Stone age monkeys and humans

This video says about itself:

13 October 2016

Clip of capuchin stone on stone percussion and licking of passive hammer associated with capuchin grooming.

Credit: M. Haslam and the Primate Archaeology Group (University of Oxford)

From Science News:

Wild monkeys throw curve at stone-tool making‘s origins

Unlike early hominids, capuchins don’t use sharp-edged rocks to dig or cut

By Bruce Bower

1:00pm, October 19, 2016

A group of South American monkeys has rocked archaeologists’ assumptions about the origins of stone-tool making.

Wild bearded capuchin monkeys in Brazil use handheld stones to whack rocks poking out of cliffs and outcrops. The animals unintentionally break off sharp-edged stones that resemble stone tools made by ancient members of the human evolutionary family, say archaeologist Tomos Proffitt of the University of Oxford and his colleagues. It’s the first observation of this hominid-like rock-fracturing ability in a nonhuman primate.

The new finding indicates that early hominids needed no special mental ability, no fully opposable thumbs and not even any idea of what they were doing to get started as toolmakers, the researchers report October 19 in Nature. All it may have taken was a penchant for skillfully pounding rocks, as displayed by capuchins when cracking open nuts (SN Online: 4/30/15).

Archaeologists have traditionally thought that ancient stone tools appeared as hominid brains enlarged and hand grips became more humanlike.

“Without the intention of making a stone tool, and with the right rock types, capuchins produce objects that are shaped like stone tools,” says University of Oxford primatologist and archaeologist Susana Carvalho, who did not participate in the new study. She suspects the earliest known stone tools were made either by relatively small-brained hominids or, perhaps in some cases, nonhuman primates. “This is not a wild idea anymore.”

The oldest known hominid stone artifacts — a set of pounding rocks and sharp-edged stone flakes — date to 3.3 million years ago in East Africa (SN: 6/13/15, p. 6). Those tools display more elaborate modifications than observed on sharp-edged capuchin creations, Proffitt says. But researchers suspect simpler hominid tools go back 4 million years or more.  Those implements might have looked more like what the South American monkeys make, he speculates.

Three capuchins tracked during an episode of rock pounding did not use fractured pieces of sharp stone to cut, scrape or dig up anything. Observations of nearly 100 rounds of rock pounding show that the monkeys sometimes recycled stone flakes as rock-pounding tools. They also often licked or sniffed powdered stone produced as they pounded rocks. Perhaps capuchins want to ingest the trace nutrient silicon, which assists in bone growth, or find lichens for some medicinal purpose, Proffitt suggests.

His team studied 60 stone fragments left behind by capuchins after rock-pounding episodes and another 51 capuchin-modified stones found in two excavations where rock pounding occurred. These artifacts included complete and broken pounding stones, stone flakes and stones that had been struck by rock-wielding monkeys.

Capuchin stone flakes are smaller and contain fewer fractured areas than ancient hominid tools, such as the 3.3-million-year-old East African finds, says archaeologist David Braun of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. But sharp-edged stones produced by the monkeys display “remarkable similarity” to artifacts from a nearby Brazilian site that some researchers think were made by humans more than 20,000 years ago (SN: 10/18/14, p. 14), Braun says. Researchers now must determine whether stone artifacts found at several South American sites dating to more than 14,000 years ago were made by humans or monkeys, he suggests.

Capuchin rock smashers’ inadvertently sharpened debris also raises questions about how hominids started making tools in the first place. Techniques for using one stone to pound away pieces of another stone, creating a rock with smooth faces bordered by razor-sharp edges, “could have been invented independently in different hominid species through [stone-pounding] behaviors we have yet to identify,” Proffitt says.

Those initial tools may have resembled capuchins’ accidentally sharpened stones or even rocks used by chimpanzees to crack nuts, says archaeologist Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University in New York. But only hominids, and especially humans, went on to make more sophisticated stone tools and, later, everything from smart phones to space stations, says Harmand, who led the team that discovered the 3.3-million-year-old hominid tools.

Ancient Jewish scroll now legible

This video says about itself:

How to open an ancient scroll without touching it | Science News

21 September 2016

Researchers describe the digital steps it took to unwrap a charred, roughly 1,700-year-old scroll and read its ancient Biblical text.

Credit: Seth Parker, Univ. of Kentucky.

From Science News:

Digital rehab exposes Biblical roots of ancient Israeli scroll

Virtual unwrapping reveals Hebrew text inside fragile artifact

by Bruce Bower

2:00pm, September 21, 2016

Researchers have digitally unwrapped and read an ancient Hebrew scroll that’s so charred it can’t be touched without falling apart. It turns out the document contains the oldest known Biblical text outside of the roughly 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls, the investigators say.

Archaeologists discovered the scroll’s remnants in a synagogue’s holy ark during a 1970 excavation in Israel of En-Gedi, a Jewish community destroyed by fire around 600.

In a series of digital steps, slices from a 3-D scan of the En-Gedi scroll were analyzed to bring letters and words into relief on a pieced-together, virtual page. Those images revealed passages from the book of Leviticus written in ink on the scroll’s disintegrating sheets. Radiocarbon results date the scroll to approximately 300, making it the earliest copy of an Old Testament book ever found in a holy ark, scientists report September 21 in Science Advances.

This computerized recovery and conservation process can now be used to retrieve other ancient documents “from the brink of oblivion,” the researchers say.

How to read a book without opening it. Radiation technique can aid studies of ancient texts. By Emily Conover, 6:00am, October 19, 2016: here.

2,000-year-old skeleton found in Greek shipwreck

This video, recorded in Greece, says about itself:

The famous shipwreck that brought us the mysterious Antikythera mechanism has revealed a new secret: a two thousand year old human skeleton. The team hopes to extract DNA from the skull – a feat never attempted before on bones this old that have been underwater.

Read Nature‘s news article here.

Read about the Return to Antikythera project here.

19th September 2016

See also here.

World’s oldest fishhooks discovered

World's oldest fishhooks, photo National Academy of Sciences

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Fishhooks, oldest in the world, found in Japan

18 September 2016

Archaeologists have found the oldest fishhooks in the world in Japan. They were in a cave on Okinawa island and are estimated to be 23,000 years old.

The hooks are made from a sea snail‘s shell. From this discovery archeologists conclude that fishing techniques have existed already much longer than expected, and were used in more places in the world.

Eels and frogs

Okinawa was first inhabited around 35,000 years ago. Scientists wondered how people there survived all the time. The fishhooks have answered that question.

In Sakitari cave researchers found also remains of eels, frogs, birds and small terrestrial animals. They conclude from that these were also on the menu of the first inhabitants of Okinawa.

East Timor

Until now, scientists assumed that the fishhook was invented about 16,000 years ago.

They based themselves on a find in East Timor in 2011. In the northern part along the coast hooks were found which were made of shellfish.

Seventeenth-century poetess’ wedding ring discovered

Maria Tesselschade's wedding ring

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Experts agree: diamond ring is Maria Tesselschade’s wedding ring

Today, 15:34

A diamond ring and a shoe found during archaeological research in Alkmaar belonged “with probability bordering on certainty” to 17th century poetess Maria Tesselschade.

Her father, the ship owner Roemer Visscher, named her Tesselschade (“Damage on Tessel/Texel”), because he had lost a ship near Texel island on Christmas day 1593, three months before her birth.

Experts have established this. Almost certainly the ring was her wedding ring.

Maria Tesselschade [Roemer’s] Visscher (1594-1649) was part of the Muiderkring group, to which famous writers like Huijgens, Bredero and Vondel belonged. She is often described as the muse of the group.

The ring and shoe were found along with engraved glass fragments which had been previously established as Maria Tesselschade’s property.

Large fire

The finds were made in the Langestraat in Alkmaar, where she lived. The archaeological research there, where in the seventeenth century were the most expensive houses of the city, began in 2015 after a major fire during the New Year. …

From the shape of the cut [the experts] could conclude that the diamond ring was made in the 1620s. This corresponds to historical data: Maria Tesselschade married Allard Crombalch in 1623. …

‘Historic sensation’

Alkmaar Alderwoman Van de Ven today publicized the new discoveries. She calls the findings a historical sensation. “Apart from her preserved hand written correspondence so far no personal belongings of her had been found. The discoveries make a tangible picture of a very special woman.”

The archaeological finds will be on display from February 2017 at a temporary exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar.

Maria Teselschade’s most famous work is a 1642 poem about a nightingale. It concludes by saying how wonderful it is that such a small bird can sing so beautifully.