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Latest archaeology news, archaeological discoveries from across the globe
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Urgent call for volunteers to survey England’s disappearing coastal archaeology

Tue, 2015-08-04 23:50
Thousands of archaeological sites along England’s coast and tidal estuaries are being destroyed by extreme weather, rising sea levels and tidal scour.

CITiZAN, the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network, is the first national community-led project to tackle the alarming threat to our heritage.

Today, CITiZAN is calling for an army of volunteers to help survey and monitor these nationally-important but vulnerable archaeological sites before they disappear.

One of the largest community archaeology projects in the country, taking in 5,600 miles of coastline over 500 miles of tidal foreshore, CITiZAN runs free community-based training, building a network of volunteers with the skills and systems needed to survey and monitor threatened sites. Armed with tape measures, buckets and mobile phones, volunteers create standardised records of exposed archaeological sites.

Gustav Milne, CITiZAN project leader, said: “We can’t stop the tide but we can record these incredibly important archaeological sites before they are destroyed. We are calling on local communities to join our network and help to survey their local coastal heritage sites before they are lost forever.”

Ben Greener, HLF’s Historic Environment Advisor, said:”Our coastlines are an enormous hidden repository of the remains of war defences, industry and ancient settlements providing a fascinating insight into the history of this island nation. It’s a huge job to record thousands of these sites before they are lost for good and the Heritage Lottery Fund is encouraging as many people as possible to don their boots and join CITiZAN at their nearest site.”

From Lindisfarne to Land’s End, remains of prehistoric forests, Roman buildings, ancient salt-working sites, lost medieval ports, fishing settlements, coastal defences from both World Wars and countless abandoned boats, barges and ships lie exposed and are being washed away.

Via a web-based recording systemcitizan.org.uk and app, a constantly evolving crowd-sourced database and interactive map of sites is being compiled. The database preserves the knowledge of these important sites forever and is a unique and valuable resource that opens the door to new research opportunities.

Hosted by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology), the CITiZAN project has been awarded £1.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, enhanced by the National Trust and The Crown Estate, together with support from Historic England.

The three-year project operates across England from regional centres: with MOLA in London, with partners the Council for British Archaeology in York and the Nautical Archaeology Society in Portsmouth.

For more information about CITiZAN and local training opportunities and events visit the CITiZAN websitecitizan.org.uk.

Categories: General

Flexible vocalizations in wild bonobos show similarities to development of human speech

Tue, 2015-08-04 22:34
From an early age, human infants are able to produce vocalisations in a wide range of emotional states and situations – an ability felt to be one of the factors required for the development of language.

Researchers have found that wild bonobos (our closest living relatives) are able to vocalize in a similar manner. Their findings challenge how we think about the evolution of communication and potentially move the dividing line between humans and other apes.

Animal vocalisations are usually made in relatively narrow behavioural contexts linked to emotional states, such as to express aggressive motivation or to warn about potential predators. In contrast, humans exhibit ‘functional flexibility’ when vocalizing in a variety of situations.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham, UK and the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, conducted research on wild bonobos and found that in this species individuals produce a call type, known as the ‘peep’, across a range of positive, negative and neutral situations, such as during feeding, travel, rest, aggression, alarm, nesting and grooming. Peeps are high-pitched vocalisations which are short in duration and produced with a closed mouth.

They found broad similarity in the acoustic structure across different contexts suggesting contextual flexibility in this call. Similar to human infants, recipients therefore have to make pragmatic inferences about the meaning of this call across contexts.

Author Zanna Clay said that the findings show that “more research needs to be done on our great ape relatives before we can make conclusions about human uniqueness. The more we look, the more continuity we find among animals and humans”

The type of functional flexibility they observed in bonobos could represent an important evolutionary transition from functionally fixed animal vocalisations towards flexible human vocalisations, which seems to have appeared some 6-10 million years ago in the shared common ancestor between humans and great apes. It appears that many of the core features of human language have deep roots in the primate lineage.


Categories: General

New analysis suggests body size increase did not play a role in the origins of Homo genus

Tue, 2015-08-04 22:26
A new analysis of early hominin body size evolution led by a George Washington University professor suggests that the earliest members of the Homogenus (which includes our species, Homo sapiens) may not have been larger than earlier hominin species.

As almost all of the hows and whys of human evolution are tied to estimates of body size at particular points in time, these results challenge numerous adaptive hypotheses based around the idea that the origins of Homo coincided with, or were driven by, an increase in body mass.

In “Body Mass Estimates of Hominin Fossils and the Evolution of Human Body Size,” published online in the Journal of Human Evolution, Mark Grabowski assistant research professor in the GW Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, and his co-authors provide the most comprehensive set of body mass estimates, species averages and species averages by sex for fossil hominins to date. Produced using cutting-edge methodology and the largest sample of individual early hominin fossils available, analysis of their results shows that early hominins were generally smaller than previously thought and that the increase in body size occurred not between australopiths and the origins of Homo but later with H. erectus (the first species widely found outside of Africa).

“One of our major results is that we found no evidence that the earliest members of our genus differed in body mass from earlier australopiths (some of the earliest species of hominins),” said Dr. Grabowski, who is also a Fulbright scholar at the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis at the University of Oslo. “In other words, the factors that set our lineage apart from our earlier ancestors were unrelated to an increase in body size, which has been the linchpin of numerous adaptive hypotheses on the origins of our genus.”

“There are several untested assumptions about the origin of Homo,” said Bernard Wood, University Professor of Human Origins at GW, who was not an author on the study. “This study debunks the one that suggests that until the origin of our own genus, for one reason or another – and the usual explanation is not enough meat in the diet – all early hominins were small-bodied. This elegant study shows that body size did not make a sharp uptick with the arrival of early Homo. My prediction is that this is just the first of many preconceptions about early Homo that will be debunked in the next few years.”

Until now, anthropologists have generally relied on estimates of hominin body mass presented in a paper by Henry M. McHenry in 1992. Since then, many more fossils have been discovered and researchers better understand the complexities of human evolution. Dr. Grabowski and his co-authors build on and update McHenry’s results and apply new and novel methods to analyze a comprehensive fossil data set. The researchers hope their results will be the new standard for fossil hominin body estimates.

In addition, Dr. Grabowski and the co-authors found that the level of size difference between males and females (sexual dimorphism) appears to have only slightly decreased from earlier hominin species by the time of early H. erectus, and only decreased to modern human-like low levels later in our lineage. High levels of dimorphism such as in gorillas may correlate with more “harem”-like social structures. This result should give pause to evolutionary models that see a more modern human-like monogamous social structure evolving early in our lineage.


Categories: General

Archaeologists uncover entrance gate and fortification of Biblical city

Tue, 2015-08-04 22:18
The Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, headed by Prof. Aren Maeir, has discovered the fortifications and entrance gate of the biblical city of Gath of the Philistines, home of Goliath and the largest city in the land during the 10th-9th century BCE, about the time of the “United Kingdom” of Israel and King Ahab of Israel.

The excavations are being conducted in the Tel Zafit National Park, located in the Judean Foothills, about halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon in central Israel.

Credit: Prof. Aren Maeir, Director, Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath

Prof. Maeir, of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, said that the city gate is among the largest ever found in Israel and is evidence of the status and influence of the city of Gath during this period. In addition to the monumental gate, an impressive fortification wall was discovered, as well as various building in its vicinity, such as a temple and an iron production facility. These features, and the city itself were destroyed by Hazael King of Aram Damascus, who besieged and destroyed the site at around 830 BCE.

The city gate of Philistine Gath is referred to in the Bible (in I Samuel 21) in the story of David’s escape from King Saul to Achish, King of Gath.

Now in its 20th year, the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, is a long-term investigation aimed at studying the archaeology and history of one of the most important sites in Israel. Tell es-Safi/Gath is one of the largest tells (ancient ruin mounds) in Israel and was settled almost continuously from the 5th millennium BCE until modern times.

The archaeological dig is led by Prof. Maeir, along with groups from the University of Melbourne, University of Manitoba, Brigham Young University, Yeshiva University, University of Kansas, Grand Valley State University of Michigan, several Korean universities and additional institutions throughout the world.

Among the most significant findings to date at the site: Philistine Temples dating to the 11th through 9th century BCE, evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century BCE possibly connected to the earthquake mentioned in the Book of Amos I:1, the earliest decipherable Philistine inscription ever to be discovered, which contains two names similar to the name Goliath; a large assortment of objects of various types linked to Philistine culture; remains relating to the earliest siege system in the world, constructed by Hazael, King of Aram Damascus around 830 BCE, along with extensive evidence of the subsequent capture and destruction of the city by Hazael, as mentioned in Second Kings 12:18; evidence of the first Philistine settlement in Canaan (around 1200 BCE); different levels of the earlier Canaanite city of Gath; and remains of the Crusader castle “Blanche Garde” at which Richard the Lion-Hearted is known to have been.


Categories: General

Was Cleopatra beautiful? The archaeological evidence

Tue, 2015-08-04 18:44
Cleopatra VII Philopator, commonly known simply as Cleopatra, ruled over Egypt during the century preceding the birth of Christ. By Robyn Antanovskii

Over the next two thousand years and counting, she would be renowned for her outstanding physical beauty, inspiring innumerable works of art depicting her as an alluring temptress, and spawning countless modern beauty parlours in her name.

No doubt the legend of her beauty is based in part on her famous seduction of both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, both powerful Roman leaders. But what did she really look like? Is there any solid basis to the claims of unparalleled physical beauty? Let’s have a look at what the historical and archaeological evidence tells us.

Cleopatra VII at the Temple of Dendera : Wiki Commons

Writing another two centuries after Cleopatra’s reign, the Roman historian Cassius Dio describes Cleopatra as “a woman of surpassing beauty” who was “brilliant to look upon.” Yet Greek historian Plutarch, writing more than a century earlier than Dio, maintains that “her beauty… was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her.” As neither are contemporary accounts, there is no good reason to believe one over the other, or even to believe either of them at all.

There remain no busts that can be reliably attributed to Cleopatra, but we do have various images of her surviving on ancient coinage. In these images, she is depicted as anywhere from average-looking to hook-nosed and manly. However, it must be remembered that coins in the ancient world were a powerful piece of political propaganda. The deliberate portrayal of Cleopatra with masculine features not dissimilar to her ancestral male rulers the Ptolemies was not an attempt to capture a true likeness, but rather to help legitimise the rule of a young female queen.

Cleopatra by Jean-Leon-Gerome : Wiki Commons

It is also important to keep in mind that ancient ideals of beauty were quite different to those of the modern Western world. For example, ancient Greek depictions of the beautiful love goddess Aphrodite invariably show a full-bodied woman with a prominent nose; a woman who modern society would probably advise to lose weight and get a nose job! Asking whether Cleopatra was beautiful is perhaps then a fruitless question, if beauty is truly in the eyes of the culture in which it is beheld.

Or maybe all we need do is move beyond beauty as a purely physical concept. Dio also tells us that Cleopatra had ‘a most delicious voice and a knowledge of how to make herself agreeable to everyone.” Likewise, Plutarch states that conversation with Cleopatra “had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it.” He wrote that “there was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased.”

The message is clear: Cleopatra’s allure had little to do with her physical appearance and a lot to do with her intellect, character and, apparently, the tone of her voice. When you consider how deeply involved both Caesar and Antony became with her, it is obvious that there must have been something more at play than just a sexy young body. After all, both were notorious womanisers and would surely not have fallen for Cleopatra on the basis of sex alone.

It seems likely that Cleopatra’s physical appearance was not more or less attractive than the next woman, yet through her wit, charm and daring she captivated not only two of the most powerful men of the ancient world, but the collective imagination of the entire world for all centuries that followed. That the most renowned beauty in human history was beautiful in character more so than in appearance could be an important lesson for our modern fixation on the purely physical.


Bradford, E. 1971. Cleopatra, Corgi Books.

Cassius Dio. c. 200 CE. Book XLII, Roman History, trans. H.B. Foster, 1905.

Flamarion, E. 1997. Cleopatra: From History to Legend, Thames & Hudson.

Fletcher, J. 2008. Cleopatra the Great: The Woman Behind The Legend, Hodder & Stoughton.

Goldsworthy, A. 2010. Antony and Cleopatra, Orion Publishing Group.

Plutarch. c. 100 CE. Life of Antony, Parallel Lives, Loeb Classical Library, 1920.

Written by Robyn Antanovskii


Categories: General

AF: Emperor Bootikins & The Nemi Ships

Tue, 2015-08-04 09:00

Welcome to Archae-Facts, the place to find bite-sized chunks of Archaeological Trivia!

Today, we hear of the legacy of an infamous Emperor…

Categories: General