Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Early Apostle Portraits Found in Catacombs

Archaeologists and art restorers are analyzing recently discovered paintings believed to be the earliest ever found depicting apostles of Jesus. The images ~ likely painted at the end of the 4th century ~ are in a branch of the catacombs of St. Tecla near St Paul's Basilica, just outside the walls of ancient Rome.

“These are the first images that we know of the faces of these four apostles,” Fabrizio Bisconti, head of archaeology for Rome's numerous catacombs, told Reuters.

The full-face icons include visages of St. Peter, St. Andrew, and St. John, who were among Jesus' original 12 apostles, and St. Paul, who became an apostle after Christ's death.

The paintings have the same characteristics as later images, such as St Paul's rugged, wrinkled and elongated forehead and balding head and pointy beard, indicating they may have been the ones which set the standard.

Click here for the Reuters article.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Ancient Spores May Disprove Comet Cataclysm

The presence of tiny balls of fungus and feces in materials dating over several millennia may disprove the theory that an exploding comet 12,900 years ago ignited a dramatic drop in earth temperature called the Younger Dryas.

The Younger Dryas has been associated with the extinction of mammoths and other Ice Age mammals in North America. But the theory that a comet or asteroid explosion is behind the cooling event is wrong, according to study leader Andrew C. Scott, a paleobotanist at Royal Holloway University in London.

According to National Geographic:
For years proponents of the impact theory have cited tiny spherules of carbon found in a layer of charred sediment throughout North America that dates to the Younger Dryas period. According to the theory, these spherules are organic matter subjected to intense heat after debris from an exploded meteor rained down on Earth, sparking massive wildfires. 
The new research, however, detected carbon spherules in soil layers from before, during, and after the Younger Dryas, making it hard to argue that the particles are products of a sudden impact.
"All these particles are of natural biological origin and are not related to either intense wildfires or cosmic impacts," Scott said in an email. "The press and public are very interested in catastrophic explanations. But it is important that when evidence stacks up to show the theory does not work, then it should be abandoned."
Scott said fungal spores have similar microscopic features to nanodiamonds, which some researchers have cited as evidence of a massive comet explosion above the earth’s surface nearly 13,000 years ago.

Click here for the complete National Geographic article.
Click here for earlier post on nanodiamond theory.

Serbian Site Reveals Copper Heritage

Microscopic image of copper slag from Belovode site.

An ancient settlement in southeastern Europe claims the oldest evidence of copper making, from 7,000 years ago. The recent archaeological finding suggests copper smelting was invented in separate parts of Asia and Europe rather than spreading from a single source.

The find extends the known record of copper smelting by about 500 years.
Chemical and microscopic analyses of previously unearthed material from Serbia’s Belovode site have identified pieces of copper slag, the residue of an intense heating process used to separate copper from other ore elements. The raw material came from nearby copper-ore deposits in Serbia or Bulgaria, they add.

“Our finds provide the earliest secure dates for copper smelting and indicate the existence of different, possibly independent centers of invention of metallurgy,” says Thilo Rehren of University College London.

Large numbers of copper artifacts have been found at southeastern European sites dating to more than 6,000 years ago, Rehren notes.

Click here for the complete ScienceNews article.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Canadian Burial Site Dates Back 4,600 Years

Site of the newly discovered burial along the Bug River.

A 4,600-year-old burial has been discovered in a remote corner of northern Canada. Native American fishermen recently spotted the burial site as water levels fell along the mouth of the Bug River, near Big Trout Lake, Ontario.

The skeleton discovered is that of a man aged in his late 30s or 40s. Around five-and-a-half feet tall, the man had a “very, very robust muscular build,” according to Prof Scott Hamilton, leader of an archaeological team from Lakehead University working the site.

The man may have held high status, based on the seemingly formal burial. “There's a flat slab of granite that's associated directly with the bones,” Hamilton adds. “It looks very much like a purposeful grave. We'll be taking a closer look at the stone as part of our analysis to see if we can find any evidence of function.”

Isotope testing has so far shown that the man ate a fish-based diet, with some hunted land mammals such as reindeer, indicating a nomadic lifestyle.

Click here for the complete article from Britain’s Independent.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

India's Stone Age Megaliths Still a Mystery

How the massive tombs were built remains unknown.

Considerable mystery still surrounds an enormous and isolated megalithic site in southern India, called Hire Benakal, where scores of supposed tombs are constructed of upright slabs topped by capstones weighing 10 tons or more. Current conjecture is that the granite structures once contained graves, though no trace of human remains have been found there.

According to Archaeology.com:
The monuments were built over more than 1,000 years spanning the southern Indian Iron Age (1200-500 B.C.) and Early Historic (500 B.C.-A.D. 500) periods, and there are more than 1,000 of them across nearly 50 acres, from modest rock enclosures to mausoleum-like tombs.
Click here to see several photos of Hire Benakal and a brief description of it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World's Oldest Leather Shoe Unearthed in Cave

A perfectly preserved shoe ~1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and 400 years older than Stonehenge ~ has been found in a cave in Armenia by a team of international archaeologists.

The 5,500 year old shoe, the oldest leather shoe in the world, has cowhide dating back to 3500 BC. It was made of a single piece of leather and was shaped to fit the wearer's foot. It contained grass, although the archaeologists were uncertain as to whether this was to keep the foot warm or to maintain the shape of the shoe.

“It is not known whether the shoe belonged to a man or woman,” said lead author of the research, Dr Ron Pinhasi, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland, “as while small (European size 37; US size 7 women), the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era.” The cave is situated in the Vayotz Dzor province of Armenia, on the Armenian, Iranian, Nakhichevanian and Turkish borders, and was known to regional archaeologists due to its visibility from the highway below.

The stable, cool and dry conditions in the cave resulted in exceptional preservation of the various objects that were found, which included large containers, many of which held well-preserved wheat and barley, apricots and other edible plants.

Click here for the complete ScienceDaily article.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Neanderthals in Britain 40,000 Years Earlier

Discovery of two ancient flint hand tools is leading researchers to conclude that Neanderthals inhabited Britain about 100,000 years ago ~ or 40,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Francis Wenban-Smith from the University of Southampton, who discovered the two ancient flint hand tools used to cut meat, said tests on sediment in which they were buried showed they date from around 100,000 years ago. The country was previously assumed to have been uninhabited during this period.

“I couldn't believe my eyes when I received the test results,'” said Dr Wenban-Smith. "We know that Neanderthals inhabited northern France at this time, but this new evidence suggests that as soon as sea levels dropped, and a 'land bridge' appeared across the English Channel, they made the journey by foot to Kent.”

Early pre-Neanderthals inhabited Britain before the last ice age, but were forced south by the severe cold about 200,000 years ago. When the climate warmed up again between 130,000 and 110,000 years ago, they could not get back because, similar to today, the Channel sea-level was raised, blocking their path. The new discovery, commissioned by Oxford Archaeology, showed they returned to Britain much earlier than 60,000 years ago, as previous evidence suggested.

Click here for the complete Telegraph article.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bird Painting May Be Australia's Oldest

This Aboriginal rock painting found in Australia's Arnhem Land could be Australia's oldest painting. The red ochre painting shows two emu-like birds with their necks outstretched, believed to be the megafauna species Genyornis.

Archaeologist Ben Gunn told ABC Radio the giant birds became extinct more than 40,000 years ago. “The details on this painting indicate that it was done by someone who knew that animal very well,” he said. “If it is a Genyornis ~ and it certainly does have all the features of one ~ it would be the oldest dated visual painting that we've got in Australia.”

“Either the painting is 40,000 years old ~ which is when science thinks Genyornis disappeared ~ or alternatively the Genyornis lived a lot longer than science has been able to establish,” Gunn added.

Pagan Altar Found in Ashqelon

A 24-inch-high, 2,000-year-old granite structure ~ adorned with carvings of three bull heads, ribbons, and laurel wreaths ~ was found last week in the southern Israel city of Ashqelon.

One of the oldest port cities in the Holy Land, Ashqelon may have been inhabited as early as the Neolithic period, which began around 9,500 B.C. The cemetery where the altar was found served Ashqelon's general pagan population.

The newfound altar was probably imported to the city from elsewhere in the Roman Empire by an upper-middle-class family and placed at their family burial plot. The altar's bulls’ heads probably represented the god Zeus, authorities believe.

Click here for the National Geographic article.