Thursday, November 30, 2017

Adornments told about the culture of prehistoric people

IMAGE: This is bone jewelry found at Sungir in the burial of children (1-3) and in the cultural layer (4). view more 
Credit: Vladislav Zhitenev
Vladislav Zhitenev, a Russian archaeologist from MSU, studied bone jewelry found at Sungir Upper Paleolithic site. A group led by Vladislav Zhitenev found out that many items were crafted specifically for burial purposes, while others were worn on a daily basis. The style of the jewelry was influenced by many cultures of Europe and the Russian Plain. The article was published in EPAUL 147.

Sungir Upper Paleolithic site is located in Vladimir Region and is dated back to 29,000-31,000 years. Scientist began to study his place over thirty years ago. The encampment of prehistoric hunters includes a burial site of a 40-50 year old man and a grave of two children who died 10-14 years of age. Archaeological excavation revealed over 80 thousand different objects
"This children's grave contains more adornments and other burial items than any other Upper Paleolithic burial site in Eurasia," - says Vladislav Zhitenev, the author of the study, doctor of historical sciences, and assistant professor of the Archaeology Department of the Faculty of History, MSU. Currently all findings are kept in the State Vladimir-Suzdal Museum Reserve.

Having studied pendants made from the teeth of Arctic fox, bone beads, and other personal ornaments, scientists found out that these items were worn for a long time as they exhibited rubbing marks and other signs of tear. Other ornaments found at the burials were made in a hurry and don't look so smooth and convenient. Evidently, they were crafted specifically for the burial ceremony. These items include a large horse figurine with a disproportionately short back led. Although the surface of the figurine had been polished, it has a lot of manufacturing and processing marks.

It is still unknown why the grave of children appeared to contain so many objects including worn ones. According to one version, people used the child burial to make a sacrifice to save the community from an adversity of some kind, such as illness or hunger. Burial items were made not only by experienced craftsmen, but by children as well. One of the tusk disks found in the children's grave was made carelessly and unskillfully. It is likely it was crafted by a kid.

Adornments are elements of a non-verbal language used by prehistoric people to tell friends from enemies and to learn about one's social status and standing. By studying personal ornaments scientists learn more about different aspects of intercultural communication in the Upper Paleolithic period.

Vladislav Zhitenev found out that the man and the children lived relatively at the same time separated by several generations at most. This is confirmed by the identical style of peronal ornaments found in their graves. The children were buried at the same time, but the time period between their death and the passing of the man is still unknown. Radiocarbon dating method failed to provide an answer as it is not accurate to the year when applied to such prehistoric specimens. But when radiocarbon dating gives only approximate results, archaeologists turn to implicit data.

"When looking at an item, one can always see a master's hand. Many adornments from the burial sites of the man and the children were crafted in the same way, as if by the same person. Alternatively, this technique could have been passed within the family, say, from father to son or from grandmother to granddaughter," - explains Vladislav Zhitenev. Therefore, the man and the children were separated in time by no more than several dozen years.

Sungir adornments are difficult to classify and include into a certain cultural tradition, as they had been influenced by many cultures. On the one hand, they have a lot in common with the Aurignacian culture that was widely spread in Western and Central Europe in the Early Upper Paleolithic Stone Age. On the other hand, Sungir findings resemble those from some early sites in Kostenki. Finally, all these items are combined with stone objects crafted using a Neanderthal technology, although the remains found in Sungir belonged to Homo sapiens.

Having studied Sungir adornments, scientists found out that a part of them was crafted specifically for the burial ceremony, and another one was worn on a daily basis; the man and the children lived roughly at the same time; and the crafting style was influenced by many cultures including the Aurignacian culture and the culture of the Russian Plain.

In his further studies Vladislav Zhitenev plans to focus on intercultural communication, for example, to find difference between the sites with and without a Neanderthal component.

First original Greek copy of Jesus' secret revelations to his brother

IMAGE: A piece of the Coptic translation of the First Apocalypse of James from the Nag Hammadi Codex V. view more 
Credit: Image of artifact from the Nag Hammadi Library, Oxford University.

The first-known original Greek copy of a heretical Christian writing describing Jesus' secret teachings to his brother James has been discovered at Oxford University by biblical scholars at The University of Texas at Austin.

To date, only a small number of texts from the Nag Hammadi library -- a collection of 13 Coptic Gnostic books discovered in 1945 in Upper Egypt -- have been found in Greek, their original language of composition. But earlier this year, UT Austin religious studies scholars Geoffrey Smith and Brent Landau added to the list with their discovery of several fifth- or sixth-century Greek fragments of the First Apocalypse of James, which was thought to have been preserved only in its Coptic translations until now.

"To say that we were excited once we realized what we'd found is an understatement," said Smith, an assistant professor of religious studies. "We never suspected that Greek fragments of the First Apocalypse of James survived from antiquity. But there they were, right in front of us."

The ancient narrative describes the secret teachings of Jesus to his brother James, in which Jesus reveals information about the heavenly realm and future events, including James' inevitable death.

"The text supplements the biblical account of Jesus' life and ministry by allowing us access to conversations that purportedly took place between Jesus and his brother, James -- secret teachings that allowed James to be a good teacher after Jesus' death," Smith said.

Such apocryphal writings, Smith said, would have fallen outside the canonical boundaries set by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in his "Easter letter of 367" that defined the 27-book New Testament: "No one may add to them, and nothing may be taken away from them."

With its neat, uniform handwriting and words separated into syllables, the original manuscript was probably a teacher's model used to help students learn to read and write, Smith and Landau said.

"The scribe has divided most of the text into syllables by using mid-dots. Such divisions are very uncommon in ancient manuscripts, but they do show up frequently in manuscripts that were used in educational contexts," said Landau, a lecturer in the UT Austin Department of Religious Studies.
The teacher who produced this manuscript must have "had a particular affinity for the text," Landau said. It does not appear to be a brief excerpt from the text, as was common in school exercises, but rather a complete copy of this forbidden ancient writing.

Smith and Landau announced the discovery at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in Boston in November and are working to publish their preliminary findings in the Greco Roman Memoirs series of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

First evidence for Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain discovered


IMAGE: This is the Ebbsfleet excavation with Pegwell Bay & Ramsgate. view more 
Credit: University of Leicester
The first evidence for Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain has been discovered by archaeologists from the University of Leicester. The findings will be explored as part of the BBC Four's Digging For Britain on Wednesday 29 November.

Based on new evidence, the team suggests that the first landing of Julius Caesar's fleet in Britain took place in 54BC at Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet, the north--east point of Kent.

This location matches Caesar's own account of his landing in 54 BC, with three clues about the topography of the landing site being consistent with him having landed in Pegwell Bay: its visibility from the sea, the existence of a large open bay, and the presence of higher ground nearby.
The project has involved surveys of hillforts that may have been attacked by Caesar, studies in museums of objects that may have been made or buried at the time of the invasions, such as coin hoards, and excavations in Kent.

The University of Leicester project, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was prompted by the discovery of a large defensive ditch in archaeological excavations before a new road was built. The shape of the ditch at Ebbsfleet, a hamlet in Thanet, is very similar to some of the Roman defences at Alésia in France, where the decisive battle in the Gallic War took place in 52 BC.

The site, at Ebbsfleet, on the Isle of Thanet in north-east Kent overlooking Pegwell Bay, is now 900 m inland but at the time of Caesar's invasions it was closer to the coast. The ditch is 4-5 metres wide and 2 metres deep and is dated by pottery and radiocarbon dates to the 1st century BC.

The size, shape, date of the defences at Ebbsfleet and the presence of iron weapons including a Roman pilum (javelin) all suggest that the site at Ebbsfleet was once a Roman base of 1st century BC date.

The archaeological team suggest the site may be up to 20 hectares in size and it is thought that the main purpose of the fort was to protect the ships of Caesar's fleet that had been drawn up on to the nearby beach.

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, Research Associate from the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History said: "The site at Ebbsfleet lies on a peninsular that projects from the south-eastern tip of the Isle of Thanet. Thanet has never been considered as a possible landing site before because it was separated from the mainland until the Middle Ages.

"However, it is not known how big the Channel that separated it from the mainland (the Wantsum Channel) was. The Wantsum Channel was clearly not a significant barrier to people of Thanet during the Iron Age and it certainly would not have been a major challenge to the engineering capabilities of the Roman army."

Caesar's own account of his landing in 54 BC is consistent with the landing site identified by the team.

Dr Fitzpatrick explained: "Sailing from somewhere between Boulogne and Calais, Caesar says that at sunrise they saw Britain far away on the left hand side. As they set sail opposite the cliffs of Dover, Caesar can only be describing the white chalk cliffs around Ramsgate which were being illuminated by the rising sun.

"Caesar describes how the ships were left at anchor at an even and open shore and how they were damaged by a great storm. This description is consistent with Pegwell Bay, which today is the largest bay on the east Kent coast and is open and flat. The bay is big enough for the whole Roman army to have landed in the single day that Caesar describes. The 800 ships, even if they landed in waves, would still have needed a landing front 1-2 km wide.

"Caesar also describes how the Britons had assembled to oppose the landing but, taken aback by the size of the fleet, they concealed themselves on the higher ground. This is consistent with the higher ground of the Isle of Thanet around Ramsgate.

"These three clues about the topography of the landing site; the presence of cliffs, the existence of a large open bay, and the presence of higher ground nearby, are consistent with the 54 BC landing having been in Pegwell Bay."

The last full study of Caesar's invasions was published over 100 years ago, in 1907.

It has long been believed that because Caesar returned to France the invasions were failures and that because the Romans did not leave a force of occupation the invasions had little or no lasting effects on the peoples of Briton. It has also been believed that because the campaigns were short they will have left few, if any, archaeological remains.

The team challenge this notion by suggesting that in Rome the invasions were seen as a great triumph. The fact that Caesar had crossed the sea and gone beyond the known world caused a sensation. At this time victory was achieved by defeating the enemy in battle, not by occupying their lands.

They also suggest that Caesar's impact in Briton had long-standing effects which were seen almost 100 years later during Claudius's invasion of Briton.

Professor Colin Haselgrove, the principal investigator for the project from the University of Leicester, explained: "It seems likely that the treaties set up by Caesar formed the basis for alliances between Rome and British royal families. This eventually resulted in the leading rulers of south-east England becoming client kings of Rome. Almost 100 years after Caesar, in AD 43 the emperor Claudius invaded Britain. The conquest of south-east England seems to have been rapid, probably because the kings in this region were already allied to Rome.

"This was the beginning of the permanent Roman occupation of Britain, which included Wales and some of Scotland, and lasted for almost 400 years, suggesting that Claudius later exploited Caesar's legacy."

The fieldwork for the project has been carried out by volunteers organised by the Community Archaeologist of Kent County Council who worked in partnership with the University of Leicester. The project was also supported by staff from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS).

Kent County Council cabinet member Matthew Balfour said: "The council is delighted to have been able to work in partnership with the University of Leicester to help build on the incredible findings made during our road development. The archaeology of Thanet is very special and we are particularly pleased that such important findings have been made with the involvement of volunteers from the Kent community. When we built the road we ensured that the community played a big part in the archaeological works and it is satisfying to see the legacy of our original work continuing."
Principal Archaeological Officer for Kent County Council Simon Mason, who oversaw the original road excavations carried out by Oxford Wessex Archaeology, said: "Many people do not realise just how rich the archaeology of the Isle of Thanet is. Being so close to the continent, Thanet was the gateway to new ideas, people, trade and invasion from earliest times. This has resulted in a vast and unique buried archaeological landscape with many important discoveries being regularly made. The peoples of Thanet were once witness to some of the earliest and most important events in the nation's history: the Claudian invasion to start the period of Roman rule, the arrival of St Augustine's mission to bring Christianity and the arrival of the Saxons celebrated through the tradition of Hengist and Horsa. It has been fantastic to be part of a project that is helping to bring another fantastic chapter, that of Caesar, to Thanet's story."

Andrew Mayfield said: "The project has been a fantastic opportunity for us to explore the extraordinary archaeology of Thanet alongside the University of Leicester team. Volunteers, both locally from Thanet and further afield in Kent, enthusiastically give up their time and the success of the dig is very much down to their hard work and commitment. We were also lucky to welcome students from both Canterbury Universities, a local branch of the Young Archaeologists Club as well as the local school. This was very much a team effort."

The findings will be explored further as part of the BBC Four's Digging For Britain. The East episode, in which the Ebbsfleet site appears, will be the second programme in the series, and will be broadcast on Wednesday 29 November 2017.

Bones show prehistoric women's intensive manual labor during advent of agriculture

Comparisons of bone strength between prehistoric women and living female athletes demonstrate that prehistoric women performed rigorous manual labor for thousands of years in central Europe at levels exceeding those of modern women. Additionally, in contrast to men, manual labor was a more important component of prehistoric women's behavior than terrestrial mobility through the first 5,500 years of European farming, suggesting women's labor was crucial to the development of agriculture.

Past studies of the rigidity of male shinbones (tibia bones) during the same period demonstrate how male terrestrial mobility likely increased over time. Meanwhile, women's activity in prehistory has been difficult to interpret, due in part to a wide variability in their bone changes, potential for sex-specific skeletal responses and a lack of modern comparative data.

To address these issues, Alison Macintosh and colleagues investigated trends in female upper and lower limb bones and inter-limb strength. They compared the bones of prehistoric women spanning the first ~6,150 years of agriculture in central Europe to living female semi-elite athletes - endurance runners, rowers and soccer players - and sedentary women. Inter-limb strength proportions between the humerus and tibia were used to characterize the relative importance of manual labor (indicated by more force on the arms) versus terrestrial mobility (indicated by more force on the legs) among agricultural women.

A new study comparing the bones of Central European women that lived during the first 6,000 years of farming with those of modern athletes has shown that the average prehistoric agricultural woman had stronger upper arms than living female rowing champions.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge's Department of Archaeology say this physical prowess was likely obtained through tilling soil and harvesting crops by hand, as well as the grinding of grain for as much as five hours a day to make flour.

Until now, bioarchaeological investigations of past behaviour have interpreted women's bones solely through direct comparison to those of men. However, male bones respond to strain in a more visibly dramatic way than female bones.

The Cambridge scientists say this has resulted in the systematic underestimation of the nature and scale of the physical demands borne by women in prehistory.

"This is the first study to actually compare prehistoric female bones to those of living women," said Dr Alison Macintosh, lead author of the study published today in the journal Science Advances.

"By interpreting women's bones in a female-specific context we can start to see how intensive, variable and laborious their behaviours were, hinting at a hidden history of women's work over thousands of years."

The study, part of the European Research Council-funded ADaPt (Adaption, Dispersals and Phenotype) Project, used a small CT scanner in Cambridge's PAVE laboratory to analyse the arm (humerus) and leg (tibia) bones of living women who engage in a range of physical activity: from runners, rowers and footballers to those with more sedentary lifestyles.

The bones strengths of modern women were compared to those of women from early Neolithic agricultural eras through to farming communities of the Middle Ages.

"It can be easy to forget that bone is a living tissue, one that responds to the rigours we put our bodies through. Physical impact and muscle activity both put strain on bone, called loading. The bone reacts by changing in shape, curvature, thickness and density over time to accommodate repeated strain," said Macintosh.

"By analysing the bone characteristics of living people whose regular physical exertion is known, and comparing them to the characteristics of ancient bones, we can start to interpret the kinds of labour our ancestors were performing in prehistory."

Over three weeks during trial season, Macintosh scanned the limb bones of the Open- and Lightweight squads of the Cambridge University Women's Boat Club, who ended up winning this year's Boat Race and breaking the course record. These women, most in their early twenties, were training twice a day and rowing an average of 120km a week at the time.

The Neolithic women analysed in the study (from 7400-7000 years ago) had similar leg bone strength to modern rowers, but their arm bones were 11-16% stronger for their size than the rowers, and almost 30% stronger than typical Cambridge students.

The loading of the upper limbs was even more dominant in the study's Bronze Age women (from 4300-3500 years ago), who had 9-13% stronger arm bones than the rowers but 12% weaker leg bones.

A possible explanation for this fierce arm strength is the grinding of grain. "We can't say specifically what behaviours were causing the bone loading we found. However, a major activity in early agriculture was converting grain into flour, and this was likely performed by women," said Macintosh.

"For millennia, grain would have been ground by hand between two large stones called a saddle quern. In the few remaining societies that still use saddle querns, women grind grain for up to five hours a day.

"The repetitive arm action of grinding these stones together for hours may have loaded women's arm bones in a similar way to the laborious back-and-forth motion of rowing."
However, Macintosh suspects that women's labour was hardly likely to have been limited to this one behaviour.

"Prior to the invention of the plough, subsistence farming involved manually planting, tilling and harvesting all crops," said Macintosh. "Women were also likely to have been fetching food and water for domestic livestock, processing milk and meat, and converting hides and wool into textiles.
"The variation in bone loading found in prehistoric women suggests that a wide range of behaviours were occurring during early agriculture. In fact, we believe it may be the wide variety of women's work that in part makes it so difficult to identify signatures of any one specific behaviour from their bones."

Dr Jay Stock, senior study author and head of the ADaPt Project, added: "Our findings suggest that for thousands of years, the rigorous manual labour of women was a crucial driver of early farming economies. The research demonstrates what we can learn about the human past through better understanding of human variation today."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China

The formation and vast influence of China’s landmark Qin dynasty will be showcased at the Cincinnati Art Museum in Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China from April 20 through August 12, 2018.

This special exhibition includes 120 objects drawn from the collections of Chinese art museums and archaeological institutes. More than 40 of these works have never been on view in the U.S. before this exhibition.

Expanding upon previous exhibitions, Terracotta Army not only includes the impressive terracotta figures, but also considers important works of art from the Qin's neighboring states and tells the story of the nomadic peoples of northwestern China.
Dating from 770-206 B.C., these works of art, excavated from the emperor’s mausoleum as well as aristocratic and nomadic tombs, richly reflect history, myths and burial practices in ancient China. In addition to the nine life-size terracotta figures, the exhibition includes a cavalry horse, arms and armor, ritual bronze vessels, works in gold and silver, jade ornaments, precious jewelry and ceramics.

“This international exchange is a momentous occasion for our museum and the Greater Cincinnati region. The original scholarship supporting the exhibition and the opportunity for Cincinnati to learn about the legacy of the First Emperor will be a revelation to every visitor to the museum. We are proud to showcase the splendor of the art and history of China through our ambitious partnership with Shaanxi Province,” said Cameron Kitchin, Cincinnati Art Museum’s Louis and Louise Dieterle Nippert Director.

The Cincinnati Art Museum co-organized the exhibition with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), where it makes its debut from November 18, 2017 to March 11, 2018. The exhibition is presented in partnership with Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, Shaanxi History Museum (Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center), and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum of the People’s Republic of China. Dr. Hou-mei Sung, Curator of Asian Art at the Cincinnati Art Museum, curated the exhibition with Li Jian, the VMFA’s E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art.

Terracotta Army’s story begins with Ying Zheng (259-210 B.C.), who became the first emperor of China in 221 B.C., after his army defeated other regional states and unified the country. After coming to power, he implemented fundamental cultural, political and economic reforms and established China’s core territory.
In 1974 local farmers digging a well outside the city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province, China, discovered pottery shards and bronze arrows near the mausoleum of Ying Zheng. This led to the astonishing discovery of 8,000 life-size terracotta warriors and horses, which is considered one of the most important archaeological finds in human history. The mausoleum was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Significantly, the exhibition considers the relationship between the first emperor’s Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.) and other peoples, exploring their distinctive artistic styles and fostering an appreciation of diverse cultures. The exhibition also provides a glimpse into ongoing excavations and research, which continue to shed new light on the Qin culture and the First Emperor’s burial complex.
“I believe this exhibition will provide a great opportunity for American audiences to understand the daily life of Qin people and the visual culture of the empire more than 2,000 years ago. This exhibition actively promotes cultural exchange between China and the United States, and increases understanding and friendship between peoples of both nations,” said Dr. Zhao Rong, Director of the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau.

A major scholarly catalogue titled Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China accompanies the exhibition. It includes contributions from the curators and other scholars and features new scholarship and research based on recent excavations.

The exhibition will be on view in the Western & Southern Galleries (232 and 233). Organized with the generous support of the Harold C. Schott Foundation. It is presented by CFM International, and supported by the John and Dorothy Hermanies Fund, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Christie’s, Elizabeth Tu Hoffman Huddleston, and the Jeanann Gray Dunlap Foundation.
Tickets for Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China are free for museum members and are available for purchase by the general public at the Cincinnati Art Museum front desk and online at

The exhibition includes an interactive activity, family and gallery guides and related programs will be held at the museum throughout the spring and summer. The Art After Dark on Friday, April 27, 5–9 p.m., will be themed by the exhibition and will include free admission to the exhibition. Other events include Family First Saturday: Explore China on May 2, 2017, 12–4 p.m., and the Fourth Annual Cincinnati Asian Art Society Lecture, which will focus on the terracotta army on May 6, 2018, at 2 p.m. Find more information at

The Cincinnati Art Museum is supported by the generosity of individuals and businesses that give annually to Artswave. The Ohio Arts Council helps fund the Cincinnati Art Museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. The Cincinnati Art Museum gratefully acknowledges operating support from the City of Cincinnati, as well as our members.
Free general admission to the Cincinnati Art Museum is made possible by a gift from the Rosenthal Family Foundation. Special exhibition pricing may vary. Parking at the Cincinnati Art Museum is free. The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. and Thursday, 11 a.m.–8 p.m.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Upper Paleolithic cave painting of a camel in the Ural Mountains

An ancient image of a two-humped camel has been discovered in the Kapova cave (Southern Urals). The age of the painting is preliminarily estimated to be between 14,500 and 37,700 years, a time when there were no camels in the Southern Urals. This discovery confirms researchers' belief that artists in the Upper Paleolithic could migrate over long distances.

The image of a camel's shape is painted in red ochre and partially outlined with charcoal. This unique discovery was made by Eudald Guillamet, a well-known restorative specialist from Andorra, who was invited by the State Office of Protection of Cultural Heritage of Bashkiria to clean the cave of graffiti.

"This painting, cleared on the polychrome panel "Horses and Signs," which has been well-known since the late 1970s, has no analogues in the art complexes of the caves of France and Spain, but does have some resemblance to the camel painting from the Ignatievskaya cave. Now it will probably become a significant image in the Upper Paleolithic cave bestiary of the Southern Urals," comments V.S. Zhitenev, head of Moscow State University's South Ural archeological expedition and leading researcher for the Kapova and Ignatievskaya caves.

"The age of the drawings in this panel cannot be accurately established yet, but the results of uranium-thorium dating of the calcite deposits on which the image is painted, and which cover it, unambiguously show that the time period during which the drawing was made was during the Upper Paleolithic age, which is no earlier than 37,700 years ago and no later than 14,500 years ago. In the course of excavating the Kapova cave, only the upper layer of deposits with traces of activity of Paleolithic artists, about 17,000 - 19,000 years ago, has been dated so far," concluded the scientist.

The artistic features and arrangement of the images, as well as the traces of human activity in the cave, show that the traditions of organization of underground sanctuaries in the Upper Paleolithic originated in the Franco-Cantabrian region. However, at such a distance from the main European cluster of cave sites with wall paintings, local specifics in the development of graphic traditions inevitably arose.

The long evolution of the traditions of cave art in the region is revealed by the fact that people living in the Southern Urals during the Ice Age painted not only the images of horses, bisons, mammoths, and woolly rhinoceroses that were widespread in European caves, but representations of the local fauna as well. Analysis of stone tools confirms the assumption.

"It is very significant that this camel vividly confirms the theory of the Volga-Caspian direction of the connections among the people who created the sanctuary in the Kapova cave. This direction was earlier grounded in the use of ornaments from fossil shells brought from the Caspian region. Moreover, this direction is very interesting in terms of a possible way that the traditions of creating cave sanctuaries with wall paintings could have been spread, if we consider the Carpathian caves with Ice Age wall paintings," explains Vladislav Zhitenev. "Equally important, along with the discovery of the camel painting, is the fact that fragments of the shape of another animal, apparently a mammoth, were cleaned off. This is the first well-preserved painting of a woolly giant from the Ice Age on the middle level of the cave. Cleaning calcite off from the newly-discovered figures confirmed the theory of a significant similarity in the general structure of the visual panels, with leading images of horses, and large geometric shapes, in which one may see representations of animals. The similarity in the arrangement of vertical and horizontal figures (or rather, explicit compositions) on panels located on two different floors indicates a profound connection between the ideas expressed by the Paleolithic artists. The upper and middle levels are connected by a thirteen meter high vertical well."

In December, archeologists from Moscow State University will continue researching Paleolithic art in the Kapova and Ignatievskaya caves. In winter, the walls of the underground halls and galleries are much drier than in the summer, which makes it easier to reveal the smallest details of the paintings. Monitoring of the state of the wall paintings will also continue, with the aim of studying the impact of dynamic factors of the underground environment on geochemical processes related to the destruction of wall paintings. It is carried out in a joint project with specialists from Shulgan-Tash Nature Reserve.

Kapova cave
The Kapova cave is located in Bashkiria, 400 km away from Ufa, on the territory of Shulgan-Tash nature reserve. The cave is one of the most famous sites containing Paleolithic parietal art in Europe. Among the images depicted, one can come across such vivid representatives of mammoth fauna as wooly rhino, bison, horse, and, of course, the wooly mammoth itself. The wall paintings were created about 17 000 - 19 000 years ago. Figures of fish and a zooanthropomorhic figure (a mixomorph combining human and animal traits), rarely seen in European sites, are of special interest.

The principal array of images in the Kapova cave are unidentifiable spots of red pigment, which are partially blurred shapes, partly the remains of erased drawings, and partially traces of Paleolithic artistic activities of unknown origin. Some of the found traces of artistic activity are finger-painted lines, fingerprints and, possibly, prints of the lower part of the palm. The microstratigraphic position of the remains of intentionally erased images, above which the Paleolithic artist painted new animal shape and signs, has been revealed in some panels.

Fire, not corn, key to prehistoric survival in arid Southwest

Conventional wisdom holds that prehistoric villagers planted corn, and lots of it, to survive the dry and hostile conditions of the American Southwest.

But University of Cincinnati archaeology professor Alan Sullivan is challenging that long-standing idea, arguing instead that people routinely burned the understory of forests to grow wild crops 1,000 years ago.

"There has been this orthodoxy about the importance of corn," said Sullivan, director of graduate studies in UC's Department of Anthropology in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. "It's been widely considered that prehistoric peoples of Arizona between A.D. 900 to 1200 were dependent on it.

"But if corn is lurking out there in the Grand Canyon, it's hiding successfully because we've looked all over and haven't found it."

Sullivan has published a dozen papers outlining the scarce evidence of corn agriculture at more than 2,000 sites where they have found pottery sherds and other artifacts of prehistoric human settlement. He summarized his findings in a presentation last month at Boston University.

Sullivan has spent more than two decades leading archaeological field research to Grand Canyon National Park and the region's Upper Basin, home to the 1.6-million-acre Kaibab National Forest.

When you think of the Grand Canyon, you might picture rocky cliffs and desert vistas. But the Upper Basin, where Sullivan and his students work, is home to mature forests of juniper and pinyon trees stretching as far as you can see, he said.

"When you look down into the Grand Canyon, you don't see any forest. But on either rim there are deep, dense forests," he said.

On these high-elevation plateaus, Sullivan and his students have unearthed ceramic jugs adorned with corrugated patterns and other evidence of prehistoric life. Sullivan is particularly interested in the cultural and social practices of growing, sharing and eating food, also called a food way.

"What would constitute evidence of a corn-based foodway?" he asked. "And if experts agree it should look like this but we don't find evidence of it, that would seem to be a problem for that model."

Like a detective, Sullivan has pieced together clues firsthand and from scientific analysis to make a persuasive argument that people used fire to promote the growth of edible leaves, seeds and nuts of plants such as amaranth and chenopodium, wild relatives of quinoa. These plants are called "ruderals," which are the first to grow in a forest disturbed by fire or clear-cutting.

"It's definitely a paradigm-threatening opinion," Sullivan said. "It's not based on wild speculation. It's evidence-based theorizing. It has taken us about 30 years to get to the point where we can confidently conclude this."

Lab analysis identified ancient pollen from dirt inside clay pots that were used 1,000 years ago before Sullivan and his students found them.

"They've identified 6,000 or 7,000 pollen grains and only six [grains] were corn. Everything else is dominated by these ruderals," Sullivan said.

The corn itself looked nothing like the hearty ears of sweet corn people enjoy at barbecues today. The ears were puny, about one-third the size of a typical cob, with tiny, hard kernels, Sullivan said.

So if prehistoric people were not growing corn, what were they eating? Sullivan found clues around his excavation sites that people set fires big enough to burn away the understory of grasses and weeds but small enough not to harm the pinyon and juniper trees, important sources of calorie-rich nuts and berries.

Evidence for this theory was found in ancient trees. Raging wildfires leave burn scars in growth rings of surviving trees. In the absence of frequent small fires, forests would accumulate vast amounts of underbrush and fallen timber to create conditions ripe for an inferno sparked by a lightning strike. But examinations of ancient juniper and ponderosa pine trees found no burn scars, suggesting big fires are a relatively new phenomenon in Arizona.

"To me that confirms there weren't massive fires back then," Sullivan said.

Sullivan also studied the geologic layers at these sites. Like a time capsule, the stratigraphic analysis captured the periods before and after people lived there. He found higher concentrations of wild edible plants in the period when people lived there. And when people abandoned the sites, the area they left behind saw fewer of these plants.

But it was only this year that Sullivan found contemporary evidence supporting his theory that prehistoric people generated a spring bounty by setting fires. Sullivan returned to the Grand Canyon last spring to examine forest destroyed by a massive 2016 fire. Touched off by a lightning strike, the blaze called the Scott Fire laid waste to 2,660 acres of pines, junipers and sagebrush.

Despite the intensity of the forest fire, Sullivan found edible plants growing thick everywhere underfoot just months later.
"This burned area was covered in ruderals. Just covered," he said. "That to us was confirmation of our theory. Our argument is there's this dormant seed bed that is activated by any kind of fire."
Archaeologists with the National Park Service have found evidence that corn grew below the rim of the Grand Canyon, said Ellen Brennan, cultural resource program manager for the national park.

"It does appear that the ancient people of the Grand Canyon never pursued corn agriculture to the extent that other ancestral Puebloan peoples did in other parts of the Southwest," Brennan said. "In the Grand Canyon, it appears that there continued to be persistent use of native plants as a primary food source rather than corn."

The National Park Service has not examined whether prehistoric people used fire to improve growing conditions for native plants. But given what is known about cultures at the time, it is likely they did, Brennan said.

The first assumptions about what daily life was like in the Southwest 1,000 years ago came from more recent observations of Native Americans such as the Hopi, said Neil Weintraub, archaeologist for Kaibab National Forest. He worked alongside Sullivan at some of the sites in the Upper Basin.
"Corn is still a big part of the Hopi culture. A lot of dances they do are about water and the fertility of corn," he said. "The Hopi are seen as the descending groups of Puebloan."

While native peoples elsewhere in the Southwest no doubt relied on corn, Weintraub said, Sullivan's work has convinced him that residents of the Upper Basin relied on wild food -- and used fire to cultivate it.

"It's a fascinating idea because we really see that these people were highly mobile. On the margins where it's very dry we think they were taking advantage of different parts of the landscape at different times of the year," Weintraub said.

"It's been well documented that Native Americans burned the forest in other parts of the country. I see no reason why they wouldn't have been doing the same thing 1,000 years ago," he said.

The area around the Grand Canyon is especially dry, going many weeks without rain. Still, life persists. Weintraub said the forest generates a surprising bounty of food if you know where to look. Some years, the pinyon trees produce a bumper crop of tasty, nutritious nuts.

"In a good year, we didn't need to bring lunch in the field when we were out at our archaeological surveys. We'd be cracking pinyons all day," Weintraub said.

Weintraub recently studied the forest burned in last year's big Scott Fire. The exposed ground was thick with new undergrowth, particularly a wild relative of quinoa called goosefoot, he said.

"Goosefoot has a minty smell to it, especially in the fall. We actually started chewing on it. It was pretty pleasant," Weintraub said. "It's a high-nutrient food. I'd be curious to know more about how native peoples processed it for food."

UC's Sullivan said this prehistoric land management can teach us lessons today, especially when it comes to preventing devastating fires.

"Foresters call it 'the wicked problem.' All of our forests are anthropogenic [man-made] because of fire suppression and fire exclusion," Sullivan said.

"These forests are unnatural. They're alien to the planet. They have not had any major fires in them in decades," he said. "The fuel loads have built up to the point where you get a little ignition source and the fire is catastrophic in ways that they rarely were in the past."

The National Park Service often lets fires burn in natural areas when they do not threaten people or property. But increasingly people are building homes and businesses adjacent to or within forests. Forest managers are reluctant to conduct controlled burning so close to population, Sullivan said.

Eventually so much dry wood builds up that a dropped cigarette or unattended campfire can lead to devastating fires such as the 2016 blaze that killed 14 people and destroyed 11,000 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains or the fires in California this year that killed 40 people and caused an estimated $1 billion in property damage.

"It's a chronic problem. How do you fix it?" he asked. "The U.S. Forest Service has experimented with different methods: prescribed burning, which creates a lot of irritating smoke, or thinning the forest, which creates a disposal problem."

Fire also seems to increase the diversity of forest species. Sullivan said vegetation surveys find less biodiversity in forests today than he found in his archeological samples.

"That is one measure of how devastating our management of fire has been to these forests," he said. "These fire-responsive plants have basically disappeared from the landscape. Species diversity in some cases has collapsed."

Today, federal land managers conduct controlled burns when practical to address this problem, even in national parks such as the Grand Canyon.

"The fire management program for Grand Canyon National Park seeks to reintroduce fire as a natural agent of the environment," the park's Brennan said. "That is to reduce ground fuels through prescribed fire, mechanical thinning, and wildland fire."

Scientists also are studying how to adjust forest management techniques in the face of climate change, she said.

"Program managers are working to understand how climate change affects forest management and how to restore forests to the point where fire can follow a more natural return interval given a particular forest type," she said.

Climate change is expected to make wildfires more frequent and severe with rising temperatures and lower humidity. Meanwhile, public lands are under increasing pressure from private interests such as tourism and mining, putting more people at potential risk from fire, Sullivan said.

"Rather than create more uranium mines or establish more tourist cities in our forests, it's better to spend our money on addressing 'the wicked problem,'" Sullivan said. "Unless we solve that, all of these other ventures will only add to the severity of the risks."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ancient barley took high road to China

Tiny grains, thousands of years old, tell story of prehistoric food globalization
Washington University in St. Louis
IMAGE: Map of Eurasia shows the oldest radiocarbon-measured dates (B.C.) for individual grains of barley recovered from each region. Wheat and barley arrived in South Asia about a millennium before they... view more 
Credit: Image: Courtesy of PLOS One
First domesticated 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, wheat and barley took vastly different routes to China, with barley switching from a winter to both a winter and summer crop during a thousand-year detour along the southern Tibetan Plateau, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

"The eastern dispersals of wheat and barley were distinct in both space and time," said Xinyi Liu, assistant professor of archaeology in Arts & Sciences, and lead author of this study published in the journal PLOS One.

"Wheat was introduced to central China in the second or third millennium B.C., but barley did not arrive there until the first millennium B.C.," Liu said. "While previous research suggests wheat cultivation moved east along the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, our study calls attention to the possibility of a southern route (via India and Tibet) for barley."

Based on the radiocarbon analysis of 70 ancient barley grains recovered from archaeological sites in China, India, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan, together with DNA and ancient textual evidence, the study tackles the mystery of why ancient Chinese farmers would change the seasonality of a barley crop that originated in a latitudinal range similar to their own.

The answer, Liu explains, is that barley changed from a winter to summer crop during its passage to China, a period in which it spent hundreds of years evolving traits that allowed it to thrive during short summer growing seasons in the highlands of Tibet and northern India.

"Barley arrives in central China later than wheat, bringing with it a degree of genetic diversity in relation to flowering time responses," Liu said. "We infer such diversity reflects preadaptation of barley varieties along that possible southern route to seasonal challenges, particularly the high altitude effect, and that led to the origins of eastern spring barley."

Liu's research on the dispersal of wheat and barley cultivation adds a new chapter to our understanding of prehistoric food globalization, a process that began about 5000 B.C. and intensified around 1500 B.C. This ongoing research traces the geographic paths and dispersal times of crops and cultivation systems that expanded across Eurasia and eventually worldwide, from points of origination in North Africa and West, East and South Asia. The eastern expansion of wheat and barley is a key story in this process.

In the hot, arid southwest Asian region where wheat and barley were first domesticated, they were grown between autumn and subsequent spring to complete their life cycles before arrival of summer droughts. These early domesticated strains included genes carried over from wild grasses that triggered flowering and grain production as days grew longer with the approach of summer.

Because of this spring-flowering life cycle, early domesticated varieties of wheat and barley were poorly suited for cultivation in northern European climates with severe winters and a different day length pattern. Previous research by the second author in this study, Diane Lister, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge, has shown that barley and wheat adapted to European climates by evolving a mutation that switched off the genes that made flowering sensitive to increases in day length, allowing them to be sown in spring and harvested in fall.

Liu's study shows that barley evolved similar mutations on its way to China as farmers pushed its cultivation high into the mountains of the Tibetan Plateau. By the time barley reached central China, its genetic makeup had been altered so that flowering was no longer triggered by day length, allowing it to be planted in both spring and fall.

The ancient movement of wheat and barley cultivation into China offers two distinct stories about the adaption of newly introduced crops into an existing agrarian/culinary system, Liu said.
Ancient wheat that traveled to China along Silk Road routes also was genetically modified by farmers who selected strains that produced small-sized grains more suited to a Chinese cuisine that prepared them by boiling or steaming the whole grains. Larger wheat grains evolved in Europe where wheat was traditionally ground for flour.

Along the southern migration route for barley, the main story is the flowering time -- changed by farmers to gain control over the seasonal pressures of high-altitude cultivation, Liu said.

Recovery of these ancient grains has become more routine in the last decade as scholars mastered a flotation technique that allows the separation of seeds and other minute biological material from excavated dirt immersed in a bucket of water. This approach, pioneered in China by the third author of this study, Zhijun Zhao, a professor of archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, has transformed the understanding of ancient farming in China.

The PLOS One findings reflect the contributions of 26 co-authors, including archaeologists who recovered the grains and those who analyzed them at leading archaeobotanical laboratories in the U.S., U.K., China and India. The team also includes leading experts for barley archaeogenetics, radiocarbon analysis and agricultural history around the globe.

"We've recently realized how much prehistoric crops moved around, on a scale much greater than anyone had envisaged," said senior co-author Martin Jones, the George Pitt-Rivers Professor of Archaeological Science at Cambridge. "An intensive study of chronology, genetics and crop records now reveals how those movements laid the agrarian foundations of Bronze Age civilizations, enabling the control of seasons, and opening the way for rotation and multi-cropping."


Map of Eurasia shows the oldest radiocarbon-measured dates (B.C.) for individual grains of barley recovered from each region. Wheat and barley arrived in South Asia about a millennium before they arrived in East Asia. Free-threshing wheats spread to China along a route to the north of the Tibetan Plateau. Naked barley is likely to have been introduced to China via southern highland routes that remain to be identified.


Image: Courtesy of PLOS One

Plague likely a Stone Age arrival to central Europe

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Israel Antiquities Authority researcher Dr. Na‘ama Sukenik has identified three pieces of fabric found in Judean Desert Caves (Wadi Murabba‘at caves) as being dyed using the Murex Trunculus Snail. All three date back to the Roman period.

Two of these also used a second dye obtained from Cochineal insects; this gave these fabrics purple borders. These were woven in characteristic manner of imported textiles.

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The third piece of fabric was made of wool and woven in the fashion of locally spun textiles. This fabric had been dyed using only the Murex Snail. The importance of this find lies in a doctoral thesis authored by Rabbi Herezog in 1913 naming Murex Trunculus as the most likely candidate for the source of the blue, or "tekhelet", colour to be used in Tzitzit. The material has to be exposed to sunlight or heated after having been dyed, which results in a shade of blue. This is the first time that a fabric dated to the Roman period and dyed blue in this way has been found in Israel.

In the 1980s, Otto Elsner a chemist from the Shenkar College of Fibers in Israel, discovered that exposing a solution of this dye to ultraviolet rays, such as from sunlight, produced a blue colour, instead of purple. In 1988, Rabbi Eliyahu Tavger dyed "tekhelet" from M.trunculus for the mitzvah (commandment) of tzitzit for the first time in recent history. Four years later an organisation, named "Ptil Tekhelet" was founded to educate about this type of dye production and to make the dye more generally available.

"Tekhelet" is spoken of in Scripture as a blue that even ordinary Israelites were commanded to tie as one string to the corner fringes of their garments. This was to act as a constant reminder of their special relationship with God”. Numbers 15:38–39 tells of this:

"Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of each border a cord of blue: and it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of YHVH, and do them; and that ye follow not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye used to play the harlot."

1,500-Year-old Rooster-like Clay Vessel Discovered by Vacationers at Sea of Galilee

  1. While vacationing by the Sea of Galilee during Sukot, Mrs. Tal Pastman dipped in the lake water, when she noticed a strange object among the pebbles. She rubbed the mud off the object only to find, to her great surprise, this unique vessel.

Pastman contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority and gave their representative this rare find.  Tal says: "Since childhood I read stories of finding antiquities treasures, and I was enchanted by it. I always hoped that one day I will find a significant object from the past, and it just happened to me. The incredible point is that I found this rare object on a beach where thousands of people pass through every summer, and nobody noticed it until now. I immediately realized that I have something special in my hands. For me this is a dream come true ".

Yoav Tzur, Lower Galilee and Valleys area archeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, was very impressed with this complete unusual find. He says: "it looks like the receding Sea of Galilee water levels exposed this vessel lying within the pebbles. It is a rare and ancient vessel, which must have fallen from a passing ship's cargo, and drifted to the shore".

Boutros Hana, Lower Galilee and Valleys area archeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority says: " Tal has shown a model citizenship and care by submitting the impressive and surprising find to the state treasures. I hope, that thanks to the Pastman family, the general public will be able to enjoy this rare find when it finds a distinguished place at a museum. It is very important to always contact the Israel Antiquities Authority representatives when you come by a find in the field, so that we can exhaust the archaeological information from the site".

According to Dr. Adi Erlich, a senior lecturer at the Archaeology and History of the Art departments at Haifa University: "it seems that the vessel looks like a rooster or other type of bird. Such vessels (Zoomorphic) were discovered in the past in the northern part of Israel, especially in the context of Christian burial sites from the Byzantine era (5th-6th centuries AD) where they served during the burial ceremonies or as burial offerings. Finding such a vessel by the Sea of Galilee might imply that there is a burial ground nearby, or that there is a sunken ship which still holds its cargo." 
Photos Credit: Yoav Tzur, Israel Antiquities Authority

Greater post-Neolithic wealth disparities in Eurasia than in North America

The origins of social inequality might lie in the remnants of ancient Eurasia's agricultural societies, according to an article recently published in the major science journal Nature.

The article, "Greater post-Neolithic wealth disparities in Eurasia than in North America and Mesopotamia," includes research from Anna Prentiss, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Montana.

Prentiss and UM anthropology Professor Emeritus Tom Foor provided data from the archaeological sites at Bridge River, British Columbia, and Ozette, Washington.

As people became more agricultural and settled, the rich became richer as the ancient farmers who could afford oxen, cattle and other large animals increased their crop production. This provided significant opportunities for amassing and transmitting wealth, and the degree of household wealth-based inequality became much higher in Old World, Eurasian contexts, as measured by house size.

"High degrees of inequality did not contribute to long-term stability in ancient societies," Prentiss said. "That is something that should concern us given the extraordinary high degree of inequality in our own society."

The study is based on data gathered from a research team that studied 63 archeological sites across four continents, dating between 9000 B.C. and 1500 A.D. It is one of the first studies to use archaeological data to measure inter-household inequality between Old and New World sites.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Neanderthals survived at least 3,000 years longer in Spain than thought

Neanderthals survived at least 3,000 years longer than we thought in Southern Iberia - what is now Spain - long after they had died out everywhere else, according to new research published in Heliyon.

The authors of the study, an international team from Portuguese, Spanish, Catalonian, German, Austrian and Italian research institutions, say their findings suggest that the process of modern human populations absorbing Neanderthal populations through interbreeding was not a regular, gradual wave-of-advance but a "stop-and-go, punctuated, geographically uneven history."

Over more than ten years of fieldwork, the researchers excavated three new sites in southern Spain, where they discovered evidence of distinctly Neanderthal materials dating until 37,000 years ago.

"Technology from the Middle Paleolithic in Europe is exclusively associated with the Neanderthals," said Dr. João Zilhão, from the University of Barcelona and lead author of the study. "In three new excavation sites, we found Neanderthal artefacts dated to thousands of years later than anywhere else in Western Europe. Even in the adjacent regions of northern Spain and southern France the latest Neanderthal sites are all significantly older."

The Middle Paleolithic was a part of the Stone Age, and it spanned from 300,000 to 30,000 years ago. It is widely acknowledged that during this time, anatomically modern humans started to move out of Africa and assimilate coeval Eurasian populations, including Neanderthals, through interbreeding.

According to the new research, this process was not a straightforward, smooth one - instead, it seems to have been punctuated, with different evolutionary patterns in different geographical regions.
In 2010, the team published evidence from the site of Cueva Antón in Spain that provided unambiguous evidence for symbolism among Neanderthals. Putting that evidence in context and using the latest radiometric techniques to date the site, the researchers show Cueva Antón is the most recent known Neanderthal site.

"We believe that the stop-and-go, punctuated, uneven mechanism we propose must have been the rule in human evolution, which helps explaining why Paleolithic material culture tends to form patterns of geographically extensive similarity while Paleolithic genomes tend to show complex ancestry patchworks," commented Dr. Zilhão.

The key to understanding this pattern, says Dr. Zilhão, lies in discovering and analyzing new sites, not in revisiting old ones. Although finding and excavating new sites with the latest techniques is time-consuming, he believes it is the approach that pays off.

"There is still a lot we do not know about human evolution and, especially, about the Neanderthals," said Dr. Zilhão. "Our textbook ideas about Neanderthals and modern humans have been mostly derived from finds in France, Germany and Central Europe, but during the Ice Ages these were peripheral areas: probably as much as half of the Paleolithic people who ever lived in Europe were Iberians. Ongoing research has begun to bear fruit, and I have no doubt that there is more to come."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Archaeologists find earliest evidence of winemaking

Excavations in the Republic of Georgia by the Gadachrili Gora Regional Archaeological Project Expedition (GRAPE), a joint undertaking between the University of Toronto (U of T) and the Georgian National Museum, have uncovered evidence of the earliest winemaking anywhere in the world. The discovery dates the origin of the practice to the Neolithic period around 6000 BC, pushing it back 600-1,000 years from the previously accepted date.

The earliest previously known chemical evidence of wine dated to 5400-5000 BC and was from an area in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Researchers now say the practice began hundreds of years earlier in the South Caucasus region on the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

Excavations have focused on two Early Ceramic Neolithic sites (6000-4500 BC) called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, approximately 50 kilometres south of the modern capital of Tbilisi. Pottery fragments of ceramic jars recovered from the sites were collected and subsequently analyzed by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania to ascertain the nature of the residue preserved inside for several millennia.

The newest methods of chemical extraction confirmed tartaric acid, the fingerprint compound for grape and wine as well as three associated organic acids - malic, succinic and citric - in the residue recovered from eight large jars. The findings are reported in a research study this week in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine," said Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and the Archaeology Centre at U of T, and co-author of the study published in PNAS.

"The domesticated version of the fruit has more than 10,000 varieties of table and wine grapes worldwide," said Batiuk. "Georgia is home to over 500 varieties for wine alone, suggesting that grapes have been domesticated and cross-breeding in the region for a very long time."

GRAPE represents the Canadian component of a larger international, interdisciplinary project involving researchers from the United States, Denmark, France, Italy and Israel. The sites excavated by the U of T and Georgian National Museum team are remnants of two villages that date back to the Neolithic period, which began around 15,200 BC in parts of the Middle East and ended between 4500 and 2000 BC in other parts of the world.

The Neolithic period is characterized by a package of activities that include the beginning of farming, the domestication of animals, the development of crafts such as pottery and weaving, and the making of polished stone tools.

"Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine," said Batiuk. "This methodology for identifying wine residues in pottery was initially developed and first tested on a vessel from the site of Godin Tepe in central western Iran, excavated more than 40 years ago by a team from the Royal Ontario Museum led by fellow U of T researcher T. Cuyler Young. So in many ways, this discovery brings my co-director Andrew Graham and I full circle back to the work of our professor Cuyler, who also provided some of the fundamental theories of the origins of agriculture in the Near East.

"In essence, what we are examining is how the Neolithic package of agricultural activity, tool-making and crafts that developed further south in modern Iraq, Syria and Turkey adapted as it was introduced into different regions with different climate and plant life," Batiuk said. "The horticultural potential of the south Caucasus was bound to lead to the domestication of many new and different species, and innovative 'secondary' products were bound to emerge."

The researchers say the combined archaeological, chemical, botanical, climatic and radiocarbon data provided by the analysis demonstrate that the Eurasian grapevine Vitis vinifera was abundant around the sites. It grew under ideal environmental conditions in early Neolithic times, similar to premium wine-producing regions in Italy and southern France today.

"Our research suggests that one of the primary adaptations of the Neolithic way of life as it spread to Caucasia was viniculture," says Batiuk. "The domestication of the grape apparently led eventually led to the emergence of a wine culture in the region."

Batiuk describes an ancient society in which the drinking and offering of wine penetrates and permeates nearly every aspect of life from medical practice to special celebrations, from birth to death, to everyday meals at which toasting is common.

"As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance, and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopeias, cuisines, economics, and society throughout the ancient Near East," he said.

Batiuk cites ancient viniculture as a prime example of human ingenuity in developing horticulture, and creative uses for its byproducts.

"The infinite range of flavors and aromas of today's 8,000-10,000 grape varieties are the end result of the domesticated Eurasian grapevine being transplanted and crossed with wild grapevines elsewhere over and over again," he said. "The Eurasian gravepine that now accounts for 99.9 per cent of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia."

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Neolithic farmers coexisted with hunter-gatherers for centuries in Europe

New research answers a long-debated question among anthropologists, archaeologists and geneticists: when farmers first arrived in Europe, how did they interact with existing hunter-gatherer groups? Prior studies have suggested these early Near Eastern farmers largely replaced the pre-existing European hunter-gatherers.

Did the farmers wipe out the hunter-gatherers, through warfare or disease, shortly after arriving? Or did they slowly out-compete them over time? The current study, published today in Nature, suggests that these groups likely coexisted side-by-side for some time after the early farmers spread across Europe. The farming populations then slowly integrated local hunter-gatherers, showing more assimilation of the hunter-gatherers into the farming populations as time went on.

The Neolithic transition - the shift from a hunter-gatherer to a farming lifestyle that started nearly 10,000 years ago - has been a slowly unraveling mystery. Recent studies of ancient DNA have revealed that the spread of farming across Europe was not merely the result of a transfer of ideas, but that expanding farmers from the Near East brought this knowledge with them as they spread across the continent.

Numerous studies have shown that early farmers from all over Europe, such as the Iberian Peninsula, southern Scandinavia and central Europe, all shared a common origin in the Near East. This was initially an unexpected finding given the diversity of prehistoric cultures and the diverse environments in Europe. Interestingly, early farmers also show various amounts of hunter-gatherer ancestry, which had previously not been analyzed in detail.

The current study, from an international team including scientists from Harvard Medical School, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, focused on the regional interactions between early farmers and late hunter-gatherer groups across a broad timespan in three locations in Europe: the Iberian Peninsula in the West, the Middle-Elbe-Saale region in north-central Europe, and the fertile lands of the Carpathian Basin (centered in what is now Hungary). The researchers used high-resolution genotyping methods to analyze the genomes of 180 early farmers, 130 of whom are newly reported in this study, from the period of 6000-2200 BC to explore the population dynamics during this period.

"We find that the hunter-gatherer admixture varied locally but more importantly differed widely between the three main regions," says Mark Lipson, a researcher in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and co-first author of the paper. "This means that local hunter-gatherers were slowly but steadily integrated into early farming communities."

While the percentage of hunter-gatherer heritage never reached very high levels, it did increase over time. This finding suggests the hunter-gatherers were not pushed out or exterminated by the farmers when the farmers first arrived. Rather, the two groups seem to have co-existed with increasing interactions over time. Further, the farmers from each location mixed only with hunter-gatherers from their own region, and not with hunter-gatherers, or farmers, from other areas, suggesting that once settled, they stayed put.

"One novelty of our study is that we can differentiate early European farmers by their specific local hunter-gatherer signature," adds co-first author Anna Szécsényi-Nagy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. "Farmers from Spain share hunter-gatherer ancestry with a pre-agricultural individual from La Braña, Spain, whereas farmers from central Europe share more with hunter-gatherers near them, such as an individual from the Loschbour cave in Luxembourg. Similarly, farmers from the Carpathian Basin share more ancestry with local hunter-gatherers from their same region."

The team also investigated the relative length of time elapsed since the integration events between the populations, using cutting-edge statistical techniques that focus on the breakdown of DNA blocks inherited from a single individual. The method allows scientists to estimate when the populations mixed. Specifically, the team looked at 90 individuals from the Carpathian Basin who lived close in time. The results - which indicate ongoing population transformation and mixture - allowed the team to build the first quantitative model of interactions between hunter-gatherer and farmer groups.

"We found that the most probable scenario is an initial, small-scale, admixture pulse between the two populations that was followed by continuous gene flow over many centuries," says senior lead author David Reich, professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School.

These results reflect the importance of building thorough, detailed databases of genetic information over time and space, and suggest that a similar approach should be equally revealing elsewhere in the world.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Collection of ancient Hebrew manuscripts and books

Israeli and Russian libraries will sign an agreement Tuesday to digitise and publish a treasured collection of ancient Hebrew manuscripts and books, effectively putting to rest a 100-year ownership dispute.

Pentateuch with vocalization and cantillation marks, Spain 15th century.

The Guenzburg collection contains nearly 2,000 manuscripts and some 14,000 books, some of them hundreds of years old, on a wide range of religious, artistic and scientific topics.

Among them are works on the Bible, Jewish law, mathematics and philosophy, including by Aristotle and Jewish philosopher Maimonides.

When Russian Jewish owner Baron David Guenzburg died over a century ago, it was considered "one of the largest and most important private collections in the world", according to Aviad Stollman, head of Israel's National Library collections.

Zionist Jews bought the collection from Guenzburg's widow in 1917 with the aim of shipping it to the Holy Land library that would evolve into the National Library, Stollman said, but World War I was raging and prevented that possibility.

After the Russian Revolution, the collection was expropriated and eventually taken to the Russian State Library in Moscow, where it is still held.

The agreement to be signed in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening between the Russian State Library and the Israeli National Library will see the Russian library taking high resolution digital photographs of the collection.

The photos will then be handed to the Israeli library who will post the collection on their Ktiv website, the vast digitised collection of Hebrew manuscripts from libraries and collections around the world.

The Guenzburg collection, which contains unique items, has been available to researchers at the Russian State Library, and the Israeli library was allowed to create microfilm images of it in the 1990s for its own use.

Over the years the Israeli National Library attempted to retrieve the collection, but evidence of its purchase from Guenzburg's widow "does not satisfy the Russians", Stollman said.

Talks at the "highest levels" in the past years, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, enabled the agreement.

Dagestani-Russian business tycoon Ziyavudin Magomedov of the Summa Group has committed to support the work at the Russian State Library, expected to begin with the manuscripts, Stollman said.

With the agreement in place, whether or not the Zionists bought the collection from Guenzburg's widow a hundred years ago "doesn't really matter", Stollman said.

"We're putting aside the question of ownership and looking forward," he said ahead of the ceremony.

"Digitising won't only help preserve the important works but enable simple and easy access," he said. "Our goal is to make these manuscripts accessible to everyone for free, from anywhere in the world."

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Discovery of a rare Minoan sealstone in the treasure-laden tomb of a Bronze Age Greek warrior promises to rewrite the history of ancient Greek art


The tiny sealstone depicting warriors in battle measures just 1.4 inches across but contains incredible detail.


University of Cincinnati

In the more than two years since University of Cincinnati researchers unearthed the 3,500-year-old tomb of a Bronze Age warrior in southwest Greece, an incredible trove of riches has emerged, including four gold signet rings that have challenged accepted wisdom among archaeologists about the origins of Greek civilization.

But that wasn't the only secret hidden there beneath the hard-baked clay.  It would take another year before the so-called "Griffin Warrior" revealed his most stunning historical offering yet: an intricately carved gem, or sealstone, that UC researchers say is one of the finest works of prehistoric Greek art ever discovered.

The "Pylos Combat Agate," as the seal has come to be known for the fierce hand-to-hand battle it portrays, promises not only to rewrite the history of ancient Greek art, but to help shed light on myth and legend in an era of Western civilization still steeped in mystery.

The seal is the latest and most significant treasure to emerge from the treasure-laden tomb of the Griffin Warrior, which was hailed as the most spectacular archaeological discovery in Greece in more than half a century when it was uncovered in an olive grove near the ancient city of Pylos in 2015.

The remarkably undisturbed and intact grave revealed not only the well-preserved remains of what is believed to have been a powerful Mycenaean warrior or priest buried around 1500 B.C., but also an incredible trove of burial riches that serve as a time capsule into the origins of Greek civilization.

But the tomb didn't readily reveal its secrets. It took conservation experts more than a year to clean the limestone-encrusted seal, say dig leaders Shari Stocker, a senior research associate in UC's Department of Classics, and Jack Davis, the university's Carl W. Blegen professor of Greek archaeology and department head.

As the intricate details of the seal's design emerged, the researchers were shocked to discover they had unearthed no less than a masterpiece.

"Looking at the image for the first time was a very moving experience, and it still is," said Stocker. "It's brought some people to tears." Davis and Stocker say the Pylos Combat Agate's craftsmanship and exquisite detail make it the finest discovered work of glyptic art produced in the Aegean Bronze Age.

"What is fascinating is that the representation of the human body is at a level of detail and musculature that one doesn't find again until the classical period of Greek art 1,000 years later," explained Davis. "It's a spectacular find."

Even more extraordinary, the husband-and-wife team point out, is that the meticulously carved combat scene was painstakingly etched on a piece of hard stone measuring just 3.6 centimeters, or just over 1.4 inches, in length. Indeed, many of the seal's details, such as the intricate weaponry ornamentation and jewelry decoration, become clear only when viewed with a powerful camera lens and photomicroscopy.    

"Some of the details on this are only a half-millimeter big," said Davis. "They're incomprehensibly small."

The miniature masterpiece portrays a victorious warrior who, having already vanquished one unfortunate opponent sprawled at his feet, now turns his attention to another much more formidable foe, plunging his sword into the shielded man's exposed neck in what is sure to be a final and fatal blow.

It's a scene that conjures the sweeping and epic battles, larger-than-life heroes and grand adventures of Homer's "The Iliad," the epic Greek poem that immortalized a mythological decade-long war between the Trojan and Mycenaean kingdoms. While the researchers can't say that the image was intended to reflect a Homeric epic, the scene undoubtedly reflects a legend that was well known to Minoans and Mycenaeans, says Stocker.

"It would have been a valuable and prized possession, which certainly is representative of the Griffin Warrior's role in Mycenaean society," she explained. "I think he would have certainly identified himself with the hero depicted on the seal."

Though the seal and other burial riches found within the tomb suggest the Griffin Warrior held an esteemed position in Mycenaean society, that so many of the artifacts are Minoan-made raises intriguing questions about his culture.

Scholarly consensus has long theorized that mainlander Mycenaeans simply imported or robbed such riches from the affluent Minoan civilization on the large island of Crete, southeast of Pylos. Although the Minoans were culturally dominant to the Greek mainlanders, the civilization fell to the Mycenaeans around 1500-1400 B.C. -- roughly the same time period in which the Griffin Warrior died.

In a series of presentations and a paper published last year, Davis and Stocker revealed that the discovery of four gold signet rings bearing highly detailed Minoan iconography, along with other Minoan-made riches found within the tomb, indicates a far greater and complex cultural interchange took place between the Mycenaeans and Minoans.

But the skill and sophistication of the Pylos Combat Agate is unparalleled by anything uncovered before from the Minoan-Mycenaean world, say the researchers. And that raises a bigger question: How does this change our understanding of Greek art in the Bronze Age? 

"It seems that the Minoans were producing art of the sort that no one ever imagined they were capable of producing," explained Davis. "It shows that their ability and interest in representational art, particularly movement and human anatomy, is beyond what it was imagined to be. Combined with the stylized features, that itself is just extraordinary."

The revelation, he and Stocker say, prompts a reconsideration of the evolution and development of Greek art.

"This seal should be included in all forthcoming art history texts, and will change the way that prehistoric art is viewed," said Stocker.

Stocker and Davis will present findings from the Pylos Combat Agate in a paper to be published later this month in the journal Hesperia.

Meanwhile, work continues in unlocking the full mysteries of the Griffin Warrior's tomb. Davis and Stocker, along with other UC staff specialists and students, have altogether catalogued more than 3,000 burial objects discovered in the grave, some of which are still in the process of being cleaned and preserved.   

"There will be many more surprises to come, for sure," said Davis.

In the spring of 2016, a UC-based team made a rich and rare discovery of an intact, Bronze Age warrior's tomb dating back to about 1500 B.C. in the Pylos region of Greece. The Greek Culture Ministry declared the find the "most important to have been discovered [in continental Greece] in 65 years" by the Greek Culture Ministry.

The tomb revealed a remarkably intact skeleton, which UC researchers dubbed the "Griffin Warrior" for the discovery of an ivory plaque adorned with a griffin -- a mythical beast with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle -- buried with him.

The 3,500-year-old shaft grave also revealed more than 3,000 objects arrayed on and around the warrior's body, including four solid gold rings, silver cups, precious stone beads, fine-toothed ivory combs and an intricately built sword, among other weapons.