Category Archives: Archaeology

Bracelet reveals amazing craftsman’s skill from 7500BC (so good it couldn’t be bettered today)


Polished skills: The obsidian bracelet contains remarkable detail

Daily Mail | Dec 22, 2011

By Ted Thornhill

A 9,500-year-old bracelet has been analysed using the very latest computers – and the results show that it is so intricate even today’s craftsmen would struggle to improve it.

Researchers from the Institut Français d’Etudes Anatoliennes in Istanbul and Laboratoire de Tribologie et de Dynamiques des Systèmes studied the bracelet’s surface and its micro-topographic features revealing the astounding technical expertise of the maker.

The bracelet is obsidian – which means it’s made from volcanic glass – and the researchers analysis of it sheds new light on Neolithic societies, which remain highly mysterious.

Discovered in 1995 at the site of Asıklı Höyük in Turkey, it was analysed by software designed to characterise the ‘orange peel effect’ on car bodywork.

This process revealed that the bracelet – 10cm in diameter – was made and polished using highly specialised manufacturing techniques.

In fact, the surface was polished to a degree equal to that of today’s telescope lenses.

The bracelet is the oldest known example of an obsidian item, common during the Neolithic period.

The obsidian craft reached its peak in the seventh and sixth millennia BC with the production of all kinds of ornamental objects, including mirrors and vessels.

Neolithic people – or those leaving in what’s sometimes termed as the New Stone Age – were essentially skilled farmers, who could also turn their hand to the manufacture of various ornaments.

The result of the study is published in the December 2011 issue of Journal of Archaeological Science.

Roman prostitutes were forced to kill their own children and bury them in mass graves at English ‘brothel’


The Yewden Villa excavations at Hambleden in 1912. Archaeologists at the site have found the remains of 97 babies they believe were killed by their prostitute mothers

There is little doubt that the find of so many babies’ skeletons proves that Roman Britain shared another part of the empire’s culture – infanticide. Illegal today, it was the opposite for the Romans, with the law making a child under two entirely the property of its father, to be disposed of as he saw fit.

Daily Mail | Aug 31, 2011

By Stephen Hull

The babies of Roman prostitutes were regularly murdered by their mothers, archaeologists have found.

A farmer’s field in Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, yielded the grisly secret after a mass grave containing the remains of 97 babies – who all died around the same age – was uncovered.

Following a close study of the plot, experts have decided it was the site of an ancient brothel and terrible infanticides took place there.

With little or no effective contraception available to the Romans, who also considered infanticide less shocking than it is today, they may have simply murdered the children as soon as they were born.

Archaeologists say locals may have systematically killed and buried the helpless youngsters on the site.

Measurements of their bones at the site in Hambleden show all the babies died at around 40 weeks gestation, suggesting very soon after birth. If they had died from natural causes, they would have been different ages.

Archaeologist Dr Jill Eyers, who lives locally, has been interested in the site for many years. She put together a team to excavate the site and is writing a book about her findings.

She said: ‘Re-finding the remains gave me nightmares for three nights.

‘It made me feel dreadful. I kept thinking about how the poor little things died. The human part of the tale is awful.

‘There were equal numbers of girls and boys. Some of the babies were related as they showed a congenital bone defect on their knee bones, which is a very rare gene.

‘It would account for the same woman or sisters giving birth to the children as a result of the brothel.’

The Yewden villa at Hambleden was excavated 100 years ago and identified as a high status Roman settlement.

It is now covered by a wheat field, but meticulous records were left by Alfred Heneage Cocks, a naturalist and archaeologist, who reported his findings in 1921.

He gave precise locations for the infant bodies, which were hidden under walls or buried under courtyards close to each other.

However, the matter was not investigated further until now. Cocks’ original report was recently rediscovered, along with 300 boxes of photographs, artefacts, pottery and bones, at Buckinghamshire County Museum.

Dr Eyers was suspicious that the infants were systematically killed because they were unwanted births  – a suspicion which has been confirmed by Simon Mays, a palaeontologist who has spent the past year measuring the bones.

Dr Eyers said ‘He proved without doubt that all the infants were new-born. They were all killed at birth and all at the gestation period of between 38 and 40 weeks.

‘There are still little bits of the jigsaw to be pieced together. We want to see final figures of boys and girls and the relations to ascertain what sort of group we have here.

‘We also found a family of five buried in a well. Did they die in a fire or were they murdered?

‘There is another site about a mile down the river which we know nothing about but I think there must be a connection.’

The find has been compared to the discovery of the skeletons of 100 Roman- era babies in a sewer beneath a bath house in Ashkelon, southern Israel, in 1988.

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Humans created first stone axes 350,000 years earlier than first thought


More advanced than we thought? Archaeologists say the curious discovery of both Acheulian and Oldowan tools in a mudstone bed represents a ‘great technological leap’

Daily Mail | Aug 31, 2011

Complex tools such as stone axes were being made by humans almost two million years ago – at least 350,000 years earlier than previously thought, scientists have revealed.

The discovery of crude, pick-like tools are thought to be the earliest yet found by archaeologists.

It has prompted scientists to question how Homo erectus – the first human species to walk fully upright – was able to develop the technology to create the prehistoric instruments.

The tools, which were dug up in Kenya, are about 1.7million years old and are a combination of stone instruments from two different eras of technology.

The oldest-known stone tools are known as Oldowan technology and consist of simple flakes chipped roughly from a core.

However, these were succeeded by the more sophisticated Acheulian tools – distinctive oval and pear-shaped hand-axes.

Archaeologists made the curious discovery of both Acheulian and Oldowan tools in a mudstone bed at a site near Lake Turkana and say it represents a ‘great technological leap’.

Dr Christopher Lepre and colleagues at Columbia University, New York say the joint finding in a single place indicates the Acheulian technology was either imported from another yet-to-be-identified location or that it was developed by Oldowan early humans living in this area.

Researcher Dr Dennis Kent, whose findings are published in Nature, said: ‘The Acheulian tools represent a great technological leap.’

A team of French and American researchers travelled to Kenya’s Lake Turkana in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, in the summer of 2007, where the Earth’s plates have torn and some of the earliest humans have been discovered.

Turkana Boy – a Homo erectus teenager who lived about 1.5million years ago – was famously discovered by the anthropologist Richard Leakey and excavated on Lake Turkana’s western shore. It remains the most complete early human skeleton ever found.

In a bid to establish the age of the tools by dating the surrounding sediments, the researchers headed to the Kokiselei archaeological site six miles away, where both Acheulian and simpler ‘Oldowan’ tools had previously been found.

Past flooding in the area had left behind layers of silt and clay that hardened into mudstone, preserving the direction of Earth’s magnetic field at the time in the stone’s magnetite grains.

The researchers chiseled away chunks of the mudstone at Kokiselei to later analyse the periodic polarity reversals and come up with ages.

They compared the magnetic intervals with other stratigraphic records to date the archeological site to 1.76 million years.

The skill involved in manufacturing stone axes suggests Homo erectus was dexterous and able to think ahead.

At Kokiselei, the presence of both tool-making methods could mean Homo erectus and its more primitive cousin Homo habilis lived at the same time.

The East African landscape that Homo erectus walked from about 2 million to 1.5 million years ago was becoming progressively drier, with savanna grasslands spreading in response to changes in the monsoon rains.

Roman-era shipwreck reveals ancient medical secrets


The aquarium recreated in the museum, where several vials and containers, (still sealed), are preserved Photo: EMANUELA APPETITI

A first-aid kit found on a 2,000-year-old shipwreck has provided a remarkable insight into the medicines concocted by ancient physicians to cure sailors of dysentery and other ailments.

Telegraph | Jul 9, 2011

By Nick Squires in Rome

A wooden chest discovered on board the vessel contained pills made of ground-up vegetables, herbs and plants such as celery, onions, carrots, cabbage, alfalfa and chestnuts – all ingredients referred to in classical medical texts.

The tablets, which were so well sealed that they miraculously survived being under water for more than two millennia, also contain extracts of parsley, nasturtium, radish, yarrow and hibiscus.

They were found in 136 tin-lined wooden vials on a 50ft-long trading ship which was wrecked around 130 BC off the coast of Tuscany. Scientists believe they would have been used to treat gastrointestinal complaints suffered by sailors such as dysentery and diarrhoea.

“It’s a spectacular find. They were very well sealed,” Dr Alain Touwaide, from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington DC, told The Sunday Telegraph. “The plants and vegetables were probably crushed with a mortar and pestle – we could still see the fibres in the tablets. They also contained clay, which even today is used to treat gastrointestinal problems.”

The pills are the oldest known archaeological remains of ancient pharmaceuticals. They would have been taken with a mouthful of wine or water, or may have been dissolved and smeared on the skin to treat inflammation and cuts.

Historians believe the presence of the medicine chest suggests that the ship may have had a doctor on board, or at least someone trained in rudimentary first aid. The chest also contained spatulas, suction cups and a mortar and pestle.

The vessel was transporting amphorae of wine, glassware, ceramics and oil lamps when it sank in 60ft of water between the Italian mainland and the island of Elbe.

“We still don’t know whether it was Roman, Greek or Phoenician, nor do we know whether it was a long distance trading ship operating throughout the Mediterranean or a coastal vessel,” said Dr Touwaide.

He said the discovery showed that medical knowledge contained in ancient Greek texts, and later in the writings of Roman scholars such as Pliny, was being put into practise in the Roman Empire.

The ship was discovered off the port of Piombino in 1974 and the wooden medicine box was found in 1989, but it is only now that scientists have been able to use DNA sequencing technology to analyse the contents of the pills.

The analysis was carried out in conjunction with Italian researchers from the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage in Tuscany.

Gino Fornaciari, a paleo-pathologist from Pisa University, said: “As well as understanding how the ancient Romans treated each other, we are learning more about what illnesses they suffered from.”

The Romans derived much of their medical knowledge from the ancient Greeks and doctors used a range of sophisticated instruments. Excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, the two towns destroyed by Mt Vesuvius in AD79, have found surgical knives, hooks and tweezers as well as bronze rectal speculums, used to conduct examinations, and forceps for delivering babies.

Queen Nefertiti rules again in Berlin’s reborn museum

GERMANY/

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks a statue of Nefertiti (Nofretete) after a ceremony marking the opening of the Neue Museum (New Museum) in Berlin October 16, 2009. The famous bust which is part of a permanent Egyptian exhibition and papyrus collection was returned to display at its original location in the New Museum building on Museum Island on Thursday. Reuters

Seventy years after it was destroyed by war, Neues’s reopening hailed as miracle

By Tony Paterson in Berlin

Independent | Oct 17, 2009

For sixty-six years, much of the historic Neues Museum, Berlin’s equivalent to the Louvre, was a bombed-out ruin in the heart of the city. Today it will reopen for visitors with a bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti taking pride of place, after a €212m (£193m) restoration masterminded by leading British architect David Chipperfield.

The museum was officially reinaugurated yesterday by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who lives opposite the cultural complex in the city’s revamped centre. The renaissance of the museum, which contains 9,000 exhibits and artefacts ranging from a 700,000-year-old Stone Age shaped flint to a piece of barbed wire taken from the Berlin Wall, marks the return of one of Germany’s most important cultural landmarks to the reunited city.

The event was described as a second miracle for Berlin after the fall of the dividing wall two decades ago. Michael Eissenhauer, general director of the city’s museums, said the occasion was thrilling. “There is a wonderful electrifying power here,” he said. “I won’t ever experience a moment like this again in my life.” Pride of place is occupied by the 3,400-year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti, the Neues Museum’s star exhibit, which has been reinstalled in its former resting place after spending the last days of the Second World War in a German salt mine and 29 years in a museum in the old West Berlin. Other exhibits include a ceremonial golden Bronze Age “wizard’s hat” more than 2ft tall, dating from 1,000 BC.

The reopening of the museum also signified the final stage in the restoration of the 19th-century city centre “Museum Island” complex commissioned by the Prussian kaisers, after an interval lasting 70 years. “It is like the missing pearl being finally added to a necklace,” said Hermann Parzinger, president of Germany’s Prussian Cultural Foundation.

The complex was closed to the public in the autumn of 1939 and badly bombed during the Second World War. The Neues Museum suffered several hits during a Royal Air Force raid in 1943. Invading Red Army troops further damaged the building and plundered one of its most priceless exhibits, King Priam’s treasure, the collection found by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. That was taken to Moscow where it is still housed in the city’s Pushkin Museum. East Germany was unable to pay for repairs to the museum after the war.

As part of the restoration concept, Chipperfield chose to leave many of the wartime scars inflicted on the building untouched. In the main entrance, originally constructed in 1855 to a design by the German architect Friedrich August Stüler, the walls remain stripped back to bare brick. Inside, Chipperfield has installed an elegant modern staircase of white cement and marble.

He admitted that restoring a war ruin was a task unlike anything he had done before. “We felt very strongly that we should hold on to the original material,” he said, “but that was a very difficult thing to describe to the public and there was a lot of emotional anxiety about what this would mean in the end.” Despite harsh criticism from some interest groups, the restoration has been widely praised.

2012 isn’t the end of the world, Mayans insist

Mexico Apocalypse 2012

In this photo taken Oct. 3, 2009, Guatemalan Mayan Indian elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun poses for a portrait at the Iximche ceremonial site in Tecpan, Guatemala. Archaeologists, astronomers and modern-day Mayas shrug off the popular frenzy over the date of 2012, predicting it will bring nothing more than a meteor shower of new-age ‘consciousness,’ pseudo-science and alarmist television specials. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Associated Press | Oct 11, 2009

by Mark Stevenson

MEXICO CITY – Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the Mayan calendar supposedly “running out” on Dec. 21, 2012. After all, it’s not the end of the world.

Or is it?

Definitely not, the Mayan Indian elder insists. “I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff.”

It can only get worse for him. Next month Hollywood’s “2012” opens in cinemas, featuring earthquakes, meteor showers and a tsunami dumping an aircraft carrier on the White House.

At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the “Curious? Ask an Astronomer” Web site, says people are scared.

“It’s too bad that we’re getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they’re too young to die,” Martin said. “We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn’t live to see them grow up.”

Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan ideas.

A significant time period for the Mayas does end on the date, and enthusiasts have found a series of astronomical alignments they say coincide in 2012, including one that happens roughly only once every 25,800 years.

But most archaeologists, astronomers and Maya say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, Internet doomsday rumors and TV specials such as one on the History Channel which mixes “predictions” from Nostradamus and the Mayas and asks: “Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days, zero hope?”

It may sound all too much like other doomsday scenarios of recent decades — the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, the Jupiter Effect or “Planet X.” But this one has some grains of archaeological basis.

One of them is Monument Six.

Found at an obscure ruin in southern Mexico during highway construction in the 1960s, the stone tablet almost didn’t survive; the site was largely paved over and parts of the tablet were looted.

It’s unique in that the remaining parts contain the equivalent of the date 2012. The inscription describes something that is supposed to occur in 2012 involving Bolon Yokte, a mysterious Mayan god associated with both war and creation.

However — shades of Indiana Jones — erosion and a crack in the stone make the end of the passage almost illegible.

Archaeologist Guillermo Bernal of Mexico’s National Autonomous University interprets the last eroded glyphs as maybe saying, “He will descend from the sky.”

Spooky, perhaps, but Bernal notes there are other inscriptions at Mayan sites for dates far beyond 2012 — including one that roughly translates into the year 4772.

And anyway, Mayas in the drought-stricken Yucatan peninsula have bigger worries than 2012.

“If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn’t have any idea,” said Jose Huchim, a Yucatan Mayan archaeologist. “That the world is going to end? They wouldn’t believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain.”

The Mayan civilization, which reached its height from 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., had a talent for astronomy

Its Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas, and the 13th Baktun ends around Dec. 21, 2012.

“It’s a special anniversary of creation,” said David Stuart, a specialist in Mayan epigraphy at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Maya never said the world is going to end, they never said anything bad would happen necessarily, they’re just recording this future anniversary on Monument Six.”

Bernal suggests that apocalypse is “a very Western, Christian” concept projected onto the Maya, perhaps because Western myths are “exhausted.”

If it were all mythology, perhaps it could be written off.

But some say the Maya knew another secret: the Earth’s axis wobbles, slightly changing the alignment of the stars every year. Once every 25,800 years, the sun lines up with the center of our Milky Way galaxy on a winter solstice, the sun’s lowest point in the horizon.

That will happen on Dec. 21, 2012, when the sun appears to rise in the same spot where the bright center of galaxy sets.

Another spooky coincidence?

“The question I would ask these guys is, so what?” says Phil Plait, an astronomer who runs the “Bad Astronomy” blog. He says the alignment doesn’t fall precisely in 2012, and distant stars exert no force that could harm Earth.

“They’re really super-duper trying to find anything astronomical they can to fit that date of 2012,” Plait said.

But author John Major Jenkins says his two-decade study of Mayan ruins indicate the Maya were aware of the alignment and attached great importance to it.

“If we want to honor and respect how the Maya think about this, then we would say that the Maya viewed 2012, as all cycle endings, as a time of transformation and renewal,” said Jenkins.

As the Internet gained popularity in the 1990s, so did word of the “fateful” date, and some began worrying about 2012 disasters the Mayas never dreamed of.

Author Lawrence Joseph says a peak in explosive storms on the surface of the sun could knock out North America’s power grid for years, triggering food shortages, water scarcity — a collapse of civilization. Solar peaks occur about every 11 years, but Joseph says there’s evidence the 2012 peak could be “a lulu.”

While pressing governments to install protection for power grids, Joseph counsels readers not to “use 2012 as an excuse to not live in a healthy, responsible fashion. I mean, don’t let the credit cards go up.”

Another History Channel program titled “Decoding the Past: Doomsday 2012: End of Days” says a galactic alignment or magnetic disturbances could somehow trigger a “pole shift.”

“The entire mantle of the earth would shift in a matter of days, perhaps hours, changing the position of the north and south poles, causing worldwide disaster,” a narrator proclaims. “Earthquakes would rock every continent, massive tsunamis would inundate coastal cities. It would be the ultimate planetary catastrophe.”

The idea apparently originates with a 19th century Frenchman, Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, a priest-turned-archaeologist who got it from his study of ancient Mayan and Aztec texts.

Scientists say that, at best, the poles might change location by one degree over a million years, with no sign that it would start in 2012.

While long discredited, Brasseur de Bourbourg proves one thing: Westerners have been trying for more than a century to pin doomsday scenarios on the Maya. And while fascinated by ancient lore, advocates seldom examine more recent experiences with apocalypse predictions.

“No one who’s writing in now seems to remember that the last time we thought the world was going to end, it didn’t,” says Martin, the astronomy webmaster. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of memory that things were fine the last time around.”

Ancient Peruvian city discovered in Amazon rainforest linked to legendary white-skinned, blond-haired “Cloud People”

chachapoyas-village

An ancient Chachapoyas village located close to the area where the lost city was found

Ancient city discovered deep in Amazonian rainforest linked to the legendary white-skinned Cloud People of Peru

Daily Mail | Dec 4, 2008

A lost city discovered deep in the Amazon rainforest could unlock the secrets of a legendary tribe.

Little is known about the Cloud People of Peru, an ancient, white-skinned civilisation wiped out by disease and war in the 16th century.

But now archaeologists have uncovered a fortified citadel in a remote mountainous area of Peru known for its isolated natural beauty.

It is thought this settlement may finally help historians unlock the secrets of the ‘white warriors of the clouds’.

The tribe had white skin and blonde hair – features which intrigue historians, as there is no known European ancestry in the region, where most inhabitants are darker skinned.

The citadel is tucked away in one of the most far-flung areas of the Amazon. It sits at the edge of a chasm which the tribe may have used as a lookout to spy on enemies.

chachapoyas-village2

The Chachapoyas, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, were an Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonian region of present-day Peru.

The main encampment is made up of circular stone houses overgrown by jungle over 12 acres, according to archaeologist Benedict Goicochea Perez.

Rock paintings cover some of the fortifications and next to the dwellings are platforms believed to have been used to grind seeds and plants for food and medicine.

The Cloud People once commanded a vast kingdom stretching across the Andes to the fringes of Peru’s northern Amazon jungle, before it was conquered by the Incas.

Named because they lived in rainforests filled with cloud-like mist, the tribe later sided with the Spanish-colonialists to defeat the Incas.

But they were killed by epidemics of European diseases, such as measles and smallpox.

Much of their way of life, dating back to the ninth century, was also destroyed by pillaging, leaving little for archaeologists to examine.

Remains have been found before but scientists have high hopes of the latest find, made by an expedition to the Jamalca district in Peru’s Utcubamba province, about 500 miles north-east of the capital, Lima.

Until recently, much of what was known about the lost civilisation was from Inca legends.

Even the name they called themselves is unknown. The term Chachapoyas, or ‘Cloud People’, was given to them by the Incas.

Their culture is best known for the Kuellap fortress on the top of a mountain in Utcubamba, which can only be compared in scale to the Incas’ Machu Picchu retreat, built hundreds of years later.

Two years ago, archaeologists found an underground burial vault inside a cave with five mummies, two intact with skin and hair.

Chachapoyas chronicler Pedro Cieza de Leon wrote of the tribe: ‘They are the whitest and most handsome of all the people that I have seen, and their wives were so beautiful that because of their gentleness, many of them deserved to be the Incas’ wives and to also be taken to the Sun Temple.

‘The women and their husbands always dressed in woollen clothes and in their heads they wear their llautos [a woollen turban], which are a sign they wear to be known everywhere.’

The Chachapoyas’ territory was located in the northern regions of the Andes in present-day Peru.

It encompassed the triangular region formed by the confluence of the Maranon and Utcubamba rivers, in the zone of Bagua, up to the basin of the Abiseo river.

The Maranon’s size and the mountainous terrain meant the region was relatively isolated.