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.