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Athena Review:  Archaeology in the News


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Israel and the Levant

"Biblical Artifacts" Declared Forgeries by Israeli Authorities

In 2002, the news that an ancient ossuary might be associated with James, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth, created great excitement in the world of biblical archaeology. The ossuary, or burial box, was purported to have an Aramaic inscription reading “Ya’akov, son of Yossef, brother of Yeshua,” further translated as “James, son of Joseph, son of Jesus” (see AR 3,3:12).  The limestone ossuary was in the possession of Oded Golan, a well known Israeli collecter of antiquities. In late December 2004, Israeli police indicted him along with three other antiquities dealers on charges of running a forgery ring for over 20 years. In addition to forgery, charges included causing damage to antiquities, and receiving fraudulent goods.

Other spectacular pieces now revealed as forgeries include:

• An ivory pomegranate, once thought to be the top of a temple priest’s scepter. Unitil recently on display in the Israel Museum, the pomegranate was believed to be the only known relic from Solomon’s temple.

• A stone seal purportedly belonging to Menashe (also known as Manasseh), king of Judah ca. 687-642 BC. It is reported to have been offered to a private collector for $1 million. Reference to Menashe’s rule and to his captivity in Babylonia can be found in II Chronicles 33:11-13. His reign was noted for a toleration of foreign gods

• A decorated stone menorah said to belong to the temple High Priest. This also was offered to private collectors for a large sum of money.

• The Yoash (or Jehoash) Inscription. The sandstone tablet, if it had been authentic, would have been of immeasurable historical value. It supposedly contained instructions in ancient Hebrew for repairing the First Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Yehoash, son of Akhazyah, King of Judah (836-798 BC). Based on linguistic analysis, the inscription, however, was considered to be a forgery by most scholars almost from the start.

• Fragments of clay vessels with inscriptions that show a connection to biblical sites including the biblical temples.

• A quartz bowl with an Egyptian inscription describing the destruction of Megiddo by Egyptian armies.

[, 29 Dec. 2004; lehmann.htm, 5 Mar. 2004; Lewitt, I. (Ed.) 1995. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. New York, Vendome Press. Freedman, D. 2004. “Don’t Rush to Judgment.” Biblical Archaeology Review 30:49-51.]

Qumran discoveries support revised view of the Dead Sea Scrolls  

In 1947, a Bedouin youth accidentally discovered the first scrolls in Khirbet Qumran, Israel that we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls. This discovery generated an extensive amount of controversy on who indeed wrote these now famous religious documents. Many originally supported the belief that these scrolls belonged to the Essenes, a strict, puritanical Jewish sect active around the time of Christ. Norman Golb, however, contested this theory in his 1995 book Who Wrote The Dead Sea Scrolls? New evidence now appears to uphold the significance of Golb's viewpoint.

Earlier scholars insisted that the scrolls belonged to the Essene Sect due to their discovery of the "Manual of Discipline", which explained the culture and beliefs of this group. This was specifically linked by archaeologist Pere Roland de Vaux of East Jerusalem's Ecole Biblique to the nearby site of Qumran, which contained similar artifacts to those found in the cave containing the scrolls. De Vaux's excavations at Qumran in the 1950s led to the formulation of the Qumran-Essene theory, which asserts that the manual was undoubtedly the work of the Essenes who lived in a monastery at Qumran, and that they must have hidden the scrolls in the cave during the Jewish revolt (AD 66-73).

Despite the popularity of this theory, Golb contends that the scrolls contain many contradictory ideas and are not solely the thinking of the Essene sect. He specifically points to the Copper Scroll found in cave 3, a non-religious document with detailed descriptions of treasures and hiding places in Jerusalem and Palestine. Since the Essenes shun wealth, the discovery of this scroll sheds new light on the Qumran-Essene theory. Also, given the existence of eighteen-hundred scrolls and the identification of five hundred different scribal handwritings, it is impossible that this many scribes ever lived in Qumran. Furthermore, the site of Qumran itself was not, according to Golb, a monastery, but probably a military base during the Jewish Revolt. Many scrolls could then have been brought to the caves from Jerusalem for safekeeping.

While Golb formerly faced much opposition and disbelief from the staunch supporters of the Qumran-Essene Theory, recent excavation gives credibility to his former argument that the Dead Sea Scrolls were not just a product of the Essence sect. Discoveries in Israel by Itzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg have found that the inhabitants of Khirbet Qumran were not ascetics like the Essenes. Spending ten seasons at the site, the archaeologists have uncovered jewelry and expensive cosmetic containers suggesting female residence amid relative luxury. In light of such evidence , a growing number of archaeologists are questioning the former theory on the Dead Sea Scrolls, with Golb's perspective now gaining new support.

University of Chicago Chronicle, 7 Nov 2004; Golb, Norman. 1995. Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran. New York, Scribner.





"Hobbit" brain scan supports separate species theory

The LB-1 skull from Flores in Indonesia, popularly known as the “hobbit,” dated at 18,000 years ago, and unearthed at a limestone cave called Liang Bua, was assigned by its excavators Peter Brown and Michael Morwood (2004) to a new human species called Homo floresiensis. Critics have claimed it is only a modern human pygmy or a microcephalic.

Now CT scans and latex endocasts of its brain cavity have been used to strengthen the case for the skull to belong to be the separate species Homo floresiensis. So argues Florida State University professor Dean Falk in a March 3, 2005 paper published online in Science Express, coauthored by four researchers from the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Columbia University in St. Louis, three scientists from the Indonesian Centre for Archeology, and by the Australian researchers Morwood and Brown. The report, called "The Brain of LB1, Homo Floresiensis," describes how Falk and researchers at the Mallinckrodt Institute used computed tomographic (CT) scan data on the original skull to create a 3D virtual endocast of LB1's brain. Falk also created a physical endocast out of latex. This was then compared with endocasts from a chimpanzee, a gorilla, an adult female pygmy; an individual with true microcephaly (abnormally small skull), an adult female Homo erectus, an Australopithecus africanus, and a Paranthropus aethiopicus (or robust australopithecine).

The endocasts revealed significant swelling of the frontal lobe, along with other anatomical features consistent with higher cognitive processes. This was taken by Falk et al. as possibly relevant to what coauthors Brown and Morwood claim to be evidence of tool-making and cooperative activities found in the Ling Buia cave along with the LB-1 skull. Implications of LB-1 being a separate species would include supporting the notion that Homo floresiensis experienced island dwarfing in response to limited food supplies; or may have shared with its purported ancestor, Homo erectus, an unknown, small-bodied and small-brained ancestor.

Among critics of these theories are several researchers who believes LB1 was a microcephalic modern Homo sapiens is Teuku Jacob of the Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Java, who thinks that Brown and Morwood were also mistaken about the sex of LB-1, which Jacob thinks was a male. Another critic, Robert Eckhardt of Penn State University, says the specimen appears to have multiple pathologies, and that current comparative work should clarify this. Other critics of the proposal that LB-1 represents a new species include Maciej Henneberg, a paleopathologist at the University of Adelaide, and Alan Thorne, formerly of Australian National University, both of whom are working with Eckhardt to analyze the remains.

One weakness in the case presented by Falk et al. to disprove microcephaly, as pointed out by Ralph Holloway, a brain endocast specialist from Columbia University, was in using only one microcephalic skull to compare with the “hobbit” skull.  Another writer on human evolution, Richard Klein of Stanford University, seems unconvinced that Falk's virtual endocast proves much about the mind and thinking ability of Homo floresiensis, or that a single skull provides enough evidence for a species dentification or conclusions about brain physiology.

Oldest Homo sapiens dated to 195,000 years ago at Omo, Ethiopia

Although genetic analyses indicate that modern humans first appeared in Africa some 200,000 years ago, anatomical finds from this early phase are rare. Until recently, fossil skulls discovered at Herto, Ethiopia, were thought to be the oldest ever found, dating back some 150,000 years and defined as a new subspecies called Homo sapiens idaltu ("the elder"; Clark et al. 2003). Fossils of early Homo sapiens previously discovered in 1967 in the Kibish region along the Ethiopian Omo River have now been redated to about 195,000 years ago by a team of American and Australian scientists including Ian McDougal, Francis Brown, and John Fleagle. According to the latest research results published by McDougall et al. (2005) in Nature, both skulls probably stem from chronologically comparable silty sapropel layers of the so-called Member I of the Kibish Formation. Their find levels are now dated to about 195,000 years by a tuff layer positioned slightly below the fossils and providing a terminus post quem of 196,000 years on basis of its content of radioactive Argon. Another tuff found in the above lying Member III, some 50 m above the fossils, additionally limits the age of the skulls to at least 104,000 years, and further 14C-datings of the uppermost sediments of Member IV, to about 9900-3200 years, complete the chronological sequence.

When the fossil containing sediments were accumulated, the region periodically lay within the northern edge of Lake Turkana and the Omo delta. Due to the ensuing decrease of Lake Turkana's water level, resulting from a drier climate, the delta now lies some 100 km south of the Omo site. Thin layers of sapropels in each of the members of the Kibish Formation were deposited within short periods of time. Interestingly, McDougall and his colleagues describe a chronological correlation between the dated sapropel and tuff layers from the Omo site and sapropels dated around the Mediterranean Sea, thus indicating a comparable effect of climatic conditions on the accumulation of these fine grained sediments at least over the vast area of the Mediterranean Sea and its southeastern tributary system and adjacent rivers, including the Omo River and Lake Turkana. Three of seven fossil Mediterranean sapropels appear to correspond with the dated levels of the Omo site, indicating that when the water level at Lake Turkana was high enough to deposit the sapropel sediments at Omo, the Mediterranean region also showed an increased formation of such sediments.

Although now dated to the same time period, the two skulls from Omo differ in appearance. Whereas the Omo I skull shows modern features, Omo II, found lacking its facial part, seems to be more archaic, suggesting a high range of morphological variability during the early age of modern humans.

[Mc Dougall, I., F. H. Brown, and J. G. Fleagle, 2005. "Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia." Nature 433: 733-736; Nature news 16 February 2005; Clark, J. D. et al. 2003. "Stratigraphic, chronological and behavioral contexts of Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia." Nature 423: 747-752.]

Ardipithecus fossils from Ethiopia 4.5 million years old (20 Jan 05)

Researchers from Indiana University (Bloomington) and seven other institutions have found fossilized skeletal remains of Ardipithecus ramidus, a human ancestor believed to date about 4.5 - 4.3 million years ago. The fossils, described in  the journal Nature on 20 Jan 2005, will shed important light on the development of primitive ape-like hominids toward more recent human forms.

The fossils come from Gona in northern Ethiopia, one of two known Ardipithecus ramidus sites. While retaining some primitive, ape-like traits, A. ramidus walked upright  and had evolved canine teeth of a human-like, rhomboidal or diamond-shaped form. Since initial discovery of A. ramidus was reported in 1993 by Univ. of California anthropologist Tim White and his colleagues, only two Ethiopian sites,  the Middle Awash and Gona, have yielded fossils, with slightly older examples also known from Chad and Kenya. 

Now the Ardipithecus sample has been sizably increased. Sileshi Semaw, who directed the research, reports more than  30  A. ramidus fossils were found at Gona from at least nine individuals dated 4.3 -4.5 million years ago. The skeletal parts include upper and lower jawbones, teeth, and toe and finger bones. As Semaw and his colleagues report, these were found with substantial faunal evidence of antelope, rhinocerous, monkeys, giraffes and hippopotomi showing that northern Ethiopia  had a wetter climate than today, with a mixture of woodlands, grasslands, and riverine environments.Argon isotope dating of volcanic materials found near the fossils was used to estimate their age.

Gona has also yeilded the earliest evidence of hominid tool-making, dating as early as 2.5 million years ago, as reported in Nature (23 Jan1997) by Semaw and colleagues.

Semah et al. 2005. "Early Pliocene Hominids from Gona, Ethiopia." Nature 433: 7023  (20 Jan 2005).


Topper site may further push back dates of the peopling of the Americas

Until recently, many New World archaeologists upheld the Clovis-First theory, which states that at the end of the last glaciation, between 10,800 and 11,500 years ago, big game hunters from Siberia followed bison across the Beringia land bridge that then connected Asia and Alaska. These Paleoindians then spread throughout the rest of the Americas, with fluted spearpoints serving as diagnostic evidence of their occupations (see AR 3:2).

Dates of the arrival of Paleoindians have been pushed back several thousand years by recent findings at Meadowcroft (PA), Monte Verde (Chile), Cactus Hill (VA) and several other sites, which have seriously challenged the Clovis-First model. Textbooks might now need yet another serious revision, with the most recent discoveries at the Topper Site on the Savannah River in Allendale County, South Carolina.  Archaeologist Albert Goodyear of the University of South Carolina has obtained radiocarbon dates suggesting that people lived in eastern North America more than 50,000 years ago- much earlier than proposed by any widely held theory on the peopling of the Americas. Effectively, this would mean that Paleoindians arrived in North America at about the same time that anatomically modern humans were migrating from Africa into Australia and Central Asia.  Goodyear’s find also contributes to growing controversy on whether the Paleoindians came at different times and from different parts of the globe, something already postulated by genetic anthropologists (see Schurr, AR 3:2). 

Albert Goodyear initially explored the area in 1981 with the help of a local resident named Topper, for whom the site is named. In 1998, Goodyear discovered pre-Clovis artifacts there, indicating human presence by 16,000 years ago. This put the Topper site on approximately the same time level as several other early sites in eastern North America, including Cactus Hill, Virginia  (45 miles south of Richmond), where artifacts have been dated at 15,070 years before present (see AR 2:3); and Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Western Pennsylvania, where James Adovasio uncovered thousands of artifacts as well as animal and plant remains, the earliest C-14 dated to 19,600 years ago.

Last year, after five more years of investigations, Goodyear unearthed earlier stone tools as well as charred vegetation four meters below the surface. Charcoal samples were sent to two radiocarbon  labs and dated at a minimum age of 51,700 years old.  This would put the Topper site as the oldest known human occupation in the Americas, predating Monte Verde in south central Chile along a tributary of the Rio Maullín, where Tom Dillehay, an anthropologist at Vanderbilt University, has unearthed artifacts dated between 13,000 and 33,000 years ago. It also predates Pedra Furada, a series of rock shelters in eastern Brazil, which have been controversially dated to between 10,000 - 48,000 years ago. (see AR 3:2).  

Many archaeologists seem reluctant to accept Goodyear’s claim, with some suggesting that the charcoal is from natural forest fires.  Other critics are dismissing the stone tools as naturally chipped rocks or ecofacts instead of human made artifacts.  Once the Topper data is published, evidence will surely come under close scrutiny This coming year, from Oct. 23 to 29, 2005, archaeologists will gather at the University of South Carolina’s Colonial Center for a conference on the early peopling of the Americas, with a trip scheduled to the Topper site.

 Archaeology, 17 Nov 2004; Athena Review (3:2) 2002




Lost City of Naachtun

The downfall of the Classic Maya civilization has often been linked to the constant warfare between various city-states. This collapse may now be understood more completely as researchers excavate the remote city of Naachtun in northern Guatemala.

Located between the two warring city-states of Tikal and Calakmul, this ancient city was right at the heart of the Mayan civilization, one km south of the Mexican border. Archaeologist Katherine Reese Taylor is particularly interested in how Naachtun managed to maintain such a strong position despite its vulnerable location . With a 40-member team, Taylor is currently excavating the ancient city in an attempt to find answers to the riddle of the sudden Mayan collapse in AD 800-900.

Dominating southern Mesoamerica for seven centuries, the Classic Maya civilization consisted of a number of city-states, each governed by their own king. During this period Mayans developed their own writing system, mastered mathematics, and refined a complex calendar. Stelae or stone slabs were carved with inscriptions which recorded the lives of Mayan kings in hieroglyphic writing. Apart from their peak centuries, the Mayans suffered an initial collapse between AD 150 and 200 and then a final century-long decline beginning in AD 800. Many researchers concur that this final collapse was triggered by several factors including the constant warfare between kings, over-exploitation of fragile wetland ecosystems, and a famine beginning around AD 750.

Naachtun is such a remote city that it had been independently "discovered" twice, long before the present excavation began. On May 3, 1922, Sylvanus Morley of the Carnegie Institute spent seven days carefully examining the many buildings and also made an interesting finding of 19 stelae. Due to the city's remote location and unfamiliarity, Morley appropriately named the city Naachtun (naach meaning `far' and tun meaning `stone'). In January 1932, a second explorer, the botanist Cyrus Lundell discovered eight more stelae. Interestingly, Lundell erroneously believed that he had found a new site and named it `Nohoxna.' When the Carnegie Institute organized an expedition to map this new site, they realized that their photos matched exactly with the pictures taken by Morley. `Naachtun' and `Nohoxna' were one and the same site.

The site has been completely unexcavated up to now and portions of many of the original buildings are still standing. Reese Taylor's team has already performed 25 excavations with much more planned. Researchers believe that the ancient city contained as many as 500 public buildings for a population of about 40,000 at its height.

Also of interest are the cultural and linguistic imprints left on this city by Tikal and Calakmul. Naachtun's buildings displays an adundance of shifting cultural influences. The architecture, for example, indicates the influence of the Rio Bec style. Linguistically, researchers have noticed a mixing of two writing styles on the stelae, slabs commemorating the lives of Mayan kings. Nacchtun was in fact a cultural melting pot.

Toronto Star, 7 Nov 2004

Conservation Efforts to Save Mayan rainforest at Laguna del Tigre,


In the northernmost part of Guatemala lies the department of Petén, once home to some of the major centers of the classic Maya civilization, and now one of the largest remaining tropical rainforests in Central America (see AR 2:2). Recent concern over deforestation at Laguna del Tigre (Guatemala's largest nature preserve) in the Petén has led to the efforts of an international archaeological project, organized by Dr. David Friedel of Southern Methodist University, and Guatemalan archaeologist Héctor Escobedo. Started in 2002, the Waka' Archaeological project combines archaeological research with preservationist efforts. Waka', now known as El Perú, is nestled inside Laguna del Tigre and is considered to have been an important economic and political center of the ancient Mayan world.

Waka' formed part of a triangle that also included the major sites of Calakmul to the north and Tikal to the west. Initially inhabited around A.D. 150, the city reached its peak between AD 400-800. Home to an estimated tens of thousands of people, a series of 22 kings ruled at Waka' over a period of 700 years. The site sits atop a 130-meter high escarpment above a tributary of the San Pedro River, which explains the origin of the name Waka' ("stood up place"). The site also contains 672 monumental structures, 40 stelae, and numerous small house structures. Ian Graham, a Harvard researcher, recorded the hieroglyphic inscriptions on monuments in the early 70's, but SMU is the first team of archaeologists to perform excavations on this site.

The artifacts and features at the site of Waka' are revealing a really interesting story about the Classic Mayan world. In the palace complex, archaeologist David Lee, Canadian archaeologist and graduate student, discovered a royal burial chamber of a female ruler, dated between AD 650-750 (Late Classic Period). Another archaeologist, Jennifer Piehl, also identified more than 2,400 artifacts of greenstone, shell, and obsidian. Project co-director Friedel has been especially interested in the discovery of stingray spines placed on the queen's pelvic region. The presence of a bloodletting implement such as a stingray spine may support the notion that female rulers were sometimes depicted as both male and female in Mayan culture. Reliefs carved on stelae frequently show that men pierced their genitals, while woman more commonly pierced their tongues in the offering of blood to the Mayan Gods Moreover, the discovery of a war helmet in the queen's burial, more commonly associated with male rulers, demonstrates how important royal women were at Waka'. Further research is required to determine the queen's age, reign, and cause of death.

Concerned about the damage done by looting to sites such as Waka' as well as the fragile state of Laguna del Tigre, Dr. David Friedel has teamed with the Government of Guatemala, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society and ProPéten in an effort to rescue 230,000 acres of the park from deforestation.. This effort, known as the K'ante'el alliance, is named for the Mayan words for "precious forest" and refers to the magical place where the Maya Maize God was reborn and where their civilization ultimately began.

Established in 1989, the nature preserve of Laguna del Tigre, meaning "Jaguar Lake," is home to 188 species of birds, 90 species of butterflies, 17 species of amphibians, and 55 species of fish. The park is also the habitat of several endangered species including the Scarlet Macaw, the focus of recent conservation efforts. The major threats are attributed to five causes: permanent human settlement and immigration, the advancing agricultural and grazing frontier, forest fires, gas and oil prospecting, and the lack of personnel and budget to save the park. Specifically, the slash and burn agriculture of local Mayan farmers seriously threatened the park's future last year when 100,000 acres of the park burned. Most of the western part of the park has completely disappeared. The current dig is expected to last three years, but Friedel plans to work on conserving this region indefinitely.

SMU News; National Geographic News May 6, 2004;; Associated Press



China and East Asia


Caucasian tombs at Lop Nur, China

Swedish explorer Swen Hedin's original discovies in northwest China should now receive more of the attention they merit, as Chinese archaeologists are beginning to pay serious attention to this important archaeological region. According to the Xinhua news agency, an estimated thousand tombs, believed by some to be up to 4,000 years old, will soon be excavated in the Lop Nur desert of the Xinjiang region of China.

Hedin, well known for his rediscovery of the Khotan cities along the Silk Road in the Taklamakan desert in 1896 (see AR 3,1), has provided archaeologists with useful guides to many remote and poorly-mapped territories in Tibet, Turkestan, and northwest China. Hungarian archaeologist and linguist Aurel Stein became inspired by the work of Hedin and organized four expeditions into Turkestan and Western China between 1900 and 1930, where he excavated many sites with Buddhist temples, house-dwellings, and inscriptions. Hedin then discovered the ancient tombs of Lop Nur in 1934.

Now the interest of Chinese archaeologists has been rekindled in the desert settlements of northwest China. Based partly on linguistic data related to ancient Tocharian in use around the Silk Road, which brought many cultures into contact between the 1st century BC and 8th century AD, Chinese archaeologists have hypothesized that the inhabitants of this site were Caucasian. Archaeologists have already started to unearth hundreds of tombs at Xiahoe (near Lop Nur desert) in hopes of unraveling the mystery of this ancient civilization.

Xinhua News Agency; The Australian, 25 Oct, 2004
 31 Oct 2004




.Restoring the shattered record of Afghanistan's past (11 Jan 2005)

The National Museum in Kabul  has reopened. The museum's first exhibition in 13 years began last month, featuring  life-sized wooden statues from Nuristan , an eastern province of Afghanistan.

This reopening is no small accomplishment. Over the past dozen years,  much of of the Museum's treasures covering several past millenia have fallen prey to looters and foreign art dealers. Before the mujahedin took over Afghanistan in 1992, the Kabul Museum held over 100,000 artifacts ranging in date from prehistory to the modern era. Anything salable on the black market- coins, Islamic-era relics, and Buddhist statues light enough to be carried away - were all looted  by the mujahedin.

 According to Museum Direcor Omara Massoudi, at least 70 per cent of the Museum's artifacts were looted during the most intense periods of 1990s fighting in Kabul, and another 2500 - 3000 were destroyed by the Taliban during their subsequent iconoclastic regime. Between 1999 and 2001, Taliban officials invaded the museum and hacked up Buddhas and any other carvings depicting  the human form, forbidden in Islam.

Some of these shattered pieces are being brought back to life. In a workroom of the Museum, Shairazuddin Saifi , director of the Museum's restoration department, is painstakingly reassembling precious items from the Afghan past such as a painted wooden Buddha.

Although Islamic for the past 13 centuries, prior to that Afghanistan enjoyed an era of prosperity as a region of Gandhara, a Buddhist kingdom from 200 BC-AD 750 whose capital was  at Taxila, in northern Pakistan. Gandhara was a crossroads of Buddhist and Hellenistic cultures, and lay along the Silk Road linking India and China.

The wooden Nuristan statues now on exhibition in the Museum include fourteen human figures, some standing, one riding a horse, another seated on a throne. Fauzia Hamraz, director of the museum's ethnographic collection, reports that hundreds of schoolchildren in Kabul have already visited the Museum to see the statues.


Early Humans were Distance Runners   11-18-04

Humanity emerged on the run, according to a new study of fossil evidence by Dennis Bramble, a biology professor at the University of Utah, and Daniel Lieberman, an anthropologist at Harvard University. Their report in the Nov.18, 2004  issue of Nature proposes that natural selection among human ancestors favored  running over tree climbing, leading to the modern body form. By the time of Homo erectus about 2 million years ago, the researchers state, distinctive features of the modern human body had emerged. These include a range of physical traits that suggest human ancestors evolved as distance and endurance runners, allowing them to to outrun prey over long distances and compete with other carnivores for food in open country. Fossil records suggest the Achilles tendon which is instrumental in running was absent in Australopithecus, who lived from about 4 to 2 million years ago (mya). Likewise, the longitudinal arch of the foot did not evolve until Homo habilis, 2.4 to 2.0 mya. Long legs relative to body mass, first appeared with Homo erectus some 1.8  mya.

The transition from australopithecines to Homo is thus explicitly tied by the researchers to forces of natural selection involved in the evolution of running. This partially counters other theories that the distinctive long-legged body form of humans derived from an improved walking ability in early hominids, with running a byproduct of this. According to co-author Daniel Lieberman, running evolved in order for our ancestors to compete with other carnivores for access to the protein provided by meat, marrow, and brain. Exceptional long distance endurance allowed human hunters to exhaust their prey. Early hominids are known to have smashed bones of animals killed by predators and extracted marrow for food. In light of such evidence that early humans lived by scavenging, the running hypothesis suggests a more mixed subsistence of active hunting as well as scavenging.

National Geographic News, 17 Nov 2004;   Nature 18 Nov 2004


Rapid early brain growth in Homo erectus   9-16-04

Analysis of the 1.8-million-year-old child from Mojokerto, Java, the only well preserved skull of a Homo erectus infant, has revealed more rapid brain growth than in modern humans. A research team including Jacques Hublin of the University of Bordeaux, F. Veillon from the Max Planck Institute, F. Houet  from the Radiology Division of Strasbourg Hospital, and Teuku Jacob of the Indonesian Gadjah Mada University have used computer tomography to compare the Mojokerto child with a large sample of extant humans and chimpanzees.

 The  results show the ancient child from Java was about 1 year old at death and had an endocranial capacity at 72-84% of an average adult Homo erectus. This pattern of relatively quick  brain growth resembles that of living apes, but differs from that seen in extant humans. It implies that major differences in the development of cognitive capabilities existed between H. erectus and anatomically modern humans. Humans differ from other primates in their significantly lengthened growth period. The persistence of a fetal pattern of brain growth after birth is another important feature of human development.

Nature 431 (16 Sept 2004):299-301

Smallest human species ever known has been discovered in Flores, Indonesia; thought to be descended from Homo erectus  28 Oct 2004

 Recent excavations on the remote island of Flores in the Indonesian archipelago, near the islands of Bali and Java, have uncovered the fossil skeletons of ancient humans no bigger than a 3-year old child of today. Considerably smaller than pygmies of the African rain forest, these are the tiniest humans ever discovered. The initial discoveries of an adult skull and partial skeleton were made in September 2003  in the Liang Bua Cave on Flores, by a team of archaeologists and paleoanthropologists from the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta, led by Michael Morwood of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia.

These researchers, announcing their discovery in Nature (28 Oct. 2004), have concluded that the skeletons, which contain a mixture of primitive and advanced anatomical features, probably evolved from a Homo erectus population which reached Flores by 840,000 years ago, as previously reported by Morwood and his colleagues (1998). Similar to the reduction of other large, ancient animal populations who moved to island settings, the extreme isolation of the island exerted evolutionary pressures resulting in dwarfism in the humans. The new finds represent a completely new species of humans, which has been named Homo florensiensis after the island on which they were found.

The miniature humans had only a chimp-size brain (about 1/3 the size of modern humans), but still had the mental capability to produce a varied tool kit, including blades, perforators, and points, which appear more sophisticated than those made by Homo erectus. Despite their small size, the archaic Flores people were able to successfully hunt primitive dwarf elephants called stegodons, showing a certain degree of communication and planning. The cave sediments in which the skeletons were found also contained evidence of hearths, and the bones of giant rodents and Komodo dragons. Even more amazingly, Homo florensiensis appears to have been present on Flores from 95,000 BP until as recently as 13,000 years ago. The existence of a more primitive species of humans at the same time as modern Homo sapiens is changing scientists’ perspective on the variation and adaptability of the genus Homo.

[Brown, P. , M. Morwood, et al, Nature, 28 Oct. 2004;  Morwood, M. et al. 1998. “Fission-track ages of stone tools and fossils on the east Indonesian island of Flores.” Nature 392: 173-176.;  Science - 29 Oct 2004 ]





"Hobbit" bones sequestered by an Indonesian scientist  12-1-04

Bones of the celebrated "hobbit" woman from Flores, Indonesia have been taken at least temporarily out of scientific circulation, in the midst of growing controversy about their identification. 

Early last month, paleoanthropologist Teuku Jacob of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta took the skull and jaw of the tiny 18,000-year-old hominin called Homo floresiensis, plus the jaw of a second "hobbit", from the Center for Archaeology in Jakarta to his own laboratory. Both were unearthed from a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores.

Professor Jacob, who does not believe the designation of a separate species is justified, based on similarities he sees with modern human teeth, will also collect remaining fossils from the excavation.  According to Radien Soejono, a senior archaeologist at the Center and co-director of the scientific team that found the hominin remains, the Center has agreed to let Dr. Jacob take the remaining bones of the Flores hominids for temporary study. However, in the view of  "hobbit" discovery team member Peter Brown, whose analysis of the bones led to the separate species designation published in Nature on Oct.28, 2004,  the taking of the fossils has violated an agreement between his institution, the University of New England in Australia, and the Jakarta Archaeology Center. Tony Djubiantono, director of the Center, has remarked that if the fossils are not returned by the end of December, appeals may be made to Indonesia's Minister for Culture and Tourism.

Jacob believes the Flores hominids are part of a pygmy-like population of small, microcephalic humans rather than a new species. While his views are shared by some other scientists, many paleoanthropologists tentatively agree with the separate species designation. Many are also concerned that future study of the bones may be limited unnecessarily.

Science, 26 Nov 2004; The Independent (Australia), 2 Dec 2004


Challenges emerge on whether the Flores "hobbit" is a new human species    11-12-04

The tiny skeleton of an 18,000-year-old human (known as LB1) found in the Liang Bua cave on the  Indonesian island of Flores was proclaimed last month to be a newly discovered species, Homo floresiensis. Yet Australian researcher Maciej Henneberg, a paleopathologist of  the University of Adelaide, has suggested this may actually a modern human with a growth anomaly called microcephaly ('small brain').

 Henneberg, in an Oct. 31 interview in the Adelaide Sunday Mail, compared the Flores skull to a 4000-year-old microcephalic modern human skull known from  the Minoan period in Crete. A statistical comparison of 15 head and face dimensions of the Liang Bua specimen with those of the Minoan microcephalic showed no points of significant differences between the two skulls.  

The team that discovered the skeleton, including Peter Brown and Michael Morwood of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia asserted that at least 7 individuals (informally called "hobbits") were found at the Flores site, and that all represent the new species, Homo floresiensis, which may have descended from Homo erectus. Besides the female skeleton called LB1, however, only two other human fossils were reported in the Nature article proposing the new species. These include a single premolar , and  a forearm bone (radius) found deeper down in Liang Bua cave. The forearm, based on its dimensions was claimed by Brown et al. (2004) as further proof that a local population existed of  diminutive Homo floresiensis. But, as Henneberg also points out, the reported length of the radius of  210 mm actually corresponds to human stature of 151-162 cm, within the range of many modern women and some men. 

Archaeologists showing doubts on the new species interpretation include Alan Thorne of the Australian National University in Canberra. Thorne, who favors a multiregional continuity model of human evolution (with worldwide populations interbreeding over the past 1.9 million years to produce modern humans) has proposed in earlier articles that some early Australian aboriginal fossil remains are descended from Homo soloensis or "Solo Man," a late Homo erectus offshoot from Java. Also taking the view that the Flores skeleton is from a diminutive modern human is Indonesian paleoanthropologist Teuku  Jacob of Gadjah Mada University. Jacob, a long-term director of early human research in Java who has worked extensively on both Homo erectus and "Solo Man" sites, is now studying the Flores skull at his laboratory in Jakarta.

The view that the Flores skeleton is a separate species which lived  contemporaneously with modern Homo sapiens is currently defended by a number of paleoanthropologists who favor the "Replacement" model of human evolution, including Chris Stringer of the London Museum of Natural History, and Leslie Aiello of London's University College. Aiello proposes that pelvic parts of the postcranial skeleton from Flores (18,000 years old) more resemble that of an australopithecine (extinct by 1 million years ago) than of a modern human.

The much-reported association of the  "hobbit" remains with blade tools and hunted remains of kimodo dragons and pygmy elephants called Stegadon, as proclaimed  in initial news accounts of the Flores find, may be somewhat more difficult to actually substantiate, on the basis of evidence presented in the Oct. 28 2004 Nature report.

Science - 12 Nov 2004           Pauline Ross, Adelaide Sunday Mail  31 Oct 2004

Greece and the Aegean


Thebes yields Mycenean tombs and an altar to Apollo  11-10-04

Excavations that started in February, 2004 within the ancient Greek city of Thebes have revealed an important, multi-component site near the ancient Electran Gate ,with artifacts dating from ca. 2500 BC to the Byzantine era. These include a sacrificial altar to Apollo Spodios mentioned by the 2nd century AD Greek writer Pausanias (9.11.7-9.12.1).

Also of great  interest are building remains and at least two tombs from the Mycenean era in the Late Bronze Age (ca. 1600-1100 BC), overlapping the period of the Trojan War described in Homer's Iliad (written later,  in about 750 BC). Linear B tablets with Mycenean texts (typically, inventories or tribute lists) have also been found, along with pottery and jewelry.

Thebes was the birthplace of both the god Herakles and the legendary King Oedipus, whose tragic fate was immortalized in a trilogy of psychologically compelling plays written by the Greek dramatist Sophocles (450-380 BC). One of the most exciting discoveries of the current excavations has been a large altar used over a period of centuries for sacrificing animals to Hellenic deities. Terracotta vases dedicated to the gods were deposited among layers of ash over 2.5 meters deep containing charred animal bones and pottery from the  Geometric and Archaic periods (8th-6th c BC) .Altogether, some 380 complete pottery vessels from all periods were found in the site. The altar is being identified with the Altar of Spondios Apollo (Apollo of the Ashes) , described by Pausanias as being close to the Electran Gate. Remains of a late Archaic temple at the other end of the plot could be the  sanctuary of Apollo Ismenios, also mentioned by Pausanius. Numerous bronze statuettes of Herakles, the mythical Theban-born hero - were also found. This may mark the site where ancient Thebans believed Herakles lived as a child.

The Thebes excavations have also yielded clay tablets from the 13th century BC incised with the Mycenean script known as Linear B. While these are usually relatively mundane documents with inventories of goods and animals, some may name cities also mentioned in Homer's epic writings.

[10 Nov 2004]

Mycenean family tomb found near Sparta

The Greek Culture Ministry announced on 22 November that a Mycenean chamber tomb dating from the period of 1340-1050 BC has been discovered near Peristeri, a village in the southern Peloponnese about 50 km. southeast of ancient Sparta. Workers building terraces along a hillside discovered the tomb in an artificial cave dug into the soft rock. The tomb, which had never been disturbed in over 3000 years, contained the skeletons of nine adults and a child. Grave goods included a circle of upturned pottery vases around the child, bronze personal items including a razor and tweezers (reportedly used by Mycenean women to pluck their eyebrows), and a soapstone seal. State archaeologists and local residents collaborated in the excavation.

[22 Nov 2004]



Italy and Ancient Rome


  Etruscan city and burial site of Lars Porsena discovered

  Archaeologists are constantly seeking to unlock the mysteries and piece together clues on the enigmatic Etruscan culture.  One story they have been trying to uncover for centuries is that of Lars Porsena, a semi-legendary Etruscan king, who ruled over Central Italy around 500 BC.  Etruscans are known for their elaborate tombs,  and Lars Porsena is thought to have had the biggest of all Etruscan tombs. Archaeologists have been searching since at least the 1940s for his tomb in the Tuscan city of Chiusi, under the belief that Chiusi and Clusium (Porsena’s capital) were the same city, based on the premise that they meant the same thing (“closed city”).  Giuseppi Centauro, however, discounts this theory and claims that archaeologists have been looking in the wrong place..

  Unfortunately, in 89 BC the Roman general Cornelius Sulla razed Lars Porsena’s tomb along with the rest of the city of Clusium. The tomb is described by ancient sources as containing a 15-meter high rectangular base with sides of 90 meters long.  The base supports five pyramids, with each one holding a ring of bells. Five more pyramids rested atop these and then a final five.  While archaeologists have failed to unearth remains of this prominent find, Centauro argues that the city of Clusium is located on a mountainside near Florence.

  While The Etruscan language is still unknown, many believe they were non Indo-European speakers, who originated in the near east. Like the Greeks, from whom they borrowed the alphabet in the 8th -7th c. BC, the Etruscans organized their kingdom into city-states.  The Etruscans controlled Tuscany, Campania, a part of the Po Valley, as well as Central Italy. Etruscan power declined after the fifth century BC due to the rise of Greek cities in Southern Italy, Gaulish invasions, and the eventual subjugation of Tuscany by powerful Roman rule. Lars Porsena , the King of Clusium, is well known for his war against the city of Rome. Called on for help after the revolution overthrew the arrogant Lucius Tarquinius or “Superbus”, Lars Porsena was asked to suppress the new Roman Republic.  Lars Porsena did not fulfill his request and instead made Rome a republic.  Archaeologists are unsure over whether he made peace or succeeded in capturing and ruling Rome himself.

  While awaiting permission to commence excavations, Centauro remains positive that this site near Florence is the ancient city of Clusium.  He has identified two concentric walls 17km in circumference, qualifying this location as the biggest city in Italy, like the ancient site of Clusium.  Closely resembling Etruscan construction, the outer walls are three meters thick and several meters high. Previous excavation at a site known as Gonfienti outside of the city walls since 1998 also supports Centauro’s idea that this wealthy suburb was built to cope with the future expansion of Clusium. 

The Economist, 7 Nov 2004

South America


Caral and the Earliest Peruvian Civilization: Expanded Site Data

The Supe Valley (fig.1), 200 miles north of Lima on the Peruvian Pacific coast,was first surveyed a century ago by the German archaeologist Max Uhle (1925). After being only sporadically studied for decades, in recent years this region has yielded the most extensive known evidence of early complex society in the Americas. This is evidently a primary or pristine civilization which arose in near-coastal Peruvian river valleys during the Late Archaic period (ca. 3000-1800 BC) before the advent of ceramics , but with a subsistence base of irrigation agriculture and aquatic food resources , and central ceremonial areas including large platform mounds.

The Supe Valley contains a number of such Preceramic mound sites. The most intensively studied site has been Caral (fig.2), located 23 km inland, investigated between 1994 and 2005 by the Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady Solis.  Caral (fig.2) contains six large tiered mounds and circular platforms, remains of ceremonial and dwelling areas, and evidence of irrigation works and agriculture in the third millennium BC (Shady Solis 2004).

At the mouth of the Supe River on the coast, the Preceramic site of Aspero (first identified by Uhle in 1905) has also, since the 1970s, revealed early evidence of agriculture dating back to 3000 BC. Within a site area of 13 ha, Aspero has at least seventeen artificial mounds up to 4 m high. Other large Preceramic sites in Peru, including Huaca Prieta and Los Gavillanes on the coast and La Galgada in the uplands, all had early plant domestication and platform mounds. The early dates for Aspero have led Moseley (2001) and others (Feldman 1980) to propose a coastal origin for the earliest Peruvian civilization, due to the ready abundance of marine food resources.

An alternative viewpoint put forward by Ruth Shady Solis and other researchers sees the origins of social complexity arising from inland agriculture at sites like Caral (Shady Solis 2003). Compared to Aspero, the inland site of Caral is larger (65 ha) and has more platform mounds (numbering at least 25), of which six are 10 to 18 m high (labelled B, C, G, E, H, and I in fig. 2). It is also surrounded by other sites within the Supe Valley, and neighboring valleys that contain artificial mounds larger than those at Aspero. In 2001, eighteen radiocarbon dates from Caral from 4090 to 3640 BP (calibrated to 2627-1977 BC) were published by Shady Solis and the North American archaeologists Jonathan Haas of the Chicago Field Museum, and Winifred Creamer of Northern Illinois University (Shady Solis, Haas, and Creamer 2001).

More recently, a December 2004 article by Haas, Creamer, and Alvaro Ruiz has reported an additional 95 radiocarbon dates from thirteen Late Archaic sites along the neighboring Pativilca and Fortaleza river valleys (Haas, Creamer, and Ruiz 2004). A total of twenty sites with large platform mounds found in this survey vary from ten to 100 hectares in area, and have stratified housefloors, sunken circular plazas, and irrigation works. Approximately 70 radiocarbon results from eleven of the sites (six in the Fortaleza Valley and five in the Pativilca) support a date range of about 3000 to 1800 BC for these Preceramic sites with monumental architecture. Like Caral, they had a mixed economy of irrigation-based agriculture and marine foods from the nearby coast. Trade between the coast and the interior mound sites has been seen by Shady Solis (2003) and Haas, Creamer, and Ruiz (2004) as a mechanism for the evolution of complex society involving specialization of labor. These findings, plus some early dates of about 3000 BC for some of the inland sites with monumental platforms, tend to support views asserting that the origions of complex society in Peru are linked with agricultural sites and plant domestication.

The recently published information provides substantial new time depth and geographical range to the early Peruvian civilization first defined at Caral by Shady Solis. The multitude of sites in the Supe and adjacent river valleys, most of which show extraordinary preservation of organic materials including food remains and textiles, should continue to provoke controversy - and to revolutionize knowledge about the beginnings of complex human societies.

[Feldman 1980; Haas, J., W. Creamer, and A. Ruiz, “Dating the Late Archaic occupation of the Norte Chico region in Peru,” Nature 432 (23 Dec 2004); Haas, J. and W. Creamer, “Response to Sandweiss and Moseley,” Letters, Science 294 (23 Nov 2001); Moseley, Michael 2001, The Incas and their Ancestors, London, Thames and Hudson; Sandweiss, D. and M. Moseley, “Amplifying Importance of New Research in Peru,”: Letters, Science 294 (23 Nov 2001); Shady Solis, R., 2004 The Foundations of Andean Civilization: Papers in Honor of Michael E. Moseley. J.Marcus, C.Stanish and P. Williams, eds. (in press), , Shady Solis, R. and C. Leyva, eds. 2003 La ciudad sagrada de Caral-Supe. Los orígenes de la civilización andina y la formación del Estadoprístino en el antiguo Perú. Proyecto Especial Arqueológico Caral-Supe, Lima. Shady Solis, R., , J. Haas, and W. Creamer, “Dating Caral, a Preceramic Site in the Supe Valley on the Central Coast of Peru,” Science 292 (27 Apr 2001). ]

Peruvian archaeologist accuses two US archaeologists of plagiarism (22 Jan 2005)

In a matter that may have international implications for research, Ruth Shady Solis, a Peruvian archaeologist, has accused US archaeologists Jonathan Haas and his wife Winifred Creamer of plagiarizing her work on the Caral Complex, recently determined to be part of a precocious early civilization. Caral, 200 km north of Lima, is one of several sites with large earthen platform mounds in a region known as Norte Chico. This has been dated at 4,800- 5,000 years old - making it the earliest complex society yet known in the Americas. Recent work led by Shady Solis uncovered five 20 meter-high terraced platforms in Caral. The site has been known for over 40 years, but only in the past ten years has it been intensively surveyed.

In 2001, Shady Solis coauthored a paper in Science with Haas, a curator at the Field Museum in Chicago, and Creamer, a professor at Northern Illinois University, establishing the early date of about 4700 BP from the site  (Solis et al. 2001). Now Haas and Creamer have recently published a separate report on the early civilization in the Norte Chico region in the December 23, 2004 issue of the journal Nature, which according to Ruth Shady Solis has plagiarized from her own work. The article by Haas et al. cites two publications by Solis without mentioning her in the article,  while  reporting radiocarbon dates from sites in three Norte Chico valleys including Caral, in a broad study documenting more than 20 major residential centers with platform mounds.  

As reported in accounts in the official Peruvian news agency Andina (6 Jan 2005) and ABC news (22 Jan 2005), Shady Solis regards the interpretations on the development of complex societies in Peru, published by Haas and Creamer in Nature, as plagiarized from the results of ten years of work by her own project.  A former student of Shady Solis, Alvaro Ruiz, who has received a scholarship to Northern Illinois University where Creamer is a professor, is a coauthor of the recent Nature paper.

The accusations of plagiarism, made in writing by Shady Solis to the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), have been supported by a Jan.6, 2005 letter to the SAA's ethics committee by distinguished archaeologist Luis Lumbreras, head of  Peru's National Institute of Culture (INC).  US archaeologists  including Betty Meggers (US Nat.Museum) and Michael Mosely (Univ. of Florida) have also backed the position of Ruth Shady Solis. Meggers wrote a letter of complaint on the ethics of the Haas and Creamer project to the National Geographic Society, one of their funding sources. Peru's Education Minister Javier Sota Nadal said he and Foreign Minister Manuel Rodriguez were pressing their concerns about the dispute through Peru's embassy in Washington.

Andina (6 Jan 2005);; Nature 23 Dec 2004; Solis et al. Science 2001; (22 Jan 2005)

Early civilization on Peru's coast as early as 5000 years ago (Dec.23, 2004)

The Norte Chico region 200 miles north of Lima on the Peruvian coast has yielded the earliest known evidence of a complexly organized society in the Andean region. As described in the the journal Nature (23 Dec 2004) by US archaeologists  Jonathan Haas (Field Museum,Chicago), Winifred Creamer (Northern Illinois Univ.), and Alvaro Ruiz (Project co-director), this civilization lacked both an grain food staple and pottery, traits usually found with early sedentary civilizations.Yet the society developed monumental architecture, in the form of large platform mounds and circular structures, based on a mixed economy of  irrigation -based agriculture and marine foods from the nearby coast.

The mound complexes were first dated at Caral, a site in the Norte Chico region, from plant materials recovered by Ruth Shady Solis, a Peruvian archaeologist who has surveyed the region for years and has recorded numerous monumental platoforms. Shady Solis published early dates of about 2700 BC for the early mound levels, in a 2001 paper in the journal Science co-authored by Haas and Creamer. The National Science Foundation and the National Geographical Society have each provided funding for the current project.

Nature 23 Dec 2004.


Archaeologists and Engineers join forces in High-Tech University Museum project at Tiwanku (6 Jan 2005)

University of Pennsylvania Museum archaeologists working at the renowned ancient site of Tiwanaku in Bolivia--a site sometimes called the "American Stonehenge"--have joined forces with a team of engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists and anthropologists in a large-scale, subsurface surveying project using equipment and techniques that may one day serve as a model for future archaeological efforts worldwide.

A three-year, collaborative pilot project, made possible through a 1.05 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, is called “Computing and Retrieving 3D Archaeological Structures from Subsurface Surveying.” It seeks to collect detailed, three-dimensional archaeological structural data from approximately 60 subterranean acres of Tiwanaku--without benefit of the archaeologist's trowel.

Particpants will be from the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Computer and Information Science, School of Engineering, the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies, University of Arkansas, and the Department of Anthropology, University of Denver. Dr. Kostas Daniilidis, Associate Professor in the U. of Pa. Department of Computer and Information Science is the leading Principal Investigator.  Dr. Alexei Vranich, American section Research Associate at the U. of Pa. Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, is Co-Principal Investigator of the grant and Field Director, with Jose Maria Lopez Bejarano, at the excavations at Tiwanaku since 1995.


Early complex society revealed in Uruguay

Researchers studying complex societies in the Americas have often concentrated on the civilizations in Mesoamerica and the Andes, but recent studies show that perhaps even earlier, there was a very culturally advanced society in southeastern Uruguay. Archaeologists formerly believed that, during the pre-Hispanic era, the La Plata basin was home to only the most nomadic societies, consisting of small groups of hunters and gatherers. The La Plata basin is a large river system surrounded by extensive grasslands and wetlands.  Findings at Los Ajos, a multi-mound site in the wetlands, has provided evidence that the inhabitants of these mounds created a complex farming society during the Late Archaic period in the mid-Holocene, between 4,800-4,200 years ago.  The mound complexes were geometrically arranged around a central area in circular, elliptical, and horseshoe formations, in some ways reminiscent of Late Archaic earthworks at Poverty Point, Louisiana.

In the 1990s, archaeologists discovered that the earliest occupations at Los Ajos dated back to a relatively dry phase of the mid-Holocene period.  Recent excavations performed by Jose Iriarte of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, indicated that the drier climate forced the inhabitants, known as “Constructores de Cerritos,” to establish a permanent farming village near the wetlands.  This environment became an attractive place to settle and raise crops, such as corn and squash. The inhabitants also constructed one of the largest and most advanced architectural sites of the La Plata basin. Three additional mound sites (Puntas de San Luis, Isla Larga, and Potrerillo) additionally indicate the growth of permanent settlements in southeastern Uruguay during the mid-Holocene period.

According to Iriate and his team, the architecture of Los Ajos shares similarities with that in lower Amazonian sites near the Atlantic Coast of Brazil.  Since the formal layout of the mounds in the La Plata Basin occurred significantly earlier, the inhabitants can be characterized as having an independent and precocious settlement pattern and architectural style.

Iriate, J. et al.,  Nature 432, 2 Dec 2004; Los Angeles Times, 5 Dec 2004


Tiwanaku ritual site uncovered at Pariti Island, Bolivia


The Lake Titicaca region in Bolivia, Peru, and North Chile was the home of  the ancient Tiwanaku culture. While this was indisputably the most significant civilization in the South Central Andes before the takeover of the Incas, researchers know relatively little about its history due to the lack of writing and their sudden downfall in the 11th century AD.  Prior research indicates first settlements occurred on the Bolivian side of Lake Titiaca around 400 BC, with an administrative center eventually built there between AD 300-500.  The Tiwanaku culture flourished around AD 550-600 and expanded into southern Peru, northern Chile and northwestern Argentina, as well as the Bolivian highlands.

Together with the Wari, the Tiwanaku culture represents a homogenous art style and religion known as the Middle Horizon. The finding of a ritual site suggests that Pariti Island was an important religious center in Tiwanaku civilization.  Research on the island during the summer of 2004 unearthed 300 kg of deliberately broken ritual ceramics, from levels C-14 dated between 900-1050 AD. Archaeologist Antti Korpisaari also notes that twenty untouched vessels have been preserved.

Study of the more ornate pottery examples revealed that the Tiwanaku made high quality ceramic vessels with naturalistic portraits. People are depicted very realistically, providing a glimpse at how the Tiwanaku lived.  Through careful scrutiny of certain characteristics in these portraits such as clothing, jewelry, as well as facial characteristics, archaeologists are starting to build a very detailed picture of Tiwanaku ethnic identity.

Bolivian Archaeologists and the University of Helsinki have carried out excavations around Lake Titiaca for the past fifteen years.  Current projects include a widespread investigation of the Bolivian highlands during 2004.  Along with the ritual Tiwanaku site, researchers have also discovered ancient Paria, the lost southern center of the Incan state.

The Economist, 7 Nov 2004; -photos



Egypt and North Africa


Egyptian animal mummies received elaborate care

Procedures as complex as those used for the Pharaonic nobility were sometimes used to make animal mummies in ancient Egypt, say British resarchers S. A. Buckley, K.A. Clark and R.P. Evershed, in Sept. 2004 issue of Nature. Ancient Egyptians had great respect for animals, both as domestic pets and to represent deities, including the crocodile god Sobek, the cat (or lioness) goddess Bastet, the hawk god Horus, the jackel god Anubis, and the ibis god Thoth.

Starting with the reign of Amenhotep III (1400 BC), millions of votive mummies of mammals, birds and reptiles were made throughout ancient Egypt. The reseachers, based at the Bristol Biogeochemistry Research Centre and the Dept of Archaeology at the University of York, have found that in spite of the sheer quantity of animal mummifications, far more care was often expended for these than once perceived. The accepted view has been that animals were treated in the cheapest way possible, wrapped in coarse linen bandages and dipped in a kind of resin. Yet detailed analyses of animal mummies have now shown frequent use of elaborate bandaging and methods such as careful evisceration used for human mummies. Mass spectrometry analyses have also revealed the presence of balms comparable to those used to mummify humans from the same period, including fats, oils, beeswax, sugar gum, petroleum bitumen, and coniferous, Pistacia and possibly cedar resins.

Nature 431, pp .294 - 299 (16 Sept 2004)

Iberia, France, and ancient Gaul


New Miocene Ape found in Catalonia  

A newly discovered Miocene great ape from northeastern Spain, which may be among the last common ancestors of apes and humans, has been reported by a Catalonian research team led by Salvador Moyà-Solà of the Institut de Paleontologia M. Crusafont in Barcelona.

The species, Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, lived in forests of the western Mediterranean   region during the Middle Miocene period, some 13 to 12.5 million years ago. The fossil skeleton, as the researchers report, represents the first great ape remains from this period combining well-preserved cranial, dental, and postcranial material. Vertebral and wrist bones show evidence of modern apelike design, just as facial morphology shows derived features shared by other great apes. Yet since Pierolapithecus also retained some primitive monkeylike characters associated with upright posture of the trunk, the find does not fit current theories predicting that all characteristics shared by extant great apes were present in their last common ancestor. Instead it points to a large amount of morphological and genetic variation in ape evolution. The overall pattern suggests to the researchers that Pierolapithecus is probably close to the last common ancestor of great apes and humans, presently judged on genetic grounds to have separated by about 7-6 million years ago.

Science 19 Nov  2004


British Isles (UK and Ireland)


Irish Viking village discovered near Cork

The historical intrigue over Viking presence in the British Isles has now increased with the discovery of an intact town that some have already begun to call Ireland's equivalent of Pompeii. This recently discovered Irish Viking village is located near the banks of the river Suir at Woodstown, approximately sixty miles from Cork. Archaeologists discovered the site last year while testing areas ahead of the construction of a bypass road. Presently, highway work has come to a halt as the minister for the environment decides whether to permit a full or partial excavation.

The Vikings first arrived in Ireland in the late 8th century. Around AD 837, the Norwegian Vikings took control of most of Northern Ireland and set up forts in the region. This usurping of power occurred during a time of weak rulers and constant feuding between Irish kings. In AD 847, the Danish Vikings invaded Ireland, setting off continuous warfare over control of the island. During this time, variousViking factions formed alliances with the Irish and frequently sought help from them in battles. By the end of the 9th century AD, the Norwegian Vikings, now considered Irish, had taken control of most of Ireland.

Viking institutions became widespread in Ireland. Through the arrival of the Danish Vikings, the Irish ultimately learned about Viking ships and useful sea tactics. They also learned how to fight on horseback and use armor. The Danish Vikings also created several new cities: Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Wexford, Waterford, and Wicklow.

According to archaeologist Ian Russell, radiocarbon dates of the recently discovered Irish Viking Village, as well as evidence of artifacts and historical references dates to the Hiberno Norse (Early Medieval period, AD 800-1100) Preliminary excavation has uncovered several weapons, metal objects, as well as stone, wood, lignite, glass, and amber. Archaeologists also unearthed 170 lead weights, representing the biggest rural collection in Ireland. Production of metal and trade were especially important to the Vikings. Archaeologists hypothesize that an estimated 4,000 people lived in Woodstown in AD 812, with a fleet of 120 Viking ships.

Oslo University Viking expert Dagfinn Skre states that an undisturbed large Viking settlement has never been excavated in this part of the world and the results of a full excavation would be extremely valuable. Such an outcome may result if  local groups will win the battle for full excavation of the site., 20 Oct 2004;


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