Saturday, August 27, 2016


Israeli archaeologists in northern Israel have uncovered the ruins of a rural synagogue that dates back some 2,000 years. The remains of the synagogue were found during an archaeological dig at Tel Rekhesh, near Mount Tabor in the lower Galilee, in what was an ancient Jewish village.

The find could lend weight to the New Testament narrative that Jesus visited villages in the area to preach.

Mordechai Aviam, an archaeologist at Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee who led the dig, estimated the synagogue was built between 20-40 AD and was used for a hundred years. No rural synagogues have been found from that time, he said.

“This is the first 1st century synagogue in rural Galilee of the first century,” he said.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Recently discovered multiple assemblages of Homo erectus footprints in northern Kenya provide unique opportunities to understand our ancient ancestors. Using novel analytical techniques, researchers have demonstrated that the footprints preserve evidence of a modern human style of walking and a group structure consistent with human-like social behaviors.

Habitual bipedal motion is a defining feature of modern humans compared with other primates, and had profound effects on the biologies of our ancestors and relatives. There has been much debate over when and how a human-like bipedal gait first evolved, largely because of disagreements over how to infer biomechanics from skeletal shapes. Aspects of group structure and social behavior also distinguish humans from other primates, yet there is no consensus on how to detect these in the fossil or archaeological records.

In 2009, a set of 1.5-million-year-old hominin footprints was discovered near the town of Ileret, on the northeast shore of Lake Turkana, in the extreme northwest corner of Kenya - a trace fossil discovery of unprecedented scale for this time period, now extending to five distinct sites preserving a total of 97 tracks created by at least 20 different presumed Homo erectus individuals. Researchers found the shapes of these footprints indistinguishable from those of modern habitually barefoot people, most likely reflecting similar foot anatomies and mechanics.

Kevin Hatala, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and George Washington University, says: "Our analyses of these footprints provide some of the only direct evidence to support the common assumption that at least one of our fossil relatives at 1.5 million years ago walked in much the same way as we do today."

Based on experimentally derived estimates of body mass from the fossil tracks, the researchers have inferred the sexes of the individuals and, for the two most expansive excavated surfaces, developed hypotheses regarding the structure of the groups. For example, at each of these sites there is evidence of several adult males. Cooperation between males underlies many of the social behaviors that distinguish modern humans from other primates.

Edited from PhysOrg, Science Daily (12 July 2016)
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The traditional understanding of the Neolithic period in Orkney has long been of a game of two halves, represented by completely different cultural packages: the early phase in the 4th millennium BCE, associated with single farmsteads, compartmented burial cairns, and shallow round-bottomed pottery with limited decoration; and the late Neolithic turn of the 3rd millennium BCE, associated with villages, passage-grave tombs, and flat-bottomed pottery with ornate decoration.

With no clear sign of a transition between these two, the arrival of a new group replacing the earlier culture was suggested, however new dating evidence confirms an idea originally suggested by Colin Renfrew, blurring the lines between early and late Neolithic categories.

The Cuween-Wideford Landscape Project was set up in 1994 to further explore this idea, initially focusing on Stonehall Farm, where a mid to late 4th millennium BCE dispersed settlement had graduated to a late Neolithic village in the late 3rd millennium BCE, and soon uncovering traces of similarly early activity at other sites. The program quickly expanded to the whole Bay of Firth, about 7 kilometers east of the Stenness-Brodgar ritual complex.

In 2002 the team realized there were traces of older timber structures beneath several Neolithic stone structures at Wideford Hill, and this pattern was repeated across Orkney - a completely unexpected development, as wooden structures were not previously thought to have been part of the Orcadian Neolithic. These discoveries also undermined the long-held belief that stalled cairns and stone houses came together to Neolithic Orkney - using the same architecture, dividing internal space using pairs of orthostats, mimicking domestic architecture and creating houses for the dead.

Radiocarbon dating places the earliest stalled cairns circa 3600-3500 BCE, but stone houses do not appear until around 300 years later - tomb-builders seem to have lived in the nearby timber houses. Burial cairns were not modeled on dwellings, but the other way around.

Building in wood gives any structure a finite lifespan. Those wooden structures excavated show frequently shifting footprints, and little sign of decayed posts being replaced. Building in stone roots a structure in one location. At several sites the team noted building materials being recycled again and again as the settlements expand.

The excavated stone structures are generally significantly larger than the timber buildings they replaced, and could have accommodated many more people. It seems likely we are seeing the results of cooperation between larger groups, a more collectivist style of living, and bigger social units being brought together.

Edited from (04 August 2016)
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A major excavation is underway in rural Dorset (England), near the modern day village of Winter borne Kingston. The team of archaeologists from Bournemouth University are actually uncovering the remains of the original village settlement, which first occupied the site in approximately 100 BCE. They have named it Duropolis, in honour of the Durotriges, the Iron Age tribe that would have comprised its first inhabitants.

The site is quite large, covering approximately 4 hectares, and so far the team has uncovered most of the elements of a typical Iron Age settlement, including roundhouses, storage and animal enclosures. The presence of this unfortified settlement coincides with the decline and abandonment of nearby hill forts, heralding in a more peaceful era.

One of the co-Directors of this year's dig, Dr Miles Russell, is quoted as saying "People think that towns were introduced by the Romans in the 1sdt. Century CE and that's simply not true. What we've here are all the elements of an urban system a good hundred years before the Romans arrived and it seems to be continuing up until the point that they left".

However, the most exciting find in this year's dig is the discovery of the skeletal remains of 8 bodies, the significance of which is explained by the other co-Director, Paul Cheetham: "Understanding of our Iron Age past is significantly improved by this finds, given the advances in scientific investigation, such as DNA and isotope analysis, which provide an insight into population movements and ancestry. Accessing skeletal information from this date in the UK is extremely rare, as most pre Roman tribes either practiced cremation or placed bodies in rivers or bogs, so this data could completely change our understanding of the Iron Age".

Edited from Dorset Echo (7 July 2016)
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Monday, August 01, 2016


Archaeologists in Texas thought they’d made an important discovery in the 1990s, when they unearthed a trove of stone tools dating back 13,000 years, revealing traces of the oldest widespread culture on the continent.

But then, years later, they made an even more powerful find in the same place — another layer of artifacts that were older still.

About a half-hour north of Austin and a meter deep in water-logged silty clay, researchers have uncovered evidence of human occupation dating back as much as 16,700 years, including fragments of human teeth and more than 90 stone tools.


The Great Wall is disappearing, brick by brick, and Chinese authorities have had enough. A new campaign has been launched to protect the ancient fortification that snakes for 13,000 miles (21,000 kilometers) across northern China from criminal damage. Built in different stages from the third century B.C. to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the wall was built to defend an empire but parts of it are now crumbling.
Bricks have been stolen to build houses, for agriculture or to sell as souvenirs to tourists -- exacerbating the natural erosion wrought by wind, rain and sandstorms.

Cultural Heritage (SACH) first outlined the new regulations earlier this year but the issue has been in the headlines after a video of a man kicking and vandalizing the wall went viral on Chinese social media last week.

Many China visitors associate the Great Wall with an extensively restored stretch of Ming era wall at Badaling near Beijing, but this is far from typical of most of the structure.

According to official statistics, around 30% of the Ming Dynasty section of the wall has already disappeared and less than 10% is considered well preserved.

"The Great Wall is a vast heritage site -- over 20,000 kilometers -- hence increasing the difficulty in preservation and restoration," Dong Yaohui, deputy director of the Great Wall of China Society, told CNN last year.


When you work with ancient objects, new discoveries are often small: a fragment of a vase, for example, or half an earring. But Jeffrey Spier, the Getty Villa’s senior curator of antiquities, recently stumbled upon something much bigger. This past spring, Spier was in New York and dropped by a gallery in midtown Manhattan. While there, he turned around and noticed the marble head of a stern-looking older woman mounted on a pedestal by the wall. “I immediately thought: That’s the head!” recalls Spier.

Decades of studying Greek and Roman art and a keen visual memory (an indispensible skill for any curator) snapped into place. Spier had just identified a carved marble head that had been mysteriously missing for decades from the body of the Getty’s 2,000-year-old Roman Statue of Draped Female. But as Spier explains, “Roman sculptors prided themselves in accurate and realistic portraits. Unlike the Greeks, they didn’t create idealized beauty. So once I saw a photograph of this sculpture’s missing head, I recognized it easily, the way you’d recognize a person you’d met before.” He laughed, “When I saw it I thought: Don’t I know you?” Spier took photos of the head on his phone and, when he returned to the Villa, shared them with his colleagues. All agreed that a fortuitous match had been made.

The whereabouts of the Roman woman’s head had been a mystery for decades. The statue was acquired by the Getty in 1972 and is currently in storage. About a year ago, Spier and associate curator Jens Daehner began going through the artworks in storage to assess them for the Villa collection’s coming reinstallation (scheduled for 2018). The headless Statue of Draped Female proved intriguing to them, and with the help of provenance researchers Judith Barr and Nicole Budrovich, they found documentation that confirmed the statue did have its original head while on the art market in the early 20th century. Yet sometime between before 1972, as the 7-foot-tall lady circulated through several European collections, she was decapitated.

But why? And by whom? Spier and his colleagues can only speculate on a motive: perhaps the neck partially broke in transit and then the owner decided to remove the head, or maybe a former owner felt they could make a larger profit selling two separate pieces rather than one tall statue.

Whoever deprived this Roman woman of her head wasn’t particularly careful about it. Associate conservator Eduardo Sanchez is pretty convinced that the head was broken off intentionally by use of a power tool drill in combination with hard impacts to the front of the neck. When the head was brought to the Getty Villa, Sanchez and fellow associate conservator Jeff Maish created a lightweight replica of the broken neck surface to test its fit to the neck break on the body. The fit was inarguably perfect, except for some missing fragments in the front of the neck.

The restoration of the head to Statue of Draped Female may not add much drama to its interpretation, but now that we can see her face it does provoke questions about who she was. Spier assumes the Roman woman must have had significant wealth and status to have such a large statue made of her. She could have been a wife of a Roman emperor, whose portraits were often on coins—yes, a hunt through coins of the period is on.

While the head and body are prepared for re-capitation (not a typical task for antiquities conservators) the Antiquities team is continuing to comb through 19th-century catalogues and travel guides in French, Italian, and Latin, trying to flesh out the details of the statue’s past, and to discover the identity of the Roman woman she was modeled after.