Archaeologist Anna Ihr’s research has led to fascinating discoveries in two completely different regions of the world – in the old Swedish trade centre Old Lödöse along the Göta Älv river and in Qalhāt, the former capital of the Hormuz Kingdom in Oman. Ihr’s research shows that primary glass was produced in Sweden 300 years before the reign of King Gustav Vasa. It also shows that dried fish was once used to fuel ceramic kilns in Oman.
In Old Lödöse, Ihr has found pieces of a cracked clay crucible with glass remains inside and attached stones underneath. Nearly 100 kilos of this material has been uncovered.
‘The dating of my finds shows that glass was produced in Old Lödöse prior to 1260. That’s 300 years earlier than the previously oldest known written sources, which are from 1556. This means that Sweden’s history of glass production now has to be revised,’ she says.
The thesis describes how different vitrified, or glassy, materials can be interpreted and analysed. It can be very difficult to interpret how a piece of glass was made. It could have been made intentionally or unintentionally. Glaze is an example of intentionally produced glassy material. Glass describes a state of a processed material. Vitrified slag from blast furnaces is one example of unintentionally material.
‘In order to determine the difference between intentionally and unintentionally processed materials, you need a certain type of scientific analysis which is very rarely performed in Scandinavia. This is the reason why glass never has been studied in this perspective in Sweden,’ says Ihr.
Three ceramic kilns have been located and excavated in Qalhāt. The analyses show that they were fuelled with dried fish, and the ashes and the minerals in the sand fused and formed a glassy slag, vitrifying the inside of the kilns.
‘The use of dried fish was a conscious choice, though.’
Ihr hopes that her doctoral thesis will contribute to a broader understanding of how certain societies were organised. In glass artefacts which reflect a well-structured community, as in Old Lödöse, archaeologists can extract traces of trade specialisation, technology, rituals and decision making – so called advanced societies. In other cases, vitrified assemblages may reveal a community which-was not advanced. One example of this is the vitrified dung found in an old settlement in South Africa.
‘My studies show that glass production may be used as an indicator of an advanced society. From processed materials it is possible to extrat imanent social information, which may say much of a lost society’ says Anna Ihr.
The fossils belong to 500-million-year-old blind water creatures, known to scientists as “vetulicolians” (pronounced: ve-TOO-lee-coal-ee-ans).
These marine creatures, which have been described as alien-like in appearance, were “filter-feeder” creatures, shaped like a figure-of-8. Their odd anatomy has meant that they have not been placed correctly in the tree of life, that is, until now.
In a new paper published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, researchers at the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Museum argue for an alteration in the way that these creatures are viewed, placing them in the same group as vertebrate animals, such as humans.
“Although not directly related to humans in the evolutionary line, we can confirm that these ancient water creatures are among our distant cousins,” says the lead author of the paper, Dr. Diego Garcia-Bellido, ARC Future Fellow with the University’s Environment Institute.
“They are close relatives of vertebrates- animals with backbones, such as ourselves. Vetulicolians have a long tail supported by a stiff rod. This rod resembles a notochord, which is the precursor of the backbone and is unique to vertebrates and their relatives,” he says.
The first specimens were studied back in 1911, but it took until 1997 for the fossils to be classified as a group on their own: the vetulicolians. These fossils have now been discovered across the world including: Canada, Greenland, China and Australia.
The latest insights to vetulicolians have derived from new fossils found on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia, which have been named Nesonektris (Greek for “Island Swimmer).
“Vetulicolians are further evidence that life was very rich in diversity during the Cambrian period, in some aspects more than it is today, with many extra branches on the evolutionary tree,” Dr. Diego Garcia-Bellido says. “They were simple yet successful creatures, large in number and in distribution across the globe, and one of the first representations of our cousins, which include sea squirts and salps.”
Contributing Source: University of Adelaide
Header Image Source: University of Adelaide/South Australian Museum
“Our study provides comprehensive insight into how nearly all the cotinga species are related to each other going all the way back to the common ancestor,” says lead author Jake Berv, a Ph.D in the Fuller Evolutionary Biology Lab at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “No previous attempts to understand the evolutionary history of this group have included genetic samples from nearly all the existing species.”
Berv began sequencing DNA samples and collecting data back in late 2010 whilst working as a lab technician at Yale University with co-author Prof. Rick Prum, a leading expert on cotingas. The understanding of how one species is related to another within this group enables scientists to trace the evolution of certain traits and behaviours.
Berv and Prum have already begun this process. They wanted to learn if the evolution of differently coloured males and females in this group of birds (sexual dimorphism) is directly linked the to the breeding system in which males have multiple mates (polygyny). Darwin first proposed the theory that the increased pressure of sexual selection in polygynous birds encouraged the development of colour differences between the sexes. This seems to be correct for many species- but not the cotingas. When Berv and Prum examined the patterns of evolution for these two traits across their new tree of life, it turned out that they didn’t quite match up perfectly. The statistics they calculated also supported the conclusion that these traits might be evolutionary “de-coupled” in the cotingas.
Sexual selections seems to have played a crucial role in the evolution on non-plumage gender differences in some cotinga species.
“In one case, the Screaming Piha, the males and females look alike but the male sings one of the loudest songs on the planet,” says Yale’s Rick Prum. “That means male-female plumage difference alone is not evidence for sexual selection because sexual selection is also driving other traits such as voice and behaviour.”
“One of the biggest analytical differences between what we’ve done and past work is that we used a ‘species tree’ approach, which is potentially more accurate than what is typically applied to genetic data,” says Berv. “We ran our data through more traditional types of analyses as well, and all of them strongly supported a consistent evolutionary ‘tree of life’. We hope other scientists who are interested in these birds take our phylogeny and do all sorts of great things with it.”
Contributing Source: Cornell University
Header Image Source: Wikimedia
Archaeologists from the University of Leicester have made what has been described by many as a “once-in-a-career” discovery of the decorated bronze remains of an Iron Age chariot.
A team from the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History has unearthed a vast array of rare bronze fittings from a 2nd or 3rd century BC chariot, which appears to have been buried as a religious offering.
The team of archaeologists discovered the remains during an ongoing excavation of the Burrough Hill Iron Age hillfort, located near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire.
The School has led a 5-year project there since 2010, allowing students and volunteers to obtain valuable experience of archaeological excavations.
Burrough Hill is owned by the education charity, the Ernest Cook Trust, which has also funded site tours and school visits to the excavation.
While digging a large, deep pit near the remains of a house within the hillfort, a group comprising of four students uncovered a piece of bronze in the ground− before unveiling a concentration of further parts close by.
Taken together, the pieces are easily recognisable as a matching set of bronze fittings from a mid to late Iron Age chariot. As a group of two or more base metal prehistoric artefacts this assemblage is covered under the Treasure Act.
After being carefully cleaned, decorative patterns are clearly seen in the metalwork− including a triskele motif displaying three waving lines, similar to that of the flag of the Isle of Man.
Nora Batterman, from the University of Leicester was one of the students who made the discovery. She said: “Realising that I was actually uncovering a hoard that was carefully placed there hundreds of years ago made it the find of a lifetime. Looking at the objects now they have been cleaned makes me even more proud, and I can’t wait for them to go on display.”
It appears the pieces have been gathered in a box prior to being planted in the ground upon a layer of cereal chaff and burnt as part of a religious ritual. The chaff may have doubled as a “cushion” for the box and also the fuel for the fire.
After the burning, the entire deposit was covered with a layer of burnt cinder and slag− where it lay undisturbed for over 2,200 years until the team discovered it.
The archaeologists believe the burial might have taken place to mark a new season, or the final closure or dismantling of a house at the fort.
Dr. Jeremy Taylor, Lecturer in Landscape Archaeology at the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History and co-director of the Burrough Hill field project, said: “This is a matching set of high-decorated bronze fittings from an Iron Age chariot− probably from the 2nd or 3rd century BC.
“This is the most remarkable discovery of material we made at the Burrough Hill in the five years we worked on the site. This is a very rare discovery, and a strong sign of the prestige on the site.
“The atmosphere at the dig on the day was a mix of ‘tremendously excited’ and ‘slightly shell-shocked’. I have been excavating for 25 years and I have never found one of these pieces− let alone a whole set. It is a once-in-a-career discovery.”
John Thomas, co-director of the project added: “It looks like it was a matching set of parts that was collected and placed in a box as an offering, before being placed in the ground. Iron tools were placed around the box before it was then burnt, and covered in a thik layer of cinder and slag.
“The function of the iron tools is a bit of a mystery, but given the equestrian nature of the hoard, it is possible that they were associated with horse grooming. One piece in particular has characteristics of a modern curry comb, while two curved blades may have been used to maintain horses hooves or manufacture harness parts.”
The parts have been taken to the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History for further analysis− and the archaeologists hope that the atrefacts will be put on display in due course.
Until then, there will be a temporary display of the objects at the Melton Carneige Museum, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, from Saturday October 18th until Saturday December 13th.
Contributing Source: University of Leicester
Header Image Source: University of Leicester
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