Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Monthly Newsreel

The intriguing find of the remains of a 'noblewoman' from the ancient Okunev Culture was made at the Itkol II burial site, in the Shira district of the Republic of Khakassia (Eastern Siberia).

     The Okunev is a Bronze Age culture dated to the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE in Minusinsk Hollow of southern Siberia. Okunev people are considered as the Siberian ethnic grouping most closely related to Native Americans.

     Undisturbed by pillaging grave robbers, the burial site of the woman, also containing the remains of a child, offers a wealth of clues about the life of these ancient people.

     The head of the expedition Dr Andrey Polyakov said  the grave of the 'noblewoman' dated back to the Early Bronze Age, between the 25th and 18th centuries BCE. "For such an ancient epoch, this woman has a lot of items in her grave," he said. "We have not encountered anything like this in other burials from this time, and it leads us to suggest that the items in her grave had some ritual meaning.  We hope to get even more rare and spectacular finds next year, when will  continue to study this unique (burial) mound and open the central burial plot," Polyakov added.

     Archeologists believe the woman enjoyed a special status during her lifetime, as indicated by around 100 decorations made from the teeth of different animals, items carved from bone and horn, two jars, cases with bone needles inside, a bronze knife, and more than 1,500 beads that embellished her funeral costume.

     There is particular excitement about an incense burner found in the grave because it contains sun-shaped faces which match previously discovered ancient rock art in Siberia. "The clay incense burner bearing three sun-shaped facial images, recovered from the grave, is the most important find of all," Polyakov said. "All such images previously discovered had been found only on cliffs or separate stones. Now there is the prospect to find out when they were made."

     Excavations at the as the Itkol II burial site began in 2008 - with some 560 finds in total so far - but there is a sense that the best is yet to come. Another find is a stone slab with a rare image of a bull having a long rectangular body. These are not common in southern Siberia, but are known on the territory of modern-day Kazakhstan. Archeologists see this as an indication that Okunev people may have migrated to Khakassia from the south. Does this mean modern-day Native Americans originated from Kazakhstan and not southern Siberia, as previously thought? More scientific evidence is needed.
Edited from Siberian Times (19 August 2016)

A camping site dating back to 8500 BCE has been unearthed in Ladakh, in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The newly discovered site indicates that humans were as interested in camping 10,500 years ago as they are now.

     An official statement stated that the site was discovered 14,000 feet above sea level on the way from Saser La to Ladakh. A charcoal sample collected from the excavation site was sent to Florida for carbon-dating. More samples derived from upper and lower deposits sent for dating indicated two radiocarbon dates of 8500 BCE and 7300 BCE respectively - both of which are a sign of frequent human activity at the site for nearly eight hundred years.

     "The research so far carried out has proved the antiquity and nature of human activities to an extent, but their camping patterns, extent of camping area, tools and other cultural aspects are yet to be traced," experts said.

Edited from India Times (19 August 2016)

Archaeologists from the Tübingen collaborative research center ResourceCultures have discovered an earthwork enclosure in southern Spain dating from the Bell Beaker period of 2,600 to 2,200 BCE. The complex of concentric rings may have been used for holding rituals; such earthwork enclosures have previously only been found in the northern half of Europe.

     Archaeologists have known since the middle of the nineteenth century that today's Valencina de la Concepción outside Seville was at the heart of an important Copper Age settlement. In 1860, the Dolmen de la Pastora was first identified. It was the region's first big find from the Copper Age or Chalcolithic, which preceded the Bronze Age. The nearby settlement of Valencina was supported by farming and stockraising on the fertile coastal plain. It is Spain's largest known Copper Age settlement, of over 400 hectares. Grave goods found at the site show that the people of Valencina traded with Copper Age cultures far away.

     Tübingen archaeologists headed by Professor Martin Bartelheim discovered the earthwork enclosure some 50 kilometers east of Valencina. Surveying the land in August 2015, they found circular earthworks enclosing about six hectares. Excavations at the site yielded bones, sherds and jewelry; radiocarbon dating and comparative analysis confirmed the site was used during the Bell Beaker Culture.

     Just what the site was used for is still a mystery. It consists of several circular trenches with entrance-like openings at regular intervals. In the center was a deep, circular hole some 19 meters wide. In it, the archaeologists found large clay bricks with burn marks on it which may have served a ritual purpose. But they did not find human remains or indications of continuous settlement after the Copper Age, suggesting the site was used intensively for a relatively short period.

     Doctoral candidate in the CultureResources group, Javier Escudero Carrillo, says: "The structure is very unusual for Spain, other circular earthworks like this are only found north of the Alps; but most are more than a thousand years older than this site. The stony ground here is not good for farming, but the site is strategically located near an ancient fort on the Guadalquivir River near the ore-rich Sierra Morena mountains, where copper and other valuable minerals were mined. Trails link the site with the fertile plain of Carmona, so that we may assume it was used by many passing through. That fits well with the interpretation of a site used for religious purposes."

     Stone tools such as grinding stones and axe heads found at the site will be analyzed to discover how far away the material came from and how the tools were worked. Further information will be gathered from analyses of sediment and pollen as well as the isotopic analyses of animal bone samples, which will give clues as to the diet and lifestyle of the site's inhabitants more than four thousand years ago.

Edited from ScienceDaily (9 August 2016)

Large Bronze Age mound discovered in northwest China
Archaeologists in Xinjiang (northwest China) discovered a Bronze Age stone mound that is probably the largest and best preserved of its kind.

     Wu Xinhua, the team's leading archaeologist, said that the mound is made of cobbles and mud and shaped like a cone surrounded by two stone walls. The diameter of the outermost wall reached 114 meters. The site, with a minor damage at its top, is one of the important sites yet discovered in Xinjiang, where archaeologists are studying the ancient nomadic culture that used to live in the vast prairie of the region.

     The mound can be dated back to 2,500 to 3,000 years ago in the late Bronze Age, or even a bit earlier, a claim supported by aerial photography and data calculated from sites and burial graves discovered last year in Russia's Republic of Tuva and Mt. Tianshan in eastern Xinjiang.

     Li Jun, deputy director of Xinjiang's Cultural Heritage Administration, said that the discovery will probably help to prove the peaceful interconnection of ancient cultures along the Silk Road, as the site discovered in Xinjiang showed many resemblances to those of other countries and regions in Central Asia.

Edited from (9 August 2016)

In the hillsides of Lima's northern district of Los Olivos (Peru), a team of researchers, led by archaeologist Luis Angel Flores Blanco, uncovered skeletal remains bundled up in a funerary blanket, that date back more than 6,000 years.

     The archaeologist explained that research began in April this year with the help of the city of Los Olivos, volunteers and archeology students. Ruth Shady, discoverer of Caral, the oldest civilization in America, inaugurated the project and presented the excavation plan at a public event.

     So far, preliminary excavations have revealed the presence of two buildings (terraced pyramids) which would be the most important in the valley and would make the hill called Cerro Pacifico the epicenter of this ancient civilization.

     The mayor of Los Olivos, Pedro del Rosario, said the municipality will start the necessary procedures with the Ministry of Culture to declare the Cerro Pacifico a site of Cultural Heritage for the Nation. He also asked for the government's support to continue the excavations and subsequent investigation of the site.

     The samples were sent to private museums in the United States and Japan for carbon-14 testing.

Edited from Living in Peru (8 August 2016)

Back in 1929, in caves just outside the Chinese capital of Beijing, an amazing discovery was made of a 500,000 year old skull, which was rapidly nicknamed Peking Man (the name for Beijing in the early 20th. Century). At that time experts believed that the discovery meant that modern humanity had first evolved in the Far East. More recent discoveries had, however, subsequently swung opinion to the evolutionary chain having its origins in Africa, which is the current consensus.

     The strength and depth of evidence pointing to the source being African was not even dented with the re-aging of Peking Man, using modern techniques, to over 780,000 years old. Despite this the mystery surrounding Peking Man and his place in modern evolution has puzzled and challenged Chinese palaeontologists and the discovery across eastern China of more early hominids in the intervening years, with ages varying from 80,000 to 1,700,000 years old, has only added to the confusion and contradictory claims.

     There has even been some unsubstantiated claims by Western researchers that their Chinese counterparts have been manipulating data to favour evolutionary origins in China and nor Africa. These claims have been strongly rebuffed by the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology & Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) (Beijing), leading palaeontologist, Wu Xinzhi, who is quoted as saying: "This has nothing to do with nationalism. It's all about the evidence - the transitional fossils and archaeological artefacts. Everything points to continuous evolution in China from Homo Erectus to modern man".

     Despite these claims and counter-claims the wealth of evidence now emerging from China is fascinating and exciting researchers around the world and will continue to do so as more and more evidence is uncovered. Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist from Oxford University (UK) is convinced there is more to come "The centre of gravity is shifting eastwards," he says.

Edited from PhysOrg (15 July 2016)

An intriguing puzzle is unravelling around the collection of bones which have accumulated over numerous digs over two centuries, from the Troisieme caverne de Goyet, in Belgium.

     State of the art techniques, including DNA and chemical analyses of the bones are yielding some interesting results. So far the remains of at least 5 individual Neanderthals have been identified, mixed in with the remains of other animals, including reindeer and horses.

     The study team from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural sciences and California State University (USA) have concluded that there is evidence of cannibalism from the Neanderthal bone fragments, identified by the smashing of bones to extract the marrow and the sharpening of some bone fragments to act as tools.

     But was this part of a ritual or a matter of survival? Some evidence of malnutrition (hinting at starvation levels) may point to the latter, but this cannot be totally conclusive as other discoveries on other sites prove, Neanderthal tribes led complex and widely differing practices, even within relatively short distances of each other.

     Anthropologist and study author, Helene Rougier, is quoted as saying "[Cannibalism] scares people, it doesn't mean that Neanderthals weren't a complex culture. We cannot treat them too simply"

Edited from NPR (14 July 2016)

A major excavation is underway in rural Dorset (England), near the modern day village of Winter borne Kingston. The team of archaeologists from Bournemouth University are actually uncovering the remains of the original village settlement, which first occupied the site in approximately 100 BCE. They have named it Duropolis, in honour of the Durotriges, the Iron Age tribe that would have comprised its first inhabitants.

     The site is quite large, covering approximately 4 hectares, and so far the team has uncovered most of the elements of a typical Iron Age settlement, including roundhouses, storage and animal enclosures. The presence of this unfortified settlement coincides with the decline and abandonment of nearby hill forts, heralding in a more peaceful era.

     One of the co-Directors of this year's dig, Dr Miles Russell, is quoted as saying "People think that towns were introduced by the Romans in the 1sdt. Century CE and that's simply not true. What we've here are all the elements of an urban system a good hundred years before the Romans arrived and it seems to be continuing up until the point that they left".

     However, the most exciting find in this year's dig is the discovery of the skeletal remains of 8 bodies, the significance of which is explained by the other co-Director, Paul Cheetham: "Understanding of our Iron Age past is significantly improved by this finds, given the advances in scientific investigation, such as DNA and isotope analysis, which provide an insight into population movements and ancestry. Accessing skeletal information from this date in the UK is extremely rare, as most pre Roman tribes either practised cremation or placed bodies in rivers or bogs, so this data could completely change our understanding of the Iron Age".

Edited from Dorset Echo (7 July 2016)

The traditional understanding of the Neolithic period in Orkney has long been of a game of two halves, represented by completely different cultural packages: the early phase in the 4th millennium BCE, associated with single farmsteads, compartmented burial cairns, and shallow round-bottomed pottery with limited decoration; and the late Neolithic turn of the 3rd millennium BCE, associated with villages, passage-grave tombs, and flat-bottomed pottery with ornate decoration. With no clear sign of a transition between these two, the arrival of a new group replacing the earlier culture was suggested, however new dating evidence confirms an idea originally suggested by Colin Renfrew, blurring the lines between early and late Neolithic categories.

     The Cuween-Wideford Landscape Project was set up in 1994 to further explore this idea, initially focusing on Stonehall Farm, where a mid to late 4th millennium BCE dispersed settlement had graduated to a late Neolithic village in the late 3rd millennium BCE, and soon uncovering traces of similarly early activity at other sites. The programme quickly expanded to the whole Bay of Firth, about 7 kilometres east of the Stenness-Brodgar ritual complex.

     In 2002 the team realised there were traces of older timber structures beneath several Neolithic stone structures at Wideford Hill, and this pattern was repeated across Orkney - a completely unexpected development, as wooden structures were not previously thought to have been part of the Orcadian Neolithic. These discoveries also undermined the long-held belief that stalled cairns and stone houses came together to Neolithic Orkney - using the same architecture, dividing internal space using pairs of orthostats, mimicking domestic architecture and creating houses for the dead.

     Radiocarbon dating places the earliest stalled cairns circa 3600-3500 BCE, but stone houses do not appear until around 300 years later - tomb-builders seem to have lived in the nearby timber houses. Burial cairns were not modelled on dwellings, but the other way around.

     Building in wood gives any structure a finite lifespan. Those wooden structures excavated show frequently shifting footprints, and little sign of decayed posts being replaced. Building in stone roots a structure in one location. At several sites the team noted building materials being recycled again and again as the settlements expand.

     The excavated stone structures are generally significantly larger than the timber buildings they replaced, and could have accommodated many more people. It seems likely we are seeing the results of cooperation between larger groups, a more collectivist style of living, and bigger social units being brought together.

Edited from (04 August 2016)

The grave of a couple believed to be from the Bronze Age Glazkov culture has been excavated in Siberia.  "In the grave we found male and female skeletons, lying on their backs, heads to the west, hand in hand," says archeologist Dr Dmitry Kichigin.

     The burial is located at a cape on Maloe More, the strait separating the mainland and the Olkhon island, close to Chernorud, some 260 kilometres north-east of Irkutsk. Overlooking the waters of Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, the site is a sacred burial place since Neolithic times and likely to contain more burials, possibly older than this one. The precise location is secret.
     Bone samples have been sent for radiocarbon analysis, but the Russian team involved in the excavations believe the couple to be 4,500 to 5,000 years old.

     The male skeleton is complete but rodents destroyed the upper part of the female. Near the woman was a large knife made of jade, some 13 centimetres in length and 7 centimetres in width. The man's skeleton had a ring made of rare white jade over one eye socket. Three more rings were on his chest. Pendants of red deer and musk deer teeth were found on the man's skull and around his feet, which likely decorated the hat and footwear.

     "We also found some metal implement in a small leather bag between male's kneecaps," Adds Kichigin. "We can expect a lot of interesting discoveries on this archaeological site, so we plan to continue our work next year." Analysis of this summer's finds will begin in the autumn.

Edited from The Siberian Times (13 July 2016)

Recently discovered multiple assemblages of Homo erectus footprints in northern Kenya provide unique opportunities to understand our ancient ancestors. Using novel analytical techniques, researchers have demonstrated that the footprints preserve evidence of a modern human style of walking and a group structure consistent with human-like social behaviours.

     Habitual bipedal motion is a defining feature of modern humans compared with other primates, and  had profound effects on the biologies of our ancestors and relatives. There has been much debate over when and how a human-like bipedal gait first evolved, largely because of disagreements over how to infer biomechanics from skeletal shapes. Aspects of group structure and social behaviour also distinguish humans from other primates, yet there is no consensus on how to detect these in the fossil or archaeological records.

     In 2009, a set of 1.5-million-year-old hominin footprints was discovered near the town of Ileret, on the northeast shore of Lake Turkana, in the extreme northwest corner of Kenya - a trace fossil discovery of unprecedented scale for this time period, now extending to five distinct sites preserving a total of 97 tracks created by at least 20 different presumed Homo erectus individuals. Researchers found the shapes of these footprints indistinguishable from those of modern habitually barefoot people, most likely reflecting similar foot anatomies and mechanics.

     Kevin Hatala, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and George Washington University, says: "Our analyses of these footprints provide some of the only direct evidence to support the common assumption that at least one of our fossil relatives at 1.5 million years ago walked in much the same way as we do today."

     Based on experimentally derived estimates of body mass from the fossil tracks, the researchers have inferred the sexes of the individuals and, for the two most expansive excavated surfaces, developed hypotheses regarding the structure of the groups. For example, at each of these sites there is evidence of several adult males. Cooperation between males underlies many of the social behaviours that distinguish modern humans from other primates.

Edited from PhysOrg, Science Daily (12 July 2016)

Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of more than 20 round buildings between 3 and 6 metres in diameter at the site of Ayios Tychonas-Klimonas in Limassol, the earliest known village in Cyprus, on the southern coast of the island. The buildings were constructed on small terraces cut into a gentle slope facing the sea. The walls were built with earth and strengthened with wooden poles, and the floors were often plastered. Most buildings contain large hearths, sometimes accompanied by a millstone weighing between 30 and 50 kilograms. The buildings were probably frequently reconstructed, as multiple layers of remains were found on the terraces.

     The buildings are situated around a 10 metre diameter circular communal building dating to between 11,200 and 10,600 years BP, that was excavated between 2011 and 2012. More recent surveys and excavations show that the village would have covered an area of at least half a hectare.
     Animal bones indicate the presence of domestic dogs and cats, and that villagers hunted wild boar and birds, and there is strong evidence for the cultivation of emmer wheat - a primitive cereal introduced from the continent. Large quantities of stone tools, stone vessels, and stone and shell beads or pendants were also found. At this time, the villagers did not produce pottery.

     The organisation of the village, its architecture, the stone tools and the presence of agriculture and hunting are elements that are very similar to those already been identified in the early Pre-Pottery Neolithic Levant, between 11,500 and 10,500 years BP.

     A statement by the Department of Antiquities describes the site as the earliest known manifestation of an agricultural and village way of life worldwide, demonstrating that although Cyprus was more than 70 kilometres from the mainland, the island was part of broader Near Eastern Neolithic developments.

Edited from Cyprus Mail, PhysOrg (12 July 2016)

Prehistoric megaliths and tools discovered in Meghalaya's Ri-Bhoi district, in the northeastern India state of Assam, indicate that the Khasi tribe, one of the major tribes in the state, had made the area their home since around 1200 BCE.

     Archaeologist Marco Mitri and a team from the North Eastern Hills University excavated the site near Lummawbuh village on the northern slopes of Sohpetbneng (heaven's navel) peak. Mitri said they found megalithic stone structures and iron implements dating to the prehistoric period spread over a 1.5 kilometre area on the ridge.

     The excavation at Lummawbuh is the first one of a Neolithic site in Meghalaya. Radiocarbon tests confirm their finds dated to 12th century BCE.

     The megalithic structures are used in the traditional mortuary practice which was popular among the tribesmen until a few decades ago.

     "These Neolithic structures were first discovered in 2004 and it took at least a decade to confirm the existence of a settlement in the area till about 200 years ago," Mitri said.

     Mitri's work, "Outline of Neolithic Culture of Khasi and Jaintia Hills" was published in 2009 by The British Archaeological Reports. Mitri also edited the 2010 book, "Cultural-Historical Interaction and the Tribes of North East India".

Edited from The Indian Express (11 July 2016)

Skin normally decays, leading to a lack of evidence of tattooing in ancient peoples. Some researchers have looked for the tools which might have been used, yet many are assumed to have been made of biodegradable material such as fish bone. Now three researchers from Australia have found evidence of obsidian tools being crafted for use in creating tattoos approximately 3,000 years ago by South Pacific Islanders.

     Nina Kononenko and Robin Torrence of the University of Sydney and Peter Sheppard of the University of Auckland conducted experiments using cut obsidian - an obvious choice, due to its sharp, glass-like features. They focused on the Solomon Islands as a possible site of early tattooing activities for several reasons, including the region's long history of tattooing, easy access to obsidian, and obsidian artefacts suitable for creating tattoos found at a site called Nanggu dating back around 3,000 years. Prior research had suggested obsidian tools were used to tan hides, but a lack of large animals would have meant there were no hides to tan. To test the possibility that the artefacts had been used to create tattoos, the researchers gathered obsidian samples from island sites, fashioned them into roughly the same shapes as the artefacts and used them to create tattoos on pigskin, afterwards comparing microscopic views of both sets of tools.

     The sample tools they created looked remarkably similar under the microscope to the artefacts, with characteristic chipping, rounding and blunting as well as thin scratches. In addition, the artefacts carried traces of ochre, charcoal, and blood - strong evidence of obsidian tools being used by early islanders to create tattoos.

Edited from PhysOrg (11 July 2016)

Located on the Salisbury Island, which lie 60km off the southern coast of Western Australia, are a series of caves, which contain Aboriginal artefacts and is patrolled by sharks. Besides the archaeologists, traditional owners, ablone divers, and filmmakers have helped search for the archaeological artefacts.

     David Guilfoyle, who works for Applied Archaeology Australia, is the leader of the project has that: "The present-day mainland is 60 kilometres to the north of the island, and has documented evidence of human occupation in granite caves, extending at least 13,000 years before present,î adding that "So we know people were living here when they could walk to this limestone ridge.î

     The area around the island rises from between 80m to 100m above the flat coastal plan, and would have been a distinctive feature for the inhabitants of the region in the late Pleistocene period. At the height of the ice age 18,000 years ago the caves, which are now underwater, would have offered shelter for these people. However, in the modern period the area is almost patrolled by sharks, who feed on the local wildlife.

     The research has been described by Doc Reynolds, a traditional owner and senior heritage director for the Esperance Tjaltjaak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation: "This place would have looked like Uluru in the red centre of Australia ó a massive feature surrounded by low, flat bushland and rocky outcrops. It would have drawn my ancestors here for the many resources it provided. From an Aboriginal perspective, it's been a mind-blowing cultural experience, to actually stand on an island that used to be joined to the mainland all those years ago, and you think that I may be the first Aboriginal person to stand on that island since."

Edited from ABC AU News (20 June 2016)

Ancient campsite found in Canada
 In an area of New Brunswick (Canada) the Canadian Department of Transportation had plans to construct a by-pass of Route 8 around the city of Fredericton, capital of the region.

     As part of the investigations which are made for the planning of any major road, not just in Canada, an archaeological team was sent to see if there was anything of interest. What they found was actually so important that there was an immediate cessation of ground works and the by-pass would have to be permanently re-routed.

     The find centred on a campsite, dated at 10,000 BCE, which would have been based on the shores of a long lost lake. So far over 600 artefacts have been unearthed, ranging from stone tools to arrow heads and a fire pit.

     One of the First Nation tribes of this area of New Brunswick was the Maliseet and several members of the archaeological team were members of that tribe, including Shawna Goodall, who is quoted as saying "These are my ancestors. And just to be able to be the first one to hold things in 13,000 years - I get goose bumps every timer, (from) every single artefact. That never ores away, that feeling".

     The other exciting part of the find is that it provides a missing link. Team Leader, Brent Suttie, is quoted as saying "We have a few sites down in the Pennfield area and then we have very famous sites in Debert, Nova Scotia that dates to 11,600 years old. We don't have anything between those two sites. This site just happens to fall within that".

Edited from CBC News, CTV News, Global News (23 June 2016)

New insight into the construction of Stonehenge
A recent discovery of a Y-shaped wooden sledge at a megalithic site in Japan has lead a team of students from the Institute of Archaeology at London University's University College (UCL), to re-think how the Stonehenge stones were transported to the site.

     Previous ideas had centred on the impractical use of tree trunks as rollers. Experiments using these failed badly as, unless the trunks were exactly the same diameter as each other and perfectly round, the immense weight of the stones rolling over them would either crush them or push them into the ground.

     This new technique uses static 'rollers' with a smooth, low friction wooden sled being pulled over them. The experiment involved a slab of stone weighing a mere 1 ton and a team of 10 managed to pull it easily, at a steady speed of 1.6 km/hour. This lead to the belief that the 2 ton bluestones from the Preseli Hills in West Wales could have been transported in this way.

     It was not possible to confirm if the same technique could have been used for the much larger (32 ton) sarsen stones, albeit the journey would have been much shorter. Even the organisers were surprised with the ease with which the experiment worked.

     Event organiser, Barney Harris, from the Institute of Archaeology, is quoted as saying "All we can really tell from experiments like this is the minimum number of people involved. My preliminary calculations led me to believe it would take slightly more people. In the event, what I thought would take 15 people, at a minimum, actually needed only 10 people".

     More experimentation, over a variety of surfaces (this experiment was conducted over the smooth manicured grass of Gordon Square, adjacent to UCL) before a more accurate, revised estimate of the construction period for Stonehenge can be made

Edited from Live Science (17 June 2016)

Evidence uncovered of a thriving community in the Gobi desert
he Gobi desert is a vast area of 1,295,000 square kilometres, spread across northern China and Mongolia. It is an inhospitable, barren area, home only to hardy nomadic tribes who can withstand the harsh extremes of -43° C to +38° C. However, 40,000 years ago it painted a totally different picture, home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, interspersed with large lakes, which have long ago dried up under desertification. This period coincide with the Pleistocene and early Holocene occupation of the region.

     A team of archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology, University of Wroclaw (Poland), has been conduction research across the southern end of the Gobi with amazing results. Not only have they found large, stone covered Iron Age tombs but also a variety of stone tools and a group of several items made of jasper, on what would have been a lookout point on one of the mountains.
     Professor Szykulski, leader of the project, is quoted as saying "The accumulation of certainly valuable material in one place proves that it had great importance for the inhabitants of the region. Perhaps the discovery is related to a rite".

     The aim of the project is to chart pre-history for this semi-arid area, between the Altai Mountains and the Gobi desert. Restricting the area to this region reduces the area to be covered but even so it stretches to a vast 50,000 square kilometres.

Edited from Science & Scholarship in Poland (10 June 2016)

Researchers from the University of Oxford have revealed that the genetic ancestries of many of sub-Saharan Africa's populations are the result of historical DNA mixing events within the last 4000 years.

     Lead author George Busby, Statistical Geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, says: "As Africa has few written records of its history, it is somewhat unknown what important movements of people generated the populations in the continent today. Looking at and comparing the differences in the genomes of people alive today can help us better understand and reconstruct the historical interactions that brought their ancestors together."

     The team used DNA analysis to characterise the structure of genetic diversity and gene flow - the transfer of genes between different populations - in a collection of 48 sub-Saharan African groups. They discovered that most sub-Saharan populations share ancestry with groups from outside their current geographic region as a result of gene flow within the last 4000 years.

     Dr Busby explains: "Our research provides further genetic evidence that the spread of Bantu languages and agricultural technology from Central West Africa, known as the Bantu expansion, was likely to be accompanied by people who moved from Cameroon to the south and east within the last 2500 years. Additionally, we revealed that coastal populations in western, eastern, and southern Africa experienced small influxes of Eurasian genes as a result of different events over the last 3000 years. These findings show that groups from similar parts of Africa experienced admixture events at similar times and involving similar sources, suggesting that genetic variation in these areas of the continent has been shaped by shared historical events. It is also clear that our ancestors have always moved about and traces of these migrations are left in the DNA of people alive today."

Edited from PhysOrg (21 June 2016)

Livestock enclosures dating back over 6,000 years to the Ancient Neolithic have previously been documented at other sites on Spain's Sierra de Cantabria, about 300 kilometres north-northeast of Madrid, and around 100 kilometres south of the Bay of Biscay. A new study by the same team looks at ancient activities inside these shelters during the Copper Age, about 5,000 years ago.

     Ana Polo-Diaz, a researcher at the University of the Basque Country explains: "This is a piece of pioneering work in the studies on agro-pastoral communities on the Iberian Peninsula. We have evidence that the human groups that occupied San Cristobal during the Chacolithic used the shelter as a pen for goats and/or sheep and that this use, although repetitive throughout hundreds of years, was not ongoing but of a temporary nature linked to a seasonal exploitation of the rich natural resources available on the Sierra de Cantabria. We also know thanks to the microscopic study of the sediments that every now and again they used to burn the debris that had built up, probably to clean up the space that had been occupied and that this combustion process was carried out in line with some specific habits: they used to pile up the debris and on top of them pile up woody remains, perhaps to help to get the fire going before going on to burn the debris."

     Analyses of micro-sediments and mineral remains of the skeleton of plants makes it possible to determine the grazing available around the shelter. Pollen reveals that a forest grew in the immediate surroundings of San Cristobal during the period, in which hazelnut trees predominated along with deciduous oaks, and grazing areas and farmland fairly close to the shelter.

     Charcoal remains indicate a clear change in the selection of woody materials: during the oldest phase a predominance of pine followed by yew, in the latter phase increased use of species such as oak, holm oak, the rose family, and box.

     Correlating data with that from neighbouring sites and the immediate area reveals that San Cristobal was part of a network of shelters and enclosures, and the people were very likely the same ones using the dolmens of the Rioja Alavesa region.

Edited from Popular Archaeology (9 June 2016)

The earliest evidence of domesticated rice has been found in China, and it's about 9,000 years old.

     Working with three researchers from the Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Zhejiang Province, China, anthropological archaeologist and University of Toronto Mississauga professor Gary Crawford found the ancient domesticated rice fragments in a probable ditch in the lower Yangtze valley, south and southwest of Shanghai. The remains document an early stage of rice domestication and the ecological setting in which early cultivation was taking place. The rice plant remains also had characteristics of japonica rice, the short grain rice used in sushi that today is cultivated in Japan and Korea - the first confirmation that it grew in this region of China.

 Archaeological evidence for the initial steps leading to domesticated rice in China is elusive.

     Crawford and his colleagues spent about three years exploring the five-hectare site, called Huxi, situated in a flat basin about 100 metres above sea level. Digging 1.5 metres below the ground, the team also unearthed sophisticated pottery and stone tools, as well as animal bones, charcoal and other plant seeds.

     This study builds on Crawford's previous research into early agriculture in China, in which he examines ancient settlements, tools, and plant and animal management efforts in different regions of the country, to better understand the transition from hunters and gatherers to farmers.

     "The question I ultimately want to answer is, what pushed them to move wholeheartedly into the farming regime? Why did they reduce their emphasis on hunting and expand into crop production?" Crawford says. "People did what they needed to do to make their lives more manageable and sustainable, and the unintended consequence was farming. With this rice discovery, we're seeing the first stages of that shift."

Edited from EurekAlert!, PhysOrg (22 June 2016), Nature (21 June 2016)

Paintings at Laas Geel in the self-declared state of Somaliland retain their fresh brilliance some 5,000 years or more after Neolithic artists swirled red and white colour on the cliffs of northern Somalia, painting antelopes, cattle, giraffes and hunters carrying bows and arrows.

     Abdisalam Shabelleh, site manager from Somaliland's Ministry of Tourism, says: "These paintings are unique. This style cannot be found anywhere in Africa." Then he points to a corner, where the paint fades and peels off the rocks. "If nothing is done now, in 20 years it could all have disappeared."

     Amazed by the remarkable condition of the paintings as well as their previously unknown style, Xavier Gutherz, the former head of the French archaeology team that discovered the site in 2002, asked for the cave's listing as a Unesco world heritage site, but that was refused because Somaliland is not recognised as a separate nation. "Only state parties to the World Heritage Convention can nominate sites for World Heritage status," said a Unesco spokesperson. Requests for funding from donor countries face the same legal and diplomatic headache.

     The cave paintings have become one of the main attractions for visitors to Somaliland. Around a thousand visitors each year endure rugged terrain with armed escorts to reach Laas Geel, and numbers are growing.

     Archaeologists say that Laas Geel may only be one of many treasures awaiting discovery in the vast rocky plains stretching towards the tip of the Horn of Africa.

Edited from Mail Online, News24 (26 June 2016)

Perfectly preserved images of humans, a bull, trees and birds - more than 20 petroglyphs found by accident years ago in a remote part of the Trans-Baikal region. Most intriguing is a human-like figure near a circle with a cross inside it. Experts kept the discovery secret for three years while they returned to study these drawings along Largi River near the village of Gorbitsa, not far from the northernmost border of China. The precise location is still not disclosed.

     Dr Sergei Alkin, from Novosibirsk University, was the first academic to closely examine the rocks, where paintings were made with red and orange ochre, an earthy pigment containing iron oxide.

     Dr Alkin says the site is rare. "It is large and contains many images, while generally on the rocks in this area show between one and three poorly preserved drawings."

Preliminary dating suggests the find is around 4,000 years old.

     "The rock art is not just paintings or engravings," Dr Alkin said. "They are associated with the rituals and ceremonies. Usually at the site under the images are the altars, there are various tools, and arrowheads. Today this place is remote and scarcely populated, but in the times when Largi rock art was created it was relatively well inhabited. In addition, we want to explore the neighbourhood in search of other petroglyphs."

     The artists are likely to have been people of Tungus or Mongolian origins. Scientists hope analysis of the composition of the ochre will help locate the source of the raw material.

Edited from The Siberian Times (20 June 2016)

A 6,500-year-old grave of a man holding in his hands a stone axe sceptre has been found by archaeologists excavating a recently discovered Copper Age necropolis in northeast Bulgaria.

     A total of seven graves were found in the necropolis of Kamenovo when it was first discovered in September 2015, however these were all graves of women and children. The newly discovered grave is the first male grave to be found there.

     The newly found grave of the male who was buried holding a stone axe dates to 4,500-4,300 BCE. Inside the grave, archaeologists also found a bead from a Mediterranean seashell. Seashell beads were also found in some of the graves discovered in 2015.

     Head archaeologist Yavor Boyadzhiev has explained that the male grave has been found in a shallow layer, almost right under the modern-day surface in the yard of a former elementary school.

     The man was buried in a fetal position, lying on his left side, holding the stone axe in his hands, with his body oriented in an east-west direction. Boyadzhiev says the bodies of women and children discovered so far were buried in a similar way, and some of the graves were organised in rows.

     Boyadzhiev says that, while the sex of the person in the newly found grave is not yet confirmed, it seems certain that he was a male because of the stone axe sceptre found in his hands: all 15 similar prehistoric stone axe sceptres to have ever been discovered in Bulgaria have been found in male graves. There are no traces that the stone axe was ever used. Its purpose was likely symbolic.

     Shortly before finding the necropolis, the same archaeological team discovered a 6,500-year-old workshop for flint tools. The team plans to continue researching the workshop, which they believe began operating in the early Copper Age, around 4,800 BCE, within a settlement. The people extracted flint from nearby deposits, processed it, and distributed the tools they produced all over the southern Balkan Peninsula.

Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (14 June 2016)

Astronomers are exploring what might be described as the first astronomical observing tool, potentially used by prehistoric humans 6,000 years ago. They suggest that the long, narrow entrance passages to megalithic tombs may have enhanced what early human cultures could see in the night sky. A team of researchers has presented this study at the National Astronomy Meeting, in Nottingham (England).

     The team's idea is to investigate how a simple aperture, for example an opening or doorway, affects the observation of slightly fainter stars. They focus this study on passage graves, which are a type of megalithic tomb composed of a chamber of large interlocking stones and a long narrow entrance. These spaces are thought to have been sacred, and the sites may have been used for rites of passage, where the initiate would spend the night inside the tomb, with no natural light apart from that shining down the narrow entrance.

     These structures could therefore have been the first astronomical tools to support the watching of the skies, millennia before telescopes were invented. Kieran Simcox, a student at Nottingham Trent University, and leading the project, comments: "It is quite a surprise that no one has thoroughly investigated how for example the colour of the night sky impacts on what can be seen with the naked eye."

     The project targets how the human eye, without the aid of any telescopic device, can see stars given sky brightness and colour. The team applied these ideas to the case of passage graves, such as the 6,000 year old Seven-Stone Antas in central Portugal. Dr Fabio Silva, of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, explains that, "the orientations of the tombs may be in alignment with Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus. To accurately time the first appearance of this star in the season, it is vital to be able to detect stars during twilight."

     The first sighting in the year of a star after its long absence from the night sky might have been used as a seasonal marker. The timing of this could have been seen as secret knowledge or foresight, only obtained after a night spent in the depths of a passage grave, since the star may not have been observable from outside. However, the team suggest it could actually have been the result of the ability of the human eye to spot stars in such twilight conditions, given the small entrance passages of the tombs.

Edited from Royal Astronomical Society, NAM2016 (30 June 2016)

No game was too big to hunt for Stone Age man
A team of researchers from Tel Aviv University (Israel) have been conducting research into the consumption and possible hunting of prehistoric elephants by Palaeolithic dwellers. They studied evidence from sites across the world, ranging from the Republic of Djibouti in Africa, Valencia in Spain, the Dead Sea Rift Valley and as far east as Russia.

     To understand the scale of the logistics behind hunting and slaying an elephant we must bear in mind that the head alone, of a modern day African elephant weighs in excess of 400kg. The extinct elephant roaming the planet in the Pleistocene era was approximately twice this size.

     The head of an elephant is actually exceptional nutritious, taking together its constituent parts of brain, tongue ears and trunk, providing the correct balance required of meat and fat. There is even evidence in the Bolonar Cave in Valencia of the skull and jaw bone being crushed to extract the marrowbone.

     Great cooperation was needed, not only to kill the animal but also to transport the heads back to their campsites. One site, at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov in the Dead Sea Rift valley, had evidence of the remains of 154 elephants. The leaders of the team, Aviad Agam and Ran Barkai are quoted as saying "The repeated evidence of transportation of elephants' head parts to residential sites indicates it was chosen to be transported back."

Edited from BBC News (22 June 2016)

As part of the discovery of the Dinaledi chamber and the Rising Star Cave in the Malmani dolomites, part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in South Africa, Professor Lee Berger's team was faced with a challenge. The opening to the cave containing the 1500 Homo Naledi fossils was only 18 centimetres and lead into a 12-metre vertical chute. This led to Professor Berger to call for skinny underground astronauts to help traverse the cave.

     Using aerial drone photography, high-resolution 3D as well as other techniques, the all-female team was able to map the cave entirely and make real time descisions concerning the excavations. Kruger stated that: "This is the first time ever, where multiple digital data imaging collection has been used on such a scale, during a hominin excavation," adding that "These methods provided researchers with a digital representation of the site from landscape level right down to individual bones."

     Ashley Kruger, a PhD candidate in Palaeoanthropology at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits, used the mapping technologies on site, stating, "These methods provided researchers with a digital representation of the site from landscape level right down to individual bones," says Kruger.

     Homo naledi is an extinct species of hominin, assigned by the anthropologists to the genus Homo, found the Rising Star Cave by recreational cavers Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker in 2013.

     Kruger's publication has already come out in the South African Journal of Science, with a number of papers planned for publishing. The research will continue on site, hoping to answer the question of how the site was formed, if anything can be gained from fossil positioning, as well as answer how the bodies came to the cave.

Edited from Past Horizons (3 June 2016)

In Europe, the oldest boat ever discovered is a 10,000 year-old dugout canoe from the Netherlands.

The oldest plank-built vessels in the region are Bronze Age boats found at Dover and in Yorkshire, dated to between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago. At Bouldnor Cliff, 11 metres underwater off the northwest shore of the Isle of Wight in the south of England, Garry Momber and the Maritime Archaeology Trust have found something up to twice that age.

     In 2005, at the bottom of a 7-metre high underwater cliff, Garry saw something. "Among the branches of an old tree was a collection of coloured flints, some of which had been superheated."

     Two years later the team had enough money to investigate further. Their 2 by 3 metre excavation revealed charcoal, flint tools, wood chippings, well-crafted functional items, and dozens of pieces of well-preserved timbers. Most of the timbers were oak, still in position where they had fallen over 8,000 years ago. Some had been shaped and trimmed, while others had been charred to make them easier to work.

     One piece, just under 1 meter long and about 8,100 years old, had been split - a technique which doesn't appear elsewhere in the British archaeological record for another 2,500 years, when it was used during the Bronze Age to build deeper log boats, by removing 1/4 of the tree and hollowing out the remaining 3/4.

     When it was felled, the tree would have been a couple of metres wide and several tens of metres high.

     The team also found a scalloped out end-piece, timbers that formed the end of the structure, and cord which would have united the various elements. Taken together, these would make Bouldnor Cliff the oldest known boat-building site in the world. "The trouble is we still need more evidence to be 100% certain," says Garry.

     Garry and his team will return to the site in June. You can follow their progress at DigVentures on Facebook, and TheDigVenturers on Twitter.

Edited from DigVentures (2 June 2016)

Scientists from the India Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, and the Archaeological Survey of India, have uncovered evidence that the Indus Valley Civilisation is at least 8,000 years old, and that pre-Harappan civilisation existed for at least 1,000 years before this. They also believe climate change ended the civilisation about 3,000 years ago.

     Anindya Sarkar, head of the department of geology and geophysics at IIT-Kharagpur, says: "We have recovered perhaps the oldest pottery from the civilisation. We used a technique called 'optically stimulated luminescence' to date pottery shards of the Early Mature Harappan time to nearly 6,000 years ago and the cultural levels of pre-Harappan Hakra phase as far back as 8,000 years."

     The team's excavations at an unexplored site - Bhirrana - also yielded large quantities of animal remains like bones, teeth, and horn cores of cow, goat, deer and antelope.

     The researchers believe that the Indus Valley Civilisation spread over a vast expanse of the sub-continent. While earlier phases were represented by pastoral and village farming communities, and mature Harappan settlements were highly urbanised with organised cities, a developed material and craft culture, and regular trade with Arabia and Mesopotamia, the Late Harappan phase is characterised by large-scale de-urbanisation, drop in population, abandonment of established settlements, lack of basic amenities, violence, and even the disappearance of the Harappan script.

     The study shows that the pre-Harappan humans started inhabiting this area in a climate favourable for settlement and agriculture.

     "The monsoon was much stronger between 9000 years and 7000 years ago, and probably fed these rivers making them mightier with vast floodplains," explains Arati Deshpande Mukherjee of Deccan College, which helped analyse the finds.

     The researchers say that, with the declining monsoon, the Indus Valley people shifted their crop patterns from large-grained cereals like wheat and barley to drought-resistant species like rice. As the yield diminished, the organised storage system of the Mature Harappan period gave way to more individual household-based crop processing and storage systems, acting as a catalyst for the gradual decline of the civilisation rather than any abrupt collapse.

Edited from Times of India (29 May 2016)

Spanish archaeologists say they have discovered an exceptional set of Palaeolithic cave drawings that could rank among the best in a country which already boasts some of the world's most important cave art.

     Chief site archaeologist Diego Garate says that an estimated 70 drawings were found on ledges 300 meters underground in the Atxurra cave in the northern Basque region, describing the site as being among the top 10 in Europe. The engravings and paintings feature horses, buffalo, goats, and deer, dating to between 12,500 and 14,500 years ago.

     Garate says access to the area is so difficult and dangerous that it is unlikely to be open to the public.

     The cave was discovered in 1929 and first explored in 1934-35, but it was not until 2014 that Garate and his team resumed their investigations and the drawings were found.

     "No one expected a discovery of this magnitude," said Jose Yravedra, a prehistory professor at Madrid's Complutense University. "There a lot of caves with drawings but very few have this much art and this much variety and quality."

     Garate says one buffalo drawing depicts what must be the most hunting lances of any in Europe. Most have four or five lances but this has almost 20.

     Yravedra says that, given the cave's hidden location and the number, variety, and quality of its drawings, the site was being classified as a "sanctuary," or special Palaeolithic meeting ritual place, like those at Altamira in Spain, or Lascaux in France.

     Regional officials hope to set up a 3-D display of the art so that the public can appreciate it.

Edited from (27 May 2016)
A team of researchers, headed up by the Tel Aviv University (Israel), has recently been studying animal remains fund in a cave known as the Qesem Cave, located 12 km from Tel Aviv.

     Human occupation of the cave was first identified in 2010 and is recorded as having started approximately 400,000 years ago and covered a span of 200,000 years. Whilst it is widely known that early humans captured, cooked and ate large game (in addition to a vegetarian diet), the discovery made by the team indicates that turtles also formed a significant part of their diet. Whilst not being as nutritious as larger game, the turtles nevertheless provided substantial calorific value, enough to warrant the time and effort needed in their capture, transport and preparation.

     Studies of the remains found indicate that there were two main ways of cooking these heavily armoured creatures, either by roasting whole within the shell or by splitting the shell open with flint tools and roasting the flesh on its own. As turtle remains were found at most levels throughout the cave it is thought that they must have been part of the diet throughout the 200,000-year human occupation.

     Doctor Ruth Blasco, a leading member of the team, is quoted as saying "In some cases in history, we know that slow-moving animals like tortoises were used as preserved or canned food. Maybe the inhabitants of Qesem were simply maximising their local resource. In any case, this discovery adds an important new dimension to the knowhow, capabilities and perhaps taste preferences of these people"

Edited from EurekAlert! (1 February 2016)

A team of archaeologists from the University of Colorado at Boulder (USA) have been investigating one of the reasons why the giant flightless ancestor of the Emu may have been driven to extinction. The bird in question is the Genyornis newtoni, which grew to over 2 metres high an d weighed between 220 and 240 kilogrammes.

     It roamed the Australian continent 50,000 years ago, at a time when it is believed that the early humans arrived. It would appear that these early humans had developed a taste for the unfortunate bird's eggs, thus playing a significant part in their decline by restricting their reproduction.

     The evidence for this claim was found in the analysis of burnt eggshell fragments. First the eggs were dated using optical stimulated luminescence dating technique, which was corroborated by radiocarbon dating. Then the burnt sections were analysed by studying the amino acid decomposition, which proved that the burning could not have been caused by natural wildfire, but was more concentrated and deliberate.

     Professor Gifford Miller, Associate Director at Colorado University, is quoted as saying "We consider this the first and only secure evidence that humans were directly praying on now-extinct Australian megafauna. We have documented these characteristically burned Genyornis eggshells at more than 200 sites across the continent".

Edited from Popular Archaeology (29 January 2016)

Archaeology in the United States of America is sometimes conducted in an unusual way. In this instance the archaeologists were working for a commercial organisation known as Logan Simpson who, in addition to specialising in landscape architecture and environmental services, also employ cultural resource consultants who carry out what they call, Historic Archaeology.

     Using a technique known as Predictive Modelling they identified an area in Southern Nevada (known as the Great Basin) which was found to house 19 separate sites from the Paleoarchaic Period, which stretched from 10,000 BCE to 5,000 BCE, marking the transition from Pleistocene to Holocene Eras. By studying already known sites from this period they predicted where others might be found.

     Previous usage of this technique resulted in uncovering previous unknown human settlements in Wyoming. Predictive Modelling utilises statistical data to predict outcomes and has been successfully deployed to detect crimes and identify the criminals, as well as many other fields, although there have been some spectacular failures in the financial sector, particularly in 2008.

     Jesse Adams, the archaeological team leader for Logan Simpson, is quoted as saying "The Pleistocene-Holocene Transition is a fascinating, yet under represented, time period in the Great Basin. Through the creation, and later revision, of a predictive model using GIS technology, we are able to successfully identify archaeological sites from this time period on the landscape."

Edited from Western Digs (25 January 2016)

Heritage experts will examine the complex role of Old Oswestry's landscape through the ages at a forthcoming seminar dedicated to one of Britain's most spectacular and impressive early Iron Age hill forts in the Welsh Marches near Oswestry in north west Shropshire.

     Entitled 'A Wider Understanding of Old Oswestry and its Setting', this is the second seminar organised by campaign group HOOOH as it continues to fight development targeting the hillfort's ancient landscape. Speakers include hillfort and prehistory specialist, Dr Rachel Pope of the University of Liverpool, who will make the case that the setting of hillforts should now be recognised as a heritage protection concern.

     Prehistoric finds in North Shropshire, as reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), are the focus of Peter Reavill's presentation as he discusses what they reveal of the County's wider archaeological landscape. Hillfort researcher, David Matthews, will provide analysis of the intervisible links and tribal connections between Old Oswestry and the hillforts of the Northern Marches. Heritage planning expert, Tim Malim, will examine how location, ancient routes and trading links helped define the importance of Old Oswestry in the Medieval period. Folktales and legends of the landscape come under the scrutiny of archaeologist, Caroline Malim, as she asks whether archaeology can unlock the truth or fiction behind them.

     Free to attend, the day-long seminar takes place on February 13 from 10am to 4.15pm in Oswestry's Memorial Hall in Smithfield Street. It forms the keynote to a weekend of activities devoted to Old Oswestry running February 13 and 14, culminating with a hillfort hug on Valentine's Sunday. Space is limited, so pre-registration is essential at

Source: HOOOH PR (1 February 2016)

Genetic relationships between human groups were first studied by comparing populations - an approach having problems of resolution and dating, but results were largely consistent with an African ancestry for anatomically modern humans (AMH). Following specific lineages rather than populations has since revealed a detailed geography of migrations, revolutionising our knowledge of the peopling of the world, giving stronger proof of the recent near replacement of all human species by AMH.

     Africa is the most likely geographical origin for a modern human dispersal. The basic questions are how many founding exits of AMH can be seen in the fossil or archaeological record, which of these are evidenced genetically, which routes were taken, and when, how, and why.

     There is growing consensus for a single southern dispersal of AMH via the mouth of the Red Sea, around the coasts of the Indian Ocean - initially to Bali, but ultimately to Melanesia and Australia, and to the Americas.

     Although evidence for a single successful ex-African AMH lineage is clear, the scenario is surprising and counterintuitive. In the absence of severe drift, a single exit group would be expected to involve multiple founder lineages spreading to different Eurasian locations.

     A single successful African exit for AMH has several implications. The simplest but most important is that the number of possible subsequent routes decreased. Whichever route was taken initially, the model has to explain how both Europe and Asia could have been colonised from the same single exit group.

     There are genetic reasons for identifying the southern route across the mouth of the Red Sea as the most likely. Dated archaeological evidence for the exit is lacking, because sea-level rise has drowned most coastal remains. Much of the relevant datable evidence lies either in on the Indian subcontinent, or on the eastern side of the Indian Ocean. The first archaeological evidence of occupation of the island of New Guinea has been radiocarbon dated to 49,000 BP.

Edited from Philospohical Transaction of The Royal Society (6 February 2012)

In the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia, large sandstone outcrops diverted the flow of sand, allowing lakes and marshes to form several times in the past, and evidence has been found for repeated human occupations extending back hundreds of thousands of years.

     The Arabian Peninsula saw some of the earliest human migrations, yet until just five years ago not a single Palaeolithic site had been excavated or dated. Recent excavations in the United Arab Emirates and Yemen have confirmed early human occupations, yet most of the Peninsula remains almost unknown.

     Ancient lakes provide significant evidence for environmental change in Saudi Arabia. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these lakes. By analysing sediments and associated materials such as fossils, we can draw a detailed picture of the local climate. Few other places on earth saw such dramatic changes, but we have yet to see whether early humans took advantage of broad windows of opportunity in the Early Pleistocene and the earlier part of the Middle Pleistocene.

     In Africa, Homo erectus began to produce hand axes about 1.8 million years ago, in the Acheulean period. In Arabia hand axes are often found at the source of the raw material and adjacent to ancient lakes. The abundance of Late Acheulean material suggests that relatively dense occupations occurred in the later interglacials of the Middle Pleistocene.

     In the East Mediterranean Levant, the transition from the Lower to the Middle Palaeolithic occurs about 250,000 years ago, with an abrupt change in material culture often attributed to population replacement. Though this transition occurs at different times around the world, research in Saudi Arabia suggests that in the north the change happens at the same time as in the Levant. We see significant technological innovations, a shift from handheld tools to hafted tools, and a substantial increase in imported raw materials. However it appears that Middle Palaeolithic occupations were as short-lived as those of earlier periods. In the Middle Palaeolithic (circa 250,000 to 40,000 years ago) there is considerably greater variation in stone-tool technologies.

     The early phases of the Middle Palaeolithic remain poorly understood. The era between about 130,000 to 75,000 years ago has produced a far larger body of finds in Arabia. This is the period when we see evidence for the earliest expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into the Levant, generally regarded as a failed dispersal.

     No archaeological sites are currently known for the period of around 70,000-60,000 years ago. The next wave of human occupation occurred about 60,000 to 55,000 years ago, still associated with a Middle Palaeolithic technology broadly similar to tools produced at this time by Neanderthals in the Levant. The youngest known Middle Palaeolithic assemblages in Arabia, dating to around 40,000 years ago, are found in the United Arab Emirates. There is then a complete absence of human occupation across the Peninsula until the transition to the Holocene, about 12,000 years ago.

     Major debate surrounds the process by which the Neolithic way of life developed in Arabia: was it imported from the Levant, or of indigenous origin? Evidence from stone tools and rock art which date to the earliest phases of this period suggest a bit of both - not simple population dispersal, but rather of some form of cultural diffusion.

     At the remarkable site of Shuwaymis, 'Neolithic' rock art reflects at least two phases. The first is associated with hunter-gatherers, often showing horses, hunting dogs, and human figures with bows. The second shows cattle, but no hunting scenes, and the pastoralists selectively re-engraved some of the earlier hunter-gatherer images. For example, humans were sometimes re-engraved, but the bow and arrows they were holding were not. Along with findings from southern Arabia, this suggests both continuity and change: Arabia was not simply an empty space into which people moved.

Edited from (January 2016)

Archaeologists say they have uncovered Britain's 'Pompeii' after discovering the best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in the country. The circular wooden houses, built on stilts, form part of a settlement at Must Farm quarry, in Cambridgeshire (England), and date to about 1000-800 BCE. A fire destroyed the posts, causing the houses to fall into a river where silt helped preserve the contents. Pots with meals still inside have been found at the site.

     An earlier test trench at the site, near Whittlesey, revealed small cups, bowls and jars. In addition, archaeologists said 'exotic' glass beads that formed part of a necklace "hinted at a sophistication not usually associated with the Bronze Age". Textiles made from plant fibres such as lime tree bark have also been unearthed. However, the roundhouses themselves are now being excavated.

     Archaeologists think they have found about five houses but are not yet certain. The work to uncover the settlement is necessary because there are concerns the water level at the site could fall some time in the future, meaning the remains of the houses cannot be preserved in situ.

     Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, described the settlement and contents as "an extraordinary time capsule". He added: "A dramatic fire 3,000 years ago, combined with subsequent waterlogged preservation, has left to us a frozen moment in time, which gives us a graphic picture of life in the Bronze Age."

     David Gibson, from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which is leading the excavation, said: "So much has been preserved, we can actually see everyday life during the Bronze Age in the round. It's prehistoric archaeology in 3D, with an unsurpassed finds assemblage both in terms of range and quantity."

     Well-preserved charred roof timbers of one of the roundhouses are clearly visible, together with timbers showing tool marks and a perimeter of wooden posts known as a palisade, which once enclosed the site. Archaeologists digging 2m (6ft) below the modern surface at the quarry also found preserved footprints, believed to be from people who once lived there.

     While a number of Bronze Age settlements have been found in the UK, Mr Gibson said none had been as well-preserved as the Must Farm site. "Most don't have any timber remaining, just post-holes and marks where posts would have been," he said. "So far this is unique as we have the roof structure as well."

Edited from BBC News (12 January 2016)

The 2,500 year old footprints of some ancient farmers and their children and dogs have been found perfectly preserved north of Tucson, Arizona (USA), roughly 800 kilometres east-southeast of Los Angeles. Dozens of prints depict the movements of several adults and at least one child, as they tended their crops and irrigation ditches. They are likely the oldest human tracks yet found in the North American Southwest.

     The barefoot tracks are distinct enough that the movements of specific individuals can be followed across the 15-square-meter field. The tracks were preserved by a sudden flood from a nearby creek soon after the prints were made, covering them in mica-rich sandy sediment, forming a kind of mineralised cast.

     The fields appear to date to the Early Agricultural Period, a span between about 2500 BCE and 50 CE when some of the Southwest's first farmers began cultivating crops.

     The fields, the shallow ditches around them, and even the small depressions where archaic farmers placed individual plants of corn and other crops may stretch far and wide throughout the area, says Jerome Hesse, project manager for SWCA Environmental Consultants, which is conducting the study, "So we've excavated a number of these planting depressions and will run samples for pollen and phytoliths to get a sense of what was being grown."

     The nonprofit 'Archaeology Southwest' is conducting 3-D photo scans of the site to create a digital model, and some of the prints have been cast with synthetic moulds, while others have been extracted completely to be sent to nearby museums. The site lies in the path of road construction.

Edited from Western Digs (21 January 2016)

Three years of work has gone into creating a true-to-life replica of renowned Stone Age cave paintings in southwestern France, and the 46 segments are ready to be transported and installed in a hillside near the original site in Montignac, in the Dordogne, about 500 kilometres south-southwest of Paris. The International Centre of Parital Art, 150 metres long and 9 metres high, will open by the end of the year.

     The original cave, discovered in 1940 and closed to the public since 1963, contains nearly 2,000 Upper Palaeolithic wall paintings depicting rhinos, horses, bison, deer and panthers - Europe's most important collection of prehistoric art, by the oldest known modern humans, who came to Europe from Africa via Asia.

     A limited set of reproductions have been on display since 1983. The 57 million-euro project to replicate the entire set unites technology with a desire for the utmost authenticity.

     Francis Ringenbach, the artistic director of the project and himself a sculptor, says the need to be as faithful as possible to the original slowed the team down. "Sometimes one has to spend hours reproducing just 10 square centimetres," he says.

     The artists benefitted from 3D digital scans of the original paintings that were projected onto the walls, creating a task akin to using tracing paper as they applied layer upon layer of natural pigments. Chief painter Gilles Lafleur said of the original works: "We try to understand them really, to understand how and why they were painted this way," but admits that "time has taken its toll and these animals don't look the way they would have when they were painted."

     Ringenbach says that where the smaller-scale original museum offered limited insight into the site's significance, "here, we reach a whole new level in terms of helping people to understand what Lascaux represents for science, the history of art, prehistory."

Edited from NDTV (19 January 2016)

The Neolithic people are thought to have introduced new burial rituals - including megalithic tombs, which were used over an extended period of time as sites for collective burials and ritual acts. Complex patterns of treating and reburying skeletal remains have been identified in some tombs.
     The analysis of the human remains from the strikingly situated 3 metre diameter tomb at Alto de Reinoso, 250 kilometres north of Madrid, represents the widest integrative study of a Neolithic collective burial in Spain - a good example of a non-megalithic barrow. Combining archaeology, osteology, molecular genetics, and stable isotope analysis, the study provides information on the number of individuals, as well as their age, sex, body height, diseases, injuries, mitochondrial DNA profiles, kinship relations, mobility, and diet.

     The grave was in use for approximately one hundred years around 3700 BCE - the Late Neolithic in Iberia. Findings suggest the tomb probably began as a burial chamber made of wood, mud, and other organic materials, which was later dismantled and converted to a monumental structure by erecting a stone mound over it.

     The uppermost Bronze Age layer, containing the remains of two individuals from around 1700 to 1500 BCE and disturbed by agricultural activity, is not included in the study. Beneath that, further bodies represented a different use of the tomb, with almost all of those skeletons missing bones, especially skulls. At the bottom, on natural bedrock, six complete and six partial skeletons lay in crouched positions.

     In total the Neolithic burials comprise at least 47 individuals - a surprisingly high density - including males, females, and adolescents, although children aged 0 to 6 years were under-represented. The remains exhibit a moderate number of pathologies, such as degenerative joint diseases, healed fractures, head injuries, and tooth decay.

     Mitochondrial DNA profiles reveal a closely related local community with matrilineal kinship. In some cases adjacent individuals in the bottom layer showed familial relationships. According to their strontium isotope ratios, only a few were likely to have spent their early childhood in a different geological environment - the majority grew up locally. Carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis indicate a homogeneous group with egalitarian access to food. Cereals and small ruminants - possibly sheep and goats - were the principal sources of nutrition: a lifestyle typical of sedentary farming populations in the Spanish plateau during this period of the Neolithic.

     Artefacts were not abundant, but include both personal adornments such as stone necklace beads and wild boar tusk pendants, as well as grave goods such as polished stone axes, flint blades and microliths, and bone scrapers. There was a distinct lack of pottery in megalithic tombs, at least during the earlier period of their use.

     The Neolithic tombs in Europe represent a particular type of collective burial. Communal use clearly illustrates the bond within a community where the individual is not at the forefront, in life or in death. It was not until the Copper and Bronze Ages that social differentiation increased, and individuals and groups came to the fore.

Edited from, Plos One (20 January 2016)

Two independent studies, both recently published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, have both confirmed the belief that interbreeding between two of our ancestors, namely Neanderthals and Denisovans, has directly contributed to improvements to our immune system but at the expense of increasing our susceptibility to allergies. The two studies were carried out by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) and the Institut Pasteur and the CNRS (Paris).

     The team from the Institut Pasteur studied data on modern humans, gleaned from the large amount of data provided by the 1000 Genomes Project (This was a worldwide project, started in 2008, to build up a catalogue of human genetic variation). They compared this data against the genetic makeup of Neanderthals and Denisovans, identifying where and when the genetic modifications occurred.

     The Max Planck team had concentrated on a study of the importance of inherited genes but identified exactly the same genes as the French team. Janet Kelso, from the Max Planck team, is quoted as saying "What has emerged from our study as well as from other work on introgression is that interbreeding with archaic humans does indeed have functional implications for modern humans and that the most obvious consequences have been in shaping our adaptation to our environment - improving how we resist pathogens and metabolize novel foods". She went on to add "Neanderthals, for example, had lived in Europe and Western Asia for around 200,000 years before the arrival of modern humans. They were likely well adapted to the local climate, foods and pathogens. By interbreeding with these archaic humans we modern humans gained these advantageous adaptations".

Edited from Popular Archaeology (7 January 2016)

A 7,000-year-old defensive wall from the Copper Age has been discovered at a prehistoric settlement mound near Hotnitsa, in north central Bulgaria. The palisade was made of wooden pillars 40 centimetres in diameter, and plastered with clay on both sides. The finished wall surrounding the 50 metre diameter settlement was about 80 centimetres wide, probably up to 3 metres tall, and maintained for 1,000 years.

     The settlement was inhabited from the 5th to 4th millennium BCE by people engaged in agriculture, cattle breeding, hunting and gathering. Discovered in 1955, its archaeological layers are 6 metres thick. It is known for the Hotnitsa Gold Treasure, from the same period as the gold treasure from the Varna Chalcolithic Necropolis on the Black Sea. One of the gold spirals found at Hotnitsa was more than a metre deeper than any from Varna, and could be the world's oldest gold.

     In a small pit under the floor of a burned home with well-preserved charred wood, the team found a hand mill, a ceramic vessel, and two flint artefacts. The pit was dug before the home was built. A pit previously discovered beneath a different home on this site yielded a collection of legs from goats, sheep, and pigs, placed in an anatomically correct order. A pit plastered into the floor of a home in another settlement held a model of a miniature vessel. A pit within a home in a third settlement contained a large vessel with ashes.

     Large finds from 2015 at Hotnitsa include a section of 6,400-year-old wooden floor, preserved by a flood. The boards fit perfectly together, supported by beams about one metre apart. Small finds comprise some 500 artefacts, mostly flint tools made from prime quality flint from northeast Bulgaria. Other tools include a bone dagger, a copper needle, stone claw hammers, awls, and arrow tips. Ceramic vessels, and ornaments made of bone or the shells of freshwater mollusks and snails were also found. Among the most interesting artefacts is a vertical loom for weaving.

     Truly remarkable is a 6,400-year-old ceramic vessel lid with a depiction of a male head with a large nose and a pointy chin. Signs shaped like butterflies, possibly tattoos, are visible on the man's cheeks. He wears a small cap represented with by dots. Archaeologist Alexander Chohadzhiev says: "This is a very rare find because the anatomical features of the face are presented in great detail. We have found other depictions of male heads with beards but the presence of a cap shows that this man enjoyed a more special status. In the past, we have found a similar lid in Petko Karavelovo - a male head with beard braids wearing the same kind cap but it was depicted with spirals, not dots.

     His team has also found two bone figurines with female human features, one of them 8.5 millimetres long and only 3 millimetres wide. Another new find is a miniature model of a ceramic vessel - the second of its kind found at Hotnitsa.

     Excavations first took place at Hotnitsa between 1956 and 1959. Finds included 20 perfectly aligned thatched roof one-room homes made with wooden poles plastered with mud, as well as ceramic vessels, and artefacts made of copper, bone, stone, and flint. In one home, archaeologists found 40 gold rings, and four thin gold plates with depictions of faces drawn with dots. In another were found a large quantity of prehistoric idols made of bone, not all of them finished. From 2000 to 2007, the northern half of the mound yielded 6 more homes and over 5,000 artefacts, including gold items, copper tools, and figurines of humans and animals.

     Some artefacts are interpreted as proving Hotnitsa had commercial ties with the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and north of the Danube.

     The settlement may have been destroyed in an invasion of nomadic tribes from the north, who, after 800 years of convergence with the local population gave rise to the highly developed civilisation of Ancient Thrace.

Edited from Archaeology in Bulgaria (21 January 2016)

The first log boats are thought to predate both pottery and agriculture by thousands of years. During the Bronze Age, which lasted from roughly 2000 BCE to 500 BCE in Northern Europe, log boats began to change. According to Ole Thirup Kastholm, of Denmark's Roskilde Museum, the changing designs reflect broader cultural transformations.

     Examining 110 log boats recovered from sites in Scandinavia, western Europe, Britain, and Ireland, Kastholm says that starting around 2000 BCE log boats from across this vast region begin to display similarities in design. Logs were carved to have slender, vertical sides and flat bottoms that made them more stable. Many were more than 10 metres long, and some were as long as 15 metres.
     Around the same time, plank boats begin to appear. Larger and more stable than log boats, they were mainly used for ocean voyages. Traditionally, archaeologists have considered Bronze Age plank boats an exclusively British design, but Kastholm thinks plank boat technology was likely more widespread. He says the similarities between log boats found throughout western and Northern Europe shows that there was a great deal of contact between people separated by vast distances.

     The plank boats and log boats being built in northern Europe were not the most advanced watercraft of their time. Greeks, Egyptians, and other cultures around the Mediterranean Sea used sailing ships. Sails wouldn't be used in Northern Europe until the Iron Age, during the 7th or 8th century CE.

     When sails did arrive in the north, instead of copying Mediterranean designs, early Scandinavian boat builders adapted their Bronze Age plank boats. Kastholm shows that Northern European Iron Age sailing ships used the same type of cleats to secure the planks to the boat frame as the earler Bronze Age plank boats. This counters the prevailing view that the Iron Age boats came from a completely different boat building tradition. If correct, this means the Northern European tradition that produced the Viking longships had its roots in the Bronze Age plank boats.

Edited from Hakai Magazine (20 January 2016)

A team of archaeologists from Iran's Research Institute for Cultural Heritage and Tourism has been carrying out extensive research in the Kavousiyeh hills in Tehran's suburbs. The area had not previously been investigated to any great degree, but has now been yielding up a plethora of Bronze Age and Iron Age artefacts.

     Tehran had remained a relatively small settlement until the late 18th century, when it was chosen to be the capital city. More recent expansion had started to threaten rare archaeological sites, including this one.

     The leader of the team, Maryam Molaei is quoted as saying "Kavousiyeh hills site has been added to the list of prehistoric sites with settlement during a research investigating land downdraft in Tehran; since then no serious archaeological investigation addressed the hills, effectively putting into abeyance valuable information imbedded in the hills strata. Our present research addresses this lack".

     She went on to say "In investigation of Kavousiyeh hills modern cutting-edge technology of drone-aided imaging robot has been used; aerial photogrammetry helped also preparation of a highly precise topographic map of the hills; we currently hope to see further investigation which would address the exact area of the settled hills during prehistory and draft a set of regulations to prevent the delimitation of the hills".

Edited from IRNA (11 January 2016)

Evidence is emerging that the origins of farming in Europe can be traced back to Anatolia in modern day Turkey. Occupation of the area stretches back to the Palaeolithic Era and it is also conjectured that the Indo-European language group also originated here.

     A group from the Archaeological Research Laboratory, Stockholm University (Sweden), has been studying the DNA of human remains found within the area known as Kumtepe, close to the site of Troy and also renowned for being the oldest permanent settlement in the area. Although the group has yet to publish their findings, the initial results are leading them to believe that this area was at the heart of the transition to farming.

     Team leader Jan Stora, associate professor in osteoarchaeology, is quoted as saying "It is complicated to work with material from this region, it is hot and the DNA is degrading. But if you want to understand how the process that led from a hunter gatherer society proceeding to a farming society, it is this material that we need to exhaust".

Edited from EurekaAlert! (4 January 2016)