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20,000-year-old find suggests hunter-gatherers did use pottery

Image
© Associated Press.
One of the pottery fragments recovered from the Xianrendong cave in south China's Jiangxi province.
Pottery fragments found in a south China cave have been confirmed to be 20,000 years old, making them the oldest known pottery in the world, archaeologists say.

The findings, which appear in the journal Science on Friday, add to recent efforts that have dated pottery piles in east Asia to more than 15,000 years ago, refuting conventional theories that the invention of pottery correlates to the period about 10,000 years ago when humans moved from being hunter-gatherers to farmers.

The research by a team of Chinese and American scientists also pushes the emergence of pottery back to the last ice age, which might provide new explanations for the creation of pottery, said Gideon Shelach, chair of the Louis Frieberg Center for East Asian Studies at The Hebrew University in Israel.

"The focus of research has to change," Shelach, who is not involved in the research project in China, said by telephone.

In an accompanying Science article, Shelach wrote that such research efforts "are fundamental for a better understanding of socio-economic change (25,000 to 19,000 years ago) and the development that led to the emergence of sedentary agricultural societies".

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Ancient Hunter-Gatherers Kept in Touch

Ancient Skeleton
© Alberto Tapia
Far-flung cousin? This 8000-year-old skeleton of a hunter-gatherer, found in a Spanish cave, is genetically similar to skeletons found in central and Eastern Europe.
Until about 8500 years ago, Europe was populated by nomadic hunter-gatherers who hunted, fished, and ate wild plants. Then, the farming way of life swept into the continent from its origins in the Near East, including modern-day Turkey. Within 3000 years most of the hunter-gatherers had disappeared. Little is known about these early Europeans. But a new genetic analysis of two 8000-year-old skeletons from Spain suggests that they might have been a remarkably cohesive population both genetically and culturally - a conclusion that other researchers find intriguing but possibly premature.

The first modern human hunter-gatherers occupied Europe at least 40,000 years ago. But their fortunes waxed and waned with fluctuations in climate, and during the height of the last ice age - between about 25,000 and 20,000 years ago - they were forced to take refuge in southern European regions such as modern-day Spain, Portugal, and southern France. Only after 12,000 years ago, when a permanent warming trend set in, were they able to spread across all of Europe again, marking the beginning of a period called the Mesolithic.

Yet, while researchers have intensively studied the ancient farmers who followed them, relatively little is known about Europe's Mesolithic people. Scientists have extracted ancient DNA from dozens of farmer skeletons, but from fewer than 30 Mesolithic skeletons. Nearly all of these are from central and Eastern Europe.

In the new study, published online today in Current Biology, a team led by geneticist Carles Lalueza-Fox of the University of Barcelona in Spain sequenced DNA from both mitochondria, the cell's tiny energy plants, and the cell nucleus from two complete, remarkably well-preserved skeletons found in 2006 in a cave complex called La Braña-Arintero in northwest Spain. The remains, both males (as determined from the size of their pelvises and their DNA), were a few meters apart and found in a crouching position. Radiocarbon dates pegged both skeletons at about 8000 years old*; the dates were so close in fact, within the margin of error of the technique, that the humans may have been deposited in the cave at the same time. And one of the skeletons, called La Braña 2, was adorned with 24 pierced canine teeth from red deer, which had apparently been embroidered on a cloth that once covered the body.

Info

Ancient Text Confirms Mayan Calendar End Date

Mayan Carved Block
© David Stuart
Carved blocks uncovered at La Corona show scenes of Mayan life and record a political history of the city.
A newly discovered Mayan text reveals the "end date" for the Mayan calendar, becoming only the second known document to do so. But unlike some modern people, ancient Maya did not expect the world to end on that date, researchers said.

"This text talks about ancient political history rather than prophecy," Marcello Canuto, the director of Tulane University Middle America Research Institute, said in a statement. "This new evidence suggests that the 13 bak'tun date was an important calendrical event that would have been celebrated by the ancient Maya; however, they make no apocalyptic prophecies whatsoever regarding the date."

The Mayan Long Count calendar is divided into bak'tuns, or 144,000-day cycles that begin at the Maya creation date. The winter solstice of 2012 (Dec. 21) is the last day of the 13th bak'tun, marking what the Maya people would have seen as a full cycle of creation.

New Age believers and doomsday types have attributed great meaning to the Dec. 21, 2012 date, with some predicting an apocalypse and others some sort of profound global spiritual event. But only one archaeological reference to the 2012 date had ever been found, as an inscription on a monument dating back to around A.D. 669 in Tortuguero, Mexico.

Now, researchers exploring the Mayan ruins of La Corona in Guatemala have unearthed a second reference. On a stairway block carved with hieroglyphs, archaeologists found a commemoration of a visit by Yuknoom Yich'aak K'ahk' of Calakmul, the most powerful Mayan ruler in his day. The king, also known as Jaguar Paw, suffered a terrible defeat in battle by the Kingdom of Tikal in 695.

Cow Skull

Cow and woman found in Cambridgeshire Anglo-Saxon dig

Image
© Unknown
Archaeologists described the find as "unique in Europe"
Archaeologists excavating an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Cambridgeshire say the discovery of a woman buried with a cow is a "genuinely bizarre" find.

The grave was uncovered in Oakington by students from Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire.

At first it was thought the animal skeleton was a horse.

Student Jake Nuttall said: "Male warriors might be buried with horses, but a woman and a cow is new to us."

He added: "We were excited when we thought we had a horse, but realising it was a cow made it even more bizarre."

Co-director of the excavation, Dr Duncan Sayer, from the University of Central Lancashire, said: "Animal burials are extremely rare, anyway.

Sherlock

Massive hoard of Iron Age coins discovered in Jersey after 30-year search

Image
© Jersey Heritage/PA
An examination of the massive hoard of Iron Age coins found on the island of Jersey.
The largest hoard of Iron Age Celtic coins found anywhere in northern Europe has been discovered by two amateur metal detectorists who have been searching in the same field in Jersey for 30 years.

Reg Mead and Richard Miles found up to 50,000 silver and bronze coins, which remain clumped inside a massive block of soil. They had been hunting for buried treasure inspired by legends that a local farmer once turned up silver coins while working on the land. Earlier this year, they finally found 60 silver coins and one gold, dating from the 1st century BC. Every coin, Mead said, gave them the same thrill. "We are talking about searching for 40 to 50 hours to get these coins out, and every one gives you the same buzz."

Sherlock

'Syria's Stonehenge': Mysterious Ruins in Desert Could be 10,000 Years Old

A mysterious ancient building in Syria, described as a 'landscape for the dead' could be as old as 10,000 years ago - far older than the Great Pyramid.

But scientists have been unable to explore the ruins, unearthed in 2009, because of the conflict in the region.

The strange stone formations were uncovered in 2009, by archaeologist Robert Mason of the Royal Ontario Museum, who came across stone lines, circles, and tombs in a near-lifeless area of desert.
Syrian Ruins_1
© Daily Mail, UK
The strange stone formations were uncovered in 2009, by archaeologist Robert Mason of the Royal Ontario Museum, who came across stone lines, circles, and tombs in a near-lifeless area of desert near a monastery (pictured).
Mason talked about the finds at Harvard's Semitic Museum, said that more investigation is required to understand the mysterious rock structures - and how old they are - but Mason is unsure whether he will ever be able to return to the ruins.

Info

Rome Icon Actually Younger Than the City

She-Wolf
© Marcin Floryan/Wikimedia Commons
The Capitoline she wolf.
The icon of Rome's foundation, a life-size bronze statue of a she-wolf with two human infants suckling her, is about 1,700 years younger than its city, Rome's officials admitted on Saturday.

The official announcement, made at the Capitoline Museums, where the 30 inch-high bronze is the centerpiece of a dedicated room, quashes the belief that the sculpture was adopted by the earliest Romans as a symbol for their city.

"The new dating ranges between 1021 e il 1153," said Lucio Calcagnile, who carried radiocarbon tests at the University of Salento's Center for Dating e Diagnostics.

Recalling the story of a she-wolf which fed Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, and his twin brother, Remus, after they had been thrown in a basket into the Tiber River, the so called "Lupa Capitolina" (Capitoline she-wolf) was donated to the museum in 1471 by Pope Sixtus IV.

The sculpture was thought to be either the product of an Etruscan workshop in the 5th century B.C. or the masterpiece of the 6th century B.C. Etruscan sculptor Vulca of Veii.

Sherlock

Scrap of European iron found: creates 500-year-old Canadian mystery

mystery iron artifact
© Handout
Image of the site of the Mantle archaeological site in present-day Whitchurch-Stouffville, a suburban community just north of Lake Ontario about 40 km east of Toronto.
A Canadian archeologist who excavated the remains of a 500-year-old First Nations settlement near Toronto has revealed a stunning discovery: a carefully buried, European-made metal object that somehow reached the 16th-century Huron village nearly 100 years before the documented arrival of any white man in the Lake Ontario region.

The unearthing of what appears to be part of a wrought-iron axe head at the so-called "Mantle" archeological site in present-day Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ont. - a fast-growing suburb about 40 kilometres east of Toronto - is showcased in a new documentary film, titled Curse of the Axe, to be screened for the first time Monday at the Royal Ontario Museum and broadcast nationwide July 9 on History Television.

The documentary details the quest by Toronto-based archeologist Ron Williamson and his colleagues to identify the composition and origin of the metal artifact and determine how it might have wound up so far inland - at least 1,500 kilometres west of any 16th-century European whaling or fishing station on the Atlantic coast - at such an early time in Canadian history.

The Mantle site is described by Williamson as "the most complex village ever in northeastern North America." Researchers have recovered tens of thousands of artifacts indicating it was a sprawling settlement with dozens of longhouses and a fort-like palisade, all surrounded by cornfields used to feed as many as 2,000 Huron inhabitants for several decades beginning around 1500 A.D.

Pharoah

Googly-Eyed Egyptian Talisman Discovered

Image
© Egypt Centre/Swansea University
Bes, a dwarf god and protector of young children and pregnant women, is depicted in this faience bell from the first millennium B.C.
The ancient Egyptian artifact was once used to magically protect children and pregnant mothers from evil. A newly identified googly-eyed artifact may have been used by the ancient Egyptians to magically protect children and pregnant mothers from evil forces.

Made of faience, a delicate material that contains silica, the pale-green talisman of sorts dates to sometime in the first millennium B.C. It shows the dwarf god Bes with his tongue sticking out, eyes googly, wearing a crown of feathers. A hole at the top of the face was likely used to suspend it like a bell, while a second hole, used to hold the bell clapper, was apparently drilled into it in antiquity.

Carolyn Graves-Brown, a curator at the Egypt Centre, discovered the artifact in the collection of Woking College, the equivalent of a high school for juniors and seniors. The college has more than 50 little-studied Egyptian artifacts, which were recently lent to the Egypt Centre at Swansea University where they are being studied and documented. [Gallery: Amazing Egyptian Discoveries]

Question

Mysterious Structure May Have Led to Ancient Artificial Island

Ancient Strutcure_1
© Steve Clarke
The western side of the site with the timber-beam slots continuing beyond the excavation. So far the researchers have found they extend at least 50 feet long.
Archaeologists have unearthed the foundation of what appears to have been a massive, ancient structure, possibly a bridge leading to an artificial island, in what is now southeast Wales. The strange ruin, its discoverers say, is unlike anything found before in the United Kingdom and possibly all of Europe.

"It's a real mystery," said Steve Clarke, chairman and founding member of the Monmouth Archaeological Society, who discovered the structural remains earlier this month in Monmouth, Wales - a town known for its rich archaeological features. "Whatever it is, there's nothing else like it. It may well be unique."

Clarke and his team discovered the remnants of three giant timber beams placed alongside one another on a floodplainat the edge of an ancient lake that has long since filled with silt. After being set into the ground, the pieces of timber decayed, leaving anaerobic (oxygen-free) clay, which formed after silt filled in the timbers' empty slots, Clarke told LiveScience.

The team initially thought the timber structures were once sleeper beams, or shafts of timber placed in the ground to form the foundations of a house. However, the pieces appear to be too large for that purpose. While a typical sleeper beam would span about 1 foot (30 centimeters) across, these timber beams were over 3 feet wide and at least 50 feet long (or about 1 meter by 15 meters). The archaeologists are still digging and don't yet know how much longer the timbers are. Clarke says the structure's builders appear to have placed whole trees, cut in half lengthwise, into the ground.