Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The oldest hominin butchery in European mid-latitudes at the Jaramillo site of Untermassfeld (Thuringia, Germany)

The late Early Pleistocene site of Untermassfeld has recently yielded stone artefacts attesting hominin occupation. Now, we report here, for the first time, evidence of hominin butchery such as cut marks and intentional hammerstone-related bone breakage. This probable subsistence behaviour was detected in a small animal subsample recovered from levels with early stone tools.

The frequent occurrence of butchery traces on bones of large-sized herd animals (i.e., Bison) may imply a greater need for meat in seasonal habitats characterised by a depletion of nutritive plants in winter. Early access to carcasses, before their consumption by carnivores, provided hominins with sufficient quantities of meat.

Stone tools and animal remains with signs of butchery recovered at Untermassfeld are evidence of the oldest hominin settlement at continental mid-latitudes (50° N).

Journal of Human EvolutionVolume 94, May 2016, Pages 53–71

A world map of Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry in modern humans

This map shows the proportion of the genome inferred to be Denisovan in ancestry in diverse non-Africans. The color scale is not linear to allow saturation of the high Denisova proportions in Oceania (bright red) and better visualization of the peak of Denisova proportion in South Asia.
Sankararaman et al./Current Biology 2016

Most non-Africans possess at least a little bit Neanderthal DNA. But a new map of archaic ancestry--published March 28 in Current Biology--suggests that many bloodlines around the world, particularly of South Asian descent, may actually be a bit more Denisovan, a mysterious population of hominids that lived around the same time as the Neanderthals. The analysis also proposes that modern humans interbred with Denisovans about 100 generations after their trysts with Neanderthals.

The Harvard Medical School/UCLA research team that created the map also used comparative genomics to make predictions about where Denisovan and Neanderthal genes may be impacting modern human biology. While there is still much to uncover, Denisovan genes can potentially be linked to a more subtle sense of smell in Papua New Guineans and high-altitude adaptions in Tibetans. Meanwhile, Neanderthal genes found in people around the world most likely contribute to tougher skin and hair.

"There are certain classes of genes that modern humans inherited from the archaic humans with whom they interbred, which may have helped the modern humans to adapt to the new environments in which they arrived," says senior author David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School and the Broad Institute. "On the flip side, there was negative selection to systematically remove ancestry that may have been problematic from modern humans. We can document this removal over the 40,000 years since these admixtures occurred."

Reich and lab members, Swapan Mallick and Nick Patterson, teamed up with previous laboratory member Sriram Sankararaman, now an Assistant Professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, on the project, which found evidence that both Denisovan and Neanderthal ancestry has been lost from the X chromosome, as well as genes expressed in the male testes. They theorize that this has contributed to reduced fertility in males, which is commonly observed in other hybrids between two highly divergent groups of the same species.

The researchers collected their data by comparing known Neanderthal and Denisovan gene sequences across more than 250 genomes from 120 non-African populations publically available through the Simons Genome Diversity Project (there is little evidence for Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry in Africans). The analysis was carried out by a machine-learning algorithm that could differentiate between components of both kinds of ancestral DNA, which are more similar to one another than to modern humans.

The results showed that individuals from Oceania possess the highest percentage of archaic ancestry and south Asians possess more Denisovan ancestry than previously believed. This reveals previously unknown interbreeding events, particularly in relation to Denisovans. In contrast, Western Eurasians are the non-Africans least likely to have Neanderthal or Denisovan genes. "The interactions between modern humans and archaic humans are complex and perhaps involved multiple events," Reich says.

The study's main limitation is that it relies on the current library of ancient genomes available. The researchers caution against drawing any conclusions about our extinct human ancestors based on the genetics and possible traits that they left behind. "We can't use this data to make claims about what the Denisovans or Neanderthals looked like, what they ate, or what kind of diseases they were susceptible to," says Sankararaman, first author on the paper. "We are still very far from understanding that."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Earliest known Neolithic quarry in the southern Levant, dating back 11,000 years, uncovered in central Israel

Archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem uncovered in central Israel the earliest known Neolithic quarry in the southern Levant, dating back 11,000 years. Finds from the site indicate large-scale quarrying activities to extract flint and limestone for the purpose of manufacturing working tools.

In a research paper published in the journal PLOS ONE, a team of archeologists, led by Dr. Leore Grosman and Prof. Naama Goren-Inbar from the Institute of Archeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, showed how inhabitants of the Neolithic communities changed their landscape forever.

"Humans became more dominant and influential in their terrestrial landscape and Kaizer Hill quarry provides dramatic evidence to the alteration of the landscape," said Dr. Grosman.

Kaizer Hill quarry is the first of its age, size and scope to be revealed in the southern Levant, where the Neolithic culture is believed to have begun and farming communities have developed. The introduction of farming is widely regarded as one of the biggest changes in human history, and "domestication" of the landscape was a significant process in the changing approach to nature.

The quarry is assigned to the Neolithic Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) culture, one of the incipient cultural stages in the shift from a hunter-gatherer to a farming way of life.

The gradual transition to agricultural subsistence, when people learned how to produce their food rather than acquiring it, was accompanied by a changing attitude to 'landscape' and the practices of using the surrounding nature for the benefit of humans.

"The economic shift, from hunter-gatherers to agriculture, was accompanied by numerous changes in the social and technological spheres. Various quarrying marks including cup marks showed that the cutting of stones was done in various strategies, including identifying potential flint pockets; creating quarrying fronts on the rocks; removing blocks to allow extraction of flint; creating areas for quarrying dump; and using drilling and chiseling as a primary technique for extracting flint," said Prof. Goren-Inbar.

Researchers suggested a new interpretation to bedrock damage markings on the site of Kaizer Hill quarry, located on a 300 meter-high hill on the outskirts of the sprawling city of Modi'in, some 35 km west of Jerusalem.

"At the peak of the hill we found damaged rock surfaces, providing evidence to quarrying activity aimed at extracting flint nodules and exploiting the thick layer of caliche (a sedimentary rock locally known by the Arabic term Nari)," said Dr. Leore Grosman.

"The ancient people at the time carved the stone with flint working tools (for example axes). This suggestion differs from the commonly held view, which considers all features defined as cup marks to be devices that were primarily involved in a variety of grinding, food preparation, social or even symbolic activities," researchers wrote in their paper.

Text in lost language may reveal worship patterns by Etruscans

The Etruscan stele was discovered embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years.
Mugello Valley Project

Archaeologists in Italy have discovered what may be a rare sacred text in the Etruscan language that is likely to yield rich details about Etruscan worship of a god or goddess.

The lengthy text is inscribed on a large 6th century BCE sandstone slab that was uncovered from an Etruscan temple.

A new religious artifact is rare. Most Etruscan discoveries typically have been grave and funeral objects.

"This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions," said archaeologist Gregory Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, which made the discovery.

The slab, weighing about 500 pounds and nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, has at least 70 legible letters and punctuation marks, said Warden, professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, main sponsor of the project.

Scholars in the field predict the stele (STEE-lee), as such slabs are called, will yield a wealth of new knowledge about the lost culture of the Etruscans. The Etruscan civilization once ruled Rome and influenced Romans on everything from religion to government to art to architecture.

Considered one of the most religious people of the ancient world, Etruscan life was permeated by religion, and ruling magistrates also exercised religious authority.

The slab was discovered embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years. At one time it would have been displayed as an imposing and monumental symbol of authority, Warden said.

The Mugello Valley dig, specifically the Poggio Colla site, is northeast of Florence, Italy. The slab would have been connected to the early sacred life of the sanctuary there. The architecture then was characterized by timber-framed oval structures pre-dating a large temple with an imposing stone podium and large stone column bases of the Tuscan Doric type, five of which have been found at the site, Warden said.

"We hope to make inroads into the Etruscan language," said Warden, president and professor of archaeology at Franklin University Switzerland. "Long inscriptions are rare, especially one this long, so there will be new words that we have never seen before, since it is not a funerary text."

Conservation and study of the stele, with full photogrammetry and laser scanning to document all aspects of the conservation process and all details of the inscribed surfaces, is underway in the next few months at the conservation laboratories of the Tuscan Archaeological Superintendency in Florence by experts from the architecture department of the University of Florence. The sandstone, likely from a local source, is heavily abraded and chipped, with one side reddened, possibly from undergoing burning in antiquity. Cleaning will allow scholars to read the inscription.

"We know how Etruscan grammar works, what's a verb, what's an object, some of the words," Warden said. "But we hope this will reveal the name of the god or goddess that is worshiped at this site." The text will be studied and published by a noted expert on the Etruscan language, Rex Wallace, Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

In two decades of digging, Mugello Valley Archaeological Project has unearthed objects about Etruscan worship, beliefs, gifts to divinities, and discoveries related to the daily lives of elites and non-elites, including workshops, kilns, pottery and homes. This wealth of material helps document the ritual activity from the 7th century to the 2nd century BCE, including gold jewelry, coins, the earliest scene of childbirth in western European art, and in the past two seasons, four 6th-century bronze statuettes.

Etruscan scholar Jean MacIntosh Turfa with the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, said the stele discovery will advance knowledge of Etruscan history, literacy and religious practices.

"Inscriptions of more than a few words, on permanent materials, are rare for the Etruscans, who tended to use perishable media like linen cloth books or wax tablets," Turfa said. "This stone stele is evidence of a permanent religious cult with monumental dedications, at least as early as the Late Archaic Period, from about 525 to 480 BCE. Its re-use in the foundations of a slightly later sanctuary structure points to deep changes in the town and its social structure."

It would be a rare discovery to identify the Etruscan god or goddess to which the sanctuary was dedicated.

"Apart from the famous seaside shrine at Pyrgi, with its inscribed gold plaques, very few Etruscan sanctuaries can be so conclusively identified," Turfa said. "A study of the names of the dedicants will yield rich data on a powerful society where the nobility, commoners and even freed slaves could offer public vows and gifts."

Etruscans were a highly cultured people, but very little of their writing has been preserved, mostly just short funerary inscriptions with names and titles, said archaeologist Ingrid Edlund-Berry, professor emerita, The University of Texas at Austin.

"So any text, especially a longer one, is an exciting addition to our knowledge," said Edlund-Berry, an expert in Etruscan civilization. "It is very interesting that the stele was found within the walls of the buildings at the site, thus suggesting that it was re-used, and that it represents an early phase at the site."

The Poggio Colla site is in northern Etruria. Most inscriptions have come from centers further south, Edlund-Berry said.

How diet shaped Neanderthal evolution

Homo sapiens, the ancestor of modern humans, shared the planet with Neanderthals, a close, heavy-set relative that dwelled almost exclusively in Ice-Age Europe, until some 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals were similar to Homo sapiens, with whom they sometimes mated -- but they were different, too. Among these many differences, Neanderthals were shorter and stockier, with wider pelvises and rib-cages than their modern human counterparts.

But what accounted for these anatomical differences? A new Tel Aviv University study finds that the Ice-Age diet -- a high-protein intake of large animals -- triggered physical changes in Neanderthals, namely a larger ribcage and a wider pelvis.

According to the research, the bell-shaped Neanderthal rib-cage or thorax had to evolve to accommodate a larger liver, the organ responsible for metabolizing great quantities of protein into energy. This heightened metabolism also required an expanded renal system (enlarged bladder and kidneys) to remove large amounts of toxic urea, possibly resulting in a wide Neanderthal pelvis.

Seeing evolution from a new angle

"The anatomical differences between the thoraxes and pelvises of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals have been well-known for many years, but now we're approaching it from a new angle -- diet," said Prof. Avi Gopher. Prof. Gopher, Prof. Ran Barkai and PhD candidate Miki Ben-Dor, all of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, co-authored the study, which was recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
"During harsh Ice-Age winters, carbohydrates were scarce and fat was in limited supply. But large game, the typical prey of the Neanderthal, thrived," said Ben-Dor. "This situation triggered an evolutionary adaptation to a high-protein diet -- an enlarged liver, expanded renal system and their corresponding morphological manifestations. All of these contributed to the Neanderthal evolutionary process."

"In a 2011 paper, which dealt with the demise of Homo erectus in the Levant, we had already tapped into the notion that diet played a major role in human evolution," said Prof. Barkai. "We argued then that high fat consumption was one of the most important solutions to the predicament presented by human evolution. Humans are limited in the amount of protein they are able turn into energy -- protein provides just 30 percent of their overall diet. The solution, therefore, was to consume more fat and more carbohydrates when they were seasonally available.

"We found that, in the case of the Neanderthals, an acute shortage of carbohydrates and a limited availability of fat caused their biological adaptation to a high-protein diet."

The proof in the dietary pudding

Numerous animal experiments have already demonstrated that a high-protein diet is likely to produce enlarged livers and kidneys. "Early indigenous Arctic populations who primarily ate meat also displayed enlarged livers and the tendency to drink a lot of water, a sign of increased renal activity," said Ben-Dor.

According to the researchers, the total dependence of Neanderthals on large animals to answer their fat and protein needs may provide a clue to their eventual extinction, which took place at the same time as the beginning of the demise of giant animals or "Megafauna" in Europe some 50,000 years ago. The team is now researching this subject.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

After the first Americans migrated from Asia they spent up to 10,000 years in Beringia before moving south into the Americas

About 11,500 years ago, two infants were laid to rest side by side in a shallow grave 80 kilometers southeast of what is now Fairbanks, Alaska. The area was once part of Beringia, a strip of ice-free land connected to Asia during the last ice age. Researchers found the remains in 2013, and have now sequenced the complete mitochondrial genomes of the two children. The results revealed that the infants had different mothers and that their genetic signatures are found today throughout North and South America.

Anthropologists have long suspected that the Americas were populated by nomadic people from Asia who migrated over the Bering land bridge during the last ice age, when sea levels were much lower. Glacial evidence suggests that this land bridge was open between 28,000 and 18,000 years ago. However, the oldest evidence of people in the Americas dates to about 15,000 years ago, leaving researchers to wonder what took these nomads so long to move south from Beringia after crossing the land bridge.

The newly published mitochondrial DNA sequences — the oldest sequences recovered to date this far north — lend support to an idea called the Beringian standstill hypothesis. The hypothesis suggests that after the first Americans migrated across the Bering land bridge from Asia, they spent up to 10,000 years in Beringia before moving south into the Americas, possibly because ice blocked the route.

Complete article

Friday, March 18, 2016

Ancient Denisovan DNA excavated in modern Pacific Islanders

The archaic Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA that persists in modern individuals from the Pacific islands of Melanesia could be a source of new information about early human history, according to a report published this Thursday in the Early Release edition of Science.

Equally as informative, according to Joshua Akey, a UW Medicine expert on human evolutionary genetics, are regions where DNA from extinct, human-like species has vanished from the genome and has been replaced with sequences unique to people.

Denisovans are related to, but distinct from, Neanderthals. This prehistoric species was discovered less than a decade ago through genetic analysis of a finger bone unearthed in northern Siberia. Named for the mountain cave where that fossil, and later, two teeth, were found, Denisovans became a new addition to our ancient cousins on the evolutionary tree.

Substantial amounts of Denisovan DNA have been detected in the genomes of only few present-day human populations so far. They are all living in Oceania, thousands of miles away from that Siberian cave.

"I think that people (and Neanderthals and Denisovans) liked to wander," said Benjamin Vernot, a UW postdoctoral student in genomic sciences who led the project. "And yes, studies like this can help us track where they wandered."

"Denisovans are the only species of archaic humans about whom we know less from fossil evidence and more from where their genes show up in modern humans," Akey said.

Denisovan DNA could make up between 2 percent to 4 percent of the genome of a native Melanesian. Lower levels of Denisovan ancestry, other recent studies suggest, may be more widespread in the world.

Akey, a University of Washington professor of genome sciences, and Svante Paabo, of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, oversaw the Melanesian genome project. It was a collaboration with researchers in medicine, anthropology, statistics and biotechnology from several other universities.

Many recent studies have tried to understand when and where archaic hominins and our modern ancestors co-existed and interbred. Most of this research has been intent on cataloging Neanderthal gene sequences remaining in the genomes people of European or Asian descent.

According to Vernot, "Different populations of people have slightly different levels of Neanderthal ancestry, which likely means that humans repeatedly ran into Neanderthals as they spread across Europe."

Where the ancestors of modern humans might have had physical contact with Denisovans is debatable. The best guess, Akey said, is that Denisovans may have had a broad geographic range that extended into East Asia. Early humans with both Denisovan and Neanderthal ancestry could have traveled along South East Asia. Eventually, some of their descendants arrived on the islands north of Australia.

"Little is known about the organization and characteristics of Denisovan DNA in modern humans, which is why we wanted to study genome samples from Melanesians," Akey said.

"We developed an approach to identify DNA inherited from multiple archaic hominin [human-like] ancestors, and applied it to whole-genome sequences from 1,523 geographically diverse individuals," the authors wrote in their paper. The analysis included the genomes of 35 individuals from 11 locations in the Bismarck Archipelago of Northern Island Melanesia, Papua, New Guinea.

With this study, Vernot explained, researchers advanced the understanding of archaic DNA in people beyond a single species of hominins. Previously, researchers had located large regions of the genome where no humans carried any Neanderthal sequences.

"We now know that some of those regions are also devoid of Denisovan sequences, " he said. Vernot referred to those regions as "archaic deserts" that strengthen the argument that something there is uniquely human. The size of those regions might mean that selection against archaic sequences -- or other reasons for gene depletion -- was strong, maybe stronger than one might expect, Vernot said.

Those same regions on the modern human genome contain hundreds of genes, many of which have been linked to language, the brain and its development, and brain cells signals.

"These are big, truly interesting regions. It will be a long, hard slog to fully understand the genetic differences between humans, Denisovans and Neanderthals in these regions and the traits they influence," Akey noted.

The research team also identified genes inherited from Neanderthals and Denisovans that conferred advantages to the ancestors of modern Island Melanesians. Five of these regions have immune-function genes that may have protected against local pathogens unfamiliar to recently arrived humans.

This study team also developed new, rigorous methods for labeling which archaic DNA sequences were Neanderthal, Denisovan, or of uncertain origin.

"The classification is tricky and not a trivial exercise," Akey said, "Mislabeling could lead to erroneous conclusions."

The authors also emphasized that no one study can tell a complete story. This project, Akey said, helps realize the influence of hybridization with other species on the trajectory of human evolution.

"Some of the sequences modern humans inherited from Neanderthals and Denisovans helped our ancestors survive and reproduce," Akey said.

This type of study gives perspective on human expansion across Eurasia, and possibly what sort of conditions those humans encountered on their way, Vernot said. He also mentioned that the work "demonstrates how we can learn about human history, and our archaic relatives, by studying ancient and modern DNA."

Are the Irish really Celts?

Complete, fascinating article

... Currie had stumbled over was an ancient burial that, after a recent DNA analysis, challenges the traditional centuries-old account of Irish origins.From as far back as the 16th century, historians taught that the Irish are the descendants of the Celts, an Iron Age people who originated in the middle of Europe and invaded Ireland somewhere between 1000 B.C. and 500 B.C...

DNA research indicates that the three skeletons found behind McCuaig's are the ancestors of the modern Irish and they predate the Celts and their purported arrival by 1,000 years or more. The genetic roots of today's Irish, in other words, existed in Ireland before the Celts arrived...

“The most striking feature” of the bones, according to the research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal, is how much their DNA resembles that of contemporary Irish, Welsh and Scots. (By contrast, older bones found in Ireland were more like Mediterranean people, not the modern Irish.)...

To be sure, some think that Celtic languages originated with the Celts on continental Europe and subsequently spread to Ireland, Wales and Scotland. This is the traditional view, and it dovetails with the idea that the Celts moved into Ireland during the Iron Age.

But over the last decade, a growing number of scholars have argued that the first Celtic languages were spoken not by the Celts in the middle of Europe but by ancient people on Europe’s westernmost extremities, possibly in Portugal, Spain, Ireland or the other locales on the western edges of the British Isles....

The new evidence from genetics, however, undermine notions of a separate Irish race, describing them instead as one sliver of the European spectrum.

According to the genetic research, the Irish are at the extreme end of a genetic wave that washed across Europe, a wave of migrants that swept westward from above the Black Sea across Europe about 2,500 B.C. 

That wave of migration had been documented in previous research led by David Reich at Harvard University, but it was unclear whether it had extended all the way to Ireland. The Y chromosome and other aspects of the DNA in the bones found behind McCuaig’s, however, link the Irish to that surge of population.

Reading the past in ancient Irish genomes

Play Video2:3000 B.C. That makes them hundreds of years older than the oldest artifacts generally considered to be Celtic — relics unearthed from Celt homelands of continental Europe, most notably around Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story

First Ever Exhibition Exploring Rich Cross-Cultural Dialogue between

Egypt and Canaan during 2nd Millennium BCE

Opens at Israel Museum in March 2016

Unprecedented Display of Approximately 680 Ancient Artifacts
Illustrates Untold Story of Exchange


A major exhibition opening at the Israel Museum will provide audiences with an unprecedented opportunity to explore the cross-cultural ties between Egypt and Canaan during the second millennium BCE. On view March 4 through October 25, 2016, Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story presents more than 680 objects that reflect the cross-fertilization of ritual practices and aesthetic vocabularies between these two distinct ancient cultures. From large-scale royal victory stelae and anthropoid coffins to scarabs and amulets, the display features an array of archaeological artifacts discovered in Israel and Egypt—including many drawn from the Museum’s own collections, together with major loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y.; the Louvre Museum, Paris; the Kunsthistorisches Museum; Vienna; the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy; and numerous other collections.

“This exhibition explores a crucial, yet forgotten chapter in the history of ancient civilizations. Pharaoh in Canaan tells the revelatory story of the cross-cultural dynamics between Canaan and Egypt and the resulting and often astonishing aesthetic, ritual, and cultural affinities that developed between these two distinct peoples,” said James S. Snyder, the Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum. “It is especially appropriate that the Israel Museum tell this remarkable archaeological story from its setting in Jerusalem and with its rich collections that trace the ancient roots of the region around us.”

The story of Egypt and Canaan is most commonly known from the biblical narratives of Joseph and Moses in Egypt. The exhibition expands this story by examining two crucial periods in history: the settlement and rise of a Canaanite dynasty in the eastern Egyptian Delta during the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1700-1550 BCE); and the extended period of Egyptian rule over Canaan by the Pharaohs during the Late Bronze Age (circa 1500-1150 BCE), both of which led to the commingling of deities, arts, rituals, and technologies between the two cultures.

The exhibition will feature a variety of Egyptian and Egyptian-inspired objects from Canaanite sites as well as illustrative objects from Egypt, ranging from large-scale architectural reconstructions to small-scale personal effects.

Exhibition highlights include:

Egyptian Scarabs: Bearing divine and royal names and images, these objects were found in Canaanite tombs, reflecting the adaptation of Egyptian burial customs by the local Canaanite elite.

Egyptian Private Stelae: Made locally by Egyptians stationed at the Canaanite site of Beth Shean, these stelae depict Egyptians worshipping Canaanite gods, among them the goddess Anat, who was also worshipped in Egypt at that same time, and the god Mekal, a local god of Beth Shean.

Fragment of a Monumental Sphinx of Mycerinus: The only Old Kingdom royal statue found in the Levantine region, this fragment was likely an official gift either to a local ruler or to the temple at Hazor when it was a site of great power during the Late Bronze Age.

Tutankhamun Inscribed Solid Gold Ring: The only object excavated in Israel bearing the name of this king, the ring was found in an elaborate tomb in Tell el-`Ajjul together with other Egyptian and Egyptian-style jewelry that reflects the local emulation of Egyptian aesthetic traditions.

Statue of Ramesses III: Placed in a temple at Beth Shean—one of the most important Egyptian strongholds in Canaan during the time of the empire—this is the only evidence of a locally made royal statue in Canaan—and a stunning example of Egyptian cultic activity in Canaanite temples.

Royal Stelae: Two stelae of Seti I erected at Beth Shean commemorate victorious military campaigns of the king to suppress local rebellions and reinforce Egyptian control over Canaan.

Anthropoid Coffins: Locally made Egyptian-style clay coffins, found mainly at Egyptian sites in Canaan, served both Egyptians stationed at these bases as well as Canaanites working in their service.

Exhibition Organization and Catalogue:
Pharaoh in Canaan: The Untold Story is curated by Dr. Daphna Ben-Tor, Jeannette and Jonathan Rosen Curator of Egyptian Archaeology, and Dr. Eran Arie, Frieder Burda Curator of Iron Age and Persian Period Archaeology. The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue in Hebrew and English with introductory chapters arranged chronologically and thematically, each accompanied by associated object entries, and two appendices dealing with the Biblical narrative and with the birth of the Alphabet.

Review with images

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Science sheds new light on the life and death of medieval king Erik

The Skull and Crown of Saint Erik

On April 23, 2014, the reliquary was opened at a ceremony in Uppsala Cathedral. After this, researchers from several scientific disciplines set to work running tests on the remains in an attempt to learn more about the medieval king. Now, the first results of these examinations are made public.
Mikael Wallerstedt

The saint's legend speaks of a king who died a dramatic death in battle outside the church in Uppsala, Sweden, where he had just celebrated mass. But what can modern science tell us about his remains? A joint research project headed by Uppsala University now reveals more of the health condition of Saint Erik, what he looked like, where he lived and what the circumstances of his death were.

No contemporary sources mention Erik Jedvardsson, the Swedish king who was later sainted. The only account of his life is the saint's legend, in its preserved form written in the 1290's. Such legends are often unreliable. The Erik legend is, however, based on an older legend which has been lost, and this longer legend may have been much older.

The preserved legend says that Erik was chosen to be king, ruled fairly, was a devoted Christian, led a crusade against Finland, and supported the Church. He was killed in 1160, in his tenth year of rule, by a Danish claimant to the throne. His remains have rested in a reliquary since 1257.

A thorough analysis of the skeleton in the reliquary was conducted in 1946, but the availability of new methods of analysis motivated a new examination in 2014. On 23 April 2014, the reliquary was opened at a ceremony in Uppsala Cathedral. After this, researchers from several scientific disciplines set to work running tests on the remains in an attempt to learn more about the medieval king. Now, the first results of these examinations are made public.

'The interdisciplinary research collaboration on the analysis of the skeletal remains of Saint Erik provides extensive information about his health condition (orthopaedists and radiologists), genealogy (aDNA analysis), diet (isotopanalys), and his death (forensic medicine)', says project leader Sabine Sten, professor of osteoarchaeology at Uppsala University.

The reliquary contains 23 bones, seemingly from the same individual. They are also accompanied by an unrelated shinbone. The radiocarbon values measured in the bones are consistent with a death in 1160. The osteological analysis shows that the bones belong to a man, 35-40 years old and 171 cm tall.

Examinations of the bones using computer tomography at the University Hospital in Uppsala found no discernible medical conditions. DXA- and pQCT measurements conducted at the same hospital found that Erik did not suffer from osteoporosis, or brittleness of the bones. Quite the opposite, as he had a bone density about 25 percent above that of the average young adult of today. King Erik was well-nourished, powerfully built and lived a physically active life.

The isotope analysis points to a diet rich in freshwater fish, which indicates that the king obeyed the church rules on fasts, i.e. days or period when the consumption of meat was forbidden. Stable isotopes also imply that he did not spend his last decade in the expected Uppsala area but rather in the province of Västergötland further south. These conclusions should however be considered very preliminary, as there are as of yet very few other studies to compare the isotope values to.

The opening of the reliquary also saw DNA samples taken. It is hoped that these will produce results that will shed new light on questions of genealogy. This analysis has not yet been completed, and is expected to take another year. The researchers can, however, reveal that the samples have yielded DNA information.

The cranium in the reliquary is dented by one or two healed wounds that may have been due to weapons. The legends say that Erik led a crusade against Finland, which is thought to be a possible explanation of the injuries.

The saint's legend says that in the king's final battle, the enemy swarmed him, and when he fell to the ground they gave him wound after wound until he lay half dead. They then taunted him and finally cut off his head. The remaining bones have at least nine cuts inflicted in connection with death, seven of them on the legs. No wounds have been found on the ribs or the remaining arm bone, which probably means that the king wore a hauberk but had less protected legs. Both shin bones have cuts inflicted from the direction of the feet, indicating that the victim lay on his front.

A neck vertebra has been cut through, which could not have been done without removing the hauberk, i.e. not during battle. This confirms that there was an interlude, as described by the taunting in the legend, between battle and decapitation. At no point do the documented wounds gainsay the account of the fight given by the much later legend.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Neanderthals diet: 80% meat, 20% vegetables

The collagen from the Neanderthals' bones offers clues to their diet.
Credit: © Bocherens
Scientists from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP) in Tübingen have studied the Neanderthals' diet. Based on the isotope composition in the collagen from the prehistoric humans' bones, they were able to show that, while the Neanderthals' diet consisted primarily of large plant eaters such at mammoths and rhinoceroses, it also included vegetarian food. The associated studies were recently published in the scientific journals Journal of Human Evolution and Quaternary International.

The paleo-diet is one of the new trends among nutrition-conscious people -- but what exactly did the meal plan of our extinct ancestors include? "We have taken a detailed look at the Neanderthals' diet," explains Professor Dr. Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, and he continues, "In the process, we were able to determine that the extinct relatives of today's humans primarily fed on large herbivorous mammals such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses.
The two excavation sites in Belgium that were examined offered the international team of scientists led by the biogeologist from Tübingen a vast array of 45,000 to 40,000 year-old bones of mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, wild horses, reindeer, European bison, cave hyenas, bears and lions as well as the remains of wolves. The immediate vicinity also revealed the bones of several Neanderthals. Based on isotope studies of the collagen in the bones, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the Neanderthals' diet differed markedly from that of other predatory animals. Collagen is an essential organic component of the connective tissue in bones, teeth, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and the skin.

"Previously, it was assumed that the Neanderthals utilized the same food sources as their animal neighbors," explains Bocherens, and he adds, "However, our results show that all predators occupy a very specific niche, preferring smaller prey as a rule, such as reindeer, wild horses or steppe bison, while the Neanderthals primarily specialized on the large plant-eaters such as mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses."

But our extinct relatives did not solely thrive on meat: Studies of the isotope composition of individual amino acids in the collagen offer proof that plant matter constituted approximately 20 percent of their diet. In scientific circles, this evolution-biologically relevant question has been discussed intensively for decades, albeit without leading to any tangible results.

"In this study, we were able for the first time to quantitatively determine the proportion of vegetarian food in the diet of the late Neanderthals. Similar results were found for more recent Stone Age humans," adds Bocherens.

Among others, the scientists from Tübingen hope that their studies will lead to a clearer understanding of what caused the Neanderthals' extinction around 40,000 years ago. "We are accumulating more and more evidence that diet was not a decisive factor in why the Neanderthals had to make room for modern humans," says Bocherens in summary.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Hiker Found an Extremely Rare Roman Gold Coin almost 2,000 Years Old in Israel


The famous British Museum possesses an ancient gold coin that until now was apparently the only one of its kind known in the world – a coin that bears the image of Emperor Augustus and was minted by Emperor Trajan. This coin, from 107 CE, was part of a series of nostalgic coins that Emperor Trajan minted and dedicated to the Roman emperors that ruled before him.    

A surprising random discovery by Laurie Rimon, a member of Kibbutz Kefar Blum, who was hiking with friends in the countryside, uncovered the “identical twin brother” of this rare coin – the second such coin of its kind now known to exist.

During a recent trip to the eastern Galilee a group of veteran hikers, including Laurie, arrived at an archaeological site. Suddenly Laurie discerned a shiny object in the grass. When she picked it up she realized it was an ancient gold coin. The group’s guide, Irit Zuk-Kovacsi contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority with the help of archaeologist and veteran tour guide Dr Motti Aviam, and within two hours an IAA representative joined the group of hikers in the field. Laurie turned the rare find over to him admitting, “It was not easy parting with the coin. After all, it is not every day one discovers such an amazing object, but I hope I will see it displayed in a museum in the near future”.

Nir Distelfeld, an inspector with the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, noted, “Laurie demonstrated exemplary civic behavior by handing this important coin over to the Antiquities Authority. It is by not, especially when it comes to a spectacular gold coin. This is an extraordinarily remarkable and surprising discovery. I believe that soon, thanks to Laurie, the public will be able to enjoy this rare find. It is important to know that when you find an archaeological artifact it is advisable to call IAA representatives to the location spot in the field. That way we can also gather the relevant archaeological and contextual information from the site". In the near future the Israel Antiquities Authority will award Laurie a certificate of appreciation for her good citizenship.

According to Dr. Danny Syon, a senior numismatist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This coin, minted in Rome in 107 CE, is rare on a global level. On the reverse we have the symbols of the Roman legions next to the name of the ruler Trajan, and on the obverse – instead of an image of the emperor Trajan, as was usually the case, there is the portrait of the emperor “Augustus Deified”. This coin is part of a series of coins minted by Trajan as a tribute to the emperors that preceded him”. 

According to Dr. Donald T. Ariel, head curator of the coin department at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The coin may reflect the presence of the Roman army in the region some 2,000 years ago – possibly in the context of activity against Bar Kokhba supporters in the Galilee – but it is very difficult to determine that on the basis of a single coin. Historical sources describing the period note that some Roman soldiers were paid a high salary of three gold coins, the equivalent of 75 silver coins, each payday. Because of their high monetary value soldiers were unable to purchase goods in the market with gold coins, as the merchants could not provide change for them”. Dr. Ariel added,

“Whilst the bronze and silver coins of Emperor Trajan are common in the country, his gold coins are extremely rare. So far, only two other gold coins of this emperor have been registered in the State Treasures, one from Giv‘at Shaul near Jerusalem, and the other from the Qiryat Gat region and the details on both of them are different to those that appear on the rare coin that Laurie found”.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Rare almost 2,600 Year Old Seal Bearing the Name “Elihana bat Gael” at the City of David

A Rare almost 2,600 Year Old Seal Bearing the Name “Elihana bat Gael” was Discovered in Excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park.
Another seal belonging to a man named “Sa‘aryahu ben Shabenyahu” was found nearby

According to the excavation directors, “the owner of the seal was exceptional compared to other women of the First Temple period: she had legal status which allowed her to conduct business and possess property”

Who were Elihana bat Gael and Sa‘aryahu ben Shabenyahu? Two seals bearing Hebrew names were uncovered in a large building dating to the First Temple period in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in the Giv‘ati parking lot at the City of David, in the Jerusalem Walls National Park. “Finding seals that bear names from the time of the First Temple is hardly a commonplace occurrence, and finding a seal that belonged to a woman is an even rarer phenomenon”, said the researchers.

After nine years of excavating by the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and the City of David Foundation, archaeologists at the site succeeded in reaching the strata of ancient Jerusalem dating to the First Temple period where a surprise awaited them: they found the two seals inside a structure built of magnificent ashlars. The researchers believe that the well-constructed building was used as an administrative center.

According to archaeologists, Dr. Doron Ben-Ami, Yana Tchekhanovets and Salome Cohen, excavation directors on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, explain, “Personal seals, such as those of Elihana and Sa‘aryahu, were used for signing documents, and were frequently inlaid as part of a ring that was worn by the owner. In antiquity they designated the identity, genealogy and status of the owner of the seal”.

On the rare woman’s seal, which is made of semi-precious stone, appears the mirror-writing of “to Elihana bat Gael”, inscribed in ancient Hebrew letters. The female owner of the ring is mentioned here together with the name of her father.

According to Dr. Hagai Misgav of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, “Seals that belonged to women represent just a very small proportion of all the seals that have been discovered to date. This is because of the generally inferior economic status of women, apart from extraordinary instances such as this. Indeed, the name Elihana does not appear in the Bible, and there is no other information regarding the identity of the woman, but the fact that she possessed a seal demonstrates her high social status”. Dr. Misgav adds, “Most of the women’s seal that are known to us bear the name of the father rather than that of the husband. Here, as in other cases, this might indicate the relatively elevated status of Elihana, which depended on her original family,

and not on her husband’s family. It seems that Elihana maintained her right to property and financial independence even after her marriage and therefore her father’s name was retained; however, we do not have sufficient information about the law in Judah during this period”. The name Eliha is known from a contemporary Ammonite seal and is the feminine form of the name Eli, known from the Bible. The script appearing on the seal is remarkably similar to the script on Ammonite seals, and this might indicate the foreign origin of the artisan who carved the seal and possibly the foreign origin of Elihana, who apparently came from east of the Jordan River”.

The Book of Proverbs (31:13-23) states that an ideal wife is responsible for providing for the needs of her household when her husband is engaged in public and legal affairs at the city gate – “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands…Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land”. An archive of documents preserved in the Judean desert from the time of the Second Temple indicates, among other things, the business of Babatha bat Shimon, a female land owner who had legal status. But as generally speaking, evidence of legal and financial independence in the bible and archaeology are rare, and it seems that the exception to the rule indeed sheds light on the rule itself.

The second seal that was exposed in the excavation was also in mirror-writing and bears the inscription “to Sa‘aryahu ben Shabenyahu”. The name Sa‘aryahu appears on a sherd from Arad, and apparently means “the Lord, which was revealed in a storm” (see Job 38).

Friday, March 4, 2016

Surprising Finds in Jerusalem’s Legendary Schneller Compound: A Large Impressive Winery and a Roman Bathhouse were Exposed

In excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority prior to the construction of residential buildings for the city’s ultra-orthodox population

Unexpected finds more than 1,600 years old were uncovered during archaeological excavations financed by the Merom Yerushalayim Company, which the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out in Schneller Compound prior to the construction of residential buildings for Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox population.

Schneller Orphanage operated in Jerusalem from 1860 until the Second World War. During the British Mandate, its German inhabitants were expelled and a military base was established there. After the British withdrawal in 1948 the compound was turned over to the Hagana and later served as an army base used by the Israel Defense Force until 2008.

Interesting and assorted finds from Jerusalem’s past were discovered in the archaeological excavation, most notably a large and impressive winery dating to the Roman or Byzantine period, some 1,600 years ago. The complex installation includes a pressing surface paved with a white mosaic. In the center of it is a pit in which a press screw was anchored that aided in extracting the maximum amount of must from the grapes. Eight cells were installed around the pressing surface. These were used for storing the grapes, and possibly also for blending the must with other ingredients thereby producing different flavors of wine. The archaeologists believe that this winery served the residents of a large manor house whose inhabitants made their living by, among other things, viticulture and wine production.

Evidence was unearthed next to the impressive winepress which indicates the presence of a bathhouse there. These finds included terra cotta pipes used to heat the bathhouse and several clay bricks, some of which were stamped with the name of the Tenth Roman Legion. This legion was one of four Roman legions that participated in the conquest of Jewish Jerusalem, and its units remained garrisoned in the city until c. 300 CE. Among the Roman legion’s main centers was the one in the vicinity of Binyanei Ha-Uma, located just c. 800 meters from the current excavation, where a large pottery and brick production center was situated. The archaeologists suggest that the Schneller site, in the form of a manor house, constituted an auxiliary settlement to the main site that was previously exposed at Binyanei Ha-Uma. As was customary in the Roman world, here too in the Schneller Compound, a private bathhouse was incorporated in the plan of the estate.

The current archeological exposure is actually a continuation of the salvage excavations that were carried out at the site half a year ago when evidence was uncovered there of a Jewish settlement that dated to the Late Second Temple period.

According to archaeologist Alex Wiegmann, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "Once again, Jerusalem demonstrates that wherever one turns over a stone ancient artifacts will be found related to the city’s glorious past. The archaeological finds discovered here help paint a living, vibrant and dynamic picture of Jerusalem as it was in ancient times up until the modern era".

According to Amit Re’em, the Jerusalem district archaeologist, "This is an excellent example of many years of cooperation and deep and close ties with the Haredi community. The general public is used to hearing of the clashes between the archaeologists and the orthodox community around the issue of the graves, but is unaware of the joint work done on a daily basis and the interest expressed by the ultra-orthodox sector. The Israel Antiquities Authority is working to instill our ancient cultural heritage in this population, as it does with other sectors”.