Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Researchers Explore Cahokian Coppersmithing

Artist's rendition of Cahokian settlement.

Researchers have employed 600-year-old metalworking techniques to gain a better understanding of copper artifacts left behind by the Mississippians of the Cahokia Mounds, who lived in western Illinois from 700 until 1400 AD.

The researchers, from Northwestern University, were able to identify how the coppersmiths of Cahokia likely set up their workshop and the methods and tools used to work copper nuggets into sacred jewelry, headdresses, breastplates and other regalia.

"Metals store clues within their structure that can help explain how they were processed," said David Dunand of Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and co-author of the paper. "We were lucky enough to analyze small, discarded pieces of copper found on the ground of the excavated 'copper workshop house' in Cahokia and determine how the metal was worked by the Cahokians."

The researchers also tested theories that some archeologists had made about the coppersmiths' techniques. One idea was that they made large copper pieces, like ceremonial breastplates, by "laminating" sheets of copper together through a hammering technique. But the lamination could not be reproduced, even with much greater weights achievable with a modern press.

The other hypothesis ~ that the Cahokians used copper knobs or copper rivets and other mechanical devices to secure sheets of copper together ~ seems more likely.

Click here for the complete article.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Peru Launches Effort to Preserve Pre-Incan Site

A cooperative effort of the Peruvian government and the Global Heritage Fund aims to conserve and restore the mysterious ancient site of Marcahuamachuco. Built over 1,600 years ago atop a mesa at 10,000 feet, archaeologists call the site ~ known for its impressively massive castillos and circular double-walled structures ~ the "Machu Picchu of the North."

According to Popular Archaeology:
Built around 400 A.D. and lasting until 800 AD, Marcahuamachuco was the center of a Pre-Incan civilization and thought to have been ancient Peru's most important economic, political, spiritual, and military center during that time period. Some of the site's functions still remain a mystery, but scholars suggest that it was a religious oracle for the population, later used as a sacred burial ground.
The site consists of several major compounds surrounded by curved stone walls, in some places as much as 12 meters high, with interior plazas, rooms and galleries that are interpreted by archaeologists to have served ceremonial and administrative functions.
But over the years, its impressive remains have fallen prey to the elements, both natural and human-derived, such as weathering, plant growth, livestock grazing, and lack of conservation.
"It is one of Peru's most important archaeological treasures, and like so many of the country's top heritage sites, it has suffered in the shadow of Machu Picchu for too long," says Jeff Morgan, executive director of the GHF. “With excellent potential to be one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the northern highlands of Peru, Marcahuamachuco will provide a major focus for economic development in an area with few opportunities for local communities."

Click here for the complete article.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Farming Came to Europe by Varied Routes

How agriculture reached Europe from its origins in the Middle East some 11,000 years ago has remained a tantalizing mystery for scientists. Now a new DNA-based study suggests that Europe’s earliest farmers used two different routes.

According the magazine Science:
Some of this research, most notably in Germany, suggests that male farmers entering central Europe mated with local female hunter-gatherers ~ thus possibly resolving the contradiction between the Y chromosome and mtDNA results. 
A team led by molecular anthropologist Marie Lacan of the Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, France, reports work on ancient DNA ~ both mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal ~ from more than two dozen skeletons found in the 1930s in a cave called Treilles in southern France. Archaeologists think Treilles is a communal gravesite because the bones add up to 149 individuals, 86 adults and 63 children.
They found that the female and male lineages seemed to have different origins. The mtDNA showed genetic markers previously identified as having deep roots in ancient European hunter-gatherer populations, but the Y chromosomes showed the closest affinities to Europeans currently living along the Mediterranean regions of southern Europe, such as Turkey, Cyprus, Portugal, and Italy.
The team also concluded that, in addition to the spread of farming into Central Europe suggested by the German studies, there appears to have been at least one additional route via southern Europe.

Click here for the complete article. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Homo Erectus Origins in Eurasia, Not Africa?

Homo erectus models from Kenya National Museum.

Scientists are questioning the long-held belief that early humans migrated solely from Africa. An even earlier group of Homo erectus may have migrated instead from Eurasia to Africa.

Much of the new speculation regarding humans’ earliest migrations comes from Dmanisi, a major archaeological site in the mountains in the Republic of Georgia, between Europe and Asia. Evidence now points to human occupation there some 1.85 million years ago, substantially earlier than previously believed.
"The recently discovered data show that Dmanisi was occupied at the same time as ~ if not before ~ the first appearance of Homo erectus in east Africa," team leader Reid Ferring of the University of North Texas tells the Associated Press. "We do not know as yet what the first occupants looked like, but the implication is that they were similar to, or possibly even more primitive than those represented by Dmanisi's fossils."
The occupants of Dmanisi "are the first representatives of our own genus outside Africa, and they represent the most primitive population of the species Homo erectus known to date," according to David Lordkipanidze of the Georgia National Museum. The early humans at Dmanisi "might be ancestral to all later H. erectus populations, which would suggest a Eurasian origin of H. erectus."

Click here for complete article.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Clovis Killer-Comet Theory Now Deemed Impossible

A tenacious theory that explained the disappearance of the Clovis people ~ arguably North America’s first humans ~ is being strongly disputed by scientists who say it’s impossible.

The hypothesis is that a speeding comet nearly 13,000 years ago was the culprit, spraying ice and rocks across the continent, killing the Clovis people and the mammoths they fed on, and plunging the region into a deep chill. 
Now a host of scientific authorities are making the case that the comet theory is “bogus.” Researchers from multiple scientific fields are calling the theory one of the most misguided ideas in the history of modern archaeology, which begs for an independent review so an accurate record is reflected in the literature.
“It is an impossible scenario,” says Mark Boslough, a physicist at Sandia Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., where he taps the world’s fastest computers for nuclear bomb experiments to study such impacts. His computations show the debris from such a comet couldn’t cover the proposed impact field. In March, a “requiem” for the theory even was published by a group that included leading specialists from archaeology to botany.

Click here for the complete article.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Genetics Identify Easter Island Settlers

Genetic evidence is proving that South Americans helped settled Easter Island ~ one of the most remote islands in the world ~ centuries before Europeans reached it. Genetics has, for the first time, given support to elements of this controversial theory showing that while the remote island was mostly colonized from the west, there was also some influx of people from the Americas.

Genetics, archaeology and linguistics all show that as a whole, Polynesia was colonized from Asia, probably from around Taiwan. The various lines of evidence suggest people began migrating east around 5,500 years ago, reached Polynesia 2,500 years later, before finally gaining Easter Island after another 1,500 years.

Click here for the complete article.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

More Research on Potential King Solomon Mine

Aerial view of KEN, with fortress and slag mounds.

Archaeologists will return to a site southeast of the Dead Sea in September to continue investigating one of the largest copper mines of the ancient Middle East. Among other things, they hope to identify the ethnicity of the people who controlled the mines during the 10th century BC.

That’s the period when, based on the Biblical accounts, scholars have traditionally dated the kingdom of Edom, as well as that of David and Solomon of ancient Israel. Khirbat en-Nahas ~ usually shortened to KEN ~ is substantiated as the largest Iron Age (1200 - 500 BC) copper mining and smelting center in the southern Levant.

According to Popular Archaeology:
Recent radiocarbon dating has placed its age indisputably two centuries earlier than scholars had previously thought, pushing back the clock from the long-accepted dates assigned by archaeologists for the center and the kingdom of Edom in which it was located. 
It also places its heyday squarely during the time when ancient Edom and the United Monarchy of Israel under kings David and  Solomon, according to traditional interpretations of the Biblical account, dominated the region.
The significance of the discoveries at KEN fall within the context of a larger debate about chronology and the credibility of traditional interpretations about the existence of the kingdoms of David and Solomon as depicted in the Hebrew Bible.

Click here for the complete article.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Incan Fortresses Reveal War with Cayambe

A gate of the Incan fortress of Quitoloma.

Archaeologists in northern Ecuador have discovered evidence of an Incan war with a neighboring people as part of excavation of two fortresses built 500 years ago. “We're seeing evidence for a pre-Columbian frontier, or borderline, that we think existed between Inca fortresses and Ecuadorian people's fortresses,” Samuel Connell of Foothill College in California, told LiveScience.

The team has identified an estimated 20 Inca-built fortresses and two forts built by the Cayambe, an Ecuadorian society. “We know that there are many, many fortresses throughout northern Ecuador that haven't been identified one way or the other," said Chad Gifford, of Columbia University, also a project director.

According to LiveScience.com:
The discoveries suggest that there is a ring of truth to stories that Spanish chroniclers told when they penetrated into South America during the 16th and 17th centuries. According to these stories, Incan ruler Huayna Capac sought to conquer the Cayambe. Using a “very powerful army,” he was hoping for a quick victory but ended up getting entangled in a 17-year struggle.
“Finding that their forces were not sufficient to face the Inca on an open battlefield, the Cayambes withdrew and made strongholds in a very large fortress that they had,” wrote Spanish missionary Bernabe Cobo in the 17th century. “The Inca ordered his men to lay siege to it and bombard it continuously; but the men inside resisted so bravely that they forced the Inca to raise the siege because he had lost so many men."
Finally, after many battles, the Inca succeeded in driving the Cayambe out of their strongholds and onto the shores of a lake.
The newly discovered Inca fortresses are built out of stone, contain platforms called ushnus, and are located on ridges about 10,000 feet above the ground.

Click here for the complete article.