Saturday, April 30, 2016


In the desert upland just a few miles from both Mexico and New Mexico, researchers have uncovered a 3,000-year-old bison kill site, featuring hundreds of bones and bone fragments, along with dozens of cobblestones and flaked and ground stone tools. Adding to the surprise is the fact that this location, known as Cave Creek Midden, near the town of Portal, is already well-known to archaeologists.

When it was first investigated in 1936, the site revealed stone tools and other artifacts that came to typify a critical phase in Southwestern history: the period from about 4000 and 500 BCE, when humans first started to re-settle the desert Southwest and develop methods for farming corn.

The discovery of a large bison kill here adds a whole new chapter to the story of the site, and a new understanding of the hunter-gatherers who lived here.Excavations revealed bison bones, cobblestones, and manos in a layer dated to around 1300 BCE.

“We found a bunch of bison where we hoped to find corn,” said Dr. Jesse Ballenger, of the University of Arizona, who co-led the new study with Dr. Jonathan Mabry.

“The presence of bison at the Cave Creek Midden site opens interesting avenues of research,” added Francois Lanoe, an Arizona doctoral student who also took part in the study.

“If bison were a major component of people’s diet, well, it is unexpected in that region of the Southwest.


he history of humans living in Ireland just added 2,500 years to its timeline, but the discovery wasn’t made in a peat bog or after excavating tons of dirt—it was found in a cardboard box.

In 2010 and 2011, animal osteologist Ruth Carden of the National Museum of Ireland began re-analyzing bones collected from cave excavations in the early 20th century when she came across part of a knee from a brown bear with several cut marks on it, according to a press release from the Sligo Institute of Technology.

Carden brought the bone to the attention of Marion Dowd, a specialist in cave archeology at Sligo. Dowd was intrigued, so the two sent samples to Queen’s University in Belfast and later to Oxford University to get the age of the samples.

The data from both labs showed that the bear was butchered 12,500 years ago, or 2,500 years before the earliest previous evidence of human habitation on the Emerald Isle. Three specialists additionally confirmed that the cut marks were made on fresh bone, further suggesting that humans were present in Ireland much earlier than previously thought.

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ISIS failed to demolish the Roman ruins in the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra which was recaptured by pro-Government troops following a major offensive, although blood marked the scenes where the terror group murdered its victims.

ISIS captured the city in May 2015 and began blowing up some of the major landmarks at the UNESCO-listed world heritage site.

However, it used the 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheater to conduct public executions, with the blood of the victims staining the sand.

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Skeletons unearthed in Kenya may be the oldest known evidence of human warfare, according to a new study.

The skeletons of 27 people who died about 10,000 years ago bear marks of blunt force trauma and projectile wounds, the researchers said in the study. The victims included men, women and children.

"That scale of death — it can't be an individual murder or homicide amongst families," said study co-author Robert Foley, an anthropologist and archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in England. "It was a result of some intergroup conflict."


Penn's libraries are home to a wide range of special and general collections related to the Holy Land.

These include primary sources such as rare manuscripts, early modern printed books, travelogues, early photographs and printed postcards, engraved and hand-illustrated maps and atlases, original archeological artifacts, field reports, and extensive circulating secondary sources.

Among the most important are the Lenkin Collection of Photography, which consists of over 5,000 early photographs of the Holy Land, dating from 1850-1937 and the Paola and Bertrand Lazard Holy Land Print collections, including hundreds of early printed books, postcards, maps, drawings, and watercolors.

Recent acquisitions include the Moldovan Family Digital Holy Land Map Collection and the Zucker Holy Land Travel Manuscript. Related materials at Penn are found in the University of Pennsylvania Museum's rich collection of early photographs, including nearly 1,500 original Maison Bonfils photographs, as well as in the Museum's historical records and field reports of archeological excavations at places like Bet Shean in Israel.


Archaeological sites in Alexandria are facing ruin, with renovation projects by the Antiquities Ministry covering 13 ancient Islamic, Coptic and Jewish monuments stalled due to a shortfall in funding that stretches back many years.
Eighty percent of the province’s sites, meanwhile, have not been touched by conservators for tens of years.

Archaeologists have told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the whole history of Alexandria is threatened with extinction, especially since the only UNESCO-registered ancient Coptic site, the Abu Mina archaeological zone, may be removed from the organization’s world heritage record due to high levels of underground water at the 600-feddan site.

Among those concerned is Antiquities Ministry official Mohamed Ali Saeed, the former director of Alexandria’s antiquities. He told Al-Masry Al-Youm that many ancient Islamic sites are near collapse, either due to a lack of renovation work or work being interrupted. Enumerating the endangered structures, Saeed listed the Shorbagy Mosque, the Terbana Mosque, the Haqqania courthouse, the Ptolemaic Wall, the old towers, the cisterns of Ibn al-Nabih, Ibn Battouta Ismail and Ingy Hanem, as well as the entire Abu Mina Coptic site. He said that while renovations at some sites have been halted for at least six years, others have not seen conservators for more than 20 years.

Saeed urged “immediate intervention" by the ministry to save the historic sites, warning that weather conditions, most notably seasonal winter storms, represent a serious threat to them. In his warning, Saeed gave special attention to the Abu Mina area, which, he explained, is Egypt’s only Coptic site listed by UNESCO. He said groundwater levels at Abu Mina have reached 5.5 meters, submerging the ancient tomb of Saint Mar Mina.

Ahmed Abdel Fattah, another expert and a member of the ministry’s permanent antiquities panel, warned of rising groundwater levels at the ancient Ptolemaic and Greek tombs of Mostafa Kamel, Shatbi and Anfoushi, where walls and floors are being gradually eroded. He said the structures should be prioritized for renovation, especially due to their exposure to high humidity levels resulting from proximity to the sea.

Abdel Fattah pointed to the endangered ancient Ptolemaic cemeteries of Alabaster and Wardian near the seaport, which he identified as two of the most historical sites in the Alexandria area. The Ptolemaic cemeteries of Souq al-Gomaa, are also suffering “severe deterioration” according to Abdel Fattah. “They fall between the tramway and low-income housing, surrounded by piles of garbage on all sides,” he noted.

Speaking from Abu Mina, the region’s antiquities official, Father Tedaous Avamina, said that in 2005 the Antiquities Ministry embarked on a LE50 million scheme, sponsored by UNESCO and the government, to reduce groundwater levels at the site. He explained that, though the project was completed in 2010, political upheaval and economic hardship meant there was not enough money for periodic maintenance of the water drainage equipment.

Political instability was also responsible for stalled renovations at other sites. An official source at the ministry’s engineering administration said nearly LE57 million had been earmarked for renovations at the Terbana and Shorbagi mosques since 2009. The official said that, while the first phase of renovations was concluded before the 2011 uprising, later phases were halted due to political upheaval.

According to the official, four other schemes are planned for the same sites, including the renovation of the ancient cemeteries and draining groundwater there. However, work cannot begin until the money has been found.


New fossils from Kenya suggest that an early hominid species -- Australopithecus afarensis -- lived far eastward beyond the Great Rift Valley and much farther than previously thought. An international team of paleontologists led by Emma Mbua of Mount Kenya University and Masato Nakatsukasa of Kyoto University report findings of fossilized teeth and forearm bone from an adult male and two infant A. afarensis from an exposure eroded by the Kantis River in Ongata-Rongai, a settlement in the outskirts of Nairobi.

"So far, all other A. afarensis fossils had been identified from the center of the Rift Valley," explains Nakatsukasa. "A previous Australopithecus bahrelghazali discovery in Chad confirmed that our hominid ancestor's distribution covered central Africa, but this was the first time an Australopithecus fossil has been found east of the Rift Valley. This has important implications for what we understand about our ancestor's distribution range, namely that Australopithecus could have covered a much greater area by this age."

A. afarensis is believed to have lived 3,700,000-3,000,000 years ago, as characterized by fossils like "Lucy" from Ethiopia.

Stable isotope analysis revealed that the Kantis region was humid, but had a plain-like environment with fewer trees compared to other sites in the Great Rift Valley where A. afaransis fossils had previously appeared. "The hominid must have discovered suitable habitats in the Kenyan highlands. It seems that A. afaransis was good at adapting to varying environments," notes Nakatsukasa.

Monday, April 18, 2016


Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq are netting between $150 million and $200 million a year from illicit trade in plundered antiquities, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations said in a recent letter. "Around 100,000 cultural objects of global importance, including 4,500 archaeological sites, nine of which are included in the World Heritage List of ... UNESCO, are under the control of the Islamic State ... in Syria and Iraq," Ambassador Vitaly Churkin wrote in a letter to the U.N. Security Council.

The smuggling of artifacts, Churkin wrote, is organized by Islamic State's antiquities division in the group's equivalent of a ministry for natural resources. Only those who have a permit with a stamp from this division are permitted to excavate, remove and transport antiquities. Some details of the group's war spoils department were previously revealed by Reuters, which reviewed some of the documents seized by U.S. Special Operations Forces in a May 2015 raid in Syria. But many details in Churkin's letter appeared to be new.

The envoy from Russia, which has repeatedly accused Turkey of supporting Islamic State by purchasing oil from the group, said plundered antiquities were largely smuggled through Turkish territory. "The main center for the smuggling of cultural heritage items is the Turkish city of Gaziantep, where the stolen goods are sold at illegal auctions and then through a network of antique shops and at the local market," Churkin wrote.

Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment on the Russian allegations. Russian-Turkish relations have been strained ever since Turkey shot down a Russian plane near the Syrian border last November.
Churkin said jewelry, coins and other looted items are brought to the Turkish cities of Izmir, Mersin and Antalya, where criminal groups produce fake documents on their origin.

"The antiquities are then offered to collectors from various countries, generally through Internet auction sites such as eBay and specialized online stores," he said. Churkin named several other Internet auction sites that he said sold antiquities plundered by Islamic State.

"Recently ISIL has been exploiting the potential of social media more and more frequently so as to cut out the middleman and sell artifacts directly to buyers," he said. EBay said it was not aware of the allegations that it was being used to sell plundered items."eBay has absolutely zero interest in having illicit listings of cultural or historical goods appear on our platforms," it said. "We're currently looking into the claims of this letter."

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Sunday, April 17, 2016


An "elaborate" Roman villa has been unearthed by chance by a homeowner laying electric cables in his garden in Wiltshire. It was discovered by rug designer Luke Irwin as he was carrying out some work at his farmhouse so that his children could play table tennis in an old barn.

He uncovered an untouched mosaic, and excavations revealed a villa described as "extraordinarily well-preserved". Historic England said it was "unparalleled in recent years".

Thought to be one of the largest of its kind in the country, the villa was uncovered in Brixton Deverill near Warminster during an eight-day dig. It is being compared in terms of its size and its owners' wealth to a similar, famous site at Chedworth in Gloucestershire.

A stone planter which had been holding geraniums by Mr Irwin's kitchen was also identified by experts as a Roman child's coffin

Finds including hundreds of oysters, which were artificially cultivated and carried live from the coast in barrels of salt water, suggest that the villa was owned by a wealthy family. The dig also turned up "extremely high status pottery", coins, brooches and the bones of animals including a suckling pig and wild animals which had been hunted.

"We've found a whole range of artifacts demonstrating just how luxurious a life that was led by the elite family that would have lived at the villa," said Dr David Roberts, of Historic England. "It's clearly not your run-of-the-mill domestic settlement." Dr Roberts said the villa, built sometime between AD 175 and 220, had "not been touched since its collapse 1,400 years ago", which made it "of enormous importance". "Without question, this is a hugely valuable site in terms of research, with incredible potential," he said. "It's one of the best sites I have ever had the chance to work on."


After being told that antiquities looted in Syria and Iraq may be on sale in Britain, Channel 4’s Dispatches program sent two academics undercover to pose as collectors.

Augusta McMahon, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Cambridge, and Alessio Palmisano, from University College London, wore hidden cameras as they browsed upscale London Mayfair antiques shops.

During a visit to a shop owned by Elias Assad, a dealer in Middle Eastern and Islamic antiquities, they spotted an ornate 6 ft piece of carved stone that they recognized as a lintel. The academics suspected that it originated from Syria.

Assad originally quoted a price of £50,000, but when McMahon and Palmisano returned several weeks later, he said the owner of the antiquity had agreed to drop the price.


The Islamic State has ruined a part of the historic great city wall that circled the Iraqi city of Nineveh, the ancient capital city of the Assyrian empire, Iraqi media reported Thursday. According to Alsumaria news, an Iraqi news site, the terror organization shattered in the past few days Adad gate, which was part of the northern sector of the Acropolis walls of ancient Nineveh.

ISIS fighters who devastated the historic wall of the Iraqi city have reportedly transferred the archeological ruins to Syria, where they would probably sell them.

The Adad gate, named after the God Adad, is one of 15 gates that constituted the great wall of Nineveh, which was built in 700 BCE by the Assyrian King Sennacherib.

In light of previous reports alleging that ISIS would bomb the city walls if the Iraqi army attempts to liberate Mosul, ISIS’ move appears to be an indication that the group has started losing ground as a result of the American-led campaign to recapture the city of Mosul.

This is not the first time the Islamic State has targeted Nineveh's ancient wall. In January 2015, the terror organization blew up large parts of the archaeological wall of Nineveh in the al-Tahrir neighborhood.


The first foreign experts who visited the museum in Palmyra after it was taken over from Islamic State militants said they spent a week collecting fragments of priceless broken sculptures from the museum grounds and preparing them for transportation to Damascus in a rescue mission they hope will help salvage most of its contents. Back in the Syrian capital Saturday, they offered grim new details about the extent of the destruction caused by the extremists during their 10-month stay in the ancient town.

The museum was trashed and some of its best-known artifacts and statues were smashed by the militants, who cut off the heads and hands of statues and demolished others before being driven out last month.

Bartosz Markowski, from the Polish Archaeological Center at the University of Warsaw, told The Associated Press that most of the 200 objects which were exhibited on the ground floor of the Palmyra museum were destroyed, many of them apparently with hard tools like hammers. Many artifacts have been stolen, he added, thought it was not possible to know how many.

He and his colleagues were the first specialists to visit Palmyra after it was taken over by the Syrian army, and spent a week working and assessing the damage. “We collected everything we could. The fragments were spread around the whole museum among broken glass and furniture … It is a catastrophe,” he said, speaking to the AP in the garden of the National Museum in Damascus.

During their rule of Palmyra, the extremists demolished some of the most famous Roman-era monuments that stand just outside the town, including two large temples dating back more than 1,800 years and a Roman triumphal archway, filming the destruction themselves for the world to see. The sprawling outdoor site, a UNESCO world heritage site, as well as the museum were among Syria’s main tourist attractions before the civil war.

Among the best-known statues destroyed was the famous Lion of Allat, a 2000-year-old statue which previously greeted visitors and tourists outside the Palmyra museum. The statue, which used to adorn the temple of Allat, a pre-Islamic goddess in Palmyra, was defaced by IS militants and knocked over by bulldozers.

On a visit to Palmyra on Thursday, The Associated Press saw the statue lying outside the museum building with its face cut and some of its broken pieces lying next to it. “Fortunately we collected most of the fragments and I hope it can be reconstructed very soon,” said Markowski, who in 2005 took part in a Polish archaeological mission that did renovation work on the statue. His colleague, Robert Zukowski, said the limestone lion statue should be the first thing restored and “it should stay in Palmyra as a sign of resistance against the barbarians. “

In addition to the damage inflicted by IS, Markowski said the museum building has suffered structural damage due to bombs falling. “There’s broken ceilings, broken walls, roofs, a lot of garbage and fragments of bricks everywhere, and among that there are fragments of sculptures,” he said. He said the restoration will require a massive international effort and years to accomplish.

“I think most of the objects can be restored, but they will never look as they did before,” he added.


One of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces, based in Basra, southern Iraq, will reportedly be transformed into a museum this September (2016), just over 13 years after Western powers invaded Iraq. It will be the first museum to open in the country for decades, according to reports by National Geographic. The U.K.’s national British Museum has offered free curatorial support for it.

Partly funded by donations from oil companies to British charity, Friends of Basrah Museum, the project will cost an estimated $3.5m (£2.5m). The new museum will showcase at least 3,500 objects from Baghdad's Iraq Museum representative of different periods of the country’s history from ancient Sumer to Babylon.

The Basra government agreed to provide the rest of the necessary funding, but has not yet contributed the agreed $3 million share of the money. “Like anything else in Iraq, it is difficult to achieve the simplest task,” Lamia Al-Gailani Werr, a trustee of the Friends of Basrah Museum and an Iraqi who lives in London, tells National Geographic.


Analysis of a series of inscriptions on 2,600-year-old ceramic shards found during excavations at a fortress in the Israeli desert has shown they were written by at least six authors at different levels in the Judean military. It suggests literacy was much more widespread than had been believed. They contain a series of military commands regarding the movement of troops and the provision of supplies.

Using computerized imaging processing and machine learning, researchers have discovered the 16 inscriptions were written by at least six different authors. They are some of the most important historical and religious documents to have ever been discovered, giving a rare and detailed insight into Biblical times.

Advanced digital tools are also being developed to suggest new ways of joining these together by looking for connections between images, text and matches between fragment edges.The project will also assist attempts to translate the scrolls as they are fitted together, helping researchers unravel the secrets they contain.
Experts estimate there around 20,000 fragments of scrolls being scanned as part of the project but there could be many more.

This, they say, suggests writing, and so reading, within the Judahite military was common place as a way of issuing commands and recording information.

They argue this also suggests literacy was widespread throughout the kingdom of Judah - and this may have set the stage for the compilation of the hefty biblical works. It supports the idea that the Hebrew Bible was a massive composition of texts by many authors which were then gathered together rather than a single literary work.

Professor Israel Finkelstein, archaeologist at Tel Aviv University who led the work, told MailOnline: 'Biblical texts carry ideological and theological messages and as such were probably meant to be known to the population.
'Hence there has been an ongoing discussion on literacy in ancient Israel/Judah. 'Our work shows that late-monarchic Judah (around 600 BC) had an educational infrastructure which was suitable for compilation of texts and use of the written-word medium to convey ideological messages.'

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From delicate tableware to mirrors and jewellery, the Romans prized glass for its decorative qualities. Now archaeologists have unearthed an ancient glassworks where raw glass was made before being exported across the Empire.

The kiln, which dates to the Late Roman period 1,600 years ago, are the oldest to be found in Israel and suggest the region was one of the foremost centers for glass production in the ancient world.

Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient glassworks where raw glass was made, before being exported across the Empire. The extraordinary discovery was made by an archaeologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority while excavating a site south east of Yagur, before the construction part of the Jezreel Valley Railway Project.
Abdel Al-Salam Sa'id spotted chunks of glass and a floor, sparking further excavations.

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Fire, a tool broadly used for cooking, constructing, hunting and even communicating, was arguably one of the earliest discoveries in human history. But when, how and why it came to be used is hotly debated among scientists. A new scenario crafted by University of Utah anthropologists proposes that human ancestors became dependent on fire as a result of Africa's increasingly fire-prone environment 2-3 million years ago.

As the environment became drier and natural fires occurred more frequently, ancestral humans took advantage of these fires to more efficiently search for and handle food. With increased resources and energy, these ancestors were able to travel farther distances and expand to other continents. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the findings were published April 10, 2016 in Evolutionary Anthropology.

Current prevailing hypotheses of how human ancestors became fire-dependent depict fire as an accident—a byproduct of another event rather than a standalone occurrence. One hypothesis, for example, explains fire as a result of rock pounding that created a spark and spread to a nearby bush. "The problem we're trying to confront is that other hypotheses are unsatisfying. Fire use is so crucial to our biology, it seems unlikely that it wasn't taken advantage of by our ancestors," said Kristen Hawkes, distinguished professor of anthropology at the U and the paper's senior author.

The team's proposed scenario is the first known hypothesis in which fire does not originate serendipitously. Instead, the team suggests that the genus Homo, which includes modern humans and their close relatives, adapted to progressively fire-prone environments caused by increased aridity and flammable landscapes by exploiting fire's food foraging benefits.

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When scientists unveiled the fossil remains of a newly discovered human species from South Africa called Homo naledilast September, the find electrified audiences around the world. It was an astonishing haul: some 1,550 specimens representing at least 15 individuals, recovered over just a few weeks of intensive excavation from the Rising Star Cave system outside Johannesburg. But it was the researchers’ favored explanation for how the remains ended up in the cave, more than the fossils themselves, that captured the public imagination and jolted the paleoanthropology community. They proposed that this creature—whose geologic age is unknown but who was clearly primitive; it had a brain the size of an orange—had deliberately disposed of its dead there. Many experts consider this behavior exclusive to our own far brainier species, H. sapiens.

Now an outside researcher has published the first formal critique of that provocative interpretation of the remains in a scientific journal. Members of the team that made the discovery dispute her claims, but other observers think that some of her criticisms are valid—and that the team has yet to make a convincing case that H. naledi deliberately disposed of the bodies in the cave.

Cavers discovered the H. naledi fossils in a chamber some 10 meters underground in Rising Star. To reach this inner sanctum, named the Dinaledi chamber, they squeezed through passages less than 25 centimeters across and climbed steep, jagged rocks in what would have been pitch darkness if not for their headlamps. How, the researchers wondered, did the fossils end up in such a remote part of the cave system?

To answer that question, geologist Paul Dirks of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, and his colleagues analyzed the cave’s geology and features of the bones for clues. Bones can accumulate in caves by any number of mechanisms: For example, floodwaters can wash them in from their original resting place and carnivores can bring their kills in from outside. But such situations tend to produce fossil assemblages that contain a mix of animal species. And one of the most distinctive aspects of the Rising Star site is that H. naledi is the only medium or large animal species found there.

In the absence of any of the telltale signs of things like flooding or carnivore activity, the researchers concluded that the best-supported explanation thus far was that H. naledi dragged its dead into the chamber, following at least part of the same arduous route the scientists took. The implication was that this extinct species with a brain a third the size of ours had an understanding of mortality—and a cultural tradition built around that concept.

That argument has met with skepticism from the outset. A number of experts expressed doubts in the popular press when Dirks, along with project leader Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and their collaborators, went public with their findings in two papers published in the online journal eLife last September. But none had published their counterarguments in a peer-reviewed scientific journal—until now.

Aurore Val, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of the Witwatersrand, wrote the critique, which is in press at the Journal of Human Evolution and available online. In it she argues that it is impossible to establish—based on the evidence presented in the team’s paper on the geologic context of the H. naledi fossils and bone features that hint at their fate—that the complete bodies were disposed of inside the chamber or at its entrance in the manner the team proposes.

Val, who was Berger’s PhD student and who has published papers with Berger, Dirks and other members of the H. naledi team in the past, uses several lines of evidence described in the initial reports to make her case. Noting that the discoverers have yet to determine the fossils’ age, she contends that they cannot know what the cave was like when the remains entered the Dinaledi chamber. Caves can change dramatically over time, and Rising Star may have once allowed easier access to the chamber. Val also argues that the team did not analyze enough fossil material to rule out water transport or carnivore damage.

In a response submitted to the Journal of Human Evolution, Dirks, Berger and their teammates charged that many of Val’s criticisms are “spurious” and stem from misinterpretations of their published data. Mapping of the cave and surrounding rock indicates that there has never been a direct opening from the surface into the Dinaledi chamber, they counter, and although the geology shows the cave has changed over time, such changes have not fundamentally altered the way into the chamber.

Furthermore, Dirks and his co-authors wrote, the studies of the sediments in the chamber show that the fossils were not waterborne. And they noted that macroscopic examinations of all the fossil specimens, and microscopic inspections of more than a third of them representing all skeletal elements, did not reveal any carnivore tooth marks. Likewise, they wrote that analysis of the fractures in the fossils failed to identify a single one consistent with carnivore damage.

The fact that the Journal of Human Evolution has yet to publish the response has riled the authors, who were under the impression that it would appear simultaneously with Val’s critical commentary. According to Co-Editor in Chief Sarah Elton of Durham University in England, that was a misunderstanding on the authors’ part. She explains that publication of a response is not guaranteed. All content goes through peer review. If a response is accepted for publication, it will appear in the same print issue, but a critique may appear online before the associated response because of the journal’s production schedule. The response from Dirks and his co-authors is currently under consideration for publication, Elton says.

Outside researchers who have seen Val’s comment and the team’s response think some of Val’s claims have merit. “Caves are very dynamic systems, and it is difficult to reconstruct past structures,” says Jeffrey McKee of The Ohio State University, who has excavated other fossil human sites in South Africa. He also agrees with Val that the researchers have ruled out water transport and carnivore activity, among other possibilities, prematurely. Analysis of the taphonomy—what happened to the organisms between death and fossil discovery—“must be much more thorough,” he insists. The fact that H. naledi is the only medium-to-large animal species represented in the fossil assemblage, although unusual, is nonetheless consistent with scenarios other than deliberate interment. Another South African site, Taung, where he has worked, contains a fossil deposit that consists mostly of baboons—probably the work of leopards. Leopards often concentrate their hunting efforts on a single prey species, McKee explains. And they may do so without leaving any incriminating scratches or punctures on the bones. “Most carnivores take the guts first, so in many cases there are no marks at all,” McKee says, adding that the Taung baboon fossils show few carnivore marks. “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” he says.

As for the burning question of how old the H. naledi remains are, Dirks says dating of the site is underway: "We are currently exploring five different techniques at seven different labs on several continents, conducting double-blind tests for three techniques to obtain maximum confidence in our results.” Although the team has been under intense pressure to ascertain the age of the material, the geology of the site is complex and the researchers want to get it right, he explains. “Hang in there,” he adds. “It won't be that long anymore.”