Wednesday, March 19, 2014


The vast cavern complex in the Cantabria region of northern Spain is covered in paintings of animals dated to between 14,000 and 20,000 years ago. For the past 12 years, visitors have had to settle for a replica in a museum, but now small groups of visitors are again being allowed into the cave as part of an experiment to determine whether the paintings can support the presence of sightseers.

Until August, on a random day of the week visitors will be invited to enter a draw, and five chosen for a guided tour including 37 minutes inside the cave. They will put on special suits, masks and shoes before entering.

Researchers will measure their impact on the cave's temperature, humidity, microbiological contamination and CO2 levels. The results will be used to determine whether or not the cave can be reopened to the public, a controversial decision that has pitted the local tourist economy against government scientists.

The site has been closed several times, starting in 1977 after scientists warned that body heat and CO2 levels from the 3,000 daily visitors were deteriorating the paintings. The cave was again closed to the public in 2002 after scientists blamed body heat, light and moisture for the appearance of green mold on some of the paintings. Since then, the regional government has been lobbying for the site to be reopened, against the recommendations of the government's main research body. A 2010 report made it very clear that the cave shouldn't be open to visitors, with lead researcher Sergio Sánchez Moral recently warning: "The consequences of doing so are immeasurable."

José Antonio Lasheras, director of the Museo de Altamira, defends the decision. The tours, he says, are part of a carefully calculated equation to find a balance between conservation efforts and making the country's heritage as accessible as possible. "It's a controlled risk," he says.

Edited from The Guardian (26 February 2014)
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Some 4,000 years ago a young woman's cremated bones were carefully wrapped in a fur along with her most valuable possessions, packed into a basket, and carried up to one of the highest and most exposed spots on Dartmoor (south Devon, England), where they were buried in a small stone box covered by a mound of peat.

The bundle contained a treasury of unique objects: a tin bead and 34 tin studs, which are the earliest evidence of metal-working in the south-west of England; textiles, including a unique nettle fiber belt with a leather fringe; jewellery, including amber from the Baltic and shale from Whitby; and wooden ear studs, which are the earliest examples of wood turning ever found in Britain. The site chosen for her grave was no accident. At 600 meters above sea level, White Horse hill is so remote that getting there even today is a 45-minute walk across heather and bog, after a half-hour drive up a military track from the nearest road.

Analyzing and interpreting one of the most intriguing burials ever found in Britain is now occupying scientists across several continents. Experts in Britain, Denmark and the Smithsonian in the US have been working on the fur. It is not dog, wolf, deer, horse or sheep, but may be a bear skin, from a species that became extinct in Britain at least 1,000 years ago.

"I am consumed with excitement about this find. I never expected to see anything like it in my lifetime," Jane Marchand, chief archaeologist at the Dartmoor National Park Authority said." It has not yet been possible definitively to identify the sex of the fragmented charred bones, though they suggest a slight individual aged between 15 and 25 years. "I shouldn't really say her - but given the nature of the objects, and the fact that there is no dagger or other weapon of any kind, such as we know were found in other burials from the period, I personally have no doubt that this was a young woman," Marchand said.

Apart from the basket, this burial had the belt; the ear studs - identical to those on sale in many goth shops - made from spindle wood, a hard fine-grained wood often used for knitting needles, from trees which still grow on the lower slopes of Dartmoor; and the unique arm band, plaited from cow hair and originally studded with 34 tin beads that would have shone like silver. There were even charred scraps of textile that may be the remains of a shroud, and fragments of charcoal from the funeral pyre. Although tin - essential for making bronze - from Cornwall and Devon became famous across the ancient world, there was no previous evidence of smelting from such an early date. The necklace, which included amber from the Baltic, had a large tin bead made from part of an ingot beaten flat and then rolled. The archaeologists are convinced it was made locally.

The cist, a stone box, was first spotted more than a decade ago by a walker on Duchy of Cornwall land, but it was only excavated three years ago when archaeologists realized the site was eroding so fast any possible contents would inevitably soon be lost. It was only when they lifted the top slab that the scale of the discovery became apparent. The fur and the basket were a wet blackened sludgy mess, but through it they could see beads and other objects. "As we carefully lifted the bundle a bead fell out - and I knew immediately we had something extraordinary," Marchand said. "Previously we had eight beads from Dartmoor; now we have 200."

The jewellery and other conserved artifacts will feature in an exhibition later this year at Plymouth city museum, but although work continues on her bones, it is unlikely to answer the mystery of who she was, how she died, and why at such a young age she merited a burial fit for a queen.

Edited from The Guardian (9 March 2014)
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Monday, March 03, 2014


Excavations at Mexico’s Valley of Oaxaca have recovered the region’s earliest known temple precinct, which, according to a new study by the American Museum of Natural History, existed about 1,500 years earlier than similar temples described by colonial Europeans. Archaeological investigations during the past 20 years suggest that the temple precinct was staffed by a specialized priesthood. The findings are described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Museum research associate Elsa Redmond and curator Charles Spencer, both in the Division of Anthropology, led the excavations at the archaeological site known as El Palenque. The data document a 300-100 BC walled enclosure that included three multi-room temples and two priests’ residences.

Perforating tools, along with animal and human remains in a room with hearths, suggest that the officiating priests performed bloodletting rituals, animal sacrifices, and possibly human sacrificial rituals. Cooking and producing cloth for priests were likely carried out in a specialized facility. A masonry-lined vaulted tunnel was found leading to the public plaza, which Redmond and Spencer suggest might have been used by priests and other individuals to secretly access the plaza on special ceremonial occasions.

Sunday, March 02, 2014


Archaeologists have uncovered a number of altar relics, including jade artifacts and pits for offerings, at the Shimao ruins, a Neolithic city in China. The findings suggest a religious culture at the time in which human
sacrifice played a part.

The Shimao ruins, located in China's Shaanxi Province, were first discovered in 1976. Until 2012, they were believed to be part of a small town. However, last year, archaeologists realized that the ruins were part of a much larger city extending over an area of 4.25 square kilometers. It was built about 4,300 years ago and abandoned roughly 300 years later during the Xia Dynasty (2100-1600 BC), the first dynasty in China described in historical chronicles.

The city contains a central area with inner and outer structures and walls surrounding the outer city. Remains of palaces, houses, tombs, sacrificial altars and handicraft workshops are scattered around the site. The discovery of many important remains like the earliest preserved murals, partial jade ware and large quantities of pottery shards indicated that the Shimao site played an important core position in the Chinese northern cultural sphere.

The sacrificial altar, located outside the walls of the Shimao Ruins, measures 8 meters in height and had a three-tiered structure with a stone base 90 meters long. The pits for offerings, which are up to 3 meters deep, were found nearby, said Sun Zhouyong, deputy head of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology.

Last year, archaeologists excavated over 80 human skulls dumped in groups - and the rest of their bodies were nowhere to be found. The grisly discovery was made in two pits, with 24 skulls in each, in front of the east gate of the city ruin while others were later uncovered along the eastern city wall. An analysis on the remains revealed that most of them belonged to young women, who may have been sacrificed as part of the rituals

Based on the location of the skulls, archaeologists believe that they are related to the construction of the city wall and may have been part of a religious ritual or foundation ceremony launched before construction of the inner city began.


Evidence of a Stone-Age settlement that may have been swallowed whole by the Baltic Sea has resurfaced near Sweden, revealing a collection of well preserved artifacts left by nomads some 11,000 years ago. The newly discovered site was in fact some sort of a dump in which nomadic Swedes discarded objects, according to a report by the Swedish daily
The Local.

Buried 52 feet below the surface at Hanö, a sandy bay off the coast of Skane County in Sweden, the items include wood pieces, flint tools, animal horns, ropes, a harpoon carving made from an animal bone and the bones of an aurochs and an ancient cattle which became extinct in the early 1600s. "There's wood and antlers and other implements that were thrown in there," project leader Björn Nilsson, archaeology professor at Södertörn University, told the Local.

Amazingly, the artifacts have been perfectly preserved because of the abundant oxygen-consuming"gyttja" -- a black, gel-like sediment which is formed when peat begins to decay. "Around 11,000 years ago there was a build up in the area, a lagoon or sorts ... and all the tree and bone pieces are preserved in it. If the settlement was on dry land we would only have the stone-based things, nothing organic," Nilsson said.

Nilsson's team is continuing to excavate the area, looking for a potential burial site. "What we have here is maybe one of the oldest settlements from the first more permanent sites in Scania and in Sweden full stop," Nilsson said.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


The ancient city of Shi Cheng, known as the Lion City because it was surrounded by the five Lion Mountains, was founded over 1,300 years ago, but it vanished more than half a century ago to make way for a new hydroelectric power station, and a man-made lake. The once bustling city is now between 85 and 131 feet underwater in parts.

"We were lucky. As soon as we dived into the lake, we found the outside wall of the town and even picked up a brick to prove it," he said. The town is in remarkable conditions, with wooden beams and stairs still remaining.Now a film crew has been on site to record the preservation of the lost ruins.

See Huffington Post story that has photos -- stunning!


An imposing monument from the third century AD was located outside the ancient walls of what was once the Roman colony of Iulia Concordia, now in the town of Concordia Sagittaria. The site was likened to a "little, flood-plain Pompeii" in a guided tour at the restoration site in Gruaro, Veneto. Just as Pompeii was buried by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, a natural disaster wiped out and preserved sarcophagi in Iulia Concordia.

Floods swept detritus and sediment across the area in the fifth century AD, rendering the ancient structures inaccessible and invisible for 1500 years. The complex includes a podium nearly two meters tall and six meter long with the remains of two elegant sarcophagi on top, two others nearby, and the base of a third. The remains of a necropolis from the the late first century B.C. was also found.

The excavation is financed by the Region of Veneto with European Union funds under the direction of the Veneto Superintendency for Archeological Heritage. (ANSAmed).


One of the issues of the Atapuerca sites that generates the most scientific debate is the dating of the strata where the fossils are found. Therefore, researchers at the Spanish National Research Center for Human Evolution, among others, strive to settle the dates. A study published by the 'Journal of Archaeological Science' has clarified that the sediment of Gran Dolina, where the first remains of Homo antecessor were discovered in 1994, is 900,000 years old.

The findings at the Lower Palaeolithic cave site of Gran Dolina, in the Sierra de Atapuerca mountain range (Burgos), have led to major advancements in our knowledge of human evolution and occupation of Eurasia. In 1995, specifically, the discovery of the first hominid remains in a stratum of land named TD6, which dated from more than 780,000 years back, was made public in the journal 'Nature'. This was the Homo antecessor, the oldest known hominid species in Europe. As the dating of this and other archaeological sites is the subject of scientific debate – in 2012, a British newspaper questioned Juan Luis Arsuaga, co-director of the sites, and accused him of "distorting our picture of human evolution" -, the researchers are working to date them more precisely.

As Josep M. Parés, from the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution, who is leading this study on the new dating of level TD6 of the Gran Dolina, tells SINC: "We are applying new methods and techniques, and we also have better field and laboratory knowledge. We have published a study that represents a small step towards a large project which will take us longer: reviewing all the dates in order to refine them. We want to include it all within a more solid geochronological framework."

They were previously given a minimum age of 780,000 years and now it is known that they are referring more accurately to around 900,000 years. "The change might sound very small or very large," the expert continues, "but the TD6 stratum is known precisely as having been the place of discovery of the Homo antecessor and this further defines its age." Since then, a further 90 human fossils and over 200 fragments of carved stone have also been discovered. The extent of the excavation grows ever larger and being able to date it is of great interest to the scientists.