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Archaeo News 

It is often difficult to find some news about the most recent archaeological meetings, digs and breathtaking discoveries. As we are particularly interested in prehistoric and megalithic monuments, we are trying to collect every bit of information about them and to put it inside this website.
In these pages you can find the latest news about those special events, people and places mainly related to Europe's most ancient heritage.
Latest news:

The mysterious bronze hand found in Switzerland
Ancient Scottish hillfort recreated in Lego
Early Neolithic miniature masks
Neolithic people adapted to climate change
Megalithic passage tomb discovered in Co Meath
Mammoth 'kill site' and ancient graves discovered in Austria
7,200-year-old cheese making found in Croatia
Did the people buried at Stonehenge come from Wales?
Ancient Italian skeletons had hemp in their teeth
Sicilian amber diffusion pre-dates Baltic kind by 2,000 years
Blue-eyed immigrants transformed ancient Israel 6,500 Years Ago
4,300-year-old massive pyramid, lost city and human sacrifices unearthed in China
In a quarry in England an extraordinary insight into evolution of human intelligence
Turkish archeologists unearth 3,000-year tomb
Neanderthal mother, Denisovan father

  

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25 September 2018

  The mysterious bronze hand found in Switzerland

In October 2017, a pair of metal detectorists made an extraordinary discovery near a Swiss lake: a sculpted bronze hand with a gold cuff dating back some 3,500 years. Archaeologists have never seen anything quite like it, and are at a loss to explain its purpose or function. And in an unfortunate turn, the hand is now at the center of a criminal investigation.
     The bronze hand and its thin gold cuff, along with a bronze dagger and a human rib bone, were discovered near Lake Biel in the Bernese Jura, about 45 km from Bern (Switzerland). The items were handed over to specialists at the Ancient History and Roman Archeology Department in the Bern Archaeological Service one day after the discovery.
     The hand of Prêles, as it's now called, is slightly smaller than an adult hand and was cast from about a pound of bronze. Radiocarbon dating of the organic, vegetable-based glue used to adhere the gold band to the hand's wrist places the artifact to between 1,400 and 1,500 BCE, back during Europe's Middle Bronze Age. The archaeologists studying the hand, a team led by Andrea Schae, say it's doubtful the hand was worn; a socket inside the hand suggests it was mounted on a staff of some kind.
     Schae's team returned to the site in the Bernese Jura to conduct further excavations. They discovered that a grave, possibly a tomb, that unfortunately "had suffered significant damage as a result of recent work." There are indications that some objects were stolen from the site and a spokesperson for the Canton Archaeological Service of Bern confirmed that "a criminal investigation is currently underway in this matter."
     Despite this, the researchers managed to uncover more items at the site, including the bones of a middle-aged male, a long bronze pin, a bronze spiral likely worn as a hair ornament, more bits of gold foil (likely from the hand), and one of the sculpture's missing fingers. The archaeologists say the hand was likely buried with the man, of whom we know virtually nothing.
     Beneath the grave, the researchers uncovered a stone-based structure. Apparently, "The man and the bronze hand were deliberately buried over this older construction. He must have been a high-ranking character," wrote the researchers. "To the knowledge of Swiss, German and French specialists, there has never been a comparable sculpture dating from the Bronze Age in Central Europe. The hand of Prêles is now the oldest bronze piece representing a part of the human body. It is therefore a unique and remarkable object," they added.
     A formal research paper to describe the findings is forthcoming, but the researchers are still trying to figure out if the items were manufactured nearby or imported from afar. They're also struggling to understand the purpose of the sculpted bronze hand. "We do not know either the meaning and the function attributed to it," the authors wrote. "Its gold ornament suggests that it is an emblem of power, a distinctive sign of the social elite, even of a deity. The hand is extended by a hollow form that suggests that it was originally mounted on another object: it was perhaps part of a scepter or a statue."

Edited from Canton de Berne PR (18 September 2018), Gizmodo (25 September 2018)

24 September 2018

  Ancient Scottish hillfort recreated in Lego

A 2,500-year-old Scottish hillfort has been recreated in Lego. The real Dun Deardail was constructed of timber and stone on a prominent knoll on Sgorr Chalum, a hill overlooking the River Nevis in Glen Nevis. It was destroyed in a fire, with the heat so intense that the stones used in the defensive ramparts melted.
     Brick to the Past, a team specialising in historically-themed Lego models, used about 35,000 pieces for the recreation. It was commissioned by the Fort William-based Nevis Landscape Partnership. Brick to the Past's other creations have included a 10,000-piece Iron Age Broch.
     Dan Harris, of Brick the Past, began his research for the Lego model in December last year. He started building it at his home in Nethy Bridge in late January and the model was finished in mid-August.
     Mr Harris said: "I've been visiting Glen Nevis and the surrounding area of years to walk and climb, so it's an absolute delight to have been able to build a model of one of its landmarks. It's great to be able to display at one of Scotland's most popular tourist destinations and I hope that the model will encourage people to get out and explore the real hillfort."
     The name Dun Deardail, Derdriu's Fort, links it to an ancient Iron Age Irish myth called The Sorrow of Derdriu. The legend tells of a chieftain's daughter who was said to be so beautiful that kings, lords and warriors fought and died trying to win her hand in marriage.

Edited from BBC News (6 September 2018)

23 September 2018

  Early Neolithic miniature masks

All Neolithic cultures in the Near East made masks. Why? What were the rituals and ideas behind the masks? Oliver Dietrich, Jens Notroff, and Laura Dietrich wrote about these mysterious masks in an in-depth article published in The American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) Web magazine.
     Ancient stone masks from the Judean Hills weigh up to 2 kilograms, bearing almost expressionistic facial features - each is individual, as if depicting specific human beings. Some have holes around the rim, probably to allow them to be attached to something, or to even be worn. The oldest of these Southern Levantine masks date back to the mid 9th and 8th millennia BCE.
     Since examples excavated in the Nahal Hemar cave in Israel during the early 1980s were found in a 'cultic' assemblage, a ritual use of these masks was assumed. At Jerf el Ahmar, a site in northern Syria dating to the 10th millennium BCE and characterised by round and rectangular buildings with limestone foundations, two little stone heads were reported which show a conspicuous concave cavity on their back. They are made from pebbles, only about 4 cm high and show eyes, a nose, and mouth.
     Another miniature stone mask or depiction of similar size is known from Nevalı Çori in southeastern Turkey. Eyes, nose, and mouth are again depicted, and the back is concave. Nevalı Çori has become well known as the first place where an important characteristic element of architecture of the region was discovered: T-shaped, apparently anthropomorphic, pillars. These link it to another nearby site that also has produced a number of comparable masks: Göbekli Tepe.
     Three of the masks found at Göbekli Tepe have similar styles to the example from Nevalı Çori, with non-individualized faces. However, at Göbekli Tepe the mouth is not depicted, while the Nevalı Çori mask almost gives the impression the face is screaming. Together with the finds from other sites, a large repertoire of masks in different styles is suggested. All types, with and without mouths, more individualized or abstract, are also well attested for in the large repertoire of limestone sculpture found at Göbekli Tepe.
     Burial rites at Göbekli Tepe seem to have been applied to the hierarchical system of anthropomorphic depictions. The enclosures' central pillars are abstracted and clearly anthropomorphic. The surrounding pillars are also stylized, but smaller and contain zoomorphic decoration. During backfilling of the enclosures, a selection of fragments, mostly (masked?) heads, and complete masks, was placed inside the fills, most often near the central pillars.
     If we assume that the stone masks are miniature or supra-sized representations of real organic masks worn by humans, they might attest that ritual activity at Göbekli Tepe and other sites included masquerades, where people acted out parts of a complex mythology. When enclosures were put out of use, masks and miniatures were buried with them, freezing rituals in time and space.
     During the early Neolithic in the Near East, masks and masking played a significant role in rituals re-enacting mythological narratives closely related to death, taking place at sites with special purpose buildings and rich iconography. This importance apparently justified the time-consuming and complicated manufacture of these paraphernalia as well as miniature and larger-than-life-sized representations. A small number of masks in stone are all what remains of what was likely a widespread Early Neolithic tradition of ritual masquerade.

Edited from Asor.org (September 2018)

  Neolithic people adapted to climate change

New study reveals evidence of how Neolithic people adapted to climate change. The study centred on the Neolithic and Chalcolithic city settlement of Çatalhöyük in southern Anatolia, Turkey which existed from approximately 7500 BCE to 5700 BCE.
     During the height of the city's occupation a well-documented climate change event 8,200 years ago occurred which resulted in a sudden decrease in global temperatures caused by the release of a huge amount of glacial meltwater from a massive freshwater lake in northern Canada.
     Examining the animal bones excavated at the site, scientists concluded that the herders of the city turned towards sheep and goats at this time, as these animals were more drought-resistant than cattle. Study of cut marks on the animal bones informed on butchery practices: the high number of such marks at the time of the climate event showed that the population worked on exploiting any available meat due to food scarcity.
     The authors also examined the animal fats surviving in ancient cooking pots. They detected the presence of ruminant carcass fats. The scientists deducted that the isotopic information carried in the hydrogen atoms (deuterium to hydrogen ratio) from the animal fats was reflecting that of ancient precipitation. A change in the hydrogen signal was detected in the period corresponding to the climate event, thus suggesting changes in precipitation patterns at the site at that time.
     Dr. Mélanie Roffet-Salque, lead author of the paper, said: "This is the first time that such information is derived from cooking pots. We have used the signal carried by the hydrogen atoms from the animal fats trapped in the pottery vessels after cooking. This opens up a completely new avenue of investigation - the reconstruction of past climate at the very location where people lived using pottery."
     Co-author, Professor Richard Evershed, added: "It is really significant that the climate models of the event are in complete agreement with the H signals we see in the animal fats preserved in the pots. The models point to seasonal changes farmers would have had to adapt to which would have had inevitable impacts on agriculture."

Edited from Phys.org (13 August 2018)

  Megalithic passage tomb discovered in Co Meath

A Megalithic passage tomb dating back some 5,500 years has been discovered at the 18th century Dowth Hall in Co Meath (Ireland). The discovery is within the Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site. It was made during an excavation carried out by the agri-technology company Devenish in partnership with University College Dublin School of Archaeology.
     To date, two burial chambers have been discovered within the western part of the main passage tomb, over which a large stone cairn (c.40m diameter) was raised. The six kerbstones that have been identified so far would have formed part of a ring of stones that followed the cairn perimeter. One kerbstone is heavily decorated with Neolithic carvings and represents one of the most impressive discoveries of megalithic art in Ireland for decades. During the course of this project, a further two possible satellite tombs were also found.
     Dr Clíodhna Ní Lionáin, Devenish's lead archaeologist for the project said: "For the archaeologists involved in this discovery, it is truly the find of a lifetime." Dr Stephen Davis of the UCD School of Archaeology said today: "This is the most significant megalithic find in Ireland in the last 50 years, since the excavation of Knowth. The spate of archaeological discoveries in Brú na Bóinne in recent weeks highlights what a globally significant place this is."

Edited from RTE, Devenish (16 July 2018)

10 September 2018

  Mammoth 'kill site' and ancient graves discovered in Austria

During roadworks on a new bypass near Drasenhofen (Austria), archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric 'kill site' full of mammoth remains, where ancient people used to herd the large mammals so they could be killed and butchered.
     Researchers found massive mammoth tusks and bones as well as the remains of other large animals. The 16-square-metre site is estimated to be between 18,000 and 28,000 years old and Stone Age tools were found there as well.
     Ancient civilisations used to strategically drive large animals, including mammoths, into the death zones. Areas were pre-selected by humans that they knew were difficult for mammoths to traverse, giving them a clear advantage over the giant woolly mammal. They would then kill mammoths using spears and butcher them on site.
     Martin Krenn of the Austrian Federal Monuments Office said: "The Palaeolithic kill site is the first to be excavated in Austria and was analysed using state-of-the-art methods. It gives us a sensational overview of the Palaeolithic people's way of life." In total, €2.4 million (£2.16 million) will be invested in the archaeological excavations before the new motorway bypass opens in autumn 2019.    
     At a nearby site, where road workers are constructing a roundabout, graves attributed to the Bell-Beaker people were found. The Beaker culture was a prehistoric civilisation native to western and Central Europe which started in the late Neolithic period and lasted until the early Bronze Age. Archaeologists think the graves date from between 2,600 and 2,200 BCE.
     
Edited from Metro (7 September 2018)

  7,200-year-old cheese making found in Croatia

Analysis of fatty residue in pottery from the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia revealed evidence of fermented dairy products - soft cheeses and yogurts - from about 7,200 years ago, according to an international team of researchers. "This pushes back cheese-making by 4,000 years," said Sarah B. McClure, associate professor of anthropology.
     The presence of milk in pottery in this area is seen as early as 7,700 years ago, 500 years earlier than fermented products, said the researchers. DNA analysis of the populations in this area indicate that the adults were lactose-intolerant, but the children remained able to consume milk comfortably up to the age of ten. "First, we have milking around, and it was probably geared for kids because it is a good source of hydration and is relatively pathogen-free," said McClure. "It wouldn't be a surprise for people to give children milk from another mammal."
     However, about 500 years later, the researchers see a shift not only from pure milk to fermented products, but also in the style and form of pottery vessels. "Cheese production is important enough that people are making new types of kitchenware," said McClure. "We are seeing that cultural shift."
     The researchers looked at pottery from two sites in Croatia in Dalmatia - Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj. When possible, they selected samples from unwashed pottery, but because some pottery forms are rarer, used washed samples for the sieves. They tested the pottery residue for carbon isotopes, which can indicate the type of fat and can distinguish between meat, fish, milk and fermented milk products.
     According to the researchers, dairying may have opened northern European areas for farming because it reduced infant mortality and allowed for earlier weaning, decreasing the birth interval and potentially increasing population. It also supplied a storable form of nutrition for adults, because the fermentation of cheese and yogurt reduce the lactose content of milk products, making it palatable for adults as well as children. With a food source that could buffer the risk of farming in colder northern climates, farmers could expand their territories.

Edited from EurekAlert! (5 September 2018)

  Did the people buried at Stonehenge come from Wales?

Recent analysis of cremated human remains excavated from Stonehenge has shown that some of the individuals buried at the Neolithic monument may have spent some of their lives in western Britain, or even west Wales, the same region where the Stonehenge bluestones are believed to have come from.
     During William Hawley's excavations of the famous monument between 1919 and 1926, up to 58 individual cremations were unearthed. These were subsequently reinterred in a single pit, which was re-excavated in 2008. At least 25 individuals were identified from the recovered remains and all were radiocarbon dated to between 3180-2965 and 2565-2380 BCE. This places the burials in the earlier stages of the monument's construction, a period when cremation was a common funerary practice in Britain.
     Now, samples from these remains have also been subjected to isotope analysis, to find out more about where the individuals came from. Strontium isotopes provide information on a person's whereabouts in the last decade or so before death, and remain preserved even in cremated bone.
     The results of the isotope analysis showed that 15 individuals had ratios consistent with the chalky geology found at Stonehenge, and for at least 15km in any direction from the monument. This suggests that in the years leading up to their deaths, they most likely obtained much of their diet from (and therefore probably lived in) the local area. The other ten individuals, though, yielded significantly different results. Three had isotope ratios that were so dissimilar to the Stonehenge area that they are unlikely to have obtained any of their diet from the region. Instead, their isotope values point to older lithologies more in keeping with parts of Devon and Wales, particularly western Wales. The other seven had isotope values in between the two, possibly reflecting a diet that came from both west Wales and Wessex.
     These results lend further credence to the idea that during the Neolithic there was a strong connection between west Wales and Salisbury Plain, which included the movement of both materials and people.

Edited from Current Archaeology (3 September 2018)

  Ancient Italian skeletons had hemp in their teeth

In a new analysis of thousands of teeth from ancient skeletons buried at a site near Naples (Italy), archaeologists have discovered that people were using their mouths to help with their work - occupations that likely involved processing hemp into string and fabric.
     To archaeologists, the pattern of tooth use that occurs from actions other than chewing is called AIDM -- activity-induced dental modification -- and can reveal cultural information about a person's life, diet, and occupation.
     A group of Italian and American researchers led by Alessandra Sperduti of the Museo delle Civiltà in Rome analysed more than 3,000 teeth from over 200 people who were buried in a cemetery at the Early Bronze Age (2500-1800 BCE) site of Gricignano d'Aversa just north of Naples.
     Sperduti and colleagues found grooves near the chewing surfaces of the teeth of 28 females and 1 male, and further learned that no children under the age of 15 had any evidence of AIDM. The pattern of the grooves is "consistent with the hypothesis of yarn production - or weaving preparation - of small-diameter threads," they note, which were repeatedly pulled across the fronts and sizes of the women's upper incisors and canines. The striking difference in number of women versus men found to have these grooves indicates "a clear gender division in the fiber manipulation."
     The researchers also analyzed the dental calculus - calcified plaque that can trap microscopic pieces of food - from 19 of the skeletons buried in the cemetery."The most interesting find," they write, "is the evidence of three micro-fragments of fibers in two female individuals." The fiber fragments appear to be hemp (Cannabis sp.), and are a perfect match for the width of the tooth grooves.
     It is unclear archaeologically exactly how old hemp production in ancient Italy is, since the fiber does not preserve well, but it was well known in Roman times. At the site of Gricignano d'Aversa, though, hemp was also found attached to a metal blade in the tomb of an adult male - likely the remains of fabric sheath. This discovery of hemp in dental calculus and in a burial at the same site therefore speaks to the importance of the fabric and its manufacture in Bronze Age southern Italy.
     Sperduti and colleagues conclude that "as more work is done analyzing dental calculus in a variety of humans, it is apparent that this biological material holds rich resources documenting non-dietary habits."

Edited from Forbes (30 August 2018)

  Sicilian amber diffusion pre-dates Baltic kind by 2,000 years

Amber and other unusual materials such as jade, obsidian and rock crystal have attracted interest as raw materials for the manufacture of decorative items since Late Prehistory and, indeed, amber retains a high value in present-day jewellery. 'Baltic' amber from Scandinavia is often cited as a key material circulating in prehistoric Europe, but researchers have found that amber from Sicily (Italy) was travelling around the Western Mediterranean as early as the 4th Millennium BCE - at least 2,000 years before the arrival of any Baltic amber in Iberia.
     According to lead author Dr Mercedes Murillo-Barroso of the Universidad de Granada, "The new evidence presented in this study has allowed the most comprehensive review to date on the provision and exchange of amber in the Prehistory of Iberia. Thanks to this new work, we now have evidence of the arrival of Sicilian amber in Iberia from at least the 4th Millennium BCE. Interestingly, the first amber objects recovered in Sicily and identified as being made from the local amber there (known as simetite) also date from the 4th Millennium BCE, however, there is no other evidence indicating direct contact between Sicily and Iberia at this time."
     Dr Mercedes Murillo-Barroso also reported that "It is plausible that Sicilian amber reached Iberia through exchanges with North Africa. This amber appears at southern Iberian sites and its distribution is similar to that of ivory objects, suggesting that both materials reached the Iberian Peninsula following the same or similar channels."
     Senior author Professor Marcos Martinón-Torres, of the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge adds, "It is only from the Late Bronze Age that we see Baltic amber at a large number of Iberian sites and it is likely that it arrived via the Mediterranean, rather than through direct trade with Scandinavia. Amber from the North may have moved South across Central Europe before being shipped to the West by Mediterranean sailors, challenging previous suggestions of direct trade between Scandinavia and Iberia."
     Murillo-Barroso concludes, "There are still unresolved issues to be investigated in the future - namely exploring the presence of amber in North African contexts from the same time period and further researching the networks involved in the introduction and spread of Baltic amber in Iberia and the extent to which metals or other Iberian commodities were provided in return."
     
Edited from EurekAlert!, Popular Archaeology (29 August 2018)

  Blue-eyed immigrants transformed ancient Israel 6,500 Years Ago

Thousands of years ago in what is now northern Israel, waves of migrating people from the north and east - present-day Iran and Turkey - arrived in the region. And this influx of newcomers had a profound effect, transforming the emerging culture. What's more, these immigrants introduced new genes - such as the mutation that produces blue eyes - that were previously unknown in that geographic area, according to a new study.
     Archaeologists recently discovered this historic population shift by analyzing DNA from skeletons preserved in an Israeli cave. The site, in the north of the country, contains dozens of burials and more than 600 bodies dating to approximately 6,500 years ago, the scientists reported. DNA analysis showed that skeletons preserved in the cave were genetically distinct from people who historically lived in that region. And some of the genetic differences matched those of people who lived in neighboring Anatolia and the Zagros Mountains, which are now part of Turkey and Iran, the study found.
     Ancient Israel experienced a significant cultural shift during the Late Chalcolithic period, around 4500 to 3800 BCE, with denser settlements, more rituals performed in public and a growing use of ossuaries in funerary preparations, the researchers reported.
     The authors of the new study suspected that waves of human migration explained the changes. To find answers, the scientists turned to a burial site in Israel's Peqi'in Cave.
     Measuring around 56 feet (17 m) long and about 16 to 26 feet (5 to 8 m) wide, the cave contained decorated jars and burial offerings - along with hundreds of skeletons - suggesting that the location served as a type of mortuary for Chalcolithic people who lived nearby. However, not all of the cave's contents appeared to have local origins, study co-author Dina Shalem, an archaeologist with the Institute for Galilean Archaeology at Kinneret College in Israel, said in a statement.
     The scientists sampled DNA from bone powder from 48 skeletal remains and were able to reconstruct genomes for 22 individuals found in the cave. The scientists found that these individuals shared genetic features with people from the north, and those similar genes were absent in farmers who lived in the region earlier.
     The scientists also discovered that genetic diversity increased within groups over time, while genetic differences between groups decreased; this is a pattern that typically emerges in populations after a period of human migration, according to the researchers. "The publication of the artifacts from Peqi'in has shown many cultural links between these regions, but it will be interesting to see, in the future, whether those links are genetic as well," said Daniel Master, a professor of archaeology at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Edited from LiveScience (24 August 2018)

  4,300-year-old massive pyramid, lost city and human sacrifices unearthed in China

A 4,300-year-old city, which has a massive step pyramid that is at least 230 feet (70 meters) high and spans 59 acres (24 hectares) at its base, has been excavated in China, archaeologists reported.
     The pyramid was decorated with eye symbols and 'anthropomorphic,' or part-human, part-animal faces. Those figures "may have endowed the stepped pyramid with special religious power and further strengthened the general visual impression on its large audience," the archaeologists wrote in the article. The pyramid contains 11 steps, each of which was lined with stone. On the topmost step, there "were extensive palaces built of rammed earth, with wooden pillars and roofing tiles, a gigantic water reservoir, and domestic remains related to daily life," the researchers wrote.
     For five centuries, a city flourished around the pyramid and today, the ruins of the city are called Shimao. At one time, the city encompassed an area of 988 acres (400 hectares), making it one of the largest in the world, the archaeologists wrote. "Evidence so far suggests that the stepped pyramid complex functioned not only as a residential space for ruling Shimao elites, but also as a space for artisanal or industrial craft production," the archaeologists wrote.
     A series of stone walls with ramparts and gates was built around the pyramid and the city. "At the entrance to the stepped pyramid were sophisticated bulwarks - defensive walls - whose design suggests that they were intended to provide both defense and highly restricted access," the archaeologists wrote.
     The remains of numerous human sacrifices have been discovered at the site. "In the outer gateway of the eastern gate on the outer rampart alone, six pits containing decapitated human heads have been found," the archaeologists wrote. "Morphological analysis of the human remains suggests that the victims may have been related to the residents of Zhukaigou, which could further suggest that they were taken to Shimao as captives during the expansion of the Shimao polity," the study said.
     Additionally, jade artifacts were inserted into spaces between the blocks in all of Shimao's structures. "The jade objects and human sacrifice may have imbued the very walls of Shimao with ritual and religious potency," the archaeologists wrote.
     While archaeologists have known about Shimao for many years, it was once thought to be part of the Great Wall of China, a section of which is located nearby. It wasn't until excavations were carried out in recent years that archaeologists realized that Shimao is far older than the Great Wall, which was built between 2,700 and 400 years ago.

Edited from LiveScience (23 August 2018)

  In a quarry in England an extraordinary insight into evolution of human intelligence

Archaeologists have demonstrated for the first time that a particular type of stone tool used some half a million years ago could not have been made without modern human-like hands.
     The study - led by Dr Alastair Key of the university's School of Anthropology and Conservation and based on beautifully made prehistoric tools found at Boxgrove in West Sussex - reveals for the first time that early Stone Age humans had modern-style human hands, despite the fact that they belonged to a human species ancestral to our own but which became extinct more than 300,000 years ago.
     The specific stone tools which were analysed as part of the study were sophisticated flint hand axes, which had required a special technique to shape them, known to prehistorians as 'platform preparation'. Ancient toolmakers employed a two-stage approach. First they would successively 'soften up' small portions of the flint's surface, so as to then be able to more accurately remove flakes from it, thus creating a much more sophisticated and effective tool with a better and more refined cutting edge.
     By attaching electronic sensors to the hands of skilled modern flint knappers, archaeologists from the University of Kent were able to demonstrate that 'platform preparation' was only achievable by prehistoric people equipped with anatomically modern human-like hands.
     The research demonstrates that the Boxgrove early humans probably had significantly stronger grips compared to earlier populations, revelaing that by 500,000 BCE, humans had the physical capability needed to make sophisticated hand axes. This in turn implies that they were also theoretically able to make a large range of other artefacts that required strong, dextrous hands - things made out of wood, antler and bone, as well as stone.
     Another set of similarly sophisticated tools have recently been found in South Africa (also dating from around 500,000 years ago) - and there are indications that 'platform preparation' was being used for stone tool manufacture in Ethiopia as early as 850,000 years ago. So the Boxgrove, the South African and the Ethiopian evidence now helps demonstrate quite clearly that humanity developed its manual dexterity, its intelligence and its manufacturing ability as part of a long interactive process across at least two and probably three continents.

Edited from The Independent (23 August 2018)

  Turkish archeologists unearth 3,000-year tomb

An ancient urn tomb believed to date back around 3,000 years has been discovered in the southern Turkish province of Kahramanmaras. A team of archeologists unearthed the tomb - where the ashes of the deceased have apparently been placed - in the Karahuyuk region of the Elbistan district as part of excavation works ongoing since 2015.
     People living during the Iron Age preferred to bury the deceased in the places where they lived, said Bora Uysal, an academic from the Archeology Department at Cumhuriyet University who has been carrying out the excavation works in Karahuyuk for three years.
     "Instead of inhumation, cremation was being preferred. Burnt human bones, along with ashes were put in pots called 'urn'. They were placed in hills in this way. It dates back 3,000 years from today," Uysal said.
     This is the second cremation cemetery discovered in Anatolia. The first one, from the late Hittite era, is located in southeastern Gaziantep province, according to the academic.

Edited from AA.com.tr (22 August 2018)

  Neanderthal mother, Denisovan father

Together with their sister group the Neanderthals, Denisovans are the closest extinct relatives of currently living humans. "We knew from previous studies that Neanderthals and Denisovans must have occasionally had children together", says Viviane Slon, researcher at the MPI-EVA and one of three first authors of a new study. "But I never thought we would be so lucky as to find an actual offspring of the two groups."
     The ancient individual is only represented by a single small bone fragment. "The fragment is part of a long bone, and we can estimate that this individual was at least 13 years old", says Bence Viola of the University of Toronto. The bone fragment was found in 2012 at Denisova Cave (Russia) by Russian archaeologists. It was brought to Leipzig for genetic analyses after it was identified as a hominin bone based on its protein composition.
     "An interesting aspect of this genome is that it allows us to learn things about two populations - the Neanderthals from the mother's side, and the Denisovans from the father's side", explains Fabrizio Mafessoni from the MPI-EVA who co-authored the study. The researchers determined that the mother was genetically closer to Neanderthals who lived in western Europe than to a Neanderthal individual that lived earlier in Denisova Cave. This shows that Neanderthals migrated between western and eastern Eurasia tens of thousands of years before their disappearance.
     Analyses of the genome also revealed that the Denisovan father had at least one Neanderthal ancestor further back in his family tree. "So from this single genome, we are able to detect multiple instances of interactions between Neandertals and Denisovans", says Benjamin Vernot from the MPI-EVA, the third co-author of the study.
     "Neanderthals and Denisovans may not have had many opportunities to meet. But when they did, they must have mated frequently - much more so than we previously thought," adds Svante Pääbo, Director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the MPI-EVA and lead author of the study.
     
Edited from Popular Archaeology (22 August 2018)

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