Posts Tagged ‘archaeology’


A mammoth is depicted on the walls of the Rouffignac caves in France.

By CHRISTIAN COTRONEO

Research published recently in the journal Time and Mind, suggests even our ancient ancestors missed a species they hunted when it disappeared or migrated elsewhere.

That’s because their relationship with animals was much more nuanced than a simple sustenance-based dynamic. Animals were not only hunted, but revered.

“The disappearance of a species that supported human existence for millennia triggered not only technological and social changes but also had profound emotional and psychological effects,” the authors note in the study.

To reach that conclusion, Tel Aviv University researchers looked at hunter-gatherer societies at various points in human history — from as far back as 400,000 years ago to the present — and noted the complex “multidimensional connection” between humans and animals. In all, 10 case studies suggested that bond was existential, physical, spiritual, and emotional

“There has been much discussion of the impact of people on the disappearance of animal species, mostly through hunting,” the study’s lead author Eyal Halfon explains in a press release. “But we flipped the issue to discover how the disappearance of animals — either through extinction or migration — has affected people.”

An animal’s sudden absence, researchers noted, resonates deeply — both emotionally and psychologically — among people who relied on those animals for food. The researchers suspect understanding that impact could help brace us for the dramatic environmental changes happening today.

“We found that humans reacted to the loss of the animal they hunted — a significant partner in deep, varied and fundamental ways,” Halfon notes in the release.

“Many hunter-gatherer populations were based on one type of animal that provided many necessities such as food, clothing, tools and fuel,” he adds. “For example, until 400,000 years ago prehistoric humans in Israel hunted elephants. Up to 40,000 years ago, residents of Northern Siberia hunted the woolly mammoth. When these animals disappeared from those areas, this had major ramifications for humans, who needed to respond and adapt to a new situation. Some had to completely change their way of life to survive.”

A Siberian community, for example, adapted to the disappearance of wooly mammoths by migrating east — and becoming the first known settlers in Alaska and northern Canada. In central Israel, researchers noted, the change from elephants to deer as a hunting source brought physical changes to the humans who lived there. They had to develop agility and social connections, rather than the brute strength required to take down elephants.

But an animal’s disappearance from an environment also created powerful emotional ripples.

“Humans felt deeply connected to the animals they hunted, considering them partners in nature, and appreciating them for the livelihood and sustenance they provided,” Halfon explains. “We believe they never forgot these animals — even long after they disappeared from the landscape.”

Indeed, researchers cite engravings of mammoths and seals from the Late Paleolithic period in Europe as compelling examples of that emotional connection. Both species were likely long gone from that region by the time the engravings were made.

“These depictions reflect a simple human emotion we all know very well: longing,” Halfon notes. “Early humans remembered the animals that disappeared and perpetuated them, just like a poet who writes a song about his beloved who left him.”

Those feelings may even involve a sense of guilt — and maybe even a lesson for a society that lost an animal species.

“Indigenous hunter-gatherer societies have been very careful to maintain clear rules about hunting. As a result, when an animal disappears, they ask: ‘Did we behave properly? Is it angry and punishing us? What can we do to convince it to come back?'” explains study co-author Ran Barkai. “Such a reaction has been exhibited by modern-day hunter-gatherer societies as well.”

https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/loss-animal-species-human-toll-prehistoric-study?utm_source=Weekly+Newsletter&utm_campaign=7bdab7543a-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_WED0506_2020&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fcbff2e256-7bdab7543a-40844241


The remains of a Viking ship that was 52 to 56 feet (16 to 17 meters) long were found near a medieval church at Edøy, on the island of Smøla in Norway.

by Owen Jarus

The remains of a Viking ship have been discovered on a farm near a medieval church at Edøy, on the island of Smøla, in Norway.

The ship, which is 52 to 56 feet (16 to 17 meters) long, appears to be part of a burial mound, suggesting that it was used to bury someone important, said its discoverers, archaeologists Manuel Gabler and Dag-Øyvind Engtrø Solem, both with the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU).

They don’t know if there is a skeleton or multiple skeletons inside the boat.

The archaeologists used high-resolution georadar mounted on a cart to make the discovery. In fact, it was almost by chance they spotted the ship’s outline.

“We had actually finished the agreed-upon area, but we had time to spare and decided to do a quick survey over another field. It turned out to be a good decision,” Manuel Gabler, an archaeologist with NIKU, said in a statement.


The ship was found near this medieval church by archaeologists using georadar mounted on a cart. (Image credit: NIKU)

The ship dates back more than 1,000 years to the time of the Vikings or even a bit earlier, Knut Paasche, head of the Department of Digital Archaeology at NIKU and an expert on Viking ships, said in a statement.

Radar images had enough resolution to make out what was left of the fore and aft, which had been nearly destroyed in the past by farming plows. The hull seems to be in good shape, according to a news report by Ars Technica. The radar also revealed the remains of two houses, likely part of a Viking settlement, but the archaeologists aren’t sure of the structures’ age. Archaeologists and local authorities hope to do a larger survey of the area around the ship burial. It’s not certain when the ship itself will be excavated, although it won’t be done in the near future, said a spokesperson for NIKU.

The survey at Edøy was done as a collaboration between Møre and Romsdal County, Smøla municipality and NIKU. The Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology helped develop the georadar technology used in the survey.

https://www.livescience.com/viking-ship-georadar-norway.html?utm_source=notification

By Laura Geggel

Previously hidden text on fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls is now readable, revealing a possible undiscovered scroll and solving a debate about the sacred Temple Scroll. The discoveries came from a new infrared analysis of the artifacts, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced yesterday (May 1).

The newfound writing came from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which are in the Hebrew Bible (also known as the Old Testament of the Christian Bible), and the Book of Jubilees, a text written at the same time as the Hebrew Bible that was never incorporated into the biblical books, the archaeologists said.

Researchers presented the newly revealed words at an international conference, called “The Dead Sea Scrolls at Seventy: Clear a Path in the Wilderness,” in Israel.

Local Bedouins and archaeologists discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s in caves near Qumran in the West Bank, located near the northern edge of the Dead Sea. Excavations in the following decades turned up tens of thousands of parchment and papyrus fragments that were dated to 2,000 years ago, the IAA said.

There were so many small and fragile fragments that archaeologists placed them in boxes to be studied at a later date. Now, that time has come: IAA researchers are digitizing the scrolls so that they can be studied and shared with the public without damaging the originals.

During one of these digital scans, Oren Ableman, a scroll researcher at the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Unit and a doctoral student in the Department of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, noticed something peculiar on a few dozen fragments that had been discovered in Cave 11 near Qumran.

These fragments looked blank to the naked eye. But, by using infrared imaging, Ableman discovered that they held Hebrew letters and words, he said in a statement. Ableman then deciphered the script and even connected the fragments to the manuscripts that they had likely been attached to before crumbling away.

Some of the more interesting fragments include the following:

1) A fragment from the Temple Scroll, a text that gives instructions for how to conduct services in the ideal temple. Scholars have debated whether there are two or three copies of the Temple Scroll from Cave 11. The discovery of the text on this fragment suggests that there are, indeed, three copies.

2) A fragment from the Great Psalms Scroll. This fragment contains part of the beginning of Psalm 147:1, and the end of the verse is preserved in a larger fragment from the same cave. The newfound fragment shows that the ancient Psalm is slightly shorter than the Hebrew text used nowadays.

3) Another fragment has letters written in paleo-Hebrew, an ancient Hebrew script. This fragment could not be attributed to any known manuscripts and could belong to an unknown manuscript.

https://www.livescience.com/62467-hidden-text-dead-sea-scrolls.html?utm_source=notification


Olorgesailie Basin: the dig site spans an area of 65 square kilometres

This is according to a series of papers published today in Science.

The results come from an archaeological site in Kenya’s rift valley. “Over one million years of time” is represented at the site, according to Rick Potts from the Smithsonian Institution, who was involved in the studies.

There are also signs of developments in toolmaking technologies.

Environmental change may have been a key influence in this evolution of early Homo sapiens in the region of the Olorgesailie dig site.


The world turned upside down

Early humans were in the area for about 700,000 years, making large hand axes from nearby stone, explained Dr Potts.

“[Technologically], things changed very slowly, if at all, over hundreds of thousands of years,” he said.

Then, roughly 500,000 years ago, something did change.

A period of tectonic upheaval and erratic climate conditions swept across the region, and there is a 180,000 year interruption in the geological record due to erosion.

It was not only the landscape that altered, but also the plant and animal life in the region – transforming the resources available to our early ancestors.

When the record resumes, the way of life of these early humans has completely changed.

“The speed of the transition is really remarkable,” Dr Potts said. “Sometime in that [gap] there was a switch, a very rapid period of evolution.”

The obsidian road

New tools appeared at this time – small, sharp blades and points made from obsidian, a dark volcanic glass.

This technology marks the transition to what is known as the Middle Stone Age, explained Dr Eleanor Scerri from the University of Oxford.

Rather than shaping a block of rock, into a hand axe, humans became interested in the sharp flakes that could be chipped off. These were mounted on spears and used as projectile weapons.

Where 98% of the rock previously used by people in the Olorgesailie area had come from within a 5km radius, there were no sources of obsidian nearby.

People were travelling from 25km to 95km across rugged terrain to obtain the material, and “interacting with other groups of early humans over that time period”, according to Dr Potts.

This makes the site the earliest known example of such long distance transport, and possibly of trade.


(l to r) Hand axes, obsidian sharps and colour pigments discovered at the site

There is additional evidence that the inhabitants, who would likely have lived in small groups of 20-25 people, also used pigments like ochre. It is unclear whether these were merely practical or had a ritual social application.

Dr Marta Mirazon Lahr from the University of Cambridge said that being able to “securely date” the continuous occupation of the site using argon techniques on volcanic deposits “makes Olorgesailie a key reference site for understanding human evolution in Africa during [this period]”.

Human origins

Dr Scerri, who was not involved in the studies, emphasised that they are valuable in implying that “Middle Stone Age technology emerged at the same time in both eastern and northwestern Africa.”

Prof Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum agrees.

“This makes me think that the Middle Stone Age probably already existed in various parts of Africa by 315,000 years ago, rather than originating in one place at that time and then spreading,” he said.

While the behaviours exhibited at the Kenya site are characteristic of Homo sapiens, there are as yet no fossils associated with this time period and location.

The oldest known Homo sapiens fossils were discovered in Morocco, and are dated to between 300,000 and 350,000 years old.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43401157


The teeth and jaw from the younger dog in the grave: This pup likely had canine distemper.

By Laura Geggel

Ancient people likely cared for a sick, domesticated pup for weeks on end before it died about 14,000 years ago during the Paleolithic era, a new study finds.

After it died, the dog was buried with the remains of another dog and an adult man and woman — making it not only the oldest burial of a domestic dog on record, but also the oldest known grave to contain both dogs and people, the researchers said.

This discovery suggests that even though the dog was young, sick and likely untrained as a result, ancient people still had an emotional bond with it, the researchers wrote in the study. This may explain why the people buried the animal with two of their own, the researchers said.

The grave itself was found in 1914 in Oberkassel, a suburb of Bonn in western Germany. Until now, however, researchers thought the burial contained two humans and just one dog. But a new analysis of the canid bones and teeth revealed that two dogs were in fact buried there: an older dog and a younger dog, which likely had a serious case of morbillivirus, better known as canine distemper.

The younger dog was about 28 weeks old when it died, the study’s lead researcher, Luc Janssens, a veterinarian and doctoral student of archaeology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said in a statement. A dental analysis showed that the pup likely contracted the disease at around 3 to 4 months of age, and likely had two or even three periods of serious illness, each lasting up to six weeks, Janssens said.

Canine distemper is a serious illness that has three phases. During the first week, infected dogs can show signs of high fever, lack of appetite, dehydration, tiredness, diarrhea and vomiting, the researchers wrote in the study. Up to 90 percent of dogs with distemper die during the second phase, when they can develop a stuffy nose, laryngitis and pneumonia. In the third phase, dogs experience neurological problems, including seizures.

There is now a vaccine for canine distemper, but unvaccinated dogs, as well as tigers and Amur leopards, can still die from the virus.

Given the severity of the disease, the ancient pup would have likely died right away unless it received intensive human care, the researchers said. “This would have consisted of keeping the dog warm and clean [from] diarrhea, urine, vomit [and] saliva,” as well as giving the pup water and possibly food, the researchers wrote in the study.

“While it was sick, the dog would not have been of any practical use as a working animal,” Janssens said. “This, together with the fact that the dogs were buried with people, who[m] we may assume were their owners, suggests that there was a unique relationship of care between humans and dogs as long as 14,000 years ago.”

The humans buried with the dogs had medical problems of their own. The roughly 40-year-old man had two healed bones, one on his arm and the other by his clavicle. He and the roughly 25-year-old woman also had moderate-to-severe dental disease, the researchers noted.

The grave also contained several artifacts, including a bone pin, a sculpture of an elk made from elk antlers, the penis bone of a bear and a red-deer tooth.

Although this finding is the oldest known domestic dog burial, it’s not the only ancient one. Other dog burials have been dated to about 11,600 years ago in the Near East, and archaeologists have found others dating to about 8,500 to 6,500 years ago in Scandinavia and about 8,000 years ago at the Koster Site in Illinois, the researchers said.

The study was published online Feb. 3 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

https://www.livescience.com/61717-oldest-dog-burial.html

A lost Viking army which was a “key part” of the creation of England may have been identified by archaeologists.

More than 250 skeletons found at St Wystan’s church, Repton, Derbyshire, have been dated to the 9th Century.

Chronicles state a “large heathen army” began to hack its way across England in AD866, toppling Anglo-Saxon kings until being halted by Alfred the Great.

Cat Jarman from the University of Bristol said: “This army had left almost no trace, but maybe here it is.”

In AD866 the Vikings went from ferocious raiders to an invading force – the Viking Great Army had arrived.

Ms Jarman, from the department of Anthropology and Archaeology, said: “This was a key part in the story of how England was made.

“The defeat of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, the creation of a Viking state and Alfred’s reaction to it were all major parts of this. Its echoes are still felt today.

“But because of the lack of physical evidence it has not been given the attention it deserves.”

The Viking army was believed to have wintered at Repton in AD873 but the evidence did not add up.

A mysterious mound in St Wystan’s church yard excavated in the 1970s and 80s contained the remains of at least 264 people.

But nearly 20% were women and there were few signs of battle injuries.

Carbon dating showed bones dating from the 200 years previous to the Viking invasion.

Ms Jarman said: “We found the carbon dating had been thrown out by those individuals having a diet high in seafood.

“Once adjusted, the dates matched the records.

“And a new analysis of the bones… showed traumatic injury, while the role of women in Viking armies is better understood.”

Other graves with probable Viking links were investigated, and one may contain sacrificial victims.

Four children, aged eight to 18, were buried near the mass grave and at least two have signs of traumatic injury.

Ms Jarman said it “parallels accounts of sacrificial killings to accompany Viking dead”.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-42918121

Laser technology known as LiDAR digitally removes the forest canopy to reveal ancient ruins below, showing that Maya cities such as Tikal were much larger than ground-based research had suggested.

By Tom Clynes

In what’s being hailed as a “major breakthrough” in Maya archaeology, researchers have identified the ruins of more than 60,000 houses, palaces, elevated highways, and other human-made features that have been hidden for centuries under the jungles of northern Guatemala.


Laser scans revealed more than 60,000 previously unknown Maya structures that were part of a vast network of cities, fortifications, farms, and highways.

Using a revolutionary technology known as LiDAR (short for “Light Detection And Ranging”), scholars digitally removed the tree canopy from aerial images of the now-unpopulated landscape, revealing the ruins of a sprawling pre-Columbian civilization that was far more complex and interconnected than most Maya specialists had supposed.

“The LiDAR images make it clear that this entire region was a settlement system whose scale and population density had been grossly underestimated,” said Thomas Garrison, an Ithaca College archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who specializes in using digital technology for archaeological research.

Garrison is part of a consortium of researchers who are participating in the project, which was spearheaded by the PACUNAM Foundation, a Guatemalan nonprofit that fosters scientific research, sustainable development, and cultural heritage preservation.

The project mapped more than 800 square miles (2,100 square kilometers) of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Petén region of Guatemala, producing the largest LiDAR data set ever obtained for archaeological research.

The results suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilization that was, at its peak some 1,200 years ago, more comparable to sophisticated cultures such as ancient Greece or China than to the scattered and sparsely populated city states that ground-based research had long suggested.

In addition to hundreds of previously unknown structures, the LiDAR images show raised highways connecting urban centers and quarries. Complex irrigation and terracing systems supported intensive agriculture capable of feeding masses of workers who dramatically reshaped the landscape.

The ancient Maya never used the wheel or beasts of burden, yet “this was a civilization that was literally moving mountains,” said Marcello Canuto, a Tulane University archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer who participated in the project.

“We’ve had this western conceit that complex civilizations can’t flourish in the tropics, that the tropics are where civilizations go to die,” said Canuto, who conducts archaeological research at a Guatemalan site known as La Corona. “But with the new LiDAR-based evidence from Central America and [Cambodia’s] Angkor Wat, we now have to consider that complex societies may have formed in the tropics and made their way outward from there.”

“LiDAR is revolutionizing archaeology the way the Hubble Space Telescope revolutionized astronomy,” said Francisco Estrada-Belli, a Tulane University archaeologist and National Geographic Explorer. “We’ll need 100 years to go through all [the data] and really understand what we’re seeing.”

The unaided eye sees only jungle and an overgrown mound, but LiDAR and augmented reality software reveal an ancient Maya pyramid.

Already, though, the survey has yielded surprising insights into settlement patterns, inter-urban connectivity, and militarization in the Maya Lowlands. At its peak in the Maya classic period (approximately A.D. 250–900), the civilization covered an area about twice the size of medieval England, but it was far more densely populated.

“Most people had been comfortable with population estimates of around 5 million,” said Estrada-Belli, who directs a multi-disciplinary archaeological project at Holmul, Guatemala. “With this new data it’s no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there—including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable.”


Hidden deep in the jungle, the newly-discovered pyramid rises some seven stories high but is nearly invisible to the naked eye.

Virtually all the Mayan cities were connected by causeways wide enough to suggest that they were heavily trafficked and used for trade and other forms of regional interaction. These highways were elevated to allow easy passage even during rainy seasons. In a part of the world where there is usually too much or too little precipitation, the flow of water was meticulously planned and controlled via canals, dikes, and reservoirs.

Among the most surprising findings was the ubiquity of defensive walls, ramparts, terraces, and fortresses. “Warfare wasn’t only happening toward the end of the civilization,” said Garrison. “It was large-scale and systematic, and it endured over many years.”

The survey also revealed thousands of pits dug by modern-day looters. “Many of these new sites are only new to us; they are not new to looters,” said Marianne Hernandez, president of the PACUNAM Foundation. (Read “Losing Maya Heritage to Looters.”)

Environmental degradation is another concern. Guatemala is losing more than 10 percent of its forests annually, and habitat loss has accelerated along its border with Mexico as trespassers burn and clear land for agriculture and human settlement.

“By identifying these sites and helping to understand who these ancient people were, we hope to raise awareness of the value of protecting these places,” Hernandez said.

The survey is the first phase of the PACUNAM LiDAR Initiative, a three-year project that will eventually map more than 5,000 square miles (14,000 square kilometers) of Guatemala’s lowlands, part of a pre-Columbian settlement system that extended north to the Gulf of Mexico.

“The ambition and the impact of this project is just incredible,” said Kathryn Reese-Taylor, a University of Calgary archaeologist and Maya specialist who was not associated with the PACUNAM survey. “After decades of combing through the forests, no archaeologists had stumbled across these sites. More importantly, we never had the big picture that this data set gives us. It really pulls back the veil and helps us see the civilization as the ancient Maya saw it.”

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/maya-laser-lidar-guatemala-pacunam/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.


The entrance to the West Valley of the Valley of the Kings is seen here. in the West Valley, archaeologists are excavating what may be the tomb of Tut’s wife. The house of Theodore Davis (1838-1915), a wealthy man who explored the Valley of the Kings, can be seen in this image.

Excavations have begun in an area of the Valley of the Kings where the tomb of Tutankhamun’s wife may be located, archaeologist Zahi Hawass announced January 16.

Archaeologists are digging in a spot called the West Valley, or the Valley of the Monkeys, near the tomb of the pharaoh Ay (reign: 1327 to 1323 B.C.), the successor to King Tut (reign: 1336 to 1327 B.C.). Though a few royal tombs have been found in the West Valley, the bulk of them have turned up in the East Valley of the Valley of the Kings.

During previous excavations, the researchers identified something intriguing in this area near Ay’s tomb — four foundation deposits and radar images of what seemed to be the entranceway of a tomb that may exist about 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface.[See Photos of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings]

Hawass, who is leading the excavations, told Live Science in July 2017 that he believes a tomb is there. “We are sure there is a tomb there, but we do not know for sure to whom it belongs,” he told Live Science in an email at the time. He later cautioned that until excavations were conducted, archaeologists couldn’t be certain of the tomb’s existence. “It is all possibilities until we excavate,” he wrote that month in a follow-up email.

If the tomb exists, it could belong to Ankhesenamun, Hawass said. She was the wife of Tutankhamun but married Ay not long after Tut’s death. Due to the location of the evidence, Hawass and his team think that any undiscovered tomb may belong to her.

After Ankhesenamun’s marriage to Ay, mentions of her don’t appear again in surviving historical records. It’s not known when Ankhesenamun died, how she died or where she was buried. Egyptian pharaohs sometimes had multiple wives and Ay’s tomb only mentions another wife who was a woman named Tey.

Excavations, which are being funded by the Discovery Channel, have just started, according to a statement on Hawass’ website. Several photos of the excavation are shown on Hawass’ website, and the statement said that more photos of the ongoing excavations will be posted soon.

https://www.livescience.com/61441-search-for-king-tut-wife.html

By

by Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News, Johannesburg

Scientists have discovered a new human-like species in a burial chamber deep in a cave system in South Africa. The discovery of 15 partial skeletons is the largest single discovery of its type in Africa.

The researchers claim that the discovery will change ideas about our human ancestors.

The studies which have been published in the journal Elife also indicate that these individuals were capable of ritualistic behaviour.

The species, which has been named naledi, has been classified in the grouping, or genus, Homo, to which modern humans belong.

The researchers who made the find have not been able to find out how long ago these creatures lived – but the scientist who led the team, Prof Lee Berger, told BBC News that he believed they could be among the first of our kind (genus Homo) and could have lived in Africa up to three million years ago.

Like all those working in the field, he is at pains to avoid the term “missing link”. Prof Berger says naledi could be thought of as a “bridge” between more primitive bipedal primates and humans.

“We’d gone in with the idea of recovering one fossil. That turned into multiple fossils. That turned into the discovery of multiple skeletons and multiple individuals.

“And so by the end of that remarkable 21-day experience, we had discovered the largest assemblage of fossil human relatives ever discovered in the history of the continent of Africa. That was an extraordinary experience.”

Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum said naledi was “a very important discovery”.

“What we are seeing is more and more species of creatures that suggests that nature was experimenting with how to evolve humans, thus giving rise to several different types of human-like creatures originating in parallel in different parts of Africa. Only one line eventually survived to give rise to us,” he told BBC News.

I went to see the bones which are kept in a secure room at Witwatersrand University. The door to the room looks like one that would seal a bank vault. As Prof Berger turned the large lever on the door, he told me that our knowledge of very early humans is based on partial skeletons and the occasional skull.

he haul of 15 partial skeletons includes both males and females of varying ages – from infants to elderly. The discovery is unprecedented in Africa and will shed more light on how the first humans evolved.

“We are going to know everything about this species,” Prof Berger told me as we walked over to the remains of H. naledi.

“We are going to know when its children were weaned, when they were born, how they developed, the speed at which they developed, the difference between males and females at every developmental stage from infancy, to childhood to teens to how they aged and how they died.”

I was astonished to see how well preserved the bones were. The skull, teeth and feet looked as if they belonged to a human child – even though the skeleton was that of an elderly female.
Its hand looked human-like too, up to its fingers which curl around a bit like those of an ape.

Homo naledi is unlike any primitive human found in Africa. It has a tiny brain – about the size of a gorilla’s and a primitive pelvis and shoulders. But it is put into the same genus as humans because of the more progressive shape of its skull, relatively small teeth, characteristic long legs and modern-looking feet.

“I saw something I thought I would never see in my career,” Prof Berger told me.

“It was a moment that 25 years as a paleoanthropologist had not prepared me for.”

One of the most intriguing questions raised by the find is how the remains got there.

I visited the site of the find, the Rising Star cave, an hour’s drive from the university in an area known as the Cradle of Humankind. The cave leads to a narrow underground tunnel through which some of Prof Berger’s team crawled in an expedition funded by the National Geographic Society.

Small women were chosen because the tunnel was so narrow. They crawled through darkness lit only by their head torches on a precarious 20 minute-long journey to find a chamber containing hundreds of bones.

Among them was Marina Elliott. She showed me the narrow entrance to the cave and then described how she felt when she first saw the chamber.

“The first time I went to the excavation site I likened it to the feeling that Howard Carter must have had when he opened Tutankhamen’s tomb – that you are in a very confined space and then it opens up and all of a sudden all you can see are all these wonderful things – it was incredible,” she said.

Ms Elliott and her colleagues believe that they have found a burial chamber. The Homo naledi people appear to have carried individuals deep into the cave system and deposited them in the chamber – possibly over generations.

If that is correct, it suggests naledi was capable of ritual behaviour and possibly symbolic thought – something that until now had only been associated with much later humans within the last 200,000 years.

Prof Berger said: “We are going to have to contemplate some very deep things about what it is to be human. Have we been wrong all along about this kind of behaviour that we thought was unique to modern humans?

“Did we inherit that behaviour from deep time and is it something that (the earliest humans) have always been able to do?”

Prof Berger believes that the discovery of a creature that has such a mix of modern and primitive features should make scientists rethink the definition of what it is to be human – so much so that he himself is reluctant to describe naledi as human.

Other researchers working in the field, such as Prof Stringer, believe that naledi should be described as a primitive human. But he agrees that current theories need to be re-evaluated and that we have only just scratched the surface of the rich and complex story of human evolution.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-34192447


In a mass grave dating to the 1500s on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, this skull of a woman was found with a brick shoved in its mouth. Researchers think gravediggers came upon the skeleton and feared she was a vampire.

by Heather Whipps

The remains of a medieval “vampire” have been discovered among the corpses of 16th century plague victims in Venice, according to an Italian archaeologist who led the dig.

The body of the woman was found in a mass grave on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo. Suspecting that she might be a vampire, a common folk belief at the time, gravediggers shoved a rock into her skull to prevent her from chewing through her shroud and infecting others with the plague, said anthropologist Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence.

In the absence of medical science, vampires were just one of many possible contemporary explanations for the spread of the Venetian plague in 1576, which ran rampant through the city and ultimately killed up to 50,000 people, some officials estimate.

Italy’s famous canal city wasn’t really overrun with medieval Draculas, however.

With hundreds of Venetians dying every day, gravediggers likely just misinterpreted the corpses they saw at varying levels of decomposition while reopening fresh mass graves, said Borrini.

The “stages which reduce the corpse to a skeleton were poorly known because they happen in the grave,” Borrini told LiveScience. “Graves were usually reopened after years, when the body had completely turned into a skeleton.”

Death exposed

Vampire superstition was already part of European culture by the time the bubonic plague reappeared on the continent in sporadic outbreaks throughout the late 1500s. The classic folkloric image of the undead, bloodsucking vampire likely originated in Eastern Europe and spread westwards, historians say, blending and morphing with local beliefs as it went.

Ignorance about the natural stages of decomposition probably fed the original vampire myths, Borrini said, noting that historical documentation of vampires harped on the oddly life-like appearance of recently buried bodies.

“There are some recurring aspects in vampire exhumation reports (usually written in the 17th and 18th century by church-goers and well-educated men, and sometimes even by scientists): uncorrupted corpse, pliable limbs, smooth and tensed skin, renewed beard and nails,” Borrini said. At the time “death was linked to a cold and stiff corpse, or to a blanched skeleton (dry bones),” he said, so evidence of anything to the contrary was considered worrisome when the rare body was exhumed for examination.

In the middle of the plague in Venice, however, victims were being dumped into mass graves such as the one on Lazzaretto Nuovo very regularly, exposing bodies at every gruesome stage of decay.

Frightened gravediggers

A phenomenon that occurs early on in the process of decomposition – abdominal bloating – is what likely concerned the Venetian gravediggers, Borrini said. When humans die, the body releases a myriad of bacterial gases that cause a corpse to bloat with fluid, usually just a few days after death in the absence of any kind of preservation or protection from coffins.

“During this phase, the decay of the gastrointestinal tract contents and lining create a dark fluid called ‘purge fluid’; it can flow freely from the nose and mouth…and it could easily be confused with the blood sucked by the vampire,” said Borrini.

If the “vampire” woman was emitting blood from her mouth, the fluid likely moistened her burial shroud causing it to sink into her jaw cavity and be dissolved by the fluids, Borrini said, making it appear as though she was trying to bite through her shroud. When discovered in that state, a stone was jammed into her mouth as a kind of exorcism to prevent her from potentially spreading the disease further, the researchers think.

Medieval skeletons have been found in a similar state in other parts of Europe, Borrini said.

Bad times = superstition

It is difficult to decipher whether the brick-in-mouth tactic discovered in Venice was truly based on a deep fear of vampires or was merely extra precaution in troubled times, Borrini acknowledged.

“From a forensic point of view, we can accept the reports about the ‘vampire corpses’ as real descriptions, but we can also realize why those legends spread especially during plagues,” Borrini said. The mere fact that tombs and mass graves were reopened so frequently during pandemics to bury new victims of a disease, exposing partially decomposed bodies, only increased “dread and superstition among people who were already suffering pestilence and massive death,” he said.

Borrini presented his findings to a recent meeting of the American Association of Forensic Sciences, along with forensic orthodontist Emilio Nuzzolese.

http://www.livescience.com/3374-medieval-vampire-skull.html