Friday, November 29, 2013


FROM A STANFORD UNIVERSITY NEWSLETTER (by a graduate student Benjamin Hein):

Professor of classics revisits Julius Caesar’s time-honored work "The Gallic War," revealing that beneath the military garb prowled a man of supreme intellectual abilities.
Glorious general, cunning politician, ruler of the mighty Roman Empire: this is the Julius Caesar we have long known.

But this appears to be only half the story, according to Stanford Classics Professor Christopher Krebs. A specialist in ancient Roman literature, Krebs notes that, apart from his well-known military exploits, Caesar was a man of letters who saw eye to eye with the famed Roman orator Cicero; a prolific writer and skilled linguist; and commissioner of the Julian calendar.

It is this lesser-known Caesar – the literary virtuoso rather than the conqueror of Gaul – whom Krebs describes in a new project he calls "Caesar 2.0." His research involves reading Caesar's main surviving text, the Commentarii de Bello Gallico (also known as The Gallic War), in an entirely new way: as a piece of literary art and a product of its cultural context rather than as a straightforward military journal.

According to Krebs, Caesar's literary accomplishments are arguably just as important as his talents on the battlefield for explaining the man's extraordinary longevity in modern memory. "Caesar was a leading linguist of his time who contributed extensively to debates about the Latin language. . . . Two hundred years after his death people still referred to Caesar as an authority on the Latin language," Krebs said. "And, more than any other author – with perhaps the exception of Cicero – Caesar has shaped the way we teach classical Latin in school today."

None of this should come as surprise to us, Krebs added. The son of wealthy Roman aristocrats, Caesar received intensive rhetorical and linguistic training from early childhood, mastering the arts and languages well before guiding Roman legions across the Alps on their way to Gaul. As both a scholar and a public intellectual, Krebs – whose previous work includes a highly acclaimed study of the Roman historian Tacitus – does more than simply set the historical record straight. He insists that historians should also devote themselves to making the distant past more accessible and exciting to present audiences.

For example, Krebs combines his new reading of the Commentarii with recent discoveries about Caesar's real world environment, including recent archaeological excavations of the ancient Roman road network.

"Today, we can use ORBIS, Stanford's Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World, to calculate how long it would have taken Caesar to travel across the Po Valley and which roads he was likely to have taken," Krebs said. "Suddenly the text comes alive. The daily routines Caesar describes, the challenges he observes his men facing, the unlikely victories his legions won – we can place all of these stories in their actual geospatial context.

"Caesar 2.0 goes beyond a mere translation. It exposes a man in his full complexity: a man of letters as well as the conqueror of Gaul."

Saturday, November 23, 2013


A civilization known as the Chavin culture was prevalent in the South American country of Peru from approximately 900-200 BCE, pre-dating the Inca civilization. It flourished in the northern Andean highlands and its influence spread along the western seaboard of South America. The Chavin people were quite advanced and evidence has been found of large drainage systems, acoustic engineering in building design and an extensive knowledge of metallurgy.

Now it is believed that a religious center for the culture has been discovered in the northern Peruvian region of Lambayeque. A specialist archaeological team had been working in the area for a month before the discovery was made (named as the Oracle of Congona).

Walter Alva, who heads up the team from the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, is quoted as saying "We're thinking that it's an oracle from the Chavin epoch, with subterranean structures, enclosures and spaces reserved for the Chavin priests. The central part of the temple is where two monoliths were found that bear images typical of the Chavin culture".

Edited from Global Post (31 October 2013)


In what is believed to be a first anywhere in the world, the combined Welsh Archaeological Trusts have teamed up with the University of South Wales to launch the Archwilio app, available on android smartphones via the Google Play store (

The App is very easy to navigate and is available in both Welsh and English. The information covers over 100,000 archaeological sites and gives access to the Historic Environment Records of Wales, from prehistory right up to the 20th Century. The information has been available via the website for some time but the App brings it into the 21st Century.

Louise Austin, who is head of heritage management at Dyfed Archaeological trust, is excited by the development "This is a world-first for Wales and enables archaeological records for the whole of the country to be available on one app.

However, the archaeology of Wales is a truly moveable feast and that is the beauty of the new Archwilio tool. The technology enables us to update records as soon as new evidence for existing archaeological features is found or as new sites are uncovered in Wales. We look forward to interacting with users and being able to update and add new records as a result of their discoveries".

Edited from Wales Online (7 November 2013)
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Research led by Professor Michi Hofreiter from the Department of Biology at the University of York and Professor Hucai Zhang of Yunnan Normal University established clear fossil evidence that cattle farming began in China around 10,000 years ago.

The lower jaw of an ancient cattle specimen was discovered during an excavation in northeast China; the specimen was carbon dated to be 10,660 years old. The molar wear pattern on the teeth of the ancient specimen indicates that humans were involved in feeding the animal. DNA testing indicates that this is a species of cow that is not related to any line of cattle that were domesticated in the Near East and South Asia.

Previously, paleontologists thought that humans began raising domesticated hump less (taurine) cattle in the Near East about 10,000 years ago and peoples in Asia began herding domesticated humped cattle (zebu) in Southern Asia 2,000 years later. The fossil find indicates that the first management of domesticated cattle by humans occurred during the same time frame in Asia and the Near East. There is no evidence that the two cultures communicated in any way at that time although both cultures had a very ancient lineage in Africa.

Edited from (9 november 2013)
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Wednesday, November 13, 2013


The first of long overdue improvements to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site experience will be opened to the public on 18 December 2013. A new state of the art visitor center, located approximately 2.1 km west of Stonehenge, will open its doors to the public on that day. Increased parking for 500 cars and 30 coaches will be provided at the new site.

This is the first part of a £27 million Stonehenge Environmental Improvements Program which will see the old visitor center demolished and landscaped, and the controversial road, the A344, grassed over, to allow the re-connection of The Avenue to the Stones.

The new visitor center will incorporate many modern sustainable building techniques, utilizing carbon free ground source heat pumps and grey water recycling. Inside the center visitors will be able to experience a 360 degree virtual stones experience, and view artifacts from the area which have been brought together, back to their origins, from surrounding museums and the Duckworth Collection at the University of Cambridge.

Further exhibitions will explore the debate over the origins and purpose of the Stones. The expansion to visitor experience has been long overdue and with an enhanced cafe and shop facility it is hoped that visitors will spend a longer and more enjoyable time exploring our heritage.

The Stones will not actually be visible from the new center and this will enhance their mystery as they will gradually emerge over the horizon as you approach on the 10 minute shuttle. English Heritage has also anticipated the increased number of visitors by introducing a timed ticket system, to avoid queues and overcrowding.

Future stages of the re-development will include the construction of Neolithic houses (due in Easter 2014) and finalization of the re-landscaping (summer of 2014). Hopefully we will now be able to experience the wonder that is Stonehenge in the setting in which it was first created.

Edited from Gazette and Herald (30 September 2013)
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In 1963, archaeologist James Mellaart found a large mural on the wall of a house in Çatalhöyük, Turkey - the largest known Stone Age town. He interpreted it as depicting the town's dwellings with a twin-peaked volcano, Hasan Daa, in the process of erupting. But not everyone agreed with Mellaart, partly because there was no evidence that people of Çatalhöyük saw Hasan Daa erupt.

Axel Schmitt, a volcanologist of the University of California in Los Angeles, has now climbed Hasan Daa with his colleagues and collected samples from layers of volcanic rock formed during an explosive eruption, confirming the rocks are about 9000 years old - roughly the same age as the mural. What's more, geological evidence suggests the mural was a relatively accurate depiction - a small eruption characterized by the ejection of bright cinder particles and chunks of molten rock, tens of meters above the crater.

On the other hand, Stephanie Meece, who studied the Çatalhöyük mural while at the University of Cambridge, concludes that the 'volcano' is a depiction of a leopard skin, and the 'town' a collection of abstract shapes - which was Mellaart's original impression. Other art at Çatalhöyük shows the people who lived there were obsessed with wild animals, Meece says, and painted them often.

Schmitt says the geological evidence is still important, and speculates on a possible compromise. "Zoomorphism could satisfy both interpretations," he says. "Hasan Daa could be seen as the 'leopard mountain'."

Edited from NewScientist (30 October 2013)
[2 images]

Schmitt says the geological evidence is still important, and speculates on a possible compromise. "Zoomorphism could satisfy both interpretations," he says. "Hasan Daa could be seen as the 'leopard mountain'."

Edited from NewScientist (30 October 2013)
[2 images]


Researchers at the University of Liverpool (England) have found that long and slender stone tools were made by human ancestors at least a million years ago - nearly twice as long ago as generally thought.

Professor John Gowlett, as a member of an international team based on the University's Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, is working at Kilombe in Kenya, where he has found a number of hand axe tools that are very long and narrow.

Professor Gowlett said: "Some of the stone tools from Kilombe and other early sites are almost two and a half times as long as broad and there is no way this can occur by accident. They must have been carefully crafted. Usually such slender shapes are found far later in the fine blade tools made by Homo sapiens. As the concentrations of elongate tools are rare on the Kilombe site, they were probably made to carry out tasks of animal butchery or plant preparation which did not occur very often. They show that when the need arose early humans were capable of strikingly sophisticated behavior."

Edited from PhysOrg (28 October 2013)
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The late Pleistocene dispersal of Homo sapiens across the Americas is one of the greatest chapters in the history of our species, but major questions remain unanswered.

A new paper co-written by members of a team of researchers associated with the Center for the Study of the First Americans (CSFA) notes that two contentious issues are the timing of colonization of the Bering Land Bridge, and the origin of the Clovis culture. Known for its fluted spear points, Clovis represents the earliest unequivocal complex of archaeological sites in temperate North America.

The 2005 discovery of fluted spear points in northwest Alaska strongly suggests that early humans carrying Clovis technology lived on the central Bering Land Bridge about 12,000 years ago. One hypothesis holds that spear point fluting technology emerged on the land bridge and was carried southward. Fluted points have long been known from Alaska, yet never been found in a datable context.

A new site at Serpentine Hot Springs contains fluted points dating to no earlier than 12,400 BP, suggesting Alaska's fluted-point complex is too young to be ancestral to Clovis, instead representing either a south-to-north dispersal or transmission of fluting technology.

Texas A&M University professor of anthropology Ted Goebel says, "The evidence from Serpentine supports the second theory - that either Palaeo-indian people or technologies were moving in a reverse migration pattern, from south to north, or more specifically, from the high plains of central Canada in a northerly direction into Alaska".

"Not all of Beringia's early residents may have come from Siberia, as we have traditionally thought," notes Dr Goebel. "Some may have come from America instead, although millennia after the initial migration across the land bridge from Asia. If the fluted points do not represent a human migration, they at least indicate the surprisingly early spread of an American technology into Arctic Alaska."

"Humans carried tools made of the volcanic glass called obsidian to the site from nearly 300 miles [500 kilometres] inland in central Alaska," Dr Goebel continues. Nonetheless, fluted points have yet to be found in Russia.

By 12,000 years ago, the land bridge was becoming swamped by rising seas.

Edited from BioNews Texas (1 November 2013)
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Sunday, November 10, 2013


High in the alpine forests of northwestern Wyoming, archaeologists have discovered more than a dozen villages dating back over 2,000 years, a find that could alter our understanding of the scope of human habitation in the ancient West, as well as the histories and migrations of the people who lived there.

And although the discovery of these sites was in many ways unexpected, the scientists who found them actually predicted they would be there. The villages were found across more than 300 square kilometers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, at elevations over 3,200 meters, making some of them the highest prehistoric sites ever found in Wyoming — and possibly the oldest high-altitude settlements found anywhere in North America.
The sites are replete with artifacts like groundstones, projectile points, and pottery, plus pipes and other wares carved out of soapstone. They also feature several — sometimes as many as 70 — stone-lined circular platforms hewn out of the mountain slopes: the foundations of wooden “superstructures” thought to have been lodges.

Judging by the settlements’ lofty location, along with their architectural features and artifacts, archaeologists believe they were built by early Numic-speaking peoples, the mountain-dwelling ancestors of the diverse but related tribes that today include the Comanche, Ute, Shoshone and Northern Paiute.

“In archaeological research, mountains have generally been overlooked as fringes, boundaries, and marginal landscapes,” said Matthew Stirn of the University of Sheffield in an interview. “When we came across [these] villages in the Winds, it proved that not only did family groups live for long periods of time in the mountains, it also showed that this practice occurred rather consistently for several thousand years throughout prehistory.”

As important as the newly found villages are, they were not the first to be discovered in the Wind River Range, Stirn noted. In 2006, Dr. Richard Adams of Colorado State University and his team found a prehistoric village at 3,500 meters above sea level, with evidence of more than 65 residential structures.

Dubbed High Rise Village, the site featured artifacts and traces of lodges dating over at least 2,500 continuous years, opening up a new frontier of high-altitude archaeology in the intermountain West


As Syria's tragic war continues without a resolution in sight, the conflict's death toll continues to soar. But this isn't the only disastrous consequence of the conflict — Syria's breathtaking historical and architectural heritage is being blasted to pieces by the ongoing war, too. Here are five of the most significant sites and buildings that have been damaged or destroyed.

1. The Umayyad Mosque (this is the small Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, not the big one in Damascus). Located in the old city of Aleppo, the Umayyad Mosque is another one of Syria’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites; it is also one of the oldest and most important mosques in the world. In an interview with the Daily Mail, Helga Seeden, professor of archaeology at the American University of Beirut, put this loss into context: "This is like blowing up the Taj Mahal or destroying the Acropolis in Athens. This mosque is a living sanctuary... This is a disaster. In terms of heritage, this is the worst I've seen in Syria. I'm horrified."

2. Aleppo's Souk Al-Madina. This medieval souk, the largest covered historic market in the world, was badly burned and partially destroyed during fighting that began in September of 2012.

3. Al-Omari Mosque. This mosque, founded in the early eighth century by the second Caliph of Islam, Omar, is one of the oldest mosques in the world.

4. Crac des Chevaliers. One of Syria’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Crac des Chevaliers is one of the world’s most important medieval castles still in existence.

5. Palmyra. As the fighting in and around this ancient desert oasis, the breathtaking ruins have been rocked by shells, mortar bombs, and rockets.

(I'm particularly saddened by this story as ten years ago I traveled with a small group to the sites mentioned. -- N.B.)


A four and half-thousand year-old dwelling belonging to an important ruler is the latest find from an archeological dig referred to as the Kultepe mound, in a district of Kayseri, in central Turkey.

“There is no such a huge building like this in Anatolia and Middle East. We are only at the certain part of the building right now. We will see an enormous structure once we discover it all. This is not a private house. It is most probably an administrative body. We believe that this is a building where Kanis King lives or governs his kingdom,” Prof. Fikri Kuloglu, Ankara University archaeologist and head of the Kultepe archaeological excavation, told an AA reporter.

The archeologist says the thousands of seals found (probably from Northern Syria) tell that there was "international and systematical trade" in those times and the archaeological excavations in coming years will give further evidence of those trade activities.

Kultepe, ancient mound covering the Bronze Age city of Kanesh, is in central Turkey. Kultepe was known to archaeologists during the 19th century, but it began to attract particular attention as the reputed source of so-called Cappadocian tablets in Old Assyrian cuneiform writing and language.

Thursday, November 07, 2013


A study of fossilized pollen particles taken from sediments at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee may have solved an intriguing historical mystery that has been troubling archaeologists for decades.

"In a short period of time, the entire world of the Bronze Age crumbled," says Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, who was one of the lead scientists in the study.

"The Hittite Empire, Egypt of the pharaohs, the Mycenaean culture in Greece, the copper-producing kingdom located on the island of Cyprus, the great trade emporium of Ugarit on the Syrian coast, and the Canaanite city-states under Egyptian hegemony-all disappeared and only after a while were replaced by the territorial kingdoms of the Iron Age, including Israel and Judah."

Wars, pestilence, and sudden natural disasters have all been postulated as possible causes, but now, thanks to sophisticated pollen-sampling techniques and advances in radiocarbon dating, Finkelstein and his colleagues believe they know the primary culprit: drought, or rather a succession of severe droughts over a 150-year period from 1250 BCE to about 1100 BCE.

"We focused our study on the time interval between 3200 BCE and 500 BCE," says Dafna Langgut, a University of Tel Aviv palynologist (one who studies ancient pollens). She, along with Finkelstein and University of Bonn geology professor Thomas Litt, authored the study, which appeared this week in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.

By studying pollen samples taken at 40-year intervals, the scientists were able to monitor changes in the vegetation. "Pollen grains are the 'fingerprints' of plants," says Langgut. "They are extremely helpful in the reconstruction of ancient natural vegetation and past climate conditions."

The scientists noticed a sharp decline around 1250 BCE in oaks, pines, and carob trees-the traditional flora of the Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age-and an increase in the types of plants usually found in semiarid desert regions. There was also a big drop in the number of olive trees, an indication that horticulture was on the wane. All are signs, say the researchers, that the region was in the grip of regular and sustained

The most crucial years of the collapse were probably between 1185 and 1130 BCE, says Finkelstein, but the entire process extended over a longer period of time.

The dates the researchers came up with via pollen analysis correspond nicely to the few remaining historical records of the period, which mention shortages of grain, disruption of trade routes, civil unrest, and pillaging of cities as people began to fight over diminishing resources. The Late Bronze Age was also a period when marauding bands known as the Sea Peoples raided coastal areas in the eastern Mediterranean.

The tumultuous period ended only when rains returned and uprooted groups began to settle down again.


A report that Ötzi the Iceman has 19 genetic relatives living in Austria is the latest in a string of surprising discoveries surrounding the famed ice mummy. Ötzi's 5,300-year-old corpse turned up on the mountain border between Austria and Italy in 1991. Here is a rundown of the latest on the world's oldest Alpine celebrity, and some of the other remarkable things we've learned about Ötzi.

1. The Iceman has living relatives.

Living links to the Iceman have now been revealed by a new DNA study. Gene researchers looking at unusual markers on the Iceman's male sex chromosome report that they have uncovered at least 19 genetic relatives of Ötzi in Austria's Tyrol region. The finding supports previous research suggesting that Ötzi and his ancestors were of farming stock. The study used Y-chromosome markers that are passed from father to son to trace the Neolithic migrations that brought farming to Europe via the Alps. Ötzi belonged to a Y-chromosome group called haplogroup G, which is rooted, like farming, in the Middle East.

2. He had several health issues.

Since Ötzi's discovery in an alpine glacier more than two decades ago, scientists have subjected his mummy to a full-body health check. The findings don't make pretty reading. The 40-something's list of complaints include worn joints, hardened arteries, gallstones, and a nasty growth on his little toe (perhaps caused by frostbite). Furthermore, the Iceman's gut contained the eggs of parasitic worms, he likely had Lyme disease, and he had alarming levels of arsenic in his system (probably due to working with metal ores and copper extraction). Ötzi was also in need of a dentist-an in-depth dental examination found evidence of advanced gum disease and tooth decay. (See video: "Iceman Autopsy.")
Despite all this, and a fresh arrow wound to his shoulder, it was a sudden blow to the head that proved fatal to Ötzi.

3. He also had anatomical abnormalities.

Besides his physical ailments, the Iceman had several anatomical abnormalities. He lacked both wisdom teeth and a 12th pair of ribs. The mountain man also sported a caddish gap between his two front teeth, known as a diastema. Whether this impressed the ladies is a moot point-some researchers suspect Ötzi might have been infertile.

4. The Iceman was inked.

Ötzi's frozen mummy preserves a fine collection of Copper Age tattoos. Numbering over 50 in total, they cover him from head to foot. These weren't produced using a needle, but by making fine cuts in the skin and then rubbing in charcoal. The result was a series of lines and crosses mostly located on parts of the body that are prone to injury or pain, such as the joints and along the back. This has led some researchers to believe that the
tattoos marked acupuncture points.

If so, Ötzi must have needed a lot of treatment, which, given his age and ailments, isn't so surprising. The oldest evidence for acupuncture, Ötzi's tattoos suggest that the practice was around at least 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

5. He consumed pollen and goats.

The Iceman's final meals have served up a feast of information to scholars. His stomach contained 30 different types of pollen. Analysis of that pollen shows that Ötzi died in spring or early summer, and it has even enabled researchers to trace his movements through different mountain elevations just before he died. His partially digested last meal suggests he ate two hours before his grisly end. It included grains and meat from an ibex, a species of nimble-footed wild goat.


A team of scientists are now suggesting that the Denisovans, an ancient human species that lived concurrent with Neanderthals and early modern humans, may have successfully crossed Wallaces Line, one of the world's largest biogeographic marine barriers in Indonesia, subsequently interbreeding with early modern humans who were on their way to Australia and New Guinea.

In 2010, a small bone fragment of a finger bone was discovered in Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains of Asia. Later genetic analysis indicated that it belonged to a heretofore unknown ancient human species, named Denisovans,and that their DNA is still present in native populations of Australia, New Guinea and surrounding regions. There is a distinct, and puzzling, absence of the DNA in Asian populations.

Now, as published in a Science opinion article, Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide in Australia and Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum in the UK are suggesting that the DNA presence could be the result of the Denisovans crossing over the deep oceanic marine barrier of Wallaces Line, a biogeographic gap that is so significant that it defines the division between European and Asian mammals on its west and marsupial-dominated Australasia on its east.

"The conclusions we've drawn are very important for our knowledge of early human evolution and culture," says Stringer. "Knowing that the Denisovans spread beyond this significant sea barrier opens up all sorts of questions about the behaviors and capabilities of this group, and how far they could have spread."

"The key questions now are where and when the ancestors of current humans, who were on their way to colonize New Guinea and Australia around 50,000 years ago, met and interacted with the Denisovans," says Professor Cooper.

Source: Adapted and edited from a University of Adelaid Press Release.


Were Neanderthals merely lumbering oafs? Not at least as far as dental hygiene is concerned, archaeologists suggest. Toothpicks likely were on the menu after a hearty Neanderthal meal. Our long-lost Homo neanderthalensis cousins used the toothpicks to clean their teeth and even relieve the pain of gum disease, suggests a team at Spain's Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES).

The study, published in the October 16 issue of PLOS One, provides the oldest evidence of toothpick use for the purpose of pain relief. Found at the Cova Foradà site in Valencia, Spain, the fossil teeth were embedded in the upper jaw of an ancient skull, which researchers estimate at 50,000 to 150,000 years old.

The teeth were free of cavities but showed heavy dental wear. This was likely due to a highly abrasive diet that probably included "stems, fruits,leaves, etc., and a great amount of meat and also marrow," said study lead author Marina Lozano of IPHES, by email.
"Also, all these foods would have dust and/or ashes that increased the
abrasiveness of the diet" significantly, she added.

The toothpicks were most likely thin sticks or rigid stalks of grass.

Such research has shown evidence of toothpick marks as far back as Homo habilis, an early human species that lived 1.6 to 1.9 million years ago. For Neanderthals it was presumably no different.

What's different here is that the new study suggests that Neanderthals were doing more than just de-gunking their molars. The fossils displayed evidence of periodontal disease, along with telltale toothpick marks. That led the researchers to hypothesize that Neanderthals employed toothpicks not just to clean teeth and dislodge food particles, but also to help relieve pain and inflammation caused by gum disease.

According to the study, "The use of toothpicks of plant origin to mitigate sore gums could also be considered as a type of rudimentary dental treatment." If the toothpick finding bears out, it would be the oldest evidence of palliative dental care of its kind. And it would suggest that the Neanderthal was no technological slouch.


A newly discovered skull, some 1.8 million years old, has rekindled debate over the identity of humanity's ancient ancestors. Uncovered at the Dmanisi site in the Caucasus in Georgia, "Skull 5" represents the most complete jaw and cranium from a turning point in early human history.

Researchers, led by Georgian National Museum anthropologist David Lordkipanidze, first found the complete lower jaw of a fossil human in 2000. The cranium turned up five years later, at the fossil-rich Dmanisi site 96 miles southwest of Tbilisi, and is now being reported in the journal Science. "It was discovered on August 5, 2005-in fact, on my birthday," Lordkipanidze says. He adds that the fossil's importance was clear as soon as the team saw it, but required eight years of preparatory analysis.

That is because Skull 5 is what paleoanthropologists often refer to as a "mosaic," or mixture of features seen in earlier and later humans. The skull's face, large teeth, and small brain size resemble those of earlier fossil humans, but the detailed anatomy of its braincase-which gives clues to the wiring of the brain-is similar to that of a more recent early human species called Homo erectus. This combination of features has fueled a
long-running discussion over whether the Dmanisi humans were an early form of Homo erectus, a distinct species called Homo georgicus, or something else.

The newly described skull isn't the only one that has been found at Dmanisi. At least five relatively complete skulls have been found there in the last two decades. Those individuals may not have actually lived alongside each other, but apparently occupied this same place within a window of a few thousand years more than 1.75 million years ago.

Lordkipanidze and his coauthors suggest that, taken together, these skulls demonstrate how the Dmanisi humans varied in appearance from one individual to the next. "Together, our analyses suggest that Skull 5 and the other four early Homo [human] individuals from Dmanisi represent the full range of variation within a single species," study senior author Christoph Zollikofer of Switzerland's University of Zurich, said at a briefing on the new skull discovery.

Using morphometrics to gauge skull shape for each fossil skull, Lordkipanidze and colleagues found that the Dmanisi humans varied from each other in facial features and brain size, for example, about as much as modern humans do from each other. In other words, despite minor differences, they all belonged to the same species.

In the new study, however, Lordkipanidze and coauthors suggest that Dmanisi's inhabitants were actually part of a single human lineage that contains several earlier human species long thought of as distinct from Homo erectus.

So, who were the early humans living at Dmanisi? Lordkipanidze and colleagues place them in a single lineage of early humans that may stretch back as far as 2.4 million years ago in East Africa, when the first human species, Homo habilis, arose. This would lump the various human species that have been named during early Homo history into a single evolving species connecting Homo habilis to the Dmanisi humans, and forward in time to Homo erectus as it expanded across Eurasia. "We think that many African fossils can be lumped in this category and aligned with the single-lineage hypothesis," Lordkipanidze says.

Debate will undoubtedly continue about who the Dmanisi humans really were and how they fit into our broader family history. Those arguments will hinge on what is still being found. "Dmanisi is a snapshot in time, like a time capsule," Lordkipanidze said at the briefing. He suggests that his discovery team isn't done yet, and more early human fossil finds may lie ahead: "We can say for sure that Dmanisi has enormous potential to yield new discoveries."