Bering Strait appeared earlier than believed
Wed Oct 11, 6:47 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A land bridge between Alaska and Siberia flooded to make the Bering Strait 11,000 years ago, more than 1,000 years earlier than previously thought, U.S. researchers reported on Wednesday.
This would have closed off human migration by foot across the bridge 1,000 years earlier, too, the researchers said.
A team at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and the University of Massachusetts found places on the ocean floor where sediment deposits were deep enough to act as a kind of geologic clock.
Most sediment cores collected from the floor of the Arctic Ocean have been taken from places where sediment has accumulated only about a centimeter, or less than half an inch -- not enough to calculate periods of just 1,000 years.
But writing in Geology magazine, Lloyd Keigwin of Woods Hole and colleagues said they examined samples from new core sites north and west of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea.
This area covers part of the continental shelf exposed when sea level fell during the last Ice Age, about 20,000 years ago.
"Although we have only a few cores, this is the first evidence of flooding of the Chukchi Sea by 11,000 years ago, at least 1,000 years before previously thought," Keigwin said in a statement.
"The new data are also consistent with data from other recent studies, and show potential for developing ocean and climate histories of this region."
The researchers sampled the cores to identify skeletons of animals, known as foraminifera, that can be traced to specific water and atmospheric temperatures. The samples were also radiocarbon dated.
For decades most scientists believed that the first people to settle in the Americas were the Clovis people, and that they came via the Bering land bridge between 11,000 and 12,000 years ago.
But recent evidence has suggested that humans came much earlier.
Scientists discover new Aboriginal rock art site
Aboriginal rock art and artefacts that are thousands of years old have been discovered by a group of Queensland researchers.
The discovery was made in the Wollemi National Park, 100 kilometres north-west of Sydney in New South Wales, by a team from Griffith University.
The relics include an axe from the Stone Age and the researchers say some of the items are more than 4,000 years old.
Professor Paul Tacon says it is a major archaeological find.
"We were absolutely over the moon when we found all of these amazing sites in Wollemi National Park," he said.
"This is the largest engraving site in the whole of the greater Blue Mountains or heritage areas and it's got wonderful life-size depictions of animals and ancestral beings and human figures."
Relic of the Stone Age found within cooee of the city
October 14, 2006
AN astonishing artefact of Stone Age Sydney has been discovered less than 100 kilometres from the CBD.
A team of archaeologists and bushwalkers on an expedition in the Wollemi National Park discovered an almost-complete hafted stone axe, hidden on a ledge at the back of a rock shelter.
It is thought to be the first time that such an item has been found in place anywhere in the Sydney region and possibly in south-eastern Australia.
The team was taken to two remote ridge tops in the Wollemi by helicopter last month.
What makes the find of the axe - by Sydney bushwalker Peter Butler - so remarkable is that the implement's wooden handle was also in the same rock shelter.
As best as the team's archaeologists can tell, the handle broke possibly a century and a half ago or more, and was discarded by its owner.
But the precious stone head, which would have required considerable time and skill to make, was carefully stored. It was hidden about a metre from the broken handle, perhaps so it could be retrieved later. It appears the shelter has not been disturbed since.
Both the timber and the rock have the remains of the resin and bindings that held it together.
The leader of the party that found the axe, Matthew Kelleher, says it is the kind of discovery he dreamed about when he was a child and decided to study archaeology. "Finding something like this near the most heavily populated metropolitan area in Australia is extremely, extremely rare," Dr Kelleher said.
The sites officer with the Darkinjung Land Council, Dave Pross, said he would argue for the axe and handle to be brought out of the Wollemi for protection.
During the expedition the same team also identified about 50 previously unknown archaeological sites in the 500,000-hectare wilderness. The most significant was a rock platform covered in engravings. Containing at least 40 figures, it is in some ways a more amazing find than the axe, because it is the largest engraving site of its kind in the Greater Blue Mountains, and yet its existence was unknown to science.
There appear to be 25 engravings that are large and distinct: anthropomorphised eagle figures, life-sized men and women, large ancestral beings, and other engravings resembling koala people.
It is likely, considering the care that went into laying out the engravings and the level of detail, that the rock art site was a highly significant spot to Aboriginal people.
The discoveries are further evidence the Wollemi was not always a wilderness without people. The executive director of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute, John Merson, said it "may be one of the richest areas of rock art in the country".
One motivation for mapping Wollemi's rock art was so that the threat posed by the park's numerous bushfires could be managed, Dr Merson said.
2,000-year-old tombs unearthed in North China
www.chinaview.cn 2006-10-13 16:43:42
SHIJIAZHUANG, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archaeologists have unearthed seven large tombs, including a grave of aristocrats, dating back 2,000 years in North China's Hebei Province.
The seven tombs, six belonging to the Warring State (475-221 B.C.) and one belonging to the Eastern Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), were found at a construction site in the Xuanhua District of Zhangjiakou City.
According to archaeologists from local archaeology research institute, more than 20 pieces of jade articles, bronze items, lacquer work and pottery objects were unearthed from the tombs.
All the tombs were well formed with chamber size ranging from two to five square meters. The owners of the Han tomb were a couple and owners of other tombs were buried individually.
The owner of the No. 2 tomb, the largest, was found in a coffin with outside cover, indicating his high social status of noble during the time, the archaeologists said.
Grave robbers had broken into the tomb, stealing many funerary objects and causing serious damage. Fortunately, the coffin remained intact, they said.
The tomb was of great value in the study of the culture, social development and funeral customs of Warring State and the Han Dynasty, the experts said.
Measures have been taken to protect the tombs.
Ancient warriors cemetery discovered in C China
www.chinaview.cn 2006-10-13 15:48:55
ZHENGZHOU, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- Chinese archaeologists have discovered a warriors cemetery dating back to the Warring State (475-221 B.C.) in central China's Henan Province.
The graveyard was found during implementation of a culture relics protection project at Wuligang Hill of Tangyin County.
The warriors cemetery covers an area of 200,000 square meters where more than 200 tombs had already been unearthed. There is an estimation of 500 tombs in the cemetery, according to the archaeologists.
"No funeral objects were unearthed. The tomb owners were all young male people, " said Kong Demin, an official with local archaeology department, adding the clues proves that the tombs were warriors tombs.
"The tombs, all in same construction form, are lining up in order," he said. This also indicates the area was used as warriors cemetery.
Archaeologists had discovered some tombs near the area in 1982,the expert said.
During the excavations in 1982, many skeletons with wound marks from knife-cuts or arrow-hits were unearthed from the tombs, he added.
"A famous war between ancient Chinese kingdoms, involved over 100,000 warriors, occurred at a battlefield, where Tangyin county lies, in 257 B.C.," said Hao Benxing, researcher with the Henan Provincial Institute of Culture Relics and Archaeology. Enditem
Human figures, wild animal reliefs unearthed in 11,000-year-old Göbeklitepe tumulus
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
A team of archaeologists working at the Göbeklitepe tumulus in the southeastern city of Şanlıurfa came across human figures without heads as well as reliefs of scorpions, snakes and wild birds on obelisks belonging to the Neolithic period, the head of the team announced on Monday.
Speaking at a press conference at the ancient city, excavation team leader Klaus Schmidt of the German Archeological Institute in Berlin stated that Göbeklitepe was an 11,000-year-old site of worship established by the hunter-gatherer people of the time.
"During this year's excavations we came across human figures without heads, and we discovered a human figure for the first time since we started working here 12 years ago. This is a remarkable development. Remains give us important clues regarding the future of the excavations," Schmidt said.
He said excavations in Göbeklitepe brought to light the monumental architecture and the advanced symbolic world of the hunter groups that existed prior to the period of transition to production.
Schmidt said they also discovered the remains of nearly 20 round or elliptical structures 30 meters in diameter in the area.
According to Schmidt, the animal figures on the obelisks unearthed this year in Göbeklitepe have different characteristics. "Animal figures drawn by the people of the Neolithic era may represent the 'watchman' of the period," said Schmidt, adding that similar human figures were previously encountered in the ancient tumulus of Çatalhöyük, which is 2,000 years younger than Göbeklitepe.
Goats Key to Spread of Farming, Gene Study Suggests
for National Geographic News
October 10, 2006
Goats accompanied the earliest farmers into Europe some 7,500 years ago, helping to revolutionize Stone Age society, a new study suggests.
The trailblazing farm animals were hardy and highly mobile traveling companions to ancient pioneers from the Middle East who introduced agriculture to Europe and elsewhere, researchers say.
The onset of farming ushered in the so-called Neolithic Revolution, when settled communities gradually replaced nomadic tribes and their hunter-gatherer lifestyles between 8000 and 6000 B.C.
A team of archaeologists and biologists has traced the origins of domesticated goats in Western Europe to the Middle East at the beginnings of the Neolithic period.
The study is based on DNA analysis of goat bones from a Stone Age cave in France and suggests the animals spread across Europe quickly after their introduction. (Get goat photos, facts, and more.)
The team says its findings, reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicate that goats may have played a key role in the rise and spread of farming worldwide.
The new research follows up on a 2001 study by the same team that found domesticated goats today are much more mixed genetically than other livestock.
By tracing the animals' mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down in cells through generations from mother to offspring, scientists showed that goats differ much less genetically between continents than cattle, sheep, or pigs.
This suggested that goats were transported much more extensively in the past, allowing the genetic material from different populations to intermingle.
The findings were very surprising, according to team member Pierre Taberlet from the Laboratoire d'Ecologie Alpine at Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France.
"For example, cattle from North Africa are different from cattle from Europe, but for goats everything is mixed—almost the same level of [genetic] mixing as in humans," he said.
The 2001 study also traced the main origins of domesticated goats to the Near and Middle East regions.
The goal of the latest research was to find out when the genetic mixing of farm goats began—in recent centuries, during the period of the Mongolian Empire, during the Roman Empire, or much earlier?
DNA analysis of 7,000-year-old goat bones from caves in Baume d'Oullen in southwestern France revealed high genetic diversity and two goat lineages stemming from the Near East.
The researchers say that this indicates genetic mixing in goats occurred with the first waves of Neolithic farmers in Europe around 7,500 years ago.
Goats would have been ideally suited companions for frontier farmers in Stone Age Europe, the researchers say, being hardy animals that can survive on minimal food, cope with extremes of temperature, and travel long distances.
"They follow you like a dog," Taberlet said. "It was easier to travel with goats than with sheep or cows."
Goats would have provided clothing, meat, and milk as well as bone, sinew, and dung for consumption and trade, the study team says.
Once these pioneer farmers decided to settle, Taberlet adds, they likely took sheep and cows from the surrounding area. (Related: Gene Study Traces Cattle Herding in Africa [April 11, 2002].)
Peter Bogucki, an expert on Europe's early farming societies at Princeton University in New Jersey, says the work is an excellent example of how recent advances in the study of genetic material from animal bones can shed light on prehistoric human activity.
He said the new findings suggest that goats "moved very quickly from one end of the Mediterranean to the other," rather than a longer-term passage "from one coastal community to another over many goat generations."
Bogucki adds that early Neolithic peoples from the Mediterranean region "were quite adept at coastal movement by watercraft and at crossing straits, even venturing across open sea."
Archaeologist Marek Zvelebil, from the University of Sheffield in England, cautions that the research is based on only a small sample of bones from a single site.
"This site is, however, strategically located along one of those major routes for the dispersal of farming into Europe," Zvelebil said.
He says the study backs other archaeological evidence that indicates that once Neolithic culture reached modern-day Italy, it spread rapidly through the western Mediterranean region.
"The goat was perhaps the first domestic animal, going back to about 11,000 to 12,000 years ago to the Zagros Mountains in northwest Iran," the archeologist added.
Yet, he says, the study does not necessarily provide evidence of large-scale migration from east to west by Neolithic colonizers.
"It may have been the case of local people coming into contact with farmers," he added.
The goat, Zvelebil said, "is an obvious thing for hunting-gathering people to adopt, not only because it would have provided meat on the hoof, but also because it would have acted as a social status symbol."
Early Brits Were Original Cheeseheads
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Oct. 10, 2006 — New evidence shows that people have been slurping up yogurt since at least as far back as the Neolithic Age.
Food particles found embedded in ancient cooking pots reveal that Britain’s first farmers boiled milk and processed it to make foods such as cheese, butter and yogurt, according to a report in the latest British Archaeology.
The find adds to the growing body of evidence that many Neolithic Europeans living 3,000 to 6,000 years ago were dairymen as well as farmers.
In other parts of the world, yogurt-eating appears to have begun even earlier. Earlier this year, another team of researchers found similar milk processing evidence dating to 8,000 years ago from Romania, Hungary and Switzerland.
Early dairy farmers likely made their yogurt and cheese to ensure their food lasted. Processing milk improves storage life of the resulting products, such as ghee and cheese, which lead researcher Sebastian Payne said could have lasted for years without refrigeration.
"The cheese would have been fairly sharp, but I would rather eat strong cheese than starve," said Payne, chief scientist at English Heritage, an organization that supports research on British history.
He and colleagues studied degraded fats on thousands of pieces of ancient cooking pots. Stearic acid — common to animal fats — predominated, and the scientists believe meat dishes were cooked in the pots that showed signs of scorching from being placed over a fire.
Some stearic acid, however, had a chemical signature associated with milk fats from cattle, sheep and goats.
Payne suspects that in Britain, farmers were working with cows' milk, since evidence for the other animals in English prehistory is rare, and cattle would have produced well after summer grazing. Ancient cow bones in Britain also indicate farmers were killing older cows.
Introducing the November/December issue of British Archaeology
Stone age yogurt eaters
The detection of degraded fats in unglazed pottery sherds has led to the discovery that Britain’s first farmers were milking animals 6,000 years ago. It had been doubted that milk was used this early, because adults lose the ability, present in small children, to digest the lactose in raw milk. But butter, cheese and yoghurt contain little lactose, and burial trials show that fats from raw milk decay much faster. If neolithic people were processing milk, this would explain why milk fats survive in cooking pots, and would also have made it possible to avoid the lactose problem, and to store milk products. Milk may have been one of the reasons why sheep, goats and cattle were domesticated.
Sebastian Payne, chief scientist at English Heritage
020 7973 3321
Ancient Stonehenge Houses Unearthed
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Oct. 13, 2006 — Nine Neolithic-era buildings have been excavated in the Stonehenge world heritage site, according to a report in the journal British Archaeology.
The structures, which appear to have been homes, date to 2,600-2,500 B.C. and were contemporary with the earliest stone settings at the site's famous megalith. They are the first house-like structures discovered there.
Julian Thomas, who worked on the project and is chair of the archaeology department at Manchester University in England, said Stonehenge could have been a key gathering place at the Neolithic era's version of a housing development.
The buildings all had plaster floors and timber frames, and most had a central hearth. Two, including a house possibly inhabited by a community chief or priest, were enclosed by ringed ditches, the largest measuring 131 feet across. Postholes indicate a wooden fence would have surrounded the smaller of the two structures.
"If the structure inside the large ditch was indeed a chief's house, this individual would have been living rather humbly like the rest of the population, since the building itself wouldn't have been elaborate," Thomas said. "It's like a humble house that was meant to be separated and secluded from the outside world."
Near the buildings were remnants of grooved pottery characteristic of the period, along with stone tools. The findings suggest many people lived at the site around 4,600 years ago.
Thomas thinks many more residences could have once stood there.
"People at that time were probably mobile and living in flimsy buildings, which would have since eroded," he explained.
Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology and a leading expert on Stonehenge, told Discovery News the two isolated buildings at the site may have been shrines and not residences, but he thinks it's also possible the buildings were home to Stone Age VIP's.
"Perhaps these did house chiefs, or powerful priests," said Pitts. "Work is continuing, but it is clear that at last we are starting to see the exceptional archaeology we would expect to find in a landscape that until recently was (thought to be) almost empty except, at its center, for Stonehenge."
Excavation work is expected to continue over the next three summers.
Looking for roots in Africa? DNA search not easy
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor Fri Oct 13, 9:26 AM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - African-Americans hoping to use DNA to find their roots may have to look harder than previously thought, researchers said on Thursday in a study they said shows Africans are too genetically mixed to make tracing easy.
Several companies now offer to help Americans trace their African ancestry using mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to daughter virtually unaltered.
"What's your tribe?" asks one. "Trace Your Roots Back in Time," offers another.
But biologist Bert Ely of the University of South Carolina and colleagues found that fewer than 10 percent of African-American mitochondrial DNA sequences that were analyzed can be matched to any single African ethnic group.
The news might disappoint people who cannot trace a long paper trail of ancestors. More than 11 million Africans were forcibly shipped to the Americas during the slave trade that peaked in the 17th and 18th centuries.
"The test that everybody does is the same test and it is all valid," Ely said in a telephone interview.
"It is just that some companies will over-interpret the data and give you the most likely result instead of all of the matches."
Working with colleagues at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Maryland, Ely looked at 3,700 mitochondrial DNA sequences from people in sub-Saharan Africa.
MORE GENETIC DIVERSITY AMONG AFRICANS
They also sampled African-Americans, including people who identify themselves as "Gullah" or "Geechee" and live along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. These groups have close cultural ties to Sierra Leone, including language, stories and crafts.
Because there is more genetic diversity among Africans than among people from any other continent and because humanity has been in Africa longer than anywhere else, Ely said the idea of being able to trace one's DNA to a certain tribe or place sounds logical.
"That would be true if everybody stayed put, but they have a lot of history of moving around," Ely said.
With the Gullahs and Geechees, it was possible the genetic links were more pure, but Ely's team did not find that. "The analysis does not show their mitochondrial DNA is different from a random sample of Africans," he said.
"It was unlikely because slaves were brought into Charleston from all over the western part of Africa," Ely added.
"Historical accounts indicate that virtually all enslaved Africans brought to North America came from either West or West Central Africa," Ely's team wrote in their report, published in the online journal BioMed Central Biology.
"The truth was we know perfectly well who the ancestors of modern African-Americans were, and they were people from all up and down the west coast of Africa," Ely said.
"What no one has really looked at is how often can someone trace their roots back to a single ethnic group back in Africa and there the answer came out to be not very often -- maybe 10 percent or less."
Ely's team is now using the genetic database to look for medical information, such as possible genes that cause a more aggressive form of breast cancer in U.S. blacks.
Man kept grenades on mantelpiece
12:16 Wednesday 11th October 2006
A Dutchman used old Second World War hand grenades as ornaments in his house - without realising they were dangerous.
Heimen van der Wal, from Makkum, kept the grenades on his mantelpiece for decades after discovering them in woods near Arnhem as a child.
"We though they were harmless," his wife Marjan told the Antwerp Gazette. "Our children have even played with them."
Mr van der Wal moved the grenades to a barn a few years ago. Last week, he showed them to a friend who immediately realised the danger.
"He was shocked and told us to alert the army's bomb disposal unit, because the grenades were highly explosive," he said.
An army spokesman said the family had been very lucky. One of the pins of the antique grenades was so rusty, any sudden movement could have caused an explosion.