Monday, December 11, 2017

JODI MAGNESS LECTURES ON THE HUQOQ SYNAGOGUE

rofessor Jodi Magness embarked on a mission in 2011 to excavate the Huqoq synagogue in Israel with little idea of its contents — and with only an ancient village as its possible location.

Unsure of whether they would find anything, Magness’ team randomly picked a square as their first dig site and discovered archaeological fragments. Eventually, the team unearthed mosaic pavings crafted on the synagogue’s foundation depicting biblical scenes relevant to the history of Israel. Since then, Magness has been working on the excavation and preservation of the historical site in the ancient village of Huqoq, with the eventual goal of relocating the mosaics to public areas.

Pitt’s Jewish Studies program and Nationality Rooms program came together Monday night to host Magness and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Israel Heritage Classroom — the 20th Nationality Room constructed in the Cathedral.

Magness — a University of North Carolina professor with a bachelor’s in archaeology and history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem — shared the current status of the excavation site at the Late Roman-era synagogue with more than 80 people during her lecture, “More than Just Mosaics: the Huqoq Synagogue,” in the Cathedral of Learning.

Magness and her excavation team have gone out every summer digging season since 2011 and unearthed a variety of partial and complete mosaic scenes throughout the stone foundations of the Jewish synagogue.

Magness showed the audience of community members, Pitt staff and students unreleased images of the dig sites and the mosaic pavings within — including scenes depicting biblical motifs and stories such as Noah’s Ark and Helios and the Zodiac Cycle, as well as figures including Dionysus and Alexander the Great.
The surviving mosaics stayed preserved under dirt and stone rubble after the synagogue was abandoned due to unknown circumstances, she said. Magness and her team bury the artifacts again after each digging season. “The only way to protect our mosaics from vandalism is to backfill them at the end of the season,” Magness said.



OLDEST VIRTUALLY COMPLETE FOSSIL OF HUMAN ANCESTOR FOUND IN SOUTH AFRICA -- CALLED "LITTLE FOOT"

South Africa's status as a major cradle in the African nursery of humankind has been reinforced with today's unveiling of "Little Foot", the country's oldest, virtually complete fossil human ancestor.

Little Foot is the only known virtually complete Australopithecus fossil discovered to date. It is by far the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor older than 1.5 million years ever found. It is also the oldest fossil hominid in southern Africa, dating back 3.67 million years. The unveiling will be the first time that the completely cleaned and reconstructed skeleton can be viewed by the national and international media.

Discovered by Professor Ron Clarke from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, the fossil was given the nickname of "Little Foot" by Prof. Phillip Tobias, based on Clarke's initial discovery of four small foot bones. Its discovery is expected to add a wealth of knowledge about the appearance, full skeletal anatomy, limb lengths and locomotor abilities of one of the species of our early ancestral relatives.
"This is one of the most remarkable fossil discoveries made in the history of human origins research and it is a privilege to unveil a finding of this importance today," says Clarke.

After lying undiscovered for more than 3.6 million years deep within the Sterkfontein caves about 40km north-west of Johannesburg, Clarke found several foot bones and lower leg bone fragments in 1994 and 1997 among other fossils that had been removed from rock blasted from the cave years earlier by lime miners. Clarke sent his assistants Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe into the deep underground cave to search for any possible broken bone surface that might fit with the bones he had discovered in boxes. Within two days of searching, they found such a contact, in July 1997.

Clarke realised soon after the discovery that they were on to something highly significant and started the specialised process of excavating the skeleton in the cave up through 2012, when the last visible elements were removed to the surface in blocks of breccia. "My assistants and I have worked on painstakingly cleaning the bones from breccia blocks and reconstructing the full skeleton until the present day," says Clarke.

In the 20 years since the discovery, they have been hard at work to excavate and prepare the fossil. Now Clarke and a team of international experts are conducting a full set of scientific studies on it. The results of these studies are expected to be published in a series of scientific papers in high impact, peer reviewed international journals in the near future. This is the first time that a virtually complete skeleton of a pre-human ancestor from a South African cave has been excavated in the place where it was fossilized.

The 20-year long period of excavation, cleaning, reconstruction, casting, and analysis of the skeleton has required a steady source of funding, which was provided by the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST) – a Johannesburg-based NGO that promotes research, education and outreach in the sciences related to our origins. Among its many initiatives aimed at uplifting the origin sciences across Africa, PAST has been a major funder of research at Sterkfontein for over two decades.

After 20 years, researcher presents the most complete Australopithecus fossil ever found

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-12-years-australopithecus-fossil.html#jCp

Sunday, December 03, 2017

ROMAN TEMPLE UNCOVERED IN HAMPSHIRE MAY BE FIRST OF ITS KIND IN BRITAIN DATING TO REIGH OF EMPEROR NERO

The temple remains were found within the grounds of the Old Manor House in the Roman town at Silchester, along with rare tiles stamped with the name of the emperor, who ruled AD 54-68.

The temple joined two others to make a group of three when it was investigated in Silchester in autumn 2017, and is the first to be identified in the town for more than 100 years. The three temples are located in a walled sanctuary, numbered Insula XXX by Victorian archaeologists. It would have been a striking gateway to the city for travelers from London.

Four fragments of tiles stamped in Nero's name were found in a ritual pit within the temple site – the largest concentration ever found in the town – along with another three at the kiln site which made the tiles in nearby Little London. These provide further evidence that the temples could all have been part of a Nero-sponsored building project in Silchester.

Professor Mike Fulford at the University of Reading, who is leading the Silchester archaeology team, said: "These findings are a crucial piece of the jigsaw as we look to solve the mystery of Nero's links to Silchester. This is something that has puzzled archaeologists for more than a century. "Only a handful of Nero-stamped tiles have ever been found in the UK, so to unearth this many was very exciting. It adds to the evidence that Nero saw Silchester as a pet project where he could construct extravagant buildings like those seen in Rome, to inspire awe among his subjects in the UK."

The three temples are the earliest known masonry constructions in Silchester, the city of Calleva in Roman times. They would therefore have been the most prominent buildings in the city, being erected decades before others, like the great complex of the forum basilica in the center of the town, were rebuilt in masonry. They were aligned north to south at the eastern end of the Roman town.

Credit: University of Reading
The remains of the first two temples on the Insula XXX site were first found during grave-digging in St Mary's churchyard in 1890, with evidence of the third building unearthed in 1902. However, its identity as another temple was overlooked until now.


Ground-penetrating radar, and a follow-up excavation this autumn, have confirmed three temples once stood on the site. They had a typical 'double-square' plan – a central cella (shrine) surrounded by a walkway. This design originated in the late Iron Age, and is rare in Britain but more common in France and Germany.
The foundations suggest the temples could have been up to 15m high. The dimensions of the third temple, 15m by 17.5m, are similar to those of the southernmost Insula XXX temple but smaller than the central one, which still remains the largest known of its type in Roman Britain.
Although the religious purpose of the temples remains a mystery, evidence uncovered at the latest temple site suggests it was built in the 50s or 60s of the first century AD – within Nero's short reign. Similarities in the layout within the three temples suggest all three were conceived and built at a similar time, although further excavations by the team will test this theory.
Nero's reign is associated with brutality and extravagance. He was known for the persecution of Christians as well as his grand building plans, some of which were constructed after Rome's great fire, before his suicide. Nero's buildings were made in high-quality stone, as well as ceramic brick and tile, but only the tiles found at Silchester are stamped in his name.
The existence of one of his buildings in Roman Britain, as well as evidence he might have visited, has always remained elusive. However, the find of the seven tiles, adding to only 14 previously found in the UK, only at Silchester and Little London, validates the theory that Nero was keen to sponsor a building project in Silchester.


Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-11-roman-temple-silchester-emperor-vanity.html#jCp

UNUSUAL STONE TOOLS UNLIKE ANY OTHERS FOUND IN BRONZE AGE SITE IN WALES

Mysterious stone tools unearthed at Welsh Bronze Age site

Amateur archaeologists excavating a Bronze Age site in Wales have discovered a cache of unusual stone tools unlike any that have been found before. The tools appear to have been deposited deliberately - perhaps ceremonially - in what would have been a stream around 4,500 years ago, according to the researchers.

Around 20 of the roughly triangular stone hand tools, of various sizes, were found at the excavation site in the Clwydian Range, a series of hills in Denbighshire in northeast Wales, by the Clwydian Range Archaeological Group (CRAG) during four weeks of excavations in July and August.

"I've not seen anything like them before, and I've talked to a number of colleagues who've never seen anything like them," said Ian Brooks, an archaeologist employed as a consultant by CRAG. The tools were made from a hard limestone found locally, but not in the immediate area of the excavation. "They are rough slabs of the limestone, which have been shaped to produce one pointed end," he said.

The tools vary in size, between 2 inches (50 millimeters) long to about 8.6 inches (220 mm) long. "But they all have this characteristic point at one end, which has then been battered - you've got pitting and distinctive damage on the end, so they've been heavily used," Brooks said.

The purpose of the tools is unknown, and future work by the archaeological team would include examining the utensils in more detail. But, it's possible that the tools were used for chipping ornamental designs onto rock surfaces, he said. "One of the things that you do get in the Bronze Age is the decoration of natural boulders and rock faces, producing things like cut marks and rings and suchlike," Brooks said. "The point on these things would be about the right sort of size for pecking that sort of design."

Brooks explained that all of the mysterious stone tools were found at the bottom of what would have been a stream around 4,500 years ago, on a plateau northeast of the Moel Arthur hill fort. Brooks thinks the site where the tools were found could be more than 1,000 years older than the hill fort itself, based on carbon dating of stones from an 'burnt mound', located beside the former streambed, that dates to between 2456 to 2583 BCE.

The limestone tools did not seem directly related to the activity at the burnt mound, but they appeared to have been deposited on purpose at a particular spot nearby, in what would have been a running stream at the time, he said. Geophysical surveys, funded by CRAG in 2011 and 2012, indicated that the plateau near the burnt mound and the ancient stream may have included a small settlement of roundhouses, a typical style of dwelling in Bronze Age Britain.

NEW SETS OF CAVE PAINTINGS IN NORTHERN SPAIN POSSIBLY 30,000 YEAR AGO

Researchers have discovered four new sets of cave paintings in Cantabria, northern Spain, the oldest of which was made nearly 30,000 years ago – making it one of the earliest known examples of prehistoric art in the world. The team from the Museum of Prehistory of Cantabria, led by Spanish prehistorian Roberto Ontañón, used cutting-edge imaging techniques to identify the drawings.

Twenty years ago, a speleologist – a scientist who studies caves – had informed archaeologists of the possible existence of ancient paintings in various rock cavities in Cantabria. However, the techniques available at the time were not sufficient to confirm the existence of the art.

The paintings, like much prehistoric artwork, had degraded so much over time that they were difficult to identify with the naked eye. To overcome this, Ontañón and his team used a 3D laser scanning method, which reproduced the artwork on a computer.

"These technologies allow you to detect colors beyond the range of the visible spectrum (infrared to ultraviolet) and, in this way, 'reveal' paintings that at first sight are imperceptible or difficult to
distinguish", Ontañón told IBTimes UK.

The artworks are estimated to have been made between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago, making them older than the famous bison drawings at the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site at nearby Altamira – created around 16,000 years ago – but not as old as the earliest example in the region.

That title goes to the cave drawings at El Castillo, also in Cantabria, which were made more than 40,000 years ago and are arguably the oldest in the world.

Cantabria has some of the highest concentrations of prehistoric art anywhere on Earth. This can be attributed to the fact that the region was a good place to live during glacial periods in the Earth's history, a result of its temperate climate and abundance of wild animals.

PREHISTORIC SCOTTISH CAVE -- DIGITAL EXPLORATION

During the late Bronze Age, the The Sculptor's Cave in Moray (Scotland) appears to have been a repository for precious objects, with finds ranging from bronze bracelets via pottery to a swan's neck pin.

Large quantities of human remains have also been discovered, suggesting that the cave may have been a center for funerary rites. Intriguingly, on the frontal bone of one child, there is evidence suggestive of deliberate defleshing. Some of the cave's most important features, however, are the Pictish symbols that can be found on the walls of its entrance.

Problematically, the cave is only accessible at low tide, making investigation of the interior time-sensitive. A new project, funded by Historic Environment Scotland and carried out by Professor Ian Armit and Dr Lindsey Büster at the University of Bradford, has created a high-resolution animated model of the cave. Through laser scanning and structured light scanning, the details of the cave have been digitally preserved to allow for more in-depth exploration of the cave - and the Pictish symbols - no matter whether the tide is high.

"The Sculptor's Cave is a fascinating location, known for decades for the richness of its archaeology and for the unusual Pictish carvings around its entrance," said Professor Armit of Bradford's School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences. "This walk-through animation allows us to study the carvings in detail, and to present this inaccessible site to the public through online and museum displays. It also ensures that we can preserve the cave and the carvings digitally for future generations to study."

The digital model will be deposited in the Elgin Museum and included in their exhibition on the cave. A video of the 3D animation can be found on YouTube.

SKULL FOUND IN CHINA COULD REWRITE HUMAN EVOLUTION -- NEW RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT IMPORTATN CHARACTERISTICS OF HUMANS ACTUALLY DEVELOPED IN EAST ASIA

A skull found in China could re-write our entire understanding of human evolution.

That's according to scientists who have examined the important, ancient head and say that it proves the existing theory of how humans came to be is wrong.

Most anthropologists believe that our species came about in Africa around 200,000 years ago – and that one group left around 80,000 years later before spreading across the world. But instead of humans purely coming out of Africa, the new research suggests that important characteristics of humans actually developed in east Asia.

In fact there might have been times of intense intermingling as those early humans in Asia moved out of and back into Africa, with no single event when modern humans came into being. That means that modern humans are made up of the DNA of ancestors from both Asia and Africa, if the researchers are correct.

The story is a development of a theory that has been widely dismissed by mainstream academics for decades, some of whom suggest that it is being made up to emphasise the role of China. But if the new claims are true, it might prove that the long-ridiculed theory is actually true.

The important head, known as the Dali skull, was found 40 years ago in China. It was once a member of the early species – and our ancestor – the Homo erectus. It is surprisingly intact, with scientists still able to see the face and brain case as it would have been when its owner was living around 260,000 years ago.

It has strange similarities too with modern Homo sapiens. And the new research suggests that it has far more than expected in common with specimens found in morocco.

Taken together, the research suggests that humans might not have evolved in Africa and then left, as has long been thought to be the case, researchers Xinzhi Wu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Sheela Athreya of Texas A&M University told the New Scientist. The similarities suggest that the early modern humans might not have been isolated in one place as their characteristics evolved, the scientists say, instead sharing characteristics across the world.

The scientists now hope to do even more detailed comparisons of the Dali skull with those found in Morocco, to understand how the specimen found in China is similar to and different from other examples of early humans.

FIRST LANDING OF CAESAR'S INVASION OF BRITAIN HAS BEEN DISCOVERED

Based on new evidence, the team suggests that the first landing of Julius Caesar's fleet in Britain took place in 54 BC at Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet, the north—east point of Kent.

This location matches Caesar's own account of his landing in 54 BC, with three clues about the topography of the landing site being consistent with him having landed in Pegwell Bay: its visibility from the sea, the existence of a large open bay, and the presence of higher ground nearby.

The project has involved surveys of hillforts that may have been attacked by Caesar, studies in museums of objects that may have been made or buried at the time of the invasions, such as coin hoards, and excavations in Kent.
The University of Leicester project, which is funded by the Leverhulme Trust, was prompted by the discovery of a large defensive ditch in archaeological excavations before a new road was built. The shape of the ditch at Ebbsfleet, a hamlet in Thanet, is very similar to some of the Roman defenses at Alésia in France, where the decisive battle in the Gallic War took place in 52 BC.

The site, at Ebbsfleet, on the Isle of Thanet in north-east Kent overlooking Pegwell Bay, is now 900 m inland but at the time of Caesar's invasions it was closer to the coast. The ditch is 4-5 meters wide and 2 meters deep and is dated by pottery and radiocarbon dates to the 1st century BC.

The size, shape, date of the defences at Ebbsfleet and the presence of iron weapons including a Roman pilum (javelin) all suggest that the site at Ebbsfleet was once a Roman base of 1st century BC date.
The archaeological team suggest the site may be up to 20 hectares in size and it is thought that the main purpose of the fort was to protect the ships of Caesar's fleet that had been drawn up on to the nearby beach.

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, Research Associate from the University of Leicester's School of Archaeology and Ancient History said: "The site at Ebbsfleet lies on a peninsular that projects from the south-eastern tip of the Isle of Thanet. Thanet has never been considered as a possible landing site before because it was separated from the mainland until the Middle Ages.


Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-11-evidence-julius-caesar-invasion-britain.html#jCp

PREHISTORIC SCHOOL IN ISRAEL DATED TO 400,000 YEARS AGO -- THE OLDEST SCHOOL IN THE WORLD

Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe was a prehistoric school, where the ancestors of modern humans taught their children how to survive by manufacturing flint instruments and dismembering animals, 400,000 years ago.

The hominini, ancestors of today’s homo sapiens, had a similar brain size to today's humans and, according to the findings in the Kessem Cave in central Israel, had developed relatively advanced techniques of manufacture.

The dig, led by Avi Gopher and Ran Barkai, of Tel Aviv university, has been dubbed “the oldest school in the world”, because it suggested hominini had used the space to impart flint skills to their children, the oldest such documented find.



Sunday, October 22, 2017

TWO ARCHAEOLOGISTS REVEAL HOW CIVILIZATIONS COLLAPSE THEN AND NOW AND HOW ANCIENTS PAINTED THEIR SCULPTURES

By Anne W. Semmes

Sentinel Correspondent

Archaeologist Dr. Eric Cline before his talk at the Bryam Shubert Library, shows his new book, “Three Stones Make a Wall,” that gives the history of archaeology from an amateur pursuit to its cutting-edge science with descriptions of the major archaeological sites and discoveries.

Some 40 attendees on Sept. 16 were made privy to the probable causes of how civilization collapsed in history’s “first Dark age,” in the 12th century BCE as shared by Dr. Eric Cline, professor of classics and anthropology at George Washington University, and author of, “1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed.” That collapse told Cline had some startling examples of causes that are present with us now.

Cline has spent 30 seasons excavating often in the areas of the nine civilizations he focused on in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. A slide showed the connectedness of those civilizations, including Egyptians, Babylonians, Minoans, and Assyrians, with the caption, “Here, we are considering a globalized world system with multiple civilizations all interacting and at least partially dependent upon each other.”

Then came the perfect storm: the onslaught of the “Sea Peoples”- warrior groups overrunning countries and kingdoms by land and sea, then drought, famine, invaders, and earthquakes that brought down those civilizations 3,500 years ago in the late bronze age.

He pointed to how the 300-year drought’s effect on the Myceneans was similar to the havoc brought on in Syria with a four-year drought that began in 2006. With drought came famine, and with earthquakes, said Cline, “Sites were destroyed — and skeletons found under fallen doorways in Mycenae.”

These events had brought important trade to a standstill between the civilizations, “from Egypt to Crete to Messina.” How rich that trade was Cline described in the famous Uluburun sunken ship excavated off the coast of Turkey. “Eight different cultures were found…10 tons of copper that would have furnished 300 soldiers…Ingots of cobalt blue raw glass.”

Cline sees the same global connectedness today.“There are only a few instances in history of such globalized world systems; the one in place during the Late Bronze Age and the one in place today,” Cline said.

He sees also the same problems, and “drought is at the top of the list.” “Studying this collapse is more relevant than you first suspect.” Cline’s warnings as spelled out in his book are apparently hitting a nerve – his lecture on the subject of his book given a year ago has been viewed on YouTube close to a million times.

Professor Kathy Schwab of Fairfield University had earlier given an equally unsettling while informative talk on the new reality of her subject, “Color in Ancient Greek Sculpture.” “We’re going to talk about pigments used on ancient sculpture,” she eased into her talk with a slide of the brilliant colors sourced from Malachite, Golden Ocher, Azurite, Red Ocher, Cinnabar, and Hematite.

For those who equate classical antiquity with white marble, imagine seeing the Parthenon in technicolor. Schwab, who spends her research seasons in Athens, Greece, described her plan for drawn color reconstructions of the Parthenon Metopes (her specialty) — though there’s a question of what color goes where.

“You see here,” she said, “how every surface is colored, even the skin, with yellow, ochre, and red mixed in.” Schwab whose expertise includes ancient Greek hairstyles, shared that “Acropolis maiden’s hairstyles have a residue of red, then brown. Painters created lights and darks in the hair, and even eyelids were painted.

“In ancient Egyptian art, color showed gender. Reddish for men, a light buff yellow to white for females. Bronze Age tattoos had color. A Mycenean sphinx had tattooed rosettes and tattoos.” In a recent news story Schwab spied a Syrian woman refugee with tattoos on her face similar to those used in 1,300 BCE. “There is a longevity of these traditions,” she noted.

And yet, “There is no evidence of paint on bronze,” she said, “only paint on marble. Paint protects the art – just like our house. Marble is protected by paint.”

“Bringing color in creates a different narrative,” Schwab concluded, and, “More and more museums are trying to find ways for visitors to understand this.” She pointed to the efforts of German archaeologist Vinzenz Brinkman to change that narrative with his extensive color reconstructions of Greek and Roman statuary that have toured the world. Time Magazine had addressed the public response with, “The exhibition forces you to look at ancient sculpture in a totally new way.”










STONEHENGE BUILDERS BROUGHT FOOD IN FROM SCOTLAND

The "army of builders" of Stonehenge ate animals brought from as far away as the north east of Scotland, according to a new exhibition at the famous Neolithic site in Wiltshire.

Analysis of pig and cattle teeth has revealed some of the animals were from as far as 500 miles away.
The "Feast! Food at Stonehenge" exhibition includes the skull of an aurochs, an extinct species of cattle. It is aimed at allowing visitors to explore diet from 4,500 years ago.

Raising the ancient stones was an incredible feat but so too was feeding the army of builders.
"Our exhibition reveals just how this was done. The displays reveal research and stories from a "feeding Stonehenge" project, which has been exploring the lives of the people who lived at the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls.

Monday, October 09, 2017

DEAD SEA SCROLLS ARE COMING UP AS FORGERIES


A Bedouin shepherd hears pottery break as he throws stones into a cave while searching for lost sheep among arid cliffs abutting the Dead Sea. He enters the cave and uncovers the find of the 20th century — 2,000-year-old Hebrew and Aramaic scrolls, then the earliest written record of the Bible.

Seven decades have passed since that Hollywood-esque discovery of some 900 manuscripts and up to 50,000 fragments in the 11 caves of Qumran. Now, accusations of dozens of million-dollar forgeries make for a worthy sequel.

It’s a whodunit involving a complex network of high-stakes deals with dubious provenance, and perhaps even academic obfuscation. The process by which the forgeries are being manufactured has yet to be fully exposed. The motive is entirely clear: The tiniest of ancient snippets sells for well over $100,000 per fragment in these private off-the-books sales.

Since 2002, the world’s private antiquities markets have been saturated with certified millennia-old leather inscribed with biblical verses by what, on expert inspection, appears to be a modern hand. This has led some scholars to believe one or more of their own has gone rogue and created a proliferation of fakes that are being peddled to a growing number of Evangelical Christian collectors.

The Museum of the Bible, set to open this November in Washington, DC, is foremost among those collectors who have been “duped,” to the tune of millions of dollars, scholars say. A series of recent articles in respected academic journals calls into question the authenticity of at least half a dozen in its trove of tiny scroll fragments.

Among those raising awareness of the allegedly forged fragments is paleographer Dr. Kipp Davis, a research fellow at Trinity Western University and associate of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at TWU.
“There is a growing emerging consensus among Dead Sea Scroll scholars that many of the fragments in the private collections are fakes,” Davis told The Times of Israel. In his latest article, “Caves of Dispute,” published in the Brill Dead Sea Discoveries series this month, Davis found that at least six of the Museum of the Bible’s 13 published fragments are forgeries.

In conversation with The Times of Israel, Davis said while he is convinced that six of the fragments are forgeries, “that number could be higher. There are people out there that think that all 13 of the fragments are fake. I’m not quite there, but I have colleagues who are fairly sure they are forgeries.”
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IN GAZA, HAMAS LEVELS AN ANCIENT TREASURE

Palestinian and French archaeologists began excavating Gaza's earliest archaeological site nearly 20 years ago, unearthing what they believe is a rare 4,500-year-old Bronze Age settlement.

But over protests that grew recently, Gaza's Hamas rulers have systematically destroyed the work since seizing power a decade ago, allowing the flattening of this hill on the southern tip of Gaza City to make way for construction projects, and later military bases. In its newest project, Hamas-supported bulldozers are flattening the last remnants of excavation.

"There is a clear destruction of a very important archaeological site," said Palestinian archaeology and history professor Mouin Sadeq, who led three excavations at the site along with French archaeologist Pierre de Miroschedji after its accidental discovery in 1998. "I don't know why the destruction of the site was approved."

Tel Es-Sakan (hill of ash) was the largest Canaanite city between Palestine and Egypt, according to Sadeq. It was named after the great amount of ash found during the excavations, which suggests the settlement was burnt either naturally or in a war.

Archaeologists found the 10-hectare (25-acre) hill to be hiding a fortified settlement built centuries before pharaonic rule in Egypt, and 1,000 years before the pyramids. But the excavations stopped in 2002 due to security concerns.

Now it is destroyed all around. It's among the earliest sites indicating the emergence of the "urban society" concept in the Near East, when communities were transforming from farming villages around 4,000 BC, and it was on trade routes between Egypt and the Levant, according to Humbert.

Humbert shared an aerial photo from 2000 showing patterns of walls from atop the mound. The area "was the first city of Palestine to have a city wall," he said. Now, "the field work you see in the photo is totally destroyed."



Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-gaza-hamas-ancient-treasure.html#jCp

POSSIBLE AILEXANDER THE GREAT SITE 200 MILES NORTHEAST OF BAGHDAD HAS BEEN ABANDONED

The discoveries of two statues may help to prove this was once a thriving hub founded by one of the ancient world's most powerful rulers—Alexander the Great. Until recently the dig, some 330 kilometers (200 miles) northwest of Baghdad, was buzzing with activity as a team of 15 archaeologists from both Iraq and abroad worked under the stewardship of the British Museum in London to uncover more invaluable treasures.

But now the site is silent as the foreign experts—two Britons and a Hungarian—packed up and left last week to avoid becoming stranded after a spat between Iraq's central government and the Kurdish authorities over a disputed independence referendum that saw Baghdad cut international air links to the region. "This is the first time researchers from abroad have had to leave," said student Rzgar Qader Boskiny, who has been working on a neighboring dig."They even stayed here when the Islamic State group came near," he said referring to the jihadists.

The sudden disappearance of foreign experts has left Nuraddini guarding Qalatga Darband. That is a major job for the self-taught man from the nearby town of Ranya who in 2013 helped to guide foreign researchers to the 60-hectare site perched on the edge of a lake.

Archaeologists who have been working on the site describe the find as "exceptional", but it will take the British Museum project years longer to determine if it genuinely was linked to Alexander the Great.
Some believe it could be a major city from Alexander's empire that was lost from historical records for millennia. But even if those hopes prove unfounded, it is still an important find.

The lakeside site was discovered by a team of Iraqi and British archaeologists led by experts from the British Museum. "It was a strategic town, maybe even a provincial capital, that controlled the routes linking different worlds—Mesopotamia, Persia and Ancient Greece," said Jessica Giraud, the head of French archaeological mission in the region.

While the hunt for more clues about Qalatga Darband has ground to a halt, it was assistance from an unlikely source flying overhead that helped experts hone in on the ruins. Archaeologists used declassified images taken by the CIA's Cold War spy satellite program in the 1960s to help them survey the site and better focus their explorations. An image of the area from 1967, seen by AFP, shows the outlines of ancient walls, roads and what appears to be a large building that researchers think was a fort and a temple.

A joint French-Iraqi mission to map archaeological finds has already found some 354 sites in the region.Experts put the density of finds down to fertility of the land and the fact that the area was at the crossroads of major kingdoms.

The British Museum project began last autumn and is set to run until 2020, but the current disruptions could mean delays in answering questions surrounding Qalatga Darband.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-10-iraq-flight-halts-lost-ancient.html#jCp

Saturday, October 07, 2017

PALMYRA -- PRESENT CONDITION AFTER BEING PARTIALLY DESTROYED BY ISLAMIC STATE

Historic artifacts have survived throughout Syria’s rich history but have taken its place amongst an array of those damaged during the six-year war in the country The ancient city of Palmyra, which was seized and destroyed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in 2015, had swung back under the Syrian government’s control early March. The“wounded” artifacts in the city are now being healed at the National Museum of Damascus. One of them is the Lion of Al-Lat, which symbolizes a goddess.

Once a destination for tourists from around the world, mostly from Turkey, the National Museum of Damascus is now abandoned. There are only two to three students apart from us. Our guide said tourists had stopped coming since 2011, when the civil war began. The museum, which was opened in 1936, is undergoing restoration right now. Restoration was launched with the thought that the war will end and tourists will begin coming again. Historic artifacts from various parts of Syria are being displayed in its garden. The Lion of Al-Lat is the newest guest.

A local of Palmyra, the lion is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The 2,000-year-old ancient city changed hands several times between the Syrian government and ISIL, with the jihadist group destroying the city most extensively in 2015. Conflicts still continue in the city.

The Lion of Al-Lat, found in pieces by Syrian soldiers, was rescued and carried to museums in Damascus nearly six months ago. The lion was discovered by Polish archaeologists in 1977. Now it is being restored by Polish archaeologists in the museum’s garden. While its pieces are tried to be attached to each other, the lion’s condition is heartbreaking. Next to the lion are other artifacts rescued from Daraa and Kuneytr. Waiting for their fate in the garden, they are from the ravaged Hurran Valley. They were seized by soldiers while they were being smuggled abroad through Lebanon and Jordan. Their new home will be the National Museum of Damascus.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

ROMAN BRONZE ARTIFACTS -- A HOARD -- FOUND IN SOUTWEST ENGLAND

BRISTOL, ENGLAND—According to a report in The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Review, two men discovered a hoard of Roman bronze artifacts in southwest England. Archaeologist Kurt Adams, Gloucestershire and Avon finds liaison officer, said the hoard dates to the fourth century A.D. and includes items that may have been deliberately broken, including small vessel fittings. A detailed statue of a standing dog with an open mouth was found intact. The “licking dog” may have been connected to a Roman healing temple located on what are now the grounds at Lydney Park, a nearby seventeenth-century country estate, or perhaps another undiscovered temple.

LOST CITY WITH TIES TO ALEXANDER THE GREAT FOUND BY DRONES

With the help of drones, archaeologists discovered a lost city with ties to Alexander the Great, according to the British Museum in London.

Qalatga Darband, an ancient city located in what is now Iraqi Kurdistan, lies along the Darband-I Rania, or a pass at the Zagros Mountains. What’s so significant about this path? Besides being a historic route from Mesopotamia to Iran, Alexander the Great traveled the path more than 2,000 years ago.

Declassified spy satellite images from the 1960s first gave explorers a glance at this city, which had never been deeply explored. In addition to ground surveying, researchers used drones to take images. The team discovered buried buildings after analyzing images taken via drone, according to the British Museum.

Archaeologists are increasingly deploying drones to aid their research. Drones are great alternatives to traditional aerial imaging methods, like airplanes or balloons, because they are often cheaper and allow for almost instant processing of gathered data.

ONCE ISIS RETREATED, TERRIBLE DESTRUCTION HAS BEEN DISCOVERED

Videos released by ISIS showed terrible acts of vandalism -- its members smashing artifacts at Mosul Museum and blowing up parts of the site of the Assyrian capital of Nimrud.

Archaeologists returning to areas recaptured from ISIS have found other ancient sites turned into parking lots, statues smashed and manuscripts disappeared.

But there is good news too - with ISIS having failed to destroy many artifacts, previously undiscovered treasures found amid the ruins, and the first modern explorations of sites it never captured revealing exciting new finds.

Magnificent winged bulls which guarded the entrance to the Nergal Gate have been mutilated and Nebi Yunus, the site of a palace, has suffered far greater damage than expected and is in danger of collapse because of tunnelling.

But among all this dreadful news is a glimmer of something positive. At Nebi Yunus, it seems that ISIS was driven out just in time.

Iraqi forces found a network of tunnels, largely following the course of ancient sculptures which lined the palace walls. Tunnels dug by ISIS in an attempt to find antiquities, or serve as communications routes, revealed unseen artifacts. While these tunnels have hugely damaged the archaeology of the mound, ISIS did not have time to loot or destroy these sculptures.

The discoveries in the tunnels - reliefs, sculptures, and cuneiform slabs - are spectacular.
The reliefs are truly exceptional, depicting religious and cultic scenes, priests, and what appears to be a demigoddess or a high-priestess.

About 20 miles south of Mosul is Nimrud, the Assyrian city of Kalhu - a great city between 1350 and 610 BC. Excavations at Nimrud began in the mid-19th Century and continued until 1992, revealing some of the most important monuments of Assyrian art.

Since March 2015 the site has been systematically destroyed by ISIS - with about 80% of it lost.
IS leveled the Ziggurat - a stepped pyramid which was once more than 34m high - with heavy machines, its features now lost or hidden in rubble.

It also destroyed the lamassus - winged bull sculptures - in the nearby Ishtar temple and destroyed the entrance of the Nabu Temple, along with the fish-cloaked statues which flanked it. Bulldozers and explosives were used to destroy the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, king of Assyria from 883 to 859 BC. ISIS posted a video in April 2015 showing parts of Nimrud being blown up

Iraqi archaeologist Faleh Noman, who undertook British Museum training and has been appointed by the Iraqi government to lead assessment of the sites, found "barbaric" destruction. "The main entrance to the palace leading to the throne room has been completely destroyed and the lamassu demolished. "The wall reliefs and lamassu of the second gateway have also been damaged, with only one large wall relief remaining intact." Inside the palace, he found that sledgehammers have been used to damage reliefs.

Iraqi forces recaptured Nimrud from ISIS in November 2016. Across the Mosul region alone, Iraqi officials believe that at least 66 sites were destroyed. There has also been looting, with many of the tunnels dug by the extremists carved out with the aim of finding antiquities to sell on the black market: heritage turned into weaponry.

Monday, September 11, 2017

HUMAN SKELETON FOUND NEAR TULUM, MEXICO, SUGGESTS HUMANS IN THE AMERICAS IN 13,000 YEARS AGO


Analysis of a skeleton found in the Chan Hol cave near Tulum, Mexico suggests human settlement in the Americas occurred in the late Pleistocene era.

Scientists have long debated about when humans first settled in the Americas. While osteological evidence of early settlers is fragmentary, researchers have previously discovered and dated well-preserved prehistoric human skeletons in caves in Tulum in Southern Mexico.

To learn more about America's early settlers, Stinnesbeck and colleagues examined human skeletal remains found in the Chan Hol cave near Tulum. The researchers dated the skeleton by analyzing the Uranium, Carbon and Oxygen isotopes found in its bones and in the stalagmite which had grown through its pelvic bone.

The researchers' isotopic analysis dated the skeleton to approximately 13,000 years before present. This finding suggests that the Chan Hol cave was accessed during the late Pleistocene, providing one of oldest examples of a human settler in the Americas. While the researchers acknowledge that changes in climate over time may have influenced the dating of the skeleton, future research could potentially disentangle how climate impacted the Chan Hol archaeological record.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-08-human-settlement-americas-late-pleistocene.html#jCp

ANCIENT GREAT HOUSES BUILT IN FOUR CORNERS REGION ARE BEING INVESTIGATED


Near Mancos, Colorado, on the site of a former auto-repair shop here, broken stone walls mark the site of a 900-year-old village that may yield new insights into an ancient desert culture. The ruins are what remains of two “great houses” — apartment buildings, essentially — that formed a northern outpost of a civilization based at Chaco Canyon, about 100 miles away in northwestern New Mexico.

Archaeologists from the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, in nearby Cortez, have just begun the first systematic excavation of this site in an effort to learn how its residents lived in the early 1100s, and how they related to the wider Chaco culture. In particular, the Northern Chaco Outliers Project aims to determine when the village was occupied, how many people lived there, and whether they did so during an extended drought of 1130-1180, which may have accelerated a northward movement of people from Chaco.

The project is the first in many years to systematically excavate any of about 250 great houses that were built in the region known as Four Corners, said John Kantner, an archaeologist at the University of North Florida. “We have so little understanding of the role of great houses and the relationship between others and Chaco Canyon itself,” said Dr. Kantner, who excavated Blue J, another Chaco-related site in New Mexico.

The project here has the potential to “fill in the gaps about the outlying great houses,” he said.

ROMAN CAVALRY BARRACKS UNEARTHED NEAR HADRIANS WALL DATING TO ABOUT 2,000 YEARS AGO WITH THOUSANDS OF ARTIFACTS

Archaeologists are likening the discovery to winning the lottery. A Roman cavalry barracks has been unearthed near Hadrian’s Wall, complete with extraordinary military and personal possessions left behind by soldiers and their families almost 2,000 years ago. A treasure trove of thousands of artifacts dating from the early second century has been excavated over the past fortnight. The find is significant not just because of its size and pristine state, but also for its contribution to the history of Hadrian’s Wall, showing the military build-up that led to its construction in AD122. The barracks pre-dates the wall: the Romans already had a huge military presence in the area, keeping the local population under control.

“The native Britons took an opportunity, when the emperor Trajan died in AD117, to rebel,” says Andrew Birley, who heads the archaeological team. “The soldiers stationed in the north before the wall was built became involved in fighting and were very vulnerable. The evidence we have from this [find] shows the incredibly rich and diverse lifestyle these people had.”

Archaeologists stumbled on the site by chance and have been taken aback by finds in a remarkable state of preservation. These include two extremely rare cavalry swords – one of them complete, still with its wooden scabbard, hilt and pommel – and two wooden toy swords. One has a gemstone in its pommel. As well as other weapons, including cavalry lances, arrowheads and ballista bolts – all left behind on the floors – there are combs, bath clogs, shoes, stylus pens, hairpins and brooches. Sections of beautifully woven cloth have also been unearthed. They may have come from garments and have yet to be tested.

There are also two wooden tablets covered in marks made in black ink. They are thought to be letters, but their contents have yet to be deciphered as they were rushed into a conservation laboratory to ensure their survival.

The barracks, that dates from AD105, was found beneath the fourth-century stone fort of Vindolanda, south of Hadrian’s Wall near Hexham, Northumberland. It is one of the site’s earliest barracks. Hadrian did not begin his 73-mile defensive barrier – to guard the north-western frontier of the province of Britain from invaders – until 122.

The artifacts survived because they were concealed beneath a concrete floor laid by the Romans about 30 years after the barracks was abandoned, shortly before 120. The concrete created oxygen-free conditions that helped preserve materials such as wood, leather and textiles, which would otherwise have rotted away. There is a huge range of stuff – their hair combs, pots, wooden spoons, bowls, weapons, bits of armor, and their cavalry bling.

“Even for us, it’s very unusual to get things like complete Roman swords, sitting on the ground in their scabbards with their handles and their pommels. We were slightly dumbfounded by that. Then, to find another complete sword in another room next door only two meters away, two wooden swords and a host of other cavalry equipment, all in beautiful condition, is just terrific. “Archaeologists would never expect to find a Roman cavalry sword in any context, because it’s like a modern-day soldier leaving his barracks and dumping his rifle on the floor … This is a very expensive thing. So why leave [it] behind?”

He recalled feeling “quite emotional” over the discovery: “You can work as an archaeologist your entire life on Roman military sites and never expect, or imagine, seeing such a rare thing, even at Vindolanda. It felt like the team winning a form of archaeological lottery, and we knew we had something very rare and special before us.”

Hidden in this soil, they went on to find, were the timber walls and floors, fences, pots and animal bones from the abandoned barracks. To their astonishment, excavating about 3.5 meters down, they uncovered eight rooms, with stables for horses, and living accommodation, with ovens and fireplaces. They believe that the base was home to more than 1,000 soldiers and probably many thousands more dependants, including slaves. The Romans had covered over this early barracks with concrete and heavy clay foundations before building another above it. At Vindolanda, garrisons would arrive, build their forts and destroy them when leaving.

Cavalry swords are very rare, even across the north-west provinces of the Roman empire, he said, partly because they are so thin. “They’re very light, a couple of feet long, designed to slash somebody as you’re riding past, with a wickedly sharp blade and a point.”
Other finds include copper alloy cavalry fitments for saddles, strap junctions and harnesses. They are in such fine condition that they still shine and are almost completely free of corrosion. The strap junctions are preserved so beautifully, he said, that they have all their alloy links – incredibly rare survivals. Much of the pottery has graffiti, from which the archaeologists hope to work out the names and stories of some of the people who lived here.

Quite why so much valuable material was left behind has yet to be discovered. One theory is that the barracks was abandoned in a hurry. Birley said: “There was strife. This is the precursor to Hadrian coming to the UK to build his wall. This is the British rebellion. So you can imagine a scenario where the guys and girls at Vindolanda are told: ‘We need to leave in a hurry, just take what you can carry.’ If it’s your sword or your child, you grab the child.”

NEW EVIDENCE ABOUT MASADA AND WHO WAS ACTUALLY THERE.. DIFFERENT THAN HEROD'S ANCIENT TALE


In February 2017, Stiebel headed the first excavations atop Masada in over a decade. He and his team broke ground at some previously untouched areas of the site, including an untouched section of Herod’s fresco and mosaic-bedecked northern palace in search of its garden, a collapsed cave believed to possibly house rare scrolls, the Byzantine monastery, and open areas of the plateau once used for agriculture.

Cutting-edge archaeological techniques helped glean a more detailed picture of the past that would have been impossible during Yadin’s time. The picture emerging from these new data about Masada’s inhabitants is far more complex than previously assumed. “It’s not one monolithic group,” Stiebel explained, describing the people living at Masada before its fall as a “very vibrant community of 50 shades of gray” of Judea.

“We have the opportunity to truly see the people, and this is very rare for an archaeologist,” he said. Among them are women and children, who are too often underrepresented in the archaeological record. Through archaeology, the study of the material culture found on Masada, architecture and a restudying of Josephus, he and his team can even pick out where different groups originated from before coming to Masada. “We know people by name, we know people by profession. We can learn about the way this group of rebels lived,” he said.

Stiebel was loath to disclose too many particulars about his team’s finds until they could be published in a scientific journal. He divulged, however, that he and his team have managed to extract “tremendous amounts of data” from the newly excavated areas of the site by adopting a multidisciplinary approach. Beyond the typical archaeological methods, the co-operation with team of archaeobotanists and archaeozoologists enable them to learn about Masadans’ diet, studied pollen samples to learn what crops they raised, and scrutinized metal and ceramic fragments, testing the latter for clues in 2,000-year-old residues.

These techniques have allowed Stiebel to determine that the Jewish rebels subsisted on food they cultivated atop the mountain, and grew cattle and goats. He also determined that a century before the rebels arrived, King Herod imported fine wine that originated from a vineyard in southern Italy.

The extreme aridity atop Masada, which was largely vacant following the siege (except for 200 years of occupation by Byzantine monks), permits preservation of artifacts “beyond words.” Previous excavations have turned up delicate organic materials: wood, parchment, leather and human hair. Stiebel’s latest dig in February yielded additional potsherds bearing Hebrew inscriptions of Masada’s final Jewish residents.

These discoveries have helped shed light on the day-to-day lives of Masada’s Judean refugees, offering a glimpse at a cross-section of Jewish society during a critical period. Excavating at Masada sheds light not only on its inhabitants, but also on the people who lived in Jerusalem and Judea in the nascent years of Christianity, and the twilight of Jewish independence.

Stiebel plans to publish at least two papers describing the results of these digs in greater detail in the near future, and the Tel Aviv University team will be returning to Masada for another season of excavations in February 2018.

Read more: http://forward.com/news/382132/exclusive-new-archaeology-shows-refugee-camp-not-just-rebels-atop-masada/

EGYPT HAS NEW TOMB OF A JEWELER THAT HOPES TO REVIVE TOURISM INDUSTRY



After five months of digging under an unforgiving sun, a team of Egyptian archaeologists unearthed the tomb belonging to the goldsmith who had lived in the desert province of Luxor. The jeweler, who lived during the 18th dynasty (about 1567 B.C. to 1320 B.C.), had dedicated his work to Amon-Re, the most powerful deity at the time. Amenemhat’s tomb was found in Draa Abul-Naga, a necropolis for noblemen and rulers near the Valley of the Kings, on the left bank of the Nile River.

The discovery was a relatively modest one, but in a country that has been trying to revive its tourism industry, which has been decimated by political strife and terrorist attacks after the 2011 uprising, officials announced the find with fanfare. “This find is important for marketing,” Egypt’s antiquities minister, Khaled el-Enany, said at a news conference outside the tomb on Saturday. “This is exactly what Egypt needs.”

The tomb’s main chamber had statues of Amenemhat and his wife seated on chairs, according to Mostafa Waziri, the archaeologist who led the dig. One statue shows her wearing a long dress and wig. A smaller statue, discovered between the couple, depicts one of their sons.


The chamber also contained pottery, wooden funerary masks and ushabti figurines, which are small blue, black or white statues that ancient Egyptians placed in tombs to serve the dead in the afterlife.





NEADERTHALS FOUND IN CROATIA OLDER THAN ORIGINALLY THOUGHT THAT BRINGS UP NEW FACTS


The Neanderthal remains were originally found in the cave approximately 40 years ago and have been tested for age several times. They have also been the subject of much speculation, as it was thought that the remains represented the last of the Neanderthals in that part of Europe and that they existed for a short period of time in close proximity to modern humans.

Initial testing suggested the remains were approximately 28,000 to 29,000 years old. More recent tests have put them at 32,000 to 34,000 years old. Both time frames coincide with the arrival of modern humans into the area, keeping alive the theory that the two groups mixed, both physically and socially. But now, using what is being described as a more accurate technique, the group with this new effort has found that the remains are older than thought.

The new technique, called ZooMS involves radiocarbon dating hydroxyproline—an amino acid taken from collagen samples found in bone remains. The team also purified the collagen to remove contaminants. The researchers report that the new technique indicates that the remains—all four samples—were approximately 40,000 years old. This new finding puts the Neanderthal in the cave well before the arrival of modern humans, thus, there could not have been mixing of the two.

The researchers also studied other artifacts from the cave, including other animal bones, and found that the artifacts were a mixed bag, representing a timeline of thousands of years. The animal bones, they found, were from bears. This has led the team to conclude that the reason more modern artifacts were found with older artifacts is because of bears mixing them up.

The researchers conclude by claiming their study has shown that the Neanderthals at the Vindija cave did not overlap in time with modern humans, and thus were not the final holdout that many have suggested.


Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-09-dating-neanderthal-vindija-cave-older.html#jCp