Sunday, December 22, 2013

Vikings Online Course

Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers 

22 January to 5 April 2014

Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers is an online archaeology course run by the University of Oxford's Department of Continuing Education.
The course runs for ten weeks and successful completion carries an award of ten CATS points. Students write two short assignments as part of the course.
Online forums for each unit enable students to discuss the topic being studied, and help from the online tutor is always available
You can find more details here...
You can find details of other online archaeology courses here...

Virtual archaeology uncovers secrets of ancient Rome

An Indiana University archaeo-informaticist has used virtual simulations to flip the calendar back thousands of years and show for the first time the historical significance of the unique alignment of the sun with two monuments tied to the founder of the Roman Empire.

Virtual archaeology uncovers secrets of ancient Rome
Virtual simulation image of the sun atop the obelisk with the Altar of
Peace in the foreground [Credit : Indiana University]
For nearly a half-century, scholars had associated the relationship between the Ara Pacis, the “Altar of Peace” dedicated in 9 BC to then-emperor Augustus, and the Obelisk of Montecitorio -- a 71-foot-high granite obelisk Augustus brought to Rome from Egypt -- with Augustus’ Sept. 23 birthday.

Prevailing research had found that on this day, the shadow of the obelisk -- serving as the pointer, or gnomon, of a giant sundial on the plaza floor -- would point toward the middle of the Ara Pacis, which the Roman Senate had commissioned to recognize the peace brought to the Roman Empire through Augustus' military victories.

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Once again, the Homo erectus site  of Lehberg near Haidershofen in the Lower Austrian part of the Enns (a southern tributary of the Danube River), is in the spotlight for Lower Palaeolithic research.
After the recent discovery of several well-preserved hand axes of Acheulean age  dating to approximately 500,000 years ago, as well as a phallus shaped object coated with traces of ocre (see Fundsache Homo erectusArchaeology Online 2012) a number of hammerstones were also recovered.
These hammerstones of oval quartzite and quartz cobbles come from the local Günz-gravels and have clear use marks on the longitudinal edges. However, after close examination, one of these stones revealed something quite remarkable.

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An analysis of a Neanderthal's fossilised hyoid bone - a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck - suggests the species had the ability to speak.
This has been suspected since the 1989 discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid that looks just like a modern human's.
But now computer modelling of how it works has shown this bone was also used in a very similar way.
Writing in journal Plos One, scientists say its study is "highly suggestive" of complex speech in Neanderthals.
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Friday, December 20, 2013


The last few weeks have once again shown us all exactly how vulnerable those living near the coast are to the power and force of the oceans. In East Anglia the North Sea smashed through sea defences, ate away whole chunks of cliff face, tumbling houses into the water, and inundated vast areas of land – and yet we were very lucky. It could have been far, far worse.

Had the storm surge arrived an hour later, when the tide was at its peak, more defences would have failed, more damage would have been caused and, in all likelihood, lives would have been lost. As an old friend, a retired skipper, said at the time – they ought to add ‘water’ to the game ‘rock, paper, scissors’ – it trumps everything.

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Neandertal genome project reaches its goal

An international research team led by Kay Prüfer and Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has determined a high-quality genome sequence of a Neandertal woman. The genome allows detailed insights into the relationships and population history of the Neandertals and other extinct hominin groups. The results reveal that gene flow among such groups was common but generally of low magnitude. It also provides a definitive list of the DNA sequence changes that distinguish modern humans from our nearest extinct relatives.

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Storms could reveal new sites in Scotland

The recent storms that hit the Scottish coastline could reveal important new archaeological sites, according to Fife scientists.

Storms could reveal new sites in Scotland
A before and after photo of what happened in a storm last year
at Brora excavation [Credit: BBC]
St Andrews University archaeologists are appealing to the public to help find sites that have been uncovered by the storms.

They also hoping people contact them to record local sites that have been damaged by the recent bad weather.

Scotland has been badly damaged by wind and rain over the last two weeks.

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Bulgaria: Staking out a vampire tourist trail

Two towns in Bulgaria and Romania are planning to boost their tourist appeal by capitalising on their "vampire" past, it seems.
Bulgaria's ancient city of Sozopol on the Black Sea coast is teaming up with medieval Sighisoara in Romania, the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler, the ruler thought to have inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. Last year, archaeologists in Sozopol found the 700-year-old skeleton of a man with an iron spike through his chest. The old pagan ritual was meant to prevent "bad" dead people from rising from their graves.
Sozopol's mayor, Panayot Reyzi, saw an opportunity to attract more tourists by twinning his city with Sighisoara. "Both Dracula and our vampire had a limp and could've been cousins," he tells the Flagman news website. Recently he announced the two towns had agreed to create a "vampire trail". Tourists visiting Dracula's house in Sighisoara would also be encouraged to go to neighbouring Bulgaria to see the "Sozopol vampire", explains Focus News.
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Unlocking the scrolls of Herculaneum

The British Museum's 2013 show of artefacts from the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried in ash during an explosive eruption of Mount Vesuvius, was a sell-out. But could even greater treasures - including lost works of classical literature - still lie underground?
For centuries scholars have been hunting for the lost works of ancient Greek and Latin literature. In the Renaissance, books were found in monastic libraries. In the late 19th Century papyrus scrolls were found in the sands of Egypt. But only in Herculaneum in southern Italy has an entire library from the ancient Mediterranean been discovered in situ.
On the eve of the catastrophe in 79 AD, Herculaneum was a chic resort town on the Bay of Naples, where many of Rome's top families went to rest and recuperate during the hot Italian summers.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

New evidence for Battle of Hastings site considered

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the Battle of Hastings and the death of King Harold

New evidence that questions the traditional site of King Harold's death during the Battle of Hastings is being considered by English Heritage.
Battle Abbey in East Sussex is said to stand on the spot where King Harold died when the English army was routed by the Normans in 1066.
But Channel 4's Time Team claims he fell on the site of what is now a mini roundabout on the A2100.
Abbey curator Roy Porter said the theory would be taken into account.
English Heritage runs 1066 tours of the traditional site of the Battle of Hastings but the actual location has been disputed before.
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1066 and all that

The traditional location for the Battle of Hastings - the site of Battle Abbey - has been called into question.

New research by the Time Team shows that the Battle of Hastings was not fought on the site where it was believed to have taken place. In recent years other theories have been put forward to suggest where the battle took place, but work by the Time Team has shown good arguments for a new location.

Trevor Rowley will discuss the new information in his Oxford Experience course 'William the Conqueror' and incorporate it into the field trip to the battle site. This which will mean that Trevor's students will be amongst the first visitors to the new location.

You can register for Trevor's 'William the Conqueror' course here...

Battle of Hastings 'fought at site of mini roundabout'

Channel 4's Time Team believe they have identified the site of the Battle of Hastings and death of King Harold - now occupied by a mini roundabout

It might seem an inauspicious spot for one of the most seminal moments in the nation’s history.
But new research suggests that the death of King Harold in battle against William the Conqueror’s men actually occurred, not on the site of the high altar of Battle Abbey, where it is commemorated, but on a mini roundabout.
The precise location for the Battle of Hastings has long been in dispute, with competing historians making claims for three rival sites.
Now, an investigation by Channel 4’s Time Team has concluded the battle – and the death of England’s last Anglo-Saxon king – was actually centred on a fourth site: a road junction on the A2100 in East Sussex.
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Neanderthal Genome Shows Early Human Interbreeding, Inbreeding

Family tree of the four groups of early humans living in Eurasia 50,000 years ago and the lingering genetic heritage due to interbreeding. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of California - Berkeley)

The most complete sequence to date of the Neanderthal genome, using DNA extracted from a woman's toe bone that dates back 50,000 years, reveals a long history of interbreeding among at least four different types of early humans living in Europe and Asia at that time, according to University of California, Berkeley, scientists.

Population geneticist Montgomery Slatkin, graduate student Fernando Racimo and post-doctoral student Flora Jay were part of an international team of anthropologists and geneticists who generated a high-quality sequence of the Neanderthal genome and compared it with the genomes of modern humans and a recently recognized group of early humans called Denisovans.

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Ancient Incest Uncovered in Neanderthal Genome

Data obtained from a Neanderthal woman's toe bone points to incest and inbreeding among early humans, an international genetics team reported on Wednesday.
The fossil's genetic map, or genome, reported from Denisova cave in Siberia's Altai Mountains dates to more than 50,000 years ago. The cave was home at separate times to both Neanderthalsand the so-called Denisovans, two sister families of now-extinct early humans. (See also "New Type of Ancient Human Found.")
Adding to increasing evidence of a tangled human family tree, the new Neanderthal genome study released by the journal Nature also suggests that another previously unknown archaic human species shared its genes with some of our ancestors. The study authors suggest that it wasHomo erectus, one of the earliest human species, which first arose around 1.8 million years ago. (See also "Why Am I a Neanderthal?")
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Neanderthal genome shows early human interbreeding

First high-quality genome sequence allows comparison with human, Denisovan DNA

The most complete sequence to date of the Neanderthal genome, using DNA extracted from a woman’s toe bone that dates back 50,000 years, reveals a long history of interbreeding among at least four different types of early humans living in Europe and Asia at that time, according to University of California, Berkeley, scientists.
Population geneticist Montgomery Slatkin, graduate student Fernando Racimo and post-doctoral student Flora Jay were part of an international team of anthropologists and geneticists who generated a high-quality sequence of the Neanderthal genome and compared it with the genomes of modern humans and a recently recognized group of early humans called Denisovans.
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Byzantine Monastery in danger of collapsing

The late Byzantine Monastery of  Hagios Aberkios, in the Samson Mountains of Turkey's western province of Aydın, is at danger of collapsing. Growing trees are pressing against the top of the 11th century monastery, in the Kuşadası district of Aydın, and damaging the building.

Byzantine Monastery in danger of collapsing
The Monastery of  Hagios Aberkios [Credit: Vedat Şentürk/Panoramio]
The monastery’s surroundings are not 'regularized', which is why the stone walls and the ceiling are now shattering, alarming associations that are seeking to protect historical structures in the area.
The monastery is perhaps the second most important ancient building in Aydın, after the Stylos (Arapavlusu) Monastery in the nearby Beşparmak Mountains.

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Neanderthal Burials Confirmed as Ancient Ritual

A Neanderthal skeleton first unearthed in a cave in southwestern France over a century ago was intentionally buried, according to a new 13-year reanalysis of the site.
Confirming that careful burials existed among early humans at least 50,000 years ago, the companions of the Neanderthal took great care to dig him a grave and protect his body from scavengers, report the study authors in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Neanderthals were an ancient species of early humans, who left behind only faint traces of their genes in modern people of non-African descent. The new burial study, led by New York University paleontologist William Rendu, settles a long-standing debate about the Neanderthal site and its remains.

The world’s first detailed prehistoric maps of Britain

The ABC Publishing Group has announced the publication of the world’s first prehistoric maps of Britain. These maps are based on the recently published book by Robert John Langdon titled ‘The Stonehenge Enigma’ which proves that Britain suffered massive ‘Post Glacial Flooding’ directly after the last Ice Age ten thousand years ago, and that mankind placed their ancient sites on the shorelines of these raised waterways.

The world’s first detailed prehistoric maps of Britain
Stonehenge - surrounded by water on three sides
[Credit: ABC Publishing Group]
The maps are presented on the old ordnance survey first edition that shows the natural ancient environment to a higher degree of detail than subsequent editions. The newly added waterways are colour coded to show how the land would have looked in both the Mesolithic Period (10,000BCE to 4,500BCE) and the Neolithic Period (4,500BCE to 2,500BCE).

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Römische Säulenfragmente unter Neutronenbeschuss

Neutronenaktivierungsanalyse liefert charakteristischen chemischen Fingerabdruck von Gesteinsmaterial aus römischer Zeit
Im Rahmen einer deutsch-französischen Forschungskooperation haben Wissenschaftler zum ersten Mal eine Methode der Kernchemie zur Untersuchung von speziellem Gesteinsmaterial aus römischer Zeit verwendet.
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Naples' Girolamini: The looting of a 16th Century library

Book-lovers around the world have been helping investigators trace thousands of rare volumes looted from one of Italy's oldest libraries by a gang of thieves including the librarian himself. While most have been recovered, a number of invaluable 15th and 16th Century books are still missing.
Inside a 16th Century church complex in the heart of Naples, the Biblioteca Girolamini's wooden shelves rise up and up towards richly decorated walls and vaulted ceilings.
They once held works of extraordinary value. There was a 1518 edition of Thomas More's brilliant and mysterious Utopia. Galileo's 1610 treatise Sidereus Nuncius, containing more than 70 drawings of the moon and the stars. And Johannes Kepler's study of the motions of Mars, Astronomia Nova, described as one of greatest books in the history of astronomy.
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Mystery early human revealed by DNA dat

The genome sequence came from a toe bone found in Denisova Cave, Siberia

DNA analysis of early human remains from a Siberian cave has revealed the existence of a mystery human species.
A team of researchers speculates that this could have been Homo erectus, which lived in Europe and Asia a million years ago or more.
Meanwhile, the researchers report that they have also obtained the most complete DNA sequence ever from a Neanderthal.
Details of the work appear in Nature journal.
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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The most celebrated archaeology story in recent memory is the 2013 confirmation that bones thought to belong to King Richard III, found beneath a parking lot in Leicester, were, in fact, those of the infamous English monarch. Naturally, it leads our Top 10 Discoveries of 2013.

But a discovery needn’t involve a historical figure whose life was dramatized by no less a personage than Shakespeare in order to make the cut. In archaeological hot spots such as Egypt and Rome, the news was every bit as exciting. On the coast of the Red Sea, archaeologists uncovered Egpyt’s oldest port. And just 20 miles outside Rome, the discovery of that city’s first monumental architecture—the iconic building style so tightly associated with the ancient Romans—was announced.
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Roman settlement unearthed in Essex

Two first century pots, believed to have been “deliberately damaged” as part of an ancient ritual, have been found alongside three burning kilns, farming equipment and Roman materials on an £80 million housing development in Essex.

Roman settlement unearthed in Essex
Roman Rainham has revealed prehistoric pots
[Credit: © Pre-Construct Archaeology]
Excavators say the broken bases of the pots, found at Orchard Village in Rainham, point to a ceremony almost 2,000 years ago. A number of tower blocks are set to be demolished on the site, with the objects passed to the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre.

“The regeneration of Orchard Village has been all about looking forward to a bright and positive future for our residents,” said Dawn McKenzie, the Project Manager for a space where Roman remains were found during the original Mardyke Estate development of the late 1960s.

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Before Stonehenge - did this man lord it over Wiltshire's sacred landscape?

Archaeologists have just completed the most detailed study ever carried out of the life story of a prehistoric Briton.

What they have discovered sheds remarkable new light on the people who, some 5500 years ago, were building the great ritual monuments of what would become the sacred landscape of Stonehenge.

A leading forensic specialist has also used that prehistoric Briton's skull to produce the most life-like, and arguably the most accurate, reconstruction of a specific individual's face from British prehistory.
The new research gives a rare glimpse into upper class life back in the Neolithic.

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1.4 million-year-old fossil human hand bone closes human evolution gap

Humans have a distinctive hand anatomy that allows them to make and use tools. Apes and other nonhuman primates do not have these distinctive anatomical features in their hands, and the point in time at which these features first appeared in human evolution is unknown. Now, a University of Missouri researcher and her international team of colleagues have found a new hand bone from a human ancestor who roamed the earth in East Africa approximately 1.42 million years ago. They suspect the bone belonged to the early human species, Homo erectus. The discovery of this bone is the earliest evidence of a modern human-like hand, indicating that this anatomical feature existed more than half a million years earlier than previously known.

1.4 million-year-old fossil human hand bone closes human evolution gap
The styloid process is a projection of bone. Ward and her team found a styloid process at the end of a wrist bone more than 1.42 million years old, indicating this anatomical feature existed more than half a million years earlier than previously known [Credit: University of Missouri]
"This bone is the third metacarpal in the hand, which connects to the middle finger. It was discovered at the 'Kaitio' site in West Turkana, Kenya," said Carol Ward, professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at MU. The discovery was made by a West Turkana Paleo Project team, led by Ward's colleague and co-author Fredrick Manthi of the National Museums of Kenya. "What makes this bone so distinct is that the presence of a styloid process, or projection of bone, at the end that connects to the wrist. Until now, this styloid process has been found only in us, Neandertals and other archaic humans."

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For decades, scholars had questioned the existence and evidence for burial in Western Europe prior to the arrival of Anatomically Modern Humans. However, most now agree that Neanderthals did bury their dead, with over 20 sites known throughout Europe.
La Chapelle-aux-Saints which borders the Sourdoire valley in south-western France, was first excavated in 1908, and remains were discovered in a shallow depression within the cave. This discovery sparked the debate on burial ritual by Neanderthals.

Academic arguments on potential for Neanderthal burial

The cave also revealed hundreds of artefacts belonging to the late Mousterian culture along with the well preserved skeleton of an adult Neanderthal man who appeared to have been intentionally buried in a rectangular pit 30 centimetres deep, 1.45 metres long and 1 metre wide.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ancient hand bone dates origins of human dexterity

The styloid process allows the hand to lock into the wrist bones

The discovery of an ancient bone at a burial site in Kenya puts the origin of human hand dexterity more than half a million years earlier than previously thought.
In all ways, the bone - a well-preserved metacarpal that connects to the index finger - resembles that of modern man, PNAS journal reports.
It is the earliest fossilised evidence of when humans developed a strong enough grip to start using tools.
Apes lack the same anatomical features.
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Monday, December 16, 2013

An archaeology plant puzzle: Dr Helen Wickstead on 6,000-year-old finds at Damerham

Dr Helen Wickstead, of Kingston University, on a sink hole of 6,000-year-old plant material at a Neolithic site in Damerham, Hampshire

"We didn't expect to find this and suspect it would have surprised the original architects of the site, too.

The sink hole contained orange sand with a yellow and grey clay. We are very hopeful that, within this material, there will be evidence of plant life which will help us continue to piece together the puzzle of human habitation on this significant site

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Ancient pig-shaped baby bottle found in Italy

Italian archaeologists have discovered an ancient terracotta pig which worked as a toy as well as a modern-day baby bottle.

Ancient pig-shaped baby bottle found in Italy
Italian archaeologists have discovered a 2,400-year-old terracotta pig which worked as a toy as well as a baby bottle [Credit: Gianfranco Dimitri, Archaeological Superintendency of Puglia/Discovery News]
Known as guttus, the unique vessel dates back about 2,400 years, when the “heel” of Italy was inhabited by the Messapian people, a tribal group who migrated from Illyria (a region in the western part of the Balkan peninsula) around 1000 B.C.

Featuring pointy ears and human-like eyes, the pig-shaped guttus featured terracotta rattles in its tummy to apparently encourage the baby to sleep after the meal.

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Stonehenge unveils trip back in time with new £27m visitor centre

It has been decades since visitors to Stonehenge were able to experience what Neolithic man did when he first set foot inside the gigantic stone circle.
With tourists and day-trippers barred since the late Seventies from entering the circle in order to protect the stones from damage, there has been a fierce and long-running debate on how the site should best be displayed.
But on Wednesday a new £27 million centre will open at Stonehengewith a 360 degree cinema at its heart where visitors can “experience” standing in the ancient circle.
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Saturday, December 14, 2013


Two teams of researchers have announced the discovery of a new species of fossil horse from 4.4 million-year-old deposits in Ethiopia.

About the size of a small zebra, Eurygnathohippus woldegabrieli had three-toed hooves and grazed the grasslands and shrubby woods in the Afar Region, the scientists say. They report their findings in the November issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Very complex puzzle

The horse fills a gap in the evolutionary history of horses but is also important for documenting how old a fossil locality is and in reconstructing habitats of human forebears of the time, said Scott Simpson, professor of anatomy at Case Western Reserve’s School of Medicine, and co-author of the research. “This horse is one piece of a very complex puzzle that has many, many pieces.”
The researchers found the first E. woldegabrieli teeth and bones in 2001, in the Gona area of the Afar Region. This fossil horse was among the diverse array of animals that lived in the same areas as the ancient human ancestor Ardipithecus ramidus, commonly called Ardi.

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Wars of the Roses bodies found in hotel grounds near Harlech Castle

Archaeologists believe three bodies found in the grounds of Harlech's old Queen's Hotel date from the days when the castle was almost permanently under siege

Workers building a new visitor centre next to Harlech Castle may have stumbled on the remains of three people who may have been caught up in the Wars of the Roses.
The bodies were found  near the grounds of the Castle Hotel last Thursday.
Historic monuments group Cadw suggests building foundations also dating back to medieval times have been found at the site.
Archaeology Wales are carrying out further excavations in the hope of finding more human remains.
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Double graves with headless slaves

In the Viking era, a number of slaves were beheaded and then buried together with their masters. New methods of skeleton analysis reveal more about the life of the poor more than a thousand years ago.

In 1975, three intact skeletons from the Iron Age were found on the Tommeide farm in Tomma. Naumann interprets this as a family grave. - Despite possible kinship between them, probably as members of the same household, the child nevertheless had a diet that was different from that of the two adults during the last years of their lives. (Photo: Anne Stalsberg, NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet)

How was life for common people in Norway during the period 400–1050 AD? Can we learn more? Yes, according to Elise Naumann, research scholar in archaeology. By using isotope analysis to examine ancient skeletons, she has made several remarkable discoveries. The research results from the analysis of skeletons found at Flakstad in Lofoten have also been reported in the American newspaper USA Today.

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Nutrients in food vital to location of early human settlements

Research led by the University of Southampton has found that early humans were driven by a need for nutrient-rich food to select 'special places' in northern Europe as their main habitat. Evidence of their activity at these sites comes in the form of hundreds of stone tools, including handaxes.
A study led by physical geographer at Southampton Professor Tony Brown, in collaboration with archaeologist Dr Laura Basell at Queen's University Belfast, has found that sites popular with our , were abundant in foods containing nutrients vital for a balanced diet. The most important sites, dating between 500,000 to 100,000 years ago were based at the lower end of , providing ideal bases for early hominins - early humans who lived before Homo sapiens (us).
Professor Brown says: "Our research suggests that floodplain zones closer to the mouth of a river provided the ideal place for hominin activity, rather than forested slopes, plateaus or estuaries. The landscape in these locations tended to be richer in the nutrients critical for maintaining population health and maximising reproductive success."
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Voting now open!

Every year, the Current Archaeology Awards celebrate the projects and publications that have made the pages of Current Archaeology over the 12 months, and the people judged to have made outstanding contributions to archaeology.  Now in it’s 6th year, we have just announced the latest nominees.
To find out more about the nominees in each category, click on the links below:
These awards are voted for entirely the public – there are no panels of judges – so we encourage you to get involved and choose the projects, publications, and people who you would like to win.
To cast your votes, click here.

Revealed: how prehistoric 'des res' gave Stone Age Brits a perfect diet

25-site survey shows that early humans chose predominantly to live on islands in the flood plains of major rivers

Stone Age Brits were past masters at choosing the perfect ‘des res’, according to new research carried out by archaeologists.

Their investigations have revealed that, 300,000 years before the emergence of anatomically modern humans, prehistoric Britons were selecting their domestic real estate with tremendous care.

Nutritional and security considerations appear to have been the main criteria, according to the new research carried out by scholars at the University of Southampton and Queen's University, Belfast.

A survey of 25 major British and north-west French sites dating from 500,000 to 200,000 years ago has revealed that early humans – members of the now long-extinct species Homo heidelbergensis – predominantly chose to live on islands in the flood plains of major rivers. They avoided  forests and hills – and the upper and middle reaches of river systems,  and their estuaries.
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