3.3-million-year-old stone tools discovery in Kenya


This video says about itself:

3.3-Million-Year-Old Stone Tools Found in Kenya

30 April 2015

Archaeologists find stone tools used by early human ancestors in Kenya that predate the oldest known tools found in Ethiopia by some 700,000 years.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Stone tool discovery pushes back dawn of culture by 700,000 years

Finding overturns idea that tool-making ability was unique to our own ancestors and is hailed as a “new beginning to the known archaeological record”

Hannah Devlin, science correspondent

Wednesday 20 May 2015 18.00 BST

The oldest known stone tools, dating to long before the emergence of modern humans, have been discovered in Africa.

The roughly-hewn stones, which are around 3.3 million years old, have been hailed by scientists as a “new beginning to the known archaeological record” and push back the dawn of culture by 700,000 years.

The discovery overturns the mainstream view that the ability to make stone tools was unique to our own ancestors and that it was one of a handful of traits that made early humans so special.

The new artefacts, found in Kenya’s Turkana basin, suggest that a variety [of] ancient apes were making similar advances in parallel across the African continent.

“It just rewrites the book on a lot of things that we thought were true,” said Chris Lepre, a geologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University, who precisely dated the tools.

The Homo genus, from which modern humans descend, only emerged around 2.5 million years ago, when forests gave way to open grassland environments in Africa. Until now, it was widely assumed that environmental changes around this time triggered the shift towards a bipedal hunter-gatherer life style.

Jason Lewis, of Stony Brook University in New York and a co-author, said: “The idea was that our lineage alone took the cognitive leap of hitting stones together to strike off sharp flakes and that this was the foundation of our evolutionary success. This discovery challenges the idea that the main characters that make us human, such as making stone tools, eating more meat, maybe using language, all evolved at once in a punctuated way, near the origins of the genus Homo.”

The question of what, or whom, might have made the tools remains a mystery, but fossils from around the same period found at the site provide some clues.

The skull of a 3.3-million-year-old hominin, Kenyanthropus platytops [sic; K. platyops] , was found in 1999 about a kilometre from the tool site and a skull fragment and tooth from the same species were found just a few hundred metres away.

Other species from the same era include Australopithecus afarensis, which the famous Lucy fossil belongs to.

Professor Fred Spoor, a palaeontologist at University College London and part of the team that discovered K. platytops [sic; platyops], said the tools were “a very important find”. “Until now the thinking’s been that if you want to be part of this special club ‘Homo’, you need to be a tool-maker,” he said. “The period before three million years ago was seen as a rather boring period of evolution, but now we know there was stuff happening.”

Until now, hominins such as Australopithecus, from the earlier time period have been caricatured as “upright, bipedal chimpanzees that were just grazing the landscape with not much else going on,” he added.

To the untrained eye, the tools look unremarkable – barely distinguishable from ordinary rocks. But to scientists familiar with early humans, the hallmarks of tool-making were obvious. “I could immediately see the scars and features characteristic of a knapped stone,” said Sonia Harmand, of Stony Brook, who made the discovery.

Professor Spoor and others who have examined the collection of tools have been impressed by the quality of the evidence.

“This is a momentous and well-researched discovery,” said paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University, who was not involved in the study. “I have seen some of these artefacts in the flesh, and I am convinced they were fashioned deliberately.”

The collection of several dozen tools appears to have been made by two different techniques. In one case, a core stone was held on an anvil and hit from above with a hammer stone to chip off sharp flakes, which the scientists believe could have been used to slice meat and plants. Other stones appear to have been held in two hands and struck against the anvil, again producing slices of stone.

Although the end results appear primitive, they demonstrate a degree of mental sophistication that is unexpected for such early hominins. Modern chimpanzees use natural stones as “tools” to crack nuts, for instance, but they stop short of actively fashioning their own tools.

The researchers relied on a layer of volcanic ash below the tools, which matched ash elsewhere that had been dated to 3.3 million years ago, to set a “floor” on the site’s age. The date was then refined by analysing magnetic minerals at the site, which contain a record of the Earth’s periodically switching magnetic field.

The findings are published today in the journal Nature.

See also here.

Neglected Egyptian influences on ancient Rome


Roman obelisque, showing a pharaoh with a Roman helmetTranslated from Leiden university in the Netherlands:

Ancient Roman culture more multicultural than thought

The ancient Roman material culture appears to be influenced more by other cultures than was previously assumed. In Rome plenty of elements such as images of Egyptian pharaohs were integrated, says archaeologist Marike van Aerde. PhD ceremony April 23rd.

Multiculturalism was normal

From the Romans from the period of Emperor Augustus (27 BC -14 AD) it was already known that they took elements of Greek and Hellenistic culture. They did this for instance in pottery, jewelry and buildings. The study by Marike van Aerde show that they did this also with aspects of Egyptian culture.

Van Aerde: “They did not only take these elements, they really integrated them.” Eg, Van Aerde found a picture of a pharaoh with a Roman helmet on an obelisk made in Rome. “This integration demonstrates that multiculturalism in Augustan Rome was normal. Egypt was from 30 BC on a Roman province, but the Roman material culture did not treat the Egyptian culture as inferior.”

Illegible hieroglyphics

Van Aerde analyzed nearly two hundred objects unearthed in Rome like pottery and jewelry. Much of this came from museums, including the British Museum. The archaeologist also participated in excavations. She also looked at public monuments and murals. She found many Egyptian figurative scenes and architectural and decorative elements. She found at the Sallustiano obelisk previously undiscovered illegible hieroglyphics. “This was actually a strange multicultural mix, but it did not surprise the Romans probably. They used Egyptian influences as a way to enhance their status. It improved one’s status to be multicultural.”

Terracotta panel depicting the Egyptian goddess Isis and two sphinxes, in a Roman-Hellenistic style

Museums move objects

Roman glass depicting an Egyptian head. Copyright the Trustees of The British MuseumSome Roman objects looked at first sight so Egyptian that people thought that the Romans had taken them from Egypt, Van Aerde says. She included an analysis of a number of fragments of Roman cameo glass, which consist of two or more layers in contrasting colors. They proved to be of Roman manufacture and date from the Augustan period. Van Aerde “Some museums have on these insights moved these objects from the Egyptian to the Roman departments. A perspective shift is needed. We are used to stick a label on everything: this is Greek, this is Roman, this is Egyptian. My research shows that one cannot always make such a distinction.”

(April 23, 2015 – CR)

‘Hunting dogs made Neanderthals extinct’


This video says about itself:

Neanderthal: Episode 1 – Evolution History Documentary

16 August 2014

Discovery Channel presents Neanderthal, a two-part, two-hour production documenting the experiences of a small clan of Neanderthals living in the Dordogne region of France at one of the most important junctures in human evolution.

Neanderthal is the story of the rise and demise of one the most successful human species ever to have walked the earth. A species that thrived – until modern man came along. Produced as a compelling drama following the lives of one group of Neanderthals, the special draws on cutting-edge scientific research that challenges the stereotype of the brutish savage.

The Observer: “Easily the year’s most exciting TV science programme… handled with such panache it’s impossible not to be drawn into the tribe’s strange, grim existence.”

This video is the sequel.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Humans eradicated Neanderthal rivals thanks to early dogs bred from wolves

Humans bred wolves to help them hunt in Europe 40,000 years ago

Ben Tufft

Sunday 01 March 2015

Humans were able to eradicate their Neanderthal rivals in Europe thanks to early dogs bred from wolves, according to a prominent American anthropologist.

Dogs were used by humans to gain a competitive edge in hunting that led to the extinction of Neanderthals on the continent 40,000 years ago, Professor Pat Shipman of Pennsylvania State University claims.

“We formed an alliance with the wolf and that would have been the end for the Neanderthal,” Prof Shipman told The Observer.

Her theory challenges the conventional academic wisdom that wolves were only domesticated a mere 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the rise of agriculture.

The professor believes that wolves were bred by humans as early as 70,000 years ago, when humans first came to Europe from Africa – leading to the domestic dogs we know today.

The theory would solve the mystery of why the dominant Neanderthals in Europe died out a few thousand years after the arrival of humans on the continent, despite having lived in the region for more than 200,000 years.

Prof Shipman argues that the alliance with the wolf, along with superior weapons and hunting skills, enabled humans to outwit their Neanderthal rivals and become the dominant species.

“Early wolf-dogs would have tracked and harassed animals like elk and bison and would have hounded them until they tired. Then humans would have killed them with spears or bows and arrows,” Prof Shipman said.

“This meant the dogs did not need to approach these large cornered animals to finish them off – often the most dangerous part of a hunt – while humans didn’t have to expend energy in tracking and wearing down prey.

“Dogs would have done that. Then we shared the meat. It was a win-win situation,” she added.

A study published last year found that modern humans and Neanderthals lived alongside each other in Europe for 4,000 years, exchanging culture and genes.

In Asia humans and Neanderthals could have lived side by side for up to 20,000 years, as anatomically modern humans colonised the continent long before reaching Europe.

The last Neanderthals in Europe are thought to have died out in modern-day Belgium, where they lived in caves as their numbers dwindled.

Most scientists believe that Neanderthals quickly died out after the arrival of Homo sapiens to Europe, owing to competition for resources and possibly violent conflict.

Archaeological research in Leiden inner city


This video is called History of the Faculty of Archaeology in Leiden.

Leiden in the Netherlands is quite old. Early in the Middle Ages, there was a burgrave’s castle and a village along the Rhine river. In 1266, it became a city.

During the first months of 2015, there will be digging in the inner city of Leiden, to put underground waste containers in the holes. These underground waste containers replace waste bags which are vulnerable to damage by herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls nesting in the city.

The digging for the containers is an opportunity for archaelogists. In 26 of the inner city holes, archaeologists will look for new discoveries in Leiden medieval history.

A map of places where there will be archaeological research is here.