Monday, August 23, 2010


Archaeologists have uncovered for the first time in Israel fragments of a law code that resemble portions of the famous Code of Hammurabi.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced that the code was found on two fragments of a clay tablet, and is between 3,700 and 3,800 years old. The tablet, written in Akkadian cuneiform script, was discovered in Hazor, in the north of Israel.

The fragments "refer to issues of personal injury law relating to slaves and
masters, bringing to mind similar laws in the famous Babylonian Hammurabi
Code of the 18th century B.C. that were found in what is now Iran over 100
years ago," the statement said. "The laws also reflect, to a certain extent,
biblical laws of the type 'a tooth for a tooth'."

The discovery opens an interesting avenue for investigation of a connection between Biblical law and the Code of Hammurabi, according to Wayne Horowitz of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, who is preparing the law code fragments for publication.

The two fragments are the 18th and 19th cuneiform finds from the Hazor excavations, which now form the largest body of documents of cuneiform texts found in Israel. Previous documents found dealt with subjects including the dispatch of people or goods, a legal dispute, and a text of multiplication tables.

The Hazor excavations are under the direction of Amnon Ben-Tor and Sharon Zuckerman of the Hebrew University. Previous excavations were directed at the site by Yigael Yadin in the 1950s and 1960s.


In addition to the huge humanitarian problems currently being experienced in Pakistan, there is increasing concern for some of the country's most important archaeological sites.

Two of the major sites in the southern Province of Sindh are of particular concern, namely Moenjo-daro and Aamri.

Moenjo-daro (which literally means Mound of the Dead) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was built around 2,600 BCE and abandoned around 1,500 BCE. It is a very early urban settlement and is contemporary with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. It was one of the major centers of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Aamri (a dedicated Pakistani National Heritage Site) is situated in the foothills of the Khirthar Mountains, near Manijhand, and it has already, unfortunately, been inundated with water from the River Indus. Aamri is the site of a Pre-Harappa fortified town that peaked between 3,600 and 3,300 BCE. Unique pottery has been found there, which is known as Amri Ware.


Archaeologists have discovered a large group of ancient stone statues at the worship site of Guizai Mountain near Hunan province (China). These statues are far more numerous and much older than the world-famous Qin Terracotta Warriors found in the Nanling Mountains (Dao County of Yongzhou City).

Tang Zhongyong, director of the Dao County Administrative Office, said that the Guizai Mountain site is a large ancient worship site. There are over 5,000 stone statues at the site, covering an area of 15,000 square meters. They are statues of civil officials, military officers, pregnant women and all kinds of common soldiers and their height varies from 30 to 100 centimeers. Archaeology experts said that there are over 5,000 stone statues on the ground and a large number of stone statues buried about two meters below the ground.

The Hunan Cultural Relics department also found that the statues are the group of stone portraits with the longest history found in China by far. Some were carved in prehistoric times about 5,000 years ago, and some were carved during the Qin, Han, Wei and Jin dynasties about 2,000 to 5,000 years ago. Based on field investigations, archaeologists deduced that Guizai Mountain was a large natural altar and that prehistoric people decided to place stone statues on it.

Sources: DNA India, ANI (19 August 2010)


Archaeologists with the University of Miami and The Florida Aquarium have found a series of artifacts in a silt-covered ledge located at the bottom of an isolated North Port spring (Florida, USA). The findings could be as old as 13,000 years old, when wandering tribes traversed Florida. Their travels included stopovers at what is now known as Little Salt Spring, 90 minutes south of Tampa.

John Gifford, an underwater archaeologist with UM's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science along with aquarium divers are working together to gather the artifacts.

"In the last ice age, between about 10,000 and 13,000 years ago, the water level was 90 feet lower then than it is today," Gifford said. "It's generally thought that along that early beach area, those early humans left their tools or whatever artifacts they found at that site."

The site has been under excavation by scientists sporadically over the past three years, and only about 6 percent of the submerged ledge has been scoured. "Little Salt Spring," Gifford said, "is where we have at least a fighting chance at finding some traces of human activity say 9,000 or 10,000 years ago."

The work is painstaking and somewhat dangerous but worth the effort, archaeologists say. The sinkhole's water chemistry and temperature have helped to create a one-of-a-kind, prehistoric submerged site where late Paleo-Indian and Archaic artifacts are unusually well preserved. "Our research has only begun to scratch the surface of what this site may reveal to us," Gifford says in a statement. "Wooden and other organic tools, as well as animals' soft tissues and bones, are preserved nearly intact in this unique environment."

Source: Tampa Bay Online (19 August 2010)
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We all know the infamous story of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 that buried the city of Pompeii and killed thousands of people.

What we don't know is how exactly they died. There is only one historical witness account of what happened in 79 A.D. on Aug. 24. From afar, Pliny the Younger reported watching his uncle succumb to a cloud of ash and smoke.

Historians interpreted this to mean that the victims from Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis were not crushed from flying rocks or buried underneath collapsing buildings, but that they died from suffocation due to a lethal cocktail of ash and volcanic gas. And until now, no one had bothered to challenge that interpretation.

A new study, led by vulcanologist Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo from the Naples Observatory in Italy, shows that the residents killed in Pompeii and the neighboring towns located on the slopes of the volcano died from an extreme heat surge produced by the volcano, not suffocation. "Everything that has been written in the guides, and the texts, and that has been retold to tourists is false," Mastrolorenzo told GlobalPost. Mastrolorenzo points to the piles of human remains as his leading evidence.

The researchers tested their theory by exposing a set of recent animals and human bones to different levels of heat, ranging from 100 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on the coloration of the experimental bones, they concluded that the bodies in Pompeii, 6.2 miles from the volcano, were likely exposed to temperatures of between 250 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Bodies recovered from towns closer to the eruption were exposed to much higher temperatures, probably 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the team's study, which appeared recently in the journal PLoS One.

Mastrolorenzo believes the victims of Pompeii were killed during a single heat surge from the fourth pyroclastic surge. A few seconds' exposure to the intense heat was enough to kill the villagers immediately. Being inside provided no shelter.

The blazing heat wave could have traveled up to 12.4 miles from the volcano. Taking this into account, the current plan to evacuate a five-mile radius around in the event of another eruption seems entirely insufficient. The city of Naples sits outside this zone, for example, but it is only 6.2 miles away.

Potentially more than 3 million people are at risk if Mount Vesuvius explodes in a similar fashion to the one that wiped out Pompeii.


The Cross River State of Nigeria holds a piece of the history of humanity that may soon disappear. Over 300 upright stones placed more than 4000 years ago are being lost to theft and decay.

The Ikom Monoliths are 1-2 meters tall and carry elaborate carvings of faces and geometric figures. The images have not been decoded, but may be a form of prehistoric writing. The monoliths, most volcanic stone, are usually found placed in circles facing each other. Also know as Akwanshi, meaning "dead people" in one native dialect, the stones are part of traditional local funerary rites.

At one time, there were over 450 of the Ikom Monoliths counted at 34 sites around the country. A current census has found only 119. There have been many reports of thefts and looting of the monoliths, but the police have recovered very few of the objects that were stolen. Since the stones weigh between 50 and 800 kg, it is not easy to remove them. But the outdoor sites have very little protection or supervision. At the Alok Open Air Museum, 30 of the stones are protected by 7 staff members. In 2006, due to budget cuts in the Federal Civil Service, their positions were eliminated. The Cross River State Governor was alerted to the danger of looters, and he restored the funding. He also initiated the construction of a fence around the site. But other locations of the stone circles are still at high risk.

In 2007, UNESCO and the World Monument Fund placed the Ikom Megaliths on the Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. This was something of an embarrassment to the Nigerian government. Other World Heritage sites in the country have also been plagued with mismanagement and corruption.

The stones are also in danger from fungus and plant growth. There are limited resources for clearing the weeds and plants that grown up around the monoliths. At Alok Circle, microbes have covered the monuments with a corrosive white dust. In addition, local people sometimes set fire to the stones while clearing land for cultivation.

Source: The Sun News Online (5 August 2010)
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An archaeological team from the Universities of York and Manchester have discovered the oldest house in Britain at a site called Star Carr, near Scarborough (North Yorkshire, England). The house is believed to date from 8,500 BCE, pre-dating the previous oldest house (in Howick, Northumberland) by 500 years.

The find dates from the time at the end of the last Ice Age, when Britain was still linked to mainland Europe and settlers were starting to return, following the receding ice.

It is a round house, approximately 3.5 meters in diameter, with timber posts around a sunken floor. The remains have been held in a good state of preservation over the millennium, protected under peat. But the peat is now drying out and archaeologists are racing to preserve as much as possible before the remains decay away. The house is situated on the shore of an ancient lake and it is believed that the occupants were hunter gatherers rather than farmers as there is evidence of burnt landscape (to encourage the growth of shoots, to attract animals) and also evidence of domesticated dogs, which would have been used in hunting.

As well as the house, the team has found a large wooden platform. The exciting part of this discovery is that it comprises split, hewn timbers, leading the archaeologists to believe it is the earliest example of carpentry yet found in Europe.

The site was only discovered in 1947 and, after several artifacts had been discovered, excavations started between 1949 and 1951 and again in 1985 to 1989. The current excavations were recommended in 2004. The site is due to be schedule as a National Monument.

Sources: Manchester University, BBC News, Yorkshire Post, The Guardian (10 August 2010)
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The Irish Department of the Environment has launched an investigation into the complete destruction of two ancient ring-forts. Senior archaeologists from its National Monuments section are liaising with gardaà in Co Cork as part of the probe. The investigation was launched following works on farmland in the village of Kilmurry near Macroom, Co Cork, on which the two recorded monuments were located.

There are about 100,000 ring-forts recorded across Ireland; of these, only about 250 have so far been subjected to archaeological excavation. They are oval or circular fortified settlements or farmsteads that were built mostly during the Early Christian and Iron Age periods. These structures date from about 600 BCE to about 1,000 CE and some were still inhabited up until the 1700s. They were owned by wealthy individuals who built houses and kept cattle inside the earthen ditches.

The two ring-forts at the center of this investigation were considered among the region's finer examples. One was oval and measured almost 60m in an east-west direction, 48m in a north-south direction, and was enclosed by a two-metre high earthen bank. Archaeologists had found the remains of cultivation ridges crossing its interior.

The other ring-fort was circular and slightly smaller, measuring just more than 33 meters, and was surrounded by a two-meter high earthen ditch. It featured numerous cattle gaps across its bank. However, both structures have been completely leveled. No above-ground trace remains. All their earthen banks have been removed and filled in.
Under the terms of Irish National Monuments Legislation, landowners are required to give at least four week's notice to the Department of the Environment about their intention to carry out works near recorded monuments. This did not happen in this case. The Friends of the Irish Environment group has now written to Environment Minister John Gormley calling for the full weight of the law to be brought to bear in this case.

Sources: Irish (9 August 2010), The Irish Times (10 August 2010)


An international team led by Professor Angelo Fossati of the Catholic University of Brescia and the Footsteps of Man Archaeological Society have been involved in the search for new prehistoric rock-art sites around Paspardo, high up on the intermediate slopes of Valcamonica in the Alpine region of Lombardy, northern Italy.

Carved rock-art scenes depict wild and domesticated animals, hunting parties, dueling warriors and structures (interpreted as huts and houses). The finely pecked engravings have survived for thousands of years, protected by soil and leaf litter deposition. To record all them, the team used a number of different techniques including mirror reflection from oblique angles, acetate tracing, and 3D and laser photogrammetric survey methods.

Valcamonica rock art earliest dating is to the Upper Palsolithic, about 12,000 years ago. The area containing over 200,000 petroglyphs was, in 1979, the first Italian site to be included in the prestigious World Heritage List of UNESCO.

The majority of the petroglyphs are carved onto polished smooth sandstone and schist rock-outcropping located on the lower and intermediate slopes of the valley to an altitude of c. 2100m above sea level.

This year an international team involving Bristol students concentrated their
efforts on recording the large Rock No. 4 of In Valle, which was first identified in the 1930s. This large exposed surface is divided into a series of panels containing a plethora of stylistic and representative carvings that span the Bronze and Iron Ages. The team worked on the upper section of the rock, where a series of new carvings were recorded, including dueling warriors and hunting scenes.

The Footsteps of Man Archaeological Society, who have been involved in intensive fieldwork on this side of the valley for over 20 years, have been engaged in the discovery, recording and study of numerous sites such as Dos Sotto Laiolo, Dos Custapeta, Dos Sulif and Baite Fles-Saline. It is hoped that next group of Bristol students will complete the recording of Baite Fles-Saline, the highest decorated surface to be discovered so far, located around 300m above the village of Paspardo.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Alexander the Great was killed by a deadly bacterium found in the River Styx, rather than by a fever brought on by an all-night drinking binge in ancient Babylon, scientists believe.

American researchers have found a striking correlation between the symptoms suffered by Alexander before his death in 323 BC, and the effects of the highly toxic bacterium. They have speculated that the Macedonian king, who conquered vast swathes of territory between Greece and India, could have been poisoned with a vial of water from the River Styx in Greece.

The river was the mythical entrance to the underworld but is believed to have been based on a real stream now known as the Mavroneri, or Black Water, which springs from mountains on the Peloponnesian peninsula.

The ancient Greeks maintained that its waters were so poisonous that they would dissolve any vessel, except those made of the hooves of horses or mules. Alexander fell ill during a drinking party at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, in modern Iraq. He complained of a "sudden, sword-stabbing agony in the liver" and had to be taken to bed where, over the next 12 days, he developed a high fever and excruciating pains to his joints.

His condition worsened, he fell into a coma, and is believed to have died on June 10 or 11, 323BC - just shy of his 33rd birthday. Historians have speculated that his death was brought about by heavy drinking, typhoid, malaria, acute pancreatitis, West Nile fever or poisoning. Experts who have reviewed the circumstances of his death believe instead that he may have been killed by calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by bacteria.

Richard Stoneman, the author of Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend, said: "I personally think that Alexander probably died of natural causes - either typhoid or an overdose of the hellebore used to treat his illness - but other views are possible."

Read more:


A bronze bracelet was discovered in archaeological excavations in Ramat Razim, near Safed in northern Israel. The first known village from Late Bronze period in all of northern part of the country was uncovered in an excavation, which was took place in the vicinity of Zefat, with funding provided by the Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Housing.

According to Karen Covello-Paran, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "We discovered a wide rare bracelet made of bronze. The ancient bracelet, which is extraordinarily well preserved, is decorated with engravings and the top of it is adorned with a horned structure. At that time horns were the symbol of the storm-god and they represented power, fertility and law. The person who could afford such a bracelet was apparently very well off financially, and it probably belonged to the village ruler. It is interesting to note that in the artwork of neighboring lands gods and rulers were depicted wearing horned crowns; however, such a bracelet, and from an archaeological excavation at that, has never been found here".

The bracelet was found inside the remains of an estate house, part of an ancient settlement that existed in a rocky area overlooking the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. Made of indigenous limestone, the building included a paved central courtyard surrounded by residential rooms and storerooms.

"This is the first time that a 3,500-year-old village has been excavated and exposed in the north of Israel," Covello-Paran said. "Here we have gained a first glimpse of life in the ancient rural hinterland in the north, and it turns out that it was more complex than we thought," she added.

Sources: Israel National News (3 August 2010), (4 August 2010)
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Archaeologists have found a foot bone that could prove the Philippines was first settled by humans 67,000 years ago, thousands of years earlier than previously thought. The foot bone - found during a four-year excavation project of a network of caves - predates the 47,000-year-old Tabon Man that was previously known as the first human to have lived in the Philippines. The discovery was made at the Callao caves near Penablanca, about 335 kilometres (210 miles) north of Manila.

"So far this could be the earliest human fossil found in the Asia-Pacific region," Professor Armand Mijares, of the University of the Philippines Diliman, who led the team of archeologists, said. Prof Mijares said the evidence suggested that Callao Man or his ancestors reached Luzon in the Philippine archipelago by raft at a time when experts did not think humans were capable of traveling long distances by sea. Cut marks on bones from deer and wild boar that were found around the human remains suggest that Callao Man was an accomplished hunter, he said, although no tools were found during the dig.

"This individual was small-bodied. It's difficult to say whether he was male or female," Mijares said. The archaeologist stressed the finding that Callao Man belongs to Homo sapiens was still only provisional. Some of the bone's features were similar to Homo habilis and Homo floresiensis - which are distinct species from humans.

To determine whether Callao Man was human, Mijares said his team planned to secure permits to pursue further excavations in the Callao caves and hopefully find other parts of the skeleton, tools, or fossils of other potential humans. Mijares said Callao Man also shared some features of today's Aetas, a short, curly-haired and dark-skinned people who are thought to be directly descended from the first inhabitants of the Philippines.

Sources:, AFP, Yahoo! News (3 August 2010)


Anthropologists have unearthed the remains of an apparent Neanderthal cave sleeping chamber, complete with a hearth and nearby grass beds that might have once been covered with animal fur. Neanderthals inhabited the cozy Late Pleistocene room, located within Esquilleu Cave in Cantabria (Spain), anywhere between 53,000 to 39,000 years ago.

The Neanderthals appear to have constructed new beds out of grass every so often, using the old bedding material to help fuel the hearth. "It is possible that the Neanderthals renewed the bedding each time they visited the cave," lead author Dan Cabanes said. Cabanes, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science's Kimmel Center for Archaeological Research, added that these hearth-side beds also likely served as sitting areas during waking hours for the Neanderthals.

For this study, Cabanes and his team collected sediment samples from the Spanish cave. Detailed analysis of the samples allowed the scientists to reconstruct what materials were once present in certain parts of the cave at particular times.

Evidence is building that Neanderthals in other locations constructed such functional living spaces within caves and rock shelters. Earlier this year, Josep Vallverdu of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution and his team identified a 'sleeping activity area' at Spain's Abric Romani rock shelter. Similar to the Esquilleu Cave finds, Vallverdu and his colleagues discovered the remains of hearths spaced enough for seating and sleeping areas. "This set of combustion activity areas suggests analogy with sleeping and resting activity areas of modern foragers," Vallverdu and his team wrote.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


A recent excavation led by Unirversity of Iowa anthropology Professor Russell Ciochon may lead to discoveries of human origins. Ciochon and his team visited Ngandong, Java, Indonesia, to continue the work of a 1930s Dutch archaeological expedition.

The previous research revealed the home of a relative to modern humans, Homo erectus, but World War II interrupted that research, and the maps and notes disappeared — until now. Frank Huffman, a geo-archaeologist at the University of Texas-Austin, stumbled upon the maps while doing research in the Netherlands.

"He came across these maps and realized what they were," said Art Bettis, a UI associate professor of geoscience who went on the excavation. "It was one of those things where people had seen them over and over, but no one had really known what they were looking at. But the whole thing was the original Dutch documents." The UI team also had researchers from Rutgers University, the University of Texas-Austin, and the Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia.

The earliest conclusions are that the Ngandong site holds fossil evidence of the youngest Homo erectus group known in the world. This Java Homo erectus dates much later than those of Africa.

"With the old maps and photographs in hand, we have now re-exposed the original Homo erectus-bearing sequence for the first time since the 1930s," Ciochon wrote in an e-mail. "The Ngandong site is about the size of a football field, yet our survey maps show that only small areas remain un-excavated. We are concentrating our research efforts in these areas."

"There's a big debate on when our ancestors first left Africa, and much of this depends on dating of Homo erectus, particularly in the Far East," said James Enloe, an associate professor anthropology. "This will help us understand the ecological needs of the people to move out of Africa."

Now, back at their home universities, the scientists must analyze the some 800 fossils they brought back. From the types of animals they found, they know Homo erectus most likely lived in a grassy, woodland area.

But the questions of when they went extinct and the reasons for their disappearance remain.

For the interview with Professor Ciochon in Nature see