Tuesday, September 26, 2017

New scientific dating research unravels the story of life in prehistoric Orkney Read

A new study, published today in Antiquity journal, is challenging the previously understood narrative for prehistoric life on Orkney. It was led by Professor Alex Bayliss of Historic England and is based on the interrogation of more than 600 radiocarbon dates, enabling much more precise estimates of the timing and duration of events in the period c.3200-2500 BC. 

Excavating the Smerquoy Hoose [Credit: © Colin Richards]

The study is part of a much wider project, The Times of Their Lives, funded by the European Research Council (2012-2017), which has applied the same methodology to a wider series of case studies across Neolithic Europe. That project has demonstrated many other examples of more dynamic and punctuated sequences than previously suspected in 'prehistory'.

Neolithic Orkney is well-preserved and is a time of stone houses, stone circles and elaborate burial monuments. World-renowned sites such as the Skara Brae settlement, Maeshowe passage grave, and the Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness circles have long been known and are in the World Heritage Site (given this status in 1999). They have been joined by more recent discoveries of great settlement complexes such as Barnhouse and Ness of Brodgar.

The new study reveals in much more detail than previously possible the fluctuating fortunes of the communities involved in these feats of construction and their social interaction. It used a Bayesian statistical approach to combine calibrated radiocarbon dates with knowledge of the archaeological contexts that the finds have come from to provide much more precise chronologies than those previously available.

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Rare tiles found near Basingstoke shed insight on Roman history

Evidence of one of the Roman Empire’s best-known rulers has been discovered near Basingstoke.
A team of archaeologists from the University of Reading has found three tiles bearing the stamp of Emperor Nero at a site in Little London.
The tiles date back almost 2,000 years, and were found earlier this month at the Roman Tile Kiln site.
Only 14 such tiles have ever been found in the UK, including another found at Little London back in 1925 and four discovered within a ritual put at a temple in nearby Silchester.
The University of Reading team is currently excavating a series of Roman kiln structures at the Little London site, which includes some huge brick and tile production facilities.
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House “older than Stonehenge” found in East Ayrshire field

The field near Kilmarnock where man settled some 6,000 years ago. PIC: Scottish Water.

The remains of a pre-historic dwelling older than Stonehenge or the Callanish Stones have been found in a field in East Ayrshire.

Archaeologists believe the site near Kilmarnock is 6,000-years-old and was settled as man moved away from nomadic existence towards farming the land.

The discovery has been described as one of the most important of its kind in recent years.

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Storytelling flints and the original Oxen Ford: Oxford flood scheme archaeology begins

THIS tiny piece of flint is barely an inch long, but it tells an incredible story.

A stone flake reveals that 6,000 years ago, for just a few short minutes, a tribe of Mesolithic hunters stopped in this field in South Hinksey to sharpen their tools.

The miniscule fragment is just the first of thousands of discoveries archaeologists are hoping to make in 200 trenches across South Oxford in the next two months.

The team from Oxford Archaeology are excavating the area that in due course will become the Environment Agency's £120m Oxford flood alleviation channel.

They are looking for evidence of Saxon huts, Norman roads and even the very Oxen Ford, which our city is named after.

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Viking Boat Burial Found In Norway

On one of the last days of the excavation in the market square, archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) became aware of a feature with a somewhat special shape.

The boat dates between the seventh and 10th centuries, around the time the Vikings began exploring and raiding Europe 
[Credit: Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU)]

The feature, which was dug into the natural deposits, had been disturbed in several places by later pits and postholes, but it was quite clearly boat-shaped.

"Careful excavation revealed that no wood remained intact, but lumps of rust and some poorly-preserved nails indicated that it was a boat that was buried here", says archaeologist Ian Reed.

The remains of the boat show that it was at least 4 meters long and oriented more or less north-south.

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Bronze Age Arrows and a Viking Sword – The 2017 Fieldwork Was Awesome!

Finally, the long wait was over and we were so ready for fieldwork!

We had chosen two large sites for the main fieldwork in 2017 – the Lauvhøe and Storfonne ice patches, both situated in the northeastern part of the Jotunheimen Mountains. More details on why these two particular sites were chosen can be found here.

he Storfonne ice patch, photographed in September 2014 during a major melt. Notice the light grey lichen-free zone surrounding the ice. This area was exposed by ice melt in the last 15-20 years. Photo: Lars Pilø, Secrets of the Ice/Oppland County Council.

Both sites had only seen short visits prior to this field-season. This had resulted in a number of artifact recoveries, especially arrows, found close to the melting ice. However, we knew that there were other finds on these sites, and that they were lying on the surface, exposed to the elements. The main job would be to rescue these artefacts. To achieve this, we planned to conduct a systematic and thorough survey of the lichen-free zone (where the ice has melted recently) surrounding the ice on both sites.

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Neanderthal brains 'grew more slowly'

The skeleton of a boy that shattered our view of Neanderthal brain development

A new study shows that Neanderthal brains developed more slowly than ours.

An analysis of a Neanderthal child's skeleton suggests that its brain was still developing at a time when the brains of modern human children are fully formed.

This is further evidence that this now extinct human was not more brutish and primitive than our species.
The research has been published in the journal Science.

Until now it had been thought that we were the only species whose brains developed relatively slowly. Unlike other apes and more primitive humans, Homo sapiens has an extended period of childhood lasting several years.

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Ancient DNA sheds light on African history

Burials at Mount Hora in Malawi yielded DNA used in the study

DNA from ancient remains has been used to reconstruct thousands of years of population history in Africa.

Researchers sequenced the genomes of 16 individuals who lived between 8,000 and 1,000 years ago.
The data shows how the invention and spread of farming had a major impact on the genes of people in Africa - just as it did in Europe and Asia.

The findings are published in the journal Cell.

The results suggest that populations related to the indigenous people of southern Africa had a wider distribution in the past.

This southern African-like genetic background is found in hunter-gatherers from Malawi and Tanzania in the east of the continent. These hunters lived between 8,100 and 1,400 years ago.

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Lakes of mercury and human sacrifices – after 1,800 years, Teotihuacan reveals its treasures

When archaeologists found a tunnel under Mexico’s ‘birthplace of the gods’, they could only dream of the riches they would discover. Now its wonders – from jewel-eyed figures to necklaces of human teeth – are being revealed to the world

A skull statue that will be on display in Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire, at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. Photograph: Photographer:Jesus Valdovinos Al/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Sunday 24 September 2017 18.52 BST Last modified on Monday 25 September 2017 12.43 BST
In 2003, a tunnel was discovered beneath the Feathered Serpent pyramid in the ruins of Teotihuacan, the ancient city in Mexico. Undisturbed for 1,800 years, the sealed-off passage was found to contain thousands of extraordinary treasures lying exactly where they had first been placed as ritual offerings to the gods. Items unearthed included greenstone crocodile teeth, crystals shaped into eyes, and sculptures of jaguars ready to pounce. Even more remarkable was a miniature mountainous landscape, 17 metres underground, with tiny pools of liquid mercury representing lakes. The walls of the tunnel were found to have been carefully impregnated with powdered pyrite, or fool’s gold, to give the effect in firelight of standing under a galaxy of stars.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ancient British stone circles were used for ‘Neolithic parties’, study finds

The Ring of Brodgar originally had 60 stones, but now has 27 
Colin Richards, Historic England

Orkney is home to a host of Neolithic stone houses, stone circles and elaborate burial monuments, but a new study into the area has allowed experts to add a new purpose to the prehistoric communities’ use of some of these sites – partying.

New research led by Professor Alex Bayliss at Historic England has challenged the previously understood narrative for prehistoric life on the islands and painted a clearer picture of how communities farmed, gathered together at festivals and buried their dead.

The islands are home to renowned sites such as the Skara Brae settlement, Maeshowe passage grave, the Ring of Brodgar – which originally had 60 stones and is 104 metres in diameter - and Stones of Stenness circles, which were granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1999.

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Spanish researchers discover 30,000 year-old cave paintings

Cave drawings at Altamira.Museo de Altamira/D. Rodríguez

Researchers have discovered four new sets of cave paintings in Cantabria, northern Spain, the oldest of which was made nearly 30,000 years ago – making it one of the earliest known examples of prehistoric art in the world.

The team from the Museum of Prehistory of Cantabria, led by Spanish prehistorian Roberto Ontañón, used cutting-edge imaging techniques to identify the drawings.

Twenty years ago, a speleologist – a scientist who studies caves – had informed archaeologists of the possible existence of ancient paintings in various rock cavities in Cantabria. However, the techniques available at the time were not sufficient to confirm the existence of the art.

The paintings, like much prehistoric artwork, had degraded so much over time that they were difficult to identify with the naked eye. To overcome this, Ontañón and his team used a 3D laser scanning method, which reproduced the artwork on a computer.

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Secrets of ancient Irish burial practices revealed

Carrowkeel neolithic passage tomb in Co. Sligo.

A new analysis of bones taken from a century-old excavation at Carrowkeel in County Sligo has revealed evidence of the burial practices and death rites of the ancient people of Ireland.
The findings, which have been published in the journal Bioarchaeology International, are part of a project applying modern techniques and research questions to the human remains. 
The team of researchers includes Sam Moore, lecturer in Prehistoric Archaeology at IT Sligo, and the group’s work focussed on the 5300 years-old Passage Tomb Complex at Carrowkeel. This site is one of the most impressive Neolithic ritual landscapes in Europe.
“The bones were analysed from an original excavation of Carrowkeel in 1911, led by Prof R.A.S. McAlister,” explains Sam. “They were subsequently presumed missing or lost until a group of boxes with the name ‘Carrowkeel’ on them was discovered in the archive in the University of Cambridge in 2001. The bones date from between 3500 and 2900 BC."
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Medieval porpoise 'grave' on Channel island puzzles archaeologists

Dr Phil De Jersey, right, and Mike Deane alongside the skeleton of a medieval porpoise.
Photograph: Guernsey Press / SWNS.com
Archaeologists digging at an island religious retreat have unearthed the remains of a porpoise that, mystifyingly, appears to have been carefully buried in its own medieval grave.
The team believe the marine animal found on the island of Chapelle Dom Hue, off the west coast of Guernsey, was buried in the 14th century.
When they first spotted the carefully cut plot they were convinced it was a grave and would hold human remains, but they were taken aback when they dug further and unearthed the skull and other body parts of a porpoise.
Quite why the porpoise was buried so carefully on the island, which is thought to have been used by monks seeking solitude, is a mystery.
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'Exceptionally rare' crucifix found by metal detectorist in England

An "exceptionally rare" ancient crucifix has been unearthed by an amateur metal detectorist. The 2cm (0.78in) tall lead object, which depicts Christ on the cross, was found in the village of Skidbrooke, Lincolnshire, by Tom Redmayne. It is thought to date from between AD 950-1150.

The 2cm artefact depicts Christ on the cross [Credit: Adam Daubney]

Archaeologist Adam Daubney, from Lincolnshire County Council, said it is one of only three known examples in the country.

Mr Redmayne, who found the crucifix on Sunday, said he did not initially realise the significance of his discovery. He said he knew it was a crucifix, and was possibly old due to its crude design.

However, he said it was only when he researched the item online he realised it was something special. Despite the artefact having little monetary value, he said, it offers a unique insight into the lives of ordinary people at the time.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

The enigma of early Norwegian iron production

Ancient Norwegians made top-quality iron. But where did the knowledge to make this iron come from? A professor emeritus from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology may have solved this riddle.

Where did the expertise to smelt iron ore come from?
And how did it actually get to Norway to begin with? 
[Credit: Colourbox]

For centuries, people in Norway’s Trøndelag region, in the middle of the country, made large amounts of first-class iron out of bog ore for use in weapons and tools. Production peaked at about 40 tonnes a year at around 200 AD. With production levels this high, it is likely that they exported iron to the European continent as well.

But where did the expertise to smelt the ore come from? And how did it actually get to Norway to begin with?

Arne Wang Espelund, a professor emeritus at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has been interested in iron making since the 1970s.

He himself has helped to smelt iron with a method described in the 1700s by Ole Evenstad in Stor-Elvdal, just north of Lillehammer.

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Unearthed near Hadrian’s Wall: lost secrets of first Roman soldiers to fight the barbarians

Dig team stumble across thousands of pristine artefacts at ancient Vindolanda garrison site in Northumberland

Dig volunteer Sarah Baker with one of the rare cavalry swords. 
Photograph: Sonya Galloway

Archaeologists are likening the discovery to winning the lottery. A Roman cavalry barracks has been unearthed near Hadrian’s Wall, complete with extraordinary military and personal possessions left behind by soldiers and their families almost 2,000 years ago. A treasure trove of thousands of artefacts dating from the early second century has been excavated over the past fortnight.

The find is significant not just because of its size and pristine state, but also for its contribution to the history of Hadrian’s Wall, showing the military build-up that led to its construction in AD122. The barracks pre-dates the wall: the Romans already had a huge military presence in the area, keeping the local population under control.

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Breaking News: A Viking Sword Found at High Altitude

On Friday, we received the incredible news that a sword had been found at high altitude in our county. The discovery was made during reindeer hunting. The pictures accompanying the news were just stunning. One of them showed a hunter holding an extremely well preserved Viking sword.

The finder holding the sword, just moments after it was discovered. Photo: Einar Åmbakk.

Our minds were racing, but the immediate thought was that we had to inspect the find spot as quickly as possible. The question was whether this was an isolated find, or if there could be more artefacts here. After consulting with the Museum of Cultural History and the National Park authorities, two members of the Secrets of the Ice team visited the find spot yesterday, together with two of the reindeer hunters (including the finder Einar Åmbakk), a local metal detectorist and a local archaeologist. The group set out from a summer farm and reached the finds area after three hours of brisk walking up the mountain in strong wind.

The reindeer hunters had not taken a GPS position for the find, but we were able to access the exact coordinates through the geographical data stored in the photos. This was very important, as experience shows that it could otherwise have been difficult to relocate the exact find spot in a terrain with few landmarks. Using a GPS, the find spot was quickly re-discovered.

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Cache of Roman cavalry weapons found at Vindolanda

Swords, arrow heads and ballista bolts amongst a cache of artefacts discovered during cavalry barrack excavations at Roman Vindolanda.

Aerial view of remains of 4th century stone fort at Vindolanda 
[Credit: Sonya Galloway, Vindolanda Trust]

During the past few weeks archaeologists at the Roman fort of Vindolanda have made one remarkable discovery after another in what has been an exceptional year for the research excavations.

Test pit excavations, below the stone foundations of the last stone fortress revealed a layer of black, sweet smelling and perfectly preserved anaerobic, oxygen free, soils in an area where they were completely unexpected. Hidden in this soil were the timber walls and floors, fences, pottery and animal bones, from the abandonment of a Roman cavalry barrack. The excavated rooms included stables for horses, living accommodation, ovens and fireplaces.

While excavating the material from the corner of one of the living rooms a volunteer excavator made an outstanding discovery.

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À Cesson-Sévigné (Ille-et-Vilaine), en amont de l’aménagement des ZAC Atalante ViaSilva et Les Pierrins, une prescription de l’État (Drac Bretagne) conduit une équipe de l’Institut national de recherches archéologiques préventives à réaliser une fouille sur une surface de près de 7 hectares.

Cette intervention, démarrée le 26 juin 2017, a actuellement permis de mettre au jour une partie d’un vaste domaine rural gallo-romain, de type villa, ainsi qu’une portion du fossé ceinturant une motte castrale du Moyen Âge. Ces occupations anciennes s’inscrivent dans un espace traversé par un faisceau de voies, depuis la ville antique de Rennes et desservant Avranches, Jublains et Angers.

L’emprise de la fouille permet d’étudier la quasi-intégralité du domaine foncier antique et son insertion dans son environnement naturel. Ces découvertes contribueront ainsi à la compréhension de l’organisation des campagnes à l’époque gallo-romaine et leur mutation durant la période médiévale.

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Monday, September 11, 2017

DNA from Viking cod bones suggests 1,000-year history of European fish trade

One of the ancient Viking cod bones from Haithabu used in the study.
Credit: James Barrett

Norway is famed for its cod. Catches from the Arctic stock that spawns each year off its northern coast are exported across Europe for staple dishes from British fish and chips to Spanish bacalao stew.

Now, a new study published today in the journal PNAS suggests that some form of this pan-European trade in Norwegian cod may have been taking place for 1,000 years.

Latest research from the universities of Cambridge and Oslo, and the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Schleswig, used ancient DNA extracted from the remnants of Viking-age fish suppers.

The study analysed five cod bones dating from between 800 and 1066 AD found in the mud of the former wharves of Haithabu, an early medieval trading port on the Baltic. Haithabu is now a heritage site in modern Germany, but at the time was ruled by the King of the Danes.

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Archaeologists uncover medieval village in mid-Jutland

The proof is in the pebbles (photos: moesgaardmuseum.dk)

Archaeologists attached to the Moesgaard Museum have discovered the remnants of a small village that disappeared nearly 400 years ago near modern-day Odder in mid-Jutland.

Records of Hovedstrup stretch back as far as 1300, though it’s speculated the village could be even older.

The remains of a stone paved road and three modest homes were uncovered through the discovery of their post holes in the earth – structural elements typifying the late Middle Ages.

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Medieval London was the most violent place in England

That’s one way to settle an argument
Museum of London

And you thought Game of Thrones was rough. Lower-class young men in medieval London were subjected to extreme levels of violence, far worse than other parts of medieval England.

“It appears that violence in medieval London may have been largely tied to sex and social status,” says archaeologist Kathryn Krakowka at the University of Oxford.

Krakowka analyzed 399 skulls from six London cemeteries dating from AD 1050 to 1550. Some were monastic cemeteries, which would have cost money and were more often used by the upper classes. Others were free parish cemeteries used by the lower classes.

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Remains from Viking Warrior’s Grave Identified as Female

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN—DNA testing has revealed that a warrior’s grave discovered in the Viking-era town of Birka in the late nineteenth century contained the remains of a woman. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson of Uppsala University told The Local that the woman stood about five feet, seven inches tall, and was over the age of 30 at the time of her death. She was buried with weapons, including a sword, an ax, a spear, armor-piercing arrows, a battle knife, shields, and two horses. She also had a board game, thought to have been used to try out battle tactics and strategies, in her lap. “She’s most likely planned, led, and taken part in battles,” Hedenstierna-Jonson said

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A woman warrior from the Viking army in Birka

Illustration by Evald Hansen based on the original plan of the grave by excavator Hjalmar Stolpe, 
published in 1889 [Credit: Uppsala University]

War was not an activity exclusive to males in the Viking world. A new study conducted by researchers at Stockholm and Uppsala Universities shows that women could be found in the higher ranks at the battlefield.

Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who led the study, explains: "What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to be a woman".

The study was conducted on one of the most iconic graves from the Viking Age. It holds the remains of a warrior surrounded by weapons, including a sword, armour-piercing arrows, and two horses. There were also a full set of gaming pieces and a gaming board. "The gaming set indicates that she was an officer", says Charlotte, "someone who worked with tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle". The warrior was buried in the Viking town of Birka during the mid-10th century. Isotope analyses confirm an itinerant life style, well in tune with the martial society that dominated 8th to 10th century northern Europe.

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Archäologen sichern Warendorfer Stadtgeschichte unter dem Marktplatz

Im Zuge von Bauarbeiten auf dem Warendorfer Markplatz legen Archäologen seit Jahresbeginn die mittelalterliche Vergangenheit des Ortes frei. Nun stießen sie auf Befunde, die Warendorfs frühe Stadtgeschichte beleuchten. Während der Marktplatz in Urkunden zum ersten Mal 1277 erwähnt wird, zeigen die Ausgrabungen, wie die Menschen hier schon Jahrhunderte früher gelebt haben.

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