Tag Archives: prehistory

Neanderthal news

Straight from the BBC news desk this morning.

‘Neanderthal tools’ found at dig 
Christine McGourty
BBC science correspondent 

Dozens of tools thought to have belonged to Neanderthals have been dug up at an archaeological site called Beedings in West Sussex.

Dr Matthew Pope, of University College London, said the discovery provides new insights into the life of a thriving community of hunters at the site.

The tools could have been used to hunt horses, mammoth and woolly rhinoceros.

The archaeologists, funded by English Heritage, have been carrying out their investigations over the last few weeks.

It is the first modern scientific investigation of the site since it was discovered in 1900.

“It’s exciting to think that there’s a real possibility these were left by some of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy northern Europe,” said Dr Pope.

“The impression they give is of a population in complete command of both landscape and natural raw materials with a flourishing technology – not a people on the edge of extinction.”

Their remains sit at a key watershed in the evolutionary history of northern Europe

Barney Sloane, English Heritage 

When the site was first discovered at the start of the 20th Century, there were 2,300 stone tools found when the foundations were being dug for a huge new house to be built there.

But for many years, the tools were considered to be fakes. All but a few hundred of them were thrown down a well and never seen again.

The tools were only recently recognised to be of international importance, following research by Roger Jacobi of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project.

Dr Matthew Pope says flint tools were used in very sophisticated ways.He showed last year that the Beedings material showed strong resemblances with other tools from northern Europe dating to between 35,000 and 42,000 years old.

The latest finds now provides definitively that the original discovery was genuine, according to Dr Pope.

“There were some questions about the validity of the earlier find, but our excavations have proved beyond doubt that the material discovered here was genuine and originated from fissures within the local sandstone.”

He said Neanderthal hunters were drawn to the hill over a long period of time, presumably for excellent views of the game herds grazing on the surrounding plains.

 His team now hope to look for more sites with similar systems of fissures across other parts of south-east England.

Barney Sloane, Head of Historic Environment Commissions at English Heritage said such sites were were a rare and valuable archaeological resource.

“Their remains sit at a key watershed in the evolutionary history of northern Europe. The tools at Beedings could equally be the signature of pioneer populations of modern humans, or traces of the last Neanderthal hunting groups to occupy the region.

This study offers a rare chance to answer some crucial questions about just how technologically advanced Neanderthals were, and how they compare with our own species. “

I watched Dr Pope on TV this morning, explaining how the tools were much more finely made than older Neanderthal tools, and how this meant they probably didn’t have much difference in brain power to modern humans.

As we dig up more, Neanderthals look less and less like brutish ape-men, and more like a different racial group of humans (the ‘all out of Africa’ theory has been shown to be impossible by several DNA studies). The latest reconstructions you see, like this Neanderthal child from Gibraltar, look more like modern humans with each re-modelling. Add to that that we know a lot of them had red hair…. I think the argument for them just being another version of human gets stronger.

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The oldest mini skirts in history.

Now archaeologists say the true origins of the mini go back to the very dawn of civilisation.

They have unearthed evidence that Stone Age women were wearing mini-skirts – along with short tops and bracelets – more than 7,500 years ago.

A series of stone figurines wearing the prehistoric fashions were unearthed at one of Europe’s oldest known villages – a community that nestled between rivers, mountains and forests in what is now southern Siberia.

The finding pushes back the origins of fashion and art in Europe by hundreds of years to a time when our ancestors were first getting to grips with farming.

“According to the figurines we found, young women were beautifully dressed, like today’s girls in short tops and mini skirts, and wore bracelets around their arms,” said archaeologist Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic.

The unnamed tribe lived between 5400 and 4700 BC in the 120-hectare site at what is now Plocnik. Remains at the site reveal that they knew about trade, handcrafts, art and metallurgy while a thermal well nearby might be Europe’s oldest spa.

“They pursued beauty and produced 60 different forms of wonderful pottery and figurines, not only to represent deities, but also out of pure enjoyment,” said Dr Kuzmanovic.

Women, it seems, have always paid attention to their appearance

Little is known about the life of people – known as the Vinca – who made the figurines.

The Vinca culture flourished between 5500 and 4000 BC in Bosnia, Serbia, Romania and Macedonia. It got its name from the present-day village of Vinca on the Danube River near Belgrade where eight villages have been found.

The latest discoveries suggest these early farmers had developed a sophisticated division of labour and organisation.

Houses had stoves, there were special holes for trash, and the dead were buried in a tidy necropolis. People slept on woollen mats and fur, made clothes of wool, flax and leather and kept animals.

They were especially fond of children. Artefacts include toys such as animals and rattles of clay, and small, clumsily crafted pots apparently made by children at playtime.

One of the most exciting finds for archaeologists was the discovery of a sophisticated metal workshop with a furnace and tools including a copper chisel and a two-headed hammer and axe.

“This might prove that the Copper Age started in Europe at least 500 years earlier than we thought,” Dr Kuzmanovic said.

The Copper Age marks the first stage of humans’ use of metal, with copper tools used alongside older stone implements. It is thought to have started around the 4th millennium BC in south-east Europe, and earlier in the Middle East.

The discovery of Europe’s oldest mine at the nearby Mlava river suggested at the time that Vinca could be Europe’s first metal culture, a theory now backed up by the Plocnik site.

“These latest findings show that the Vinca culture was from the very beginning a metallurgical culture,” said archaeologist Dusan Sljivar of Serbia’s National Museum. “They knew how to find minerals, to transport them and melt them into tools.”

The metal workshop in Plocnik was a room 25 square yards, with walls built out of wood coated with clay. The furnace, built on the outside of the room, featured earthen pipe-like air vents with hundreds of tiny holes in them and a prototype chimney to ensure air goes into the furnace to feed the fire and smoke comes out safely.

In Bulgaria and Cyprus, where other workshops have been found, the early metal workers blew air on to the fire using straws rather than relying on chimneys.

They probably experimented with colourful minerals that caught their eye – blue azurite, bright green malachite and red cuprite, all containing copper.

The village was destroyed at some point, probably in the first part of the fifth millennium, by fire.

The Plocnik site was first discovered in 1927. Some findings were published at the time but war, lack of funds and objections from farmers meant it was investigated only sporadically until digging started in earnest in 1996.

The copper forges have been dated to about 5,500 BC, and a copper ax head the same age has now been found in Serbia too.

The worlds oldest forged copper object.

Archaeologists stumble on sensational find
4 October 2007

Prokuplje — Serbian archaeologists found evidence of what could be the oldest metal workshop in all of Europe.

According to National Museum archaeologist Dušan Šljivar, experts found a “copper chisel and stone ax at a location near Prokuplje in which the foundation has proven to be 7,500 years old, leading us to believe that it was one of the first places in which metal weapons and tools were made in prehistoric times.”

Archaeologists hope that this find in southern Serbia will prove the theory that the metal age began a lot earlier than it was believed to have, Šljivar told Beta news agency. He leads the team of archaeologists that have been investigating the site over the past decade.

Šljivar said that this finding, along with 40 similarly valuable ones before it, among which there were more parts of metal tools and weapons, as well as a smelter and furnace, prove that people inhabiting this territory began working with metal more than 5,000 years before the new era.

Prokuplje Museum archaeologist Julka Kuzmanović-Cvetković said that the site “shows that the people living on our territory started a civilization that presented the basics of the technological revolution.”

“We want to prove that the site was a metal works center in the central part of the Balkans,” she said.

The Ministry of Culture has set aside some EUR 12,500 for this year’s excavation at the site near Prokuplje, called Pločnik.

Šljivar said that these funds have enabled experts to investigate with more detail the 25 square meters and find new specimens.

Pločnik was uncovered accidentally in 1927 while the Niš-Priština railway was built and has been actively investigated with great interest since 1996 by Serbian and international experts.

Copper metallurgy, who discovered it?

Archived by, but not written by, me.

EARLY COPPER MINES AT RUDNA GLAVA AND AI BUNAR

Extensive research by eastern European scholars has reshaped our understanding of early copper ore mining techniques that were used during the Late Neolithic and Early Copper Age in the Balkans. Since the late 1960s, archaeological investigations at two copper mines—Rudna Glava and Ai Bunar—have revealed the complexity of early copper metallurgical techniques and revised our understanding of early copper exploitation strategies and their relationship to other socioeconomic processes.

 One of the most well-known prehistoric copper mines is the site of Rudna Glava in eastern Serbia. The site, located 140 kilometers east of Belgrade on the Romanian border, was a magnetite mine until the late 1960s. Archaeological excavations by Borislav Jovanović in the 1970s revealed over twenty prehistoric mine shafts that followed veins of copper ore throughout the limestone massif.

The mine was excavated in antiquity using techniques that had been employed for thousands of years to exploit lithic resources, such as chert. Armed with stone mauls and antler picks, the prehistoric miners followed the vertical veins of copper ore into the hillside. They employed a method of heating and cooling to break up the ore and facilitate quarrying. First they would light fires along the wall face. Then they would throw water onto the hot rock, causing it to crack and thus making it easier to chip apart. Some of the veins were followed 15 to 20 meters into the center of the hill, with small horizontal access platforms extending off the main shaft. In those cases where the shaft appeared to be in danger of collapsing the miners built stone supporting walls out of the debris they excavated.

The mine at Rudna Glava is well dated to the Late Neolithic and Early Copper Age, a period also known as the Chalcolithic, which took place during the second half of the fifth and the first half of the fourth millennium B.C. This dating is based on pottery from the Vinča culture that was found in the mine shafts. Jovanović recorded three different accumulations of pottery in the shafts. The oldest, which was found on an access platform in the mine along with a damaged antler tool and a large stone maul, dates to the transitional phase, known as the Gradac phase, between Early and Late Vinča, during the fifth millennium B.C. The two other pottery concentrations are characteristic of Late Vinča culture and date to the early fourth millennium B.C.

Another early copper mine was excavated at the site of Ai Bunar in northern Bulgaria in the Sredna Gora Mountains of central Bulgaria. The mine at Ai Bunar is roughly contemporary with the mine at Rudna Glava, and the miners used similar techniques. They excavated narrow open trenches to follow the veins of copper carbonates into the hills. As at Rudna Glava, archaeologists found antler picks and stone mauls in the mine shafts, in addition to two shaft-hole copper tools and the remains of three human individuals.

The ceramics found at Ai Bunar are characteristic of the ceramics found in the sixth layer at the Karanovo tell (Karanovo VI) and date to the late fifth millennium B.C. While this discovery demonstrates that the mines at Ai Bunar were in use during the later fifth millennium B.C., other evidence suggests the mines probably were in use somewhat earlier, possibly as early as the end of the sixth millennium B.C. Copper objects and ore that have been demonstrated chemically to have derived from the sources at Ai Bunar were found at several sites in south-central Bulgaria that are contemporary with Karanovo V, a phase that dates to the beginning of the fifth millennium B.C.

Chemical analyses, primarily lead isotope analyses, carried out by E. N. Chernykh, Noël H. Gale, and several Bulgarian specialists have demonstrated that Ai Bunar and Rudna Glava were not the only sources for copper ore in prehistory. The analysis of copper artifacts from several sites in south-central Bulgaria suggests that at least four other copper sources were exploited, though they remain unidentified.

A handful of other copper mines have been located in northern Thrace, one of which contained Karanovo V and VI pottery, and another prehistoric mine also is known to have existed at Mali Sturac, a site in the Rudnik mountain range in central Serbia. Unfortunately, none of these sites has been extensively explored, and little has been published about them

As I understand it,  fairly complex copper forges dating back to about 5,500 BC have been found  in Serbia. Interestingly, the oldest recognised smelted copper object (a mace head from Can Hasan, Turkey) only dates to about 5,000 BC, according to the text books. This older age for the copper smelting forges at  Plocnik  and the mine at Ai Bunar than the Turkish find does rather put a big question mark on the ancient Turks inventing it. If the forges at Plocknik were simple, it might still be a coin toss, but apparently the forges were not ‘entry level’, and showed signs of a well developed metallurgy even 7,500 years ago.

Also, according to this news item, the Can Hassan mace head may have lost its crown as the oldest smelted copper object..

According to National Museum archaeologist Dušan Šljivar, experts found a “copper chisel and stone axe at a location near Prokuplje in which the foundation has proven to be 7,500 years old, leading us to believe that it was one of the first places in which metal weapons and tools were made in prehistoric times.”

It’s looking like the Anatolians weren’t the discoverers, after all.

Pigs were domesticated multiple times .

Pigs domesticated ‘many times’ 
 


All domestic pigs in Europe are descended from European wild boar.

 
Pigs were domesticated independently at least seven times around the globe, a new study has found.
The discovery was made by linking the DNA of tame porkers with their wild relatives, Science magazine reports.

Researchers found farmed pigs in several locations were closely related to wild boar in the same region, suggesting local domestication.

This challenges the notion that boar were tamed just twice before being transported throughout the world.

“Many archaeologists have assumed the pig was domesticated in no more than two areas of the world, the Near East and the Far East, but our findings turn this theory on its head,” said Keith Dobney, of the University of Durham, UK.

“Our study shows that domestication also occurred independently in Central Europe, Italy, Northern India, South East Asia and maybe even Island South East Asia.”

Trade and migration

Archaeological evidence suggests the pig was first domesticated 9,000 years ago in Eastern Turkey. They were also domesticated in China at around the same time.

This forces the question about the origins of domestication across all animals.
Until now, archaeologists generally assumed that after their initial domestication in these two locations, tame pigs were transported – through trade and human migration – around the world.

In many ways, this is the simplest explanation: as farming methods spread during the Neolithic Age, new innovations and domestic animals were thought to have been passed through the human population.

But it seems the truth is a little more far fetched. Instead of importing tame pigs, people from several different countries domesticated the animals themselves.

“There is definitely something a bit weird about it,” said co-author Greger Larson, of Oxford University, UK. “Maybe people really didn’t bring pigs with them during the agricultural sweep as part of the Neolithic.

“Maybe instead of bringing pigs with them they were domesticating wild boar only.”

Transfer of ideas

However, because the researchers have not been able to date the recently discovered centres of domestication, it is unclear whether the idea of taming pigs was had independently, or whether it was transferred between communities.

The team found that all domestic pigs in Europe are descended from European wild boar – and not Near Eastern boar – which means farmers travelling west from Turkey were not bringing significant numbers of pigs with them.

But that does not mean they did not bring the good idea of pig domestication with them.

Nonetheless, it raises questions about the process of animal domestication, and the spread of agricultural ideas.

“Domestication probably isn’t just one guy having an ingenious idea and looking at a wild boar and saying, ‘I can get a domestic pig out of that’,” Dr Larson said. “It could be that domestication is almost a natural consequence of people settling down to farm.

“These findings are forcing the question about the origins of domestication across all animals.”

 A more detailed article on pubmed about .. Ancient DNA, pig domestication, and the spread of the Neolithic into Europe.

The overall gist of this is… pigs are pretty easy to domesticate. I’ve seen (TV) a group of hunters in New Guinea carry one home because they had caught two at the same time, and tethered it to a post and fed it until they wanted to kill it. Easy to see how that doing this could lead to domestication.

The first dogs were from China.

Domesticated dogs first appeared in East Asia, spread across Asia and Europe, and then accompanied their two-legged companions into the Americas some 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, according to research published in the US-based Science magazine.

 

An Asian wolf.

That is the scenario pieced together by researchers from China and Sweden, who traced the genetic origins of dogs living on both sides of the Pacific. Humans may have domesticated dogs from wolves as recently as 15,000 years ago, according to the study by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, who performed the research in collaboration with his Chinese partners. 

Under a joint research program, the Chinese and Swedish scientists analyzed DNA samples taken from 654 dogs in Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America over the past two years. They found that, while most dogs share a common gene pool, genetic diversity is the highest in East Asia, suggesting dogs have been domesticated there the longest. Previously, researchers generally looked to the Middle East as the setting for the first domestication of plants and animals.

 Zhang Yaping, a researcher with the program at the Kunming Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the hypothesis that dogs were first domesticated in East Asia has long been advanced based on anatomical studies but had not been confirmed by genetics until the publishing of this research. The body structures of dogs may change greatly due to cross-breeding, but the genetic information stored in their DNA, that links them with their ancestors, remains stable over a significantly long period of time, Zhang said. 

Over the past decade, genetic studies of the origins of life on earth have provided more insight into animals and plants and have sometimes even overturned previous research results. But the study of the dogs’ genetic origins had not gained momentum until Savolainen hit upon the idea when he was doing other research two years ago.  Savolainen started studying dog genetics to help police analyze hairs. “I’ve been to a lot of dog shows here, snatching hairs from the dogs,” he was quoted as saying by the magazine.

 As he assembled a large collection of dog hairs and attached cells, he began to wonder whether he could expand his study and find the cradle of the domestic dog.  He and Zhang’s team focused on stretches of DNA from the cells’ mitochondria, which function like power houses and pass from mother to pup. 

Based on similarities in that genetic material, 95 percent of the dogs that the researchers sampled had come from just three lineages that seem to have arisen in East Asia. 

“This finding corresponds well with the previous hypothesis based on observations of anatomy,” Savolainen said.  

A second international research team investigated whether dogs in America were domesticated from wolves there, independently from Old World dogs, or whether the two groups were related. Jennifer Leonard and her colleagues at the University of California in Los Angeles compared the DNA sequences of New and Old World dogs, including some Latin-American and Alaskan dogs that pre-dated the first European explorers in the Americas.

 The DNA sequences were derived from remains up to 1,400 years old. Thirty-seven came from archaeological sites in Peru, Bolivia and Mexico, and 11 from modern gold mines in the Alaskan permafrost. The similarities among the DNA sequences of New and Old World dogs indicate that all the dogs share a common ancestor. 

A certain cluster of sequences from the ancient Latin-American dogs did not match any from modern dogs, indicating that European colonists probably did not use Native-American dogs to create the breeds that we know today, according to the researchers. The researchers constructed a family tree including modern dogs and wolves that suggests the ancient New World dogs were much closer to Old World dogs than to New World wolves.

 The two new studies agree with suggestions from older work: Dogs were domesticated in the Old World, and the earliest migrants brought them to the New World through land bridge across the Berling Strait, Zhang said.  He also said they are now in the process of identifying the origins of domesticated pigs, chickens, yak and cattle using the same approach. 

(China Daily November 27, 2002)

The oldest ceramic objects.

vestonicka_venuse.jpg

 The worlds oldest ceramic object, the Venus of Dolni Vestonice, from the Czech Republic, 26,000 years old.

Makes you wonder why the Cro Magnon Czechs didn’t think to make little pots from it. Although Europe was technically aceramic until about 8,000 years ago, ceramic statues are occasionally seen from the Paleolithic until the Neolithic. They just didn’t make pots out of it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

jomon-pots

The world oldest known ceramic pots, Jomon, about 16,500 years old. Found In  cave in Japan. Pottery along the Amur river in Russia has a similar age.

 

 

 
This piece ofgrey-blue Iranian pottery is 10,000 years old. It is discovered in Ganj Dareh (Valley of Treasure), a district of Kermanshah province, west of Iran

 

 

  

Pieces of the 11,400-year-old cooking pot (Eric Huysecom)

 These potsherds from Mali that are about claimed to be 11,500 years . But, the date on the Malinese pots are a little suspicious, as they were dated from the sediments, not by thermo-luminesence or carbon dating. Still, it does seem North Africa/the Saharan people discovered pottery independently. It seems possible the Europeans picked it up pot making from the East of them and not Africa, as the pottery traditions are quite different to North African ones in the Earliest European sites.

 

Cambay F1

There’s a bit of a controversy over some objects pulled out of the ocean floor off the coast of India, in the Bay of Cambay (aka Khambat). When dated, these apparent potsherds date back to about 30,000 years ago, making them the oldest ceramics ever. They are arguing over these pieces as we speak, claiming they could be natural ‘geofacts’ instead of artifacts. I think they look real, as they are a different colour to the natural sediments, but only time will tell.