Tibetan prehistory, new research


This video says about itself:

14 August 2012

Compare the lives of hunter-gatherers during the Paleolithic Age with the lives of people during the Neolithic Age.

From Science News:

Hunter-gatherers were possibly first to call Tibetan Plateau home

High-altitude foragers moved in long before farmers, new dates indicate

By Bruce Bower

2:00pm, January 5, 2017

People hunted and foraged year-round in the thin air of China’s Tibetan Plateau at least 7,400 to 8,400 years ago, a new study suggests. And permanent settlers of the high-altitude region might even have arrived as early as 12,000 to 13,000 years ago.

Three lines of dating evidence indicate that humans occupied the central Tibetan Plateau’s Chusang site, located more than 4,000 meters above sea level, at least 2,200 years earlier than previously thought, say geologist Michael Meyer of the University of Innsbruck in Austria and colleagues. Their report, published in the Jan. 6 Science, challenges the idea that the Tibetan Plateau lacked permanent settlers until farming groups arrived around 5,200 years ago.

“Hunter-gatherers permanently occupied the Tibetan Plateau by around 8,000 years ago, which coincided with a strong monsoon throughout Asia that created wet conditions on the plateau,” Meyer says.

These early permanent residents hunted animals such as wild yaks and foraged for edible plants, including berries from sea buckthorn shrubs, in nearby river valleys at elevations more than 3,600 meters above sea level, Meyer suspects. Brief, summer forays to Chusang would have been difficult for people living below 3,300 meters above sea level, he adds. Even when mountain passes were clear of heavy snowfall and expanding valley glaciers, round trips from low altitudes to the central Tibetan Plateau would have taken 41 to 70 days, Meyer’s team estimates.

Researchers discovered Chusang in 1998. The site consists of 19 human hand- and footprints on the surface of a fossilized sheet of travertine, a form of limestone deposited there by water from a hot spring.

The new age estimates for Chusang come from three measures:  the decay rate of forms of radioactive thorium and uranium in travertine sampled in and around the prints; determinations of the time since quartz crystals extracted from the travertine were last exposed to sunlight; and radiocarbon measures of sediment and microscopic plant remains found on the travertine slab’s surface.

Signs of long-term camping at Chusang have yet to turn up, but extensive excavations of the site have not been conducted, Meyer says. His group found chipped rocks and other stone tool‒making debris at two spots near Chusang’s hot springs. These finds are undated.

Previous research has suggested that hunter-gatherers occasionally reached the Tibetan Plateau’s northern edge by around 12,000 years ago (SN: 7/7/01, p. 7), and again from about 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, says archaeologist Loukas Barton of the University of Pittsburgh, who wasn’t involved in the study. But the new discoveries at Chusang may not necessarily point to permanent residence there. Those early arrivals likely spent a single summer or a few consecutive years at most on the plateau, Barton says. “That would not constitute a peopling of a region any more than our 1969 visit to the moon did,” he says.

Archaeological finds indicate that human populations expanded on the Tibetan Plateau between around 5,200 and 3,600 years ago, Barton says. Those groups cultivated barley and wheat at high altitudes and herded domesticated sheep and perhaps yaks, he says.

Before that time, Chusang might have supported a year-round occupation, says archaeologist David Rhode of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., who wasn’t involved in the study. But the site could easily have been occupied seasonally, he says. Unlike Meyer, Rhode estimates that Chusang was about a two-week walk from some lower-altitude campsites. “That’s not far at all for a human forager.”

New dates for Chusang also raise the possibility that rare gene variants that aid survival in high-altitude, oxygen-poor locales first evolved among hunter-gatherers on the Tibetan Plateau, Meyer says. But both Barton and Rhode doubt it.

European Ice Age hunter-gatherers destroyed forests


This video says about itself:

1 March 2011

Join a small group of ancient Europeans as they teeter on the brink of annihilation, struggling with the most extreme living conditions anyone has ever faced, from encroaching sheets of ice that swallowed every bit of fertile land to a climate that was, on average, 70 degrees colder than it is today.

For these humans, survival meant more than simply keeping warm; it meant abandoning their hunting and gathering lifestyle and finding a whole new way of living – a way of living that endures to this day. Go back in time 24,000 years to the last Ice Age and watch in awe as Ice World brings this amazing stuggle to life. Through computer graphics and reconstructions, you’ll see how the earth’s climate shifted over time, eventually covering much of North America and Europe with two-mile-thick ice sheets.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Ice Age hunters destroyed forests throughout Europe

28 November 2016

Large-scale forest fires started by prehistoric hunter-gatherers are probably the reason why Europe is not more densely forested. This is the finding of an international team, including climate researcher Professor Jed Kaplan of the University of Lausanne and archaeologist Professor Jan Kolen of Leiden University. Publication on 30 November in PLOS ONE.

Deliberate or negligent

This research has generated new insights on the role of hunters in the formation of the landscape. It may be that during the coldest phase of the last Ice Age, some 20,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers deliberately lit forest fires in an attempt to create grasslands and park-like forests. They probably did this to attract wild animals and to make it easier to gather vegetable food and raw materials; it also facilitated movement. Another possibility is that the large-scale forests and steppe fires may have been the result of the hunters’ negligent use of fire in these semi-open landscapes.

Large-scale impact of humans on landscape

The researchers combined analyses of Ice Age accumulations of silt and computer simulations with new interpretations of archaeological data. They show that hunters throughout Europe, from Spain to Russia, were capable of altering the landscape. This first large-scale impact of humans on landscape and vegetation would have taken place more than 20,000 years before the industrial revolution. The Ice Age is often presented as an era of extreme cold and snow that was ruled by mammoths, bison and giant bears. But the researchers show that humans were also capable of having a significant impact on the landscape.

Layers of ash

Searching for evidence of this human impact explains why there are conflicting reconstructions for this period. Reconstructions of the vegetation based on pollen and plant remains from lakes and marshland suggest that Europe had an open steppe vegetation. But computer simulations based on eight possible climate scenarios show that under natural conditions the landscape in large areas of Europe would have been far more densely forested. The researchers conclude that humans must have been responsible for the difference. Further evidence has been found in the traces of the use of fire in hunting settlements from this period and in the layers of ash in the soil.

Previous Leiden research already suggested human intervention

The team from Lausanne was made up of climate researchers and ecologists Jed Kaplan, Mirjam Pfeiffer and Basil Davis. Archaeologists Jan Kolen and Alexander Verpoorte from Leiden University also worked on the research. An earlier publication by Leiden’s Human Origins research group, that was published in Current Anthropology, had already suggested that hunter-gatherers from the Stone Age may well have modified the natural environment considerably through their use of fire. The new publication in PLOS ONE confirms this hypothesis and may be one of the earliest examples of large-scale human impact on the landscape throughout the whole of Europe.

Medieval plague mass grave discovery in England


This video from England says about itself:

Digging Thornton Abbey Plague Pit

30 November 2016

When our Archaeology students discovered a medieval plague pit buried under the grounds at Thornton Abbey it was a huge surprise – but we weren’t unprepared…

Hugh Wilmott from The University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology takes us around the dig to explain how we understand and record such an incredible find, Diane Swales highlights the ancient DNA analysis lab work into Black Death that can tell us about those who fell to the disease and PhD student Pete Townend shows the 3D and GPS tech that’s helping us locate and map finds.

Read more about our work at Thornton Abbey plague pit on The University of Sheffield website here.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Gruesome evidence of Black Death’s abbey visit

Wednesday 30th November 2016

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have uncovered almost 50 skeletons of Black Death victims — more than half of them children — at a 14th-century monastery in Lincolnshire.

The mass burial pit at Thornton Abbey, near Immingham, is said to be extremely rare. It contained the bones of 48 victims, a team from Sheffield University said yesterday.

The presence of such a large burial site suggests that the community was overwhelmed by pandemic and unable to cope with the number of dead.

The Black Death spread throughout Europe from 1346 to 1353. Estimates of the death toll range from 75 million to 200m people.

The disease is documented to have reached Lincolnshire in 1349.

Ancient Egyptian discoveries in Abydos


This May 2016 video is called The Great Pharaohs of Egypt – The First Pharaohs.

From Archaeology:

Large Mud-Brick Tombs Discovered in Abydos

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

ABYDOS, EGYPT—A cemetery and residential area dating to around the time of Egypt’s First Dynasty (late fourth millennium B.C.) has been discovered in Abydos, according to a report in Egypt Independent. Both are thought to have been used by senior officials tasked with planning tombs for the ancient Egyptian royal family along with the workers who actually built the tombs.

Archaeologists found remains of huts, pottery, and stone tools at the site. Hany Aboul Azm, head of the Central Administration of Upper Egypt, said that 15 large mud-brick tombs had been uncovered, and that their large size underscores the importance of those buried in them. The tombs date to around the time of the establishment of Egypt’s First Dynasty, when Abydos is thought to have been the country’s capital. For more on archaeology in Egypt, go to “‘T’ Marks the Spot.”

So, this new discovery is over 5,000 years old. Many corporate media (eg, here and here) mistakenly claim an age of over 7,000 years.

Here are the most significant Egyptian archaeological discoveries that made waves around the world in 2016.

Ancient Egyptian queens, exhibition


This 9 November 2016 Dutch video is about constructing the Queens of the Nile exhibition at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Exhibition shows luxury and power of Egyptian queens

17 November 2016

The Queens of the Nile exhibition at the National Museum of Antiquities finally affords the wives of the pharoahs the attention they deserve. Thanks to guest curator Olaf Kaper, students and PhD candidates gained valuable experience in museum curating.

History and life at court

Like a child in a sweetshop. That’s how Kaper felt over the past year as he strolled around the world’s most prominent museums on Egypt. Kaper, an egyptologist at Leiden University, was given carte blanche by Leiden’s National Museum of Antiquities to come up with a concept for an exhibition on ancient Egypt. The exhibition had to complement the existing collection, which can be seen from 18 November in a completely new setting at the museum. Why did Kaper opt for ‘Queens of the Nile’? ‘Too little attention has been paid to the wives of the pharoahs, both in science and in the museum world. I wanted to tell their history and show different aspects of life at court.’

Divine status

The exhibition covers a period of some 500 years (1539-1077 BC) and focuses on the five queens of the New Empire: Ahmose Nefertari, Hatsepshut, Tiye, Nefertiti and Nefertari. These women had great political influence and were accorded divine status, Kaper explains. They surrounded themselves with luxury and that’s abundantly clear. The exhibition shows 350 objects, including royal portraits, statues of deities, sumptuous jewellery and valuable accessories such as mirrors set in bronze.

Murder of Ramses III

What does Kaper regard as the prize exhibits? ‘There are so many of them, but two are particularly special: the decorated granite cover of the sarcophagus of Queen Nefertari and a five-metre papyrus. This enormous document is a legal text that describes the conspiracy against and the murder of Pharoah Ramses III by a group of ladies from the harem and a number of officials. It proves that women at that time were by no means happy to accept a subordinate role.’

Students reconstruct the dress of the queens

Kaper carried out new research before the exhibition. Together with students, he reconstructed one of the outfits of the queens. ‘Pharoah Tutankhamun is the only royal whose clothing has been found. There is not a single item of clothing remaining that belonged to the queens, but there are portraits and images of the women from which we were able to reconstruct their dress.’ The result of their search can be seen at the exhibition that includes a mannequin wearing the outfit of a queen, including a stunning gold headdress.

Publications by PhD candidates

‘This exhibition was also an exceptional opportunity for my students and PhD candidates,’ Kaper explains. His students were able to gain research experience and the results of their work can be seen in the museum. Several PhD candidates published an article on their research in the exhibition catalogue. Irene Morfini wrote an article on the artists who constructed the tombs of the kings, and Steffie van Gompel and Petra Hogenboom published on their research on the position of women in Ancient Egypt. Kaper: ‘Thanks to this exhibition, young researchers have also been given a platform. It’s a great example of interaction between the worlds of the museum and academia.’

This is the first major exhibition on the queens of Egypt to be held in the Netherlands. The exhibition will run from 18 November to 17 April 2017. Most of the artefacts are from the Museo Egizio in Turin, the world’s second largest museum on Egypt.

This 17 November 2016 Dutch video is about the Queens of the Nile exhibition at the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden.

Oldest alphabet Hebrew, derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs?


This video says about itself:

How Egypt invented the alphabet – History of Writing Systems #7 (Abjad)

25 September 2015

From Egyptian hieroglyphs to your alphabet, watch these miners turn fancy symbols into simple scratches that were all about the sounds.

First marvel at hieroglyphic inscriptions in the shadow of the great pyramids. Once you grasp how those work (or dismiss their archaic complexities), travel to a cave in the Sinai desert. See those old ornate consonants and determinatives turn into a rushed, simplified alphabet before your very eyes!

But this isn’t where the story of writing ends. A Phoenician merchant asks you to pack up the alphabet and help her trade it around the ancient Mediterranean. See the results of that next time!

From Science News:

Oldest alphabet identified as Hebrew

Controversial claim argues that ancient Israelites turned Egyptian hieroglyphics into letters

By Bruce Bower

8:00am, November 19, 2016

SAN ANTONIO — The world’s earliest alphabet, inscribed on stone slabs at several Egyptian sites, was an early form of Hebrew, a controversial new analysis concludes.

Israelites living in Egypt transformed that civilization’s hieroglyphics into Hebrew 1.0 more than 3,800 years ago, at a time when the Old Testament describes Jews living in Egypt, says archaeologist and epigrapher Douglas Petrovich of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada. Hebrew speakers seeking a way to communicate in writing with other Egyptian Jews simplified the pharaohs’ complex hieroglyphic writing system into 22 alphabetic letters, Petrovich proposed on November 17 at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

“There is a connection between ancient Egyptian texts and preserved alphabets,” Petrovich said.

That’s a highly controversial contention among scholars of the Bible and ancient civilizations. Many argue, despite what’s recounted in the Old Testament, that Israelites did not live in Egypt as long ago as proposed by Petrovich. Biblical dates for the Israelites’ stay in Egypt are unreliable, they say.

Scholars have also generally assumed for more than 150 years that the oldest alphabetic script Petrovich studied could be based on any of a group of ancient Semitic languages. But not enough is known about those tongues to specify one language in particular.

Petrovich’s Hebrew identification for the ancient inscriptions is starved for evidence, said biblical scholar and Semitic language specialist Christopher Rollston of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. There is no way to tell which of many Semitic languages are represented by the early alphabetic system, Rollston contended.

The origins of writing in different parts of the world — including that of the alphabet carved into the Egyptian slabs — have long stimulated scholarly debates (SN: 3/6/93, p. 152). A German scholar identified the ancient Egyptian writing as Hebrew in the 1920s. But he failed to identify many letters in the alphabet, leading to implausible translations that were rejected by researchers.

Petrovich says his big break came in January 2012. While conducting research at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, he came across the word “Hebrews” in a text from 1874 B.C. that includes the earliest known alphabetic letter. According to the Old Testament, Israelites spent 434 years in Egypt, from 1876 B.C. to 1442 B.C.

Petrovich then combined previous identifications of some letters in the ancient alphabet with his own identifications of disputed letters to peg the script as Hebrew. Armed with the entire fledgling alphabet, he translated 18 Hebrew inscriptions from three Egyptian sites.

Several biblical figures turn up in the translated inscriptions, including Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his half-brothers and then became a powerful political figure in Egypt, Joseph’s wife Asenath and Joseph’s son Manasseh, a leading figure in a turquoise-mining business that involved yearly trips to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt, is also mentioned, Petrovich says.

One inscription, dated to 1834 B.C., translates as “Wine is more abundant than the daylight, than the baker, than a nobleman.” This statement probably meant that, at that time or shortly before, drink was plentiful, but food was scarce, Petrovich suspects. Israelites, including Joseph and his family, likely moved to Egypt during a time of famine, when Egyptians were building silos to store food, he suggests.

A book by Petrovich detailing his analyses of the ancient inscriptions will be published within the next few months. Petrovich says the book definitively shows that only an early version of Hebrew can make sense of the Egyptian inscriptions.