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Archaeology

Mysterious 5,000-year-old owl-like plaques may have been ancient toys

owl carvings practice children toy
© EBD-CSIC
Study of 5,000-year-old Copper Age owl-like plaques suggests that they may have been ancient toys made by children.

Over 4,000 owl-like slate plaques have been found at burial sites in the south-western Iberian Peninsula. They date from a period between 5,400 to 4,750 years ago, often sharing several characteristics, such as engraved circles as eyes, and an outlined body at the bottom representing the plumage of an owl.

Researchers have theorised for more than a century about the origin and purpose of the plaques. They were through to have a ritual significance, possibly to represent deities or the deceased.

Gold Bar

Gold Rush treasures from 1857 shipwreck up for auction in Reno

S.S. Central America mail ship shipwreck gold
© Library of Congress via AP, File
This undated drawing made available by the Library of Congress shows the U.S. Mail ship S.S. Central America, which sank after sailing into a hurricane in September 1857 in one of the worst maritime disasters in American history.
Since the recovery of sunken treasure began decades ago from an 1857 shipwreck off the coast of South Carolina, tens of millions of dollars worth of gold has been sold.

But scientists, historians and collectors say that the real fortunes will begin to hit the auction block on Saturday. For the first time, hundreds of Gold Rush-era artifacts entombed in the wreckage of the S.S. Central America will go on public sale.

Known as the "Ship of Gold," the steamship sank on Sept. 12, 1857, in a hurricane on its way from Panama to New York City. Most of the passengers boarded the S.S. Central America in Panama after traveling from San Francisco on another ship and taking the train across the isthmus.

Info

Homo naledi may have lit fires in underground caves at least 236,000 years ago

Remnants of small fireplaces and sooty wall and ceiling smudges found in South African cave system.
Homo Naledi Skull
© WIKUS DE WET/CONTRIBUTOR/GETTY
An ancient southern African hominid called Homo naledi, represented here by a child’s partial fossil skull, possibly used fire sometime between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago, new cave finds suggest.
An ancient hominid dubbed Homo naledi may have lit controlled fires in the pitch-dark chambers of an underground cave system, new discoveries hint.

Researchers have found remnants of small fireplaces and sooty wall and ceiling smudges in passages and chambers throughout South Africa's Rising Star cave complex, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger announced in a December 1 lecture hosted by the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington, D.C.

"Signs of fire use are everywhere in this cave system," said Berger, of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

H. naledi presumably lit the blazes in the caves since remains of no other hominids have turned up there, the team says. But the researchers have yet to date the age of the fire remains. And researchers outside Berger's group have yet to evaluate the new finds.

H. naledi fossils date to between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago (SN: 5/9/17), around the time Homo sapiens originated (SN: 6/7/17). Many researchers suspect that regular use of fire by hominids for light, warmth and cooking began roughly 400,000 years ago (SN: 4/2/12).

Gold Bar

Gold from ancient Troy, Poliochni and Ur all had same origin

New laser method enables study of famous jewelry - trade links in Early Bronze Age stretched as far as Indus valley.
Deposits of Gold
© Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
Known sites where deposits of gold were found in the Bronze Age and circulation of a striking earring with four small spirals.
The gold in objects from Troy, Poliochni - a settlement on the island of Lemnos which lies roughly 60 kilometers away from Troy - and Ur in Mesopotamia have the same geographic origin and were traded over great distances. This discovery has been made by an international team of researchers which using an innovative mobile laser method has for the first time been able to analyze samples of the famous Early Bronze Age jewelry from Troy and Poliochni. The results have been published in Journal of Archaeological Science.

The study was initiated by Ernst Pernicka, scientific director of the Curt-Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry (CEZA) at the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums in Mannheim and director of the University of Tübingen's Troy project, and Barbara Horejs, director of the Austrian Archaeological Institute (ÖAI) at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Their international team brought together scientists and archaeologists from the Curt-Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry, the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Vienna and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

Ever since Heinrich Schliemann discovered Priam's Treasure in Troy in 1873, the origin of the gold has been a mystery. Professor Pernicka and the international team has now been able to prove that it derived from what are known as secondary deposits such as rivers and its chemical composition is not only identical with that of gold objects from the settlement of Poliochni on Lemnos and from the royal tombs in Ur in Mesopotamia, but also with that of objects from Georgia. "This means there must have been trade links between these far-flung regions," says Pernicka.

Colosseum

Bronze Age shipwreck reveals complex trade network and other surprises

bronze age trade network

Fig. 1. Regional geography and main sites.
1, Hagia Triada; 2, Hattusa; 3, Hisarcık; 4, Mersin; 5, Tarsus; 6, Alalakh; 7, Ugarit; 8, Haifa; 9, Mari; 10, Assur; 11, Deh Hosein; 12, Susa; 13, Ur; 14, Arisman; 15, Tal-e Malyan; 16, Tepe Hissar; 17, Tepe Yahya; 18, Mundigak; 19, Karnab/Sichkonchi; 20, Sapalli; 21, Shortugai. Purple dashed arrows depict documented trade networks ca. 2200 to 1700 BCE. Blue shaded region reflects the corridor connecting the Anatolian and Central Asian/Middle Eastern tin trade (in blue), ca. 1600 to 1000 BCE. Other shaded areas represent key LBA polities. Inset map illustrates the location of ancient tin sources in Europe.
More than 3,000 years before the Titanic sunk in the North Atlantic Ocean, another famous ship wrecked in the Mediterranean Sea off the eastern shores of Uluburun — in present-day Turkey — carrying tons of rare metal. Since its discovery in 1982, scientists have been studying the contents of the Uluburun shipwreck to gain a better understanding of the people and political organizations that dominated the time period known as the Late

Now, a team of scientists, including Michael Frachetti, professor of archaeology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, have uncovered a surprising finding: small communities of highland pastoralists living in present-day Uzbekistan in Central Asia produced and supplied roughly one-third of the tin found aboard the ship — tin that was en route to markets around the Mediterranean to be made into coveted bronze metal.

The research, published on November 30 in Science Advances, was made possible by advances in geochemical analyses that enabled researchers to determine with high-level certainty that some of the tin originated from a prehistoric mine in Uzbekistan, more than 2,000 miles from Haifa, where the ill-fated ship loaded its cargo.

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Better Earth

Ancient skull uncovered in China could be million-year-old Homo erectus

homo erectus
© Pascal Goetgheluck/SPL
A third ancient human skull has been uncovered at a site in China. A 3D reconstruction of the second skull, discovered three decades ago and called Yunxian 2, is pictured.
Fieldwork is under way to excavate a rare, well-preserved specimen in central China.

Researchers are heralding the discovery of an ancient human skull in central China as an important find. As excavation of the remarkably intact fossil continues, archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists anticipate that the skull could give a fuller picture of the diverse family tree of archaic humans living throughout Eurasia in prehistoric times.

The skull was discovered on 18 May at an excavation site 20 kilometres west of Yunyang — formerly known as Yunxian — in central China's Hubei province. It lies 35 metres from where two skulls — dubbed the Yunxian Man skulls — were unearthed in 1989 and 19901, and probably belongs to the same species of ancient people, say researchers.

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Hearts

17,000 years ago one of Europe's most ancient domestic dogs lived in the Basque Country

ancient dog
© Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2022.103706
A humerus analyzed by the UPV/EHU's Human Evolutionary Biology group belonged to a specimen that lived in the Paleolithic period, 17,000 years ago
The dog is the first species domesticated by humans, although the geographical and temporal origin of wolf domestication remains a matter of debate.


Comment: Some research suggests that dogs may have been domesticated more than once and in different locations.


In an excavation led by Jesus Altuna in the Erralla cave (Zestoa, Gipuzkoa) in 1985 an almost complete humerus was recovered from a canid, a family of carnivores that includes wolves, dogs, foxes and coyotes, among others. At that time it was difficult to identify which species of canid it belonged to.

Now the Human Evolutionary Biology team at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), led by Professor Conchi de la Rúa, has carried out an in-depth study of the bone remains. A morphological, radiometric and genetic analysis has enabled the species to be identified genetically as Canis lupus familiaris (domestic dog).

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Pharoah

Mummies with golden tongues discovered in ancient Egyptian necropolis

gold tongue egypt
© Egyptian Antiquities Ministry
Ancient Egyptian mummy with a golden tongue.
Archaeologists have discovered several ancient mummies in Egypt sporting gold chips where their tongues should be.

The auspicious discovery was made at the Quweisna (sometimes spelled Quesna) necropolis in the central Nile Delta. Discovered in 1989, the site is thought to have been occupied during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, which stretched from about 300 BCE to 640 CE.

The golden-tongued mummies were unearthed in a newly discovered extension of the archaeological compound, where numerous other bodies were interred across three different time periods in ancient Egypt.

Some of the unearthed skeletons have their bones glazed in gold, while others have simply been buried near gold-shaped scarabs and lotus flowers.

Comment: See also: 4,300-foot-long tunnel under Egyptian temple discovered in the ancient city of Alexandria


Info

Research sheds new light on foodways in the first cities

Beveled Rim Bowls
© The University of Glasgow
Beveled Rim Bowls.
The world's first urban state societies developed in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, some 5500 years ago.

No other artefact type is more symbolic of this development than the so-called Beveled Rim Bowl (BRB), the first mass produced ceramic bowl.

BRB function and what food(s) these bowls contained has been the subject of debate for over a century.

A paper published today (18 November 2022) in The Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports shows that BRBs contained a variety of foods, but especially meat-based meals, most likely bone marrow flavoured stews or broths.

Chemical compounds and stable isotope signatures of animal fats were discovered in BRBs from the Late Chalcolithic site of Shakhi Kora located in the Upper Diyala/Sirwan River Valley of north-eastern Iraq.*

An international team led by Professor Claudia Glatz of the University of Glasgow has been carrying out excavations at Shakhi Kora since 2019 as part of the Sirwan Regional Project.*

BRBs are mass-produced, thick-walled, conical vessels that appear to spread from southern, lowland sites such as Uruk-Warka across northern Mesopotamia, into the Zagros foothills, and beyond. BRBs are found in their thousands at Late Chalcolithic sites, often associated with monumental structures.

Pharoah

4,300-foot-long tunnel under Egyptian temple discovered in the ancient city of Alexandria

Alexandria
© Koantao via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0
The Taposiris Magna Temple west of the ancient city of Alexandria
Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered an underground tunnel at Taposiris Magna, a temple dedicated to Osiris, the god of death.

Kathleen Martinez, an archaeologist with the University of Santo Domingo, located the 6.5-foot-tall, 4,300-foot-long tunnel roughly 43 feet underground at the temple, which is situated west of the ancient city of Alexandria. She also found two Ptolemaic-era alabaster statues and several ceramic vessels and pots, reports Artnet's Sarah Cascone.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities shared the find in a statement last week and described the tunnel as a "geometric miracle."

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