Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Ancient humans may have started hunting 2 million years ago

Notches on a bone left by human butchering activity
Jennifer A. Parkinson, Thomas W. Plummer, James S. Oliver, Laura C. Bishop

Ancient humans were regularly butchering animals for meat 2 million years ago. This has long been suspected, but the idea has been bolstered by a systematic study of cut marks on animal bones.

The find cements the view that ancient humans had become active hunters by this time, contrasting with earlier hominins that ate mostly plants.

The new evidence comes from Kanjera South, an archaeological site near Lake Victoria in Kenya. Kanjera South has been excavated on and off since 1995. 

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When the Vikings Crossed the Atlantic

Remains of Viking settlement (Wolfgang Kaehler/Alamy Stock Photo)

When a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, at the northern tip of Newfoundland, was first excavated in the 1960s, the style of its buildings made clear they were constructed by Vikings who had arrived from Greenland in the tenth or eleventh century. But exactly when they made their voyage, becoming the first Europeans to cross the Atlantic Ocean, was a matter of debate. Now, a team of researchers led by Margot Kuitems of the University of Groningen has used a new method of dating wood associated with the settlement to determine precisely when the Vikings were there. The researchers took advantage of a rare solar storm that occurred in A.D. 992, significantly increasing the amount of radioactive carbon-14 absorbed by trees the next year. By identifying the tree ring containing elevated levels of radiocarbon in each of three wood samples and then counting the number of rings to the bark edge of the wood, they found that the wood all came from trees that had been felled in A.D. 1021.

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Neolithic cattle site could change understanding of what beef meant to people of Ireland

Credit: University College Dublin

An archaeological site in Dublin with an unusually large collection of cattle remains could potentially change the understanding of beef and cattle herding in Middle Neolithic Ireland and Europe. 

Data collected from the N2 Kilshane excavation in north county Dublin near Finglas by researchers from the UCD School of Archaeology and Queen's University Belfast suggests that the multipurpose use of cattle for milk, meat and as draft animals was far more complex in later 4th millennium BC Atlantic Europe than previously thought.

The remains of at least 58 individual cattle were recovered from the ditches of an enclosure excavated at Kilshane dating back some 5,500 years, and the site is one of the few with large faunal assemblages to be unearthed in Ireland.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Archaeologists stunned by lost Anglo-Saxon church unearthed along HS2 route


The Norman Conquest of 1066 saw the invasion and occupation of England by an army of thousands of Normans, Bretons, Flemish and French troops under the leadership of the Duke of Normandy, later titled William the Conqueror. After winning the Battle of Hastings, his army captured the south east and seized Dover and Winchester, before advancing to London. Though many English people were not happy about the change in leadership, William was crowned king on Christmas Day of the same year.

Under Norman rule, England changed enormously, with long lasting effects including land ownership, the building of castles and the introduction of Norman laws.

The parish of Stoke Mandeville stood in the way of William’s rolling conquest, and it was here that an isolated church, surrounded by fields and riddled in mystery, stood.

Built around 1080, the Church of St Mary’s was located in a damp, isolated spot around half a mile from the village.

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Roman town’s remains found below Northamptonshire field on HS2 route

A 10-metre-wide Roman road was uncovered during the excavation of a wealthy trading settlement, known as Blackgrounds, in Northamptonshire. Photograph: HS2/PA

A wealthy Roman trading town, whose inhabitants adorned themselves with jewellery and ate from fine pottery, has been discovered half a metre below the surface of a remote field in Northamptonshire.

A 10-metre-wide Roman road, domestic and industrial buildings, more than 300 coins and at least four wells have been unearthed at the site, where 80 archaeologists have been working for the past 12 months.

The field, on the Northamptonshire-Oxfordshire border, lies on the route of the HS2 rail network under construction between London and Birmingham. It is one of more than 100 archaeological sites that have been examined along the route since 2018, and among the most significant findings to date.

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Monday, January 10, 2022

Viking sites in Scotland: These are 13 areas with Nordic history you should visit in Scotland


1. Shetland

It's hard to imagine Viking plunderers rampaging up that serene beach. But The Shetland Isles were the first part of Scotland to be discovered by the Norsemen, being as close to there as it is to Aberdeen. Vikings arrived in the early 8th century, searching for land. They ruled over the islands for the next 600 years, many settling down to become farmers. The Norse spirit has been kept alive in Shetland to the present day.

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3,000-Year-Old Remains Of Badass Women Warriors Found In Armenian Cemetery


More than three millennia ago, across the Mediterranean and Near East, society collapsed. Previously stable dominant empires and civilizations were brought to their knees, entire languages disappeared, and what had been pastoral and nomadic communities were replaced with imposing and fortified citadels run by a paranoid elite.

Life was violent and cruel. People were forced to take up arms to defend themselves and their kin. But while we’re used to the idea of men saddling up and waging war, a new paper, published recently in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, has found the remains of two female warriors – horse-riding women who fought for their people with bows and arrows.

“Previously, it was common knowledge that the injuries on males' skeletons testify to military clashes, whereas on females' – to … raids or domestic violence,” lead author Anahit Khudaverdyan told IFLScience.

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Archeologists long believed that ancient graves were robbed all over Europe, but here’s why they’re wrong

Grave from France where the individual was moved around before he fully decomposed. Éveha-Études et valorisations archéologiques/G Grange, Author provided

From the collapse of Roman power to the spread of Christianity, most of what we know about the lives of people across Europe comes from traces of their deaths. This is because written sources are limited, and in many areas archaeologists have only found a few farmsteads and villages. But thousands of grave fields have been excavated, adding up to tens of thousands of burials.

Buried along with the human remains, archaeologists find traces of costumes and often possessions, including knives, swords, shields, spears and ornate brooches of bronze and silver. There are glass beads strung as necklaces, as well as glass and ceramic vessels. From time to time they even find wooden boxes, buckets, chairs and beds.

Yet since the investigations of these cemeteries began in the 19th century, archaeologists have recognised that they have not always been the first to re-enter the tombs. At least a few graves in most cemeteries are found in a disturbed state, their contents jumbled and valuables missing. Sometimes this happened before the buried bodies were fully decomposed. In some areas, whole cemeteries are found in this state.

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North European Funeral and Burial Rites in the Early Middle Ages

Anglo-Saxons were often buried with everything they would need after death. In this case the dead woman’s family thought she would need her cow in the afterlife.

The customs and rituals for the people of Britain in the early Middle Ages were a mixture of the practices of a number of cultures.

Scandinavians and Anglo-Saxons shared similar ritual beliefs as is reflected in their burial grounds, which archaeologists are still discovering today. Many of the traditions have their origins in the similar religion of the northern European tribes, Germanic or Scandinavian.

Anglo-Saxon burials and barrows

The dead of Anglo-Saxon tribes were either cremated or buried. A great deal of the evidence available for the Anglo-Saxons’ way of life comes from their burial sites. Particularly amongst the wealthy, these burial sites are often filled with artefacts which have been vital to understanding the people and the times in which they lived.

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The Sun & the Moon in Norse Myth


In Norse mythology, the Sun and the Moon appear as personified siblings pulling the heavenly bodies and chased by wolves, or as plain objects. Written sources, such as the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, have surprisingly little to say about them, but clues from before the Viking Age put together with the written works speak of their greater role in ancient Scandinavia.

The Sun & Moon in Norse Writings

Unlike in the Roman tradition and much like in modern German, the sun (sól in Old Norse) is a feminine noun, and the moon (máni) is masculine. In the Völuspá, a poem where a prophetess reveals information about the beginning and end of the world, we can read about their kinship:

    The sun, sister of the moon,
    Shone from the south,
    With her hand
    Over the rim of heaven;
    The sun did not know yet
    Where her home should be,
    The moon did not know yet
    What power he had

    (stanza 5)

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Hunter-Gatherer Sites in Sweden Yield Metalworking Artifacts


LULEÅ, SWEDEN—Evidence of metalworking some 2,000 years ago by hunter-gatherers has been discovered at two archaeological sites in northeastern Sweden, according to a Science News report. At Sangis, Carina Bennerhag and Kristina Söderholm of Luleå University of Technology and their colleagues uncovered a rectangular iron-smelting furnace with a frame of stone slabs and a clay shaft. Holes in the frame may have allowed air to be pumped inside with a bellows placed on flat stones. Byproducts of heating iron ore at high temperatures were found within the structure, which has been radiocarbon dated to between 200 and 50 B.C. Pottery dated from 500 B.C. to A.D. 900, fish bones, and items made of iron and steel, knives made of two or more layers, and a molded bronze buckle were also found in the area. Evidence at Vivungi, the second site, dates to around 100 B.C. and includes fire pits and the remains of two iron-smelting furnaces containing iron ore, byproducts of iron production, and pieces of ceramic wall lining. 

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Along Hadrian’s Wall, ancient Rome’s temples, towers, and cults come to life

Punctuated with the remains of a milecastle (small fort), Hadrian’s Wall stretches over hilly terrain near Haltwhistle in Northumberland, England. This year, the Roman landmark will be 1,900 years old.
Photograph by Nigel Hicks, Nat Geo Image Collection

New discoveries are still rising from the coast-to-coast wall that once marked the edge of the Roman Empire.

Hadrian’s Wall once marked the extent of the Roman empire in Britannia. Now it’s a pitstop on the way to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, or the country’s largest city, Glasgow. Things have changed over the past two thousand years.

But the 73-mile-long chain of walls, ditches, towers, and forts—which stretches across Great Britain, linking the North Sea and the Irish Sea—continues to fascinate. This year, 1,900 years after construction began, soldiers clad in Roman armor will once again patrol its length and the sounds of ancient instruments will float over its ramparts.

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England After Rome: Angles and Saxons


Great Britain was more adversely affected by the fall of Rome than any other region, as invaders from Northern Europe took advantage of the chaos to form new kingdoms on the tiny island. But what was life like in early Anglo-Saxon England?

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Monday, December 20, 2021

Vikings may have fled Greenland to escape rising seas

An account of a wedding that took place at this former church in 1408 is the last written record from the Norse occupation of Greenland.

In 1721, a Norwegian missionary set sail for Greenland in the hopes of converting the Viking descendants living there to Protestantism. When he arrived, the only traces he found of the Nordic society were ruins of settlements that had been abandoned 300 years earlier.

There is no written record to explain why the Vikings left or died out. But a new simulation of Greenland’s coastline reveals that as the ice sheet covering most of the island started to expand around that time, sea levels rose drastically, researchers report December 15 at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in New Orleans.

These shifting coastlines would have inundated grazing areas and farmland, and could have helped bring about the end of the Nordic way of life in Greenland, says Marisa Borreggine, a geophysicist at Harvard University.

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Brutal Viking Ritual Called 'Blood Eagle' Was Anatomically Possible, Study Shows

Man lying on his belly with another man using a weapon on his back. (Stora Hammar Stone)

Famed for their swift longboats and bloody incursions, Vikings have long been associated with brutal, over-the-top violence. Between the eighth and 11th centuries, these groups left their Nordic homelands to make their fortunes by trading and raiding across Europe.

Particularly infamous is the so-called "blood eagle", a gory ritual these warriors are said to have performed on their most hated enemies. The ritual allegedly involved carving the victim's back open and cutting their ribs away from their spine, before the lungs were pulled out through the resulting wounds.

The final fluttering of the lungs splayed out on the outspread ribs would supposedly resemble the movement of a bird's wings – hence the eagle in the name.

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Five ice-age mammoths unearthed in Cotswolds after 220,000 years

Sir David Attenborough with some of the mammoth bones found in the gravel quarry near Swindon. Photograph: Julian Schwanitz/BBC/Windfall Films

Five ice-age mammoths in an extraordinary state of preservation have been discovered in the Cotswolds, to the astonishment of archaeologists and palaeontologists.

The extensive remains of two adults, two juveniles and an infant that roamed 200,000 years ago have been unearthed near Swindon, along with tools used by Neanderthals, who are likely to have hunted these 10-tonne beasts. More are expected to be found because only a fraction of the vast site, a gravel quarry, has been excavated.

Judging by the quality of the finds, the site is a goldmine. They range from other ice-age giants, such as elks – twice the size of their descendants today, with antlers 10ft across – to tiny creatures, notably dung beetles, which co-evolved with megafauna, using their droppings for food and shelter, and freshwater snails, just like those found today. Even seeds, pollen and plant fossils, including extinct varieties, have been preserved at this site.

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Galloway Hoard yields another exciting discovery


A rare rock crystal jar found wrapped in textiles as part of the Galloway Hoard, which dates back to around the year 900, has been conserved, revealing a Latin inscription written in gold. The inscription says the jar was made for a bishop named Hyguald.

The Galloway Hoard is the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in the British Isles. It was discovered in 2014 and acquired by National Museums Scotland in 2017. The hoard includes over a hundred objects, such as brooches, ingots, glass beads, a Christian cross, and a silver vessel. Even some textiles that originally wrapped the materials have survived.

The crystal jar, which is around 5cm high and resembles an ornate perfume bottle, is thought to have had an ecclesiastical function. It has now been carefully separated from its wrapping. The Latin inscription on the base, spelled out in gold letters, translates as ‘Bishop Hyguald had me made.’ It is the clearest evidence that some of the material in the hoard may have come from a church in the Kingdom of Northumbria, which stretched as far north as Edinburgh and as far south as Sheffield.

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Plans for new home refused due to site potentially housing Anglo-Saxon remains

The site of the proposed house sits between the A179 and the road leading to The Fens (Image: Google)

Councillors have refused plans for a new home after hearing the land could be of "national and international importance" due to potentially housing Anglo-Saxon remains.

Hartlepool Borough Council Planning Committee on Wednesday (December 15) refused proposals for a single house to be built on land at the Fens in Hart village.

The proposals, submitted by Mr R Greig, had been recommended for refusal, with council planning officers raising several concerns such as that it could cause "substantial harm" and a loss of archaeology to the area.

At the meeting, Robin Daniels, from Tees Archaeology, outlined how neighbouring land, which the Manor Park development has been built on, has shown to be home to an Anglo-Saxon cemetery with "something like 350" human remains.

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Neanderthals Changed Ecosystems 125,000 Years Ago – Were Not “Primal Hippies


Hunter-gatherers caused ecosystems to change 125,000 years ago. These are the findings of an interdisciplinary study by archaeologists from Leiden University in collaboration with other researchers. Neanderthals used fire to keep the landscape open and thus had a big impact on their local environment. The study was published in the journal Science Advances on December 15, 2021.

“Archaeologists have long been asking questions about the character and temporal depth of human intervention in our planet’s ecosystems. We are increasingly seeing very early, generally weak signs of this,” says Wil Roebroeks, Archaeology professor at Leiden University.

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Sunday, December 19, 2021

Ancient sheep poop reveals an unknown population on Faroe Islands before Vikings

The bed of this lake on the Faroese island of Eysturoy contains sediment from 500 AD that documents the first arrival of sheep and humans.

The isolated Faroe Islands were once home to an unknown population in 500 AD, about 350 years before Vikings ever arrived, according to new research. And the evidence comes from an unusual source: ancient sheep poop.

The striking Faroes are a small archipelago located in the North Atlantic halfway between Norway and Iceland. Vikings reached the islands once they developed ships for long-distance sailing, about 850 AD, before they moved on to Iceland in 874. For a long time, researchers believed they were the first human inhabitants of the rugged Faroes.

Until this century, the only evidence for the first people to set foot on the Faroes ahead of the Vikings came from mentions in medieval texts. There is no current evidence to suggest that Indigenous people ever lived there.

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Get up close to Skara Brae with new 3D model of 5,000-year-old settlement

The interior of House Seven at Skara Brae. Although this structure has been closed to the public since 2006, the new 3D model allows virtual visitors to explore the interior.
(Historic Environment Scotland)

A new 3D model of Skara Brae is offering online visitors an immersive digital experience of the 5,000-year-old Neolithic settlement.

The Historic Environment Scotland (HES) model was created using ultra-fast, high-resolution laser scanners which capture 3D spatial data in the form of a point cloud. Hundreds of overlapping photographs are then combined with the 3D data to create the photogrammetric model.

As well as offering a unique perspective on the iconic site, the digital model also allows users to explore how climate change and its impacts have shaped Skara Brae – from its discovery just over 170 years ago as the result of a severe winter storm, to the threat of coastal erosion from rising sea levels and increasingly frequent extreme weather events the site is experiencing today.

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The objects that help us understand Stonehenge

Bronze Age sun pendant, 1000–800BC © The Trustees of the British Museum

The British Museum’s major Stonehenge exhibition sees over 430 objects brought together from across Europe to explore the history – and mystery – of the ancient monument

Even the British Museum can’t quite manage to bring the actual stones into the gallery for its forthcoming exhibition exploring the history of our greatest ancient monument.

But as reported widely, they are doing the next best thing by bringing together a highly impressive array of Bronze Age treasures – and the remains of the astonishing wooden monument dubbed Seahenge, which recently emerged after millennia from beneath the sands of a Norfolk beach.

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Early Humans May Have Transformed Their Surroundings

(Leiden University)

LEIDEN, THE NETHERLANDS—UPI reports that hundreds of butchered animal bones, some 20,000 stone artifacts, and evidence of fire building have been discovered at a 125,000-year-old Neanderthal site in the Neumark-Nord lake basin in central Germany’s Geisel Valley by a team of researchers led by Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University. Samples of ancient pollen at the site indicate that the area had been cleared of trees, while pollen counts in the nearby Harz Mountains show that they were forested. Neanderthals and other early humans, Roebroeks concluded, were a factor in shaping the vegetation in this environment. “We might expect to find other examples of this, especially since Neanderthals and their contemporaries were skilled in fire technology,” he said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Science Advances. For more on Neanderthals, go to "Neanderthal Hearing."

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Neanderthals, the Original Gardeners, Intentionally Altered the Landscape as Much as 125,000 Years Ago, a Study Finds

Archaeological site at Neumark-Nord in Germany. Courtesy Wil Roebroeks, Leiden University.

Hunter-gatherers were making changes to the ecosystem as early as 125,000 years ago, according to a newly published study by researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands and Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. Decades of excavations at a quarry known as Neumark-Nord near Halle, Germany, have turned up plentiful evidence of Neanderthal activity, including indications that these hominins may have converted areas of forest into grasslands. This is the earliest evidence of such activity, said the findings, which were published in the journal Science Advances.

“Among other things, we found the remains of hundreds of slaughtered animals, surrounded by numerous stone tools and a huge amount of charcoal remains,” said Wil Reobroeks of Leiden University.

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1,400-Year-Old Byzantine Church, Mosaic Found Near Jerusalem

The impressive mosaics discovered in the church depict birds and plants but there is no icon of the martyr to whom the church was dedicated. Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

An important archaeological discovery of a Byzantine mosaic and Greek inscriptions, which perhaps pose more questions than answers, was made public by members of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

After three years of painstaking excavations, a Byzantine-era Christian church with spectacular, well-preserved mosaics and frescoes has finally been completely unearthed. The structure is located approximately ten miles west of the city of Jerusalem.

The fascinating, yet mysterious, findings include some Greek inscriptions as well.

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Friday, December 17, 2021

‘Extraordinary’ restoration of Roman rock crystal jar from Galloway hoard

The rock crystal jar was part of the Galloway hoard, unearthed in Kirkcudbrightshire in 2014. Photograph: Neil Hanna

Exclusive: Vessel may have held a perfume or other potion used to anoint kings or in religious ceremonies

When the Galloway hoard was unearthed from a ploughed field in western Scotland in 2014, it offered the richest collection of Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland. But one of the artefacts paled in comparison with treasures such as a gold bird-shaped pin and a silver-gilt vessel because it was within a pouch that was mangled and misshapen after almost 1,000 years in the ground.

Now that pouch has been removed and its contents restored, revealing an extraordinary Roman rock crystal jar wrapped in exquisite layers of gold thread by the finest medieval craftsman in the late eighth or early ninth century.

About 5cm high, it may once have held a perfume or other prized potion used to anoint kings, or in religious ceremonies. It had been carefully wrapped in a silk-lined leather pouch, reflecting its significance.

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Thursday, December 16, 2021

Wealth & Power in Medieval Iceland


Early medieval Iceland, the Viking colony, was a democratic and egalitarian society, but the scarcity of resources and the rough environment created competition, where local chieftains resorted to different tactics to acquire wealth and money, from using their advantage as men of the law and representatives of the people to the often complex social relationships they had with their followers.

Economic Challenges

To understand the economic challenges, we need to keep in mind that the short growing season in the north especially, was variable and mostly meant moss and lichens. Birch, Iceland's only tree, suffered from the changing temperatures and then the settlers' woodcutting. The settlers were probably pleased initially since the land was easy to clear for farming, but very soon the island started showing its boundaries. Overgrazing caused erosion, the cooling of the climate affected productivity, no new farming technologies were developed. In the south, it was possible to grow small crops of cereals, but the farmer (bændr) usually turned to sheep and cattle. Hay was vital, thus fertile meadows as well, turning land into the most desired commodity and the source of many disputes in the sagas.

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