Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Major archaeological finds at Greenwich uncover lost Royal palace - the birthplace of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I



The team working on the major development of the Painted Hall in Greenwich have uncovered the remains of Greenwich Palace, notable as the birthplace of Henry VIII and of his daughters Mary and Elizabeth I.






Greenwich Palace had a scale and magnificence comparable to Hampton Court Palace, in an idyllic riverside setting. It comprised everything from state apartments, courtyards, a chapel, elegant gardens, a substantial tiltyard for jousting with a five-storey tower for viewing, and was at the very heart of Tudor cultural life and intrigue.

Careful preparation of the ground for the new visitor centre below the Painted Hall led to the discovery of two rooms of the Tudor palace, including a floor featuring lead-glazed tiles. Being set back from the river, these are likely to be from the service range, possibly where the kitchens, bakehouse, brewhouse and laundry were. One of the rooms was clearly subterranean and contains a series of unusual niches, which archaeologists believe may be ‘bee boles’ for the keeping of skeps (hive baskets) during the winter months when the bee colonies are hibernating.  Bee boles have occasionally been found in historic garden walls, but it is very rare to find them internally, making this find even more significant. The niches were probably used for keeping food and drink cool in the summer months when the skeps were outside.

Nothing of Greenwich Palace survives above ground; with the coming of the Stuart dynasty, and the construction of the Queens House, the old-fashioned Tudor Palace was neglected in favour of the new renaissance style, and with the designs for a new Stuart palace, the Tudor buildings were swept away. In fact the new palace, which was being designed by Christopher Wren to be a little like the phenomenon that was Versailles, was never built, and instead, Greenwich Hospital was created instead, which today is the Old Royal Naval College.

Discussions are now underway over the possibility of displaying the Tudor archaeology in situ within what will be the new Painted Hall interpretation gallery.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said:

“This is a really remarkable find. The Tudor period is one which grips the public imagination like no other, probably because of the larger-than-life characters like Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, as well as the magnificence of the buildings. To find a trace of Greenwich Palace, arguably the most important of all the Tudor palaces, is hugely exciting. The unusual and enigmatic nature of the structure has given us something to scratch our heads over and research, but it does seem to shine a light on a very poorly known function of the gardens and the royal bees. The most exciting aspect is that the Old Royal Naval College is able and willing to incorporate this into the new visitor centre, so everyone can see a small part of the palace, for the first time in hundreds of years.”

Greenwich Palace was built by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, in 1426, and rebuilt by Henry VII between c1500-06. The Palace was substantially demolished at the end of the seventeenth century to make way for the Royal Naval College built by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor between 1692-1728.  From surviving paintings and documents it is known that the palace covered much of the land on which the Old Royal Naval College stands.



The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’, is currently undergoing a major transformation over the next eighteen months, including the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and cafĂ© developed by Hugh Broughton Architects. Visitors currently have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close to the ceiling of the Painted Hall through a series of ceiling tours, which are accessible to all.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Citrus fruits were the clear status symbols of the nobility in the ancient Mediterranean



New research from Tel Aviv University reveals that citrons and lemons were clear status symbols for the ancient Roman ruling elite and plots the route and evolution of the citrus trade in the ancient Mediterranean.

The study is based on a collection of ancient texts, art, artifacts, and archaeobotanical remains such as fossil pollen grains, charcoals, seeds, and other fruit remnants. It was led by archaeobotanist Dr. Dafna Langgut of TAU's Institute of Archaeology and The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and recently published in HortScience.

Until the first century AD, the only citrus produce available to the ancient Romans were the extremely rare and inordinately expensive citrons and lemons. "Today, citrus orchards are a major component of the Mediterranean landscape and one of the most important cultivated fruits in the region. But citrus is not native to the Mediterranean Basin and originated in Southeast Asia," Dr. Langgut said.

"My findings show that citrons and lemons were the first citrus fruits to arrive in the Mediterranean and were status symbols for the elite. All other citrus fruits most probably spread more than a millennium later for economic reasons."

The first Roman lemon?

At first the Romans only had access to rough-skinned citrons, also known as etrogim -- mostly rind and dry, tasteless flesh. The citron arrived in Rome from what is now Israel. The earliest botanical remains of the citron were identified in a Persian royal garden near Jerusalem and dated to the 5th-4th centuries BC. It is presumed that it spread from there to other locations around the Mediterranean.

"The first remains of the earliest lemon, found in the Roman Forum, date to right around the time of Jesus Christ, the end of the first century BC and early first century AD," said Dr. Langgut. "It appears that the citron was considered a valuable commodity due to its healing qualities, symbolic use, pleasant odor and rarity. Only the rich could have afforded it. Its spread therefore was helped more by its high social status, its significance in religion and its unique features, rather than its culinary qualities."

According to Dr. Langgut, sour oranges, limes and pomelos were introduced to the West by Muslim traders via Sicily and the Iberian Peninsula much later, in the 10th century AD.

Muslim trade routes

"It is clear that Muslim traders played a crucial role in the dispersal of cultivated citrus in Northern Africa and Southern Europe," Dr. Langgut said. "It's also evident because the common names of many of the citrus types were derived from Arabic, following an earlier diversification in Southeast Asia. Muslims controlled extensive territory and commerce routes from India to the Mediterranean."

According to the research, the sweet orange associated with Israel today only dates as far back as the 15th century and was the product of a trade route established by the Genoese and, later, the Portuguese. The sticky-sweet mandarin was introduced to the Mediterranean only in the beginning of the 19th century.

"It wasn't until the 15th century that the sweet orange arrived on European tables. By the time mandarins appeared in the 19th century, citrus fruits were considered commonplace," said Dr. Lanngut. "They were cash crops rather than luxury items."


Friday, August 18, 2017

Early Indian Ocean trade routes bring chicken, black rat to eastern Africa


Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
The earliest introduction of domestic chickens and black rats from Asia to the east coast of Africa came via maritime routes between the 7th and 8th centuries AD. In a paper published August 17, 2017 in the journal PLOS ONE, an international team of researchers, led by Director Nicole Boivin of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, used new techniques to analyze ancient DNA and proteins from 496 bone samples from 22 island, coastal and inland sites in eastern Africa. The earliest confirmed samples of chickens and rats were found at open-air island port sites, suggesting the animals were introduced by traders engaged in the robust Indian Ocean maritime trade, and subsequently spread inland.

The Swahili coast has long been an important point of contact between Asia and Africa. This cultural region stretching from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique includes many islands, as well as the Comoros and Madagascar. During the Medieval period (7th-15th century AD), maritime trade took off between this region and other areas of the Indian Ocean. Archaeological evidence for this vast trade network includes imported ceramics, glass beads and Asian crops. Now, domestic chickens and black rats can be added to this list, with their earliest introductions in eastern Africa dating to between the 7th and 8th centuries AD.

"Archaeologists have been debating the timing, mechanisms and social contexts of the arrival of Asian plants and animals to eastern Africa for a long time," explains Dr. Boivin, senior author of the study. The competing models are, on the one hand, a very early arrival of Asian species starting around 3000 BC as suggested by some previous studies, and on the other hand, a more modest, mid-first millennium AD arrival in connection with the archaeologically-confirmed maritime trade routes.

Asian fauna introduced via maritime trade routes circa 7th-8th century AD
To address this debate, the researchers analyzed bone samples from 22 sites in eastern Africa, in inland, coastal and island contexts. In total, 52 possible chicken samples and 444 possible rat samples were analyzed. "One challenge for any biomolecular analysis of tropical specimens is the poor preservation of organic materials in hot and humid conditions," states Dr. Mary Prendergast of Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus, lead author of the study. The researchers thus applied a variety of standard and cutting-edge techniques to analyze both the bones and their ancient DNA and proteins, and undertook radiocarbon dating of the samples. In the case of the black rats, the researchers used Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS) to analyze ancient proteins in the samples and identify species by their so-called "collagen fingerprints." Because proteins preserve better than DNA in tropical settings, ZooMS offers the possibility of quickly and efficiently identifying species in a wide range of preservation states.

The team confirmed the presence of chickens at open-air port sites in Zanzibar as early as the 7th to 8th century AD. People living at these sites are known to have been engaged in maritime trade in the Indian Ocean at this time, and the finding suggests that chickens were introduced through these trade networks. Black rats also appear in the islands in approximately the 7th to 8th century AD at port and cave sites, with a tantalizing potential earliest date of the 5th century AD at the port site of Unguja Ukuu in Zanzibar that requires further confirmation. The rats likely arrived, as they did in many places around the world, as stowaways on trade vessels. The two species do not appear on the mainland until much later, in the second millennium AD.

Importance of domestic chickens and black rats in eastern Africa today
These findings offer important insights and additional evidence of the contact and interactions between the peoples of the Indian Ocean world. Just like today, ancient trade and shipping helped bring new animals, plants and foods, but also spread invasive species. Maritime trade in the Indian Ocean appears to have intensified in the Medieval period, leading to an increase in such transfers. The results of this study also confirm that there were multiple introductions of domestic chickens, today an important food source and ritually significant species, to different parts of Africa at different times.
Not all species introductions were so useful. The rats that were carried on ships to East Africa were likely major pests, and the simultaneous appearance on the coast of domestic cats, a pest-control species, was probably no accident. The arrival of rats, a famous vector for the plague, comes close on the heels of the Justinian Plague outbreak of 541-542 BC in the Eastern Roman Empire and around the Mediterranean. Plague today is a disease of serious concern in Madagascar and eastern Africa, where it claims more victims than anywhere else in the world. Rats are also a well-established transformer of ecosystems, and on many islands globally they appear to have contributed to species extinctions after their introduction. Work is currently underway at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History to understand the impacts of rats on eastern African islands, as well as their broader global spread and role in pathogen dispersal.

Poisonings went hand in hand with the drinking water in Pompeii

University of Southern Denmark
IMAGE
IMAGE: The lead pipe sample is being analyzed at University of Southern Denmark. view more 
Credit: SDU

The ancient Romans were famous for their advanced water supply. But the drinking water in the pipelines was probably poisoned on a scale that may have led to daily problems with vomiting, diarrhoea, and liver and kidney damage. This is the finding of analyses of water pipe from Pompeii.
- The concentrations were high and were definitely problematic for the ancient Romans. Their drinking water must have been decidedly hazardous to health.

This is what a chemist from University of Southern Denmark reveals: Kaare Lund Rasmussen, a specialist in archaeological chemistry. He analysed a piece of water pipe from Pompeii, and the result surprised both him and his fellow scientists. The pipes contained high levels of the toxic chemical element, antimony.

The result has been published in the journal Toxicology Letters.
  For many years, archaeologists have believed that the Romans' water pipes were problematic when it came to public health. After all, they were made of lead: a heavy metal that accumulates in the body and eventually shows up as damage to the nervous system and organs. Lead is also very harmful to children. So there has been a long-lived thesis that the Romans poisoned themselves to a point of ruin through their drinking water.

- However, this thesis is not always tenable. A lead pipe gets calcified rather quickly, thereby preventing the lead from getting into the drinking water. In other words, there were only short periods when the drinking water was poisoned by lead: for example, when the pipes were laid or when they were repaired: assuming, of course, that there was lime in the water, which there usually was, says Kaare Lund Rasmussen.

Instead, he believes that the Romans' drinking water may have been poisoned by the chemical element, antimony, which was found mixed with the lead.
  Unlike lead, antimony is acutely toxic. In other words, you react quickly after drinking poisoned water. The element is particularly irritating to the bowels, and the reactions are excessive vomiting and diarrhoea that can lead to dehydration. In severe cases it can also affect the liver and kidneys and, in the worst-case scenario, can cause cardiac arrest.

This new knowledge of alarmingly high concentrations of antimony comes from a piece of water pipe found in Pompeii.

- Or, more precisely, a small metal fragment of 40 mg, which I obtained from my French colleague, Professor Philippe Charlier of the Max Fourestier Hospital, who asked if I would attempt to analyse it. The fact is that we have some particularly advanced equipment at SDU, which enables us to detect chemical elements in a sample and, ever more importantly, to measure where they occur in large concentrations.

Kaare Lund Rasmussen underlines that he only analysed this one little fragment of water pipe from Pompeii. It will take several analyses before we can get a more precise picture of the extent, to which Roman public health was affected.

But there is no question that the drinking water in Pompeii contained alarming concentrations of antimony, and that the concentration was even higher than in other parts of the Roman Empire, because Pompeii was located in the vicinity of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius. Antimony also occurs naturally in groundwater near volcanoes.

The measurements were conducted on a Bruker 820 Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer.
The sample was dissolved in concentrated nitric acid. 2 mL of the dissolved sample was transferred to a loop and injected as an aerosol in a stream of argon gas which was heated to 6000 degrees C by the plasma.

All the elements in the sample were ionized and transferred as an ion beam into the mass spectrometer. By comparing the measurements against measurements on a known standard the concentration of each element is determined.

Archaeologists uncover ancient trading network in Vietnam


Australian National University
IMAGE
IMAGE: This is the Rach Nui site in Southern Vietnam under excavation. view more 
Credit: ANU
A team of archaeologists from The Australian National University (ANU) has uncovered a vast trading network which operated in Vietnam from around 4,500 years ago up until around 3,000 years ago.

A new study shows a number of settlements along the Mekong Delta region of Southern Vietnam were part of a sophisticated scheme where large volumes of items were manufactured and circulated over hundreds of kilometres.

Lead researcher Dr Catherine Frieman School of the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology said the discovery significantly changes what was known about early Vietnamese culture.

"We knew some artefacts were being moved around but this shows evidence for a major trade network that also included specialist tool-makers and technological knowledge. It's a whole different ball game," Dr Frieman said.

"This isn't a case of people producing a couple of extra items on top of what they need. It's a major operation."

The discovery was made after Dr Frieman, an expert in ancient stone tools, was brought in to look at a collection of stone items found by researchers at a site called Rach Nui in Southern Vietnam.
Dr Frieman found a sandstone grinding stone used to make tools such as axe heads out of stone believed to come from a quarry located over 80 kilometres away in the upper reaches of the Dong Nai River valley.

"The Rach Nui region had no stone resources. So the people must have been importing the stone and working it to produce the artefacts," she said.

"People were becoming experts in stone tool making even though they live no-where near the source of any stone."

Dr Phillip Piper of the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology, an expert in Vietnamese archaeology, is working to map the transition from hunting and gathering to farming across Southeast Asia.

"Vietnam has an amazing archaeological record with a number of settlements and sites that provide significant information on the complex pathways from foraging to farming in the region" Dr Piper said.

"In southern Vietnam, there are numerous archaeological sites of the Neolithic period that are relatively close together, and that demonstrate considerable variation in material culture, methods of settlement construction and subsistence.

"This suggests that communities that established settlements along the various tributaries and on the coast during this period rapidly developed their own social, cultural and economic trajectories.
"Various complex trading networks emerged between these communities, some of which resulted in the movements of materials and manufacturing ideas over quite long distances"

Monday, August 14, 2017

Analysis finds defeat of Hannibal 'written in the coins of the Roman Empire'


Analysis of ancient Roman coins has shown that the defeat of the Carthaginian general Hannibal led to a flood of wealth across the Roman Empire from the silver mines of Spain. This finding, which gives us a tangible record of the transition of Rome from a regional power to an Empire, is presented at the Goldschmidt geochemistry conference in Paris.

The Second Punic War, where Hannibal famously marched his elephants across the Alps in a failed attack on Rome, has been regarded as one of the pivotal events of European history. Rome entered the war as the dominant power in Italy, but emerged an empire. The war led to the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, with the Romans gradually gaining control over the lucrative Spanish silver mines from around 211 B.C. Revenues from the rich Spanish silver mines coupled with booty and extensive war reparations from Carthage, helped fund the expansion of its territory.

Now the application of geochemical analysis techniques has provided proof of the importance of the Spanish silver to the Roman conquest. A group of scientists based in Germany and Denmark and led by Prof Fleur Kemmers and Dr Katrin Westner (Institute for Archaeological Sciences, Goethe University, Frankfurt) analysed 70 Roman coins dating from 310-300 B.C. to 101 B.C., a period which bracketed the Second Punic War.

Using Mass Spectrometry, they were able to show that lead in the coins made after 209 B.C. has distinctive isotopic signatures which identified most of the later coins as presumably originating from Spanish sources. The changing origin of the coin bullion is mirrored by differing ratios of the lead isotopes 208Pb, 207Pb, 206Pb and 204Pb, which serve as geological clocks recording the formation age of the ores used to extract the silver. After 209 B.C., the lead isotope signatures mostly correspond to those of deposits in southeast and southwest Spain or to mixtures of metal extracted from these districts.

"Before the war we find that the Roman coins are made of silver from the same sources as the coinage issued by Greek cities in Italy and Sicily2. In other words the lead isotope signatures of the coins correspond to those of silver ores and metallurgical products from the Aegean region", said Katrin Westner. "But the defeat of Carthage led to huge reparation payments to Rome, as well as Rome gaining high amounts of booty and ownership of the rich Spanish silver mines. From 209 B.C. we see that the majority of Roman coins show geochemical signatures typical for Iberian silver".

"This massive influx of Iberian silver significantly changed Rome's economy, allowing it to become the superpower of its day. We know this from the histories of Livy and Polybius and others, but our work gives contemporary scientific proof of the rise of Rome. What our work shows is that the defeat of Hannibal and the rise of Rome is written in the coins of the Roman Empire."

Commenting, Professor Kevin Butcher (Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Warwick, UK) said:

"This research demonstrates how scientific analysis of ancient coins can make a significant contribution to historical research. It allows what was previously speculation about the importance of Spanish silver for the coinage of Rome to be placed on a firm foundation".

Thursday, August 10, 2017

When did modern humans get to Southeast Asia?


Humans may have exited out of Africa and arrived in Southeast Asia 20,000 years earlier than previously thought, a new study involving University of Queensland researchers suggests.

Findings from the Macquarie University-led study also suggest humans could have potentially made the crossing to Australia even earlier than the accepted 60,000 to 65,000 years ago.

Dr Gilbert Price of UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences said the dating of a cave site in West Sumatra, called Lida Ajer, provided first evidence for rainforest use of modern humans.
"Rainforests aren't the easiest place to make a living, especially for a savannah-adapted primate, so it suggests that these people were ahead of the curve in terms of intelligence, planning and technological adaptation," Dr Price said.

He said the study stood on the shoulders of brilliant Dutch paleo-anthropologist Eugene Dubois, famed for his discovery of 'Java Man'.

"He visited a series of caves in Sumatra in the late 1800s, and in one in particular, recovered some human teeth, which is quite interesting in itself, but no one had spent much time trying to determine their significance," Dr Price said.

"Fast forward over 100 years later, both the team of lead author Dr Kira Westaway of Macquarie University and my crew (separately) were lucky enough to re-discover and visit the caves.
"It was quite an adventure. We ended up sharing notes and the collaboration was born."

As a result of thorough documentation of the cave, reanalysis of the specimens, and a new dating program, it was confirmed the teeth were modern humans, Homo sapiens, but dated to as old as 73,000 years ago.

A barrage of dating techniques were applied to the sediment around the fossils, to overlying and underlying rock deposits in the cave and to associated mammal teeth, indicating that the deposit and fossils were laid down between 63,000 to 73,000 years ago.

"This cave has been shrouded in doubt since it was first excavated" Dr Westaway said.

"We employed a range of dating techniques from different institutions to establish a robust chronology that would, after 120 years, finally put an end to the uncertainty associated with the age and significance of these teeth."

Advanced equipment at UQ's Centre for Geoanalytical Mass Spectrometry, a hub backed by researchers from Queensland's major research institutions, was used in the analysis.

"We were lucky to have some of the best dating facilities in the world at our disposal, including the same pieces of equipment at UQ that had earlier dated the famous 'Hobbit' fossils of Southeast Asia," Dr Price said.

Dr Westaway said the hardest part was trying to find the site again, with only a sketch of the cave and a rough map from a copy of Dubois's original field notebook to guide them.

Southeast Asia is a key region in the path of human dispersal from Africa round to Australia, as all hominins would have had to pass through this region en route to Australia.

Ancient DNA used to track the mass exodus of Ancestral Pueblo people from Colorado's Mesa Verde region



Ancient DNA used to track the mass exodus of Ancestral Pueblo people from Colorado's Mesa Verde region in the late 13th century indicates many wound up in the Northern Rio Grande area north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, inhabited today by the Tewa Pueblo people.

Here's the twist: The DNA came from domesticated turkeys that had been kept by ancient Pueblo people in both places, according to University of Colorado Boulder Assistant Professor Scott Ortman, one of four lead study authors. The study indicates DNA from turkey bones unearthed at Mesa Verde matched the turkey DNA in the northern Rio Grande area after the Mesa Verde society buckled.

"What we found was good evidence of a substantial influx of turkeys into the northern Rio Grande region that had the same genetic composition as turkeys from the Mesa Verde region," Ortman said. "This is a new line of evidence suggesting a strong connection between contemporary Tewa Pueblo people in New Mexico and the Pueblo people who lived in Mesa Verde country before its collapse."

A paper on the subject was published in a recent issue of the science journal PLOS ONE. In addition to Ortman, the study included co-authors from Washington State University, the University of California, Davis and the University of Oklahoma.

The Mesa Verde region was a hub of Southwest Puebloan society, populated by as many as 30,000 people in the middle of the 13th century, Ortman said. But a severe drought in 1277, coupled with resource depletion and social upheaval, is thought to have triggered a massive migration south to New Mexico and Arizona by the end of the 13th century.

For the study, Ortman and his colleagues used mitochondrial DNA--which is passed down from mother to offspring--extracted from turkey bones buried in the Mesa Verde region before the migration and mitochondrial DNA collected from the northern Rio Grande region before and after the Mesa Verde was abandoned.

Turkeys had been kept as a source of feathers to make blankets and other goods by the Mesa Verde inhabitants before A.D. 1000, Ortman said. But after that the archaeological record shows the Mesa Verde people began raising the turkeys as a meat source, causing turkey bones to become much more common in the archaeological record.

The study showed the genetic composition of the turkey population in the northern Rio Grande changed substantially before and after the Mesa Verde exodus. Since the genetic composition of the northern Rio Grande turkeys after the migration period was genetically indistinguishable from the birds that lived in the Mesa Verde country before the migration, it appears the migrating people took their turkeys with them, he said.

Ortman said the people fleeing the Mesa Verde area in the 13th century likely moved to many places in present-day New Mexico and Arizona during the great migration.

"The argument we are making is that a sizable chunk of the Mesa Verde population moved to the northern Rio Grande region," Ortman said. "And this group of migrants stimulated the formation of the Tewa Pueblo people that live in the area."

Previously, Ortman and his colleagues used biological, linguistic, oral tradition and material culture evidence to suggest that the ancestors of the Tewa-speaking Pueblo people in New Mexico lived in the Mesa Verde region and migrated to the northern Rio Grande during the 13th century. The recent study is the first ever to use ancient DNA to look at the scientific puzzle, Ortman said.

While the research team also looked at mitochondrial DNA from what were thought be domestic dogs buried at Mesa Verde and in the northern Rio Grande area, it did not pan out for an interesting reason, Ortman said. While the remains of most of the Mesa Verde canids were genetically dogs, almost all of the canids buried in the northern Rio Grande--traditionally thought to be dogs--were actually coyotes.

"It's an interesting puzzle as to why the northern Rio Grande people buried so many coyotes," he said.

3,000-year-old female statue at citadel gate complex in Turkey



This 3,000-year-old female statue was uncovered at a citadel gate complex in Turkey by University of Toronto archaeologists leading the Tayinat Archaeological Project. Initial speculations are that the figure is a representation of either Kubaba, divine mother of the gods of ancient Anatolia, or the wife of Neo-Hittite king Suppiluliuma, or Kupapiyas, who was the wife - or possibly mother - of Taita, the dynastic founder of ancient Tayinat.

Credit

Photo courtesy of Tayinat Archaeological Project

The remains of a majestic female statue uncovered at the archaeological site of Tayinat in Turkey may challenge our understanding of the public role of women in the ancient world.

Excavations led by University of Toronto archaeologists in southeast Turkey near the Syrian border have unearthed a beautifully carved head and upper torso of a female figure. The remnants are largely intact, although the face and chest appear to have been intentionally - possibly ritually - defaced in antiquity.

The preserved remnants are made of basalt and measure 1.1 metres long and .7 metres wide, suggesting the full figure of the statue would have been four to five metres high. The lower body is missing. The statue was found within a monumental gate complex that would have provided access to the upper citadel of Kunulua - later Tayinat - the capital of the Iron Age Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina (ca. 1000-738 BCE). The site is approximately 75 kilometres west of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

"Her striking features include a ring of curls that protrude from beneath a shawl that covers her head, shoulders and back," says Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archaeology in the Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto (U of T) and director of U of T's Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP). Since 1999, TAP researchers have been documenting Tayinat's exceptional cultural record to advance understanding of early social complexity and the rise of state-ordered societies in the ancient world.

"The statue was found face down in a thick bed of basalt stone chips that included shard-like fragments of her eyes, nose and face, but also fragments of sculptures previously found elsewhere within the gate area," says Harrison, " including the head of the Neo-Hittite King Suppiluliuma that we discovered in 2012. The recovery of these tiny fragments will make it possible to restore much if not all of the face and upper body of the original figure."

Supppiluliuma, who ruled in the early ninth century BCE, was named after a famed Bronze Age Hittite warrior and statesman who challenged the then-dominant Egyptian Empire for control of the lands between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates River.

"That parts of these monumental sculptures have been found deposited together, suggests there may have been an elaborate process of interment or decommissioning as part of their destruction," says Harrison.

The identity of the female figure has not yet been determined, but the archaeological team has some ideas.

"It is possible that she is a representation of Kubaba, divine mother of the gods of ancient Anatolia," says Harrison. "However, there are stylistic and iconographic hints that the statue represents a human figure, possibly the wife of King Suppiluliuma, or even more intriguingly, a woman named Kupapiyas, who was the wife - or possibly mother - of Taita, the dynastic founder of ancient Tayinat."
Two inscribed monuments carved in Hieroglyphic Luwian, the ancient language of the Hittites, found near Hama in Syria more than 50 years ago, provide a description of Kupapiyas, the only named female known from this region in the early part of the first millennium BCE. She lived for more than 100 years, and appears to have been a prominent matriarchal figure, though no memory of her is preserved in any historical sources for the first millennium BCE.

"The discovery of this statue raises the possibility that women played a more prominent role in the political and religious lives of these early Iron Age communities than the existing historical record might suggest," Harrison says.

The statue also provides valuable insight into the innovative character and cultural sophistication of the indigenous Iron Age cultures that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean following the collapse of the great civilized powers of the Bronze Age at the end of second millennium BCE.

The presence of lions, sphinxes, and colossal human statues in the citadel gateways of the Neo-Hittite royal cities of Iron Age Syro-Anatolia continued a Bronze Age Hittite tradition that accentuated the symbolic role of these transitional spaces as boundary zones between the ruling elite and their subjects. By the ninth and eighth centuries BCE, these elaborately decorated monumental gateways had come to serve as dynastic promenades, legitimizing the power and authority of the ruling elite.
The Tayinat gate complex appears to have been destroyed following the Assyrian conquest of the site in 738 BCE, when the area was paved over and converted into the central courtyard of an Assyrian sacred precinct. Tayinat was then transformed into an Assyrian provincial capital, equipped with its own governor and imperial administration.

"Scholars have long speculated that the reference to Calneh in Isaiah's oracle against Assyria (Isaiah 10:9-10) alludes to their devastation of Kunulua," says Harrison. "The destruction of the Luwian monuments and conversion of the area into an Assyrian religious complex may represent the physical manifestation of this historic event, subsequently memorialized in Isaiah's oracle."

TAP is an international project, involving researchers from numerous countries, and more than 20 universities and research institutes. It operates in close collaboration with the Ministry of Culture of Turkey, and provides research opportunities and training for both graduate and undergraduate students. The 2017 season was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Toronto.


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Ancient pottery reveals insights on Iroquoian population's power in 16th century


An innovative study published today in the journal Science Advances demonstrates how decorations on ancient pottery can be used to discover new evidence for how groups interacted across large regions. The research, conducted by John P. Hart, Director of Research and Collections at the New York State Museum; Jennifer Birch, Assistant Professor at the University of Georgia; and Christian Gates St-Pierre, Assistant Professor at the University of Montreal, sheds new light on the importance of a little-understood Iroquoian population in upstate New York and its impact on relations between two emerging Native American political powers in the 16th century.

Iroquoians in northeastern North America are best known for the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and Wendat (Huron) confederacies in upstate New York and southern Ontario. There are extensive early historic records of both groups. Descendants of these confederacies and their respective nations that remain in these areas today have rich oral traditions that speak to their histories before and after European contact. Archaeology fills out these records through the excavation and analyses of ancestral communities.

Other Iroquoian groups did not persist and, for some, archaeology is the primary means of understanding their histories. One such group occupied the eastern end of Lake Ontario south of the head waters of the St. Lawrence River. Known by archaeologists as the Jefferson County Iroquoians, this group had abandoned their territory by the early 17th century.

Archaeologists have pondered their "disappearance" for over a century, asking two primary questions, "why did they disperse" and "where did they go"? However, Hart, Birch and Gates St-Pierre ask a very different question, "what role did the Jefferson County Iroquoians play in Iroquoian social networks"?

Northern Iroquoians made pottery vessels with often complex geometrical decorations, which Hart and his colleagues suggest signaled membership in regional interaction networks. Using social network analysis with a statistic that measured the similarities of pottery decorations between sites, they demonstrate that the Jefferson County Iroquoians played a key role in regional interactions during the 16th century. As brokers between Iroquoian ancestral Haudenosaunee and Wendat groups, the Jefferson County Iroquoians were intermediaries in relationships between these groups.

According to Birch, "by focusing on the connections between communities and regions, rather than a single scale of analysis, we are better able to understand how people's everyday activities relate to the larger-scale social and political histories."

After the Jefferson County population dispersed in the early 17th century, no other group took the place as "brokers" between Iroquoian people living in New York and Canada. The dispersal of Jefferson County populations effectively ended this brokerage function and may have contributed to the escalation of conflict between the Huron-Wendat and Iroquois confederacies. These results add to a growing literature on the use of network analyses with archaeological data and contribute new insights into processes of population relocation and geopolitical realignment, as well as the role of borderlands and frontiers in non-state societies.

This study is part of an ongoing effort by Hart and colleagues that employs social network analysis to better understand the relationships between Iroquoian populations in New York and Canada. According to Hart, "the past is a much more complex place than ordinarily considered. Our results highlight how our views of the past can be informed through the application of new methods and techniques."

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The first civilizations of Greece are revealing their stories to science


For the first time, scientists have obtained and analyzed genome sequences from the ancient Minoans and Mycenaeans, who lived three to five thousand years ago and were Europe's first civilized people.
The new analysis suggests that the Minoans and Mycenaeans share a great deal of their genetic heritage, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator David Reich and colleagues report August 2 in the journal Nature. The research adds richness to our understanding of these cultures, which are mostly known from archeology and ancient literature, Reich says.

"Who these Bronze Age peoples were -- the people who lived in a world dimly remembered in the poetry of Homer -- has been a great mystery," explains Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School. "We set out to investigate the origins of these ancient civilizations."

Their origins have been intensely debated. Theories include migrations from various locations, including Europe and Asia Minor, and at various times before and during the Bronze Age. Both cultures were literate and had writing, but the Minoan language hasn't been deciphered. The Mycenaean language, an early form of Greek, is part of the Indo-European language family, whose languages have been spoken across Europe and central and southern Asia since the beginning of recorded history. The identity of the Minoan language is unknown. But despite extensive archeological and linguistic research, the origins of both cultures and their relationship to each other and to other Bronze Age peoples have remained a puzzle.

Reich and his colleagues' work suggests that about three-quarters of the ancestry of both peoples derives from the first farmers of the Aegean Sea, including western Anatolia (a region that lies within modern day Turkey), Greece, and the Greek islands. But, quite different from the rest of contemporary Europe and from the first farmers of Greece, the Bronze Age Greek civilizations also derived a small part of their ancestry from populations from the Caucasus and Iran.

The Minoans, based on the island of Crete from roughly 3100 to 1050 BCE, were a maritime people with sophisticated palaces, one of which was so large and complex that it may have been the historical basis of the myth of the Labyrinth, home of the beast called the Minotaur. The Mycenaeans of mainland Greece, 1700 to 1100 BCE, who eventually conquered the Minoans, were skilled engineers and fierce warriors. Their culture is named for Mycenae, a site with a fortified palace that was the seat of the celebrated King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War.

Reich and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany and the University of Washington teamed up with Greek and Turkish archeologists and anthropologists to obtain samples from 19 Bronze Age individuals excavated from tombs and other sites throughout the Aegean. The ancient DNA, carefully extracted from bones and teeth, included 10 Minoans, four Mycenaeans, three individuals from southwest Anatolia (Turkey), an individual from Crete that dates from after the arrival of the Mycenaeans on the island, and one Neolithic sample (5,400 BCE) from the mainland that predated the emergence of the Greek civilizations. The researchers then compared and contrasted the new DNA samples with previously reported data from 332 other ancient individuals, 2,614 present-day humans, and two present-day Cretans.

The new study also shows that the Mycenaeans have additional ancestry that is distinct from the Minoans, says Iosif Lazaridis, a postdoctoral researcher in Reich's lab and lead author of the study.

This genetic contribution may be from people of the steppes north of the Black and Caspian seas.
Scholars have debated whether the Indo-European language, which gave rise to Italic, Germanic, Slavic and Hindi languages, among others, spread with migrations from Anatolia or from the steppe.

Previous work by Reich and colleagues supports the "steppe hypothesis." Their latest data suggest that the speakers of this early Greek language may have formed the southern portion of the same migrations that contributed to the dispersal of other Indo-European languages, Reich says.

"This increases the weight of evidence that Greek was derived from the same expansion of peoples," he says.

While the research sheds light on the origins of these ancient Greek civilizations, questions remain, notes Reich. For example, it's still unknown when the common "eastern" ancestors of both Minoans and Mycenaeans arrived in the Aegean. And details regarding the "northern" ancestry found only in the Mycenaeans remain to be worked out, like whether that contribution came in a single rapid migration, or sporadic waves over a long period.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bronze Age Iberia received fewer steppe invaders than the rest of Europe


The genomes of individuals who lived on the Iberian Peninsula in the Bronze Age had minor genetic input from Steppe invaders, suggesting that these migrations played a smaller role in the genetic makeup and culture of Iberian people, compared to other parts of Europe. Daniel Bradley and Rui Martiniano of Trinity College Dublin, in Ireland, and Ana Maria Silva of University of Coimbra, Portugal, report these findings July 27, 2017 in PLOS Genetics.

Between the Middle Neolithic (4200-3500 BC) and the Middle Bronze Age (1740-1430 BC), Central and Northern Europe received a massive influx of people from the Steppe regions of Eastern Europe and Asia. Archaeological digs in Iberia have uncovered changes in culture and funeral rituals during this time, but no one had looked at the genetic impact of these migrations in this part of Europe.

Researchers sequenced the genomes of 14 individuals who lived in Portugal during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages and compared them to other ancient and modern genomes. In contrast with other parts of Europe, they detected only subtle genetic changes between the Portuguese Neolithic and Bronze Age samples resulting from small-scale migration. However, these changes are more pronounced on the paternal lineage.

"It was surprising to observe such a striking Y chromosome discontinuity between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, such as would be consistent with a predominantly male-mediated genetic influx" says first author Rui Martiniano. Researchers also estimated height from the samples, based on relevant DNA sequences, and found that genetic input from Neolithic migrants decreased the height of Europeans, which subsequently increased steadily through later generations.

The study finds that migration into the Iberian Peninsula occurred on a much smaller scale compared to the Steppe invasions in Northern, Central and Northwestern Europe, which likely has implications for the spread of language, culture and technology. These findings may provide an explanation for why Iberia harbors a pre-Indo-European language, called Euskera, spoken in the Basque region along the border of Spain and France. It has been suggested that Indo-European spread with migrations through Europe from the Steppe heartland; a model that fits these results.

Daniel Bradley says "Unlike further north, a mix of earlier tongues and Indo-European languages persist until the dawn of Iberian history, a pattern that resonates with the real but limited influx of migrants around the Bronze Age."

Present-day Lebanese descend from Biblical Canaanites


Scientists sequenced the genomes of 4,000-year-old Canaanite individuals and compared these to other ancient and present-day populations

Thousands of years ago, the Canaanite people lived in a part of the world we now recognize as Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, establishing a culture that became influential in the Middle East and beyond. The Canaanites created the first alphabet, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean, and were mentioned many times in the Bible. But who were they and what ultimately happened to them? Were they annihilated like the Bible says?

Now, researchers who've sequenced the first ancient Canaanite genomes along with genomes representing people from modern-day Lebanon have new information to help answer those questions. DNA evidence reported in the American Journal of Human Genetics on July 27 shows that the Canaanites did not just disappear. Instead, they survived and are the ancestors of the people now living in modern-day Lebanon.

"We found that the Canaanites were a mixture of local people who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period and eastern migrants who arrived in the region about 5,000 years ago," said Marc Haber (@MarcHaber) of The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom. "The present-day Lebanese are likely to be direct descendants of the Canaanites, but they have in addition a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have arrived via conquests by distant populations such as the Assyrians, Persians, or Macedonians."

Marc Haber, Chris Tyler-Smith, and colleagues came to that conclusion after sequencing the complete genomes of five Canaanite individuals who lived almost 4,000 years ago in what's now the modern-day Lebanese city of Sidon. They also sequenced the genomes of 99 present-day Lebanese. Those sequences enabled the researchers to analyze the Canaanites' ancestry and assess their relationship to the people living in Lebanon today.

The researchers estimate that new Eurasian people mixed with the Canaanite population about 3,800 to 2,200 years ago at a time when there were many conquests of the region from outside. Despite all that moving around, the Lebanese derive most of their ancestry from a Canaanite-related population, they report, suggesting that there's been substantial genetic continuity in the region since at least the Bronze Age--a conclusion that agrees with the archaeological record.

"In light of the enormously complex history of this region in the last few millennia, it was quite surprising that over 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of present-day Lebanese was derived from the Canaanites," Tyler-Smith said.

The findings highlight the utility of genetic studies for elucidating the history of people like the Canaanites, who left few written records themselves. The researchers say they would now like to understand the earlier and later genetic history of Lebanon and how it relates to the surrounding regions.
 

In the most recent whole-genome study of ancient remains from the Near East, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute scientists and their collaborators sequenced the entire genomes of 4,000-year-old Canaanite individuals who inhabited the region during the Bronze Age, and compared these to other ancient and present-day populations. The results, published today (27 July) in the American Journal of Human Genetics suggest that present-day Lebanese are direct descendants of the ancient Canaanites.

The Near East is often described as the cradle of civilisation. The Bronze Age Canaanites, later known as the Phoenicians, introduced many aspects of society that we know today - they created the first alphabet, established colonies throughout the Mediterranean and were mentioned several times in the Bible.

However, historical records of the Canaanites are limited. They were mentioned in ancient Greek and Egyptian texts, and the Bible which reports widespread destruction of Canaanite settlements and annihilation of the communities. Experts have long debated who the Canaanites were genetically, what happened to them, who their ancestors were and if they had any descendants today.

In the first study of its kind, scientists have uncovered the genetics of the Canaanite people and a firm link with people living in Lebanon today. The team discovered that more than 90 per cent of present-day Lebanese ancestry is likely to be from the Canaanites, with an additional small proportion of ancestry coming from a different Eurasian population. Researchers estimate that new Eurasian people mixed with the Canaanite population about 2,200 to 3,800 years ago at a time when there were many conquests of the region from outside.

The analysis of ancient DNA also revealed that the Canaanites themselves were a mixture of local people who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period and eastern migrants who arrived in the area around 5,000 years ago.

In the study, researchers sequenced whole genomes of five Canaanite individuals who lived 4,000 years ago in a city known as Sidon in present-day Lebanon. Scientists also sequenced the genomes of 99 present-day Lebanese and analysed the genetic relationship between the ancient Canaanites and modern Lebanese.

Dr Marc Haber, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: "It was a pleasant surprise to be able to extract and analyse DNA from 4,000-year-old human remains found in a hot environment, which is not known for preserving DNA well. We overcame this challenge by taking samples from the petrous bone in the skull, which is a very tough bone with a high density of ancient DNA. This method of extraction combined with the lowering costs of whole genome sequencing made this study possible."

Dr Claude Doumet-Serhal, co-author and Director of the Sidon excavation site* in Lebanon, said: "For the first time we have genetic evidence for substantial continuity in the region, from the Bronze Age Canaanite population through to the present day. These results agree with the continuity seen by archaeologists. Collaborations between archaeologists and geneticists greatly enrich both fields of study and can answer questions about ancestry in ways that experts in neither field can answer alone."

Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, lead author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: "Genetic studies using ancient DNA can expand our understanding of history, and answer questions about the likely origins and descendants of enigmatic populations like the Canaanites, who left few written records themselves. Now we would like to investigate the earlier and later genetic history of the Near East, and how it relates to the surrounding regions."

The dynamics of prehistoric social networks in the Balkans


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In the first ever archaeological study of its kind, two researchers have combined the chemical analyses of dozens of the world's earliest copper artefacts and modularity approach in order to identify prehistoric networks of co-operation during the early development of European metalmaking. This study has led them one step further: the communities that co-operated the most largely belonged to the same archaeological culture, thus revealing a novel method for an independent evaluation of the archaeological record.

Archaeological systematics, particularly in prehistory, use the accumulation of similar material traits or dwelling forms in archaeological sites to designate distinctive 'archaeological cultures'; however, what these expressions of similarity represent and at what resolution remain a major problem in the field of archaeology.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Complex Networks, takes an alternative approach by measuring the strength of links between archaeological sites instead and produces pioneering models of human interaction and cooperation that can be evaluated independently of established archaeological systematics. It focuses on a comprehensive archaeological database of copper artefacts from the Balkans, dated from c. 6200 BC to 3200 BC -- the first 3,000 years of known copper mineral and metal use in Europe.

Chemical composition of these artefacts is the sole information used for modularity analysis, hence isolated from any archaeological and spatiotemporal information. The results are, however, archaeologically and spatiotemporally meaningful for the evolution of the world's earliest copper supply network.

Dr Jelena Gruji?, physicist from the Vrije University in Brussels, explains the novelty of this method for archaeological research: "Although there are a few approaches that archaeologists use to infer models of circulation of metals in the past, and hence indicate prehistoric economic and social ties, the modularity analysis offers for the first time an option to test the significance of our results, and hence a method that is mathematically reliable and replicable".

Dr Miljana Radivojevi?, lead author and researcher at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge commented, "Being able to infer social groups with strong spatial and temporal significance in archaeological data using this network property is a real game changer. This study is major step towards evaluating technological, economic and social phenomena in the human past - anywhere".

Evidence of Babylonian Destruction of Jerusalem Found at the City of David




Evidence of the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians is currently being unearthed in the City of David in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority at the Jerusalem Walls National Park, funded by the City of David Foundation (Elad). In the excavations – concentrated on the eastern slope of the City of David, dwelling places 2,500 years old, once covered by a rockslide, have been revealed. Nestled within the rockslide many findings have surfaced: charred wood, grape seeds, pottery, fish scales and bones, and unique, rare artifacts. These findings depict the affluence and character of Jerusalem, capital of the Judean Kingdom, and are mesmerizing proof of the city's demise at the hands of the Babylonians. 



Among the excavation's salient findings were dozens of jugs which served to store both grain and liquids, a stamp seal appearing on some of them. Furthermore, one of the seals discovered was that of a rosette, a six-petal rose. 

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, Israel Antiquities Authority excavation directors: "These seals are characteristic of the end of the First Temple Period and were used for the administrative system that developed towards the end of the Judean dynasty. Classifying objects facilitated controlling, overseeing, collecting, marketing and storing crop yields. The rosette, in essence, replaced the 'For the King' seal used by the previous administrative system."

The wealth of the Judean kingdom's capital is also manifest in the ornamental artifacts surfacing in situ. One distinct and rare finding is a small ivory statue of a woman. The figure is naked, and her haircut or wig is Egyptian in style. The quality of its carving is high, and it attests to the high caliber of the artifacts' artistic level and the skill par excellence of the artists during this era. 

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, Israel Antiquities Authority excavation managers, "The excavation's findings unequivocally show that Jerusalem had spread outside of the city walls before its destruction. A row of structures currently under excavation appears beyond the city wall that constituted the eastern border of the city during this period. Throughout the Iron Age, Jerusalem underwent constant growth, expressed both in the construction of the city wall and the fact that the city later spread beyond it. Excavations carried out in the past in the area of the Jewish Quarter have shown how the growth of the community at the end of the 8th Century BCE caused the annexation of the western area of Jerusalem. In the current excavation, we may suggest that following the westward expansion of the city, structures were built outside of the wall’s border on the east as well."

Impressive 2,700-Year-Old Water System Discovered Near Rosh Ha-Ayin

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An impressively large 2,700-year-old water system was recently exposed at Israel Antiquities Authority excavations near Rosh Ha-Ayin with the help of students majoring in the Education Ministry’s Land of Israel and Archaeology studies. The excavation precedes the construction of a new residential neighborhood initiated by the Ministry of Construction and Housing.



According to Gilad Itach, director of excavations for the IAA, “It is difficult not to be impressed by the sight of the immense underground reservoir quarried out so many years ago. In antiquity, rainwater collection and storage was a fundamental necessity. With an annual rainfall of 500 mm, the region’s winter rains would easily have filled the huge reservoir. On its walls, near the entrance, we identified engravings of human figures, crosses, and a vegetal motif that were probably carved by passersby in a later period. Overall, we identified seven figures measuring 15–30 cm. Most have outstretched arms and a few appear to be holding some kind of object.”

The water system exposed is nearly 20 m long and reaches a depth of over 4 m. The excavations reveal that the reservoir was built beneath a large structure with walls that are all nearly 50 m long. Some of the potsherds found on the floors of the rooms probably belonged to vessels used to draw water from the reservoir. It is highly likely that the structure and the reservoir were built at the end of the Iron Age (late eighth or early seventh century BCE), but whereas the building was abandoned during the Persian period the reservoir was still in use until modern times.

In recent years, a number of other farmsteads built at the end of the First Temple period have been discovered near Rosh Ha-Ayin. They were probably erected after the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel in 720 BCE, when the Assyrian empire dominated the region. The establishment of farmhouses in this area is interesting, given the fact that many regions within the decimated Kingdom of Israel remained desolate. Some scholars believe that the establishment of the farmsteads was motivated by the empire’s wish to settle the area, which lay on an international route and near the western border of the Assyrian empire. According to Itach, “The structure exposed in this excavation is different from most of the previously discovered farmsteads. Its orderly plan, vast area, strong walls, and the impressive water reservoir hewn beneath it suggest that the site was administrative in nature and it may well have controlled the surrounding farmsteads.”

High-school students majoring in the Education Ministry’s Land of Israel and Archaeology track participated in the Rosh Ha-Ayin excavations as part of the Ministry and the IAA’s new educational program, which is designed to connect students with the past and train the archaeologists of tomorrow. Students opting for this track as part of their chosen matriculation assessment join an excavation for a week. They experience the various tasks involved in the excavation, discuss the research questions and archaeological considerations, and document the dig in the excavation journal as part of their research work.

Numerous pieces of jewelry, cooking artifacts found in Crusader fortress


So just how did 900-year-old rings, bracelets, earrings and hairpins come to be in the kitchen of a Crusader fortress tower in Modiin?


Tittora Hill is a unique and fascinating archaeological site within the municipal boundaries of Modi?in-Maccabim-Re?ut. Previous archaeological excavations on the hill have revealed evidence of its occupation from the Chalcolithic period (c. 6,000 years ago) up to the modern era. The hill is in a strategic location – on the main ascent route from the coastal plain to Jerusalem – and is surrounded by fertile valleys that were used as farmland and were able to support the hill’s inhabitants throughout the generations.

According to Avraham Tendler, excavation director for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The students and volunteers from Modi?in have exposed the inner courtyard of the Crusader fortress. Here, the fortress’s occupants cooked and baked for hundreds of years during the Middle Ages, some 900 years ago. Ancient clay ovens (tabuns), cooking pots, jars, serving dishes, and a table were discovered in the ancient kitchen, as well as numerous remains of food such as olive pits, pulses, charred grape pips, and animal bones. It seems that the cooks of the time were not sufficiently careful with the jewelry they wore while cooking and baking, since numerous pieces of jewelry have been found in the excavation, some made of bronze and silver.” 

Most of the jewelry has been found by volunteer archaeologist Mati Yohananoff, who is a regular participant in the excavation. “Throughout the entire site, we have found many metal objects including coins, rings, bracelets and cosmetic tools,” he said. “These finds indicate the kind of activity traditionally associated with women’s domestic work.” Long-standing residents of the town coming to excavate with other volunteers are exploring the foundations of the fortress and skillfully exposing a large building from the Roman period hidden beneath the Crusader fortress.


Evidence of the Last Battle for Jerusalem from 2,000 Years Ago


The Israel Antiquities Authority has unveiled evidence from 2,000 year ago of the battle of Jerusalem on the eve of the destruction of the Second Temple, at the City of David in the Jerusalem Walls National Park. Arrowheads and stone ballista balls were discovered on the main street that ascended from the city’s gates and the Pool of Siloam to the Temple, which was excavated in recent years with funding provided by the City of David Society (Elad).

These finds tell the story of the last battle between the Roman forces and the Jewish rebels who had barricaded themselves in the city, a battle that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem. This battle is described by the historian Flavius Josephus: "On the following day the Romans, having routed the brigands from the town, set the whole on fire as far as Siloam" (Josephus, Wars, Book 6:363)

According to Nahshon Szanton and Moran Hagbi, the directors of the excavation on the stepped-street on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Josephus’ descriptions of the battle in the lower city come face-to-face for the first time with evidence that was revealed in the field in a clear and chilling manner. Stone ballista balls fired by catapults used to bombard Jerusalem during the Roman siege of the city, were discovered in the excavations. Arrowheads, used by the Jewish rebels in the hard-fought battles agains the Roman legionnaires were found exactly as described by Josephus."

So far, a section of the road c. 100 m long and 7.5 m wide, paved with large stone slabs as was customary in monumental construction throughout the Roman Empire, has been exposed in the excavations. The archeological excavations on the street utilize a combination of advanced and pioneering research methods, the results of which so far strengthen the understanding that Herod the Great was not solely responsible for the large construction projects of Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period.

Recent research indicates that the street was built after Herod’s reign, under the auspices of the Roman procurators of Jerusalem, and perhaps even during the tenure of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who is also known for having sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion.

According to the exacvation's directors,  Szanton and Hagbi,
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"This conclusion in fact sheds new light on the history of Jerusalem in the late Second Temple Period, and reinforces recognition of the importance of the Roman procurators’ rule in shaping the character of Jerusalem".

 “Two thousand years after the destruction of Jerusalem and fifty years since its liberation”, the archaeologists added, “we are going back to the water cisterns, the market and the city square on the eve of its destruction. Naomi Shemer certainly never dreamed of re-discovering Jerusalem in the days of the Second Temple”.

 According to Dr. Yuval Baruch, the Jerusalem region archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, "We intend to uncover the entire length and width of the street within five years, and thereby complete the excavation of this unique site which had already drawn the attention of archaeologists from around the world about one hundred years ago. In fact, one can consider the current excavations in the City of David a natural continuation of the previous archaeological excavations of the site, which were begun in the past by European and American scholars.

About four years ago archeological excavations were renewed along the street, this time in order to expose its full length and width”. Baruch added, “When the excavations are completed, the remains of the street will be conserved and developed and made ready to receive the tens of thousands of visitors who will walk along it”.

In recognizing the importance of the site and the finds, IAA researchers chose to utilize advanced cutting-edge research methods from the fields of natural science, biology and geology in their excavations. A combination of these advanced techniques makes the excavation of the stepped-street in the City of David exceptional in its scientific quality and importance in the development of archaeological research in Jerusalem and Israel in general, and they enable researchers to address questions that have not yet been studied.

The current excavations also focus on exposing the area adjacent to the street, and the shops that were alongside it. Finds revealed in the excavations will allow researchers to answer such intriguing questions as: What did the main street that led to the Temple look like? What was the urban nature of the Lower City that extended on either side of the magnificent road? What did they eat in Jerusalem during the difficult siege, etc.? In order to answer these questions, a multidisciplinary study is being conducted, as well as careful wet sifting at the sifting site in the Zurim Valley National Park, where even the smallest finds are collected.

 It seems that it will not be long before it will be possible for the first time to walk along one of the main streets of ancient Jerusalem, to see how it looked, and receive answers to fascinating historical questions that have been asked for 100 years relating to the history of Jerusalem from the time of the Second Temple, at the height of its splendor, and from the moments of its destruction.





A Rare Stone Slab c. 9,000 Years Old was Exposed that was used to Ignite Fire

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An exceptional find uncovered about a week ago demonstrates how to start a fire in the field without matches or a lighter. A rare stone slab that was apparently used by the country’s ancient inhabitants for lighting fire nine thousand years ago was exposed in an archaeological excavation of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in which students of the Hannaton pre-military preparatory program participated. The excavations are taking place at the junction of Highway 38 and Virginia Boulevard in Ramat Bet Shemesh as part of an upgrade and expansion project funded by Netivei Israel, and they attest to the existence of advanced technology for igniting fire.

According to prehistorian Anna Eirikh-Rose, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "The ancient people who lived here during the Pre-pottery Neolithic B period (the New Stone Age) prepared a thick limestone slab with two depressions in it and grooves between them that connected the hollows. Some think this is an ancient game board but according to researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, such slabs were used for starting fire: this device made it possible to rapidly rotate a wooden branch in the hollow (similar to a drill). The rotational energy was translated into heat, and when it came in contact with a flammable material placed inside the hollow, it began to burn and the fire was lit. There are only about ten similar slabs from this period in the National Treasures; thus it is a rare artifact. Additional finds uncovered in the excavation include a fragment of a bracelet, flint tools, and numerous animal bones”.

 The Ackerstein Company, which is managing the Highway 38 project on behalf of Netivei Israel, said, “It is exciting every time a rare piece of history is found thanks to the innovative infrastructure work that Netivei Israel is implementing in building the country”.

 Evidence of producing fire in the region, in the form of ash and charcoal, already exists from the Old Stone Age – about 800,000 years ago; burnt seeds and flint chips were exposed at Gesher Bnot Ya?akov in the north of the country. The use of fire became significantly more important some 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic period. Evidence of this is reflected by various finds from the period that are related to different fire-generating technologies.


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Neanderthal-derived gene variants contribute to modern mentadisorders


Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have produced the first direct evidence that parts of our brains implicated in mental disorders may be shaped by a "residual echo" from our ancient past. The more a person's genome carries genetic vestiges of Neanderthals, the more certain parts of his or her brain and skull resemble those of humans' evolutionary cousins that went extinct 40,000 years ago, says NIMH's Karen Berman, M.D. NIMH is part of the National Institutes of Health.

In particular, the parts of our brains that enable us to use tools and visualize and locate objects owe some of their lineage to Neanderthal-derived gene variants that are part of our genomes and affect the shape of those structures -- to the extent that an individual harbors the ancient variants. But this may involve trade-offs with our social brain. The evidence from MRI scans suggests that such Neanderthal-derived genetic variation may affect the way our brains work today -- and may hold clues to understanding deficits seen in schizophrenia and autism-related disorders, say the researchers.

Dr. Berman, Michael Gregory, M.D., of the NIMH Section on Integrative Neuroimaging, and colleagues, report on their magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study published online, July 24, 2017 in the journal Scientific Reports.

During their primordial migration out of Africa, ancestors of present-day humans are thought to have interbred with Neanderthals, whose brain characteristics can be inferred from their fossilized skulls. For example, these indicate that Neanderthals had more prominent visual systems than modern humans.

"It's been proposed that Neanderthals depended on visual-spatial abilities and toolmaking, for survival, more so than on the social affiliation and group activities that typify the success of modern humans -- and that Neanderthal brains evolved to preferentially support these visuospatial functions," Berman explained. "Now we have direct neuroimaging evidence that such trade-offs may still be operative in our brains."

Might some of us, more than others, harbor Neanderthal-derived gene variants that may bias our brains toward trading sociability for visuospatial prowess -- or vice versa? The new study adds support to this possibility by showing how these gene variants influence the structure of brain regions underlying those abilities.

To test this possibility, Gregory and Berman measured the impact of Neanderthal variants on MRI measures of brain structure in a sample of 221 participants of European ancestry, drawn from the NIMH Genetic Study of Schizophrenia.

The new MRI evidence points to a a gene variant shared by modern-day humans and Neanderthals that is likely involved in development of the brain's visual system. Similarly, Neanderthal variants impacting development of a particular suspect brain area may help to inform cognitive disability seen in certain brain disorders, say the researchers.

Isotopes in prehistoric cattle teeth suggest herding strategies used during the Neolithic


Analysis of strontium isotopes in teeth from Neolithic cattle suggest that early Europeans used different specialized herding strategies, according to a study published July 26, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Claudia Gerling from University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland, and colleagues.

Over the course of the Neolithic, secondary products from cattle such as milk, manure and animal power became more important. This led to larger herds, and the increased demand for grazing resources could have led to herding strategies that took advantage of grazing grounds away from the permanent settlement. However, until now there was little direct evidence for prehistoric cattle mobility.

To reconstruct cattle mobility and infer herding management, the researchers analyzed strontium isotopes in 39 molars from 25 cattle in a Neolithic settlement in what is now Switzerland. The settlement, which was occupied for 15 years, had 27 houses and the teeth could be assigned to 12 of them. Strontium signatures reflect local soil and plants, and can vary over relatively short distances.

The researchers found that the cattle molars had three strontium patterns, which likely reflected different herding strategies. The first pattern was consistent with the local strontium baseline, suggesting local cattle herding; the second pattern was a mix of local and non-local strontium signatures, suggesting seasonal movement; and the third was mostly non-local strontium signatures, suggesting year-round herding away from the site.

In addition, the researchers found that these three herding strategies were not uniformly represented in various areas of the settlement. This suggests differential access to the most favorable grazing grounds, which could have contributed to social inequalities between groups or households.

Consequently, say the researchers, the increasing importance of cattle may have been a starting point for the socioeconomic differentiation that later became widespread during the European Bronze Age.


Archaeologists find key to tracking ancient wheat in frozen Bronze Age box


A Bronze Age wooden container found in an ice patch at 2,650m in the Swiss Alps could help archaeologists shed new light on the spread and exploitation of cereal grains following a chance discovery.

The team of archaeologists were expecting to find a milk residue left behind in the container -- perhaps from a porridge-type meal wolfed down by a hunter or herder making their way through a snowy Alpine pass.

But instead they discovered lipid-based biomarkers for whole wheat or rye grain, called alkylresorcinols.

The team say the discovery of these biomarkers in the residue could be used as a new tool to help archaeologists map and trace the development of early farming in Eurasia.

The domestication of plants, such as wheat, was one of the most significant cultural and evolutionary steps of our species, but direct evidence of their use in early culinary practices and economies has remained frustratingly elusive.

Plants quickly degrade in archaeological deposits therefore archaeologists are increasingly using molecular techniques to look for their remains.

Dr André Colonese, from BioArCh, Department of Archaeology, University of York, said : "We didn't find any evidence of milk, but we found these phenolic lipids, which have never been reported before in an archaeological artefact, but are abundant in the bran of wheat and rye cereals and considered biomarkers of wholegrain intake in nutritional studies."

"This is an extraordinary discovery if you consider that of all domesticated plants, wheat is the most widely grown crop in the world and the most important food grain source for humans, lying at the core of many contemporary culinary traditions.

"One of the greatest challenges of lipid analysis in archaeology has been finding biomarkers for plants, there are only a few and they do not preserve very well in ancient artefacts. You can imagine the relevance of this study as we have now a new tool for tracking early culinary use of cereal grains, it really is very exciting. The next step is to look for them in ceramic artefacts," Dr Colonese added.

The team combined microscopic and molecular analyses to identify lipids and proteins using gas chromatography mass spectrometry, a technique routinely applied to ceramic artefacts. Over the last 30 years, thousands of ceramic artefacts from Europe have been analyzed for their molecular content, most revealing evidence of milk and meat products, but hardly any evidence of cereals.

Dr Jessica Hendy, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, said: "The evidence of cereals came from the detection of lipids, but also from preserved proteins. This analysis was able to tell us that this vessel contained not just one, but two types of cereal grains -- wheat and barley or rye grains.

Combining these two kinds of molecular analysis, along with microscopy, is strong evidence that cereals were being transported across this alpine pass."

"Detecting a molecular marker for cereals also has widespread implications for studying early farming. It enables us to piece together when and where this important food crop spread through Europe," Dr Hendy added.

Dr Francesco Carrer, from Newcastle University, said: "This evidence sheds new light on life in prehistoric alpine communities, and on their relationship with the extreme high altitudes. People travelling across the alpine passes were carrying food for their journey, like current hikers do. This new research contributed to understanding which food they considered the most suitable for their trips across the Alps."

Cultural flexibility was key for early humans to survive extreme dry periods in southern Africa


The flexibility and ability to adapt to changing climates by employing various cultural innovations allowed communities of early humans to survive through a prolonged period of pronounced aridification.

The early human techno-tradition, known as Howiesons Poort (HP), associated with Homo sapiens who lived in southern Africa about 66 000 to 59 000 years ago indicates that during this period of pronounced aridification they developed cultural innovations that allowed them to significantly enlarge the range of environments they occupied.

This cultural flexibility may have been the key to success for modern humans, says a team of international researchers, made up of archaeologists, paleo climatologists, and climate modellers from the French CNRS1 and the EPHE PSL Research University, Bergen University as well as Wits University. Their research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The most distinct of the many cultural innovations in the HP culture were the invention of the bow and arrow, different methods of heating raw materials (stone) before knapping to produce arrow heads, engraving ostrich eggshells with elaborate patterns, intensive use of hearths and relatively intense hunting and gathering practices," says Professor Christopher Henshilwood, one of the team members from Wits and Bergen Universities.

Howiesons Poort is a techno-tradition in the Middle Stone Age in Africa named after the Howieson's Poort Shelter archaeological site near Grahamstown in South Africa. It lasted around 5 000 years between roughly 65 800 and 59 500 years ago.

Using paleo climatic data and paleo climatic simulations, the researchers of the current study found that the HP tradition developed during a period of pronounced aridity.

This paleo climatic data and the distribution of archaeological sites associated with the HP, as well of that of the Still Bay tradition, which existed in the same environments about 5 000 years before (76 000 to 71 000 years ago), enabled the researchers to model the emergence of these traditions with two predictive algorithms that permitted them to reconstruct the ecological niche associated with each tradition and determine whether these niches differed significantly through time.

The results clearly indicate that HP populations were capable, despite the pronounced aridity that characterised the period in which they lived, to exploit territories and ecosystems that the preceding Still Bay people did not occupy.

While the Still Bay era is also characterised by highly innovative technologies - including engraving of ochre, use of personal ornaments, manufacture of highly stylised bone tools, heating silcrete (red rock) to produce better material for knapping bifacial points (spear points) using hard hammer and finally pressure flaking technology - the research team points out that HP's ecological niche expansion coincides with the development of technological innovations that were both efficient and more flexible than those of the Still Bay.

"It seems from the little evidence that we have that the population of Homo sapiens in southern Africa was considerably larger during the Howiesons Poort period," says Henshilwood.

"There are many more HP sites than Still Bay sites in southern Africa and their location is widespread across southern Africa. Note that neither the Still Bay or HP is found outside of southern Africa."
Henshilwood says the Still Bay people did not disappear. There just seems to be a gap between 72 000 years ago to 66 000 years ago, where there is almost no evidence of any people in southern Africa.

This study, which documents the oldest known case of an eco-cultural niche expansion, demonstrates that the processes that allowed our species to develop modern behaviours must be examined at regional scales and in conjunction with past climatic data.

About early human development:
The emergence of our species (Homo sapiens) in Africa, at least 260 000 years ago, was not immediately accompanied by the development of behavioural characteristics of more recent prehistoric and historically documented populations. For tens of thousands of years after their emergence (anatomically), modern human populations in Africa continued to use technologies that differed little from those of the non-modern populations that preceded them or that inhabited other regions both inside and outside the African continent.

A number of archaeological discoveries during the past twenty years have shown that from at least 100 000 years ago some populations in Africa, especially those in southern Africa, made pigmented compounds, wore personal ornaments, made abstract engravings, and manufactured bone tools. It is within this period, and those that follow, that archaeologists are able to recognize distinct techno- traditions, to determine with a certain degree of precision their age, and place these time periods within their proper climatic contexts.