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Latest archaeology news, archaeological discoveries from across the globe
Updated: 10 min 52 sec ago

Divers guilty of raiding shipwrecks without declaring their finds

Fri, 2014-05-16 15:10
Two divers from Kent have today pleaded guilty to not declaring valuable items from shipwrecks off the UK coast.

David Knight and Edward Huzzey, both from Sandgate, admitted to 19 offences between them, contrary to section 236 and section 237 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

Items were taken from shipwrecks off the Kent coast, with the first known objects removed in 2001. The shipwrecks targeted included German submarines from World War I and an unknown 200 year old wreck carrying English East India Company cargo.

Image Credit : MCA

The items included eight bronze cannons, three propellers from German submarines, lead and tin ingots, along with various other artefacts. It’s thought the combined value of the items is worth more than £250,000.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is aware from diary entries that Knight and Huzzey used explosives and sophisticated cutting equipment to free wreck material.

Sentencing has been scheduled for 2 July 2014.

Alison Kentuck, the MCA’s Receiver of Wreck, said: “Our message is clear: all wreck material found within or brought within UK territorial waters must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck. It is not a case of ‘finders keepers’.

“Finders of wreck have 28 days to declare their finds to the Receiver. This case highlights the importance of doing that and demonstrates what could happen to you if you don’t. By reporting wreck material you are giving the rightful owner the opportunity to have their property returned and you may be adding important information to the historic record.

Image Credit : MCA

“Legitimate finders are likely to be entitled to a salvage award, but those who don’t declare items are breaking the law and could find themselves facing hefty fines.”

English Heritage has provided advice on handling cultural objects, assessed the importance of objects seized as evidence and provided expert advice in relation to uncontrolled salvage on submerged archaeological remains.

Mark Harrison, English Heritage’s National Policing and Crime Adviser, said:

“We recognise that the majority of divers enjoy the historic marine environment and comply with the laws and regulations relating to wrecks and salvage. This case sends out a clear message that the small criminal minority will be identified and brought to justice.”

Mark Dunkley, English Heritage’s Maritime Designation Adviser, said:

“The investigation has highlighted the need to tackle heritage crime, wherever it occurs, so that the remains of our past remain part of our future.”

The MCA would also like to appeal to the public regarding the whereabouts of six bronze cannons that remain outstanding. They were constructed in 1807 by W & G and have the English East India Company logo (VEIC) on them.

If anyone knows the location of any of these cannons, please contact the Receiver of Wreck on 02380 329 474.

In 2013, the Receiver of Wreck dealt with an estimated £10 million worth of wreck material involving more than 35,450 objects.

Contributing Source : HM Coastguard Press Office

Categories: General

Study uncovers new evidence on species evolution

Thu, 2014-05-15 21:27
A study involving Simon Fraser University researchers and published today in the journal Science has found evidence for the genomic basis of how new species evolve in adapting to different environments.

Researchers studying an insect known as the walking stick (genus Timema) determined that the process of “speciation” happened in association with the use of different host plants. They also determined that across many populations of the insect, those on one host plant are diverging, genetically, from the populations on another host plant, a process they call “parallel speciation.”

“Parallel speciation is important because it is like replication in a scientific study—it tells you whether a pattern and process are repeatable, which lends credence and statistical rigor to the causes,” says SFU biology professor Bernard Crespi, whose former PhD student, Patrik Nosil, led the research. Nosil is now a professor at the U.K.’s University of Sheffield.

“From this we can learn, more effectively than in systems where speciation processes happen only once, how new species arise.”

The work involved experiments in combination with genome sequencing of populations from two host plants. The sets of individual walking sticks were put on different host plants to test directly for natural selection’s role in speciation.

Whole-genome data was obtained, which allowed inference of which genes were associated with speciation processes. “This tells you about the roles of natural selection, and how many genes are involved, in speciation,” Crespi notes.

The team’s work extends numerous earlier studies by using whole genomes on a large scale, and conducting experiments to validate the roles of natural selection in speciation.

“The combination of whole genomes, and experiments, is unprecedented in speciation studies,” says Crespi, adding that future work will involve determining what specific genes are involved in speciation, and how natural selection works upon them.

Image Credit : Simon Fraser University – Contributing Source : Simon Fraser University

Categories: General

Shrinking helped dinosaurs and birds to keep evolving

Thu, 2014-05-15 21:13
A study that has ‘weighed’ hundreds of dinosaurs suggests that shrinking their bodies may have helped the group that became birds to continually exploit new ecological niches throughout their evolution, and become hugely successful today.

An international team of scientists estimated the body mass of 426 dinosaur species based on the thickness of their leg bones. The team found that dinosaurs showed rapid rates of body size evolution shortly after their origins, around 220 million years ago. However, these soon slowed: only the evolutionary line that eventually led to birds continued to change size at this rate, and continued to do so for 170 million years, producing new ecological diversity not seen in other dinosaurs.

‘Dinosaurs aren’t extinct; there are about 10,000 species alive today in the form of birds. We wanted to understand the evolutionary links between this exceptional living group, and their Mesozoic relatives, including well-known extinct species like T. rex, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus,’ said Dr. Roger Benson of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the study.

‘We found exceptional body mass variation in the dinosaur line leading to birds, especially in the feathered dinosaurs called maniraptorans. These include Jurassic Park’s Velociraptor, birds, and a huge range of other forms, weighing anything from 15 grams to 3 tonnes, and eating meat, plants, and more omnivorous diets.’

The team believes that small body size might have been key to maintaining evolutionary potential in birds, which broke the lower body size limit of around 1 kilogram seen in other dinosaurs.

‘How do you weigh a dinosaur? You can do it by measuring the thickness of its leg bones, like the femur. This is quite reliable,’ said Dr. Nicolás Campione, of Uppsala University, a member of the team. ‘This shows that the biggest dinosaur Argentinosaurus, at 90 tonnes, was 6 million times the weight of the smallest Mesozoic dinosaur, a sparrow-sized bird called Qiliania, weighing 15 grams. Clearly, the dinosaur body plan was extremely versatile.’

The team examined rates of body size evolution on the entire family tree of dinosaurs, sampled throughout their first 160 million years on Earth. If close relatives are fairly similar in size, then evolution was probably quite slow. But if they are very different in size, then evolution must have been fast.

‘What we found was striking. Dinosaur body size evolved very rapidly in early forms, likely associated with the invasion of new ecological niches. In general, rates slowed down as these lineages continued to diversify,’ said Dr David Evans at the Royal Ontario Museum, who co-devised the project. ‘But it’s the sustained high rates of evolution in the feathered maniraptoran dinosaur lineage that led to birds – the second great evolutionary radiation of dinosaurs.’

The evolutionary line leading to birds kept experimenting with different, often radically smaller, body sizes – enabling new body ‘designs’ and adaptations to arise more rapidly than among larger dinosaurs. Other dinosaur groups failed to do this, got locked in to narrow ecological niches, and ultimately went extinct. This suggest that important living groups such as birds might result from sustained, rapid evolutionary rates over timescales of hundreds of millions of years, which could not be observed without fossils.

“The fact that dinosaurs evolved to huge sizes is iconic,” said team member Dr Matthew Carrano of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. “And yet we’ve understood very little about how size was related to their overall evolutionary history. This makes it clear that evolving different sizes was important to the success of dinosaurs”.

Header Image : Dinosaurs evolved into a huge range of shapes and sizes over 170 million years. Image courtesy of Julius Csotonyi.

Contributing Source : Uppsala Universitet

Categories: General

Dating and DNA show Paleoamerican-Native American connection

Thu, 2014-05-15 20:59
Eastern Asia, Western Asia, Japan, Beringia and even Europe have all been suggested origination points for the earliest humans to enter the Americas because of apparent differences in cranial form between today’s Native Americans and the earliest known Paleoamerican skeletons.

Now an international team of researchers has identified a nearly complete Paleoamerican skeleton with Native American DNA that dates close to the time that people first entered the New World.

“Individuals from 9,000 or more years ago have morphological attributes — physical form and structure — distinctive from later Native American peoples,” said Douglas Kennett, professor of environmental archaeology, Penn State. “What we have here is the unique combination of an adolescent Paleoamerican skeleton with a Native American DNA haplotype.”

The skeleton of a teenage girl was found in Hoyo Negro, a deeply submerged chamber in the Sac Actun cave system in the eastern Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Alberto Nava Blank and a team of science divers discovered the skeleton along with many extinct animal remains deep inside this inundated cave in 2007. The divers named the girl Naia. The Hoyo Negro project is led by Pilar Luna and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia of Mexico, Nava and James Chatters, owner of Applied Paleoscience, with funding from the National Geographic Society.

This collaborative interdisciplinary research effort is reported in today’s (May 16) issue of Science.

Kennett and Brendan J. Culleton, postdoctoral fellow in anthropology, Penn State, were originally asked to directly date the skeleton. After traditional and well accepted direct-dating methods failed because the bones were mineralized from long emersion in warm salty water within this limestone cave system, they worked closely with colleagues to build a geochronological framework for Naia using a unique combination of techniques to constrain the age of the skeleton to the end of the ice age.

To build the case for a late Pleistocene age they collaborated with Yemane Asmerom and Victor Polyak from the University of New Mexico using global sea level rise data to determine when the cave system, which at the time Naia and the extinct animals entered was dry, filled with water. The site where Naia lies is now 130 feet below sea level and sea level rise would have raised the groundwater level in the cave system and submerged everything between 9,700 and 10,200 years ago. So initial estimates of the latest that animals and humans could have walked into the cave system was 9,700 years ago.

At the same time, the researchers experimented with uranium thorium dating the skeleton directly. Asmerom and Polyak tried to directly date Naia’s teeth using this method, but that also did not work well.

The bones were found deep below today’s ground surface in a collapsed chamber connected to the surface via a web of now flooded tunnels that Naia once walked along to fall to her untimely death. Because the caves are limestone, mineral deposits continued to form while the cave was largely dry. Working with Patricia Beddows, Northwestern University, Chatters noticed accumulations of calcium carbonate — tiny rosettes of calcite deposited by water dripping off the cave roof — which could be accurately dated using the uranium thorium method. Because these drip water deposits formed on top of Naia’s bones, their date must occur after she fell in the cave. The oldest one dated so far is 12,000 years old.

Naia’s tooth enamel was also radiocarbon dated to 12,900 years ago by Kennett’s lab.

“Unfortunately, we can’t rule out that the tooth enamel is contaminated with secondary carbonates from the cave system, but we removed potential contaminates using standard techniques and Tom Stafford, Stafford Research Laboratories, produced a comparable age,” said Kennett. “We consider this a maximum age and when combined with the uranium thorium dates from the adhering speleothems, we argue that the skeleton dates between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago. Well placed as a Paleoamerican.”

Morphologically, Naia does not look like a contemporary Native American, but mitochondrial DNA testing — maternally inherited DNA — carried out by Brian Kemp, Washington State University, and his collaborators shows that she has a D1 haplotype.

This is consistent with the hypothesis that her ancestors’ origins were in Beringia, a now partially submerged landmass including parts of Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon. Early humans moved into this area from elsewhere in Asia and remained there for quite some time. During that time they developed a unique haplotype that persists today in Native Americans. Genetically, Paleoamericans have similar attributes as modern Native Americans even if their morphology appears different.

“More work is needed,” said Kennett. ” There are still carbonate deposits on the bones of Naia and other animal bones in the cave. The Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and the scientific diving community have nicely preserved the site so the next step will be to date additional samples to constrain the age of Naia and associated extinct animals further.”

Also working on this project were Eduard Reinhardt, McMaster University, Ontario; Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales, INAH; Deborah A. Bolnick, University of Texas at Austin; Ripan S. Malhi, University of Illinois; Dominique Rissolo, Waitt Institute; and Shanti Morell-Hart, Stanford University.

Header Image : Penn State University

Contributing Source : Penn State

Categories: General

Richest marine reptile fossil bed along Africa’s South Atlantic coast is dated at 71.5 mya

Thu, 2014-05-15 17:43
A new study uses carbon isotope dating to determine the first precise age for this bed, and ties the western coast of Africa to 30 million years of global geologic records.

Paleontologists at SMU have measured the carbon isotopes in marine fossils to precisely date for the first time 30 million years of sediments along Africa’s South Atlantic shoreline.

The researchers matched the pattern of ratios of carbon-13 and carbon-12 isotopes in marine fossils from Africa’s South Atlantic shoreline to known patterns of carbon ratios in fossils found elsewhere in the world. From that they determined the age of the coastal sediments at a fossil locality near the southern Angolan village of Bentiaba, said paleontologist Christopher Strganac, lead author on the study.

The analysis focused on a sequence of shoreline sediments totaling 140 meters thick. Their age spans a timeline of nearly 30 million years, from 95 million years ago to 68 million years ago. That period was about 40 million years after Africa and South America split, allowing the South Atlantic Ocean to slowly emerge.

The analysis revealed that the richest marine reptile fossil bed on Africa’s South Atlantic dated to 71.5 million years ago, he said. This new date at the Bentiaba locality is more than 2 million years older than the estimated date of about 69 million years previously assigned to those marine beds by earlier researchers.

Africa’s South Atlantic coast is remarkable in plate tectonics as the place where part of the prehistoric supercontinent Gondwana split 130 million years ago into what we now call Africa and South America.

“The precise age for these rocks allows better understanding of the ancient life and environments at Bentiaba by placing them accurately within the history of the ancient South Atlantic,” said Strganac, a doctoral student in SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences. “It’s a benchmark now from the Southern Hemisphere with which we can better understand ancient life at that time.”

The precise dating was made possible by new scientific dating techniques. The age of the rocks hadn’t previously been assessed because Africa’s South Atlantic shore — noted for its puzzle-like fit with South America — has few localities with well-exposed rocks of this age. Also, it has been essentially unexplored by scientific expeditions since the 1960s largely because war and unrest prevented exploration in the previous century.

The new measurements stem from the work of Projecto PaleoAngola, an international team of scientists who in recent years have explored Angola and discovered an abundance of fossils. Their discoveries include the bones of dinosaurs, whales, mosasaurs and other ancient life from what is the richest marine reptile fossil bed along the South Atlantic coast.

Strganac and his co-authors report their findings in the Journal of African Earth Sciences. The article, “Carbon isotope stratigraphy, magnetostratigraphy, and 40Ar/39AR age of the Cretaceous South Atlantic coast, Namibe Basin, Angola,” is available online through open access at http://bit.ly/1v4r8xi.

“This improvement in understanding the ages of the rocks along the shore is a great first step in trying to understand the climatic and evolutionary events that accompanied the growth of this ocean,” said vertebrate paleontologist Louis L. Jacobs, also a co-author on the study and co-leader of Projecto PaleoAngola. Jacobs describes Angola as “an untapped frontier” for fossil hunters.

Aids in new knowledge of climate, temperature and vegetation

Scientists have recognized since the 1960s that ancient supercontinents split apart and their remnants drifted to the current positions of today’s continents over the course of millions of years. One of the results was the creation of vast new oceans. Little is known of the vertebrate life that lived during that time along the eastern and western margins of the emerging South Atlantic Ocean.

Fossils being discovered now by Projecto PaleoAngola hold the key to understanding the South Atlantic Ocean’s ancient past. Analysis of the fossils sheds light on the paleoenvironment, including changes in climate, temperature, vegetation and ecology.

The geologic time period covered by the 30-million-year sequence represents the Late Cretaceous. Studies have shown it was a period of dramatic change in climate, beginning with one of the warmest periods on Earth, then starting to transition to cooler climates, Strganac said.

Determining carbon ratios allowed comparison with global geologic events

To discover the age of the sediments, Strganac tested 55 fossil shells of ancient oysters and clams from 40 different rock layers on the coast. Testing determined the ratio of stable carbon isotopes, carbon-13 and carbon-12, in each shell. Because these isotopes do not decay with time, the relative abundance of each relates to the ocean when the shells formed.

These isotope ratios can be compiled as a sequence with the rock layers, producing a pattern of carbon isotope change in the ancient oceans through millions of years. To accurately date the rocks, Strganac matched the pattern in isotope ratios in the shell record at Angola with the pattern known from ancient geologic events that occurred elsewhere in the world.

Specifically, the red rift-valley layers at Bentiaba were deposited as Africa and South America began to split. Also observed in the layers are a reversal in the Earth’s magnetic polarity at 71.4 million to 71.64 million years to delimit the age of marine fossils; rocks deposited in the South Atlantic Ocean 93.9 million years ago during an oceanic anoxic event; and rocks south of Bentiaba that bracket the mass extinction of dinosaurs at 66 million years.

Besides comparing the stable carbon isotopes, other measuring techniques included: magnetostratigraphy, which measures the ancient polarity of the Earth’s magnetic field when various sedimentary layers were deposited; and argon-argon radiometric dating of a volcanic basalt layer at the site, which measures the radioactive decay of potassium to argon and dates the cooling of the volcanic lava to 85 million years ago.

“Adding a new ocean to the globe, in this case the South Atlantic, has many long-lasting effects,” said SMU’s Jacobs. “One obvious example is the formation of energy resources found along the coasts of Brazil and Angola.” — Margaret Allen

Header Image : Fossilised Oyseters : WIki Commons

Contributing Source : SMU

Categories: General

Wall paintings recounting Jerusalem’s crusader history revealed

Wed, 2014-05-14 20:31
Wall paintings recounting the Crusader history of Jerusalem were recently discovered when the sisters of Saint-Louis Hospital, near the Old City of Jerusalem, were organizing the storerooms.

In addition, a burst water pipe in the building revealed drawings that were concealed beneath modern plaster and paint.

In the wake of the discovery, IAA conservators came to the hospital and assisted the sisters with ‘first aid’ in cleaning and stabilizing some of the wall paintings. The paintings are in the style characteristic of monumental church decorations of the nineteenth century, with close attention to small details and motifs drawn from the world of medieval art.

Saint-Louis Hospice – an impressive two story structure built in the Renaissance and Baroque style – is situated next to the Jerusalem municipal building and bustling IDF Square, outside the Old City walls and opposite the New Gate.

The place is named after St. Louis IX, King of France (the leader of the Seventh Crusade 1248–1254 CE) and was opened to the public in 1896. Today, parts of the building are not opened to visitors because it serves as a hospital and hospice for the chronic and terminally ill.

The hospital is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. This order treats the sick regardless of religion, age or sex. Besides the sacred work performed there, the inside of the building contains a fascinating historical narrative and an artistic treasure.

De Piellat’s paintings adorn the walls of the hospital. Credit IAA

The hospital was founded at the initiative of a French count, Comte Marie Paul Amédée de Piellat, a man of many accomplishments, an intellectual and devout Christian who visited Jerusalem a number of times in the second half of the nineteenth century, and passed away there in 1925.

The ancient landscape of the Holy Land and Jerusalem in particular, were deeply etched in de Piellat’s personality and strengthened his Christian faith. De Piellat was shocked by the meager Catholic presence in Jerusalem and was concerned about the increasing power of the Greek Orthodox Church and its representatives in Jerusalem.

The count decided to act and between 1879 and 1896 he constructed the hospital which replaced a smaller, more modest facility in the Christian Quarter inside the Old City walls. He subsequently established another enormous and spectacular compound nearby – Notre Dame de France, a hostel designed to serve Christian pilgrims and provide for their needs.

The particular area the count selected for constructing the hospital was not accidental. De Piellat considered himself a descendant of the Crusaders, as well as the last Crusader. He wished to continue the work of those Latin kings, knights and nobility who were in Jerusalem some nine hundred years before. Therefore, he chose to locate the hospital in the historic area where the army of the Norman king Tancred camped, before it, together with Tancred’s allies, breached Jerusalem’s city walls in 1099 CE and vanquished the city by storm.

De Piellat, who was also an artist, adorned the walls of the hospital and its ceiling with huge paintings portraying Crusader knights in their armor and wearing swords. Alongside these giant figures he painted the heraldry (symbols/signs) of the French knights’ families, wrote their names and noted their genealogy. He also added the symbols of the Crusader cities, symbols of the military orders and monastic orders. The sight was spectacular; the enormous halls and endless rooms of the hospital were illuminated with the Crusader history of Jerusalem.

The Turks took possession of the building during the First World War (1914–1918). They covered the breathtaking frescoes with black paint. At the end of the war the count returned to the hospital in his old age. De Piellat devoted the rest of his life to removing the black paint and re-exposing the frescoes. He passed away at the hospital in 1925.

Interest was recently renewed in the lost and concealed wall paintings when they were revealed once again in all their glory. These magnificent paintings are a piece of history and a rare work of art. Funds are currently needed for their conservation, exposure and documentation. It should be noted there is no intention of turning the hospital into a tourist attraction in order that the humble and quiet sacred work done there may continue.

Header Image : The room that was used as a storeroom. Other paintings by de Piellat were discovered while reorganizing it. IAA

Contributing Source : IAA

 

Categories: General

Archaeologists discover evidence for first Londoners at US embassy

Wed, 2014-05-14 18:46
A flint tool dating to the Palaeolithic Period, approximately 700,000-10,000 BC, could be one of the earliest objects found in London.

Other Mesolithic (10,000-4,000 BC) and Bronze Age (2,000-600 BC) tools were also found.

London has a long and rich history, which is often attributed as having begun with the arrival of the Romans. The site in South London was once a river consisting of smaller channels with sandy and gravelly islands in between.

Some of the islands were large enough and dry enough for prehistoric people to settle on. The fertile, marshy banks provided access to rich food sources and were a perfect hunting ground for prehistoric communities.

Kasia Olchowska, one of our Senior Archaeologist, said: “What we have found may be the earliest archaeological evidence currently known from London.

It will be interesting to see how this evidence relates to other prehistoric structures on the nearby Thames foreshore. We hope to be able to reconstruct and have a better understanding of the prehistoric landscape of a much wider area than at present.”

The flint tools found at the United States Embassy site are a rare discovery. In a City that has seen so much development, these fleeting glimpses of prehistoric people rarely survive.

Further analysis of the flint tools needs to be carried out by our specialists to establish firm dates and learn more about their production and use.

Other discoveries on the site include a prehistoric fish trap, approximately 12 metres long, and evidence for camp fires.

Header Image Credit : MOLA           Contributing Source : MOLA

Categories: General

Archaeologists Use Drone Images to Uncover Ancient New Mexico Village

Wed, 2014-05-14 18:20
Using thermal imagery, researchers can now see what lies beneath the dirt-covered desert landscape.

A team of researchers from the University of North Florida and the University of Arkansas have successfully used drones to unearth a 1,000-year-old village in northwestern New Mexico, revealing never-seen-before structures, unique insight into who lived there and what the area was like.

Dr. John Kantner, a UNF associate professor of anthropology and an assistant vice president of research, and Dr. Jesse Casana, an archaeologist at the University of Arkansas, teamed up last summer to test the drones in a remote area of northwestern New Mexico. The research results were published in the May issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The archaeologists used an advanced drone that was programmed to fly a precise, GPS-guided path, with the thermal camera systematically imaging the ground surface. Images captured by the airborne camera were then processed using specialized software that transforms hundreds of individual photos into an accurate “heat map” of the ground.

“The drone with its thermal camera was able to not only pinpoint buried masonry architecture that I didn’t know about, but it also identified a number of circular “cool” signals that are the perfect shape and size to be kivas, ceremonial structures where people would meet for worship and decision-making,” said Kantner, who noted it was one of the most interesting discoveries.

“I was really pleased with the results,” said Casana. “This work illustrates the very important role that drones have for scientific research.”

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Kantner has studied the landscape south of Chaco Canyon for decades. He said he always knew there were homes from Pueblo ancestors in the area now called “Blue J,” but the ruins have been obscured by vegetation and buried in eroded sandstone.

Credit: University of North Florida

He’s particularly interested in how this powerful religious phenomenon impacted local social and political dynamics. “To determine this from ancient remains requires that I know exactly where houses and religious buildings were located and what they looked like, and this is where the challenge lies, because many of them are buried below the surface. It’s all but impossible to find ruins covered with dirt and vegetation unless you systematically and painstakingly excavate test pits to find them, and this takes forever,” Kantner said.

Archaeologists have known for decades that aerial images of thermal infrared wavelengths of light could be a powerful tool for spotting cultural remains on the ground, but the technology just wasn’t feasible.

“Really just a few days work allowed us to do something which would have taken a decade of work, said Kantner. “So this is great for quickly and pretty cheaply being able to find sites.”

“This project has convinced us that UAV-based thermal imaging holds great potential for discovery and mapping of ancient sites,” said Casana. “Traditional archaeological fieldwork is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and surveying large areas can become expensive.”

The team is working on refining its methods and plans to use thermal imagery for research in other parts of the world, with the goal of making aerial thermography a routinely used method for uncovering the human past.

UNF, a nationally ranked university located on an environmentally beautiful campus, offers students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of others the opportunity to build their own futures through a well-rounded education.

Header Image : Aerial Drone : WikiPedia

Contributing Source : University of North Florida

Categories: General

Fossil palm beetles ‘hindcast’ 50-million-year-old winters

Wed, 2014-05-14 17:49
Fifty-million-year-old fossil beetles that fed only on palm seeds reveal new information about ancient climates.

According to their research, published online this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these fossil beetles indicate that during a period of global warming in the geological past, there were mild, frost-free winters extended even in the uplands of ancient western North America.

Working with co-authors Geoffrey Morse of the University of San Diego, California, and David Greenwood of Manitoba’s Brandon University, researchers used fossil beetles to determine winter temperatures where they couldn’t place a thermometer—in the 50-million-year-old uplands of British Columbia and Washington.

The key to their study was finding a particular group of beetles that only feed on palms.

“The natural distribution of palms is limited today to regions without significant frost days, which their seeds and seedlings can’t survive,” Archibald explains. “A cooler upland with palms indicates a specific climate type, where a temperate average yearly temperature—rather like Vancouver today—had warmer winters where palms can complete their lifecycles.”

But since detecting palm fossils is difficult, the research duo developed a new technique—they used the beetle fossils to test for the palms’ presence.

Understanding more about these temperate, yet mild winter climates by looking to the deep past may help show how natural communities are impacted by climate change, says Archibald. “We see this happening today in significant ways—warm the winters a little, and you get big changes, such as the explosion of mountain pine beetle populations that strongly affect forests and the people and economies that depend on them.

“Using the fossil record to understand climates of the deep past that had significant similarities to climates that we are now encountering may help forearm us with knowledge that will be important to our future as we increasingly experience the effects of global warming.”

The team’s research was made possible by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Simon Fraser University is consistently ranked among Canada’s top comprehensive universities and is one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 125,000 alumni in 130 countries.

Image Credit : Simon Fraser University

Contributing Source : Simon Fraser University

Categories: General

Ancient giant sperm discovered

Wed, 2014-05-14 13:25
Preserved giant sperm from tiny shrimps that lived at least 17 million years ago have been discovered at the Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site by a team including UNSW Australia researchers.

The giant sperm are thought to have been longer than the male’s entire body, but are tightly coiled up inside the sexual organs of the fossilised freshwater crustaceans, which are known as ostracods.

“These are the oldest fossilised sperm ever found in the geological record,” says Professor Mike Archer, of the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, who has been excavating at Riversleigh for more than 35 years.

“The Riversleigh fossil deposits in remote northwestern Queensland have been the site of the discovery of many extraordinary prehistoric Australian animals, such as giant, toothed platypuses and flesh-eating kangaroos. So we have become used to delightfully unexpected surprises in what turns up there.

Image of cross-section of 17 million year old fossil ostracod sperm from Riversleigh World Heritage Fossil Site in northwestern Queensland. The nuclei in each sperm (dark spot) are indicated by arrows. Credit: R. Matzke-Karasz

“But the discovery of fossil sperm, complete with sperm nuclei, was totally unexpected. It now makes us wonder what other types of extraordinary preservation await discovery in these deposits.”

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

A UNSW research team led by Professor Archer, Associate Professor Suzanne Hand and Henk Godthelp collected the fossil ostracods from Bitesantennary Site at Riversleigh in 1988.

They were sent to John Neil, a specialist ostracod researcher at La Trobe University, who realised they contained fossilised soft tissues.

He drew this to the attention of European specialists, including the lead author on the paper, Dr Renate Matzke-Karasz, from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, who examined the specimens with Dr Paul Tafforeau at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.

Sketch of a male ostracod, showing the organization and orientation of the reproductive system. Credit : University of New South Wales

The microscopic study revealed the fossils contain the preserved internal organs of the ostracods, including their sexual organs. Within these are the almost perfectly preserved giant sperm cells, and within them, the nuclei that once contained the animals’ chromosomes and DNA.

Also preserved are the Zenker organs – chitinous-muscular pumps used to transfer the giant sperm to the female. The researchers estimate the fossil sperm are about 1.3 millimetres long, about the same length or slightly longer than the ostracod itself.

“About 17 million years ago, Bitesantennary Site was a cave in the middle of a vast biologically diverse rainforest. Tiny ostracods thrived in a pool of water in the cave that was continually enriched by the droppings of thousands of bats,” says Professor Archer.

UNSW’s Associate Professor Suzanne Hand, who is a specialist in extinct bats and their ecological role in Riversleigh’s ancient environments, says the bats could have played a role in the extraordinary preservation of the ostracod sperm cells.

The steady rain of poo from thousands of bats in the cave would have led to high levels of phosphorous in the water, which could have aided mineralisation of the soft tissues.

“This amazing discovery at Riversleigh is echoed by a few examples of soft-tissue preservation in fossil bat-rich deposits in France. So the key to eternal preservation of soft tissues may indeed be some magic ingredient in bat droppings,” says Associate Professor Hand.

Previous discoveries of extraordinary preservation at Riversleigh include insects with internal muscles that have been preserved because bacteria became fossilised as they attempted to consume the soft tissues of these creatures.

Perfectly preserved cells of leaves have been found, as well as the preserved soft tissue of eyeballs in the eye sockets of some of the extinct marsupials.

Header Image credit: a, c-g: R. Matzke-Karasz; b: R. Smith.

Contributing Source : University of New South Wales

Categories: General

Revealing the healing of Dino-sores

Tue, 2014-05-13 16:54
Scientists have used state-of-the-art imaging techniques to examine the cracks, fractures and breaks in the bones of a 150 million-year-old predatory dinosaur.

The University of Manchester researchers say their groundbreaking work – using synchrotron-imaging techniques – sheds new light, literally, on the healing process that took place when these magnificent animals were still alive.

The research, published in the Royal Society journal Interface, took advantage of the fact that dinosaur bones occasionally preserve evidence of trauma, sickness and the subsequent signs of healing.

Diagnosis of such fossils used to rely on the grizzly inspection of gnarled bones and healed fractures, often entailing slicing through a fossil to reveal its cloying secrets. But the synchrotron-based imaging, which uses light brighter than 10 billion Suns, meant the team could tease out the chemical ghosts lurking within the preserved dinosaur bones.

The impact of massive trauma, they discovered, seemed to be shrugged off by many predatory dinosaurs – fossil bones often showed a multitude of grizzly healed injuries, most of which would prove fatal to humans if not medically treated.

Dr Phil Manning, one of the paper’s authors based in Manchester’s School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, said: “Using synchrotron imaging, we were able to detect astoundingly dilute traces of chemical signatures that reveal not only the difference between normal and healed bone, but also how the damaged bone healed.

“It seems dinosaurs evolved a splendid suite of defence mechanisms to help regulate the healing and repair of injuries. The ability to diagnose such processes some 150 million years later might well shed new light on how we can use Jurassic chemistry in the 21st Century.”

He continued: “The chemistry of life leaves clues throughout our bodies in the course of our lives that can help us diagnose, treat and heal a multitude of modern-day ailments. It’s remarkable that the very same chemistry that initiates the healing of bone in humans also seems to have followed a similar pathway in dinosaurs.”

Co-author Jennifer Anné said: “Bone does not form scar tissue, like a scratch to your skin, so the body has to completely reform new bone following the same stages that occurred as the skeleton grew in the first place. This means we are able to tease out the chemistry of bone development through such pathological studies.

“It’s exciting to realise how little we know about bone, even after hundreds of years of research. The fact that information on how our own skeleton works can be explored using a 150-million-year-old dinosaur just shows how interlaced science can be.”

Professor Roy Wogelius, another co-author from The University of Manchester, added: “It is a fine line when diagnosing which part of the fossil was emplaced after burial and what was original chemistry to the organism. It is only through the precise measurements that we undertake at the Diamond Synchrotron Lightsource in the UK and the Stanford Synchrotron Lightsource in the US that we were able to make such judgments.”

Header Image Credit : Allosaurus – Phil Manning

Contributing Source : Manchester University

Categories: General

Comet theory over cold snap and Clovis culture proven false

Tue, 2014-05-13 16:41
Controversy over what sparked the Younger Dryas, a brief return to near glacial conditions at the end of the Ice Age, includes a theory that it was caused by a comet hitting the Earth.

As proof, proponents point to sediments containing deposits they believe could result only from a cosmic impact.

Now a new study disproves that theory, said archaeologist David Meltzer, SMU, Dallas. Meltzer is lead author on the study and an expert in the Clovis culture, the peoples who lived in North America at the end of the Ice Age.

Meltzer’s research team found that nearly all sediment layers purported to be from the Ice Age at 29 sites in North America and on three other continents are actually either much younger or much older.

Scientists agree that the brief episode at the end of the Ice Age — officially known as the Younger Dryas for a flower that flourished at that time — sparked widespread cooling of the Earth 12,800 years ago and that this cool period lasted for 1,000 years. But theories about the cause of this abrupt climate change are numerous. They range from changes in ocean circulation patterns caused by glacial meltwater entering the ocean to the cosmic-impact theory.

The cosmic-impact theory is said to be supported by the presence of geological indicators that are extraterrestrial in origin. However a review of the dating of the sediments at the 29 sites reported to have such indicators proves the cosmic-impact theory false, said Meltzer.

Meltzer and his co-authors found that only three of 29 sites commonly referenced to support the cosmic-impact theory actually date to the window of time for the Ice Age.

The findings, “Chronological evidence fails to support claim of an isochronous widespread layer of cosmic impact indicators dated to 12,800 years ago,” were reported May 12, 2014, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Co-authors were Vance T. Holliday and D. Shane Miller, both from the University of Arizona; and Michael D. Cannon, SWCA Environmental Consultants Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah.

“The supposed impact markers are undated or significantly older or younger than 12,800 years ago,” report the authors. “Either there were many more impacts than supposed, including one as recently as 5 centuries ago, or, far more likely, these are not extraterrestrial impact markers.”

Dating of purported Younger Dryas sites proves unreliable

The Younger Dryas Impact Hypothesis rests heavily on the claim that there is a Younger Dryas boundary layer at 29 sites in the Americas and elsewhere that contains deposits of supposed extraterrestrial origin that date to a 300-year span centered on 12,800 years ago.

The deposits include magnetic grains with iridium, magnetic microspherules, charcoal, soot, carbon spherules, glass-like carbon containing nanodiamonds, and fullerenes with extraterrestrial helium, all said to result from a comet or other cosmic event hitting the Earth.

Meltzer and his colleagues tested that hypothesis by investigating the existing stratigraphic and chronological data sets reported in the published scientific literature and accepted as proof by cosmic-impact proponents, to determine if these markers dated to the onset of the Younger Dryas.

They sorted the 29 sites by the availability of radiometric or numeric ages and then the type of age control, if available, and whether the age control is secure.

The researchers found that three sites lack absolute age control: at Chobot, Alberta, the three Clovis points found lack stratigraphic context, and the majority of other diagnostic artifacts are younger than Clovis by thousands of years; at Morley, Alberta, ridges are assumed without evidence to be chronologically correlated with Ice Age hills 2,600 kilometers away; and at Paw Paw Cove, Maryland, horizontal integrity of the Clovis artifacts found is compromised, according to that site’s principal archaeologist.

The remaining 26 sites have radiometric or other potential numeric ages, but only three date to the Younger Dryas boundary layer.

At eight of those sites, the ages are unrelated to the supposed Younger Dryas boundary layer, as for example at Gainey, Michigan, where extensive stratigraphic mixing of artifacts found at the site makes it impossible to know their position to the supposed Younger Dryas boundary layer. Where direct dating did occur, it’s sometime after the 16th century A.D.

At Wally’s Beach, Alberta, a radiocarbon age of 10,980 purportedly dates extraterrestrial impact markers from sediment in the skull of an extinct horse. In actuality, the date is from an extinct musk ox, and the fossil yielding the supposed impact markers was not dated, nor is there evidence to suggest that the fossils from Wally’s Beach are all of the same age or date to the Younger Dryas onset.

At nearly a dozen other sites, the authors report, the chronological results are neither reliable nor valid as a result of significant statistical flaws in the analysis, the omission of ages from the models, and the disregard of statistical uncertainty that accompanies all radiometric dates.

For example, Lake Cuitzeo, Mexico, Meltzer and his team used the data of previous researchers and applied a fifth-order polynomial regression, but it returned a different equation that put the cosmic-impact markers at a depth well above that which would mark the Younger Dryas onset.

The authors go on to point out that inferences about the ages of supposed Younger Dryas boundary layers are unsupported by replication in more cases than not.

In North America, the Ice Age was marked by the mass extinction of several dozen genera of large mammals, including mammoths, mastodons, American horses, Western camels, two types of deer, ancient bison, giant beaver, giant bears, sabre-toothed cats, giant bears, American cheetahs, and many other animals, as well as plants.

Meltzer is the Henderson-Morrison Professor of Prehistory in the SMU Department of Anthropology in Dedman College and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. — Margaret Allen

Contributing Source : SMU

Categories: General

Military operations on the archaeological front

Tue, 2014-05-13 11:13
Injured military personnel and veterans have helped excavate a mysterious Roman building complex as part of an archaeology project which aims to help their recovery.

Serving personnel and veterans worked alongside experienced archaeologists from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), the Defence Archaeology Group (DAG) and staff and students from the University of Leicester, on excavations of Whitewall Brake Roman building complex within the MOD’s Caerwent Training Area in South Wales.

The 2-week dig, which ended this month, was run in conjunction with other excavations inside the Training Area, in the abandoned village of Dinham. This fourth campaign of fieldwork on the scheduled ancient remains at Whitewall Brake continued efforts to elucidate the plan, date, nature and purpose of the Roman building complex, which was once a prominent feature overlooking the walls of the Roman city of Venta Silurum (modern Caerwent).

Operation Nightingale Caerwent excavation showing a hypocaust (Latin hypocaustum) at our roman site – Images courtesy of the University of Leicester

Further evidence of the grandeur of the buildings was recovered this year, including fragments of coloured mosaic and of a small column.  Continuing investigation of the site will add to our understanding of the Roman city and its environs. It will also help DIO and the Welsh heritage agency Cadw decide how best to curate these historically important remains.

The excavation formed part of Operation Nightingale, a programme established by DAG and DIO to support the recovery of military personnel injured in Service, whether in training or on operations, e.g. in Afghanistan, to help them return to their regiment or prepare for civilian life. Op Nightingale is now also increasingly working with veterans: this year the work at Caerwent involved a group of former soldiers from Scotland. The participants have suffered a broad spectrum of injuries including physical and psychological trauma.

The Operation Nightingale programmes at Caerwent involve an important additional dimension: students from the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History also take part. As they develop their own archaeological skills, they pass these on to the service personnel and veterans working closely with whom they closely work. They themselves in turn learn a great deal from contact with people who have a great deal of experience of living and working in the field, and in reading landscapes.

Not only does the project benefit all those taking part, but it also contributes to the Ministry of Defence’s commitment to preserving and maintaining heritage assets.

Operation Nightingale Caerwent – Images courtesy of the University of Leicester

Phil Abramson, DIO’s environmental advisor, and archaeologist in charge of fieldwork within Caerwent Training area, said:

There are long-standing connections between the profession of archaeology and the military. This work not only helps aid the recovery of injured service personnel but is also of great historical value. The atmosphere during the fortnight’s exercise was absolutely fantastic and I would extend my heartfelt thanks to all of those who participated in the excavation and to the staff of DIO and Caerwent Training Area for facilitating the work.”

Sergeant Diarmaid Walshe of the Royal Army Medical Corps, who is also a qualified archaeologist, said:

The feedback from service personnel who have attended the programme is that every single one has enjoyed themselves and gained a positive experience that has helped their recovery.

The key to the success of the project is that the personnel undertake many different activities, from digging to surveying, and photography to finds processing. The programme gives them something useful to do which can help rebuild their self-esteem, provide them with a sense of purpose and give them something positive to strive for.

Prof Simon James, of the the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History said:

It was a real privilege, and genuine joy, for the civilian archaeologists, both professionals and University of Leicester students, to introduce serving personnel and veterans to our world, while they taught us about their own skills and experience. We all got an immense amount out of spending time with some really remarkable people, serving and veteran, exchanging skills and opening each others’ horizons to possible future directions in education and careers. As more than one of the military contingent commented to me this year, archaeological projects and military field operations have a great deal in common, with archaeology just lacking the gunfire!

Operation Nightingale has won a British Archaeological Award in recognition of its innovative use of archaeological work to boost the recovery and career prospects of injured military personnel.

Header Image Credit : University of Leicester

Contributing Source : University of Leicester

Categories: General

Alcohol and drugs: not just for modern man

Tue, 2014-05-13 10:52
Unlike modern Man, the prehistoric people of Europe did not use mind-altering substances simply for their hedonistic pleasure.

The use of alcohol and plant drugs – such as opium poppies and hallucinogenic mushrooms – was highly regulated and went hand-in-hand with the belief system and sacred burial rituals of many preindustrial societies. Elisa Guerra-Doce of the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain contends that their use was an integral part of prehistoric beliefs, and that these substances were believed to aid in communication with the spiritual world. Guerra-Doce’s research appears in Springer’s Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.

Despite the fact that the consumption of these substances is as ancient as human society itself, it is only fairly recently that researchers have started to look into the historical and cultural contexts in which mind-altering products were used in Europe. To add to the body of literature about the anthropology of intoxication in prehistoric European societies, Guerra-Doce systematically documented the cultural significance of consuming inebriating substances in these cultures.

In the research, four different types of archaeological documents were examined: the macrofossil remains of the leaves, fruits or seeds of psychoactive plants; residues suggestive of alcoholic beverages; psychoactive alkaloids found in archaeological artifacts and skeletal remains from prehistoric times; and artistic depictions of mood-altering plant species and drinking scenes.

These remnants include bits of the opium poppy in the teeth of a male adult in a Neolithic site in Spain, charred Cannabis seeds in bowls found in Romania, traces of barley beer on several ceramic vessels recovered in Iberia, and abstract designs in the Italian Alps that depict the ritual use of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Because Guerra-Doce mainly found traces of sensory-altering products in tombs and ceremonial places, she believes such substances are strongly linked to ritual usage. They were consumed in order to alter the usual state of consciousness, or even to achieve a trance state.

The details of the rituals are still unclear, but the hypothesis is that the substances were either used in the course of mortuary rites, to provide sustenance for the deceased in their journey into the afterlife, or as a kind of tribute to the underworld deities.

She adds that the right to use such substances may have been highly regulated given that they were a means to connect with the spirit world, and therefore played a sacred role among prehistoric European societies.

“Far from being consumed for hedonistic purposes, drug plants and alcoholic drinks had a sacred role among prehistoric societies,” says Guerra-Doce. “It is not surprising that most of the evidence derives from both elite burials and restricted ceremonial sites, suggesting the possibility that the consumption of mind-altering products was socially controlled in prehistoric Europe.”

Header Image : WikiPedia CC

Contributing Source : Springer Science+Business Media

Categories: General

Research dates the British settlers who constructed first monuments at Stonehenge

Fri, 2014-05-09 17:20
Astonishing new findings reveal Amesbury is now the longest continuous settlement in the UK. Previously it was thought that Stonehenge was conceived by European immigrants but this shows that British settlers were behind its construction.

Carbon dating from an archaeological dig by the University of Buckingham shows that the parish of Amesbury, which includes Stonehenge, has been continually occupied for every millennia since 8820BC. The origins of Amesbury have been discovered as a result of carbon dating bones of aurochs – twice the size of bulls, wild boar and red deer following a dig at Vespasian’s Camp, Blick Mead, a mile and a half from Stonehenge last year.

Reconstruction of an auroch : WikiPedia

The dates date the activities of the people who were responsible for building the first monuments at Stonehenge, made of massive pine posts, and show their communities continuing to work and live in the area for a further 3000 years, close to the ‘dawn of the Neolithic’ when Stonehenge was first built.

The results thus provide the ‘the missing link’ between the erection of the posts between 8820-6590BC and the later siting of Stonehenge in 3000BC. The findings provide evidence which suggests that Stonehenge, rather than being seen as a neolithic new build in an empty landscape, should be viewed as a response to long term use of the area by indigenous hunters and home makers. The backstory to the monument has been discovered and with it the earliest British story.

Further startling finds from the dig challenge previous definitions of the Mesolithic and Neolithic cultures. Clearance of land, an activity previously thought to be a part of the ‘farming package’ brought in by Neolithic immigrants from the continent in the 5th millennium BC, appears to have taken place around a substantial area of the spring at Blick Mead between 7500-4600BC, a time when Mesolithic culture had been seen as purely nomadic.

The persistent use of the site for nearly 3,000 years and the fact that many of the tools found were for domestic purposes rather than hunting ones also points to the fact that people were settling there – previously it was thought that there weren’t any settlers until Neolithic times.

David Jacques, Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Buckingham, who led the dig, said: “The site blows the lid off the Neolithic Revolution in a number of ways. It provides evidence for people staying put, clearing land, building, and presumably worshipping, monuments. The area was clearly a hub point for people to come to from many miles away, and in many ways was a forerunner for what later went on at Stonehenge itself. The first monuments at Stonehenge were built by these people. For years people  have been asking “why is Stonehenge where it is?”, now at last, we have found the answers.”

“In effect, Blick Mead was the very first Stonehenge Visitor Centre, up and running in the 8th millennium BC. The River Avon would have been the “A” Road – people would have come down on their log boats. They would have had the equivalent of tour guides and there would have been feasting.

We have found remains of big game animals, such as Aurochs and Red Deer, and an enormous amount of burnt flint from their feasting fires.There’s also evidence for a multi-cultural population at the site. Tool types suggest people were coming to it from far to the west of Stonehenge and from the east. Another possible reason why people were attracted to the area was the striking bright pink colouring of the flint, which isn’t that colour anywhere else in the country.”

“The colouring is caused by algae – Hildenbrandia rivularis –  and it is due to a combination of dappled light and the unusually warm spring water in the area – 10 to 15 degrees. It’s unique to have people of that time come from so many different far away places. The site and the Stonehenge areas were very well known places to visit for a very long time – the London of the Mesolithic.”

The dig, which is funded by the University of Buckingham, has also unearthed the largest haul of Mesolithic worked flints across the Mesolithic period ever found.  In 40-odd days a staggering 31,000 were discovered in a 16 metre square area and more than 2,000 were found in a square metre – the largest concentration of such finds in Europe. 16 m.sq. is the equivalent of the goal post area on a football pitch.

Another possible reason why people were attracted to the area was that some of the flint could be turned a striking bright pink colour in one of the spring areas. The colouring, caused by the agency of an algae according to Professor David John of the Natural History Museum, is due to a combination of dappled light and a constant spring water temperature of 10 to 14 degrees.

It transforms a normal looking flint placed in spring water into a bright pink one after the flint has been taken out of the water for about 5 hours. Mr Jacques added: “It is a rather magical effect now and may well  have been seen so then.”

Following the revelations of the University of Buckingham dig, which took place in October last year, David Jacques will be the Programme Director of a new MA in Archaeology, which has been launched by the University of Buckingham. Students can do two three-day fieldwork activities in the Stonehenge area as part of the course – Stonehenge: a Landscape Through Time. The MA will be part of the University’s London-based courses and will be held at the Society of Antiquaries in central London.

Contributing Source : University of Buckingham

Categories: General