. Scientific Frontline: Archaeology
Showing posts with label Archaeology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Archaeology. Show all posts

Friday, April 5, 2024

Prehistoric henge reveals centuries-old sacred site in Lincolnshire

An aerial view of the excavation site at Crowland.
Photo Credit: The Anchor Church Field Project

Archaeologists from Newcastle University have unearthed evidence for an evolving sacred landscape spanning centuries in Crowland, Lincolnshire.

Crowland today is dominated by the ruins of its medieval abbey. However, local tradition holds that the area was the site of an Anglo-Saxon hermitage belonging to Saint Guthlac, who died in the year 714 and was famed for his life of solitude, having given up a life of riches as the son of a nobleman.

When his uncorrupted body was discovered 12 months after his death, Guthlac was venerated by a small monastic community dedicated to his memory. Guthlac’s popularity while he was alive, and the success of this cult and the pilgrimage it inspired, were key factors in the establishment of Crowland Abbey in the 10th century to honor the saint.

Early historical sources for Guthlac’s life exist, mainly through the Vita Sancti Guthlaci (Life of Saint Guthlac) written shortly after his death by a monk called Felix. Although there is little other evidence about his life, it was believed that Guthlac created his hermitage from a previously plundered barrow, or burial mound. For years, archaeologists have tried to find its location, and while Anchor Church Field was widely held to be the most likely site, the lack of excavation and the increasing impact of agricultural activity in the area have prevented a comprehensive understanding of the area.   

The team, which also included experts from the University of Sheffield, excavated Anchor Church Field and, to their surprise, found a much more complex and older history than they expected.

The first discovery they made was a previously unknown Late Neolithic or early Bronze Age henge, a type of circular earthwork and one of the largest ever discovered in eastern England.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Persian plateau unveiled as crucial hub for early human migration out of Africa

Pebdeh Cave located in the southern Zagros Mountains. Pebdeh was occupied by hunter-gatherers as early as 42,000 years ago.
Photo Credit: Mohammad Javad Shoaee

A new study combining genetic, palaeoecological, and archaeological evidence has unveiled the Persian plateau as a pivotal geographic location serving as a hub for Homo sapiens during the early stages of their migration out of Africa.  

This study sheds new light on the complex journey of human populations, challenging previous understandings of our species’ expansion into Eurasia. 

The study, published in Nature Communications, highlights a period between 70,000 to 45,000 years ago when human populations did not uniformly spread across Eurasia, leaving a gap in our understanding of their whereabouts during this time frame. 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Scientists uncover evidence that microplastics are contaminating archaeological remains

The study identified 16 different microplastic polymer types across both contemporary and archived samples.
PHoto Credit: York Archaeology

Researchers have for the first-time discovered evidence of microplastic contamination in archaeological soil samples.

The study identified 16 different microplastic polymer types across both contemporary and archived samples. Pic credit: York Archaeology

The team discovered tiny microplastic particles in deposits located more than seven meters deep, in samples dating back to the first or early second century and excavated in the late 1980s.

Tiny particles

Preserving archaeology in situ has been the preferred approach to managing historical sites for a generation. However, the research team say the findings could prompt a rethink, with the tiny particles potentially compromising the preserved remains.

Microplastics are small plastic particles, ranging from 1μm (one thousandth of a millimeter) to 5mm. They come from a wide range of sources, from larger plastic pieces that have broken apart, or resin pellets used in plastic manufacturing which were frequently used in beauty products up until around 2020.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Oxford researchers uncover remarkable archive of ancient human brains

Fragments of brain from an individual buried in a Victorian workhouse cemetery (Bristol, UK), some 200 years ago. No other soft tissue survived amongst the bones, which were dredged from the heavily waterlogged grave.
Photo Credit: Alexandra L. Morton-Hayward.

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford has challenged previously held views that brain preservation in the archaeological record is extremely rare. The team carried out the largest study to date of the global archaeological literature about preserved human brains to compile an archive that exceeds 20-fold the number of brains previously compiled. The findings have been published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Soft tissue preservation in the geological record is relatively rare, and, except where deliberate intervention halts the process of decay (for instance, during embalming or freezing), the survival of entire organs is particularly unusual. The spontaneous preservation of the brain in the absence of any other soft tissues - that is, the brain’s survival amongst otherwise skeletonized remains - has historically been regarded as a ‘one-of-a kind’ phenomenon. This new research reveals, however, that nervous tissues actually persist in much greater abundances than traditionally thought, assisted by conditions that prevent decay.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Birds have been adapting to human activity for millennia

Coot nesting on bike on a lake in Copenhagen. Birds and humans also co-inhabited specific environments in our prehistory, new research shows.
Photo Credit: Lisa Yeomans

Roughly 14,500 to 10,500 years ago, in the transition from the last glacial period, humans harvesting vegetation from the wetlands of eastern Jordan created a habitat for birds that would otherwise have migrated, a new study reveals. It shows that human activity is not necessarily detrimental to biodiversity but may allow for species to co-inhabit specific environments, the researchers suggest.

The presence of humans is usually associated with negative effects on flora and fauna, and our species has demonstrably influenced biodiversity negatively in the course of history.

But in a new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Turin have discovered that some human activities may have had an encouraging effect on biodiversity through modification of specific ecosystems.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The life of a Stone Age man has been mapped

Illustration Credit: Niels Bach
CC-BY 4.0

Researchers have mapped the life of a Stone Age man in detail. New scientific methods have revolutionized archaeology and the Swedish-Danish team of researchers at the University of Gothenburg are now able to state that “Vittrup Man”, a Stone Age man found in a bog in Denmark, travelled across a wide geographical area during his lifetime.

Vittrup Man was first discovered in 1915. His skull had been split by at least eight blows from a club and his body placed in a wetland in north Jutland. Until recently, this was all we knew about him. Researchers now know that he had travelled a long way before his death in about 3200 BCE. He must have led an interesting life.

“He comes from the north, from a relatively cold area, and it must have been a coastal area because the food he ate as a child came from the sea,” says archaeologist Karl-Göran Sjögren, a member of the research team.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Genetic analysis and archaeological insight combine to reveal the ancient origins of the fallow deer

Fallow deer
Photo Credit: Nick Fewings

Modern populations of fallow deer possess hidden cultural histories dating back to the Roman Empire which ought to be factored into decisions around their management and conservation.

New research, bringing together DNA analysis with archaeological insights, has revealed how fallow deer have been repeatedly moved to new territories by humans, often as a symbol of colonial power or because of ancient cultures and religions.

The results show that the animal was first introduced into Britain by the Romans and not the Normans, as previously believed. They also reveal how British colonial links during the 17th-19th centuries played a key role in spreading the deer around the world, including the Caribbean island of Barbuda, where it is the national animal.

The research, conducted jointly by the University of Exeter and Durham University, compares contemporary fallow deer records with zooarchaeological samples dating back 10,000 years.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the work has been published in two new studies, simultaneously. The 10,000-year biocultural history of fallow deer and its implications for conservation policy is featured in the latest edition of PNAS, while Ancient and modern DNA tracks temporal and spatial population dynamics in the European fallow deer since the Eemian interglacial is published in Scientific Reports.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Deadly chicken disease: ancient DNA reveals evolution of virulence

With the increase in poultry farming, Marek's disease virus evolved
Photo Credit: Heidi-Ann Fourkiller

Using genetic analyses, an international team led by LMU paleogeneticist Laurent Frantz has revealed the evolutionary history of the pathogen of a fatal disease in chickens.

A notifiable animal disease in Germany, Marek’s disease is caused by the globally distributed Marek’s disease virus (MDV). Over the past century, the virus, which causes tumors in chickens and has a high mortality rate, has become increasingly aggressive. Combating the disease costs the poultry industry over a billion dollars every year. With the help of ancient DNA, an international team of scientists led by LMU paleogenomicist Professor Laurent Frantz and Professor Greger Larson and Professor Adrian Smith from the University of Oxford has now decoded the evolution of MDV and shed light on what is behind the growing virulence.

The international team from the fields of paleogenetics, archeology, and biology isolated viral genomes from chicken bones up to 1,000 years old from 140 archeological sites in Europe and the Near East. “Our data shows that the virus was already widely distributed at least 1,000 years before the first description of the disease in 1907,” says Frantz. When the disease was first described, it was said to produce only mild symptoms in older chickens. With the dramatic increase in poultry farming in the 1950s and 1960s, the virus evolved and has become increasingly virulent despite the development of several vaccines.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Plague from Egypt: topos or reality?

Fortress in Alexandria, Egypt
From Alexandria and Pelusium, goods and people traveled from Egypt to the entire Mediterranean region. Did epidemics also spread along this route?
Photo Credit: Juan Nino

Many reports from antiquity about outbreaks of plague mention Egypt as the source of pestilences that reached the Mediterranean. But was this really the case? Researchers from the University of Basel are conducting a critical analysis of the ancient written and documentary evidence combined with archaeogenetic findings to add some context to the traditional view.

Red and inflamed eyes, bad breath, fever, violent convulsions, boils and blisters over the entire body: these and other symptoms are mentioned by historian Thucydides in connection with the “Plague of Athens”, which lasted from 430 to 426 BCE. He suspected that the epidemic originated in Aithiopia. “This area isn’t to be confused with the country we now know as Ethiopia, but was a more general term used at the time to refer to the region south of Egypt,” explains Professor Sabine Huebner, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Basel.

Contemporary accounts suggest that later epidemics in the Mediterranean also started in Egypt and Aithiopia, such as the Antonine Plague, the Plague of Cyprian and the Justinianic Plague, which ravaged the ancient world between the second and sixth centuries.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Early farmers on the Baltic coast bucked New Stone Age trends and incorporated fish into their diets

Early Neolithic bog pot from Olvig Mose and wooden spoon from Tømmerup in Åmosen, Denmark Photo Credit: Arnold Mikkelsen, The National Museum of Denmark

Pioneering early farmers who arrived on the Baltic coast from six thousand years-ago may have taken up fishing after observing indigenous hunter-gatherer communities, a major new study has found.

Previous studies of prehistoric cooking pots in areas including Britain, Spain, France and Portugal have indicated that people completely stopped cooking fish once they started farming crops and animals, even in coastal areas.

In stark contrast, the new research, led by academics at the University of York in collaboration with the British Museum, has found that farmers who arrived on Northern Europe’s Baltic coast adopted a mixed diet which embraced both fish and domesticated animal products. 

The researchers say their study, which looked at fats preserved in fragments from more than a thousand prehistoric vessels uncovered in the coastal area stretching from western Denmark to southern Finland, suggests there may have been close cooperation and interaction between new arrivals and local forager communities.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Researchers identify largest ever solar storm in tree rings

Artist illustration of events on the sun changing the conditions in Near-Earth space. Suggested imagery from NASA, as recommended by our researchers.
Illustration Credit: NASA

An international team of scientists have discovered a huge spike in radiocarbon levels 14,300 years ago by analyzing ancient tree-rings found in the French Alps.

The radiocarbon spike was caused by a massive solar storm, the biggest ever identified.  A similar solar storm today would be catastrophic for modern technological society – potentially wiping out telecommunications and satellite systems, causing massive electricity grid blackouts, and costing us billions of pounds.  

The academics are warning of the importance of understanding such storms to protect our global communications and energy infrastructure for the future. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Grinding tools play key role in food, plant and pigment processing during ‘Green Arabia’

Evidence of pigment processing at the Jebel Oraf site.
Photo Credit: Maria Guagnin and Michael Petraglia

A multi-institution study of the use-wear evidence on grinding tools excavated in the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia suggests a variety of practical uses from processing plants for baking bread and crushing bone to access marrow, offering fresh insights into a little understood chapter of the human story between 8,000 to 6,000 years ago. 

The PLOS ONE research, which was co-led by Griffith University’s Professor Michael Petraglia, was based on use-wear analysis on five grinding tools that he and the team excavated at Jebel Oraf, at the UNESCO site of the Jubbah Oasis, in the Nefud Desert of northern Saudi Arabia.  

Results show evidence for bone, plant and pigment processing in the Neolithic, and support previous research conducted by Professor Petraglia and the international team on painted rock art and faunal remains. 

Professor Petraglia, who is Director of Griffith’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, said the use-wear analysis of the grinding tools from the Jebel Oraf site in the Nefud desert showed the artifacts were used during the Neolithic, shedding new light on the subsistence and lifestyle of ancient peoples in the region.  

Monday, October 2, 2023

Climate and human land use both play roles in Pacific island wildfires past and present

SMU fire scientist Christopher Roos
Photo Credit: Courtesy of  Southern Methodist University

It’s long been understood that human settlement contributes to conditions that make Pacific Islands more susceptible to wildfires, such as the devastating Aug. 8 event that destroyed the Maui community of Lahaina. But a new study from SMU fire scientist Christopher Roos published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution shows that climate is an undervalued part of the equation.

Roos, SMU environmental archaeologist and professor of anthropology, traveled with his team to the Sigatoka River valley in southwestern Fiji in 2013, where they collected charcoal and stable carbon isotopes from deep soil cores to understand historic patterns of fire activity in the area. Different plants have distinct carbon isotopic signatures, which can provide information about past plant communities.

The team found fires and fire-created grassy areas that predate human settlement by millennia and actively corresponded to droughts likely driven by a regularly occurring weather pattern known as El Niño. El Niño events can alter precipitation patterns worldwide, making environmental conditions more favorable for wildfires. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an El Niño advisory in June, announcing the latest arrival of the climate event that continues to influence weather worldwide.

Friday, September 29, 2023

New study shows signs of early creation of modern human identities

SapienCE researchers have publiched a new study which provides vital information about how and when we may have started developing modern human identities. Image showing excavation at Blombos Cave, South Africa.
Full Size Image
Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Photo Credit: UiB, SapienCE

The study, which is newly published in the Journal of Human Evolution, confirms previous scant evidence, and supports a multistep evolutionary scenario for the culturalization of the human body.

Eye-catching shells made into ornaments

The new study is conducted by Francesco d'Errico, Karen Loise van Niekerk, Lila Geis and Christopher Stuart Henshilwood. The significant findings provide vital information about how and when we may have started developing modern human identities.

“The discovery of eye-catching unmodified shells with natural holes from 100 to 73 ka confirms previous scant evidence that marine shells were collected, taken to the site and, in some cases, perhaps worn as personal ornaments before a stage in which shells belonging to selected species were systematically, and intentionally perforated with suitable techniques to create composite beadworks”, van Niekerk says.

Similar shells have been found in North Africa, other sites in South Africa and the Mediterranean Levant, which means that the argument is supported by evidence from other sites, not just Blombos Cave.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Hunting anything that flies

Pillar from Göbekli Tepe depicting a vulture with its wings spread. 
Photo Credit: © Nadja Pöllath / SNSB-SPM

Birds were an important source of food for hunter-gatherer communities in Upper Mesopotamia at the beginning of the Neolithic period. Besides mammals, ranging from aurochs to hares, or fish, foragers also pursued an impressively large spectrum of bird species in Southeast Anatolia 11,000 years ago. They were hunted mainly, but not exclusively, in autumn and winter – at the time of year, when many bird species form larger flocks and migratory birds cross the area. The species lists are therefore very extensive: At the famous Early Neolithic settlement and the world's oldest temple complex of Göbekli Tepe, for example, c. 18 km northeast of present-day Şanlıurfa (SE Anatolia, Turkey), the researchers identified the remains of at least 84 bird species. Dr. Nadja Pöllath, curator at the Bavarian State Collection for Palaeoanatomy (Staatssammlung für Paläoanatomie München SNSB-SPM) and Prof. Joris Peters, chair of the Institute for Palaeoanatomy, Domestication Research and History of Veterinary Medicine at LMU München and director of the state collection, identified the Neolithic bird bones with the aid of the reference skeletons of the state collection.

The researchers were surprised by the large number of small passerine birds identified at Göbekli Tepe, comprising mainly starlings and buntings. In principle, the Early Neolithic inhabitants of Göbekli Tepe hunted birds in all habitats – mainly in the open grassland and wooded steppe in their direct surroundings, but also in the wetlands and gallery forest somewhat further away.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Scientists unearth forgotten children of the past

One of the team of scientists analyzing hair under the microscope
Photo Credit: Courtesy of University of York

Scientists have unearthed a story of forgotten children of the past, providing the first direct evidence of the lives of early nineteenth-century ‘pauper apprentices'.

A team from the University of York in collaboration with Durham University and volunteer researchers at Washburn Heritage Centre, examined human remains from a rural churchyard cemetery in the village of Fewston, North Yorkshire. 


The analysis discovered the skeletal remains of over 150 individuals, including an unusually large proportion of children aged between eight and 20 years. 

Early analysis immediately identified the children as being distinctive from the locals, showing signs of stunted growth and malnutrition, as well as evidence of diseases associated with hazardous labor. 

The team of scientists, working together with local historians, have been able to piece together the story of these forgotten children, transported from workhouses in London and indentured to work long hours in the mills of the North of England. They were used as an expendable and cheap source of labor.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

South Africa’s desert-like interior may have been more inviting to our human ancestors

Illustration Credit: Scientific Frontline

Lining the Cape of South Africa and its southern coast are long chains of caves that nearly 200,000 years ago were surrounded by a lush landscape and plentiful food.

During a glacial phase that lasted between 195,000 to 123,000 years ago, these caves served as refuge to a group of humans that some researchers think were the only people to survive this ice age, called Marine Isotope Stage Six, or MIS6. And in this coastal region, a lot of archaeological research has taken place. Of less interest to archaeologists has been the interior of South Africa, which was thought to be an uninhabited, inhospitable place during at least two waves of ice ages, MIS3 and 2.

Now, a study has shown that the region might have been more fertile and temperate during these two glacial periods than previously thought, and that the region likely played host to human populations living around a series of paleolakes. The study, led by University of Michigan archaeologist Brian Stewart, provides a more comprehensive timeline of the age and stages of these lakes, and shows human fingerprints across the region. The research, funded by the National Geographic Society, is published in the journal PNAS.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

‘Spectacular’ new find: Roman military camps in desert found by Oxford archaeologists using Google Earth

An aerial view of the western camp
Photo Credit: APAAME

Three new Roman fortified camps have been identified across northern Arabia by a remote sensing survey by the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology.  Their paper, published today in the journal Antiquity, reports the discovery may be evidence of a probable undocumented military campaign across south east Jordan into Saudi Arabia.

The camps were identified using satellite images. According to the research team, they may have been part of a previously undiscovered Roman military campaign linked to the Roman takeover of the Nabataean Kingdom in AD 106 CE, a civilization centered on the world-famous city of Petra, located in Jordan.

"These camps are a spectacular new find and an important new insight into Roman campaigning in Arabia."
Dr Mike Bishop

Dr Michael Fradley, who led the research and first identified the camps on Google Earth, suggests there is little doubt about the date of the camps. He says, ‘We are almost certain they were built by the Roman army, given the typical playing card shape of the enclosures with opposing entrances along each side. The only notable difference between them is that the westernmost camp is significantly larger than the two camps to the east.’

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Prolonged droughts likely spelled the end for Indus megacities

A section through the Dharamjali stalagmite that the authors studied. 
Photo Credit: Alena Giesche

The beginning of this arid period — starting at around 4,200 years ago and lasting for over two centuries — coincides with the reorganization of the metropolis-building Indus Civilization, which spanned present-day Pakistan and India.

The research identified three protracted droughts — each lasting between 25 and 90 years — during this arid period. “We find clear evidence that this interval was not a short-term crisis but a progressive transformation of the environmental conditions in which Indus people lived,” said study co-author Prof Cameron Petrie, from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology.

The researchers charted historic rainfall by examining growth layers in a stalagmite collected from a cave near Pithoragarh, India. By measuring a range of environmental tracers — including oxygen, carbon and calcium isotopes — they obtained a reconstruction showing relative rainfall at seasonal resolution. They also used high-precision Uranium-series dating to get a handle on the age and duration of the droughts.

“Multiple lines of evidence allow us to piece together the nature of these droughts from different angles — and confirm they are in agreement,” said lead author of the research Alena Giesche, who conducted the research as part of her PhD in Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences.

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Chicken breeding in Japan dates back to fourth century BCE

Red junglefowl, the species from which the chicken was domesticated
Photo Credit: Masaki Eda

Conclusive evidence of chicken breeding in the Yayoi period of Japan has been discovered from the Karako-Kagi site.

The chicken is one of the most common domesticated animals, with a current estimated population of over 33 billion individuals. They are reared for their meat and eggs, and may be kept as pets.

The chicken is believed to have been domesticated in Southeast Asia about 3500 years ago, following which they were carried to all corners of the world. The exact date of introduction of chicken breeding to Japan is under debate, as there are no historical records and archeological evidence is inconclusive.

Professor Masaki Eda at the Hokkaido University Museum led a team to uncover the earliest conclusive evidence of chicken breeding in Japan. The findings, which show chickens were bred in the Karako-Kagi site, a settlement from the Yayoi period [5th century BCE to around 2nd century BCE], were published in the journal Frontiers in Earth Sciences.

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