Monday, December 30, 2013
A team of Israeli scientists have reported the discovery of a hominin (early human) occupation site near Nesher Ramla, Israel. The site, according to archaeologist Yossi Zaidner of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa and colleagues, presents evidence for human occupation or use during Middle Paleolithic times (about 300,000 to 40 - 50,000 years ago).
Unearthed were numerous finds that comprised an 8-meter deep sequence of "rich and well-preserved lithic [worked stone tool artifacts] and faunal assemblages [animal and early human bones], combustion features [features evidencing use or presence of fire], hundreds of manuports [natural objects moved from their original locations possibly by human agency] and ochre."* Ochre, an iron oxide pigment, was often used for a variety of purposes by prehistoric humans, including the creation of wall paintings.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
The most complete sequence to date of the Neanderthal genome, using DNA extracted from a woman's toe bone that dates back 50,000 years, reveals a long history of interbreeding among at least four different types of early humans living in Europe and Asia at that time, according to University of California, Berkeley, scientists.
Population geneticist Montgomery Slatkin, graduate student Fernando Racimo and post-doctoral student Flora Jay were part of an international team of anthropologists and geneticists who generated a high-quality sequence of the Neanderthal genome and compared it with the genomes of modern humans and a recently recognized group of early humans called Denisovans.
Family tree of the four groups of early humans living in Eurasia 50,000 years ago and the lingering genetic heritage due to interbreeding. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Berkeley)
The comparison shows that Neanderthals and Denisovans are very closely related, and that their common ancestor split off from the ancestors of modern humans about 400,000 years ago. Neanderthals and Denisovans split about 300,000 years ago.
Though Denisovans and Neanderthals eventually died out, they left behind bits of their genetic heritage because they occasionally interbred with modern humans. The research team estimates that between 1.5 and 2.1 percent of the genomes of modern non-Africans can be traced to Neanthertals.
Denisovans also left genetic traces in modern humans, though only in some Oceanic and Asian populations. The genomes of Australian aborigines, New Guineans and some Pacific Islanders are about 6 percent Denisovan genes, according to earlier studies. The new analysis finds that the genomes of Han Chinese and other mainland Asian populations, as well as of native Americans, contain about 0.2 percent Denisovan genes.
The genome comparisons also show that Denisovans interbred with a mysterious fourth group of early humans also living in Eurasia at the time. That group had split from the others more than a million years ago, and may have been the group of human ancestors known as Homo erectus, which fossils show was living in Europe and Asia a million or more years ago.
"The paper really shows that the history of humans and hominins during this period was very complicated," said Slatkin, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. "There was lot of interbreeding that we know about and probably other interbreeding we haven't yet discovered."
The genome analysis will be published in the Dec. 19 issue of the journal Nature. Slatkin, Racimo and Jay are members of a large team led by former UC Berkeley post-doc Svante Pääbo, who is now at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
In another analysis, Jay discovered that the Neanderthal woman whose toe bone provided the DNA was highly inbred. The woman's genome indicates that she was the daughter of a very closely related mother and father who either were half-siblings who shared the same mother, an uncle and niece or aunt and nephew, a grandparent and grandchild, or double first-cousins (the offspring of two siblings who married siblings).
Further analyses suggest that the population sizes of Neanderthals and Denisovans were small and that inbreeding may have been more common in Neanderthal groups than in modern populations.
As part of the new study, Racimo was able to identify at least 87 specific genes in modern humans that are significantly different from related genes in Neanderthals and Denisovans, and that may hold clues to the behavioral differences distinguishing us from early human populations that died out.
"There is no gene we can point to and say, 'This accounts for language or some other unique feature of modern humans,'" Slatkin said. "But from this list of genes, we will learn something about the changes that occurred on the human lineage, though those changes will probably be very subtle."
According to Pääbo, the list of genes "is a catalog of genetic features that sets all modern humans apart from all other organisms, living or extinct. I believe that in it hide some of the things that made the enormous expansion of human populations and human culture and technology in the last 100,000 years possible."
The Pääbo group last year produced a high-quality Denisovan genome based on DNA from a pinky finger bone discovered in 2008 in Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of Southern Siberia. That bone is from a young woman who lived about 40,000 years ago. The Neanderthal toe bone was found in the same cave in 2010, though in a deeper layer of sediment that is thought to be about 10,000-20,000 years older. The cave also contains modern human artifacts, meaning that at least three groups of early humans occupied the cave at different times. The Pääbo group developed new techniques to extract DNA from these old bones.
Slatkin noted that no one is sure how long the various now-extinct groups lasted, but that there is evidence that Neanderthals and modern humans coexisted in Europe and Asia for at least 30,000 years. Interbreeding was infrequent, though how infrequent is unclear given the genomic information available today.
"We don't know if interbreeding took place once, where a group of Neanderthals got mixed in with modern humans, and it didn't happen again, or whether groups lived side by side, and there was interbreeding over a prolonged period," he said.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Neanderthals buried their dead, an international team of archaeologists has concluded after a 13-year study of remains discovered in southwestern France.
Their findings, which appear in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirm that burials took place in western Europe prior to the arrival of modern humans.
"This discovery not only confirms the existence of Neanderthal burials in Western Europe, but also reveals a relatively sophisticated cognitive capacity to produce them," explains William Rendu, the study's lead author and a researcher at the Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHUS) in New York City.
CIRHUS is a collaborative arrangement between France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and New York University.
The findings center on Neanderthal remains first discovered in 1908 at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in southwestern France. The well-preserved bones led its early 20th-century excavators to posit that the site marked a burial ground created by a predecessor to early modern humans. However, their conclusions have sparked controversy in the scientific community ever since, with skeptics maintaining that the discovery had been misinterpreted and that the burial may not have been intentional.
Beginning in 1999, Rendu and his collaborators, including researchers from the PACEA laboratory of the University of Bordeaux and Archéosphère, a private research firm, began excavating seven other caves in the area.
In this excavation, which concluded in 2012, the scientists found more Neanderthal remains—two children and one adult—along with bones of bison and reindeer.
While they did not find tool marks or other evidence of digging where the initial skeleton was unearthed in 1908, geological analysis of the depression in which the remains were found suggests that it was not a natural feature of the cave floor.
As part of their analysis, the study's authors also re-examined the human remains found in 1908. In contrast to the reindeer and bison remains at the site, the Neanderthal remains contained few cracks, no weathering-related smoothing, and no signs of disturbance by animals.
"The relatively pristine nature of these 50,000-year-old remains implies that they were covered soon after death, strongly supporting our conclusion that Neanderthals in this part of Europe took steps to bury their dead," observes Rendu. "While we cannot know if this practice was part of a ritual or merely pragmatic, the discovery reduces the behavioral distance between them and us."
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Research led by the University of Southampton has found that early humans were driven by a need for nutrient-rich food to select 'special places' in northern Europe as their main habitat. Evidence of their activity at these sites comes in the form of hundreds of stone tools, including handaxes.
A study led by physical geographer at Southampton Professor Tony Brown, in collaboration with archaeologist Dr Laura Basell at Queen's University Belfast, has found that sites popular with our early human ancestors, were abundant in foods containing nutrients vital for a balanced diet. The most important sites, dating between 500,000 to 100,000 years ago were based at the lower end of river valleys, providing ideal bases for early hominins – early humans who lived before Homo sapiens (us).
Professor Brown says: "Our research suggests that floodplain zones closer to the mouth of a river provided the ideal place for hominin activity, rather than forested slopes, plateaus or estuaries. The landscape in these locations tended to be richer in the nutrients critical for maintaining population health and maximising reproductive success."
The project was funded by English Heritage and the University of Southampton's Faculty of Social and Human Sciences. It involved academics from Geography and Environment and Medicine at Southampton, together with Archaeology at Queen's.
The researchers began by identifying Palaeolithic sites in southern England and northern France where high concentrations of handaxes had been excavated –for example at Dunbridge in Hampshire, Swanscombe near Dartford and the Somme Valley in France. They found there were fewer than 25 sites where 500 handaxes or more were discovered. The high concentration of these artefacts suggests significant activity at the sites and that they were regularly used by early hominins.
Professor Brown and his colleagues then compiled a database of plants and animals known to exist in the Pleistocene epoch (a period between 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago) to establish a potential list of nutrient resources in the landscape and an estimation of the possible diet. This showed that an abundance of nutritious foods were available and suggests this was likely to have been the dominant factor driving early humans to focus on these sites in the lower reaches of river valleys, close to the upper tidal limit of rivers.
Over 50 nutrients are needed to sustain human life. In particular, it would have been essential for early humans to find sources of protein, fats, carbohydrates, folic acid and vitamin C. The researchers suggest vitamins and protein may have come from sources such as raw liver, eggs, fish and plants, including watercress (which grows year round). Fats in particular, may have come from bone marrow, beaver tails and highly nutritious eels.
The nutritional diversity of these sites allowed hominins to colonise the Atlantic fringe of north west Europe during warm periods of the Pleistocene. These sites permitted the repeated occupation of this marginal area from warmer climate zones further south
Professor Brown comments: "We can speculate that these types of locations were seen as 'healthy' or 'good' places to live which hominins revisited on a regular basis. If this is the case, the sites may have provided 'nodal points' or base camps along nutrient-rich route-ways through the Palaeolithic landscape, allowing early humans to explore northwards to more challenging environments."
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Dr. Doron Ben Ami of the the Israel Antiquities Authority shows the remains of a building dating to the Hasmonean Period which was discovered during excavations at the archaeological site of the biblical City of David, outside Jerusalem's old city walls on December 3, 2013. In recent months the remains of the impressive building from the Hasmonean period (second century BCE) are being unearthed in excavations directed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA.
In recent months remains of an impressive building from the Hasmonean period (second century BCE) are being unearthed in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is directing in the Giv‘ati parking lot, located in the City of David in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park.
Photograph: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
The building stands c. 4 meters high and covers an area of c. 64 sq. m. The building’s broad walls (more than one meter thick) are made of roughly hewn limestone blocks that were arranged as headers and stretchers, a construction method characteristic of the Hasmonean period. Although numerous pottery vessels were discovered inside the building, it was mainly the coins that surprised the researchers. These indicated the structure was erected in the early second century BCE and continued into the Hasmonean period, during which time significant changes were made inside it.
According to Dr. Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, the excavation directors on behalf to the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The importance of this discovery is primarily because of the conspicuous paucity of buildings from the Hasmonean city of Jerusalem in archaeological research, despite the many excavations that have been conducted to date. Apart from several remains of the city’s fortifications that were discovered in different parts of Jerusalem, as well as pottery and other small finds, none of the Hasmonean city’s buildings have been uncovered so far, and this discovery bridges a certain gap in Jerusalem’s settlement sequence. The Hasmonean city, which is well-known to us from the historical descriptions that appear in the works of Josephus, has suddenly acquired tangible expression”.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Scientists have found that Neanderthals organized their living spaces in ways that would be familiar to modern humans, a discovery that once again shows similarities between these two close cousins.
The findings, published in the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Archaeology, indicate that Neanderthals butchered animals, made tools and gathered round the fire in different parts of their shelters.
"There has been this idea that Neanderthals did not have an organized use of space, something that has always been attributed to humans," said Julien Riel-Salvatore, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado Denver and lead author of the study. "But we found that Neanderthals did not just throw their stuff everywhere but in fact were organized and purposeful when it came to domestic space."
The findings are based on excavations at Riparo Bombrini, a collapsed rock shelter in northwest Italy where both Neanderthals and, later, early humans lived for thousands of years. This study focused on the Neanderthal levels while future research will examine the more recent modern human levels at the site. The goal is to compare how the two groups organized their space.
The site comprises three levels assigned to Neanderthals. Scientists found that Neanderthals divided the cave into different areas for different activities. The top level was used as a task site – likely a hunting stand - where they could kill and prepare game. The middle level was a long-term base camp and the bottom level was a shorter term residential base camp.
Riel-Salvatore and his team found a high frequency of animal remains in the rear of the top level, indicating that the area was likely used for butchering game. They also found evidence of ochre use in the back of the shelter.
"We found some ochre throughout the sequence but we are not sure what it was used for," Riel-Salvatore said. "Neanderthals could have used it for tanning hides, for gluing, as an antiseptic or even for symbolic purposes – we really can't tell at this point."
In the middle level, which has the densest traces of human occupation, artifacts were distributed differently. Animal bones were concentrated at the front rather than the rear of the cave. This was also true of the stone tools, or lithics. A hearth was in back of the cave about half a meter to a meter from the wall. It would have allowed warmth from the fire to circulate among the living area.
"When you make stone tools there is a lot of debris that you don't want in high traffic areas or you risk injuring yourself," Riel-Salvatore said. "There are clearly fewer stone artifacts in the back of the shelter near the hearth."
The bottom level, thought to represent a short-term base camp, is the least well known because it was exposed only over a very small area. More stone artifacts were found immediately inside the shelter's mouth, suggesting tool production may have occurred inside the part of the site where sunlight was available. Some shellfish fragments also suggest that Neanderthals exploited the sea for food; like ochre, these are found in all the levels.
The discoveries are the latest in continuing research by Riel-Salvatore showing that Neanderthals were far more advanced than originally thought.
In an earlier study, he found that Neanderthals were highly innovative, creating bone tools, ornaments and projectile points. He also co-authored a paper demonstrating that interbreeding between Neanderthals and humans may have led to the ultimate demise of the outnumbered hominins. Still, Neanderthal genes make up between one and four percent of today's human genome, especially among Europeans.
"This is ongoing work, but the big picture in this study is that we have one more example that Neanderthals used some kind of logic for organizing their living sites," Riel-Salvatore said. "This is still more evidence that they were more sophisticated than many have given them credit for. If we are going to identify modern human behavior on the basis of organized spatial patterns, then you have to extend it to Neanderthals as well."
Friday, November 29, 2013
Among the rare finds uncovered in the excavation: evidence of a 6,000 year old cultic temple and the first 10,000 year old building to be discovered in the Judean Shephelah
An extensive archaeological excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority prior to widening Highway 38, which is being underwritten by the Netivei Israel Company, is producing amazing finds that provide a broad picture covering thousands of years of development of human society. Settlement remains were unearthed at the site, the earliest of which dates to the beginning of the eighth millennium BCE and latest to the end of the fourth millennium BCE.
The finds revealed at the site range from the period when man first started to domesticate plants and animals, instead of searching for them in the wild, until the period when we see the beginnings of proper urban planning.
The oldest artifacts that were exposed at the site are ascribed to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (10,000 YBP). According to Dr. Amir Golani, Dr. Ya‘akov Vardi, Benyamin Storchan and Dr. Ron Be’eri, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This is the first time that such an ancient structure has been discovered in the Judean Shephelah. The building, almost all of which was found, underwent a number of construction and repair phases that allude to its importance. It should be emphasized that whoever built the house did something that was totally innovative because up until this period man migrated from place to place in search of food. Here we have evidence of man’s transition to permanent dwellings and that in fact is the beginning of the domestication of animals and plants; instead of searching out wild sheep, ancient man started raising them near the house”.
A cluster of nine flint and limestone axes that were discovered lying side by side was found near this prehistoric building. “It is apparent that the axes, some of which were used as tools and some as cultic objects, were highly valued by their owners. Just as today we are unable to get along without a cellular telephone and a computer, they too attributed great importance to their tools. Based on how it was arranged at the time of its discovery it seems that the cluster of axes was abandoned by its owner for some unknown reason”.
In the archaeological excavation conducted at Eshta’ol an important and rare find from the end of the Chalcolithic period (second half of the fifth millennium BCE) was discovered in the adjacent area. During the course of the excavation six thousand year old buildings were exposed and a stone column (called a standing stone or mazzevā) was discovered alongside one of them. The standing stone is 1.30 meters high and weighs several hundred kilos. According to the excavation directors, “The standing stone was smoothed and worked on all six of its sides, and was erected with one of its sides facing east. This unique find alludes to the presence of a cultic temple at the site”. The archaeologists said, “In the past numerous manifestations have been found of the cultic practice that existed in the Chalcolithic period; however, from the research we know of only a few temples at ‘En Gedi and at Teleilat Ghassul in Transjordan”.
“We uncovered a multitude of unique finds during the excavation”, says Dr. Amir Golani, one of the excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. “The large excavation affords us a broad picture of the progression and development of the society in the settlement throughout the ages. Thus we can clearly see that in the Early Bronze Age, 5,000 years ago, the rural society made the transition to an urban society. We can see distinctly a settlement that gradually became planned, which included alleys and buildings that were extremely impressive from the standpoint of their size and the manner of their construction. We can clearly trace the urban planning and see the guiding hand of the settlement’s leadership that chose to regulate the construction in the crowded regions in the center of the settlement and allowed less planning along its periphery. It is fascinating to see how in such an ancient period a planned settlement was established in which there is orderly construction, and trace the development of the society which became increasingly hierarchical”.
A typical jar of the Early Bronze Age was discovered buried beneath the floor of a building. Photograph: Dr. Ron Be’eri, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Evidence found at world's earliest Buddhist shrine in Nepal
Archaeologists Robin Coningham (left) and Kosh Prasad Acharya direct excavations within the Maya Devi Temple, uncovering a series of ancient temples contemporary with the Buddha. Thai monks meditate.Credit: Ira Block/National Geographic
Archaeologists working in Nepal have uncovered evidence of a structure at the birthplace of the Buddha dating to the sixth century B.C. This is the first archaeological material linking the life of the Buddha — and thus the first flowering of Buddhism — to a specific century.
Pioneering excavations within the sacred Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini, Nepal, a UNESCO World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace of the Buddha, uncovered the remains of a previously unknown sixth-century B.C. timber structure under a series of brick temples. Laid out on the same design as those above it, the timber structure contains an open space in the center that links to the nativity story of the Buddha himself.
Until now, the earliest archaeological evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini dated no earlier than the third century B.C., the time of the patronage of the Emperor Asoka, who promoted the spread of Buddhism from present-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh.
"Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition," said archaeologist Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University, U.K., who co-led the investigation. Some scholars, he said, have maintained that the Buddha was born in the third century B.C. "We thought 'why not go back to archaeology to try to answer some of the questions about his birth?' Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the sixth century B.C."
Early Buddhism revealed
The international team of archaeologists, led by Coningham and Kosh Prasad Acharya of the Pashupati Area Development Trust in Nepal, say the discovery contributes to a greater understanding of the early development of Buddhism as well as the spiritual importance of Lumbini. Their peer-reviewed findings are reported in the December 2013 issue of the international journal Antiquity. The research is partly supported by the National Geographic Society.
To determine the dates of the timber shrine and a previously unknown early brick structure above it, fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques. Geoarchaeological research also confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots within the temple's central void.
"UNESCO is very proud to be associated with this important discovery at one of the most holy places for one of the world's oldest religions," said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who urged "more archaeological research, intensified conservation work and strengthened site management" to ensure Lumbini's protection.
"These discoveries are very important to better understand the birthplace of the Buddha," said Ram Kumar Shrestha, Nepal's minister of culture, tourism and civil aviation. "The government of Nepal will spare no effort to preserve this significant site."
Buddhist tradition records that Queen Maya Devi, the mother of the Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden, midway between the kingdoms of her husband and parents. Coningham and his colleagues postulate that the open space in the center of the most ancient, timber shrine may have accommodated a tree. Brick temples built later above the timber shrine also were arranged around the central space, which was unroofed.
Four main Buddhist sites
Lumbini is one of the key sites associated with the life of the Buddha; others are Bodh Gaya, where he became a Buddha or enlightened one; Sarnath, where he first preached; and Kusinagara, where he passed away. At his passing at the age of 80, the Buddha is recorded as having recommended that all Buddhists visit "Lumbini." The shrine was still popular in the middle of the first millennium A.D. and was recorded by Chinese pilgrims as having a shrine beside a tree.
The Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini remains a living shrine; the archaeologists worked alongside meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims.
In the scientific paper in Antiquity, the authors write: "The sequence (of archaeological remains) at Lumbini is a microcosm for the development of Buddhism from a localized cult to a global religion."
Lost and overgrown in the jungles of Nepal in the medieval period, ancient Lumbini was rediscovered in 1896 and identified as the birthplace of the Buddha on account of the presence of a third-century B.C. sandstone pillar. The pillar, which still stands, bears an inscription documenting a visit by Emperor Asoka to the site of the Buddha's birth as well as the site's name — Lumbini.
Despite the rediscovery of the key Buddhist sites, their earliest levels were buried deep or destroyed by later construction, leaving evidence of the very earliest stages of Buddhism inaccessible to archaeological investigation, until now.
Half a billion people around the world are Buddhists, and many hundreds of thousands make a pilgrimage to Lumbini each year. T
Friday, November 22, 2013
These 3,700-year-old jars were discovered in an ancient palatial wine cellar unearthed by researchers at Tel Kabri in July 2013. The team worked in day and night shifts to excavate a total of 40 intact vessels during its six-week dig.
Credit: Eric H. Cline, George Washington University.
A team of American and Israeli researchers has unearthed what could be the largest and oldest wine cellar in the Near East.
The group made the discovery at the 75-acre Tel Kabri site in Israel, the ruins of a northern Canaanite city that dates back to approximately 1700 B.C. The excavations at the vast palace of the rulers of the city are co-directed by Eric H. Cline of the George Washington University (GW), and Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, with Andrew Koh of Brandeis University as associate director. As researchers excavated at the site, they uncovered a three-foot-long jug, later christened "Bessie."
"We dug and dug, and all of a sudden, Bessie's friends started appearing—five, 10, 15, ultimately 40 jars packed in a 15-by-25-foot storage room," said Dr. Cline, chair of GW's Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. "This is a hugely significant discovery—it's a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in its age and size."
The 40 jars have a capacity of roughly 2,000 liters, meaning the cellar could have held the equivalent of nearly 3,000 bottles of reds and whites.
"The wine cellar was located near a hall where banquets took place, a place where the Kabri elite and possibly foreign guests consumed goat meat and wine," said Dr. Yasur-Landau, chair of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa. "The wine cellar and the banquet hall were destroyed during the same violent event, perhaps an earthquake, which covered them with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster."
It wasn't immediately clear it was wine the jugs once held. To make that determination, Dr. Koh, an assistant professor of classical studies at Brandeis University and associate director of the excavation, analyzed the jar fragments using organic residue analysis. He found traces of tartaric and syringic acids, both key components in wine, as well as compounds suggesting the presence of ingredients popular in ancient wine-making, including honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins. The recipe is similar to medicinal wines used for 2,000 years in ancient Egypt.
"This wasn't moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement, eyeballing the measurements," Dr. Koh said. "This wine's recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar."
Researchers now want to continue analyzing the composition of each solution, possibly discovering enough information to recreate the flavor.
Luckily, they'll have more evidence in a couple of years. A few days before the team members wrapped up work this summer, they discovered two doors leading out of the wine cellar—one to the south, and one to the west.
Both probably lead to additional storage rooms. They'll have to wait until their next dig in 2015 to find out for sure.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Results from a DNA study of a young boy’s skeletal remains believed to be 24,000 years old could turn the archaeological world upside down – it’s been proven that nearly 30 percent of modern Native American’s ancestry came from this youngster’s gene pool, suggesting First Americans came directly from Siberia, according to a research team that includes a Texas A&M University professor.
Kelly Graf, assistant professor in the Center for the Study of First Americans and Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, is part of an international team spearheaded by Eske Willerslev and Maanasa Raghaven from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and additional researchers from Sweden, Russia, United Kingdom, University of Chicago and University of California-Berkeley. Their work, funded by the Danish National Science Foundation, Lundbeck Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, is published in the current issue of Nature magazine.
Graf and Willerslev conceived the project and traveled to the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the remains are now housed to collect samples for ancient DNA. The skeleton was first discovered in the late 1920s near the village of Mal’ta in south-central Siberia, and since then it has been referred to as “the Mal’ta child” because until this DNA study the biological sex of the skeleton was unknown.
“Now we can say with confidence that this individual was a male” says Graf.
Graf helped extract DNA material from the boy’s upper arm and “the results surprised all of us quite a bit,” she explains.
“It shows he had close genetic ties to today’s Native Americans and some western Eurasians, specifically some groups living in central Asia, South Asia, and Europe. Also, he shared close genetic ties with other Ice-Age western Eurasians living in European Russia, Czech Republic and even Germany. We think these Ice-Age people were quite mobile and capable of maintaining a far-reaching gene pool that extended from central Siberia all the way west to central Europe.”
Another significant result of the study is that the Mal’ta boy’s people were also ancestors of Native Americans, explaining why some early Native American skeletons such as Kennewick Man were interpreted to have some European traits.
“Our study proves that Native Americans ancestors migrated to the Americas from Siberia and not directly from Europe as some have recently suggested,” Graf explains.
The DNA work performed on the boy is the oldest complete genome of a human sequenced so far, the study shows. Also found near the boy’s remains were flint tools, a beaded necklace and what appears to be pendant-like items, all apparently placed in the burial as grave goods.
The discovery raises new questions about the timing of human entry in Alaska and ultimately North America, a topic hotly debated in First Americans studies.
“Though our results cannot speak directly to this debate, they do indicate Native American ancestors could have been in Beringia—extreme northeastern Russia and Alaska—any time after 24,000 years ago and therefore could have colonized Alaska and the Americas much earlier than 14,500 years ago, the age suggested by the archaeological record.”
“What we need to do is continue searching for earlier sites and additional clues to piece together this very big puzzle.”
Monday, November 4, 2013
A climate crisis traumatized the Near East and brought about the collapse of the great empires of the Bronze Age.
Read more at: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/dramatic-kinneret-discovery-climate-crisis-ruined-ancient-empires/2013/10/22/0/
A study of fossil pollen particles in sediments extracted from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee has revealed evidence of a climate crisis that traumatized the Near East from the middle of the 13th to the late 12th century BCE. The crisis brought about the collapse of the great empires of the Bronze Age.
“In a short period of time, the entire world of the Bronze Age crumbled,” explains Tel Aviv University archaeologist Prof. Finkelstein. “The Hittite empire, Egypt of the Pharaohs, the Mycenaean culture in Greece, the copper producing kingdom located on the island of Cyprus, the great trade emporium of Ugarit on the Syrian coast and the Canaanite city-states under Egyptian hegemony – all disappeared and only after a while were replaced by the territorial kingdoms of the Iron Age, including Israel and Judah.”
...The counting and the identification of the pollen grains revealed a period of severe droughts between ca. 1250 and 1100 BCE.
...Another novelty in the current research is in the chronological correlation between the pollen results and two other records of the past. At the end of the Bronze Age many Eastern Mediterranean cities were assaulted and destroyed by fire. The dates of these events indeed fall between ca. 1250-1100 BCE. The same holds true for ancient Near Eastern written documents that testify to severe droughts and famine in exactly the same period. Such documents are known from across the entire region – from the Hittite capital in Anatolia in the north, via Ugarit on the Syrian coast and Aphek in Israel to Egypt in the south...
Prof. Ronny Ellenblum of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem studied written documents that describe similar conditions – of severe droughts and famine – in the 10th‒11th centuries CE. He showed that in the northern parts of the Near East, such as northern Iran and Anatolia, shrinkage in precipitation was accompanied by devastating cold spells that destroyed crops.
...Severe cold spells destroyed the crops in the northern parts of the ancient Near East and shrinkage in precipitation damaged agricultural output in the eastern steppe parts of the region. This brought about the droughts and famine so well-described in the ancient texts, and motivated “large groups of people to start moving to the south in search of food,” says Egyptologist Shirly Ben-Dor Evian of the Department of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.
These groups, including the Sea Peoples known from the texts of the period, moved by land and sea, assaulted cities and disrupted trade routes. All this caused a severe economic crisis which developed from north to south and reached Canaan. “It was an all-out war on dwindling resources,” says Ben-Dor Evian.
The Norwegian Vikings were more oriented towards the East than we have previously assumed, says Marianne Vedeler, Associate Professor at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo in Norway. After four years of in-depth investigation of the silk trade of the Viking Age, she may change our perceptions of the history of the Norwegian Vikings. The silk trade was far more comprehensive than we have hitherto assumed.
The Norwegian Vikings maintained trade connections with Persia and the Byzantine Empire. A network of traders from a variety of places and cultures brought the silk to the Nordic countries. Her details are presented in the book "Silk for the Vikings," to be published by Oxbow publishers this winter, but in this article you can glimpse some of her key findings.
In the Oseberg ship, which was excavated nearly a hundred years ago, more than one hundred small silk fragments were found. This is the oldest find of Viking Age silk in Norway.
At the time when the Oseberg silk was discovered, nobody conceived that it could have been imported from Persia. It was generally believed that most of it had been looted from churches and monasteries in England and Ireland.
Lots of Viking silk
Since the Oseberg excavation, silk from the Viking Age has been found in several locations in the Nordic countries. The last finding was made two years ago at Ness in Hamarøy municipality, Nordland county. Other Norwegian findings of silk from the Viking Age include Gokstad in Vestfold county, Sandanger in the Sunnmøre district and Nedre Haugen in Østfold county.
The highest number of burial sites containing silk from the Viking Age have been found at Birka in the Uppland region, a few miles west of Stockholm.
"Even though Birka has the highest number of burial sites containing silk, there are no other places where so much and such varied silk has been found in a single burial site as in Oseberg," says Marianne Vedeler to the research magazine Apollon.
In Oseberg alone, silk from fifteen different textiles, as well as embroideries and tablet-woven silk and wool bands were discovered. Many of the silk pieces had been cut into thin strips and used for articles of clothing. The textiles had been imported, while the tablet-woven bands most likely were made locally from imported silk thread.
Marianne Vedeler has collected information on silk and its trade in the Nordic countries. She has also studied manuscripts on silk production and trade along the Russian rivers as well as in Byzantium and Persia.
"When seeing it all in its totality, it's more logical to assume that most of the silk was purchased in the East, rather than being looted from the British Isles."
Vedeler believes that in the Viking Age, silk was imported from two main areas. One was Byzantium, meaning in and around Constantinople, or Miklagard, which was the Vikings' name for present-day Istanbul. The other large core area was Persia.
The silk may have been brought northwards along different routes.
One possibility is from the South through Central Europe and onwards to Norway, but I believe that most of the silk came by way of the Russian rivers Dnepr and Volga.
The Dnepr was the main route to Constantinople, while the Volga leads to the Caspian Sea. The river trade routes were extremely dangerous and difficult. One of the sources describes the laborious journey along the Dnepr to Constantinople:
"A band of traders joined up in Kiev. Along the river they were attacked by dangerous tribesmen. They needed to pass through rapids and cataracts. Then, slaves had to carry their boat."
On the basis of the silk that has been found, there are indications that more silk came to Norway from Persia than from Constantinople.
Large amounts of the Oseberg silk have patterns from the Persian Empire. This silk is woven using a technique called samitum, a sophisticated Oriental weaving method. Many of the silk motifs can be linked to religious motifs from Central Asia.
Another pattern depicts a shahrokh, a bird that has a very specific meaning in Persian mythology; it represents a royal blessing. In the Persian myth, the shahrokh bird is the messenger that brings the blessing to a selected prince. In a dream, the bird visits the prince holding a tiara, a tall head adornment, in its beak. The prince then wakes up and knows that he is the chosen one. The image of the imperial bird was popular not only in silk weaving, but also in other art forms in Persia. The motif gained widespread popularity in Persian art.
It's an amusing paradox that silk textiles with such religious and mythological images were highly prized and used in heathen burial sites in the Nordic countries as well as in European churches.
In the Orient, silk was essential for symbolizing power and strength. There was an entire hierarchy of different silk qualities and patterns reserved for civil servants and royalty.
Even though silk was a prominent status symbol for the Vikings, they failed to get their hands on the best silk.
Most likely, the bulk of the silk imported to Scandinavia was of medium or below-medium quality.
In Byzantium, major restrictions were imposed on the sale of silk to foreign lands. The punishment for illegal sale of silk was draconian. The Persian lands also imposed strict restrictions on the sale and production of silk.
In Byzantium, it was illegal to buy more silk than what could be bought for the price of a horse. A foreign trader was allowed to buy silk for ten numismata, while the price of a horse was twelve numismata.
"However, several trade agreements that have been preserved show that traders from the North nevertheless had special trade privileges in Byzantium."
Silk was not only a trade commodity. Certain types of silk were reserved for diplomatic gifts to foreign countries, as described in Byzantine as well as Persian sources. In Europe, silk became especially popular for wrapping sacred relics in churches.
Some of the silk found in Norway may be gifts or spoils of war, but archaeological as well as written sources indicate that silk was traded in the Nordic countries.
"We may safely assume that the Vikings engaged in trade, plunder, exchange of gifts and diplomatic relations in equal measure."
A possible example of loot found in the Oseberg ship is a piece of silk with an image of a cross.
This was long before the introduction of Christianity. The silk piece may have been sewn locally, but it is also highly likely that it was purloined from an Irish church.
At Gokstad, thin strips of hammered gold wrapped around silk threads were among the findings.
"These threads are highly exclusive. We do not know their origin, but we suspect that they may have come from even further east, in the direction of China," says Vedeler, who will now travel to China to find out more.
As yet, Vedeler must draw conclusions regarding the origin of the silk by investigating weaving technologies and patterns. With time, she wishes to make use of a new method which is being developed at the University of Copenhagen and which will be able to reveal the geographic origin of artefacts.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
The 2013 excavations at Tel Kabri, the capital of a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite
kingdom located in the western Galilee region of modern Israel, lasted from 23 June to 1
Highlights of the season included the discovery of a complex composed of
several rooms, located adjacent to the palace and the Orthostat Building in Area D-West,
one of which was fully excavated and which turned out to be filled with nearly forty
storage jars; additional fragments of painted wall plaster in Area D-South1; and an
additional large hall and rooms with plaster floors belonging to the palace in Area DWest
East, creating a 75-meter-long continuum of uninterrupted monumental
Thursday, October 10, 2013
A 2,700-year-old portico was discovered this summer on the site of the ancient city of Argilos in northern Greece, following an archaeological excavation led by Jacques Perreault, Professor at the University of Montreal's Centre of Classical Studies and Zisis Bonias, an archaeologist with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports.
In ancient Greece, the portico—stoa in Greek—was a long, open structure that often housed shops and delineated public squares from the city—the agora.
"Porticos are well known from the Hellenistic period, from the 3rd to 1st century BC, but earlier examples are extremely rare. The one from Argilos is the oldest example to date from northern Greece and is truly unique," said Jacques Perreault, who is a specialist of the Greek Archaic period (7th and 6th centuries BC.)
Located on the edge of the Aegean Sea, the ancient city of Argilos was the first Greek colony established in this area around the great Strymon River. At its peak in the 5th century BC, Argilos was one of the richest cities in the region.
Since 1992, Professor Perreault and Dr Bonias have excavated the hill covering Argilos and the University of Montreal has acquired some of the private land sitting on it. Acquisitions were made on behalf of the Greek government, but the excavators retain the rights over scientific research. The remains of the Argilos portico are located on one of these sites, at the northern end of what was the city's commercial district, 50 metres from the port area at the time.
Traces of the inhabitants' entrepreneurship
Archaelogical digs in 2013 unearthed a roughly 40-metre length of the portico. The open area once contained seven rooms, five of which have been excavated, each measuring 5 metres wide and 7.5 metres deep, with a 2.5-metre high back wall.
Since Argilos was prosperous, it is plausible that the portico was commissioned and built by the city. If this were the case, an architect would have overseen the construction and architectural integrity of the structure; there would have been no differences in the size of the stones used, and all the rooms would have been identical.
However, examination of the remains indicates just the contrary.
"The construction techniques and the stones used are different for one room to another, hinting that several masons were used for each room," Perreault said. "This indicates that the shop owners themselves were probably responsible for building the rooms, that 'private enterprise' and not the city was the source of this stoa."
A prosperous city falls into oblivion
In the Iron Age, northern Greece was an Eldorado. The valley of the Strymon River, whose mouth is located less than three kilometres from Argilos, overflowed with gold and silver mines.
With its ports and nearby mines, Argilos was a strategic location for trade in precious metals.
But its prosperity declined rapidly from the mid-5th century BC, when the Athenians founded the nearby city of Amphipolis. In 357 BC, Philip II conquered the whole region and deported the inhabitants from Argilos to Amphipolis, the new seat of the king of Macedonia.
Thus deserted, Argilos remained frozen in time, which is why it is possible today to discover its buildings and the many vestiges of human activity that characterized them.
A popular practicum location
Since it has been under the responsibility of Perreault and Bonias, the Argilos site has provided a practicum location for some 450 University of Montreal students under their supervision.
"Each year, 20 to 30 students spend four to six weeks at Argilos to learn excavation techniques and analysis of archaeological material, and to visit various archaeological sites in northern Greece," says Perreault.
And the experience is far from over. The portico itself has not yet been fully excavated, and according to the results of a three-metre deep geophysical survey, the structure appears to continue, and more discoveries thus await the archaeologists.
Stone Age parallel societies existed up to 5,000 years ago / Forager genes also found in today's Europeans
Indigenous hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived side-by-side for more than 2,000 years in Central Europe, before the hunter-gatherer communities died out or adopted the agricultural lifestyle. The results come from a study undertaken by the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) that has just been published in the eminent journal Science. A team led by Mainz anthropologist Professor Joachim Burger studied bones from the 'Blätterhöhle' cave near Hagen in Germany, where both hunter-gatherers and farmers were buried. "It is commonly assumed that the Central European hunter-gatherers disappeared soon after the arrival of farmers", said Dr. Ruth Bollongino, lead author of the study. "But our study shows that the descendants of Mesolithic Europeans maintained their hunter-gatherer way of life and lived in parallel with the immigrant farmers, for at least 2,000 years. The hunter-gathering lifestyle thus only died out in Central Europe around 5,000 years ago, much later than previously thought."
Until around 7,500 years ago all central Europeans were hunter-gatherers. They were the descendants of the first anatomically modern humans to arrive in Europe, around 45,000 years ago, who survived the last Ice Age and the warming that started around 10,000 years ago. But previous genetic studies by Professor Burger's group indicated that agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle were brought to Central Europe around 7,500 years ago by immigrant farmers. From that time on, little trace of hunter-gathering can be seen in the archaeological record, and it was widely assumed that the hunter-gatherers died out or were absorbed into the farming populations.
The relationship between these immigrant agriculturalists and local hunter-gatherers has been poorly researched to date. The Mainz anthropologists have now determined that the foragers stayed in close proximity to farmers, had contact with them for thousands of years, and buried their dead in the same cave. This contact was not without consequences, because hunter-gatherer women sometimes married into the farming communities, while no genetic lines of farmer women have been found in hunter-gatherers. "This pattern of marriage is known from many studies of human populations in the modern world. Farmer women regarded marrying into hunter-gatherer groups as social anathema, maybe because of the higher birthrate among the farmers," explains Burger.
His palaeogenetics team is a worldwide leader in the field. For the study published in Science, the team examined the DNA from the bones from the 'Blätterhöhle' cave in Westphalia, which is being excavated by the Berlin archaeologist Jörg Orschiedt. It is one of the rare pieces of evidence of the continuing presence of foragers over a period of about 5,000 years.
For a long time the Mainz researchers were unable to make sense of the findings. "It was only through the analysis of isotopes in the human remains, performed by our Canadian colleagues, that the pieces of the puzzle began to fit," states Bollongino. "This showed that the hunter-gatherers sustained themselves in Central and Northern Europe on a very specialized diet that included fish, among other things, until 5,000 years ago.
The team also pursued the question of what impact both groups had on the gene pool of modern Europeans. Dr. Adam Powell, population geneticist at the JGU Institute of Anthropology, explains: "Neither hunter-gatherers nor farmers can be regarded as the sole ancestors of modern-day Central Europeans. European ancestry will reflect a mixture of both populations, and the ongoing question is how and to what extent this admixture happened."
It seems that the hunter-gatherers' lifestyle only died out in Central Europe 5,000 years ago. Agriculture and animal husbandry became the way of life from then on. However, some of the prehistoric farmers had foragers as ancestors, and the, hunter-gatherer genes are found in Central Europeans today.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
New research led by KU Leuven professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman exposes erroneous conclusions in forensic studies by Spanish and French researchers. They incorrectly ascribed a mummified head to Henry IV and a bloody handkerchief to Louis XVI.
Two purportedly royal relics recently surfaced on the collectors' market in France: a mummified head and a handkerchief with blood residues. The head was said to be that of French king Henry IV and the blood on the handkerchief that of King Louis XVI. This was confirmed by Spanish and French researchers, who reported positive DNA matches. Several historians voiced doubts about these claims and enrolled the help of forensic identification specialist Professor Jean-Jacques Cassiman and his team to investigate the relics.
Professor Cassiman's team compared the published DNA results from the head and the blood in the handkerchief with DNA samples obtained from three surviving descendants of the house of Bourbon, progeny of Henry IV. The genetic relationship between these three Bourbons, who come from different branches of the family line, is fixed on the basis of research carried out on the Y-chromosome. The DNA comparison found that there was no relationship between the Bourbons and the blood on the handkerchief, nor the mummified head. Two breaks in the biological line on the paternal side would have had to occur in order for the head and the blood to belong to the two French kings.
Likewise, there was no evidence on the maternal side (based on the mitochondrial DNA testing) suggesting a positive identification of the relics. The mother of Henry IV, Jeanne III d'Albret, is related via Anna of Habsburg in an unbroken maternal line to the Habsburgs, including Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVII. Here, once again, there would have to have been at least one break in the maternal line for the head to belong to King Henry IV. The probability that one of the women in King Henry IV lineage was not the real mother of her daughter, or of the king himself, is virtually non-existent.
Furthermore, DNA tests of the blood on the handkerchief show with 84.2% certainty that the blood belonged to a person who did not have blue eyes. It is known that King Louis XVI had blue eyes.
Based on these conclusions, the team of Professor Cassiman is unable to confirm the conclusions of their Spanish and French counterparts, given the available data. The blood on the handkerchief almost certainly does not belong to Louis XVI. Too little DNA remains were found on the mummified head to confirm or deny that it is the head of Henry IV, although historical data makes this identification unlikely.
According to the researchers, the study shows that a reliable genetic identification of historical remains requires a DNA profile of the living paternal and maternal descendants of the 'donor' to which the remains purportedly belong.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Professor Martin Richards, of the Archaeogenetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield, has published a paper uncovering new information about how Ashkenazi Jewish men moved into Europe from the Middle East, and their marriage practices with European women.
The origins of Ashkenazi Jews – that is, Jews with recent ancestry in central and Eastern Europe – is a long-standing controversy. It is usually assumed that their ancestors migrated into Europe from Palestine in the first century AD, after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, with some intermarriage with Europeans later on. But some have argued that they have a mainly European ancestry, and arose by conversion to Judaism of indigenous Europeans, especially in Italy. Others have even argued that they were largely assimilated in the North Caucasus during the time of the Khazar Empire, whose rulers turned to Judaism around of the tenth century AD.
Archaeogenetics can help to resolve this dispute. Y-chromosome studies have shown that the male line of descent does indeed seem to trace back to the Middle East. But the female line, which can be illuminated by studies of mitochondrial DNA has until now proved more difficult to interpret. This would be especially intriguing because Judaism has been inherited maternally for about 2000 years.
Professor Richards says "We have settled this issue by looking at large numbers of whole mitochondrial genomes – sequencing the full 16,568 bases of the molecule – in many people from across Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. We have found that, in the vast majority of cases, Ashkenazi lineages are most closely related to southern and western European lineages – and that these lineages have been present in Europe for many thousands of years."
This means that, even though Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago, they brought few or no wives with them. They seem to have married with European women, firstly along the Mediterranean, especially in Italy, and later (but probably to a lesser extent) in western and central Europe. This suggests that, in the early years of the Diaspora, Judaism took in many converts from amongst the European population, but they were mainly recruited from amongst women. Thus, on the female line of descent, the Ashkenazim primarily trace their ancestry neither to Palestine nor to Khazaria, but to southern and western Europe.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
In Israel, new mosaics from the fifth-century C.E. synagogue at Huqoq were found during the 2013 excavation season. Directed by Professor Jodi Magness of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Shua Kisilevitz of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Huqoq Excavation Project uncovered another Samson mosaic, as well as a mosaic that might depict an apocryphal (non-Biblical) story. Descriptions and photographs of these mosaics are released in an exclusive in the September/October issue of BAR.
During excavations in 2012, a mosaic with an episode from Judges 15 where Samson ties the tails of 150 pairs of foxes together was unearthed in the Huqoq synagogue. The Samson mosaic found this season shows Samson gigantic in stature carrying the city gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3). Next to Samson are some men riding horses, who are meant to represent Philistines. Mosaic expert Karen Britt has suggested that the presence of two scenes from the Samson narrative in Judges indicates that the Huqoq synagogue was decorated with a Samson cycle, which would be the first ever found in Israel.
The second 2013 mosaic from Huqoq detailed in the BAR exclusive most likely portrays a scene from the Apocrypha: the Maccabean revolt, martyr and miracle traditions celebrated in the Jewish festival Hanukkah. From the synagogue’s east aisle, this mosaic is divided into three registers and pictures men with daggers, soldiers, war animals, an elder holding a scroll, young men with sheathed swords, lit oil lamps and even elephants. If this scene does indeed represent an episode from Maccabees, it would be the first apocryphal story to ever be found in an ancient synagogue.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following report is by Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff, co-directors of the Tel Gezer archaeological excavations in Israel. Ortiz is professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Charles D. Tandy Institute for Archaeology in Fort Worth, Texas. Wolff is senior archaeologist and archivist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.
The period of the United Monarchy has received much press and attention this summer as current excavation projects in Israel have presented sensational results. While much attention has been paid to King David’s activities, archaeologists have been quietly excavating one of the famed cities of Solomon since 2006. A team of nearly 80 staff and students from several countries (U.S., Israel, Palestinian Authority, Russia, Korea, Hong Kong) spent the summer digging at Tel Gezer, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in a valley that guards the pass that leads up from the coastal road (the "Via Maris") to Jerusalem.
Tel Gezer is known from several ancient Egyptian and Assyrian texts as a major city located on the coastal highway between the kingdoms of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is known from biblical texts as a city conquered by an unnamed Egyptian pharaoh and given to Solomon as a wedding gift between the Israelite king and pharaoh’s daughter. Solomon is credited in the Bible with building the walls of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer (1 Kings 9:15-16) -- four major sites that are currently being excavated.
The excavations at Gezer are sponsored by the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with several consortium schools. The excavations are directed by Steven Ortiz of the Tandy and Samuel Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
In this, the sixth season of excavation, one goal was to remove a portion of the city wall built in the Iron IIA period (10th century BCE) in order to investigate a Late Bronze age destruction level (ca. 1400 BCE) that lay below it. To the surprise of the team, in the process of excavating the city wall, an earlier wall system dating to the Iron Age I (1200-1000 BCE) was discovered. This wall was one meter thick with several rooms attached to it. These rooms were filled by a massive destruction, nearly one meter in height,that included Canaanite storage jars, Philistine pottery and other items. A fragment of a Philistine figurine was also found this season. The biblical text record that the king of Gezer organized a Canaanite coalition against Joshua. David had a battle with the Philistines where he chased them “all the way to Gezer.” Perhaps the biblical accounts retain a memory of the importance of Gezer and its close relations to the Philistines during this period.
Beneath this city was an earlier city that was destroyed in a fierce conflagration. This city was functioning during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty’s rule over the southern Levant. Within the destruction debris were several pottery vessels along with a cache of cylinder seals and a large Egyptian scarab with the cartouche of Amenhotep III. This pharaoh was the father of the heretic King Akenaton and grandfather of the famous Tutankhamun (King Tut). This destruction corresponds to other destructions of other cities in the region, a reflection of the internecine warfare that was occurring between the Canaanite cites as reflected in the well-known Tell el-Amarna correspondence.
The archaeology of Solomon has been controversial, fueled by various theories over the dating of the archaeological record. The dating of the Gezer Iron Age Gate is at issue. The Gezer expedition is slowly stripping away layers of public and domestic structures of the 8th and 9th centuries BCE in order to reveal the 10th century city plan adjacent to the City Gate. This summer the tops of the 10th century walls began to poke out, making the archaeologists optimistic that in future seasons more of the Solomonic city will be exposed.
The results of the Tel Gezer excavations will be presented at the end of the month at the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies to be held in Jerusalem. The excavation results will be presented along with other projects in the region in a joint session on the history of the Shephelah region (foothills of Judah).
The Gezer Excavation Project is one of three field projects of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology. Gezer is the flagship archaeological field school of the Tandy Institute including the support of the following consortium schools: Andrews University (2013), Ashland Theological Seminary, Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Lycoming College, Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School, Marian Eakins Archaeology Museum at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information see www.telgezer.com.
Journal of Archaeological Science
Volume 40, Issue 12, December 2013, Pages 4369–4376:
Religious and historical sources suggest that pilgrimage formed a major source of Jerusalem's economy during the Early Roman period due to the Temple's role as a religious and judicial center for the Jewish diaspora. Until now, this assertion has been supported by little material evidence.
In this study, the carbon and nitrogen isotope values of local arcahaeological and, modern wild herbivores from known environments were used to determine the environmental origins of domesticated sheep and goat that were traded and consumed in Early Roman Jerusalem. Pinpointing the environmental origins of these herd animals can determine if they were raised in specialized farms in the vicinity of Jerusalem, brought to the city by local pilgrims, or were part of organized importation of sacrifice animals from desert regions that lie beyond the boundaries of the province of Judea.
The results indicate that at minimum 37% of the goat and sheep consumed in Jerusalem during the Early Roman period were brought from desert regions. The inter-provincial importation of animals to Jerusalem to meet high demands for sacrifice by pilgrims is the first material evidence for large scale economic specialization in the city. Furthermore, the results imply that desert animals were further marketed for domestic use in contemporaneous farm sites out of Jerusalem.
Read it here.
Here's a small sample:
On 11 August 1963, under the headline "New siege of Herod's fort", the Observer published an appeal for international volunteers to join the excavation of Masada, an ancient fortress in the Judean desert. Interested parties had to be available for a minimum of two weeks, fund their own travel to and from Israel, be prepared for harsh conditions, and apply in writing to PO Box 7041, Jerusalem.
"One of the greatest surprises – and delights – of the enterprise, long before we had put scoop to rubble, was the response," wrote Yigael Yadin, the former Israeli military chief of staff turned archaeologist, who was the mastermind, driving force and public face of the dig, in his 1966 book Masada. "We were flooded with applications."
According to Ronald Harker, an Observer journalist who introduced a book on Masada produced by the paper, the applicants were "men and women, rich and poor, young and old, and from 28 countries. None was under any illusion about the nature of the task ... It was made clear that the work would be hard and often boring, the food adequate but not appetising, that the heat of the day would be severe and the nights cold, the comforts (with 10 beds to a tent) would be limited, and recreation primitive if not minimal. Yet ... pleas to join from all parts of the world continued to flow in."
Almost 10,000 people responded to the appeal; many were turned away by overwhelmed organisers. By mid-October the first batch assembled at the desert town of Arad, to be taken by truck to the base of the majestic 2,000-year-old clifftop fortress that was waiting to be uncovered. "They arrived by bus, or hitch-hiked, with rucksacks, suitcases, banjos and typewriters, in shorts, jeans, slacks and skirts," according to a contemporary account in the Jerusalem Post. "Bearded and bespectacled, clean-shaven and clear-eyed, they came from all over Israel and all over the world...
The Tel Yafo excavations in June and July 2013, directed by Aaron A. Burke and Martin Peilstöcker, centered on the exposure of the intensively burned remains of the fourteenth century B.C. gate complex of an Egyptian fortress in Jaffa, Israel—the only Egyptian gate excavated in Israel to date. The extent of the burning attested within the gate complex was already evident during the 2012 season when a commemorative scarab of Amenhotep III dated to the mid-fourteenth century B.C. was discovered within the upper layers of the destruction, having fallen from what was likely a second story administrative office.
The 2013 excavations permitted the complete exposure of the gate’s passageway below more than 1.5 meters of accumulated destruction debris. Major finds included several arrowheads, a spearhead and lead weight, the antlers from at least four deer, decorative ivory inlays, thousands of seeds, a number of unique ceramic vessels, and nearly two dozen timbers belonging to the gate’s roof and upper story. While the arrowheads and spearhead may be indications of the battle to take the fortress before it was deliberately razed, the antlers strewn along one side of the passageway provide a glimpse into its appearance when it was in use. These artifacts suggest that the gate was not a stark and utilitarian space as many reconstructions of Egyptian gates suggest. Instead, it would seem that Egyptian soldiers hung these items within the passageway as trophies of their hunting around Jaffa.
The timbers recovered within the gate are likely cedars from Lebanon used in the construction of the gate’s second story and roof. These constitute the earliest and largest such samples of timbers from Israel to date. They will provide not only important chronological data such as evidence for the date of the construction of the gate complex but also will contribute to refining our understanding of the evolution of Egyptian rule in Canaan since the gate is one in a sequence of gates providing evidence for the earliest Egyptian fortress in Canaan. As important proxies for climate change, the timbers also offer a unique opportunity for an improved study of Late Bronze Age environment.
The discovery of the timbers was given even greater chronological significance because of the unusual preservation of thousands of seeds retrieved from the base of the destruction debris that will permit extensive radiocarbon testing. Among the seeds are barley, olive pits, grape pips, and chick peas charred black but identifiable to the naked eye on the floor of the gate. Such remains were unexpected in this context, given that monumental architecture does not frequently yield good evidence for the consumption practices of the inhabitants of a site. The seeds along with the artifacts recovered from the destruction within the gate reveal that Egyptian gate complexes were not exclusively defensive structures, but that they also served to house administrators, storerooms, and other support facilities.
The 2013 excavations were funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of a project titled “Insurgency, Resistance, and Interaction: Archaeological Inquiry into New Kingdom Egyptian Rule in Jaffa.” This program, which began in 2011, centers on understanding the nature of interactions between the ancient Egyptian garrison and the region’s populations by examining evidence for both conflict and social integration at the site that occurred between the foundation of the fortress in 1460 B.C. until the collapse of Egyptian rule in Canaan during the twelfth century B.C.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
One day in 2011, undergraduate student Naomi Martisius was sorting through tiny bone remnants in the University of California, Davis, paleoanthropology lab when she stumbled across a peculiar piece.
The bone fragment, from a French archaeological site, turned out to be a part of an early specialized bone tool used by a Neandertal before the first modern humans appeared in Europe.
"At the time, I had no idea about the impact of my discovery," said Martisius, who is now pursuing her doctoral degree in anthropology at UC Davis.
Martisius' opportunity was the result of a decade of excavation and research by two international teams. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in August.
"Previously these types of bone tools have only been associated with modern humans," said Teresa E. Steele, associate professor of anthropology at UC Davis, who also served as a co-author on the article and adviser to Martisius at UC Davis and at archaeological excavations in France.
"However, our identification of these pieces in secure Neandertal contexts leaves open the possibility that we have found, for the first time, evidence that Neandertals may have influenced the technology of modern humans," she said.
Used to smooth tough animal hides, the tools were made about 50,000 years ago by Neandertals -- not just the humans who came after them, as researchers had earlier theorized. The specialized tools are still used today, in similar form, to smooth and refine leather made into high-end purses and jackets.
The bone tools were found in deposits containing typical Neandertal stone tools and the bones of hunted animals including reindeer, red deer and bison. Three of the four pieces were from the site of Abri Peyrony, France. The animal bones from that site had been exported to UC Davis for analysis in Steele's lab where Martisius worked with her to study the material.
Now in her second year of doctoral studies at UC Davis, Martisius will carry on her research of these pieces. She, Steele and their colleagues will use resources available at UC Davis to conduct experimental studies to manufacture -- and use -- new, similar animal bone tools for comparison.
Using sophisticated imaging techniques, Martisius will examine the pieces made by the Neandertals, comparing those with the ones first made by the first modern humans in Europe and the ones she manufactures at UC Davis. She said she also will look at animal bones from nearby sites to see if she can identify additional pieces made by Neandertals.
The tools described in their current work were recovered in archaeological sites in the French countryside that had been explored for more than 100 years, but modern archaeological techniques enabled researchers to recognize these smaller pieces now identified as pieces of once-sophisticated tools, Steele said.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
In excavating sites in a long-inhabited urban area like Jerusalem, archaeologists are accustomed to noting complexity in their finds -- how various occupying civilizations layer over one another during the site's continuous use over millennia. But when an area has also been abandoned for intermittent periods, paradoxically there may be even richer finds uncovered, as some layers have been buried and remain undisturbed by development.
Such appears be the case at an archaeological dig on Jerusalem's Mount Zion, conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where the 2013 excavations have revealed the well-preserved lower levels of what the archaeological team believes is an Early Roman period mansion(first century CE), possibly belonging to a member of the Jewish ruling priestly caste.
If the mansion does prove to be an elite priestly residence, the dig team hopes the relatively undisturbed nature of the buried ruin may yield significant domestic details concerning the rulers of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.
IMAGE: Unusual for the period, a bath chamber with bathtub was found buried at Mt. Zion first-century mansion site, connected to the structure's mikveh. Credit: Shimon Gibson
Particularly important in the season's discoveries were a buried vaulted chamber that has proven to be an unusual finished bathroom (with bathtub) adjacent to a large below-ground ritual cleansing pool (mikveh) -- only the fourth bathroom to be found in Israel from the Second Temple period, with two of the others found in palaces of Herod the Great at Jericho and Masada.
Shimon Gibson, the British-born archaeologist co-directing the UNC Charlotte excavation, notes that the addition of the bathroom to the mikveh is a clear sign of the wealth and status of the resident.
"The bathroom is very important because hitherto, except for Jerusalem, it is usually found within palace complexes, associated with the rulers of the country," Gibson said."We have examples of bathrooms of this kind mainly in palatial buildings."
The other example of a contemporary mikveh with an attached bathroom is at a site excavated in Jerusalem in the nearby Jewish Quarter."A bathroom that is almost a copy of ours was found in an excavation of a palatial mansion," noted Gibson. "It is only a stone's throw away and I wouldn't hesitate to say that the people who made that bathroom probably were the same ones who made this one. It's almost identical, not only in the way it's made, but also in the finishing touches, like the edge of the bath itself."
"The building in the Jewish Quarter is similar in characteristics to our own with an inscription of a priestly family," Gibson added. "The working theory is that we're dealing also with a priestly family."
This image shows the archaeological site at Jerusalem's Mt. Zion, beneath the city's (Turkish) wall. The site reveals many layers of the city's cultural history, including a first-century mansion, which was then in Jerusalem's elite district. Credit: Shimon Gibson
Gibson notes that there are other details about the site that suggest that its first century residents may have been members of the ruling elite."The building that we are excavating is in the shadow -- immediately to the southeast -- of the very, very large palace of Herod the Great, his compound and the later seat of the Roman governors (praetorium)."
The location is a strong indication of a high-status resident. "Whoever lived in this house would have been a neighbor and would have been able to pop into the palace," he speculated.
While also cautious about reaching premature conclusions, dig co-director James Tabor, a UNC Charlotte scholar of early Christian history, believes there might be significant historical information uncovered, should the building turn out to be a priestly residence.
"If this turns out to be the priestly residence of a wealthy first century Jewish family, it immediately connects not just to the elite of Jerusalem -- the aristocrats, the rich and famous of that day -- but to Jesus himself," Tabor said. "These are the families who had Jesus arrested and crucified, so for us to know more about them and their domestic life -- and the level of wealth that they enjoyed -- would really fill in for us some key history."
Though the artifacts found this season are still being evaluated, one set of items in particular stand out as highly unusual: a large number of murex shells, the largest number ever found in the ruins of first-century Jerusalem. Species of murex (a genus of Mediterranean sea snail) were highly valued in Roman times because of a rich purple dye that could be extracted from the living creature.
"This color was highly desired," Gibson said. "The dye industry seems to be something that was supervised by the priestly class for the priestly vestments and for other aspects of clothing which were vital for those who wished to officiate in the capital precincts."
Why anyone in Jerusalem would be in possession of such "a very large quantity" of murex shells, however, remains a mystery to the excavation team, since the shells are not involved in the actual dye making process. Gibson hypothesizes that the shells may have been used to identify different grades of dye, since the quality of the product can vary from species to species. Some species are used to make a turquoise blue dye.
"It is significant that these are household activities which may have been undertaken by the priests," Gibson said. "If so, it tells us a lot more about the priests than we knew before. We know from the writings of Josephus Flavius and later rabbinical texts about their activities in the area of the Jewish temple, but there is hardly any information about their priestly activities outside the holy precinct. This is new information, and that is quite exciting. We might find in future seasons further aspects of industries which were supervised by these priestly families."
The domestic details of the first-century Jewish ruling class may yield insights into New Testament history, Tabor notes. "Jesus, in fact, criticizes the wealth of this class," Tabor said. "He talks about their clothing and their long robes and their finery, and, in a sense, pokes fun at it. So for us to get closer to understanding that -- to supplement the text -- it could be really fascinating."
Gibson also notes that historical legends from several centuries later point as well to the possibility that the building is a priestly residence."Byzantine tradition places in our general area the mansion of the high priest Caiaphas or perhaps Annas, who was his father-in-law," Gibson said. "In those days you had extended families who would have been using the same building complex, which might have had up to 20 rooms and several different floors."
Further discoveries this season suggest still other details of history from first century Jerusalem. At the bottom of the residence's large, 30-foot deep cistern, the excavators found cooking pots and the remains of an oven. While Gibson stresses that it is again too early to draw conclusions about these items, he and the other researchers are considering these items as a possible indication that the emptied cistern was used as a refuge by Jewish residents hiding from Roman soldiers during the siege of 70 CE.
"When we started clearing it we found a lot of debris inside, which included substantial numbers of animal bones and then right at the bottom we came across a number of vessels, which seemed to be sitting on the floor -- cooking pots and bits of an oven as well," Gibson said."We still need to look at this material very carefully and be absolutely certain of our conclusions, but it might be that these are the remnants of a kitchen in use by Jews hiding from the Romans -- their last resort was to go into these cisterns. It was a common practice, but this conclusion is theoretical. It makes for a very good story and it does look that way, but we've got to be certain."
Gibson notes that the Roman-Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus talks about such a scene in his description of the siege:
One John, a leader of the rebels, along with his brother Simon, who were found starved to death in the cisterns and water systems that ran under the city. Over 2000 bodies found in the various underground chambers, most dead from starvation. (Josephus, War 6:429-433)
Gibson credits the rich amount of detail and archaeological information present at the first century level of the dig with the accident of the site's location in Jerusalem. Ruins in major urban areas are rarely preserved with parts of the structure buried intact because subsequent residents tend to cannibalize buildings for materials for their own structures. However, when the Jerusalem of Jesus's era was destroyed by the occupying Romans in 70 CE, it was deserted for 65 years, until the Roman Emperor Hadrian re-built a city (Aelia Capitolina) on the ruins in 135 CE. At that point however,the new development was on the other side of the present-day city and Mount Zion was left unoccupied.
"The ruined field of first-century houses in our area remained there intact up until the beginning of the Byzantine period (early 4th Century)," Gibson said. "When the Byzantine inhabitants built there, they leveled things off a bit but they used the same plan of the older houses, building their walls on top of the older walls."
Subsequently, the sixth century Byzantine Emperor Justinian contributed another layer of preservation when he completed the construction of a massive new cathedral, the Nea Ekklesia of the Theotokos, just to the north-east of the site on Mt. Zion. The construction involved the excavation of enormous underground reservoirs and the excavation fill was dumped downhill, burying the more recent Byzantine constructions.
"The area got submerged, " Gibson said. "The early Byzantine reconstruction of these two-story Early Roman houses then got buried under rubble and soil fills. Then they established buildings above it. That's why we found an unusually well-preserved set of stratigraphic levels."
Monday, September 16, 2013
For the first time, a team of scientists and archaeologists has been able to set a robust timeline for the first eight dynastic rulers of Egypt. Until now there have been no verifiable chronological records for this period or the process leading up to the formation of the Egyptian state. The chronology of Early Egypt between 4500 and 2800 BC has been reset by building mathematical models that combine new radiocarbon dates with established archaeological evidence. Over 100 fresh radiocarbon dates were obtained for hair, bone and plant samples excavated at several key sites including the tombs of the kings and surrounding burials.
The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A.
Egypt was the first territorial state to be brought under one political ruler, and the new dating evidence suggests that this period of unification happened far more quickly than previously thought.
Until now scholars had relied on archaeological evidence alone, using the evolving styles of ceramics excavated at human burial sites to try to piece together the timings of key chronological events in the Predynastic period and the First Dynasty. For example, among the most significant pieces of evidence surviving today are two mud seals, excavated at the royal tombs at Abydos, containing lists in successive order of the First Dynasty kings.
Using the fresh radiocarbon dates combined with existing archaeological evidence, the research team's mathematical model pinpointed the likeliest date for each king's accession. The date for each king is thought to be accurate to within 32 years (with 68% probability). The modelled timeline reveals lengths of reign that are approximately what you would expect in terms of lifespan, say the study authors.
The Egyptian state is often defined as starting when King Aha acceded to the throne. According to the new model, this is likely to have happened between 3111 BC and 3045 BC (with 68% probability). It also shows that the Predynastic period -- when inhabitants along the River Nile started to form permanent settlements and concentrate on crop farming -- was shorter than previously thought. It had been widely assumed that the Predynastic period started around 4000 BC. However, this model suggests it was probably closer to 3800-3700 BC, and the Neolithic period that preceded it lasted longer and finished later.
Lead author of the study Dr Michael Dee, from the Research Laboratory for Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: 'The origins of Egypt began a millennium before the pyramids were built, which is why our understanding of how and why this powerful state developed is based solely on archaeological evidence. This new study provides new radiocarbon dating evidence that resets the chronology of the first dynastic rulers of Ancient Egypt and suggests that Egypt formed far more rapidly than was previously thought.'
The first kings and queens of Egypt in order of succession were Aha, Djer, Djet, Queen Merneith, Den, Anedjib, Semerkhet and Qa'a. They would have ruled over a territory spanning a similar area to Egypt today with formal borders at Aswan in the south, the Mediterranean Sea in the north and across to the modern-day Gaza Strip in the east.
Organic materials from key burial sites of the Badarin and Naqada periods and the First Dynasty were dated using the Oxford Radiocarbon Acceleterator Unit (ORAU) at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology, Oxford. All the remains were from museum collections in Europe and North America with freshly excavated seed samples from the Gaza Strip.
An international team of researchers led by Oxford University have new dating evidence indicating when the earliest fully modern humans arrived in the Near East, the region known as the Middle East today. They have obtained the radiocarbon dates of marine shell beads found at Ksar Akil, a key archaeological site in Lebanon, which allowed them to calculate that the oldest human fossil from the same sequence of archaeological layers is 42,400-41,700 years old. This is significant because the age of the earliest fossils, directly and indirectly dated, of modern humans found in Europe is roughly similar. This latest discovery throws up intriguing new possibilities about the routes taken by the earliest modern humans out of Africa, says the study published online by the journal PLOS ONE.
The research team radiocarbon dated 20 marine shells from the top 15 metres of archaeological layers at Ksar Akil, north of Beirut. The shells were perforated, which indicates they were used as beads for body or clothes decoration by modern humans. Neanderthals, who were living in the same region before them, were not making such beads. The study confirms that the shell beads are only linked to the parts of the sequence assigned to modern humans and shows that through direct radiocarbon dating they are between 41,000-35,000 years old.
The Middle East has always been regarded as a key region in prehistory for scholars speculating on the routes taken by early humans out of Africa because it lies at the crossroads of three continents -- Africa, Asia and Europe. It was widely believed that at some point after 45,000 years ago early modern humans arrived in Europe, taking routes out of Africa through the Near East, and, from there, along the Mediterranean rim or along the River Danube. However, this dating evidence suggests populations of early modern humans arrived in Europe and the Near East at roughly the same time, sparking a new debate about where the first populations of early humans travelled from in their expansion towards Europe and which alternative routes they may have taken.
In Ksar Akil, the Lebanese rockshelter, several human remains were found in the original excavations made 75 years ago. Unfortunately since then, the most complete skeleton of a young girl, thought to be about 7-9 years of age buried at the back of the rock shelter, has been lost. Lost also are the fragments of a second individual, found next to the buried girl. However, the team was able to calculate the age of the lost fossil at 40,800-39,200 years ago, taking into account its location in the sequence of archaeological layers in relation to the marine shell beads.
Another fossil of a recently rediscovered fragment of the upper jaw of a woman, now located in a museum in Beirut, had insufficient collagen to be dated by radiocarbon methods. A method using statistical modelling was used to date by association the jaw fragment at 42,400-41,700 years old.
Ksar Akil is one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in Eurasia. It consists of a 23 metre deep sequence of archaeological layers that lay undisturbed for thousands of years until a team of American Jesuit priests excavated the rockshelter in 1937-38, and again after the end of the WWII, in 1947-48. The cave layers were found to contain the human fossils and hundreds of shell beads, as well as thousands of stone tools and broken bones of hunted and consumed animals.
Study lead author Dr Katerina Douka, from the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: 'This is a region where scholars have been expecting to find early evidence of anatomically and behaviourally modern humans, like us, leaving Africa and directly replacing Eurasian Neanderthal populations that lived there for more than 150,000 years. The human fossils at Ksar Akil appear to be of a similar age to fossils in other European contexts. It is possible that instead of the Near East being the single point of origin for modern humans heading for Europe, they may also have used other routes too. A maritime route across Mediterranean has been proposed although evidence is scarce. A wealth of archaeological data now pinpoints the plains of Central Asia as a particularly important but relatively unknown region which requires further investigation.'
The earliest European modern fossil, from Romania, dates to between 42,000-38,000 years before the present time, and specialists have estimated the age of Kent's Cavern maxilla from southern England, between 44,000-41,000 years, and that of two milk teeth in southern Italy, at 45,000-43,000 years old. The new dating evidence from Ksar Akil is largely comparable to these ages, if not slightly younger.