists study Celtic oppidum in France
Polish archaeologists explore the remains of metallurgical workshops in Bibracte, 2 thousand years old Celtic fortified settlement on the border of contemporary departments of Yonne and Saône-et-Loire in Burgundy, France.
"In the oppidum we explore, in the winter 52/51 BC Julius Caesar wrote the famous >>Gallic War<<" - explained Dr. Tomasz Bochnak, an employee of the Institute of Archaeology, University of Rzeszów, who coordinates the work of the Polish team.
The aim of the excavation is to identify the building layout north of the main road in the area adjacent to the main gate of the oppidum. To date, archaeologists were able to identify workshops of bronze-smiths and enamellers. It is a sloping terrain, so the ancients constructed terraces on which they erected buildings. Buildings had several storeys, with entrances located at different levels.
"This year, we discover mainly traces of metallurgical operations, primarily slags, but also coins and fibulas, or pins. After two weeks of work we have also dug up close to 100 kg of fragments of ancient amphorae. This number is likely to increase significantly before the study ends" - said Dr. Bochnak. He added that the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote that an amphora of wine cost as much as the slave who would carry it. On the whole site, since the studies resumed in the 1980s, archaeologists have discovered more than 30 tons of this type of vessels.
Excavations in Bibracte began already in the nineteenth century and were interrupted by the outbreak of the World War I. Archaeologists returned to the site in the 1980s. Gradually, extensive research centre was established around the hill, used by scientists from around the world. Polish archaeologists joined the team in 2005. Until 2008 they were part of the French-Polish-Czech team, led by Prof. Jean-Paul Guillaumet. Since 2009, Polish archaeologists conduct excavations in partnership with Dr. Petra Goláňová of Masaryk University in Brno. The project also involves a ceramics expert from the Archaeological Museum in Kraków and students from the Institute of Archaeology in Rzeszów, Institute of Prehistory, Adam Mickiewicz University, and the Institute of Archaeology, University of Warsaw.
The ancient Bibracte was the main city of one of the most powerful Celtic tribes - the Aedui. Oppidum was founded probably in the late third or early second century BC. It was abandoned at the turn of the eras. Its residents owed their strong position to favourable location: between the upper Rhone, the upper Seine and the upper Loire. Goods, especially numerous amphorae with wine, floated down the Rhone from Masalia. Then they were transported to the Seine and the Loire, and floated to the western and northern Gaul. In the middle of the junction was Bibracte. Powerful hill was surrounded by two rings of defensive walls.
"Approximately 100 tons of nails were used to build these walls, and the amount of wood needed for this purpose would grown on the area surrounded by the walls, 200 hectares. The area was larger than the medieval Kraków" - described Dr. Bochnak.
The decline of the oppidum came with the defeat of the coalition of Celtic tribes led by Vercingetorix by the Romans in 52 BC. Luckily for archaeologists, for nearly two millennia since abandonment oppidum, human activity in the area has been small, and discovered relics of buildings from Celtic times and the reign of Octavian Augustus are often well preserved.
PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland
Jersey hoard experts aim for 500 coins a week over three years
21 August 2014 Last updated at 05:53
An estimated 70,000 coins and pieces of jewellery will need to be separated from the binding mud
Archaeologists are aiming to remove and clean up to 500 coins a week for the next three years from a hoard found encased in mud, Jersey Heritage says.
The collection of coins and jewellery pieces was found by two metal detector enthusiasts in 2012.
For the past two years experts have been documenting the hoard that dates back about 2,000 years.
Those involved will finally begin pulling it apart, one coin at a time, from Friday, Jersey Heritage said.
The hoard, found in a Grouville field, is thought to be worth about £10m.
Gold coin may be key to solve Sweden's 'Pompeii'
Published: 18 Aug 2014 18:01 GMT+02:00
Updated: 18 Aug 2014 18:01 GMT+02:00
Swedish archaeologists found a rare and valuable golden coin from ancient Rome on Monday. And they think it may explain a key part of the Sweden's history.
Archaeologists found the coin on Monday at a site on the island of Öland that's been compared to Italy's Pompeii.
A small team of archaeologists at Kalmar County museum, in collaboration with Lund University, has been digging at the site for the past three years. The team is studying the Migration Period in Scandinavian history, from about 400 to 550 AD, centuries before the Viking Age.
While the team has found several hundred of the coin already, Monday's discovery was a big one, said archaeologist and project manager Helena Victor.
"This is the first one found in an archaeological context," she told The Local. "Normally we find them while we're plowing the field. But we found this one inside a house where we found people who'd been killed."
The object, a small golden coin also known as a solidus, is from the Roman Empire and may be an important puzzle piece in mapping the island's history.
"We think it may have been the reason for the massacre at the Sandby Borg fort. And this is the only coin that wasn't taken," she explained.
"We found it on the edge of a posthole in the house. So maybe the robbers came to take the treasure there, and maybe they ripped the bag and one coin fell down into the posthole in the floor, and there it remained."
While Victor refused to put a price value on the coin, she said it was maybe equivalent to a new Volvo car. The soldiers in the Roman Empire, she explained, earned approximately five of the coins per year, and likely worked for a few years and then brought their riches home.
"I think that the money was a good excuse to end a feud. So there was probably a feud, this was a very strong statement, not just a normal robbery- an excruciatingly evil statement to kill these people and just leave them," Victor explained.
"It was truly shameful. So to make a real statement you forbid them to burn the bodies. There are still memories 1,500 years later of these events, it's a dangerous place. Parents tell their children that they can't play there because it's a dangerous place. They don't remember the history but they remember it's dangerous."
The coin will go on display at the Kalmar museum this autumn together with other finds from the area.
The find is the latest in a long line of archaeological discoveries in Sweden. Within the last year, a secret hoard of gold figures and Viking coins from the Iron Age was uncovered in southern Sweden, a 16th-century kitchen was dug up in central Stockholm, and Swedish divers unearthed Stone Age 'Atlantis' relics in the Baltic Sea.
Solveig Rundquist/Oliver Gee