Chinese Scientists Conclude Wushan Man Is Oldest Human Fossil In China

November 13, 2007 9:57 p.m. EST

Windsor Genova - AHN News Writer


Beijing, China (AHN) - Chinese archeologists have concluded that the two million years old human fossils found in Wushan County, Chongqing municipality from 1985 to 1988 belong to the earliest human species in China.


The lower jawbone fragment, an incisor and more than 230 pieces of stone tools of the so-called Wushan Man pre-dated the fossils of the Yuanmou Man by 300,000 years, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.


The Yuanmou Man was discovered in southwestern Yunnan Province in the 1960s. It was previously regarded as the oldest human species found in China.


Huang Wanbo, a professor with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said various dating techniques corroborated earlier findings that the geological layer containing the Wushan Man fossils and artifacts is two to 2.04 million years old.


Huang said his team of experts dug up and examined more stone tools and animal fossils at the Longgupo Site in Wushan Mountain during excavations from 1997 to 1999 and 2003 to 2006. British, Canadian and French experts joined Chinese archeologists in the diggings.


The professor said more diggings at Longgupo will be done next year to find more evidence.



China Olympics construction unearths cultural relics

Tue Nov 13, 4:05 AM ET

(Reporting by Beijing newsroom, editing by Ken Wills)


BEIJING (Reuters) - China's multi-billion-dollar building boom ahead of the Beijing Olympics has unearthed hundreds of ancient relics -- some 2,000 years old -- leaving archaeologists to pick up pieces behind construction crews.


The director of the State Administration and Cultural Heritage, Shan Jixiang, has urged local officials to conduct archaeological investigations of sites before construction, the China Daily reported on Tuesday.


But in the rush to finish projects ahead of the August 2008 opening of the Games, the earth movers are driving on.


"Archaeologists in Beijing are following bulldozers," an archaeologist with the Beijing municipal cultural heritage administration, who requested anonymity, told the newspaper.


More than 1,500 gold, ceramic, jade and other artifacts have been recovered from Beijing's Olympic stadium sites, and more than 700 ancient tombs have been found on the sites during the past two years, the newspaper reported.


The archaeologist said some of the relics dated back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.).


Breakneck economic development also has claimed many historic "hutong" alleyways and architectural icons in the capital.


But Beijing's problem is not unique in the fast-growing country.


"China's cities have undergone huge changes, with many of their older quarters being reshaped, often to the detriment of their cultural heritage," Shan told the newspaper.


Shan said the government will spend more money to help preserve 100 of the country's famous historical sites, including the Great Wall and some sections of the Silk Street shopping area.


"The next few years will be a critical time for these sites because of the ongoing urbanization," he said.



Mammoth hunters' camp site found in Russia's Far East

13:02 12/ 11/ 2007

KHABAROVSK, November 12 (RIA Novosti)


Archaeologists have found a 15,000 year-old hunters' camp site from the Paleolithic era near Lake Evoron in Russia's Far East, a source in the Khabarovsk archaeology museum said on Monday.


"The site dates back to the end of the Ice Age, a period which is poorly studied" Andrei Malyavin, chief of the museum's archaeology department said. "That is why any new site from this period is a discovery in itself."


The site, found during a 2007 archaeological expedition to Lake Evoron, is the largest of four Stone Age sites, discovered near the Amur River so far, and was most likely established by mammoth hunters.


"We came to this conclusion after studying flint pikes, arrowheads and a stone scraper," Malyavin said, adding that a comprehensive archaeological excavation could take a couple of years.


In 2006, archaeologists discovered an Iron Age burial mound around 2,500 years old containing a unique fragment from an iron dagger, which had been preserved in the Amur Region's acidic soil.



Biblical flood may have driven the spread of agriculture

Ian Sample

Guardian Unlimited

Monday November 19 2007


A catastrophic flood that is thought to have given rise to the story of Noah's Ark may have triggered the spread of farming across western Europe, researchers claimed today.


The flood would have forced some 145,000 people, among them early farmers, off their land in the Balkans at the end of the last ice age more than 8,000 years ago.


Pushed west by the rising waters, the travellers would have spread their farming techniques to the hunter-gatherers they encountered, eventually establishing new communities that grew into villages and towns.


Geological records suggest that the spectacular flood occurred between 8,160 and 8,740 years ago when meltwater from the giant Laurentide Ice Sheet, which covered most of Canada and much of America, rushed into the world's oceans. In places, the ice sheet was up to 3 kilometres thick.


The floodwater caused global sea levels to rise by an estimated 1.4 metres. As the waters rose, they breached a natural dam known as the Bosporus ridge that separated the Mediterranean from the Black Sea, which was then a freshwater lake. The ridge is now under up to 120 metres of water.


Within 34 years, the Black Sea filled with water and overflowed. According to the researchers' reconstructions of the shorelines during the period, around 73,000 square kilometres of land quickly became submerged.


Archaeological evidence shows that at the time, communities in south eastern Europe were already practising early farming techniques and making pottery - skills adopted from the near-East where wheat crops were being cultivated.


When the Black Sea burst its banks, the rapid rise in water forced the farmers to find new settlements, which may explain a sudden increase in the number of archaeological sites where signs of the early tools of agriculture and pottery have been uncovered.


"People living in what is now south-east Europe must have felt as though the whole world had flooded," said Chris Turney an expert in climate and human adaptation at Exeter University in the UK. "This could well have been the origin of the Noah's Ark story. Entire coastal communities must have been displaced, forcing people to migrate in their thousands. As these agricultural communities moved west, they would have taken farming with them across Europe. It was a revolutionary time."


The low-lying land around the Black Sea would have been rapidly inundated, forcing local populations to flee towards a region that now encompasses Yugoslavia, Italy and France.


Prof Turney said the rise in global sea levels is comparable to that predicted for the end of this century by climate change scientists. "This research shows how rising sea levels can cause massive social change," he said. "The latest estimates suggest that by 2050, millions of people will be displaced each year by rising sea levels."


The research is published today in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.



Eco-ruin 'felled early society'


One of Western Europe's earliest known urban societies may have sown the seeds of its own downfall, a study suggests.


Mystery surrounded the fall of the Bronze Age Argaric people in south-east Spain - Europe's driest area.


Data suggests the early civilisation exhausted precious natural resources, helping bring about its own ruin.


The study provides early evidence for cultural collapse caused - at least in part - by humans meddling with the environment, say researchers.


It could also provide lessons for modern populations living in water-stressed regions.


The findings were based on pollen preserved in a peat deposit located in the mountains of eastern Andalucia, Spain.


The researchers drilled a sediment core from the Canada del Gitano basin high up in Andalucia's Sierra de Baza region.


By studying the abundances of different pollen types - along with other indicators - preserved in sedimentary deposits, researchers can reconstruct what kind of vegetation covered the area in ancient times.


They can compile a pollen sequence, which shows how vegetation changed over thousands of years. This can give them clues to how human settlement and climate affected ecosystems.


The Argaric culture emerged in south-eastern Spain 4,300 years ago. This civilisation, which inhabited small fortified towns, was one of the first in Western Europe to adopt bronze working.


But about 3,600 years ago, the culture mysteriously vanished from the archaeological record.


"Archaeologists are convinced that something happened in the ecological structure of the area just prior to the collapse of the Argaric culture," said Jose Carrion, from the University of Murcia, Spain.


"But we previously lacked a high-resolution record to support this."


Before the appearance of the Argaric civilisation, the slopes of Sierra de Baza were covered with a diverse forest dominated by deciduous oaks and other broad-leaved trees.


But about 4,200 years ago - just after this civilisation emerges - significant amounts of charcoal appear in the pollen sequence. According to the study's authors, this is a sign Bronze Age people were setting fires to clear the forests for mining activities and grazing.


Not long afterwards, about 3,900 years ago, the diverse forest ecosystem disappears, to be replaced by monotonous and fire-prone Mediterranean scrub.


What astonished the researchers was the speed of this change. This ecological transformation is very abrupt, appearing to have taken place in little more than a decade.


About 300 years after this ecological transformation, the Argaric civilisation disappeared.


Professor Carrion said the term "ecocide" was too strong to apply in this case. Climate must also have played a part, he explained.


There is evidence conditions were becoming progressively arid from about 5,500 years ago onwards. This is indicated by a broad reduction in forest cover, the appearance of plants adapted to dry conditions and a drop in lake levels.


But Jose Carrion added: "The climatic influence began millennia prior to the appearance of the Argaric culture.


"It's not critical to the change in the landscape we see about 3,900-3,800 years ago. What appears to be critical is the evidence of burning, which in our opinion is man-made."


The degradation of soils and vegetation could have caused the collapse of agriculture and pastoralism, the foundation of the Argaric economy.


This would have led to massive depopulation of the area.


The findings were outlined at the recent Climate and Humans conference in Murcia, Spain, and appear in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.



Ancient beer pots point to origins of chocolate

22:00 12 November 2007

NewScientist.com news service

Jeff Hecht


Chocolate was first produced by the ancients as a by-product of beer, suggests a new archaeological study. And evidence from drinking vessels left by the Mesoamericans who developed chocolate suggests that the source of chocolate, cacao, was first used 500 years earlier than thought.


Mesoamericans – who flourished in central America before it was colonised by the Spanish – developed chocolate as a by-product of fermenting cacao fruit to make a beer-like drink called chicha still brewed by South American tribal people.


The Mesoamericans before Columbus’s time, developed a taste for the chocolate, but their cousins down in South America stuck with the beer, says Cornell University archaeologist John Henderson, who led the new study.


Unsweetened chocolate drinks became a central element of Mesoamerican cultures including the Aztecs, from whom Europeans learned of chocolate in the 16th century.


Archaeologists have found pottery made to serve the frothed chocolate drink preferred by the pre-Columbians in earlier sites, and have found traces of chocolate in pots dating back to 600 BC. But the origins of the drink had been unclear.


Chocolate's unique flavour develops only when the watery pulp of raw cacao fruit and seeds are fermented together, colouring the seeds purple. Grinding the seeds yields the chocolate.


"It struck us that it wasn't obvious how to do this," says study co-author Rosemary Joyce at the University of California at Berkeley. The involvement of fermentation led her and Henderson to speculate that cacao beer might have been the originating process


Only now has hard evidence come to light in the form of pot sherds dating from 200 BC to before 1100 BC that they found in the ruins of an ancient village called Puerto Escondido in the Ulúa Valley in Honduras.


Harnessing a technique developed by Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania, they were able to extract chocolate residues from the pores in the pottery. Tests found theobromine – a chemical signature of cacao – in 11 of 13 fragments, including one that Joyce estimates dates from 1100 to 1200 BC.


That pushed evidence for cacao drinking back 500 years. That pot, and others older than about 900 BC, also lacked any traces of the chilli pepper Mesoamericans used to spice up their chocolate. Pots designed for making a frothed chocolate first appeared after this date, the researchers report.


The oldest fragment was the long neck of a bottle that could have held beer, but could not have been used to make the frothed chocolate beverage that became popular later. Joyce called that "the smoking gun" showing that beer had come first.


She suggests that the key step in switching to chocolate came when ancient brewers ground up the cacao seeds remaining after fermentation and added them to thicken the beer – giving it a chocolate taste.


Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0708815104)



Rome adds a 'final jewel' to its archaeological crown

Posted : Wed, 14 Nov 2007 16:10:05 GMT


London - In Rome, you never know what you find underneath your home once you start digging. For Enrico Gasbarra, President of the Provincial Administration of Rome, his curiosity to find what Roman treasures might be hiding in underground spaces below his office headquarters, the Valentini Palace, has resulted in one of the most exciting finds of recent years in the ancient city.


Presenting the result of two years of excavations at the World Travel Market (WTM) fair in London Wednesday, Gasbarra described the discovery of a splendid and affluent Roman home (domus) directly underneath his offices as the "final jewel" in the array of historical treasures his administration has to offer.


More than 187 lorry loads of waste and rubble, including office debris and old photocopying machines, had to be removed from the "trash dump" in the courtyard of the Valentini Palace to reveal a new archaeological site consisting of splendid rooms, marbled baths and exquisite mosaics.


"Of course, in a city like Rome it is not unusual to make such discoveries, but this find is of extreme historical significance," Gasbarra said in London.


"It shows that, at the time of the Roman Republic, this area was the political centre, as it is today, where senators and judges lived who worked nearby," he added.


"It was a bit like the Washington of its day," Gasbarra said about the find, which is 300 metres away from the Roman Forum.


With the expert assistance of Piero Angela, Italy's foremost writer and commentator on archaeology, and the help of engineers, historians, archaeologists and computer experts, a museum space of 1,200 square metres has been created underground, linked by a pathway to the Roman Forum into which visitors will be discharged at the end of their tour.


"It is the magic of the cave, of darkness and light that makes this site a special experience," Angela said in London.


With the help of graphical reconstruction and advanced computer technology the visitor will be taken on a virtual reality tour, marvelling at the ancient finds below through a glass floor while reconstructions of the original rooms are being projected onto the walls of the museum.


Film projectors and cameras have been "hidden" throughout the structure to reflect images of what the villa would have looked like in Roman times.


"Visitors will walk over the recovered remains as the ancient domus comes back to life before their eyes," Angela said.


"You enter a virtual reality atmosphere where the smells and sounds of the time, and the virtual structures, will be recreated to give you an extremely exact idea of what it was like," he added.


Only small groups of visitors will be allowed into the museum at any given time after it opens on December 20.


For Gasbarra, the new finds and their reunification with the ancient urban spaces simply are a "new reason to visit Rome at Christmas."



Tides turn up child’s Bronze Age remains

Nov 14 2007 by Tony Henderson, The Journal


HIGH tides and winds that have battered the Northumberland coast served up a burial mystery for archaeologists yesterday .


Erosion by the sea and weather has revealed what seems to be the remains of a Bronze Age child, which have emerged from the coastal edge at Druridge Bay.


But what perplexed archaeologists yesterday was a layer of hard white material which appears to have been moulded around the body, like a casing.


“I have never seen anything like this material. It has obviously been applied deliberately and it is intriguing and baffling,” said Sara Rushton, Northumberland County Council archaeologist.


The burial had been purposely cut into a layer of peat which has been dated to between 3780BC and 1000BC.


The same vicinity has produced other examples of prehistoric burials falling onto the beach because of erosion.


Last week, The Journal reported how a two-year survey of the entire North-East coastline is starting because of the threat to archaeological and historic sites from climate change and coastal erosion.


The latest find was made by Keith Hartnell, who was filming a DVD about the new Northumberland Coastal Path for the Northern Heritage company which he set up in 1991, but which is now run by his son, Chris.


Keith, who lives in Longhorsley, wanted to include material on the previous Bronze Age coastal burial discoveries on the 64-mile path in the DVD, which is due out on December 3.


He said: “I was following the ancient peat layer along the cliff edge when I saw something which was bright white, and below that, a rib cage emerging from the cliff face.


“The stormy weather had broken off the edge of the burial chamber and you could see the rib cage and backbone of what looked like a child. My concern was that it could disappear with the following tides.


“It was an incredible find and it left me gobsmacked.”


Dr Clive Waddington, who excavated a Stone Age site on the Northumberland coast at Howick, is managing director of Archaeological Research Services, which has been commissioned by English Heritage to carry out the coastal survey.


He said: “There have been one or two instances elsewhere in the country where a white gypsum-like material has been found in burials, which turns hard, like concrete.


“It is certainly an unusual find. The gypsum may have been applied to symbolise the transition from the world of the living to the world of the dead, to reflect the change from one state to another.”


Series of finds reveal evidence of large burial site


TWO prehistoric burial cairns containing the remains of two bodies and a cremation emerged from the eroding Druridge Bay coastline in 1983.


Ten years later, two cists – or stone burial chambers – were revealed in the same area, and two highly decorated Bronze Age pottery beakers were found.


This suggested a large Bronze Age burial site which had been used over a long period of time. Investigations concluded that most of the burial site had been lost to coastal erosion and coal opencasting. But the new discovery indicates that burials still remain.


The study also revealed evidence of Stone Age use of the site, which in prehistoric times would have been a ridge of higher land some distance inland from the sea.


“These burials have survived because they are beneath layers of sand which were of no use for agriculture,” said archaeologist Sara Rushton.



Archaeology student finds Roman remains in garden

By Mark Stead

3:19pm Thursday 15th November 2007


AN ARCHAEOLOGY student struck lucky when he began digging the garden of his new home - and discovered ancient Roman remains.


Chris Bevan had no idea that a historic find was lurking inches beneath his feet when he moved into the house at Holme-on-Spalding Moor.


Now he and his fellow University of York students are using their spare time to carry out a survey of the garden in High Street and a neighbouring field where the ancient pottery was unearthed.


"I bought the house in July and was just doing some gardening when I found a Roman pot and some Medieval green glaze pottery," says Chris, 24, who is a second year archaeology undergraduate.


"I immediately knew what it was and was obviously excited. There have been quite a few finds of this type in the Holme-on-Spalding Moor area, but I never expected to find something like this in my garden. It's a real coincidence when you consider the subject I'm studying.


"It looks like I made a good choice when I decided to move here!"


Chris and his fellow students have taken the unusual step in archaeology circles of inviting a metal-detecting club to help them sweep the garden and field.


"It's a way of doing things which is almost unheard of, because there has always been a level of mistrust between the archaeological and metal-detecting communities," he said.


"Unfortunately, archaeologists think metal-detecting is done by people purely after making a profit, while metal-detectorists often believe archaeology doesn't let people near important sites.


"We're hoping to break this down and show what can be achieved by a new generation of archaeologists taking opportunities such as using metal detectors rather than avoiding them. By doing this, we've already discovered fragments of Roman coins and other remains, and we hope there are even more still waiting to be found.


"We're having to fit in the work around our studies, but the university has been extremely supportive and has agreed to lend us equipment to help do it."


The archaeology group hope to complete their survey this weekend, and it will be followed by several months of painstaking analysis of the find.


Holme-on-Spalding Moor has a history of historic discoveries - in the 1980s, an Iron Age boat was excavated on the banks of the River Foulness at nearby Hasholme.



Women warriors may have battled in ancient Cambodia

Thu Nov 15, 2:36 AM ET



Archaeologists have found female skeletons buried with metal swords in Cambodian ruins, indicating there may have been a civilisation with female warriors, the mission head said Thursday.


The team dug up 35 human skeletons at five locations in Phum Snay in northwestern Cambodia in research earlier this year, said Japanese researcher Yoshinori Yasuda, who led the team.


"Five of them were perfect skeletons and we have confirmed all of them were those of females," Yasuda told AFP. The skeletons were believed to date back to the first to fifth century AD.


The five were found buried together with steel or bronze swords, and helmet-shaped objects, said Yasuda, who is from the government-backed International Research Center for Japanese Studies.


"It is very rare that swords are found with women. This suggests it was a realm where female warriors were playing an active role," he said.


"Women traditionally played the central role in the rice-farming and fishing societies," he said. "It's originally a European concept that women are weak and therefore should be protected."


"The five skeletons were well preserved because they had been buried in important spots at the tombs," he said.


It was the first time that large-scale research was conducted on the Phum Snay relics, which were found in 1999.


It is believed there was a civilisation inhabited with several thousand rice-farming people between the first to fifth century.



Baltic yields 'perfect' shipwreck


A near-intact shipwreck apparently dating from the 17th century has been found in the Baltic Sea, Swedish television has said.


The discovery was made during filming for an under-water documentary series.


Public service SVT television said the wreck could be from the same era as the famous Vasa warship, which sank on its maiden voyage in August 1628.


The broadcaster said the Baltic's low oxygen content and low temperature had helped preserve the wreck.


SVT said the origins of the ship were unclear but its features resembled the work of Dutch ship-builders from the period.


"Experts who have studied video of the ship conclude that it is probably the best-preserved ship ever seen from this period," the station said.


A press release provided by SVT quoted marine archaeologist MR Manders as saying he was "overwhelmed" by the condition of the wreck.


"You can hardly call this a shipwreck," he is quoted as saying.


Mr Manders said the boat was likely to have been a trading vessel, 20-25m long, with two or perhaps three masts.


The location of the wreck, between the Swedish mainland and Latvia, had been pinpointed in 2003.


But it was only in May this year, during filming for The Wreck Divers documentary series, that full exploration and filming with a remotely-operated submarine took place.


The programme's executive producer, Malcolm Dixelius, told the BBC the ship was found at a depth of 125m - offering "excellent" visibility.


The relative lack of oxygen in the water and its low temperature meant the ship had been amazingly well-preserved, he said.


SVT says the vessel probably dates from the same period as the Vasa warship, which was discovered in 1956 and brought to the surface.


The museum where it is kept is now one of the main tourist attractions in Stockholm.


SVT's The Wreck Divers programme is aired on Thursday.