Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Rare Mosaic from the Roman Period Discovered in Caesarea National Park

The mosaic was uncovered during an archaeological excavation that is part of the largest conservation and reconstruction project ever undertaken in Israel - with an investment of over 100 Million Shekels contributed by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation and the Caesarea Development Corporation

A rare and beautiful Roman mosaic from the 2nd-3rd centuries CE, bearing an inscription in ancient Greek, is being uncovered at the Caesarea National Park. The mosaic was excavated during work by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Caesarea Development Corporation throughout Caesarea National Park, in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The excavations, by the Israel Antiquities Authority, are part of reconstruction work on the impressive Crusaders-era entrance bridge to Caesarea. The project is part of the work on a promenade now under construction, led by the Caesarea De

velopment Corporation, which will extend from the town of Jisr a-Zarqa to Caesarea National Park. The dig uncovered part of a large, opulent building dating back 1,500 years to the Byzantine period. Scholars believe the building was part of an agora - large public area for commerce and socializing - a kind of ancient version of Tel Aviv's shopping complexes.

To the archaeologists' surprise, under the imposing Byzantine-era structure they found a spectacular mosaic from an even earlier building dating back about 1,800 years.

According to Dr. Peter Gendelman and Dr. Uzi 'Ad, directors of the excavation for the IsraelAntiquities Authority:  
"This colorful mosaic, measuring more than 3.5 x 8 meters, is of a rare high quality. It features three figures, multicolored geometric patterns and a long inscription in Greek, which were damaged by the Byzantine building constructed on top of it. The figures, all males, wear togas and apparently belonged to the upper class. The central figure is frontal and the two other face him on either side. Who are they? That depends on what the building was used for, which is not yet clear. If the mosaic was part of a mansion, the figures may have been the owners. If this was a public building, they might have represented the donors of the mosaic or members of the city council."

Jacques Nagar, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Art Conservation Department says that this rare mosaic was executed at a very high artistic level, of a type that can be found in places like Antioch in Turkey. The images were depicted using small, densely placed tesserae - with about 12,000 stones per square meter.

The Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Administration is now working to make sure that the exposed parts of the mosaic are preserved and will not disintegrate over time. The area of the bridge is also being re-planned to make the mosaic accessable to the public.

Guy Swersky, deputy and acting chairman of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation says:
 "Old Caesarea never stops surprising, fascinating and thrilling us, time after time revealing slices of history of worldwide significance. This amazing mosaic is a unique find in Israel. This is especially true considering where it was found - in the northern part of the park, in an area that has hardly been excavated. This is more testimony to the importance of the unprecedented conservation and reconstruction project made possible by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, headed by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild and his wife, Baroness Ariane de Rothschild. The foundation's enormous investment of over 100 million shekels enables expansion of intensive excavation to other areas in the Old City of Caesarea, and we are of course committed to continuing to unearth Caesarea's hidden treasures." 
According to Sabarsky:
 "Beyond the great historical and archaeological value of the new finds is their economic significance, in terms of upgrading the Israeli tourism product. The find adds even more momentum to the development that the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation has initiated and promotes in Caesarea and throughout the entire region."

Michael Karsenty, CEO of the Caesarea Development Corporation,said that the excavation, conservation and unique restoration work in Caesarea is carried out with strict attention to preserving the archeological, historical and natural elements at the site in all periods.

"In collaboration with our colleagues from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, we make sure to preserve every find in its natural place and are investing huge resources to make the site accessible to Israeli visitors and tourists from all over the world. Caesarea already provides one of the best and most exciting visitor experiences in the world, and as a result attracts more than 700,000 Israeli and foreign tourists every year. We are proud to note that Caesarea is one of the three most visited sites in Israel. But we have no intention of resting on our laurels. At the same time that we make possible the very intensive archeological work throughout the park, the Caesarea Development Corporation, together with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, is working to constantly upgrade infrastructure at the site, including the establishment of a spectacular archaeological park, an advanced visitor center, visitor amenities and a delightful promenade that will begin at the ancient aqueduct (Aqueduct Beach) and link up to the promenade along the walls of Caesarea's Old City."
According to Karsenty:
The impressive mosaic joins the many other important recently unearthed archaeological finds. Among these is the altar of the temple built by Herod 2,000 years ago and mentioned by the ancient historian Josephus Flavius; a mother-of-pearl tablet etched with a seven-branched candelabrum, as well as the statue of a ram, which was a symbol of Cristian congregation in the Byzantine period."

Israel Hasson, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority:
"I welcome the fruitful cooperation among all agencies responsible for the wonderful work in Caesarea. Work over the past few years will make this city's magnificent heritage accessible to an even broader public and will restore Caesarea to its glory days as a thriving and cosmopolitan port city, rewarding all visitors with a rich cultural experience.

Photos, Video & Aerial Footage Credits: Assaf Peretz, Yitzhak Marmelstein, EYECON,
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Significant Finds Uncovered in Excavations in Ein Hanniya Park in Rephaim Valley

A large and impressive system of pools from the Byzantine period (4th-6th centuries CE), a fragment of a capital typical of royal structures and estates in the First Temple period and a rare silver coin from the 4th century BCE, one of the most ancient ever found in the Jerusalem area, were found in excavations at Ein Hanniya.

These remarkable and significant finds were unearthed in Israel Antiquities Authority excavations at the site of Ein Hanniya between 2012 and 2016.  The park will open to the public in the coming months. The excavations, which were carried out as part of the establishment of the park, were financed by the Jerusalem Development Authority in cooperation with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, were headed by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists Irina Zilberbod and Yaakov Billig, under the direction of the Jerusalem district archaeologist, Dr. Yuval Baruch, and were accompanied by conservation and development work by the Israel Antiquities Authority's Conservation Administration.

According to Irina Zilberbod, the excavation director for the Israel Antiquities Authority: "The most significant finding in the excavation is a large and impressive pool from the Byzantine period. This pool was built in the center of a spacious complex at the foot of a church that once stood here. Roofed colonnades were built around the pool that gave access to residential wings."

According to Zilberbod: "It's difficult to know what the pool was used for - whether for irrigation, washing, landscaping or perhaps as part of baptismal ceremonies at the site." The pool's water drained through a network of channels to a magnificent and very special structure, the first of its kind known in Israel - a fountain (nymphaeon)."

Settlement in the area of Ein Hanniya apparently began at the time of the First Temple and perhaps even earlier. The most outstanding find from this period uncovered in the excavation is a fragment of a proto-Ionic capital - an artistic element typical of structures and estates of the kings of the First Temple period. The image of such a capital appears on the Israeli 5-shekel coin.

Similar capitals have been found in the City of David in Jerusalem, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, and at Ramat Rahel, where one of the palaces of the kings of Judah was found. Such capitals were also found in Samaria, Megiddo and Hazor, which were major cities in the Kingdom of Israel.


According to the archaeologists, the site at Ein Hanniya may have been a royal estate at the time of the First Temple. After the destruction of the First Temple, settlement
was renewed at the site in the form of an estate house that was inhabited by Jews.

The most significant find from this period is a rare silver coin, one of the most ancient so far discovered in the Jerusalem area - a drachma, minted in Ashdod by Greek rulers between 420 and 390 BCE.

The coins, pottery, glass, roof tiles and multicolored mosaic tesserae from the Byzantine period unearthed in the excavation attest to the fact that it was during this period (4th-6th centuries CE) that the site reached its zenith.

According to Jerusalem District Archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch: "We believe that some early Christian commentators identified Ein Hanniya as the site where the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized, as described in Acts 8:26-40. The baptism of the eunuch by St. Philip was one of the key events in the spread of Christianity. Therefore, identifying the place where it occurred occupied scholars for many generations and became a common motif in Christian art. It's no wonder that part of the site is still owned by Christians and is a focus of religious ceremonies, both for the Armenian Church (which owns the property) and the Ethiopian Church."

The Jerusalem Development Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Israel Antiquities Authority undertook conservation and development work at the site over the past few years. The result is an extraordinarily beautiful site incorporating archaeology, an ancient landscape and a unique visitor experience.

The conservation work was carried out by a team from the Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Administration. The team was headed by conservator Fuad Abu Ta'a, with architectural planning by architects Avi Mashiah and Yehonatan Tzahor.

 The work included restoration of the ancient water systems, which are now functioning once again. The original spring that fed the pool discovered in the excavation had dried up over the years, and major efforts were invested in channeling water from the existing spring to replenish the pools. The work revealed additional water sources under an impressive stone arch whose surroundings have been restored as a shallow wading spot.
A great deal of attention was paid to restoring the imposing fountain structure (nymphaeon), including cleaning and replacing stones in its façade based on historic photographs and paintings.
Photos & Video Credits: Assaf Peretz, Clara Amit, Yoli Shwartz,
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Friday, February 9, 2018

Neanderthals' lack of drawing ability may relate to hunting techniques

IMAGE: Replica of drawing of lions painted in the Chauvet Cave. Art in the cave has been identified as created by early modern humans. view more 
Credit: Public Domain
Neanderthals had large brains and made complex tools but never demonstrated the ability to draw recognizable images, unlike early modern humans who created vivid renderings of animals and other figures on rocks and cave walls. That artistic gap may be due to differences in the way they hunted, suggests a University of California, Davis, expert on predator-prey relations and their impacts on the evolution of behavior.

Neanderthals used thrusting spears to bring down tamer prey in Eurasia, while Homo sapiens, or modern humans, spent hundreds of thousands of years spear-hunting wary and dangerous game on the open grasslands of Africa.

Richard Coss, a professor emeritus of psychology, says the hand-eye coordination involved in both hunting with throwing spears and drawing representational art could be one factor explaining why modern humans became smarter than Neanderthals.

In an article recently published in the journal Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Coss examines archaeological evidence, genomics, neuroscience studies, animal behavior and prehistoric cave art.

New theory of evolution
From this, he proposes a new theory for the evolution of the human brain: Homo sapiens developed rounder skulls and grew bigger parietal cortexes -- the region of the brain that integrates visual imagery and motor coordination -- because of an evolutionary arms race with increasingly wary prey.

Early humans hunted with throwing spears in sub-Saharan Africa for more than 500,000 years -- leading their increasingly watchful prey to develop better flight or fight survival strategies, Coss said.
Some anthropologists have suggested that throwing spears from a safe distance made hunting large game less dangerous, he said. But until now, "No explanation has been given for why large animals, such as hippos and Cape buffalo, are so dangerous to humans," he said. "Other nonthreatening species foraging near these animals do not trigger alert or aggressive behavior like humans do."

Drawn from earlier research on zebras
Coss' paper grew out of a 2015 study in which he and a former graduate student reported that zebras living near human settlements could not be approached as closely before fleeing as wild horses when they saw a human approaching on foot -- staying just outside the effective range of poisoned arrows used by African hunters for at least 24,000 years.

Neanderthals, whose ancestors left Africa for Eurasia before modern human ancestors, used thrusting spears at close range to kill horses, reindeer, bison, and other large game that had not developed an innate wariness of humans, he said.

Hunting relates to drawing
"Neanderthals could mentally visualize previously seen animals from working memory, but they were unable to translate those mental images effectively into the coordinated hand-movement patterns required for drawing," Coss writes.

Coss, who taught drawing classes early in his academic career and whose previous research focused on art and human evolution, used photos and film to study the strokes of charcoal drawings and engravings of animals made by human artists 28,000 to 32,000 years ago in the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in southern France.

The visual imagery employed in drawing regulates arm movements in a manner similar to how hunters visualize the arc their spears must make to hit their animal targets, he concludes.

These drawings could have acted as teaching tools. "Since the act of drawing enhances observational skills, perhaps these drawings were useful for conceptualizing hunts, evaluating game attentiveness, selecting vulnerable body areas as targets, and fostering group cohesiveness via spiritual ceremonies," he writes.

As a result, the advent of drawing may have set the stage for cultural changes, Coss said. "There are enormous social implications in this ability to share mental images with group members."

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas

A major international loan exhibition featuring luxury arts created in the ancient Americas will go on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art beginning February 28. Showcasing more than 300 objects drawn from more than 50 museums in 12 countries, Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas will trace the development of goldworking and other luxury arts from Peru in the south to Mexico in the north from around 1000 B.C. to the arrival of Europeans in the early 16th century. Emphasizing specific places and moments of extraordinary artistic achievement, as well as the exchange of materials and aesthetic ideas across time and place, the exhibition will present a new understanding of ancient American art and culture—one based on indigenous ideas of value—and cast new light on the brilliance of ancient American artists and their legacy. The exhibition will feature spectacular works of art from recent archaeological excavations—crowns, pectorals, pendants, necklaces, ear and nose ornaments, rings, labrets, masks, mantles, goblets, vases, stelas, bells, mirrors, painted books, and more—that have rarely, if ever, left their country of origin.

Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, stated: "It is a great privilege for The Met to present this stunning assemblage of highly prized works of art from more than 50 organizations. This exhibition is the result of an intensive five-year research effort that brought together scholars from across Latin America and the United States, and we're thrilled to share their findings and these beautiful objects with our visitors."

This exhibition is co-organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute.

Exhibition highlights include the exquisite gold ornaments of the Lord of Sipán, the richest unlooted tomb in the ancient Americas; the malachite funerary mask of a woman known as the Red Queen, from the Maya site of Palenque; newly discovered ritual offerings from the sacred precinct of the Aztec Empire; and the "Fisherman's Treasure," a set of Mixtec gold ornaments plundered by Spanish conquistadors and destined for Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor and Spanish king, but lost en route to Spain. Recovered from a shipwreck in the 1970s, these final works are poignant reminders of the brilliant traditions of ancient America's lost golden kingdoms. 

"Ideas about artistic production in the ancient Americas have traditionally been based on works in ceramic and stone—objects of durable materials," said Joanne Pillsbury, The Met's Andrall E. Pearson Curator of the Arts of the Ancient Americas. "But there were also exquisitely worked
objects of rare and fragile materials—most of which were destroyed at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Countless works of gold and silver were melted down, and delicate native manuscripts were deliberately burned as part of campaigns to stamp out native religions. And time has taken a heavy toll on featherworks and textiles, which were considered more precious than gold by many indigenous societies. What we present in this show are not only spectacular artworks, but also rare and enormously important objects that escaped destruction."

In the ancient Americas, gold, silver, and copper were used primarily to create regalia and ritual objects—metals were only secondarily used to create weapons and tools. First exploited in the Andes around 2000 B.C., gold was closely associated with the supernatural realm, and over the course of several thousand years the practice of making prestige objects in gold for rulers and deities gradually moved northward, into Central America and Mexico. But in many areas other materials were more highly valued. Jade, rather than gold, was most esteemed by the Olmecs and the Maya, while the Incas and the Aztecs prized feathers and tapestry. In all places, artists and their patrons selected materials that could provoke a strong response—perceptually, sensually, and conceptually—and transport the wearer and beholder beyond the realm of the mundane.

Golden Kingdoms will explore not only artistic practices but also the historical, cultural, social, and political conditions in which luxury arts were produced and circulated. The materials of ancient American luxury arts were closely associated with divine power: they were made of materials thought to have been emitted, inhabited, or consumed by gods. Luxury arts were also relatively small in scale, which meant they could be transported over vast distances as royal gifts or sacred offerings, thus serving as a primary vehicle for the exchange of ideas across regions and through time. The exhibition will present a new portrait of the ancient Americas—one unconstrained by today's national boundaries—revealing networks of artistic exchange in historical context. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

In conjunction with the exhibition, The Met will offer a variety of education programs, including Sunday at The Met—Golden Kingdoms: Forests of Jade (March 25); Family Afternoon—Lasting Legacy (April 8); MetFridays—Artists Respond to Golden Kingdoms: Teresita Fernández (April 13); a Conversation with ... (English and Spanish languages, March 23 and April 27); and Access Discoveries (for children and adults with learning and developmental disabilities (April 22). 

The exhibition was previously on view as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center (September 16, 2017–January 28, 2018).

Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas is co-organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The exhibition is curated by The Met's Joanne Pillsbury, Andrall E. Pearson Curator of the Ancient Americas, in collaboration with Timothy Potts, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum; and Kim Richter, Senior Research Specialist at the Getty Research Institute.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Radiocarbon dating reveals mass grave did date to the Viking age

A team of archaeologists, led by Cat Jarman from the University of Bristol's Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, has discovered that a mass grave uncovered in the 1980s dates to the Viking Age and may have been a burial site of the Viking Great Army war dead.

The Great Viking Army or Great Danish[a] Army, known by the Anglo-Saxons as the Great Heathen Army (OE: mycel hæþen here), was a coalition of Norse warriors, primarily originating from Denmark but with elements from Sweden and Norway, who came together under a unified command to invade the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in 865 AD.

Although the remains were initially thought to be associated with the Vikings, radiocarbon dates seemed to suggest the grave consisted of bones collected over several centuries. New scientific research now shows that this was not the case and that the bones are all consistent with a date in the late 9th century. Historical records state that the Viking Great Army wintered in Repton, Derbyshire, in 873 A.D. and drove the Mercian king into exile.

Excavations led by archaeologists Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle at St Wystan's Church in Repton in the 1970s and 1980s discovered several Viking graves and a charnel deposit of nearly 300 people underneath a shallow mound in the vicarage garden.

The mound appears to have been a burial monument linked to the Great Army.

An Anglo-Saxon building, possibly a royal mausoleum, was cut down and partially ruined, before being turned into a burial chamber.

One room was packed with the commingled remains of at least 264 people, around 20 percent of whom were women. Among the bones were Viking weapons and artefacts, including an axe, several knives, and five silver pennies dating to the period 872-875 A.D. 80 percent of the remains were men, mostly aged 18 to 45, with several showing signs of violent injury.

During the excavations, everything pointed to the burial's association with the Viking Great Army, but confusingly, initial radiocarbon dates suggested otherwise. It seemed to contain a mix of bones of different ages, meaning that they could not all have been from the Viking Age.

Now, new dating proves that they are all consistent with a single date in the 9th century and therefore with the Viking Great Army.

Cat Jarman said: "The previous radiocarbon dates from this site were all affected by something called marine reservoir effects, which is what made them seem too old.

"When we eat fish or other marine foods, we incorporate carbon into our bones that is much older than in terrestrial foods. This confuses radiocarbon dates from archaeological bone material and we need to correct for it by estimating how much seafood each individual ate."

A double grave from the site - one of the only Viking weapon graves found in the country - was also dated, yielding a date range of 873-886 A.D.

The grave contained two men, the older of whom was buried with a Thor's hammer pendant, a Viking sword, and several other artefacts.

He had received numerous fatal injuries around the time of death, including a large cut to his left femur. Intriguingly, a boar's tusk had been placed between his legs, and it has been suggested that the injury may have severed his penis or testicles, and that the tusk was there to replace what he had lost in preparation for the after-world.

The new dates now show that these burials could be consistent with members of the Viking Great Army.

Outside the charnel mound another extraordinary grave can now be shown to be likely to relate to the Vikings in Repton as well.

Four juveniles, aged between eight and 18, were buried together in a single grave with a sheep jaw at their feet.

Next to them large stones may have held a marker, and the grave was placed near the entrance to the mass grave. At least two of the juveniles have signs of traumatic injury. The excavators suggested this may have been a ritual grave, paralleling accounts of sacrificial killings to accompany Viking dead from historical accounts elsewhere in the Viking world. The new radiocarbon dates can now place this burial into the time period of 872-885 A.D.

Cat Jarman added: "The date of the Repton charnel bones is important because we know very little about the first Viking raiders that went on to become part of considerable Scandinavian settlement of England.

"Although these new radiocarbon dates don't prove that these were Viking army members it now seems very likely. It also shows how new techniques can be used to reassess and finally solve centuries old mysteries."

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Scandinavians shaped by several waves of immigration

Directly following the last ice age, people from the western parts of what is now Norway were a population that had substantially different genetics from the people living in the area corresponding to present-day Sweden.

"We were surprised that the results showed such marked dissimilarities," says associate professor and archaeologist Birgitte Skar at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) University Museum. Skar is responsible for the museum's Stone Age and Bronze Age collections.
Scandinavia was one of the last parts of Europe to become habitable when the glaciers released their icy grip more than 10,000 years ago. The ocean's resources and the coastal archipelago attracted marine hunter-gatherers of yore to the region.

Swedish and Norwegian researchers have collaborated on analysing the DNA in 9500-year-old bone samples from the southern and western Norwegian coast and from the Swedish islands of Gotland and Stora Karlsö. This period corresponds to the Mesolithic Stone Age.

Researchers examined seven excavated individuals and compared their genetic material with samples from other parts of Europe.

"People from the Norwegian south and west coast were genetically similar to populations east of the Baltic Sea that came from today's Russia. People from eastern Scandinavia - present-day Sweden - were more genetically similar to populations from central and western Europe," says population geneticist Torsten Günther from Uppsala University. He is one of the main authors of the new study.

Norwegian results are key
This finding may seem strange if you just look at the geography, but it may due to multiple waves of migration to Scandinavia. About 11,500 years ago, people migrated from the south, through Germany and Denmark and then by sea to Norway. About 1000 years later, people traveled from the northeast and followed the Norwegian Atlantic coast southward.

"To understand the migration routes, it was essential to obtain data from the Norwegian individuals," explains Skar, co-author of the study. The Norwegian skeletal remains from southern Norway are also the oldest of the individuals studied.

Over time, the various migration waves led to extensive contact between the diverse populations, and this is also reflected in the genetic data.

The researchers analysed the genetic data in conjunction with other archaeological findings and new insights from climate models to increase their understand of the migration routes, settlement patterns and the first people to settle in Scandinavia as the ice retreated.

Archaeological artefacts and isotopic analysis - which can tell us something about what people ate - help to fill out the picture. The new immigrants that came from the northeast learned new boating and fishing skills to access marine resources, which offered their main source of food.

The researchers discovered that these immigrants also introduced new tools and innovative ways to produce them. This shift in material culture can now be linked to a particular migration wave.

"We expect that a migrating population comes with an entire cultural package - a knowledge of nature, ways of life, craft traditions, beliefs and other customs," says Skar. "Now we can explore more closely how the relationship between the original and new populations evolved. The original inhabitants were highly skilled and adventurous seafaring hunters, whereas the new population was originally an inland people. Archaeologists can track the processes of change in their material culture," she adds.

Light pigmentation variants may have been advantageous
People at that time were largely dependent on the ocean for food. They braved challenging climate conditions that required behavioral adaptations in the short term, and that in the longer term could lead to changes in the population's genetic composition.

"The two groups that migrated to Scandinavia at that time were genetically distinct. People from the south probably had blue eyes and dark skin, while those from the northeast had various eye colours and light skin," says population geneticist Mattias Jakobsson from Uppsala University, another of the main authors.

The genetic variation between the Mesolithic individuals from Scandinavia is surprisingly high, and greater than in the populations who lived in western and central Europe. This contrasts with the Europe of today, where the largest genetic variation is found in the south.

The lighter variations of skin and eye color that are more common in Scandinavia than in other parts of Europe also appear to have been the case at the time of the migrations. Pigmentation, now as then, tends to decrease the farther away a population group lives from the equator. We can assume this to be an indicator of climate adaptation.

Good results
The results are presented in a research article recently published in PLoS Biology. The sample quality is very high.

The remains of one of the individuals studied yielded aDNA results with the best coverage, or depth, achieved for any human being from prehistoric times. The abbreviation aDNA stands for ancient DNA and refers to the study of genetic data obtained from fossil subjects.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Reconstructing an ancient lethal weapon


IMAGE: University of Washington researchers re-created ancient projectile points to test their effectiveness. From left to right: stone, microblade and bone tips. view more 
Credit: Janice Wood
Archaeologists are a little like forensic investigators: They scour the remains of past societies, looking for clues in pottery, tools and bones about how people lived, and how they died.

And just as detectives might re-create the scene of a crime, University of Washington archaeologists have re-created the weapons used by hunter-gatherers in the post-Ice Age Arctic some 14,000 years ago. Looking for clues as to how those early people advanced their own technology, researchers also considered what that might tell us about human migration, ancient climates and the fate of some animal species.

In an article published Jan. 31 in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Janice Wood, recent UW anthropology graduate, and Ben Fitzhugh, a UW professor of anthropology, show how they reconstructed prehistoric projectiles and points from ancient sites in what is now Alaska and studied the qualities that would make for a lethal hunting weapon.

The UW team chose to study hunting weapons from the time of the earliest archaeological record in Alaska (around 10,000 to 14,000 years ago), a time that is less understood archaeologically, and when different kinds of projectile points were in use. Team members designed a pair of experiments to test the effectiveness of the different point types. By examining and testing different points in this way, the team has come to a new understanding about the technological choices people made in ancient times.

"The hunter-gatherers of 12,000 years ago were more sophisticated than we give them credit for," Fitzhugh said. "We haven't thought of hunter-gatherers in the Pleistocene as having that kind of sophistication, but they clearly did for the things that they had to manage in their daily lives, such as hunting game. They had a very comprehensive understanding of different tools, and the best tools for different prey and shot conditions."

Prior research has focused on the flight ballistics of the hunting weapons in general, and no prior study has looked specifically at the ballistics of tools used in Siberia and the Arctic regions of North America just after the Ice Age. In addition to foraging for plants and berries (when available), nomadic groups hunted caribou, reindeer and other animals for food, typically with spears or darts (thrown from atlatl boards). Without preservation of the wood shafts, these tools are mainly differentiated in the archaeological record by their stone and bone points. But it was not known how effective different kinds of points were in causing lethal injury to prey.

Nor is it known, definitively, whether different types of points were associated with only certain groups of people, or whether with the same groups used certain point types to specialize on particular kinds of game or hunting practices. It is generally accepted that different point types were developed in Africa and Eurasia and brought to Alaska before the end of the Ice Age. These included rudimentary points made of sharpened bone, antler or ivory; more intricate, flaked stone tips popularly familiar as "arrowheads"; and a composite point made of bone or antler with razor blade-like stone microblades embedded around the edges.

The three likely were invented at separate times but remained in use during the same period because each presumably had its own advantages, Wood said. Learning how they functioned informs what we know about prehistoric hunters and the repercussions of their practices.

So Wood traveled to the area around Fairbanks, Alaska, and crafted 30 projectile points, 10 of each kind. She tried to stay as true to the original materials and manufacturing processes as possible, using poplar projectiles, and birch tar as an adhesive to affix the points to the tips of the projectiles. While ancient Alaskans used atlatls (a kind of throwing board), Wood used a maple recurve bow to shoot the arrows for greater control and precision.
  • For the bone tip, modeled on a 12,000-year-old ivory point from an Alaskan archaeological site, Wood used a multipurpose tool to grind a commercially purchased cow bone;
  • For the stone tip, she used a hammerstone to strike obsidian into flakes, then shaped them into points modeled on those found at another site in Alaska from 13,000 years ago;
  • And for the composite microblade tip -- modeled microblade technologies seen in Alaska since at least 13,000 years ago and a rare, preserved grooved antler point from a more recent Alaskan site used more than 8,000 years ago -- Wood used a saw and sandpaper to grind a caribou antler to a point. She then used the multipurpose tool to gouge out a groove around its perimeter, into which she inserted obsidian microblades.
Wood then tested how well each point could penetrate and damage two different targets: blocks of ballistic gelatin (a clear synthetic gelatin meant to mimic animal muscle tissue) and a fresh reindeer carcass, purchased from a local farm. Wood conducted her trials over seven hours on a December day, with an average outdoor temperature of minus 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

In Wood's field trial, the composite microblade points were more effective than simple stone or bone on smaller prey, showing the greatest versatility and ability to cause incapacitating damage no matter where they struck the animal's body. But the stone and bone points had their own strengths: Bone points penetrated deeply but created narrower wounds, suggesting their potential for puncturing and stunning larger prey (such as bison or mammoth); the stone points could have cut wider wounds, especially on large prey (moose or bison), resulting in a quicker kill.

Wood said the findings show that hunters during this period were sophisticated enough to recognize the best point to use, and when. Hunters worked in groups; they needed to complete successful hunts, in the least amount of time, and avoid risk to themselves.

"We have shown how each point has its own performance strengths," she said. Bone points punctured effectively, flaked stone created a greater incision, and the microblade was best for lacerated wounds. "It has to do with the animal itself; animals react differently to different wounds. And it would have been important to these nomadic hunters to bring the animal down efficiently. They were hunting for food."

Weapon use can shed light on the movement of people and animals as humans spread across the globe and how ecosystems changed before, during and after the ice ages.

"The findings of our paper have relevance to the understanding of ballistic properties affecting hunting success anywhere in the world people lived during the 99 percent of human history that falls between the invention of stone tools more than 3 million years ago in Africa and the origins of agriculture," Fitzhugh said.

It could also inform debates on whether human hunting practices directly led to the extinction of some species. The team's findings and other research show that our ancestors were thinking about effectiveness and efficiency, Wood said, which may have influenced which animals they targeted. An animal that was easier to kill may have been targeted more often, which could, along with changing climates, explain why animals such as the horse disappeared from the Arctic. A shot to the lung was lethal for early equines, Wood said, but a caribou could keep going.

"I see this line of research as looking at the capacity of the human brain to come up with innovations that ultimately changed the course of human history," she said. "This reveals the human capacity to invent in extreme circumstances, to figure out a need and a way to meet that need that made it easier to eat and minimized the risk."

Upon completion of the experiment, the bones were sterilized for future study of projectile impact marks.