Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Assessing the Destruction at Hatra
by Christopher Jones July 27, 2015 Culture, Education, Photos0 Comments
Last month reports swept through the global media that ISIS had used bulldozers to level the ancient city of Hatra. ISIS has already destroyed a number of irreplaceable sculptures from Hatra in the Mosul Museum, lending immediate credibility to reports from Iraqi antiquities officials that ISIS fighters had destroyed Hatra itself as well.

However, no videos or other confirmation surfaced for a month afterwards and there was no way to assess the extent of the damage. The story gradually faded from the media. Given the massive size of Hatra, and its location in the middle of the desert, in a region of no strategic significance, over fifty kilometers from inhabited areas, some grew skeptical that ISIS had mounted a major operation to demolish Hatra.

On Saturday video surfaced on YouTube and other websites which showed ISIS fighters destroying sculptures at Hatra. The voice-overs from several ISIS fighters contained the standard spiel about shirk, idolatry, and Muhammad destroying the idols of the Kaaba. The video was quickly removed, but I took some screenshots that will suffice illustrate the items which have been destroyed while leaving out the majority propaganda elements.

The good news is that the damage to Hatra is not as extensive was was first feared. The bad news is that more irreplaceable and unique Hatrene art has been damaged, threatening to further erase an already under-studied field.

At the beginning of the video there is an aerial shot of the ruins of Hatra which seems to have been shot from a blimp or drone. A graphic then highlights the Great Iwans and the Temple of the Triad with a label which reads “idols and statues.”

Saturday, July 25, 2015


A recently published study reveals that stone tools found almost by accident on the shore of Lake Turkana, in Kenya, in 2011, are by far the oldest known. The discovery challenges the notion that the things that made humans unique among primates all evolved around the same time, and suggests that other, more distant relatives knew how to fashion their own tools out of stone at least 3.3 million years ago.

Lead study author Sonia Harmand, of Stony Brook University and the Universite Paris Ouest Nanterre, says: "Our discovery instantly pushed back the beginning of the archaeological record by 700,000 years, or over a quarter of humanity's previously known material cultural history."

Many primates use items like sticks as tools, and other species even use rocks as tools, but actually making a tool was thought to be something exclusive to members of the genus Homo, which is believed to have appeared roughly 2.8 million years ago, and includes modern humans. The traditional view was that stone tool making, along with other key human traits such as language and meat-eating, evolved at that time.

It remains unknown what species made these stone tools. They could have been created by an undiscovered extinct human species, or by Australopithecus, which is currently the leading contender for the ancestor of the human lineage, or by Kenyanthropus, a 3.3-million-year-old skull of which was discovered in 1999 about 1 kilometre from where the tools were later found.

Replicating the toolmaking process, the researchers conclude the techniques used may represent a stage between the pounding used by earlier hominins and the knapping of later toolmakers. This discovery also has implications for understanding the evolution of the human brain. Scientists are now looking at the surfaces and edges of the tools and studying the sediment in which they were found to try to reconstruct how they were used.

Edited from LiveScience (20 May 2015), CNBC (21 May 2015)
[1 image]


A cave on the shore of Utah's Great Salt Lake is giving archaeologists a rare glimpse into prehistoric gambling. Cave 1 has proven to hold a profusion of artifacts, most of which date to a span of just 20 to 40 years in the late 13th century CE, belonging to members of an obscure culture known as the Promontory. Researchers believe the Promontory people migrated from the Canadian Subarctic to the American Southwest.

Heaps of animal remains and children's footwear unearthed in the cave suggest this group was thriving in the late 1200s, when cultures like the nearby Fremont, who lived just a few kilometers away, had given up farming and were struggling to forage during a time of drought. "The numbers and diversity of gaming artifacts that we see in the Promontory record are unparalleled in western North America," said Dr John Ives, an archaeologist who has been researching the cave complex for years.

Most of the game pieces are dice, made from split pieces of cane, one side decorated with cut or burned lines, the other side plain. Many were discovered near the entrance of the cave, around a large central hearth. According to Alberta doctoral student Gabriel Yanicki, who is collaborating on the research, dice games were typically played only by women, for small stakes, or to allocate tasks like cooking.

Based on historical accounts, the pieces may have been used in a game in which three to eight dice were thrown to score points based on how many of the marked sides fell face-up, won by the first player to reach a predetermined score. While men usually didn't take part in dice games themselves, they often bet on the results.

The greatest significance of Cave 1's game pieces may not just be in how they were used, but in where they came from. The artifacts include gambling tools from nearly every part of the ancient American West. The cane dice are similar to those found throughout much of the Southwest, but not elsewhere in the Great Basin.

Researchers also discovered a die made from a beaver tooth wrapped in sinew, of a type used by the Klamath culture on the Oregon coast, 1400 kilometers to the west. "A spiral-incised stick looks similar to objects used in a guessing game played by a number of peoples in northern British Columbia," Yanicki says. A small sinew-netted hoop and feathered dart are indicative of gambling traditions from the Great Plains to the Colorado Plateau.

Edited from Western Digs (18 May 2015)
[4 images]


Researchers in Peru have discovered a trio of statuettes they believe were created by the ancient Caral civilization some 3,800 years ago. The mud statuettes were found inside a reed basket in a building at the ancient city of Vichama in northern Peru, which is today an important archaeological site. The Caral civilization emerged some 5,000 years ago and lived in Peru's Supe Valley, leaving behind impressive architecture including pyramids and sunken amphitheaters.

The newly found statuettes were probably used in religious rituals performed before breaking ground on a new building. Two of the figures, a naked man and woman painted in white, black and red, are believed to represent political authorities. The third, a woman with 28 fingers and red dots on her white face, is believed to represent a priestess.

The research team, led by archaeologist Ruth Shady, also unearthed two mud figurines of women's faces wrapped in cloth and covered with yellow, blue and orange feathers.

Edited from PhysOrg (9 June 2015)
[1 image]


New archaeological research is revealing that south-west Britain was the scene of a prehistoric gold rush. Geological estimates now indicate that up to 200 kilos of gold was extracted in the Early Bronze Age from Cornwall and West Devon's rivers - mainly between the 22nd and 17th centuries BCE.

New archaeological and metallurgical research suggests that substantial amounts were exported to Ireland, with smaller quantities probably also going to France. It also suggests that the elites of Stonehenge almost certainly likewise obtained their gold from the south-west peninsula, as may the rulers of north-west Wales, who took to wearing capes made of solid gold.

The archaeologist who has carried out the metallurgical research, Dr Chris Standish of Southampton University, believes that although Cornwall's prehistoric gold production was of considerable cultural and potentially political significance, it was, for the most part, merely a by-product of an even more important industry - tin extraction. "The available evidence strongly suggests that in Bronze Age Cornwall and West Devon, tin wasn't obtained through mining, but was instead extracted from the areas' rivers, probably through panning or sophisticated damming and sluicing systems," said Dr Standish. "But, as well as finding tin in the sand and gravels of the streams and rivers, they also found gold," he added.

Indeed, fine woolly sheepskins may well have been used to 'catch' the tiny grains of both tin and gold - in a technique similar to that which, in ancient Greek mythology, probably gave rise to the concept of the Golden Fleece. Cornish tin was crucial to the development of the Bronze Age in Western Europe, Britain and Ireland - because in order to make bronze, the prehistoric metalworkers had to combine copper with tin.

Like much of the Cornish gold, some of the tin was almost certainly 'exported' to Ireland where it was mixed with Irish copper to make bronze. As the Bronze Age progressed, large quantities of tin were also exported to the great North Welsh copper mining area near Llandudno where it was used to make even greater quantities of bronze, especially bronze axes.

Although estimates suggest that up to 200 kilos of gold were extracted from the south-west peninsula during the Early Bronze Age, only around 270 gold artifacts from that period, totaling some eight kilos, have ever been found and recorded in Britain and Ireland. Much of the gold was beaten into thin sheets that were then cut into crescent-shaped 'breast plates'. Recent research suggests that they may have been used as part of sun worship rituals. Unlike many Bronze Age treasures, they were not normally used as grave goods for the dead - but were instead buried in peat bogs and other places as votive offerings to the gods.

Sadly, the great majority of gold artifacts originally manufactured during that era were almost certainly repeatedly melted down over the centuries to manufacture later artifacts.

Edited from The Independent (4 June 2015)
[15 images]


Archaeologists are embarking on a three-year series of excavations in the Vale of Pewsey, between the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury - a little explored archaeological region of international importance.

The project will investigate Marden Henge, built around 2400 BCE - the largest henge in the country, and one of Britain's most important but least understood prehistoric monuments. Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building may also have helped to build Stonehenge.

According to Dr Jim Leary, Director of the University of Reading Archaeology Field School: "This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction."

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, adds: "Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment."

Edited from University of Reading PR (15 June 2015)


Archaeologists have returned to the sprawling Cardiff site where a series of discoveries were made in 2014, revealing that the hillfort was occupied from the Stone Age through the Roman era and beyond.

Following last year's emergence of five large roundhouses, a roadway, a decorated bead and extensive assemblages of pottery from the Iron Age, around 200 members of the public are expected to help Cardiff University experts at Caerau Hillfort - a 'significant' yet largely unknown prehistoric settlement. Neolithic flint tools and weapons dated to around 3,600 BCE, and Roman pottery remains were also found among impressive ramparts in the suburbs of the Welsh capital.

"Given that the site is five hectares in size, we're hopeful that the best is yet to come," says Dr Dave Wyatt, co-director of the CAER heritage project which has been supported by more than 2,000 local people since 2013. "Last year some mind-blowing discoveries were made which pushed back the origins of Cardiff deep into time. But we believe we're still just scratching the surface of this incredible site, so who knows what will be uncovered this year."

Edited from Culture24 (26 June 2015)
[1 image]