Tag: Archaeology

Continent’s Oldest Spear Points Provide New Clues About The First Americans

For as long as Buttermilk Creek has wound its way through Texas Hill Country, its spring-fed waters have carved through the region’s dark, dense clays, cutting away layers of earth to expose the rock — and the history — below.

Here, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of a human settlement stretching back as far as 15,500 years: hammer stones and broken knives, fragments of fractured tools.

And now, scientists say, the Buttermilk Creek complex has offered up the oldest known spearheads in North America.

If the projectile point was the cellphone of the Pleistocene — an omnipresent technology that shaped cultures and defined daily life — the Clovis tools were the iPhone X.

These points, named for the city in New Mexico where they were first found, featured a fluted bottom and rounded sides tapering to a sharp point.

The distinctive spearheads are scattered throughout the rock record between 10,000 and 13,500 years ago, from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains and as far south as Venezuela.

The tools are so ubiquitous that for nearly a century, archaeologists thought that the Clovis tradition represented the first people to arrive in the Americas.




But research in recent decades has revealed archaeological sites much older than Clovis, and genetic analyses of modern Native Americans suggest their ancestors crossed a land bridge from Asia to Alaska about 20,000 years ago, then migrated down the Pacific coast between 20,000 and 15,000 years before present.

So who exactly were these early Americans?

The new points uncovered at Buttermilk Creek may offer a clue, said Waters, who directs the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University.

Because tools are so essential to the tasks of survival — hunting, cooking, building, killing — they can say a great deal about the people who wielded them.

In more than 10 years of excavations at his site, Waters and his colleagues have found Clovis points in a rock layer dating to about 13,000 years ago.

Below that, in older rocks, they uncovered scores of stone point fragments, but no whole spearheads. It was difficult to know if they were looking at older Clovis artifacts, or something entirely different.

Then, in 2015, the archaeologists uncovered two perfectly preserved artifacts: One triangular point, which resembles a predator’s sharp tooth, and one lobe-shaped projectile with a tapered, or “stemmed,” bottom.

With these whole points as models, Waters’s team was able to make sense of the 10 additional fragments they collected.

They seemed subtly but significantly different from Clovis and other toolmaking traditions — neither a clear ancestor to the later technology, nor an obvious competitor.

Skye Gilham, a forensic anthropologist who is a member of the Blackfeet tribe in northern Montana, said that recent archaeological and genetic research has been helpful in establishing a scientific link between the first Americans and their descendants living today.

Findings like Waters’, which provide evidence for her people’s long history in the Americas, have helped ensure the return of native remains to their communities.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Reading Past Climates From Ice Cores

Professor Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland is one of the principal investigators of EPICA (European Programme for Ice Coring in Antarctica.)

Stocker explains that EPICA, a joint ESF- European Commission (EC) effort funded by the Commission and 10 national agencies, has put Europe in a leading position in ice core research, in which specially designed drilling technology is used to obtain continuous ice sequences 3.8 thousands of metres in length.

A series of EPICA papers in journals such as Nature and Science are evidence of its world importance. The principle behind ice coring is straightforward.

Snow falls in Greenland and the Antarctic, but conditions there are too cold for it to melt. In most places it will eventually be carried away by glacial movement, but it is possible to find areas where the snow has piled up for hundreds of thousands of years, turning to ice as the weight of later snowfall builds up on top.

Drilling out a core of such ice reveals the past in a neat sequence of millennia. Better still, the ice contains information about the past.

It includes trapped air bubbles that can be analysed to reveal the composition of the ancient atmosphere. Layers of ash reveal ancient volcanic eruptions.




And the ratio of different isotopes of oxygen in the ice is a virtual thermometer that tells us past temperatures. The more of the lighter isotope, oxygen 16, there is, the colder it was.

Stocker says: “Ice-drilling is an area in which Europe has taken a decisive technological and scientific lead in the past decade. We now have a continuous record of 800,000 years of climate history, thanks to EPICA and other European initiatives.

These ice cores directly illuminate current climate debates. As Stocker points out, air bubbles allow us to measure how much methane and carbon dioxide there was in the air when the snow fell.

These — especially carbon dioxide — are the principal greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. It is clear that they are now at their most abundant for hundreds of thousands of years.

By contrast, the most-used direct measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide, made on Hawaii, only date back to 1958. So as Stocker says: “EPICA results form a cornerstone of the current climate debate.

While these cores still have plenty to tell us, Stocker and his colleagues are in little doubt about the overall message.

They think that climate “forcing” by greenhouse gases is a very real phenomenon: in other words, that rising greenhouse gas concentrations drive the Earth’s temperature upwards in a very direct way.

So the ice cores now deposited in cold “stores” around the world have a clear message for us all.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

The World’s Oldest Piece Of Solid Cheese Was Found In An Egyptian Tomb

A solid white mass found in a broken jar in an Ancient Egyptian tomb has turned out to be the world’s oldest example of solid cheese.

Probably made mostly from sheep or goats milk, the cheese was found several years ago by archaeologists in the ancient tomb of Ptahmes, who was a high-ranking Egyptian official.

The substance was identified after the archaeology team carried out biomolecular identification of its proteins.

This 3,200-year-old find is exciting because it shows that the Ancient Egyptian’s shared our love of cheese — to the extent it was given as a funerary offering.

But not only that, it also fits into archaeology’s growing understanding of the importance of dairy to the development of the human diet in Europe.




Archaeological evidence

Using a technique called “lipid analysis“, sherds of ancient pottery can be analysed and fats absorbed into the clay identified. This then allows archaeologists to find out what was cooked or processed inside them.

Although it is not yet possible to identify the species of animal, dairy fats can be distinguished. It is also challenging to determine what techniques were being used to make dairy products safe to consume, with many potential options.

Fermenting milk, for example, breaks down the lactose sugar into lactic acid. Cheese is low in lactose because it involves separating curd from whey, in which the majority of the lactose sugars remain.

Clay sieves from Poland, similar to modern cheese sieves, have been found to have dairy lipids preserved in the pores of clay, suggesting that they were being used to separate curds from the whey.

Whether the curds were then consumed or attempts made to preserve them by pressing into a harder cheese is unknown.

Fermentation of milk was also possible to our ancestors, but harder to explore with the techniques currently available to archaeology.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Prehistoric Humans May Have Practiced Brain Surgery On Cows

Marks on the cow skull (a, b, c) as compared to a human skull that underwent trepanation (d, e)

Humans have been performing brain surgery—or at least drilling holes in one others’ skulls—for thousands of years. But how did they get their practice?

A new study analyzing an exquisitely bored hole in the skull of a 5000-year-old cow (above) suggests they may have honed their skills on animals.

The bovine cranium in question was found in Vendée, France, a Neolithic site that was a trade hub for salt and cattle between 3400 and 3000 B.C.E.




Scientists originally thought the cranial hole came from a traumatic blow by another cow, but others suspected a human hand at work.

To find out if early human surgeons were responsible, scientists compared the hole in the cow’s skull to holes in two human skulls from France dated to the same period.

It was clear from the long straight lacerations that the human skulls had undergone some sort of primitive brain surgery.

Using a combination of powerful microscopes, hand lenses, and 3D reconstructions, the researchers looked for tell-tale signs of deliberate cutting on the cow skull.

Long, parallel marks surrounding the hole and traces of scraping motions matched those found around the openings in the human skulls, leading researchers to conclude that the cow’s gape came courtesy of human surgeons, they reveal today in Scientific Reports.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Meet Cheddar Man: First Modern Britons Had Dark Skin And Blue Eyes

They call him Cheddar Man.

He lived more than 10,000 years ago, had brown hair, blue eyes and “dark to black” skin. To the surprise of many, he is believed to have been the first modern Briton.

A new project from London’s Natural History Museum and University College London has revealed groundbreaking DNA results that give a much clearer image of early British inhabitants.

Cheddar Man’s skeleton was discovered in 1903 in Gough’s Cave, located in Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England. It is thought that the cool temperature in the cave helped to preserve the skeleton’s valuable DNA.

If the body was deposited in a good environment, where there was a cool and constant temperature, then the petrous bone is a good place to find useful ancient DNA,” said the Natural History Museum’s Selina Brace, who specializes in the study of ancient DNA.

Scientists obtained DNA from Cheddar Man by drilling a 2-millimeter hole in his skull and extracting bone powder.




Initially, it was assumed that the man, who died in his 20s, had pale skin, but new analysis and facial reconstruction have revealed quite the opposite.

It is now believed that Cheddar Man’s ancestors arrived in Britain via the Middle East after leaving Africa.

Cheddar Man is special because he represents the population occupying Europe at the time,” said Tom Booth, a bio-archaeologist at the museum.

They had dark skin, and most of them had pigmented eyes, either blue or green.” Data and software used in forensics gave Booth and the team a clearer understanding of Cheddar Man’s skin pigmentation and how dark it was.

The investigation into the skeletal remains revealed that Cheddar Man had “genetic markers of skin pigmentation usually associated with sub-Saharan Africa.”

The skull of Cheddar Man

Cheddar Man’s skeleton revealed damage to the front of the skull, which led us to believe he had a violent death. But when we looked again, it appeared likely that the damage occurred since being dug up,” Booth explained.

“It’s quite hard to figure out from the bones how he died, as most illnesses don’t leave a trace on human remains.”

Using 3-D printing, Adrie and Alfons Kennis were able to bring Cheddar Man to life. The model took several months to build and is described as “truly unique.”

Booth described their work as “amazing” and said the two brothers are skilled “wizards” who were able to bring years of hard work and research to life.

Experts say the ancestor was a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer who would have spent his days carving tools, fishing and hunting animals. Researchers say he was around 166 centimeters (5’4 inches) in height.

It is believed that Cheddar Man is related to 1 in 10 people living across the United Kingdom today.

It didn’t take long for Cheddar Man to trend worldwide on Twitter. Reactions to the extraordinary findings were mixed. Some praised the work of those involved with the reconstruction of Britain’s oldest skeleton.

Others focused on the racial tension in Britain and pointed out that perhaps not all Brits would be happy about their ties to the ancient human.

Cheddar Man’s complete skeleton has been lent to the museum and is currently on display.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist

9,000 Year Old Rock Art From Saudi Arabia Is Earliest Depiction Of Domesticated Dogs

Carved into a sandstone cliff on the edge of a bygone river in the Arabian Desert, a hunter draws his bow for the kill.

He is accompanied by 13 dogs, each with its own coat markings; two animals have lines running from their necks to the man’s waist.

The engravings likely date back more than 8000 years, making them the earliest depictions of dogs, a new study reveals.

And those lines are probably leashes, suggesting that humans mastered the art of training and controlling dogs thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

It’s truly astounding stuff,” says Melinda Zeder, an archaeozoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

It’s the only real demonstration we have of humans using early dogs to hunt.” But she cautions that more work will be needed to confirm both the age and meaning of the depictions.




The hunting scene comes from Shuwaymis, a hilly region of northwestern Saudi Arabia where seasonal rains once formed rivers and supported pockets of dense vegetation.

For the past 3 years, Maria Guagnin, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany—in partnership with the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage—has helped catalog more than 1400 rock art panels containing nearly 7000 animals and humans at Shuwaymis and Jubbah, a more open vista about 200 kilometers north that was once dotted with lakes.

Starting about 10,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers entered—or perhaps returned to—the region. What appear to be the oldest images are thought to date to this time and depict curvy women.

Then about 7000 to 8000 years ago, people here became herders, based on livestock bones found at Jubbah; that’s likely when pictures of cattle, sheep, and goats began to dominate the images.

In between—carved on top of the women and under the livestock—are the early hunting dogs: 156 at Shuwaymis and 193 at Jubbah.

All are medium-sized, with pricked up ears, short snouts, and curled tails—hallmarks of domestic canines.

In some scenes, the dogs face off against wild donkeys. In others, they bite the necks and bellies of ibexes and gazelles. And in many, they are tethered to a human armed with a bow and arrow.

The researchers couldn’t directly date the images, but based on the sequence of carving, the weathering of the rock, and the timing of the switch to pastoralism, “The dog art is at least 8000 to 9000 years old,” Guagnin says.

That may edge out depictions of dogs previously labeled the oldest, paintings on Iranian pottery dated to at most 8000 years ago.

The dogs look a lot like today’s Canaan dog, says Perri, a largely feral breed that roams the deserts of the Middle East.

That could indicate that these ancient people bred dogs that had already adapted to hunting in the desert, the team reports this week in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Or people may even have independently domesticated these dogs from the Arabian wolf long after dogs were domesticated elsewhere, which likely happened sometime between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago.

Such a relationship would have been critical to helping people survive a harsh environment. Dogs could take down gazelles and ibexes too fast for humans, Perri says.

Details of the images also suggest that the ancient hunters tailored their strategies to the landscape, Zeder says. At Shuwaymis, where the dogs may have been used to drive prey into the corners of uneven terrain, the art depicts large packs.

At Jubbah, the images show smaller groups of dogs that may have ambushed prey at watering holes.

People were able to venture into these inhospitable areas by strategically marshalling dogs to survive,” Zeder says. “And now we’re seeing a real picture of how it happened.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist

A Mysterious Void Was Discovered In Egypt’s Great Pyramid

Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza—one of the wonders of the ancient world, and a dazzling feat of architectural genius contains a hidden void at least a hundred feet long, scientists announced on Thursday.

The space’s dimensions resemble those of the pyramid’s Grand Gallery, the 153-foot-long, 26-foot-tall corridor that leads to the burial chamber of Khufu, the pharaoh for whom the pyramid was built.

However, it remains unclear what lies within the space, what purpose it served, or if it’s one or multiple spaces.

The void is the first large inner structure discovered within the 4,500-year-old pyramid since the 1800s—a find made possible by recent advances in high-energy particle physics. The results were published in the journal Nature.

This is definitely the discovery of the century,” says archaeologist and Egyptologist Yukinori Kawae, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

There have been many hypotheses about the pyramid, but no one even imagined that such a big void is located above the Grand Gallery.




The findings mark the latest in a millennia-long quest to understand the Great Pyramid of Giza, long an object of mystery and intrigue.

The pyramid was built some 4,500 years ago during the Fourth Dynasty of ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom. At that time, Egypt was a powerful, highly centralized monarchy, wealthy from trade and Nile-nourished agriculture.

The Great Pyramid is arguably the ultimate expression of that power.

The pharaoh Khufu, who reigned from 2509 to 2483 B.C., built for himself a pyramid whose base spreads across more than 13 acres and originally towered more than 146 feet tall.

The monument consists of about 2.3 million limestone blocks, which had to be quarried, transported, cut to size, and moved into place.

“These sorts of pyramids are the major product, so to speak, of the kings who built them,” says Kate Spence, a University of Cambridge archaeologist who studies ancient Egypt.

An awful lot of Egyptian society is probably geared toward building pyramids at this particular time.”

Ever since, the Great Pyramid has drawn in the curious; today, tourists enter the pyramid through a tunnel created in the ninth century A.D.

The new discovery comes out of the ScanPyramids project, an international mission under the authority of Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities.

Launched in October 2015, the project aims to non-invasively peer into Egypt’s largest pyramids using a battery of technologies.

Previously, ScanPyramids had announced the detection of some intriguing voids and anomalies, which didn’t come necessarily as a surprise.

Spence says that the pyramids’ interiors are far more pockmarked and rubbly than people usually imagine.

But the new void definitely came as a surprise—and arguably marks the biggest-ever discovery yielded by muon radiography, an imaging technique first demonstrated in Giza’s pyramids.

It’s a striking discovery,” says Chris Morris, a physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and expert on muon imaging techniques.

This makes another muon radiographer jealous, I’m jealous. These guys have discovered a remarkable thing.”

The technique, which has been used to peer through cathedral walls, Mayan pyramids, and even volcanoes, relies on the natural drizzle of subatomic particles called muons.

While we can’t see muons with the naked eye, scientists can spot them with special films and detectors that trace their 3-D paths.

Since muons pass more easily through empty space than through solid materials, arranging multiple muon detectors in and around a structure lets scientists map the structure’s solid and empty parts.

What’s so delightful is that [muons] are like Goldilocks: They lose enough [energy] to detect them but not so much that they just get absorbed in the target,” says University of Texas at Austin particle physicist Roy Schwitters, who uses muons to study Belize’s Mayan pyramids.

They’re really a fabulous treat from nature.

The seemingly empty region, which the researchers neutrally call “the void,” is at least a hundred feet long. Its purpose remains unclear; researchers are cautiously avoiding the word “chamber” for the time being.

Tayoubi and his colleagues stress that they don’t know what the void is—but already, Egyptologists have some initial ideas for what it might be.

Spence, the Cambridge archaeologist, says that the void may be a leftover from the Great Pyramid’s construction.

She points out that massive blocks weighing tens of tons form the roof of the chambers above the King’s Chamber, the central room where Khufu was laid to rest.

Since the void aligns with the Great Pyramid’s upper chambers, which were put there to relieve pressure on the King’s Chamber below, Spence suggests that the void may have been an internal ramp used to move the massive roof blocks into place.

As construction continued, she says, this ramp could have been left empty or loosely backfilled.

Time will tell whether these or other ideas about the void’s purpose pan out. Tayoubi and other ScanPyramids collaborators say that work is only beginning.

And to those fantasizing about personally exploring the void, a word of caution.

No known corridors connect to the space, and researchers and outside experts alike stress that there are no future plans to drill into the void.

Instead, they say that in the near-term, they will do whatever they can to peer into the space non-invasively.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

Ancient Skull May Be History’s Earliest Known Tsunami Victim

In 1929, an Australian geologist named Paul S. Hossfeld was investigating the northern coast of Papua New Guinea for petroleum.

He found bone fragments embedded in a creek bank about seven miles inland and about 170 feet above sea level.

At first, Dr. Hossfeld believed that the specimen was from the skull of Homo erectus, an extinct relative of modern humans. Later analysis would show it belonged to a modern human who lived about 6,000 years ago.

Now recent research suggests the remains known as the Aitape skull could be something more: the earliest known victim of a tsunami.

The findings, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, may offer useful historical context for how ancient humans living along the Pacific Ocean’s coasts faced fierce natural hazards.

Here we start to see human interaction with some nasty earthquakes and tsunamis,” said James Goff, a retired geologist at the University of New South Wales Sydney and author of the study.




Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of a large, bountiful island just north of Australia (the western side is part of Indonesia).

In 1998, after decades of relative geological quiet, a devastating tsunami rocked the country, killing more than 2,000 people.

This huge volume of water struck the coast and swept away everything,” said John Terrell, an anthropologist at the Field Museum in Chicago who has completed research in the country and is a co-author on the paper.

The villages I knew and loved were sheared off.

After struggling for almost two decades to get funding for the project, he returned to the island in 2014 to explore the rain forests and crystal clear creek where Dr. Hossfeld had discovered the skull 85 years earlier.

Dr. Hossfeld had left detailed notes about where he had found the skull, which helped guide Dr. Goff and his team as they collected samples from the same sediment layer at a nearby river-cut cliff.

Back at the lab, they performed geochemical analysis to determine whether the sediment level had been deposited by a tsunami 6,000 years ago.

Because they had previously analyzed geochemical signals from sediment on the island following the 1998 tsunami, the team knew which clues to look for, like grain size and composition.

They found that the sediment collected from the skull site contained fossilized deep sea diatoms. These microscopic organisms were a telltale sign that ocean water had drowned the area at some point.

The researchers also found geochemical signals that matched the signatures they collected in 1998, offering additional evidence that a tsunami had struck around 6,000 years ago.

Bang! Right where the diatoms were looking very sexy and you’re getting excited, you have a signal that says, ‘Hi, I’m seawater,’” said Dr. Goff.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: Popular Science

New Study Reveals That London Was The Most Violent Place In Medieval England

A new study suggests that medieval London was notorious for its excessive violence. The overall findings suggest that violence affected many parts of medieval London, although predictably it disproportionately affected the lower socioeconomic classes.

Analysis of 399 Skulls Reveals London’s Violent Past

Medieval times could be truly rough times for any man – especially a poor one – as a new study shows. The study identified the patterns and prevalence of violence-related skull trauma among a large sample of skeletons from medieval London.

It appears that violence in medieval London may have been largely tied to sex and social status,” archaeologist Kathryn Krakowka from the University of Oxford tells New Scientist, having reached that conclusion after examining 399 skulls from six different sites from across medieval London (1050-1550).




The skulls were analyzed for evidence of trauma and assessed for the likelihood that it was caused by violence.

Kathryn Krakowka and her team collected the skulls from two types of cemeteries; monastic and free parish.

The monastic cemeteries were usually reserved for the upper class while the free parish was used by the lower socioeconomic classes.

Poor Suffered More Violence

Unsurprisingly, males from the free parish cemeteries appear to have been the demographic most affected by violence-related skull injuries, particularly blunt force trauma to the cranial vault.

Specifically, Krakowka found that 6.8 per cent of all skulls examined showed some kind of violence-related trauma, while it was mostly males from 26 to 35 years old that were affected.

Additionally, nearly 25 per cent of the skull injuries took place near the time of death, indicating that people died from blows to their heads.

Furthermore, Krakowka noticed that the London cemeteries she explored had a violence rate almost double than elsewhere else in England.

Despite the results showing violence was more prevalent in medieval London than in any other part of medieval England, it appears to be quite similar to other parts of medieval Europe.

High levels of violence are evident in cemeteries from other parts of medieval Europe such as Croatia,” Krakowka said, as a similar study showed an incredible 20.1 per cent of people had cranial fractures in Croatia.

Poor Had No Access to Law

The fact that males from the free parish cemeteries were disproportionately affected by violence-related trauma, makes Krakowka speculate that this could be the result of an informal conflict resolution between individuals of lower status, as they couldn’t afford the fees or didn’t know how to access the services.

On the other hand, she concludes that the upper classes had access to the developing legal system of the time, and this was how they usually avoided a more informal (and violent) way of resolving disputes.

Coroners’ rolls from the time bolster Krakowka’s suggestions as it shows that a way too large amount of homicides took place on Sunday night, when many working-class men would have been drinking at a pub, and on Monday morning.

This, in combination with my results, possibly suggests that those of lower status resolved conflict through informal fights that may or may not have been fueled by drunkenness,” Krakowka said.

Luke Glowacki, an anthropologist from the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France, agrees with Krakowka’s conclusions, “People of low status don’t have resort to the rule of law.

Unable to hire a barrister to represent them, they resort to violence as a means to resolve conflict,” he said.

To conclude, the researchers also noted that even if individuals from the upper class decided to solve a dispute between them (outside a court), they would have most likely fought under different rules, where swords were in play and armor would be involved in order to protect the heads of the opponents.

Please like, share and tweet this article.

Pass it on: New Scientist