Ancient settlements discovery in Peruvian Andes


Stone tools found at Cuncaicha and Pucuncho sites in Peru. Image credit: Kurt Rademaker et al.

From Sci-News:

Archaeologists Discover Two 12,000-Year-Old High-Altitude Settlements in Peru

Oct 24, 2014

Archaeologists from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Peru, have discovered two ancient settlements in the Pucuncho Basin in the southern Peruvian Andes – named Cuncaicha and Pucuncho – which they say are the highest-altitude Pleistocene archaeological sites yet identified in the world.

One scientific theory about high altitude colonization suggests that people cannot live in high altitudes until genetic adaptation occurs, like the sort we find in Andean people today.

Andeans have genetically adapted to their high altitude environment.

Key differences in the Andean people include a higher metabolic rate, larger lung capacity and higher hemoglobin concentrations then the average person, all of which allow them to overcome a lack of oxygen.

“Was this adaptation present 12,000 years ago? We don’t know for certain,” said Dr Sonia Zarrillo of the University of Calgary, who is a co-author of the paper published in the journal Science.

The first site Dr Zarrillo and her colleagues discovered, Cuncaicha, is a rock shelter at 4.5 km above sea level, with a stone-tool workshop below it.

According to the archaeologists, it was occupied about 12,400-11,500 years ago.

The second site, Pucuncho, is an ancient workshop where stone tools were made at 4.4 km above sea level. It dates to around 12,800-11,500 years ago.

“We don’t know if people were living there year round, but we strongly suspect they were not just going there to hunt for a few days, then leaving. There were possibly even families living at these sites, because we’ve found evidence of a whole range of activities,” Dr Zarrillo said.

“Climatic conditions in both sites are harsh, with factors including low-oxygen, extreme cold and high levels of solar radiation making life in the region a challenge for any humans.”

She added: “our team hiked up to three or four hours to get to these sites. That was a climb, carrying all of our gear, camp equipment and food. And it freezes every night. Sometimes it snows. These are incredibly hard sites to access.”

Archaeological evidence found at the sites includes signs of habitation such as human skull fragments, animal remains and stone tools.

The Pucuncho site yielded 260 stone tools, such as projectile points, bifaces and unifacial scrapers. The Cuncaicha rock shelter contains a “robust, well-preserved and well-dated occupation sequence.”

“Most of the stone tools at Cuncaicha were made from locally available obsidian, andesite and jasper, and are indicative of hunting and butchering consistent with limited subsistence options on the plateau. In addition to plant remains, bones at the site indicate hunting of vicuña and guanaco camelids and the taruca deer,” the scientists said.

“At Cuncaicha we found remains representing whole animals. The types of stone tools we’ve found are not only hunting tools but also scraping tools used for processing hides to make things like clothing, bags or blankets,” Dr Zarrillo said.

Dutch seventeenth century shipwreck discovery in Caribbean


Map of the Battle of Scarborough Harbour, 1677

From the University of Connecticut in the USA:

UConn Archaeologist Discovers 17th-century Shipwreck

October 21, 2014

By: Sheila Foran

The Dutch ship Huis de Kreuningen went to her watery grave on March 3, 1677. But until a team led by University of Connecticut professor and maritime archaeologist Kroum Batchvarov found her this past summer in the waters of the southern Caribbean, no one knew precisely where that grave was.

Batchvarov, assistant professor of maritime archaeology in UConn’s Department of Anthropology, is an internationally known researcher specializing in 17th-century ship building and maritime archaeology. He is leading a multi-phased investigation to find and study the remains of 16 vessels that were sunk in a fierce battle that took place in what is now known as Scarborough Harbour in the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.

The battle was fought between the invading French and the Dutch, who controlled the island of Tobago at that time. Although often overlooked by students of maritime history, the confrontation was significant, both in terms of the number of lives lost and the damage done to both fleets.

Earlier this year, Batchvarov and his team were conducting a remote sensing survey in the Harbour when they picked up some promising signals. An exploratory dive struck pay dirt.

“To find what we believe to be the Huis de Kreuningen – almost by accident, as she was outside the boundaries where we expected to find her – undiscovered and untouched for over 300 years was an exciting moment,” Batchvarov says.

His research team went on to survey and map the wreck over the summer.

The find is a significant source of information for the maritime history of the period. “Although we have some written records of the battle itself, we possess no detailed plans of 17th-century warships,” Batchvarov says, “so our only sources of information about the ships of the day are the wrecks themselves. It isn’t overstatement to say that what has been discovered is a treasure trove for archaeological researchers.”

What is known about the battle is that all told, 2,000 people, including 250 Dutch women and children and 300 African slaves, were killed. In addition to the Huis de Kreuningen, which was the largest ship in the Dutch fleet, the flagship of French Vice Admiral Comte D’Estrée – the Glorieux – was also sunk and all but 80 of the 450 men aboard were lost. In the end, the Dutch lost more vessels, but they succeeded in repelling the French landing party and retained possession of the island.

Batchvarov says although his team didn’t find much of the hull structure intact, they have found a wealth of other material, including nine canons; Delft and Bellarmine pottery jars that date to the third quarter of the 17th century; lead shot that was never fired; dozens of Dutch smoking pipes; and bricks that perfectly match the specifications of bricks made in the Dutch city of Leiden in 1647.

The Huis de Kreuningen, though the largest in the Dutch fleet at 39.6 meters in length and 9.62 meters in breadth, was only about three quarters of the size of her French foe, the much newer and better armed Glorieux. With only 56 guns to her opponent’s 72, and with a crew of 129 instead of her full complement of 290 sailors aboard, existing records of the battle report that she put up a valiant fight until her captain either cut her anchor cables so she would run aground, or set her afire – accounts vary – in order to avoid capture.

Another benefit of the project is the opportunity it provides for students to participate in Batchvarov’s ongoing research. Students enrolled in maritime studies at UConn’s Avery Point campus, the only undergraduate program in the country with a maritime archaeology minor, have a singular opportunity.

On this summer’s trip to Tobago, Mark Wegiel ’15 (CLAS), a former Navy diver, took part in the exploration of the Huis de Kreuningen. With plans for doing graduate work in anthropology with a concentration in maritime archaeology, Wegiel says the dive in Scarborough Harbor gave him a new perspective.

“I had plenty of experience as a diver during my years in the Navy,” he says, “but having the chance to take part in surveying and mapping the wreck and being introduced first hand to the techniques of archaeological exploration was something new and exciting. As an undergraduate, I couldn’t have gotten this experience anywhere else.”

Permission to excavate the shipwrecks in and around Scarborough Harbour has been granted by the Tobago House of Assembly to the Rockley Bay Research Project, which is supported by the University of Connecticut and the Institute of Nautical Archaeology of the United States.

Artifacts and other items found in the shipwrecks are the property of Tobago and will eventually be displayed on the island. Excavation is expected to take three to five years.

In addition to his work in Tobago, Batchvarov is one of the world’s leading experts on the Swedish warship, Vasa, which sank in Stockholm Harbor in 1628. He has worked on Ottoman, Greek, and Phoenician ships, and has recently been invited to participate in an international collaboration that will study ships of state from 1300 to 1800. Batchvarov will concentrate on 17th-century shipbuilding technology development. The only person to have successfully excavated a Black Sea shipwreck, he is also involved in an international collaborative study of the Black Sea littoral zone – or shoreline to the high-water mark – that will concentrate on human adaptation to sea changes from the Upper Paleolithic era to the 19th century. The University of Connecticut is the only non-European institution invited to participate in these important endeavors.

Nazi Sobibor concentration camp gas chambers excavated


This video is called Hidden Gas Chambers Uncovered At Sobibor Concentration Camp.

By Elisabeth Zimmermann:

Excavation of gas chamber at Nazi Sobibor concentration camp completed

16 October 2014

With the assistance of supporters, archaeologists Yoram Haimi from Israel and Wojciech Mazurek from Poland have excavated the remains of the gas chamber at the Nazi Sobibor concentration camp near Lublin, near the eastern Polish border, as Spiegel Online reported on September 23.

In a clearing near the old Sobibor train station, one can see the newly discovered finds and remains of the walls. It includes the remains of an estimated four gas chambers, each 5 by 7 metres, which served as death chambers for between 70 and 100 people. Haimi and Mazurek hope that their findings will make the Nazi crimes at Sobibor more comprehensible. The Nazis destroyed the concentration camp 71 years ago, after SS officers and their allies had murdered between 170,000 and 250,000 people, mostly defenceless Jews and Roma.

The Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinca concentration camps were designed to carry out the systematic extermination of Jews and Roma living in the “General Government,” which was composed of those parts of Ukraine and Poland occupied by the Wehrmacht. Jews from the Netherlands, Germany and other states were also murdered there.

From the outset, the concentration camps were purely extermination camps. Only a small number of the people sent there were employed in forced labour. Most were driven directly from the goods wagons to the gas chambers.

In the three camps, between July 1942 and October 1943, at least 1.7 million Jews and 50,000 Roma were killed, more than in Auschwitz-Birkenau, which became the synonym for industrial mass murder. The implementation of the mass murder, code-named “Operation Rheinhardt,” was tasked to the SS and the police chief in Lublin, Odilo Globocnik, by SS leader Heinrich Himmler.

According to Spiegel Online, the Nazis ensured that no trace was left of Operation Rheinhardt. In the midst of the war, the war criminals, following the extermination of the Jews, sought to methodically eliminate all remaining traces of them. Between November 1942 and December 1943 they exhumed bodies, killed almost all remaining residents of the three concentration camps in eastern Poland, and burnt all of the remains of bodies.

Plans and documents referring to the camps were also destroyed, as well as the buildings. The grounds were flattened, forests planted and farms established. As few traces as possible of the monstrous crimes planned and carried out within the framework of Operation Rheinhardt were to be left.

Only very few people survived the three concentration camps. On October 14, 1943, 50 prisoners launched an uprising and broke out from Sobibor and survived the remainder of the ongoing war. In Treblinka, where 800,000 people were murdered, only around 60 survived. In Belzec, more than 430,000 were killed and only eight survived.

The excavations were initiated by the Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi, who came as a visitor to Sobibor in April 2007 to pay tribute to his two uncles who died there. “At that time the museum was closed,” he said. “There were monuments to see, but nothing that showed where and how the murders were carried out.”

He decided he would look for the remains of Sobibor himself and in the Polish archaeologist Wojciech Mazurek he founded an equally engaged partner for the project. Together they fought to obtain the necessary financing and authorisations from the authorities.

Already in 2010, next to the square with the monument, the archaeologists discovered remains of security barriers. One year later, they discovered the so-called “route to heaven,” along which the new arrivals were driven to the gas chambers. “It was quite clear to us that the gas chambers would be at the end,” Haimi told Spiegel Online.

But at first they could go no further. The memorial faced closure. Due to a lack of money, the visitors’ centres had to be temporarily closed. Then the foundation for Polish-German reconciliation and the Majdanik State Museum took over responsibility for the grounds.

Haimi and Mazurek continued their excavation and found remains from barriers, barracks, crematoriums, as well as skeletons. The Rabbi of Warsaw gave them authorisation to remove the tarmac from the suspected site of the mass grave.

On September 8 this year, the archaeologists discovered remains of walls of red brick. Everything pointed to the conclusion that they were standing on the remains of the gas chamber. The area was between the “route to heaven,” the crematorium and the remains of a barracks of the “special commando unit,” as well as a water hole. Experts from Auschwitz confirmed the find.

The discovery was of “the greatest importance for Holocaust research,” said David Silberklang, historian at the Yad Washem memorial in Jerusalem. He expected that it would become possible to provide a more accurate estimate of the victims, and know more precisely about how the murders had taken place.

Traces of Jewish life were also found during the excavations at Sobibor, such as an earring with the engraving, “see, you are dear to me,” and a metal plaque with the date of the birth of the then six-year-old Lea Judith de la Penha from Amsterdam. As a result of this find, a television crew from the Netherlands are to film a documentary about the story of the child and her family. At least some of the victims of Sobibor will thereby be recognised.

Eighty-four-year-old Philip Bialowitz, one of the few living survivors from Sobibor, responded with satisfaction to the excavation finds. As a youth, he had belonged to the group of conspirators who planned the Sobibor uprising of October 14, 1943.

He was able to escape and was taken in and concealed along with his brother by a Polish farmer until the Red Army arrived. He had spent his life travelling the world, “because I swore that I would tell my story to young people as long as I am able. What happened back then should never be forgotten.”

Another survivor of the Sobibor camp, and participant in the 1943 uprising, was Thomas Blatt. He turned his recollections of the period into a book titled, “Sobibor, the forgotten uprising.”

Both Philip Bialowitz and Thomas Blatt appeared as witnesses and joint plaintiffs in January 2010 during the trial of SS helper John Demjanjuk in Munich. They described the terrible experiences they had as forced labourers in Sobibor.

The historian of Munich’s Institute of Contemporary History, Dieter Pohl, presented a report to the court. He described the establishment of the National Socialists’ system for exterminating Jews in the areas of Eastern Europe occupied by the Nazis, and the emergence of the extermination camps, including Sobibor. Since May 1942, Jews from throughout Europe had been systematically murdered in this camp in Poland, Pohl told the court. “The sole aim was murder.” The leadership of the camp was composed of 25 to 30 SS soldiers, while the dirty work was carried out by 100-120 so-called Trawnicki guards, Demjanjuk among them.

Although the trial of Demjanjuk shed light on the crimes of National Socialism, it left many decisive questions unanswered. Dumjanjuk died shortly after his conviction in May 2011, before the sentence of five years imprisonment for assisting in the murder of 28,000 Jews in Sobibor went into force.

A major problem in the trial of Demjanjuk was that most of those chiefly responsible for the Nazi crimes and those who assisted them were never brought before the courts in post-war Germany. Many of those responsible in the judiciary, intelligence services and police continued to be active in the federal republic without interruption, and without being held to account for their actions.

In the 1960s and 1970s, only half of the SS men prosecuted in the Sobibor trials were convicted. The camp’s chief at the time received a life-long custodial sentence, and the others imprisonment of between three and eight years.

Viking treasure discovery in Scotland


This video says about itself:

Metal detectorist finds Britain’s biggest ever haul of Viking treasure

12 October 2014

The largest haul of Viking treasure ever found in Britain has been unearthed by a metal detector enthusiast, it was revealed today.The discovery was found on Church of Scotland land after the detectorist painstakingly searched the unidentified area in Dumfries and Galloway for more than a year.

From STV in Scotland:

‘Significant’ Viking treasure found in Dumfries and Galloway

12 October 2014 12:31 BST

A hoard of Viking treasure found in Dumfries and Galloway has been described one of the most significant archaeological finds [in] Scottish history.

Early indication suggest there are over 100 artefacts, comprising several gold objects.

The hoard also included a complete metal vessel containing more objects. This has not yet been emptied and the first step will be to examine its contents by x-ray techniques.

Experts have begun to examine the finds, but it is already clear that this is one of the most significant Viking hoards ever discovered in Scotland.

Head of the Treasure Trove Unit Stuart Campbell, who is overseeing the recovery and assessment of the find, said: “This is a very important and significant find and has required the close cooperation of Historic Scotland with Treasure Trove Unit and National Museums Scotland staff to recover the fascinating items it contains.

“Due to the quantity and variety of the objects, and the importance of the find overall, it will take some time for experts to assess the hoard as a whole so that we can appreciate its true significance.

“We look forward to learning more.”

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs said: “The Vikings were well known for having raided these shores in the past, but today we can appreciate what they have left behind, with this wonderful addition to Scotland’s cultural heritage.

“It’s clear that these artefacts are of great value in themselves, but their greatest value will be in what they can contribute to our understanding of life in early medieval Scotland, and what they tell us about the interaction between the different peoples in these islands at that time.

“The Dumfries hoard opens a fascinating window on a formative period in the story of Scotland and just goes to show how important our archaeological heritage in Scotland continues to be.

“As ever, the Scottish Government will work to facilitate and support the discovery, analysis and exhibiting of finds like this, for the benefit of people here and abroad. With that in mind I would like to echo the praise for the responsible behaviour of the metal detectorists: without their continued cooperation this would not be possible.”

The location of the find is not being revealed. The Scottish Government, Treasure Trove Unit and Historic Scotland are all involved in ensuring the area is properly protected while the full historical significance of the site is established.

World’s oldest art discovered in Indonesia


This video about Sulawesi in Indonesia is called Cave art in the tropics.

From Nature:

World’s oldest art found in Indonesian cave

Analysis of images discovered in 1950s counters Eurocentric view of creativity’s origins.

David Cyranoski

8 October 2014

Artwork in an Indonesian cave has been found to date back at least 40,000 years, making it the oldest sign yet of human creative art — likely pre-dating art from European caves.

The findings, published on 8 October in Nature, undermine a Eurocentric view of the origins of human creativity and could prompt a ‘gold rush’ to find even older art on the route of human migration from Africa to the east.

The analysis hints at “just what a wealth of undiscovered information there is in Asia”, says Alistair Pike, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton, UK, who in 2013 identified what had been considered the world’s oldest cave art, in Europe, and had no involvement in the current project. “This paper will likely prompt a hunt.”

The Indonesian images, discovered in a limestone cave on the island of Sulawesi in the 1950s, had previously been thought to date back only 10,000 years. Anything older would, it was assumed, have deteriorated.

Even after a technology that could test that assumption, uranium-thorium dating, became available, no one thought to apply it to the Indonesian cave — until now. Though the paint itself cannot be dated, uranium-thorium dating can estimate the age of the bumpy layers of calcium carbonate (known as ‘cave popcorn’) that formed on the surface of the paintings. As mineral layers are deposited, they draw in uranium. Because uranium decays into thorium at a known rate, the ratio of uranium to thorium isotopes in a sample indicates how old it is.

The researchers dated 12 stencils of human hands and two images of large animals. Because they sampled the top layer of calcium carbonate, the uranium dating technique gave them a minimum age for each sample.

They found that the oldest stencil was at least 39,900 years old — 2,000 years older than the minimum age of the oldest European hand stencil. An image of a babirusa, or ‘pig-deer’, resembling an aubergine with stick-like legs jutting from each end, was estimated to be 35,400 years old — around the same age as the earliest large animal pictures in European caves.

This video from Sulawesi says about itself:

17 December 2013

A Video about the Babirusa in its natural habitat, the Paguyaman Forest. Other animals such as Heck’s macaque, reticulated python, water monitor lizard, oriental whipsnake, Gunther’s keelback and various birds like knobbed hornbill or emerald dove are also shown.

The Nature article continues:

The hand stencils look similar to those found in Europe. But the animal pictures, in addition to reflecting local animals rather than mammoths as in Europe, are stylistically different. The Indonesian images “look ‘line-y’, almost like brush strokes”, says Pike, whereas early European images “look dabbed, almost like finger paint”.

“It allows us to move away from the view that Europe was special,” says Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, who led the team. “There was some idea that early Europeans were more aware of themselves and their surroundings. Now we can say that’s not true.”

Researchers posit two theories for the evolution of such artwork — either it arose independently in Indonesia, or early humans leaving Africa already had the capacity to make art, and carried it to multiple areas.

Pike thinks that researchers should seek evidence of art along the southern migration route. “India is the most obvious place to look,” he says. “I expect we’ll start getting a lot more photos [of images covered in calcium carbonate] from along that corridor from people who want to date them. This may move the field along very rapidly.” Southeast Asia will also be raked over, he predicts. There are hundreds more caves in that region of Sulawesi alone, and Aubert has also started looking in Borneo.

The discovery weakens a much-debated theory that Neanderthals, who were present in Europe until around 41,000 years ago, might have been responsible for the cave art there. “There were no Neanderthals in Sulawesi,” says Pike. But the hand stencils and choice of subject are very similar to the Indonesian figures, he adds.

Aubert hopes that the discovery might draw attention to the need to protect the caves, many of which have been damaged by mining and other industrial activity. Many of the paintings are flaking off, he says. He hopes that the site might finally, after years of candidacy, be designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Education, Social and Cultural Organization, which would accelerate conservation efforts.

See also here.

Ancient Egyptian mummy new skull discovery


This video is called Unknown Man ‘E': The Most Mysterious Mummy in the World (Ancient Egypt History Documentary).

From Archaeology magazine:

Vascular Prints Discovered in Egyptian Mummy’s Skull

Monday, September 29, 2014

BARCELONA, SPAIN—Imprints from the blood vessels surrounding the brain have been found inside the skull of a 2,000-year-old mummy from Egypt’s Kom al-Ahmar/Sharuna necropolis. The inside of the man’s skull had been coated with a preservative during the mummification process that captured the extremely fragile structures with “exquisite anatomical details,” Albert Isidro of the Hospital Universitari Sagrat Cor told Live Science.

The brain was usually removed by Egyptian embalmers. “The conditions in this case must have been quite extraordinary,” Isidro and his team explained. Their complete report has been published in the journal Cortex. For more on recent research into Egyptian mummies, see ARCHAEOLOGY’s news brief “Well Preserved Mummies Found in the Valley of the Kings.”