Sunday, July 21, 2013


"Mummification went on in Egypt for more than 3,000 years, and the practice changed at different times and places," says anthropologist Andrew Wade of Canada's University of Western Ontario. "In the past, we would look at one or two mummies and make conclusions, but now we have a lot more non-destructive technology and medical information we can bring to bear on them."

In an upcoming Journal of Archaeological Science analysis, Wade and his colleague Andrew Nelson look at radiological scans of 84 ancient mummies from museums worldwide. Their goal: seeking to prove or disprove some of the hoariest (and creepiest), accounts of ancient mummification. Among those ideas was the notion that embalmers removed the brains of dead rulers through the nose and that the practice was limited to royalty and their loyal followers. Another is that the internal organs of the wealthy were removed from mummies. The study and a series of related reports show all of those ideas, long staples of scary mummy stories good for grossing out schoolkids and adults, look a little more complicated when viewed under the X-ray.

Blame some of the confusion on the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who first filed his accounts of how embalmers preserved the dead along the Nile around 440 B.C. He recounted a description of mummification practices in his historical accounts of a visit to Thebes in Egypt.

"Instead, it appears by King Tut's time that almost anyone can afford being mummified," Wade says, based on the ages of the mummies in the study. That pharaoh, Tutankhamen, died around 1323 B.C., long before Herodotus. "After that time we see a mortuary arms race, where practices once reserved for the elite spread to commoners."

So, sometimes things went as Herodutus described for Egypt's rulers. Consider a priest named Nesperennub, investigated by the British Museum using high-tech computed tomography scans. The scan found his brain neatly removed through his nose and his organs, such as his lungs, stored in nearby jars. (Of course a pot was apparently glued to the back of his head by accident.)

But other times, mummification didn't always follow that script. Sometimes lungs or other organs were left inside mummies. Wade finds evidence that mummies only sometimes had their brains removed. And sometimes that removal came through a hole where the spine meets the skull, not the left nostril. Embalmers sometimes filled the emptied skull with resin, where the study notes, "the golden color of the liquid resin may have had strong connections to the sun and divinity." It was an extra, a frill sometimes added to mummification, apparently.The brain wasn't a particularly well-regarded organ at the time among the Egyptians. Other morticians instead packed the noggin with linens, as much as 60 yards worth of stuffing for one skull, showing practices varied widely among mummification shops.

One elite practice that seemingly didn't spread to commoners involved the heart. The heart was the central organ, the seat of consciousness and morality, in the mythology of the ancient Egyptians, Wade says, so its treatment was particularly important. "The whole point was to have an enjoyable afterlife, and you would definitely want your heart for that," Wade says, if you were mummified.

But, the analysis shows "an overwhelming absence of the heart in eviscerated Egyptian mummies," suggesting that its retention may have remained a secret privilege of the elite. A rule from an ancient Egyptian "Book of the Dead," for example, warns embalmers against spilling secrets of this nature. "The commoners having their hearts removed may simply have not known that they were to be spiritually hobbled to ensure for the elite a favored position" in the afterlife, says the study.Scarab jewelry was instead commonly packed over the heart for most mummies.

"Herodotus got some things right and some things wrong, but we are lucky we have his accounts at all," Wade says. "The mummification craft was kept within families controlled by guilds that kept hold of secrets, so we should appreciate any insight from those times that we can find."


Article by John Taggart for the Wall Street Journal:

Discovering my first Neanderthal skeleton in Iraq's Shanidar Cave in the spring of 1957 took my breath away. Neanderthals tended to be shorter and stockier than modern humans and their faces had low brow ridges, wide noses and less pronounced chins. But they were hardly the dumb brutes of cartoons.

In 1950, I was a graduate student at Columbia University. As part of my thesis, I began to explore caves in the Middle East in search of an ideal excavation site. When I arrived in Iraq's Greater Zab valley in 1950, locals suggested I hike an hour up to the Shanidar Cave. The interior was as spacious as a single-family house—roughly 3,000 square feet with a 20-foot ceiling. The cave seemed ideal for excavation—but first I had to be sure. In '51, I tested soil deposits to see if they contained archaeological material, and they did.

In '52 I continued testing—digging a small hole down about 45 feet to bedrock and sifting the soil. But I had to put my excavation plans on hold in '53. I had started my postgraduate studies, and in '55 I was married. When I traveled back to Iraq in the fall of 1956, my wife, Rose, an archaeologist, accompanied me. While I worked at the Shanidar Cave, Rose excavated a riverbank site in the valley that dated back 10,000 years.

During this time, we lived in a local fieldstone-and-cement police barracks. Our accommodations were spare. There wasn't any running water or toilet facilities, and we slept on cots we had brought with us, covering ourselves with sleeping bags. We had a cook, but most of the food was simple—dried okra, pickles, tinned cheese and meat.

As excavation sites go, the Shanidar Cave had enormous potential. There was a water source nearby, and the cave faced southeast, so when the sun came up in the morning, it heated the space. If there were remains buried in the cave, they'd probably be intact—since they would have been shielded from thousands of years of rain and snow.

I hired a group of about 30 local workers, and we were at the site from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. We began by digging a 10-by-20-foot hole in the cave's center. Less than two feet down we encountered broken pottery, clay pipes and iron tools. Farther down we found only stone and bone tools.

In the spring of '57, we reached bedrock. I began carefully cleaning the interior walls of the excavation hole with a trowel and brush. I also examined soil strata with a gas lamp to see how they had changed over time. That is when I spotted my first Neanderthal skull sticking out slightly through the soil.

This was a major find because Neanderthal remains hadn't yet been found in this region. After I carefully exposed the skull, I removed it right away so it wouldn't crumble or crack. Up on the floor of the cave, I encased it in burlap and plaster of Paris to ensure it wouldn't shatter. Then we dug down from the surface to expose and excavate the full skeleton. What we found were the remains of an adult male who was missing his right arm below the elbow. His front teeth were worn—evidence that he had been using them to replace his missing hand. I named him "Nandy"—short for Neanderthal.

Nandy had lived to be about 40, which would have made him roughly 80 in today's years. To survive that long was remarkable. Given his old age and infirmity, he must have been a valued member of Neanderthal society, since they took care of him. He probably had been asleep in the cave when an earthquake struck and a rockfall killed and buried him.

Once we found Nandy, we widened the excavation hole in search of other Neanderthals. Eventually I found another male who had been buried by other Neanderthals and the remains of a third male who may have been killed by an early human rival. When Rose and I returned to Iraq in 1960, I found a fourth Neanderthal with traces of pollen—meaning he had been buried with flowers.

Today, the four Neanderthals' remains are at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. From the excavation, we know that the region's Neanderthals hunted and took care of their wounded and older members and that they buried their dead. They also used fires for cooking and other social activities.

All in all, Neanderthals did pretty well for themselves considering there were no clothing or shoe stores, hot showers or heating systems. Life was hard 40,000 years ago—which made it tough for Rose and me to complain much about our Iraqi accommodations there.

—Retired archaeologist Ralph Solecki, 95, lives with his wife Rose, 87, in northern New Jersey. He spoke with reporter Marc Myers.


Ever since the discovery of the remains in 2003, scientists have been debating whether Homo floresiensis represents a distinct Homo species, possibly originating from a dwarfed island Homo erectus population, or a pathological modern human. The small size of its brain has been argued to result from a number of diseases, most importantly from the condition known as microcephaly.

Based on the analysis of 3-D landmark data from skull surfaces, scientists from Stony Brook University New York, the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, Eberhard-Karls Universität Tübingen, and the University of Minnesota provide compelling support for the hypothesis that Homo floresiensis was a distinct Homo species. The study, titled "Homo floresiensis contextualized: a geometric morphometric comparative analysis of fossil and pathological human samples," is published in the July 10 edition of PLOS ONE.

The ancestry of the Homo floresiensis remains is much disputed. The critical questions are: Did it represent an extinct hominin species? Could it be a Homo erectus population, whose small stature was caused by island dwarfism? Or, did the LB1 skull belong to a modern human with a disorder that resulted in an abnormally small brain and skull? Proposed possible explanations include microcephaly, Laron Syndrome or endemic hypothyroidism ("cretinism").

The scientists applied the powerful methods of 3-D geometric morphometrics to compare the shape of the LB1 cranium (the skull minus the lower jaw) to many fossil humans, as well as a large sample of modern human crania suffering from microcephaly and other pathological conditions. Geometric morphometrics methods use 3D coordinates of cranial surface anatomical landmarks, computer imaging, and statistics to achieve a detailed analysis of shape. This was the most comprehensive study to date to simultaneously evaluate the two competing hypotheses about the status of Homo floresiensis.

The study found that the LB1 cranium shows greater affinities to the fossil human sample than it does to pathological modern humans. Although some superficial similarities were found between fossil, LB1, and pathological modern human crania, additional features linked LB1exclusively with fossil Homo. The team could therefore refute the hypothesis of pathology.

"Our findings provide the most comprehensive evidence to date linking the Homo floresiensis skull with extinct fossil human species rather than with pathological modern humans. Our study therefore refutes the hypothesis that this specimen represents a modern human with a pathological condition, such as microcephaly," stated the scientists.


Neanderthals, like modern humans, likely communicated among themselves and with others using tonal languages. New research, published in the journal Frontiers in Language Sciences, presents strong evidence -- genetic, fossil, archaeological and more -- that modern speech and language existed among Neanderthals, Denisovans (a Paleolithic type of human), and early members of our own species.

“Modern humans and Neanderthals and Denisovans are very similar genetically, and there are indications of interbreeding as well, strengthening this similarity,” lead author Dan Dediu told Discovery News, explaining that a gene involved in language and speech, FOXP2, is present in all three groups.

Neanderthal genes also suggest that the stocky, yet brainy, individuals possessed tonal languages, since there is an association between tone and two of their genes involved in brain growth and development. Dediu is a senior investigator in the Language and Genetics Department and is group leader of Genetic Biases in Speech and Language at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

In addition to outlining the DNA evidence, Dediu and colleague Stephen Levinson also explain that Neanderthals possessed a human-like hyoid bone, which is involved in speech production. Neanderthal ear bones further appear to have evolved for hearing speech in addition to other sounds, just as ours have.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


It was a stunning discovery: the first unlooted imperial tomb of the Wari, the ancient civilization that built South America's earliest empire between 700 and 1000 A.D. Yet it wasn't happiness that Milosz Giersz felt when he first glimpsed gold in the dim recesses of the burial chamber in northern Peru. Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland, realized at once that if word leaked out that his Polish-Peruvian team had discovered a 1,200-year-old "temple of the dead" filled with precious gold and silver
artifacts, looters would descend on the site in droves.

So Giersz and project co-director Roberto Pimentel Nita kept their discovery secret. Digging quietly for months in one of the burial chambers, the archaeologists collected more than a thousand artifacts, including sophisticated gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes, and gold tools, along with the bodies of three Wari queens and 60 other individuals, some of whom were probably human sacrifices.

Peru's Minister of Culture and other dignitaries recently officially announced
the discovery at a press conference at the site. Krzysztof Makowski Hanula, an archaeologist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima and the project's scientific adviser, said the newly unearthed temple of the dead "is like a pantheon, like a mausoleum of all the Wari nobility in the region."

The Wari lords have long been overshadowed by the later Inca, whose achievements were extensively documented by their Spanish conquerors. But in the 8th and 9th centuries A.D., the Wari built an empire that spanned much of present-day Peru. Their Andean capital, Huari, became one of the world's great cities. At its zenith, Huari boasted a population conservatively estimated at about 40,000 people. Paris, by comparison, had just 25,000 residents at the time.

Just how the Wari forged this empire, whether by conquest or persuasion, is long-standing archaeological mystery. The sheer sophistication of Wari artwork has long attracted looters, who have ransacked the remains of imperial palaces and shrines. Unable to stop the destruction of vital archaeological information, researchers were left with many more questions than answers.

The spectacular new finds at El Castillo de Huarmey, a four-hour drive north of Lima, will go a long way toward answering some of those questions. Although grave robbers have been digging at the 110-acre site off and on for decades, Giersz suspected that a mausoleum remained hidden deep underground. In January 2010, he and a small team scrutinized the area using aerial photography and geophysical imaging equipment. On a ridge between two large adobe-brick pyramids, they spotted the faint outline of what appeared to be a subterranean mausoleum. The research at El Castillo de Huarmey is supported by National Geographic's Global Exploration Fund and Expeditions Council.

Tomb robbers had long dumped rubble on the ridge. Digging through the rubble last September, Giersz and his team uncovered an ancient ceremonial room with a stone throne. Below this lay a large mysterious chamber sealed with 30 tons of loose stone fill. Giersz decided to keep digging. Inside the fill was a huge carved wooden mace. "It was a tomb marker," says Giersz, "and we knew then that we had the main mausoleum."

As the archaeologists carefully removed the fill, they discovered rows of human bodies buried in a seated position and wrapped in poorly preserved textiles. Nearby, in three small side chambers, were the remains of three Wari queens and many of their prized possessions, including weaving tools made of gold. "So what were these first ladies doing at the imperial court? They were weaving cloth with gold instruments," says Makowski.

Mourners had also interred many other treasures in the room: inlaid gold and silver ear-ornaments, silver bowls, bronze ritual axes, a rare alabaster drinking cup, knives, coca leaf containers, brilliantly painted ceramics from many parts of the Andean world, and other precious objects. Giersz and his colleagues had never seen anything like it before. "We are talking about the first unearthed royal imperial tomb," says Giersz.

But for archaeologists, the greatest treasure will be the tomb's wealth of new information on the Wari Empire. The construction of an imperial mausoleum at El Castillo shows that Wari lords conquered and politically controlled this part of the northern coast, and likely played a key role in the downfall of the northern Moche kingdom. Intriguingly, one vessel from the mausoleum depicts coastal warriors battling axe-wielding Wari invaders.

Analysis of the mausoleum-and other chambers that may still be buried-is only beginning. Giersz predicts that his team has another eight to ten years of work there. But already the finds at El Castillo promise to cast the Wari civilization in a brilliant new light. "The Wari phenomenon can be compared to the empire of Alexander the Great," says Makowski. "It's a brief historical phenomenon, but with great consequence."
photos at:


Located near the small coastal town of Maryport in northwestern England,remains of the ancient Roman fort of Alauna were first uncovered by amateur archaeologist Joseph Robinson in the late 19th century. Among the finds were an assemblage of no less that 22 stone altars, some bearing inscriptions, that tell a story of successive Roman commanders who commanded this, one of Imperial Rome's northernmost outposts during the height of the Roman Empire's expanse. The altars now grace the nearby Senhouse Museum, which serves as a popular tourist attraction.

Now a team of archaeologists and volunteers have returned to the site where the original stone altars were found to uncover more clues about the layout of the fort and its associated settlement, and about the lives of the military officers and soldiers who manned this remote garrison. Led by Newcastle University's Professor Ian Haynes and site director Tony Wilmott, the archaeologists have been here before.

Says Haynes: "The last two years' excavations focused on the area in which the altars were discovered in 1870. This year sees some further work at the 1870 site and the start of a three year project focusing on the place where, in 1880, local bank manager and amateur archaeologist Joseph Robinson uncovered further altars and two possible temples. Photographs and other documents from the 1880s indicate that the antiquarian investigation only unearthed part of the site and it is clear that much remains to be
discovered." [1]

In 2012, the team uncovered a total of 63 pits, the partial plans of structures that showed evidence of at least two phases of construction, the first complete altar stone (with inscription) unearthed at the site since 1870, and a late Roman/early Medieval cemetery. The altar inscription was a dedicatory record from Titus Attius Tutor, a commander of the garrison who also served in areas that now contain present-day Austria, Hungary and Romania. Finds from the cemetery graves included a glass bead necklace, a
bracelet, loose beads, and a fragment of ancient textile. Radiocarbon dating of the textile indicated that the wool from which it was woven was likely sheared sometime between AD 240 and AD 340.

The Roman fort and the civilian settlement at Maryport are thought to have played a significant role in Imperial Rome's coastal defenses along the northwestern boundary of the Roman Empire for more than 300 years. Geophysical surveys of the site have revealed that it was, according to Haynes and Wilmott, "extremely complex and of considerable size, and that it is well preserved". [1] Moreover, study of the 23 Roman altars (22 plus the one recently discovered) which, based on the inscriptions, were dedicated to Jupiter and other Roman gods by the commanders of the fort, provide valuable information about the Roman army and its religious practices. "In some cases", they report, "their career histories can be established from the inscriptions on the altars, tracing their movements across the Roman Empire as they moved from posting to posting". [1]

Fort Alauna was among over 30 other forts that stretched across the 150 mile Roman frontier in northern England. They supplemented Hadrian's Wall, built under Emperor Hadrian's reign in the 2nd century AD. Along the wall there were 80 known milecastles and about 160 turrets, including a ditch to the north and a massive defensive earthwork to its south. Along with the Antonine Wall in Scotland and the German Limes, this constituted the edge of the Roman Empire at its furthest extent during the 2nd century AD.

More information about this and related developments can be obtained from the Senhouse Roman Museum ( and the Hadrian's Wall Trust (
[2] Extract from the Autumn 2012 newsletter of the Cumberland & Westmorland
Antiquarian & Archaeological Society


An 1,800-year-old stone carving of what may be the head of a Roman god was recently found in an ancient garbage dump, British archaeologists have announced. An undergraduate student at Durham University discovered the largely intact head during an archaeological dig at the Binchester Roman Fort, a major Roman Empire fort built around A.D. 100 in northeastern England's County Durham.

Archaeologists involved in the dig believe that somebody probably tossed the 8-inch-long (20 centimeters) statue in the garbage when the building was abandoned in the fourth century, during the fall of the Roman Empire. The team is still not certain who the carved head is meant to represent, though they have noted its resemblance to a similar stone head discovered in 1862 inscribed with the name "Antenociticus" - a Celtic deity associated with military prayers in that particular region. A shrine sits nearby the garbage dump, further suggesting the stone head was involved in prayer and represents a deity.

The team is particularly interested in the unique local aesthetic of the head, which combines classical Roman art and regional Romano-British art. Some of the facial features also appear to be African, though this remains speculative.

The dig was conducted in collaboration with Stanford University in an effort to unearth evidence from the era leading up to the fall of the Roman Empire. The team has yet to publish a report on their recent findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.


Archaeological excavations which were conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the Judean foothills moshav (cooperative village) of Eshta'ol, before laying a sewer line, have unearthed evidence that the area where the moshav houses sprawl started attracting agricultural entrepreneurs as far back as 9,000 years ago.

According to Benjamin Storchen, the excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "the ancient findings we unveiled at the site indicate that there was a flourishing agricultural settlement in this place, and it lasted for as long as 4,000 years." The archaeological artifacts discovered in the excavation site indicate that the first settlers arrived here about 9,000 years ago. This period is called by archaeologists the Pre-Ceramic Neolithic period, which includes the earliest evidence of organized agriculture.

The site continued to flourish, and reached the peak of its development in the early Canaanite period, about 5000 years ago. This period is characterized by the consolidation of large rural communities, which were dispersed all across the country. The economy of these villages relied on field crops, on orchards and on livestock farming, which continue to characterize in today's typical Mediterranean agriculture. This period is credited with some technological innovations in agriculture which upgraded man's ability to process extensive areas of crops more efficiently.

It appears that the Canaanite site being excavated at the moshav Eshta'ol was part of a large settlement bloc, which came to an end for reasons that are not sufficiently clear some 4,600 years ago. Stortz'n explains that "these findings indicate a broad and well-developed settlement in the area of the Judean foothills, near the spot where two
local rivers, the Kislon and the Ishwa, meet."

He claims that "these two riverbeds, which today are dry, were alive with streaming water in ancient times, which provided the necessities of life for the local community and allow them to develop thriving agricultural systems alongside an economy based on hunting. The evidence to that are flint warheads, discovered in the same excavation.

These early farmers developed a rich culture, which was reflected, among other things, in the plan of the Canaanite residence exposed at the site, right next to one of the moshav homes. There's also an abundance of findings: pottery and stone tools, flint tools, including those used to harvest wheat and for housework, and arrowheads used for hunting animals and as weapons, as well as beads and bone artifacts.


Norwalk Community College archeology professor Ernie Wiegand recently led a dig at the site of the house of the Sherwood's, now a state park in Connceticut. The house stood until the 1940s, but little is left of it today. “This land was a wedding present for Daniel Sherwood,” Wiegand said, adding that the original home was erected in 1789, when George Washington was in his first term.

The professor, assisted by a few of his former students, spent the last two weeks painstakingly removing soil and stone at what used to be the front stoop. A backhoe, more indelicately, dug a larger hole near what used to be the center of the home.

For his trouble, he unearthed about a dozen bottles and jars, mostly from the 1930s to the 1950s. Other artifacts were much older, however. The was a handmade nail from the late 1700s, and there were some Native American objects that may have been more than 400 or 500 years old. There were some shards of pottery that dated from the late 1700s, too.

The Sherwood home is a little inland from the present-day entrance booths to the park. The family farmed the surrounding acres for decades, and oysters provided additional income. But, as with many farms in the Northeast, the opening of the rail lines to the Midwest meant that the days were numbered for the Sherwood operation.

After research is complete, the soil will be returned from where it came and the site will look just like it did before the dig began; that is, a grassy glade.

Cece Saunders, of the Friends of Sherwood Island State Park, said that the dig is but the first of many events that will take place to mark the creation of the state park system in 1913. Still, the park didn’t officially open for another 20 years. “It’s a true Westport story,” Saunders said. “There was a Mr. Gair, a tycoon who lived nearby, who didn’t want the public to visit here. He fought the park any and every way he could.”
Today, 500,000 people visit the park every year, she said.

Cece Saunders is the co-founder of the Archaeological Associates of Greenwich (the AAG) with Nancy Bernard, the author of this BLOG!

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Contrary to their hunting reputation, Stone Age Siberians killed mammoths only every few years when they needed tusks for toolmaking, a new study finds. People living between roughly 33,500 and 31,500 years ago hunted the animals mainly for ivory, say paleontologist Pavel Nikolskiy and archaeologist Vladimir Pitulko of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Hunting could not have driven mammoths to extinction, the researchers report June 5 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

On frigid tundra with few trees, mammoth tusks substituted for wood as a raw material for tools, they propose. Siberian people ate mammoth meat after hunts, but food was not their primary goal.

Several European and North American sites have yielded single mammoth carcasses lying amid stone tools. Such finds could reflect either hunting or scavenging. Finds at
Siberia's Yana archeological site provide an unprecedented window on the hunting and killing of mammoths over a long time period, says archaeologist John Hoffecker of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Since 2008, scientists have unearthed 1,103 bones from at least 31 mammoths at Yana. Radiocarbon measurements indicate that mammoth remains gradually accumulated there over 2,000 years. Right shoulder blades from two mammoths contain pieces of stone spear points. An ivory splinter, possibly from a spear's shaft, pierced one of these bones. Another shoulder blade and a thigh bone display holes made by spears. Angles of these wounds suggest that hunters struck mammoths from behind. "Yana people definitely attacked from the mammoth's blind spot," Nikolskiy says. Most mammoth bones at Yana come from animals with slightly curved tusks that were the best size and shape for making hunting weapons, Nikolskiy and Pitulko propose.

While hunting was not the main cause of mammoths' extinction in Asia and Europe, it may have been the last straw as warming temperatures shrank livable areas for the creatures.


Homo sapiens didn't enter the Indian subcontinent until after the massive eruption of Mount Toba in Sumatra nearly 75,000 years ago, new research suggests - overturning a previous idea that humans arrived much earlier.

The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a combination of archaeological and genetic data to suggest a new earliest possible date for the exodus from Africa to Asia.

The new data suggest humans left Africa to arrive in South Asia around 55,000 to 60,000 years ago - long after the Mount Toba supereruption 74,000 years ago. That contradicts some archaeologists' claims that modern humans have been living in the region for twice that long.

"The ash from the eruption, which was an absolutely huge eruption, blew across all of India and smothered the whole region in ash," said study co-author Martin Richards, an archaeogeneticist at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom. "Modern humans weren't there when that happened. They arrived afterwards."

Most archaeologists believed humans migrated to what is now India between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago. However, in a 2007 study, archaeologists reported on stone tools unearthed in Jwalapuram in southeastern India both above and beneath the ash layer deposited by the Mount Toba supereruption about 74,000 years ago. That mega eruption spewed enough lava to create two Mount Everests and blocked sunlight for years. [10 Biggest Volcanic Eruptions in History]

The genetic evidence suggested that people emerged in the subcontinent via the western coast between 55,000 and 60,000 years ago, well after the eruption. These ancient humans appear to have colonized the coasts of the subcontinent first, and then spread into the interiors along rivers, Richards told LiveScience.

Separately, archaeologist Paul Mellars of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and his colleagues analyzed archaeological evidence from the region. They analyzed the stone tools in Jwalapuram and compared them with stone artifacts from both other regions in the subcontinent and Africa.

The team concluded that the tools from before the eruption did not resemble those used in Africa during the same period and, therefore, weren't made by modern humans. Instead, archaic humans - possibly Neanderthals - probably made the tools, Mellars told LiveScience.

"The findings are important for understanding the history of all humanity, given that southern Asia is on the route from Africa to East Asia, Southeast Asia, Australasia and the Americas," Wilson told LiveScience.

Sunday, July 07, 2013


It’s the kind of thing archaeologists dream about. A tomb untouched by time or looters, still laden with the gold and silver offerings that accompanied the ancient elite into the afterlife. But when Polish archaeologist Milosz Giersz actually did find an unlooted tomb in Peru, he started having nightmares, according to National Geographic.

Giersz was terrified that looters would make their way to the site, so he and his colleagues excavated the site in complete secrecy for months. They had to dig through 30 tons of rock to get to the 1,200-year-old tomb, where they found and collected more than 1,000 artifacts, including some fantastic gold jewelry. The tomb housed more than 60 bodies, including three queens of the enigmatic Wari civilization.

Think of archaeology and Peru, and you’ll probably call to mind images of Incan sites like Machu Pichu. The Inca were enshrined in history as the civilization encountered and eventually conquered by Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the 1500s, but they were relative newcomers to power in Peru. They had only held power for a single century before Spain entered the region. The Wari, by contrast, ruled most of what is now Peru for several centuries.

That might not sound like a long time when compared to the Roman Empire, but the Wari civilization had a large impact on the people of the region. Speaking to National Geographic (which helped to fund the excavation), one archaeologist compared the Wari culture to the reign of Alexander the Great. Much of the Wari history remains a mystery. Because so many of their archaeological sites have been looted, archaeologists really don’t know much about them. They hope that this new discovery might answer some of their many remaining questions.

Read more:


Authorities in Peru say an ancient pyramid at the oldest archaeological site near the capital, Lima, has been destroyed. They are pressing criminal charges against two real-estate companies blamed for tearing down the structure, which was 6m (20-ft) high.

The building was one of 12 pyramids found at the El Paraiso complex and is thought to be at least 4,000 years old. The site, which dates back to the Late Preceramic (3500-1800 BC) period, is situated several kilometres north of Lima. "We are not going to be able to know in what ways it was constructed, what materials were used in it and how the society in that part of the pyramid behaved,” said Marco Guilen, Director of excavation project, El Paraiso

According to Peru's tourism ministry, it was a religious and administrative center long before the pre-Columbian Inca civilisation. Rafael Varon, deputy minister of cultural patrimony, said the destruction had taken place over the weekend. He said company workers using heavy machinery had attempted to destroy three further pyramids, but had been stopped by onlookers. Mr Varon said criminal complaints had been lodged against two companies.


The robbers were not professional tombaroli, the looters of ancient sites who have over the centuries despoiled countless graves in Italy. They were people, the authorities said, who had stumbled onto a trove of important Etruscan artifacts a decade ago while digging to build a garage in a villa just outside the city center here. Rather than notify authorities, investigators say the looters divided up the stash and looked around for years before trying to cash in on their good fortune.

But two years ago, when the police were searching a home in Rome, they turned up a photograph of what appeared to be an illicit artifact. That investigation eventually led them to Perugia, and when the looters appeared ready to sell the artifacts this year, members of the police art theft squad moved quickly.

In a news conference announcing the confiscations, Italian authorities described the seized objects — 21 delicately carved travertine marble urns dating to the Hellenistic period — as one of the “major finds” of recent history. Under Italian law, they are now property of the state and will eventually be installed in Perugia’s archaeological museum. But archaeologists bemoan that they still lost something precious: the context the artifacts were found in.

In covering their tracks, the looters effectively wiped out the sort of information — the size of the tomb, the number of rooms, how the various urns and other artifacts were arranged — that scholars scour for information to reconstruct ancient civilizations. “And we still don’t know where the tomb was — we think they built over it,” said Luana Cenciaioli, a local official with the cultural heritage authority, which has begun an exploratory dig in the area where it believes the tomb was located.

Italy’s artifact-rich soil is forever delivering up evidence of past civilizations — when foundations are laid, or new roads or sewers are built — and authorities have long struggled to counter the trafficking of such artifacts. Still, heightened investigative activity and high-profile Italian court cases have dampened the market for looted artifacts, and museums around the world have tightened the rules on how they collect antiquities.

The urns confiscated this year were identified as belonging to the Cacni family, a wealthy local clan, and date from the third and second centuries B.C. The high quality of the urns, experts say, suggests that the family supported the political transition of Perugia into the orbit of Rome, which had vanquished the Etruscans at the Battle of Sentinum in 295 B.C. “From a historical point of view they are important,” said Gabriele Cifani, an antiquities expert at the University of Tor Vergata in Rome, who assisted in the police case.

Unfortunately, the diggers’ inexperience caused them to damage some urns as they were roughly removed from the ground. And some of the bright hues — including golden decoration — that enlivened the travertine and are so typical of Etruscan art were left to fade away, a process that a qualified restorer could have impeded. No one has been arrested or named in the case, but investigators who directed Operation Iphigenia, as it was named, have identified five suspects and view them as “white-collar” types. (Iphigenia was the daughter of Agamemnon, who sacrificed her so his ships could sail to Troy. The myth was a popular motif on funeral urns at the time the artifacts were made.)

If the suspects are charged and convicted, they could face up to 10 years in prison. But the case still might not get to trial because the statute of limitations for the crimes of which they are suspected — illegal excavation and receiving stolen goods — may run out. Last week, Massimo Bray, Italy’s culture minister, pledged to push for a bill to toughen penalties for cultural property crimes.

Had the discoverers notified the authorities when they stumbled upon the tomb, they could have benefited from a finder’s fee — 25 percent of an object’s market value for the person who found it, and 25 percent to the person on whose property it was found. Ms. Cenciaioli estimated that the average market price for an urn would be around 40,000 euros (about $52,000) — less for those without decoration, more for those with — meaning the finder’s fee could have topped 10,000 euros (about $13,000) for one urn.


Among the antiquities found in the man's possession were 616 ancient artifacts dating from the Neolithic period and over 1,200 ancient coins, mainly from the Hellenistic period, and two Roman-era medals Some of the coins seized in the operation A 53-year-old man has been arrested after police found rare objects dating from the Neolithic period in his possession.

In a planned operation, police moved in to arrest the man at a carpark at the Flisvou marina, in the southern Athens suburb of Paleo Faliro. Police seized 616 ancient artifacts dating from the Neolithic period and 840 ancient coins, mainly from the Hellenistic period.
It is alleged that the man sought to planned to sell these items for €600,000.

In a subsequent search of a man's house, in the city of Larisa in Thessaly, police found and seized 391 additional coins from various eras and two Roman-era medals. Police are continuing their investigation.The man will be brought before an Athens prosecutor.


Italy's culture minister must take fast action on moving world-famous ancient Greek warrior statues, the Riace Bronzes, into a safe home, two Democratic Party politicians said Friday. The bronzes, some of Italy's most-loved cultural icons, have been lying on their backs for more than two years in the home of the Calabrian regional government after being moved from a museum undergoing restoration work. However, the work at Reggio Calabria's National Archaeological Museum has become a victim of budget cuts and red tape, which means the statues remain homeless.

Museum renovations began in November 2009 and since then the valuable bronzes have been in storage, away from paying visitors and students. The bronzes' trip across town to the council offices was supposed to be a brief one. When they left storage at the Archaeological Museum on December 22, 2012, officials said it was ''just for a six-month restoration''. The move was the first time in 28 years that the priceless 2,500-year-old bronzes had left the Museo Nazionale di Reggio Calabria. The only previous occasion they were let out was in 1981, for a triumphant round-Italy tour.

Calabria has repeatedly refused permission for copies of the statues to be made and rejected pleas for Italian promotional events worldwide and for the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa.

The Bronzes were discovered in 1972 by a Roman holidaymaker scuba diving off the Calabrian coast and turned out to be one of Italy's most important archaeological finds in the last 100 years. The statues are of two virile men, presumably warriors or gods, who possibly held lances and shields at one time. At around two meters, they are larger than life. The 'older' man, known as Riace B, wears a helmet, while the 'younger' Riace A has nothing covering his rippling hair. Both are naked. Although the statues are cast in bronze, they feature silver lashes and teeth, copper red lips and nipples, and eyes made of ivory, limestone and a glass and amber paste.


Islamic radicals destroyed 4,000 ancient manuscripts during their occupation of Timbuktu, according to the findings of a United Nations expert mission. The damage amounts to about one-tenth of the manuscripts that were being stored in the fabled northern city. The majority of the documents dating back to the 13th century were saved by the devotion of the library’s Malian custodians, who spirited them out of the occupied city in rice sacks, on donkey carts, by motorcycle, by boat and by 4-by-4.

Officials are currently trying to determine how many of those documents were digitized prior to their destruction or disappearance, said David Stehl, program specialist in the cultural section of UNESCO, the U.N. body that added Timbuktu’s monuments to its list of World Heritage sites in 1988. “Of the 46,000 manuscripts that were held by the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research, 4,203 manuscripts were either burned by the Islamists or stolen,” Stehl said during a visit to Timbuktu. Stehl said the expert mission also had identified additional mausoleums believed to have been damaged or destroyed during the occupation, raising the total from nine to 16.

Along with the rest of northern Mali, Timbuktu was occupied by Islamic radicals following a military coup in March 2012. The al-Qaida-linked extremists were driven out of cities in the north following a French military intervention campaign launched last January, but not before burning the manuscripts they could get their hands on. Many of the documents, however, were being stored in an older building belonging to the center. They were surreptitiously transferred to the southern capital of Bamako in empty rice and millet sacks.

Stehl said officials were eager to get those documents back to Timbuktu. “We are working on securing manuscripts transferred to Bamako and creating the conditions for their conservation, because the climate of Bamako is not conducive to the preservation of manuscripts,” Stehl said. Up to $2 million was needed to begin retrieving manuscripts and restoring mausoleums, among other efforts planned to rehabilitate Timbuktu, he said. He said support was coming from the European Union, Norway, Switzerland and Germany.