Irish stone age discovery


This video series is called Irish archaeology and early history.

From Science News:

Stone adze points to ancient burial rituals in Ireland

Ceremonial tool found with cremated remains in island’s earliest known gravesite

By Bruce Bower

4:33pm, November 9, 2016

A stone chopping tool found in Ireland’s earliest known human burial offers a rare peek at hunter-gatherers’ beliefs about death more than 9,000 years ago, researchers say.

The curved-edge implement, known as an adze, was made to be used at a ceremony in which an adult’s largely cremated remains were interred in a pit, says a team led by archaeologist Aimée Little of the University of York in England. Previous radiocarbon dating of burned wood and a bone fragment from the pit, at a site called Hermitage near the River Shannon, places the material at between 9,546 and 9,336 years old.

A new microscopic analysis revealed a small number of wear marks on the sharpened edge of the still highly polished adze, which was probably attached to a wooden handle, the researchers report online October 20 in the Cambridge Archaeological Journal. Little’s group suspects someone wielded the 19.4-centimeter-long adze to chop wood for a funeral pyre or to fell a tree for a grave marker. A hole dug into the bottom of the riverside pit once held a tall wooden post indicating that a person lay buried there, the scientists suspect.

Once the adze fulfilled its ritual duties, a hard stone was ground across the tool’s sharp edge to render it dull and useless, further microscopic study suggests. The researchers regard this act as a symbolic killing of the adze. The dulled tool blade was then placed in the pit, next to the post grave marker, perhaps to accompany the cremated individual to the afterlife.

“By 9,000 years ago, people in Ireland were making very high quality artifacts specifically to be placed in graves, giving us a tantalizing glimpse of ancient belief systems concerning death and the afterlife,” Little says. Her conclusion challenges a popular assumption among researchers that stone tools found in ancient hunter-gatherers’ graves belonged to the deceased while they were still alive. In that scenario, tools and other grave items played no role in burial activities and rituals.

Archaeologist Erik Brinch Petersen of the University of Copenhagen is skeptical. No other European stone adzes or axes from around 10,000 to 6,000 years ago display blunted edges, Petersen says. That makes it difficult to say how such an unusual artifact was used or whether it was intended to accompany a cremated person to the afterlife. In addition, researchers have found only a few European cremations from the same time period.

Since there was no practical reason to turn an effective tool into a chunk of stone that couldn’t cut, Little responds, intentionally dulling the adze’s edge was likely a ritual act. Whatever the meaning, people in Ireland made polished stone tools several thousand years before such implements achieved widespread use in Europe with the arrival of agriculture, Little says.

Excavations in 2001 revealed the Hermitage burial pit. Two small stone tools lay near the polished adze. A couple more burial pits turned up nearby. One contained cremated remains of an adult human from around 9,000 years ago; the other held roughly 8,600-year-old cremated remnants too fragmentary to enable a species identification.

“Hermitage was a special place known about and returned to over hundreds of years,” Little says.

Australian Aboriginal prehistory, new research


This video says about itself:

Astounding archaeology discovery places inland human occupation of Australia at 49,000 years

2 November 2016

Archaeologists working with traditional Aboriginal owners in the northern Flinders Ranges have discovered astounding evidence of the earliest human habitation of inland, arid Australia.

The find has pushed back the date of such occupation by 10,000 years to about 49,000 years ago.

Warratyi cave’s astounding archaeological evidence

One of the traditional owners of the area, Clifford Coulthard, who is a co-author of the study, said the findings weren’t really a surprise to him.

“Our old people know we’ve been here a long time,” he said.

The site, the Warratyi rock shelter in the traditional lands of the Adnyamathanha people, also has evidence of extinct megafauna, including the diprotodon.

The authors of the study, published on Thursday in Nature, said it finally settles the question of whether humans and megafauna overlapped chronologically.

From Science News:

People settled Australia’s rugged interior surprisingly early

Roots of Aboriginal culture may stretch back at least 49,000 years

By Bruce Bower

3:01pm, November 2, 2016

Australia’s early settlers hit the ground running, or least walking with swift determination. After arriving on the continent’s northwest coast by around 50,000 years ago, humans reached Australia’s southeastern interior within a thousand years or so, researchers find.

This ancient trip covered more than 2,000 kilometers through terrain that, although stark and dry today, featured enough lakes and rivers at the time of Australia’s colonization to support long-distance treks, say archaeologist Giles Hamm of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues.

Excavations at Warratyi rock-shelter indicate that it took only a few millennia for Australia’s early colonists to forge a distinctive Aboriginal culture that continued to develop over the next 40,000 years, Hamm’s team reports online November 2 in Nature.

“Archaeological finds at Warratyi are surprisingly old and significant, especially coming from an excavation of only a meter of sediment,” Hamm says.

These new discoveries are “remarkable and atypical” for Australia, says archaeologist Peter Hiscock of the University of Sydney. But the finds’ ages and significance for understanding Aboriginal culture will be debated, he predicts.

Until now, the oldest human sites in Australia’s huge, arid interior dated to no more than 44,000 years ago in the continent’s northwest, not far from where the first settlers presumably arrived. Lake Mungo, now a dry lake bed in southeastern Australia, has yielded artifacts from about 50,000 years ago. Unlike artifacts at Wattaryi that represent human activity over a long time span, it’s not known if Lake Mungo finds come from a group that made an isolated foray into the region before dying out within a few generations.

Hamm’s group unearthed evidence of an intermittent human presence at Warratyi that lasted from around 49,000 to 10,000 years ago. People were largely absent between around 35,000 and 17,000 years ago, when the climate became substantially colder and drier, Hamm says.

Finds at Warratyi dating to between 49,000 and 46,000 years ago include stone tools, a piece of reddish pigment and bones from 16 mammal species and one reptile species. Of particular interest were a partial leg bone from an extinct, rhino-sized marsupial and eggshells from a large, flightless bird. These animals died out not long after humans reached Australia, but it hasn’t been clear whether humans contributed to the extinctions via hunting or other actions (SN: 1/20/07, p. 38).

Warratyi probably won’t resolve that issue. No butchery marks from stone tools appear on the marsupial fossil, although people may still have hunted the creature. Possibly burned areas appear on some eggshell fragments. Recent evidence from other Australian sites indicates that people were cooking this extinct bird’s eggs between 54,000 and 43,000 years ago.

Other discoveries at Warratyi indicate Aboriginal people there made a variety of tools up to 10,000 years before similar tool types were known to have occurred elsewhere in Australia or in Southeast Asia, the scientists say. For instance, a 4-centimeter-long bone point that dates to more than 38,000 years ago is Australia’s earliest known bone tool.

Comparably ancient discoveries include fragments of resin, which was probably used to glue stone tools to handles of some type. Tool handles probably came into use even earlier than that Down Under, argues archaeologist Sandra Bowdler of the University of Western Australia in Crawley. Researchers generally agree that, in Australia, stone cutting implements with ground, beveled edges were once attached to handles, Bowdler explains. A team led by Hiscock recently dated a ground-edge tool found in northwest Australia to between 49,000 and 45,000 years ago. That means handle use started there before it appeared at Warratyi, Bowdler holds.

Tools displaying sharpened edges along one side appear at Warratyi between 30,000 and 24,000 years ago. While Hamm’s team regards these as the oldest such implements in Australia, Bowdler awaits more thorough dating of Warratyi sediment layers before accepting that conclusion.

To date artifacts, Hamm’s group calculated the time since buried sediment was last exposed to sunlight and conducted radiocarbon analyses of charcoal from ancient hearths and of eggshell fragments.

Questions remain about the age of the oldest Warratyi discoveries, says geochronologist Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong in Australia. A single sample of the deepest artifact-bearing sediment was dated to around 44,000 to 43,000 years ago, whereas three radiocarbon dates of charcoal and eggshells from the same sediment ranged in age from possibly more than 50,000 years to perhaps more than 45,000 years, in Roberts’ view. If the younger age is the correct one, then Warratyi finds are no older than those previously discovered at Riwi rock-shelter, another site in Australia’s arid interior. If older than 50,000 years, Roberts says, “the Warratyi artifacts would be among the oldest on the continent.”

Neanderthals ate plants as well


This video says about itself:

26 June 2014

According to the oldest fossil evidence of human feces ever discovered, the extinct species known as Neanderthals probably ate vegetables. Researchers from the University of La Laguna on the Canary Islands in Spain, working along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, analyzed fossil samples that include 50 thousand year-old feces from a Neanderthal campfire site close to Alicante, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

According to the oldest fossil evidence of human feces ever discovered, the extinct species known as Neanderthals probably ate vegetables.

Researchers from the University of La Laguna on the Canary Islands in Spain, working along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, analyzed fossil samples that include 50 thousand year-old feces from a Neanderthal campfire site close to Alicante, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Data from the study shows that the Neanderthal diet was mostly meat, but the fossil evidence indicates also the presence of plants in their excrement.

Ainara Sistiaga, a PhD student at the University of La Laguna is quoted as saying: “If you find it in the faeces, you are sure that it was ingested. This molecular fossil is perfect to try to know the proportion of both food sources in a Neanderthal meal.”

Neanderthals are modern humans’ closest extinct relative living between 250 thousand to 40 thousand years ago, and some experts believe that Neanderthals interbred with Homo sapiens before they became extinct.

Experts say that the prehistoric human diet probably varied quite a bit by region and availability, so it is plausible that some populations of Neanderthals ate plants and vegetables.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Neanderthals on cold steppes also ate plants

25 October 2016

Neanderthals in cold regions probably ate a lot more vegetable food than was previously thought. This is what archaeologist Robert Power has discovered based on new research on ancient Neanderthal dental plaque. PhD defence 1 November.

Mammoth steppe

Plants were an important part of the menu of Neanderthals who lived in the warmer Mediterranean regions of Eurasia between 180,000 and 30,000 years ago. But paleoanthropologists had for a long time assumed that the same did not apply in colder regions such as the Mammoth steppes. The Mammoth steppe, a region of steppe tundra almost completely devoid of trees, was the dominant landscape from Central Europe to East Asia during the cold periods of the Pleistocene era. Neanderthals in these areas were thought to have been carnivores, eating virtually only the flesh of large wild animals. This very limited diet made this hominid species vulnerable and may well have contributed to their becoming extinct, anthropologists reasoned.

Plant consumption

Leiden archaeologist Robert Power discovered that Neanderthals must have consumed regularly plants as food even in this cold and dry environment. ‘The Mammoth steppe is an environment that we don’t really understand because it no longer exists due to climate change and megafauna extinction. It may well be that these ancient grasslands were far more useful to Neanderthals than we thought.’

New research methods

The lack of comprehensive methods for tracing food consumptions is the reason why researchers have difficulty in establishing ancient diets. Thanks to emerging microscopy methods, plaque has become a good source of traces of food that can now be analysed. Power studied microbotanical particles in the plaque of Neanderthals from six different archaeological sites, including Croatia, Italy and Russia. His results from 48 teeth found that in all regions Neanderthals regularly ate plant food.

Research on chimpanzees

Power also examined the reliability of dental plaque as a source in reconstructing diet. He did this by examining the plaque of a group of chimpanzees that had recently died from natural causes and whose diet was monitored over a period of 20 years. His findings confirm that plaque can be a reflection of diet over an extended period of life.

Diverse climatic zones and periods

Power compared data from different periods, and his research showed that, irrespective of climatic region and also irrespective of time period, plants were a significant part of the diet.

Neanderthals have unique pattern

Power: ‘One of the big lessons of my work on Neanderthals was that the only reason we find the result surprising is that we expect Neanderthals to resemble modern human hunter gatherers in the way they foraged for food, but they didn’t. In the past we saw them as primitive cavemen with very basic behaviour, but now we have updated our view and see them as very modern. But that doesn’t mean we can afford to pigeonhole Neanderthals into our own particular version of humanity. They had their own unique pattern.’

Assyrians in Syria, archaeological research


Tell Sabi Abyad in Syria

From Leiden University:

Assyrians were more ‘homely’ than we thought

20 October 2016

Archaeologist Victor Klinkenberg examined an old Assyrian settlement in Syria, near to the IS [ISIS] stronghold Raqqa. ‘Social life was more important than military life.’ PhD defence 27 October.

The Assyrian Empire (ca. 2000 to 609 BC) was highly successful. At its height, it stretched from Turkey to Egypt and the Persian Gulf. Historians have wondered for a long time how the Assyrians were able to maintain power over such a huge region.

Tell Sabi Abyad

Research by PhD candidate Victor Klinkenberg has now provided an answer to part of this question. He has shown that Assyrian dominance was by no means always secured by using violence and brute force. Klinkenberg drew this conclusion after studying the settlement at Tell Sabi Abyad in present-day northern Syria. ‘This village was inhabited around 1200 BC,’ Klinkenberg explained. ‘The Assyrians founded the settlement when they conquered the region, so you’d expect it to be mainly a military outpost, ruled from above. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.’

Positive stimuli

Kinkenberg found that the rooms and houses of Tell Sabi Abyad had many different functions, and that they changed frequently. At one time it was a café where visitors drank beer, and at another time it was a rubbish tip. Klinkenberg: ‘All this shows that social life played a much greater role than military life. Apparently, positive stimuli and local stability were important factors in the Assyrians’ imperial activities.’

Islamic State

Klinkenberg’s research is part of a larger project headed by lecturer Bleda Düring, financed with a subsidy from the European Research Council (ERC). In recent years, the work of the Leiden researchers has been severely hindered by the rise of the Islamic State [ISIS] terror movement. Tell Sabi Abyad is around 80 km from Raqqa, the capital of the IS [ISIS]caliphate.

Destroyed

It was impossible for Klinkenberg to travel to the settlement. ‘In the past five years, nobody from our team has visited the excavations,’ he explained. ‘We did hear recently that a lot of archaeological finds have been destroyed or stolen. That’s such a waste, particularly as most of the remnants have no financial value. They’re worth absolutely nothing on the black market, but their value to science is enormous.’

Documented

Fortunately, all the earlier excavations at Tell Sabi Abyad have been carefully documented. ‘The project has been running for 35 years. The ground area is photographed every season; the location of the finds is mapped and buildings and rooms are measured. These measures meant that I could do my research at a distance.’ Like every other archaeologist, Klinkenberg would have preferred to visit the site in person. ‘But that’s a minor inconvenience compared to the suffering of the Syrian people.’

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.