Thursday, January 27, 2011

Irish Monks in Iceland Even Before Vikings?

Cross carved inside Icelandic cave similar to Scottish ones.

New archaeological discoveries show that Iceland was inhabited around 800 AD, nearly 70 years before the usual dating of its Viking settlement. Researchers believe these early inhabitants may have come from Irish monastic communities found throughout the Scottish islands at that time and described in Viking-Age and medieval texts.

“Questions surrounding Iceland’s first settlement in the early medieval period have been of longstanding interest for scholars,” says Professor Kristjan Ahronson of Prifysgol Bangor University in Wales. He led the team that made the discoveries.

As an example of the longstanding interest in this topic, Ahronson pointed to the University of Toronto’s Sir Daniel Wilson, who argued in 1851 that “when Norseman first visited Iceland in the latter half of the 9th century, it was uninhabited, but they discovered traces of the former presence of Irish monks.”

One discovery was made at Kverkarhellir cave, on the land of Seljaland farm in southern Iceland. Nearly 200 of these artificial caves have been found on the island. “Tool marks on the cave walls vividly illustrate the artificial nature of these sites,” said Professor Ahronson.

Click here for the complete article.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Smuggler Leads Police to Caligula's Tomb

Caligula’s lost tomb has been found due to Italian police arrested a man smuggling a statue of the notorious Roman emperor recovered from the site.

Caligula ruled from 37 to 41 AD and was described by contemporaries as insane. He had sex with his sisters, appointed his horse as a consul and killed many for pleasure. He was killed by his Praetorian guard at 28.

According to The Guardian:
Officers from the archaeological squad of Italy’s tax police had a break last week after arresting a man near Lake Nemi, south of Rome, as he loaded part of a 2.5 metre statue into a lorry. The emperor had a villa there, as well as a floating temple and a floating palace; their hulks were recovered in Mussolini's time but destroyed in the war.
The police said the statue was shod with a pair of the "caligae" military boots favoured by the emperor – real name Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; as a boy, Gaius accompanied his father on campaigns in Germany; the soldiers were amused he wore a miniature uniform, and gave him his nickname Caligula, or "little boot.”
The statue’s rare Greek marble, throne and god's robes convinced the police it came from the emperor's tomb. Under questioning, the tomb raider led them to the site, where excavations have begun.

Click here for the complete article.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pyramid May Hold Two Secret Funeral Chambers

French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin is calling for new scientific exploration of the Great Pyramid of Giza to locate two chambers housing funereal furniture plus a previously overlooked passage that enabled funeral parties to exit the pyramid.

Houdin says 3-D simulation and data from US egyptologist Bob Brier points to two secret chambers in the heart of the structure. The rooms would have housed furniture for use in the afterlife by the pharaoh Khufu, also known as Cheops in Greek, he told a press conference this week.

“I am convinced there are antechambers in this pyramid,” he said. “What I want is to find them.”
In March 2007, Houdin advanced the theory that the Great Pyramid had been built inside-out using an internal spiral ramp, as opposed to an external ramp as had long been suggested.
He proposed mounting a joint expedition of Egyptian antiquities experts and French engineers, using infrared, radar and other non-invasive methods to check out the hypothesis.
The idea was nixed by Egypt's antiquities department. A Canadian team from Laval University in Quebec will seek permission this year to carry out thermal imaging from outside the Pyramid to explore the theory, Houdin said.
Houdin said a pointer to the antechambers came from the existence of such rooms in the pyramid of Snefru, Khufu's father. It was possible a similar design was retained for the Great Pyramid.

Click here for the complete article.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Greek Drinking Parties Varied Through Ages

Kylix cup from 600 BC shows men's drinking party.

Ancient Athenian cocktail parties ~ called symposia ~ went from being events exclusively for elites, to being open to all citizens, and then in the 4th Century BC back to displays of conspicuous consumption most could not afford.

The wine cups used during these gatherings reflect this story, according to Kathleen Lynch, a University of Cincinnati professor of classics. The cups were central to the symposia, where every participant drank the same amount of wine mixed with water, as they reclined on couches or mattresses set in a circle or square, according to 
"In the same way that the coffee mug with 'World's Greatest Golfer' in your kitchen cabinet speaks to your values and your culture, so, too, do the commonly used objects of the past tell us about that past," Lynch said.
As the social context went full circle from elite party to common practice and back again, the appearance of the cups evolved as well, from simple and stemless to a profusion of styles to knockoffs that imitated the appearance of silverwork. 
From 1,100 to 700 B.C., the symposia were reserved for the elite, and grave markers for the very wealthy were even made to resemble the mixing bowls used to blend wine and water during the parties.

Click here for the complete article.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Artifacts Indicate Earlier Human Migration

Two artifacts from United Arab Emirates indicate early human residents.

New research indicates that early humans may have left Africa earlier than previously thought, but still doesn’t answer if they got any farther than Arabia. The most comprehensive genetic data so far available, based on material called mitochondrial DNA, indicates that all modern humans outside Africa are descended from a single, small population that left Africa less than 60,000 years ago, but even that data may be unreliable.

According to the New York Times:
The present view, based on both archaeological and genetic evidence, holds that modern humans, although they first emerged in Africa some 200,000 years ago, were hemmed in by deserts and other human species like Neanderthals and did not escape to the rest of the world until some 50,000 years ago.
An archaeological team led by Hans-Peter Uerpmann of the University of Tübingen in Germany now reports the discovery of stone tools 127,000 years old from a site called Jebel Faya in what is now the United Arab Emirates, just south of the entrance to the Persian Gulf. If the new tools were made by modern humans, as the researchers assert, then modern humans got out of Africa much earlier than believed.
“This is a huge milestone, but unfortunately it raises more questions than it answers,” Jeffrey Rose, an archaeologist at the University of Birmingham in England, tells the Times. The new finding ~ reported in Thursday’s issue of Science ~ points to a new level of importance of Arabia in understanding the human story.
Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Effort Focused on Protecting Buddha's Birthplace

Emperor Ashoka's commemortive pillar at Lumbini.

UNESCO is coordinating an international team of archeologists in a three-year survey of the ruins of Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini, Nepal. The project aims to identify the presence ~ or absence ~ of hidden archaeological deposits so that facilities related to pilgrimages can be located where they won’t damage valuable archaeological resources.
“This project offers a unique opportunity to investigate some of the earliest developmental phases of one of the world’s great religious traditions, and will introduce new scientific evidence into the debate surrounding the date of the Buddha’s birth,” said Robin Coningham, UNESCO Archaeological Expert and Professor of Archaeology, University of Durham.
Siddhartha Gautama, who later became Buddha, was born in 623 B.C. in the famous gardens of Lumbini. The Indian emperor Ashoka, a pilgrim to the site, erected a commemorative pillar there.

The three-year initiative is part of a larger project entitled “Strengthening the Conservation and Management of Lumbini, the Birthplace of Lord Buddha,” launched last year to address a number of issues and challenges facing the World Heritage site, including the deteriorating condition of the Marker Stone and the Ashokan Pillar, as well as inadequately mapped associated archaeological remains both within the site and in the adjacent areas.

Click here for the complete UN News Center article.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Armenian Cave Yields World's Oldest Winery

The cave's wine press, in front of sign, and fermentation vat.

The Armenian site where a leather shoe believed to be the world’s oldest was found recently now has yielded what may be the world’s oldest winery. The site near the village of Areni ~ the same cave where the well-preserved 5,500-year-old shoe was unearthed ~ is an ancient burial site where winemaking may have been dedicated to the dead, and likely required removal of footwear.

Archaeologists have unearthed a wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, and withered grape vines, skins, and seeds.

"This is the earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production," archaeologist Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, tells National Geographic. "For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years."

The prehistoric winemaking equipment was first detected in 2007, when excavations co-directed by Areshian and Armenian archaeologist Boris Gasparyan began at the Areni-1 cave complex.

The installation suggests the Copper Age vintners pressed their wine the old-fashioned way, using their feet, Areshian said. Juice from the trampled grapes drained into the vat, where it was left to ferment. The wine was then stored in jars ~ the cool, dry conditions of the cave making a perfect wine cellar.

Click here for the complete National Geographic article.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Famine May Have Lead to Camelot's Demise

Section of South Cadbury Castle hillfort, looking south.

South Cadbury Castle often is associated with Camelot, the supposed site of King Arthur’s castle, and recent evidence points to famine having struck the area in the early 6th century. 

According to Arch News:
Excavations have shown that the site was indeed strengthened in the period formally known as the Dark Ages, at the time of the legendary Arthur. However, there is one question that remains an enigma – why was the site abandoned? 
There is no archaeological evidence that shows there was destruction or an invasion at the site of South Cadbury at the beginning of the sixth century ~ it simply went out of use. Its abandonment is perplexing for it was strengthened and inhabited in the fifth century as evidenced by the pottery shards, but by the early sixth century it was uninhabited.
South Cadbury has undergone some extensive excavations, especially by Alcock (1965-1970), who tells us: “On the basis of archaeological evidence ~ and there is no other ~ the Cadbury II occupation had come to an end before 600 AD."
The Dark Ages is a part of English history where little is known except for constant raids from the continent by Germanic and other peoples trying to claim land following the withdrawal of the Romans. but the evidence for this area is lacking. With no evidence of fighting and the Wessex advance placed at a later date, it would appear that there is no other logical explanation as to the abandonment of these major sites.

Famine may be plausible and would certainly explain the abandonment of a site, or several, where no military action or raiding is visible in the archaeological record. It certainly would explain why people just moved away from an area and left no trace, according to Arch News.

Click here for the complete Arch News article.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Croatia Was Jumping-Off Point for Europe Farming

New research points to southern Croatia as the hub for early farmers who spread their agrarian lifestyle from the Middle East into Europe. With the arrival nearly 8,000 years ago of settlers already adept at growing crops in the Middle East, farming sprouted swiftly along the coastal region called Dalmatia, says archaeologist Andrew Moore of Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

Moore’s research team has uncovered evidence of intensive farming at Pokrovnik and Danilo Bitinj, two Neolithic settlements in Dalmatia. Plant cultivation and animal raising started almost 8,000 years ago at Pokrovnik and lasted for close to a millennium, according to radiocarbon dating of charred seeds and bones from a series of occupation layers.

According to Science News:
“Farming came to Dalmatia abruptly, spread rapidly and took hold immediately,” Moore says. 
Other evidence supports a fast spread of sophisticated farming methods from the Middle East into Europe, remarks Harvard University archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef. Farming villages in western Greece date to about 9,000 years ago, he notes. Middle Eastern farmers exploited a wide array of domesticated plants and animals by 10,500 years ago, setting the stage for a westward migration, Bar-Yosef says.
The new research supports earlier discoveries supporting the idea that agricultural newcomers to southern Europe built villages without encountering local nomadic groups, Moore asserts. Earlier excavations at Neolithic sites in Germany and France raise the possibility that hunter-gatherers clashed with incoming villagers in northern Europe, he notes.

Click here for the complete article.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Migration Prompted Clothing 170,000 Years Ago

Depiction of Neanderthals from National Museum of Natural History.

Researchers studying skin-crawling body lice have determined that humans began wearing clothing about 170,000 years ago, far earlier than the approximately 100,000 years previously believed.

Researchers sequenced the DNA of clothing lice to see when the bugs began diverging genetically from head lice, suggesting lice were adapting to life on cloth rather than skin and hair. Latest findings suggest modern humans started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago, 70,000 years before migrating from Africa into colder climates and higher latitudes.

"I find it surprising that modern humans were tinkering with clothing probably long before they really needed it for survival," David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told LiveScience. "But that tinkering really paid off when they finally left Africa and moved into Europe and Asia."

A past study of clothing lice in 2003 estimated humans first began wearing clothes about 107,000 years ago. However, the latest research form Reed and his colleagues includes new data, as well as calculation methods better suited to minimize errors in estimates.

Click here for the LiveScience article.