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Cow Skull

UK's Ancient Secrets May be Buried With Old Bones

Top British archaeologists are urging the government to rethink a law requiring human remains be reburied, warning it risks undermining years of research into the island's ancient peoples and study of their DNA.

The row stems from the reinterpretation of a law introduced in 2008 by the Ministry of Justice. The rule states human bones discovered in England and Wales since that time, regardless of their age, must be re-interred after two years.

In a letter to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, 40 academics complained experts would have too little time to study the remains and that reburial would result in the needless destruction of immensely valuable material.

Important sites that will be affected include Stonehenge and a Viking mass burial pit near Weymouth on the south coast.

Many archaeologists believe secrets about ancient tribes and early humans in Britain could be lost to science forever if the rule is applied. Thousands of sites could be affected in the future, they say.

"Britain risks losing its leading role in archaeology, a decline that will be observed by a mystified international scientific community," the letter said.

"The current license conditions are impeding scientific research, preventing new discoveries from entering museums, and are not in the public interest," added the academics who want the government to return to the "simple, well-tried system" practiced up to 2008.

Butterfly

Czech prehistoric engraved "Venus" has "twin sister" in USA

Venus of Predmosti
© Unknown

Brno - The prehistoric Czech "Venus of Predmosti", north Moravia, an engraving of a woman on a mammoth tusk, which is one of the oldest artifacts in Europe, may exist in another version that is in a U.S. collection, Martina Galetova, from Brno's museum, has told CTK.

The engraving dating back to the Upper Palaeolithic Age was found over 100 years ago by archaeologist Martin Kriz.

It is housed in the Moravian Land Museum (MZM) in Brno.

The possible "twin sister" of the "Venus of Predmosti" is owned by U.S. art collector Duncan Caldwell.

Heart - Black

Put those bones back! Future of archaeology threatened by law

Image
© PA
Scientists search an area at Starr Carr, North Yorkshire, last year after locating Britain's earliest house. Leading archaeologists today protested a law that requires all human remains unearthed at ancient settlements to be reburied
A controversial law that requires all human remains unearthed at ancient settlements to be reburied within two years threatens the future of archaeology, it is claimed today.

Under legislation introduced in 2008, bones and skulls found at sites in England and Wales, such as Stonehenge, have to be put back where they were found after 24 months.

A group of leading archaeologists has written to Justice Secretary Ken Clarke to protest that this will vastly diminish their ability to research the history of humans in Britain.

Forty archaeology professors wrote to express their 'deep and widespread concern' in a letter published in today's Guardian newspaper.

'The current licence conditions are impeding scientific research, preventing new discoveries from entering museums, and are not in the public interest,' their letter states.

Info

Archaeologist in Australia Finds Ancient Sites Near Jeddah via Google Earth

Saudi Arabia
© Arab News, Saudi Arabia
A screenshot of Saudi Arabia as seen from Google Maps.

Jeddah: Nearly 2,000 archaeological sites have been discovered east of Jeddah by an Australian archaeologist. Bizarrely, professor David Kennedy, from the University of Western Australia, has never set foot in the Kingdom. He discovered the sites from the comfort of his office in Perth, Western Australia, using Google Earth on his computer.

Altogether, Kennedy has identified 1,977 possible sites by looking at satellite images of a 1,240-square km area east of Jeddah. The find has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. It includes what he thinks are 1,082 ancient stone tombs or "pendants," so called because they are shaped like tear drops.

The professor, who specializes in archaeology of the Roman Empire in the Middle East and aerial archaeology, has worked mainly in Jordan. By comparing the Jeddah structures with others he has seen there, he thinks they may be 9,000 years old.

But without visiting the area, that cannot be verified.

"Just from Google Earth it's impossible to know whether we have found a Bedouin structure that was made 150 years ago or 10,000 years ago," he is quoted as telling the London-based New Scientist magazine.

Info

Stone Age Fertility Ritual Object Found

Ancient Etchings
© Tomasz Plonka
A close-up of etchings found on a 11,000-year-old elk antler. Scientists believe the figure is a woman with spread legs.

A Stone Age-era artifact carved with multiple zigzags and what is likely a woman with spread legs suggests that fertility rituals may have been important to early Europeans, according to new research.

The object, which will be documented in the March issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, is made out of a large elk antler and has been radiocarbon dated to about 10,900 years ago.

"The ornament is composed of groups of zigzag lines and a human representation, probably a woman with spread legs with a short zigzag nearby," lead author Tomasz Płonka told Discovery News. "The woman may be nude, but the geometrical style of representation does not allow us to answer (this question)."

Płonka, a University of Wroclaw archaeologist, and his colleagues analyzed the object, unearthed by a farmer at Swidwin, Poland.

At first the scientists believed the geometrical figure carved onto the antler could have been either the mentioned woman, or a nude man raising his arms. Measurements to determine the ratio of the stick figure limbs, in addition to comparisons with other early human representations, lead the researchers to support the woman interpretation.

Zigzags are very popular motifs on artifacts from many cultures throughout the world, with many possible meanings, but Płonka said, "I think our zigzag lines are connected with water and life symbolism."

Info

Light Dawns on Aboriginal Find

Sundial
© The Courier-Mail
Sundial: Wurdi Youang near Mt Rothwell, Victoria.

Is it just a pile of plain paddock rocks placed in a semicircle, or proof Aborigines were the world's first astronomers?

After years of meticulous examination, some of Australia's most distinguished astrophysicists are starting to believe it's the latter - a discovery that could turn history and cultural books upside down and render England's famous Stonehenge an also-ran.

Dubbed Wurdi Youang, the strange stone arrangement was found on a property near Mt Rothwell, 80km west of Melbourne, its two points set in perfect alignment with the setting sun on a mid-summer's day.

CSIRO professors believe the ancient Aboriginal sundial could be more than 10,000 years old, an estimate that would have it pre-date the famous neolithic Stonehenge and the only remaining ancient wonder of the world, the Egyptian Pyramids.

Understandably, its exact location is a closely guarded secret, although its popularity with the local rabbit community is apparent.

Binoculars

First film footage of remote Amazon rainforest tribe

Image
© G.Miranda/Funai/Survival
New pictures have been released of an isolated tribe living in rainforest on the Brazil-Peru border.

Brazil monitors many such tribes from the air, and they are known as "uncontacted" because they have only limited dealings with the outside world.

Photographs of the same tribe were released to the world two years ago.

Campaigners say the Panoan Indians are threatened by a rise in illegal logging on the Peruvian side of the border.

But Brazilian authorities believe the influx of loggers is pushing isolated Indians from Peru into Brazil, where the two groups could come into conflict.

Survival International, the campaign group that released the pictures, says the group is likely to be in good health, with baskets full of manioc and papaya vegetables grown in their communal "gardens".

The tribe in question could be descended from indigenous people who fled the "rubber boom" around a century ago, when wild rubber became an international commodity and forest areas were opened up.

Magnify

1,500-year-old Church Found in Israel

Image
© The Associated Press / Ariel Schalit
A view of a mosaic in the archaeological site where an ancient church was found in Hirbet Madras, central Israel, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011. Israeli archaeologists say they have uncovered a 1,500-year-old church, including an unusually well-preserved mosaic floor with images of lions, foxes, fish and peacocks. According to Amir Ganor of the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) the church in the hills southwest of Jerusalem was active between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D.
Israeli archaeologists presented a newly uncovered 1,500-year-old church in the Judean hills on Wednesday, including an unusually well-preserved mosaic floor with images of lions, foxes, fish and peacocks.

The Byzantine church located southwest of Jerusalem, excavated over the last two months, will be visible only for another week before archaeologists cover it again with soil for its own protection.

The small basilica with an exquisitely decorated floor was active between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D., said the dig's leader, Amir Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. He said the floor was "one of the most beautiful mosaics to be uncovered in Israel in recent years."

"It is unique in its craftsmanship and level of preservation," he said.

Archaeologists began digging at the site, known as Hirbet Madras, in December. The Antiquities Authority discovered several months earlier that antiquities thieves had begun plundering the ruins, which sit on an uninhabited hill not far from an Israeli farming community.

Info

University of Toronto Anthropologists Discover Earliest Cemetery in Middle East

Ancient Cemetary
© Lisa Maher et al.

Anthropologists at the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge have discovered the oldest cemetery in the Middle East at a site in northern Jordan. The cemetery includes graves containing human remains buried alongside those of a red fox, suggesting that the animal was possibly kept as a pet by humans long before dogs ever were. The 16,500-year-old site at 'Uyun al-Hammam was discovered in 2000 by an expedition led by University of Toronto professor Edward (Ted) Banning and Lisa Maher, an assistant professor of anthropology at U of T and research associate at the University of Cambridge. "Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of at least 11 individuals - more than known from all other sites of this kind combined," says Banning, of U of T's Department of Anthropology.

Previous research had identified the earliest cemeteries in the region in a somewhat later period (the Natufian, ca. 15,000-12,000 years ago). These were notable for instances of burials of humans with dogs. One such case involved a woman buried with her hand on a puppy, while another included three humans buried with two dogs along with tortoise shells. However, this new research shows that some of these practices occurred earlier.

Most of the individuals buried at the Jordan site were found with what are known as "grave goods," such as stone tools, a bone spoon, animal parts, and red ochre (an iron mineral). One grave contained the skull and right upper arm bone of a red fox, with red ochre adhered to the skull, along with bones of deer, gazelle and wild cattle. Another nearby grave contained the nearly complete skeleton of a red fox, missing its skull and right upper arm bone, suggesting that portions of a single fox had been moved from one grave to another in prehistoric times.

Sun

Did Vikings navigate by polarized light?

Image
© BRYNA PRODS/UNITED ARTISTS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION
As highly skilled navigators, Vikings crossed thousands of kilometres of open sea.
'Sunstone' crystals may have helped seafarers to find the Sun on cloudy days.

A Viking legend tells of a glowing 'sunstone' that, when held up to the sky, revealed the position of the Sun even on a cloudy day. It sounds like magic, but scientists measuring the properties of light in the sky say that polarizing crystals - which function in the same way as the mythical sunstone - could have helped ancient sailors to cross the northern Atlantic. A review of their evidence is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (1).