Arquivo da tag: Arqueologia

Native American city on the Mississippi was America’s first ‘melting pot’ (Phys)

phys.org

March 4, 2014

New evidence establishes for the first time that Cahokia, a sprawling, pre-Columbian city situated at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, hosted a sizable population of immigrants.

Cahokia was an early experiment in urban life, said Thomas Emerson, who led the new analysis. Emerson is Illinois state archaeologist and the director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey at the University of Illinois.

Researchers have traditionally thought of Cahokia as a relatively homogeneous and stable population drawn from the immediate area, he said. “But increasingly archaeologists are realizing that Cahokia at AD 1100 was very likely an urban center with as many as 20,000 inhabitants,” he said. “Such early centers around the world grow by immigration, not by birthrate.”

The new analysis, reported in the Journal of Archaeological Research, tested the chemical composition of 133  from 87 people buried at Cahokia during its heyday. The researchers looked specifically at strontium isotope ratios in the teeth and in the remains of small mammals from the same area.

“Strontium isotope ratios in rock, soil, groundwater and vegetation vary according to the underlying geology of a region,” the researchers wrote. “As an animal eats and drinks, the local strontium isotope composition of the water, plants and animals consumed is recorded in its skeletal tissues.” Strontium signatures may not be unique to a location, Emerson said, but the ratios in a person’s teeth can be compared to those of plants and animals in the immediate environment.

“Teeth retain the isotopic signature of an individual’s diet at various periods of life depending on the tooth type sampled, ranging from in utero to approximately 16 years of age,” the researchers wrote. The strontium signature in the teeth can be compared to that of their place of burial, to determine whether the person lived only in that vicinity. Early teeth and later teeth may have different strontium signatures, an indication that the person immigrated.

By analyzing the teeth of those buried in different locations in Cahokia, Emerson, state archaeological survey bioarchaeologist Kristin Hedman and graduate student Philip Slater discovered that immigrants formed one-third of the population of the city throughout its history (from about AD 1050 through the early 1300s).

“This indicates that Cahokia as a political, social and religious center was extremely fluid and dynamic, with a constantly fluctuating composition,” Emerson said.

The findings contradict traditional anthropological models of Cahokian society that are built on analogies with 19th-century Native American groups, Emerson said.

“Cahokia, because it was multiethnic and perhaps even multilingual, must have been a virtual ‘melting pot’ that fostered new ways of living, new political and social patterns and perhaps even new religious beliefs,” he said.

More information: “Immigrants at the Mississippian Polity of Cahokia: Strontium Isotope Evidence for Population Movement,” Journal of Archaeological Research, 2014.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-03-native-american-city-mississippi-america.html#jCp

Ancient fishing techniques teach modern fisheries industry some history (Science Daily)

Date: February 17, 2014

Source: Simon Fraser University

Summary: Archaeological data indicate modern herring management needs to take a longer look into the past to manage fisheries for the future says a new study. This study’s authors combed through reams of archaeological reports that analyze almost half a million fish bones at 171 archaeological sites from Alaska, British Columbia and Washington State. Up to 10,000 years old, the bones belonged to primarily Pacific herring, not the iconic salmon or any other fish, during a time when Indigenous fisheries reigned. The researchers drew from their ancient data-catch concrete evidence that long-ago herring populations were consistently abundant and widespread for thousands of years. This contrasts dramatically with today’s dwindling and erratic herring numbers.

Iain McKechnie and Dana Lepofsky examine ancient herring fish bones that tell a fascinating story about how gigantic herring fisheries were for thousands of years in the Pacific Northwest. Credit: Diane Luckow, SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations

Archaeological data indicate modern herring management needs to take a longer look into the past to manage fisheries for the future says a new study involving Simon Fraser University researchers.

That is one of the key findings in the study, just published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). SFU researchers Iain McKechnie, Dana Lepofsky and Ken Lertzman, and scientists in Ontario, Alberta and the United States are its co-authors. The study is one of many initiatives of the SFU-based Herring School, a group of researchers that investigates the cultural and ecological importance of herring.

This study’s authors combed through reams of archaeological reports that analyze almost half a million fish bones at 171 archaeological sites from Alaska, British Columbia and Washington State.

Up to 10,000 years old, the bones belonged to primarily Pacific herring, not the iconic salmon or any other fish, during a time when Indigenous fisheries reigned.

The researchers drew from their ancient data-catch concrete evidence that long-ago herring populations were consistently abundant and widespread for thousands of years. This contrasts dramatically with today’s dwindling and erratic herring numbers.

“By compiling the largest dataset of archaeological fish bones in the Pacific Northwest Coast, we demonstrate the value of using such data to establish an ecological baseline for modern fisheries,” says Iain McKechnie. The SFU archaeology postdoctoral fellow is the study’s lead author and a recent University of British Columbia graduate.

Co-author and SFU archaeology professor Dana Lepofsky states: “Our archaeological findings fit well with what First Nations have been telling us. Herring have always played a central role in the social and economic lives of coastal communities. Archaeology, combined with oral traditions, is a powerful tool for understanding coastal ecology prior to industrial development.”

“This kind of ecological baseline extends into the past well beyond the era of industrial fisheries. It is critical for understanding the ecological and cultural basis of coastal fisheries and designing sustainable management systems today,” says Ken Lertzman, another SFU co-author. The SFU School of Resource and Environmental Management professor directs the Hakai Network for Coastal People, Ecosystems and Management.

Journal Reference:

  1. I. McKechnie, D. Lepofsky, M. L. Moss, V. L. Butler, T. J. Orchard, G. Coupland, F. Foster, M. Caldwell, K. Lertzman. Archaeological data provide alternative hypotheses on Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) distribution, abundance, and variabilityProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1316072111

Earliest footprints outside Africa discovered in Norfolk (BBC)

7 February 2014 Last updated at 10:30 GMT

By Pallab Ghosh, Science correspondent, BBC News

Dr Nick Ashton shows Pallab Ghosh where the footprints were found

Scientists have discovered the earliest evidence of human footprints outside of Africa, on the Norfolk Coast in the East of England.

The footprints are more than 800,000 years old and were found on the shores of Happisburgh.

They are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe.

Details of the extraordinary markings have been published in the science journal Plos One.

Infographic

The footprints have been described as “one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery that has been made on [Britain’s] shores,” by Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum.

“It will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe,” he told BBC News.

The markings were first indentified in May last year during a low tide. Rough seas had eroded the sandy beach to reveal a series of elongated hollows.

Footprints

The footprints on Happisburgh beach are possibly those of a family in search of food

I walked with Dr Ashton along the shore where the discovery was made. He recalled how he and a colleague stumbled across the hollows: “At the time, I wondered ‘could these really be the case? If it was the case, these could be the earliest footprints outside Africa and that would be absolutely incredible.”

The footprints are one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery, that has been made on these shores” – Dr Nick AstonBritish Museum

Such discoveries are very rare. The Happisburgh footprints are the only ones of this age in Europe and there are only three other sets that are older, all of which are in Africa.

“At first, we weren’t sure what we were seeing,” Dr Ashton told me, “but it was soon clear that the hollows resembled human footprints.”

The hollows were washed away not long after they were identified. The team were, however, able to capture the footprints on video that will be shown at an exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum later this month.

The video shows the researchers on their hands and knees in cold, driving rain, engaged in a race against time to record the hollows. Dr Ashton recalls how they scooped out rainwater from the footprints so that they could be photographed. “But the rain was filling the hollows as quickly as we could empty them,” he told me.

When I was told about the footprints, I was absolutely stunned” – Dr Isabelle De GrooteLiverpool John Moores University

The team took a 3D scan of the footprints over the following two weeks. A detailed analysis of these images by Dr Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool John Moores University confirmed that the hollows were indeed human footprints, possibly of five people, one adult male and some children.

Dr De Groote said she could make out the heel, arch and even toes in some of the prints, the largest of which would have filled a UK shoe size 8 (European size 42; American size 9) .

“When I was told about the footprints, I was absolutely stunned,” Dr De Groote told BBC News.

“They appear to have been made by one adult male who was about 5ft 9in (175cm) tall and the shortest was about 3ft. The other larger footprints could come from young adult males or have been left by females. The glimpse of the past that we are seeing is that we have a family group moving together across the landscape.”

Diagram of footprint scene

It is unclear who these humans were. One suggestion is that they were a species called Homo antecessor, which was known to have lived in southern Europe. It is thought that these people could have made their way to what is now Norfolk across a strip of land that connected the UK to the rest of Europe a million years ago. They would have disappeared around 800,000 years ago because of a much colder climate setting in not long after the footprints were made.

It was not until 500,000 years ago that a species called Homo heidelbergensis lived in the UK. It is thought that these people evolved into early Neanderthals some 400,000 years ago. The Neanderthals then lived in Britain intermittently until about 40,000 years ago – a time that coincided with the arrival of our species, Homo sapiens.

There are no fossils of antecessor in Happisburgh, but the circumstantial evidence of their presence is getting stronger by the day.

In 2010, the same research team discovered the stone tools used by such people. And the discovery of the footprints now all but confirms that humans were in Britain nearly a million years ago, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, who is also involved in the research at Happisburgh.

“This discovery gives us even more concrete evidence that there were people there,” he told BBC News. “We can now start to look at a group of people and their everyday activities. And if we keep looking, we will find even more evidence of them, hopefully even human fossils. That would be my dream”.

Happisburgh

The prints were first noticed when a low tide uncovered them

Footprints

The sea has now washed away the prints – but not before they were recorded

Who owns the bones? Should bodies in museum exhibits be returned home? (Science Daily)

Date: February 4, 2014

Source: Wiley

Summary: From Egyptian mummies to Ötzi the Iceman, human remains are a common, if macabre, feature of museum exhibits. A researcher now explores the argument that curators have an ethical obligation to return these bodies to their native communities for burial.

From Egyptian mummies to Ötzi the Iceman, human remains are a common, if macabre, feature of museum exhibits. Writing in Clinical Anatomy, Dr. Philippe Charlier explores the argument that curators have an ethical obligation to return these bodies to their native communities for burial.

The recent case of the ‘Irish Giant’ Charles Byrne reveals that this is not an issue limited to cadavers from pre-antiquity. Byrne found celebrity in the 1780s and while his skeleton remains in the Royal College of Surgeons in London, ethics experts argue his remains should be buried at sea in accordance with his wishes.

Dr. Charlier argues that human remains in museums and scientific institutions can be divided into four categories, ‘ethnographical elements’ such as hair samples with no certain identification; anatomical remains such as whole skeletons or skulls; archaeological remains; and more modern collections of skulls, used in now discredited studies in the early 20th century.

After exploring case study examples from around the world, Dr. Charlier argues that the concept of the body as property is anything but clear and depends heavily on local political views and the administrative status of the human remains. The author proposes that the only precise factor permitting restitution should be the name of the individual, as in the case of Charles Byrne.

“The ethical problem posed by the bones of this 18th century individual approximates to that of all human remains conserved in public collections, displayed in museums or other cultural institutions,” said Dr. Charlier. “In the near future, curators will have to choose between global conservation of all (or almost all) anthropological collections on the one hand and systematic restitution to their original communities or families on the other.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Adelheid Soubry, Cathrine Hoyo, Randy L. Jirtle, Susan K. Murphy. A paternal environmental legacy: Evidence for epigenetic inheritance through the male germ lineBioEssays, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/bies.201300113

Rainforests in Far East Shaped by Humans for the Last 11,000 Years (Science Daily)

Jan. 24, 2014 — New research from Queen’s University Belfast shows that the tropical forests of South East Asia have been shaped by humans for the last 11,000 years.

New research from Queen’s University Belfast shows that the tropical forests of South East Asia have been shaped by humans for the last 11,000 years. (Credit: © Juhku / Fotolia)

The rain forests of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam were previously thought to have been largely unaffected by humans, but the latest research from Queen’s Palaeoecologist Dr Chris Hunt suggests otherwise.

A major analysis of vegetation histories across the three islands and the SE Asian mainland has revealed a pattern of repeated disturbance of vegetation since the end of the last ice age approximately 11,000 years ago.

The research, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy, is being published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. It is the culmination of almost 15 years of field work by Dr Hunt, involving the collection of pollen samples across the region, and a major review of existing palaeoecology research, which was completed in partnership with Dr Ryan Rabett from Cambridge University.

Evidence of human activity in rainforests is extremely difficult to find and traditional archaeological methods of locating and excavating sites are extremely difficult in the dense forests. Pollen samples, however, are now unlocking some of the region’s historical secrets.

Dr Hunt, who is Director of Research on Environmental Change at Queen’s School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, said: “It has long been believed that the rainforests of the Far East were virgin wildernesses, where human impact has been minimal. Our findings, however, indicate a history of disturbances to vegetation. While it could be tempting to blame these disturbances on climate change, that is not the case as they do not coincide with any known periods of climate change. Rather, these vegetation changes have been brought about by the actions of people.

“There is evidence that humans in the Kelabit Highlands of Borneo burned fires to clear the land for planting food-bearing plants. Pollen samples from around 6,500 years ago contain abundant charcoal, indicating the occurrence of fire. However, while naturally occurring or accidental fires would usually be followed by specific weeds and trees that flourish in charred ground, we found evidence that this particular fire was followed by the growth of fruit trees. This indicates that the people who inhabited the land intentionally cleared it of forest vegetation and planted sources of food in its place.

“One of the major indicators of human action in the rainforest is the sheer prevalence of fast-growing ‘weed’ trees such as Macaranga, Celtis and Trema. Modern ecological studies show that they quickly follow burning and disturbance of forests in the region.

“Nearer to the Borneo coastline, the New Guinea Sago Palm first appeared over 10,000 years ago. This would have involved a voyage of more than 2,200km from its native New Guinea, and its arrival on the island is consistent with other known maritime voyages in the region at that time — evidence that people imported the Sago seeds and planted them.”

The findings have huge importance for ecological studies or rainforests as the historical role of people in managing the forest vegetation has rarely been considered. It could also have an impact on rainforest peoples fighting the advance of logging companies.

Dr Hunt continued: “Laws in several countries in South East Asia do not recognise the rights of indigenous forest dwellers on the grounds that they are nomads who leave no permanent mark on the landscape. Given that we can now demonstrate their active management of the forests for more than 11,000 years, these people have a new argument in their case against eviction.”

Journal Reference:

  1. C.O. Hunt, R.J. Rabett. Holocene landscape intervention and plant food production strategies in island and mainland Southeast AsiaJournal of Archaeological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.12.011

Researchers Target Sea Level Rise to Save Years of Archaeological Evidence (Science Daily)

Jan. 16, 2014 — Prehistoric shell mounds found on some of Florida’s most pristine beaches are at risk of washing away as the sea level rises, wiping away thousands of years of archaeological evidence.

“The largest risk for these ancient treasure troves of information is sea level rise,” said Shawn Smith, a senior research associate with the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University.

But a joint project between Smith and the National Park Service is drawing attention to the problem to hopefully minimize the impact on the state’s cultural sites.

Smith and Margo Schwadron, an archaeologist with the National Park Service, have embarked on a project to examine past and future changes in climate and how we can adapt to those changes to save areas of shoreline and thus preserve cultural and archeological evidence.

“We’re kind of the pioneers in looking at the cultural focus of this issue,” Smith said, noting that most weather and ocean experts are concerned about city infrastructure for coastal areas.

To complete the project, the National Park Service awarded Smith a $30,000 grant. With that money, Smith and former Florida State University undergraduate Marcus Johnson spent hours compiling modern, colonial and paleo weather data.

The focus of their initial research is the Canaveral National Seashore and Everglades National Park, which both have prehistoric shell mounds, about 50 feet to 70 feet high. Researchers believe these shell mounds served as foundations for structures and settlements and later served as navigational landmarks during European exploration of the region.

Modern temperature and storm system information was easily available to researchers. But, to go hundreds and then thousands of years back took a slightly different approach.

Log books from old Spanish forts as well as ships that crossed the Atlantic had to be examined to find the missing information.

The result was a comprehensive data set for the region, so detailed that modern era weather conditions are now available by the hour.

Smith and Schwadron are trying to secure more funding to continue their work, but for now, they are making their data set available to the general public and other researchers in hopes of raising awareness about the unexpected effects of sea level rise.

The National Park Service has also published a brochure on climate change and the impact that sea level rise could have on the shell mounds found at Cape Canaveral.

Violence, Infectious Disease and Climate Change Contributed to Indus Civilization Collapse (Science Daily)

Jan. 16, 2014 — A new study on the human skeletal remains from the ancient Indus city of Harappa provides evidence that inter-personal violence and infectious diseases played a role in the demise of the Indus, or Harappan Civilization around 4,000 years ago.

Evidence for maxillary infection in individual G.I.S.15. The lesions included porosity, alveolar resorption, abscessing at the right canine and third premolar, and antemortem tooth loss (a = right ventral view). This individual also had inflammatory changes to the palatine process of the maxilla leading to localized bone destruction and perforation (b = inferior view of palate). There is evidence for porosity and inflammation at the inferior margin of the pyriform aperture, porosity and deformation of the infraorbital foramen caused by infection of the left maxillary sinus (c: ventral view). (Credit: Gwen Robbins Schug, K. Elaine Blevins, Brett Cox, Kelsey Gray, V. Mushrif-Tripathy. Infection, Disease, and Biosocial Processes at the End of the Indus Civilization. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (12): e84814 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084814)

The Indus Civilization stretched over a million square kilometers of what is now Pakistan and India in the Third Millennium B.C. While contemporaneous civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotomia, are well-known, their Indus trading partners have remained more of a mystery.

Archaeological research has demonstrated that Indus cities grew rapidly from 2200-1900 B.C., when they were largely abandoned. “The collapse of the Indus Civilization and the reorganization of its human population has been controversial for a long time,” lead author of the paper published last month in the journal PLOS ONE, Gwen Robbins Schug, explained. Robbins Schug is an associate professor of anthropology at Appalachian State University.

Climate, economic, and social changes all played a role in the process of urbanization and collapse, but little was known about how these changes affected the human population.

Robbins Schug and an international team of researchers examined evidence for trauma and infectious disease in the human skeletal remains from three burial areas at Harappa, one of the largest cities in the Indus Civilization. The results of their analysis counter longstanding claims that the Indus civilization developed as a peaceful, cooperative, and egalitarian state-level society, without social differentiation, hierarchy, or differences in access to basic resources.

The data suggest instead that some communities at Harappa faced more significant impacts than others from climate and socio-economic strains, particularly the socially disadvantaged or marginalized communities who are most vulnerable to violence and disease. This pattern is expected in strongly socially differentiated, hierarchical but weakly controlled societies facing resource stress.

Robbins Schug’s and colleagues’ findings add to the growing body of research about the character of Indus society and the nature of its collapse.

“Early research had proposed that ecological factors were the cause of the demise, but there wasn’t much paleo-environmental evidence to confirm those theories,” Robbins Schug said. “In the past few decades, there have been refinements to the available techniques for reconstructing paleo-environments and burgeoning interest in this field.”

When paleoclimate, archaeology, and human skeletal biology approaches are combined, scientists can glean important insights from the past, addressing long-standing and socially relevant questions.

“Rapid climate change events have wide-ranging impacts on human communities,” Robbins Schug said. “Scientists cannot make assumptions that climate changes will always equate to violence and disease. However, in this case, it appears that the rapid urbanization process in Indus cities, and the increasingly large amount of culture contact, brought new challenges to the human population. Infectious diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis were probably transmitted across an interaction sphere that spanned Middle and South Asia.”

Robbins Schug’s research shows that leprosy appeared at Harappa during the urban phase of the Indus Civilization, and its prevalence significantly increased through time. New diseases, such as tuberculosis, also appear in the Late Harappan or post-urban phase burials. Violent injury such as cranial trauma also increases through time, a finding that is remarkable, she said, given that evidence for violence is very rare in prehistoric South Asian sites generally.

“As the environment changed, the exchange network became increasingly incoherent. When you combine that with social changes and this particular cultural context, it all worked together to create a situation that became untenable,” she said.

The results of the study are striking, according to Robbins Schug, because violence and disease increased through time, with the highest rates found as the human population was abandoning the cities. However, an even more interesting result is that individuals who were excluded from the city’s formal cemeteries had the highest rates of violence and disease. In a small ossuary southeast of the city, men, women, and children were interred in a small pit. The rate of violence in this sample was 50 percent for the 10 crania preserved, and more than 20 percent of these individuals demonstrated evidence of infection with leprosy.

Robbins Schug said lessons from the Indus Civilization are applicable to modern societies.

“Human populations in semi-arid regions of the world, including South Asia, currently face disproportionate impacts from global climate change,” the researchers wrote. “The evidence from Harappa offers insights into how social and biological challenges impacted past societies facing rapid population growth, climate change and environmental degradation. Unfortunately, in this case, increasing levels of violence and disease accompanied massive levels of migration and resource stress and disproportionate impacts were felt by the most vulnerable members of society.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Gwen Robbins Schug, K. Elaine Blevins, Brett Cox, Kelsey Gray, V. Mushrif-Tripathy. Infection, Disease, and Biosocial Processes at the End of the Indus Civilization.PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (12): e84814 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0084814

World’s oldest temple built to worship the dog star (New Scientist)

16 August 2013 by Anil Ananthaswamy
Magazine issue 2930

THE world’s oldest temple, Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, may have been built to worship the dog star, Sirius.

The original star sign? <i>(Image: Vincent J. Musi/ National Geographic Stock)</i>

The original star sign? (Image: Vincent J. Musi/ National Geographic Stock)

The 11,000-year-old site consists of a series of at least 20 circular enclosures, although only a few have been uncovered since excavations began in the mid-1990s. Each one is surrounded by a ring of huge, T-shaped stone pillars, some of which are decorated with carvings of fierce animals. Two more megaliths stand parallel to each other at the centre of each ring (see illustration).

Göbekli Tepe put a dent in the idea of the Neolithic revolution, which said that the invention of agriculture spurred humans to build settlements and develop civilisation, art and religion. There is no evidence of agriculture near the temple, hinting that religion came first in this instance.

“We have a lot of contemporaneous sites which are settlements of hunter-gatherers. Göbekli Tepe was a sanctuary site for people living in these settlements,” says Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist for the project at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Berlin.

But it is still anybody’s guess what type of religion the temple served. Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy, looked to the night sky for an answer. After all, the arrangement of the pillars at Stonehenge in the UK suggests it could have been built as an astronomical observatory, maybe even to worship the moon.

Magli simulated what the sky would have looked like from Turkey when Göbekli Tepe was built. Over millennia, the positions of the stars change due to Earth wobbling as it spins on its axis. Stars that are near the horizon will rise and set at different points, and they can even disappear completely, only to reappear thousands of years later.

Today, Sirius can be seen almost worldwide as the brightest star in the sky – excluding the sun – and the fourth brightest night-sky object after the moon, Venus and Jupiter. Sirius is so noticeable that its rising and setting was used as the basis for the ancient Egyptian calendar, says Magli. At the latitude of Göbekli Tepe, Sirius would have been below the horizon until around 9300 BC, when it would have suddenly popped into view.

“I propose that the temple was built to follow the ‘birth’ of this star,” says Magli. “You can imagine that the appearance of a new object in the sky could even have triggered a new religion.”

Using existing maps of Göbekli Tepe and satellite images of the region, Magli drew an imaginary line running between and parallel to the two megaliths inside each enclosure. Three of the excavated rings seem to be aligned with the points on the horizon where Sirius would have risen in 9100 BC, 8750 BC and 8300 BC, respectively (arxiv.org/abs/1307.8397).

The results are preliminary, Magli stresses. More accurate calculations will need a full survey using instruments such as a theodolite, a device for measuring horizontal and vertical angles. Also, the sequence in which the structures were built is unclear, so it is hard to say if rings were built to follow Sirius as it rose at different points along the horizon.

Ongoing excavations might rule out any astronomical significance, says Jens Notroff, also at DAI. “We are still discussing whether the monumental enclosures at Göbekli Tepe were open or roofed,” he says. “In the latter case, any activity regarding monitoring the sky would, of course, have been rather difficult.”

This article appeared in print under the headline “Stone Age temple tracked the dog star”

Origins of human culture linked to rapid climate change (Cardiff University)

21-May-2013

By Ian Hall

Rapid climate change during the Middle Stone Age, between 80,000 and 40,000 years ago, during the Middle Stone Age, sparked surges in cultural innovation in early modern human populations, according to new research.

The research, published this month in Nature Communications, was conducted by a team of scientists from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Barcelona.

The scientists studied a marine sediment core off the coast of South Africa and reconstructed terrestrial climate variability over the last 100,000 years.

Dr Martin Ziegler, Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “We found that South Africa experienced rapid climate transitions toward wetter conditions at times when the Northern Hemisphere experienced extremely cold conditions.”

These large Northern Hemisphere cooling events have previously been linked to a change in the Atlantic Ocean circulation that led to a reduced transport of warm water to the high latitudes in the North. In response to this Northern Hemisphere cooling, large parts of the sub-Saharan Africa experienced very dry conditions.

“Our new data however, contrasts with sub-Saharan Africa and demonstrates that the South African climate responded in the opposite direction, with increasing rainfall, that can be associated with a globally occurring southward shift of the tropical monsoon belt.”

Linking climate change with human evolution

Professor Ian Hall, Cardiff University School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, said: “When the timing of these rapidly occurring wet pulses was compared with the archaeological datasets, we found remarkable coincidences.

“The occurrence of several major Middle Stone Age industries fell tightly together with the onset of periods with increased rainfall.”

“Similarly, the disappearance of the industries appears to coincide with the transition to drier climatic conditions.”

Professor Chris Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum commented “The correspondence between climatic ameliorations and cultural innovations supports the view that population growth fuelled cultural changes, through increased human interactions.”

The South African archaeological record is so important because it shows some of the oldest evidence for modern behavior in early humans. This includes the use of symbols, which has been linked to the development of complex language, and personal adornments made of seashells.

“The quality of the southern African data allowed us to make these correlations between climate and behavioural change, but it will require comparable data from other areas before we can say whether this region was uniquely important in the development of modern human culture” added Professor Stringer.

The new study presents the most convincing evidence so far that abrupt climate change was instrumental in this development.

The research was supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council and is part of the international Gateways training network, funded by the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union.

Before Babel? Ancient Mother Tongue Reconstructed (Live Science)

Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer

06 May 2013, 03:00 PM ET

an old oil painting of the Tower of Babel.The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. Now scientists have reconstructed words from such a language. CREDIT: Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) 

The ancestors of people from across Europe and Asia may have spoken a common language about 15,000 years ago, new research suggests.

Now, researchers have reconstructed words, such as “mother,” “to pull” and “man,” which would have been spoken by ancient hunter-gatherers, possibly in an area such as the Caucusus. The word list, detailed today (May 6) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help researchers retrace the history of ancient migrations and contacts between prehistoric cultures.

“We can trace echoes of language back 15,000 years to a time that corresponds to about the end of the last ice age,” said study co-author Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

Tower of Babel

The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. [Image Gallery: Ancient Middle-Eastern Texts]

But not all linguists believe in a single common origin of language, and trying to reconstruct that language seemed impossible. Most researchers thought they could only trace a language’s roots back 3,000 to 4,000 years. (Even so, researchers recently said they had traced the roots of a common mother tongue to many Eurasian languages back 8,000 to 9,500 years to Anatolia, a southwestern Asian peninsula that is now part of Turkey.)

Pagel, however, wondered whether language evolution proceeds much like biological evolution. If so, the most critical words, such as the frequently used words that define our social relationships, would change much more slowly.

To find out if he could uncover those ancient words, Pagel and his colleagues in a previous study tracked how quickly words changed in modern languages. They identified the most stable words. They also mapped out how different modern languages were related.

They then reconstructed ancient words based on the frequency at which certain sounds tend to change in different languages — for instance, p’s and f’s often change over time in many languages, as in the change from “pater” in Latin to the more recent term “father” in English.

The researchers could predict what 23 words, including “I,” “ye,” “mother,” “male,” “fire,” “hand” and “to hear” might sound like in an ancestral language dating to 15,000 years ago.

In other words, if modern-day humans could somehow encounter their Stone Age ancestors, they could say one or two very simple statements and make themselves understood, Pagel said.

Limitations of tracing language

Unfortunately, this language technique may have reached its limits in terms of how far back in history it can go.

“It’s going to be very difficult to go much beyond that, even these slowly evolving words are starting to run out of steam,” Pagel told LiveScience.

The study raises the possibility that researchers could combine linguistic data with archaeology and anthropology “to tell the story of human prehistory,” for instance by recreating ancient migrations and contacts between people, said William Croft, a comparative linguist at the University of New Mexico, who was not involved in the study.

“That has been held back because most linguists say you can only go so far back in time,” Croft said. “So this is an intriguing suggestion that you can go further back in time.”

Research Holds Revelations About an Ancient Society’s Water Conservation, Purification (Science Daily)

Apr. 9, 2013 — University of Cincinnati research at the ancient Maya site of Medicinal Trail in northwestern Belize is revealing how populations in more remote areas — the hinterland societies — built reservoirs to conserve water and turned to nature to purify their water supply. Jeffrey Brewer, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Geography, will present his findings on April 11, at the Association of American Geographers’ annual meeting in Los Angeles.

Jeffrey Brewer, screening soil from the depression for lithic, ceramic or faunal (bone) material. (Credit: Provided by Jeffrey Brewer and Jason Whitaker)

Brewer’s research, titled “Hinterland Hydrology: Mapping the Medicinal Trail Community, Northwest Belize,” continues a UC exploration of the ancient Maya civilization that has spanned decades. The site for Brewer’s research, which was primarily occupied during the Classic Period (AD 250-900), functioned as a rural architectural community on the periphery of the major ancient Maya site of La Milpa.

Brewer says this smaller, remote settlement lacks the monumental architecture and population density typically associated with the major Maya sites, but shows similar, smaller-scale slopes, artificial terraces and water reservoirs that would have been utilized for farming and water management.

Brewer ‘s discovery of artificial reservoirs — topographical depressions that were lined with clay to make a water-tight basin — addressed how the Maya conserved water from the heavy rainfall from December to spring, which got them through the region’s extreme dry spells that stretched from summer to winter. “They also controlled the vegetation directly around these reservoirs at this hinterland settlement,” says Brewer. “The types of lily pads and water-borne plants found within these basins helped naturally purify the water. They knew this, and they managed the vegetation by these water sources that were used for six months when there was virtually no rainfall.”

Without that system, Brewer says the smaller, more remote settlement would have been more dependent on the larger Maya sites that ran a larger water conservation system.

Brewer has conducted research at the site since 2006, including spending two years of intensive surveying and mapping of the region. Future research on the project will involve the completion of computerized mapping of up to 2,000 points of topography — distances and elevations of the region in relation to water sources, population and structures. Brewer says he also wants to continue exploring the construction and management of these hinterland water systems and, if possible, gain a better understanding of what knowledge about them might have passed back and forth between settlements.

Funding for the research project was supported by the Charles Phelps Taft Research Center in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences and UC International.

David M. Hyde, professor of anthropology at Western State Colorado University, was secondary researcher on the project.

The Association of American Geographers (AAG) is a nonprofit scientific and educational society that is dedicated to the advancement of geography. The annual meeting features more than 6,000 presentations, posters, workshops and field trips by leading scholars, experts and researchers in the fields of geography, environmental science and sustainability.

Brewer is presenting at a conference session that focuses on geospatial and geotechnical tools and methods that can be used to address questions of archaeological significance.

Castles in the Desert: Satellites Reveal Lost Cities of Libya (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (Nov. 7, 2011) — Satellite imagery has uncovered new evidence of a lost civilisation of the Sahara in Libya’s south-western desert wastes that will help re-write the history of the country. The fall of Gaddafi has opened the way for archaeologists to explore the country’s pre-Islamic heritage, so long ignored under his regime.

Satellite image of area of desert with archaeological interpretation of features: fortifications are outlined in black, areas of dwellings are in red and oasis gardens are in green. (Credit: Copyright 2011 Google, image copyright 2011 DigitalGlobe)

Using satellites and air-photographs to identify the remains in one of the most inhospitable parts of the desert, a British team has discovered more than 100 fortified farms and villages with castle-like structures and several towns, most dating between AD 1-500.

These “lost cities” were built by a little-known ancient civilisation called the Garamantes, whose lifestyle and culture was far more advanced and historically significant than the ancient sources suggested.

The team from the University of Leicester has identified the mud brick remains of the castle-like complexes, with walls still standing up to four metres high, along with traces of dwellings, cairn cemeteries, associated field systems, wells and sophisticated irrigation systems. Follow-up ground survey earlier this year confirmed the pre-Islamic date and remarkable preservation.

“It is like someone coming to England and suddenly discovering all the medieval castles. These settlements had been unremarked and unrecorded under the Gaddafi regime,” says the project leader David Mattingly FBA, Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Leicester.

“Satellite imagery has given us the ability to cover a large region. The evidence suggests that the climate has not changed over the years and we can see that this inhospitable landscape with zero rainfall was once very densely built up and cultivated. These are quite exceptional ancient landscapes, both in terms of the range of features and the quality of preservation,” says Dr Martin Sterry, also of the University of Leicester, who has been responsible for much of the image analysis and site interpretation.

The findings challenge a view dating back to Roman accounts that the Garamantes consisted of barbaric nomads and troublemakers on the edge of the Roman Empire.

“In fact, they were highly civilised, living in large-scale fortified settlements, predominantly as oasis farmers. It was an organised state with towns and villages, a written language and state of the art technologies. The Garamantes were pioneers in establishing oases and opening up Trans-Saharan trade,” Professor Mattingly said.

The professor and his team were forced to evacuate Libya in February when the anti-Gaddafi revolt started, but hope to be able to return to the field as soon as security is fully restored. The Libyan antiquities department, badly under-resourced under Gaddafi, is closely involved in the project. Funding for the research has come from the European Research Council who awarded Professor Mattingly an ERC Advanced Grant of nearly 2.5m euros, the Leverhulme Trust, the Society for Libyan Studies and the GeoEye Foundation.

“It is a new start for Libya’s antiquities service and a chance for the Libyan people to engage with their own long-suppressed history,” says Professor Mattingly.

“These represent the first towns in Libya that weren’t the colonial imposition of Mediterranean people such as the Greeks and Romans. The Garamantes should be central to what Libyan school children learn about their history and heritage.”

Archaeologists Find Sophisticated Blade Production Much Earlier Than Originally Thought (Tel Aviv University)

Monday, October 17, 2011
American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Blade manufacturing “production lines” existed as much as 400,000 years ago, say TAU researchers

Archaeology has long associated advanced blade production with the Upper Palaeolithic period, about 30,000-40,000 years ago, linked with the emergence of Homo Sapiens and cultural features such as cave art. Now researchers at Tel Aviv University have uncovered evidence which shows that “modern” blade production was also an element of Amudian industry during the late Lower Paleolithic period, 200,000-400,000 years ago as part of the Acheulo-Yabrudian cultural complex, a geographically limited group of hominins who lived in modern-day Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Prof. Avi Gopher, Dr. Ran Barkai and Dr. Ron Shimelmitz of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Civilizations say that large numbers of long, slender cutting tools were discovered at Qesem Cave, located outside of Tel Aviv, Israel. This discovery challenges the notion that blade production is exclusively linked with recent modern humans.

The blades, which were described recently in the Journal of Human Evolution, are the product of a well planned “production line,” says Dr. Barkai. Every element of the blades, from the choice of raw material to the production method itself, points to a sophisticated tool production system to rival the blade technology used hundreds of thousands of years later.

An innovative product

Though blades have been found in earlier archaeological sites in Africa, Dr. Barkai and Prof. Gopher say that the blades found in Qesem Cave distinguish themselves through the sophistication of the technology used for manufacturing and mass production.

Evidence suggests that the process began with the careful selection of raw materials. The hominins collected raw material from the surface or quarried it from underground, seeking specific pieces of flint that would best fit their blade making technology, explains Dr. Barkai. With the right blocks of material, they were able to use a systematic and efficient method to produce the desired blades, which involved powerful and controlled blows that took into account the mechanics of stone fracture. Most of the blades of were made to have one sharp cutting edge and one naturally dull edge so it could be easily gripped in a human hand.

This is perhaps the first time that such technology was standardized, notes Prof. Gopher, who points out that the blades were produced with relatively small amounts of waste materials. This systematic industry enabled the inhabitants of the cave to produce tools, normally considered costly in raw material and time, with relative ease.

Thousands of these blades have been discovered at the site. “Because they could be produced so efficiently, they were almost used as expendable items,” he says.

Prof. Cristina Lemorini from Sapienza University of Rome conducted a closer analysis of markings on the blades under a microscope and conducted a series of experiments determining that the tools were primarily used for butchering.

Modern tools a part of modern behaviors

According to the researchers, this innovative industry and technology is one of a score of new behaviors exhibited by the inhabitants of Qesem Cave. “There is clear evidence of daily and habitual use of fire, which is news to archaeologists,” says Dr. Barkai. Previously, it was unknown if the Amudian culture made use of fire, and to what extent. There is also evidence of a division of space within the cave, he notes. The cave inhabitants used each space in a regular manner, conducting specific tasks in predetermined places. Hunted prey, for instance, was taken to an appointed area to be butchered, barbequed and later shared within the group, while the animal hide was processed elsewhere.