22 Apr 2015

The Minoans of Crete – New Research Featured in Archaeology Magazine

No Comments Ancient civilizations, Uncategorized
(Courtesy Chronis Papanikolopoulos)Across the site, the team has found examples of Mirabello Ware, a distinctive type of pottery produced there on a large scale for both local use and for trade.

(Courtesy Chronis Papanikolopoulos) Across the site, the team has found examples of Mirabello Ware, a distinctive type of pottery produced there on a large scale for both local use and for trade.

From 1901 to 1904, Harriet Boyd excavated the remains of an ancient town on the island of Crete that had lain buried and unknown for nearly 3,500 years. The largest island in Greece and fifth largest in the Mediterranean, Crete has attracted visitors, travelers, and traders for thousands, and even tens of thousands, of years. Crete’s first great civilization was that of the Minoans, and archaeologists have long studied the palaces like that of Knossos. But in 2010, Vance Watrous of the University of Buffalo and his team began new excavations at Gournia, the site that Boyd had worked more than a century earlier. “We’re looking instead at the site’s earlier history, the Protopalatial period, and questions of what happened before the development of the palace, how Gournia came to be a regional center, and what kind of town it was during these early phases,”

Harriet Boyd stated in her site publication, “The chief archaeological value of Gournia is that it has given us a remarkably clear picture of the everyday circumstances, occupations, and ideals of the Aegean folk at the height of their true prosperity.”

In the course of both Boyd’s and Watrous’ excavations, more than 50 houses or areas with evidence of industrial activity have been uncovered—20 areas producing pottery, 15 producing stone vases, 18 producing bronze and bronze implements, and some with evidence for textile production. John Younger of the University of Kansas found complete pottery workshop. In one room of the workshop they found 15 intact pots sitting upright on some benches, and in another room he found four large jars with numerous smaller pots inside. “There were pots inside pots for storage, just like I have in my cupboard at home,” Younger says.

Read the fascinating full story by Jarrett A. Lobell at Archaeology.

03 Apr 2015

New instrument dates old skeleton before ‘Lucy'; ‘Little Foot’ 3.67 million years old

Comments Off Ancient civilizations, DNA, Early man, Evolution, Paleoanthropology
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This image shows the Little Foot skull (STW 573). Credit: Photo courtesy of the University of the Witwatersrand

Purdue University. “New instrument dates old skeleton before ‘Lucy'; ‘Little Foot’ 3.67 million years old.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 April 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150401133228.htm>

A skeleton named Little Foot is among the oldest hominid skeletons ever dated at 3.67 million years old, according to an advanced dating method.

Little Foot is a rare, nearly complete skeleton of Australopithecus first discovered 21 years ago in a cave at Sterkfontein, in central South Africa. The new date places Little Foot as an older relative of Lucy, a famous Australopithecus skeleton dated at 3.2 million years old that was found in Ethiopia. It is thought that Australopithecus is an evolutionary ancestor to humans that lived between 2 million and 4 million years ago.

Stone tools found at a different level of the Sterkfontein cave also were dated at 2.18 million years old, making them among the oldest known stone tools in South Africa.

A team of scientists from Purdue University; the University of the Witwatersrand, in South Africa; the University of New Brunswick, in Canada; and the University of Toulouse, in France, performed the research, which will be featured in the journal Nature.

Ronald Clarke, a professor in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand who discovered the Little Foot skeleton, said the fossil represents Australopithecus prometheus, a species very different from its contemporary, Australopithecus afarensis, and with more similarities to the Paranthropus lineage.

“It demonstrates that the later hominids, for example, Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus did not all have to have derived from Australopithecus afarensis,” he said. “We have only a small number of sites and we tend to base our evolutionary scenarios on the few fossils we have from those sites. This new date is a reminder that there could well have been many species of Australopithecus extending over a much wider area of Africa.”

Read the full story about the dating method used at Science Daily.

06 Mar 2015

Discovery of jaw by ASU team sheds light on early human ancestor

Comments Off Early man, Evolution, Paleoanthropology
Credit: Brian Villmoare

Credit: Brian Villmoare

Please click here to read the entire Science Daily article.

For decades, scientists have been searching for African fossils documenting the earliest phases of the Homo lineage, but specimens recovered from the critical time interval between 3 and 2.5 million years ago have been frustratingly few and often poorly preserved. However, a fossil lower jaw found in the Ledi-Geraru research area, Afar Regional State, Ethiopia, pushes back evidence for the human genus — Homo — to 2.8 million years ago.

According to a pair of reports published March 4 in the online version of the journal Science, the jaw predates the previously known fossils of the Homo lineage by approximately 400,000 years. It was discovered in 2013 by an international team led by Arizona State University scientists Kaye E. Reed, Christopher J. Campisano and J Ramón Arrowsmith, and Brian A. Villmoare of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Researchers have found fossils that are 3 million years old and older. The most famous example of those human ancestors is the skeleton of Lucy, found in northeastern Africa in 1974 by ASU researcher Donald Johanson. Lucy and her relatives, though they walked on two feet, were smaller-brained and more apelike than later members of the human family tree.

Scientists have also found fossils that are 2.3 million years old and younger. These ancestors are in the genus Homo and are closer to modern day humans.

But very little had been found in between – that 700,000-year gap had turned up few fossils with which to determine the evolution from Lucy to the genus Homo. Because of that gap, there has been little agreement on the time of origin of the Homo lineage.

At 2.8 million years, the new Ledi-Geraru fossil provides clues to changes in the jaw and teeth in Homo only 200,000 years after the last known occurrence of Australopithecus afarensis (“Lucy”) from the nearby Ethiopian site of Hadar. Found by team member and ASU graduate student Chalachew Seyoum, the Ledi-Geraru fossil preserves the left side of the lower jaw, or mandible, along with five teeth. The fossil analysis, led by Villmoare and William H. Kimbel, director of ASU’s Institute of Human Origins, revealed advanced features, for example, slim molars, symmetrical premolars and an evenly proportioned jaw, that distinguish early species on the Homo lineage, such as Homo habilis at 2 million years ago, from the more apelike early Australopithecus. But the primitive, sloping chin links the Ledi-Geraru jaw to a Lucy-like ancestor.
“In spite of a lot of searching, fossils on the Homo lineage older than 2 million years ago are very rare,” says Villmoare. “To have a glimpse of the very earliest phase of our lineage’s evolution is particularly exciting.”

Arizona State University. “Discovery of 2.8-million-year-old jaw sheds light on early humans.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 March 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150304141454.htm>

 

10 Feb 2015

A Theme for Archaeology

Comments Off Heritage, Uncategorized

Uzi Baram

Professor of Anthropology, New College of Florida

Themes and Theming

Vacation spots have themes. Restaurants have themes. Malls have themes. Theme parks are, by definition, themed. Sociologist Mark Gottdiener in a 1996 book The Theming of America: Dreams, Visions and Commercial Spaces brought a term for consideration of social experiences: theming. Professor Gottdiener noticed the use of symbols and signs to integrate experience at a place. The most famous and successful example of theming is the Disney World theme park, with the mouse ears recognizable seemingly across all generations and social groups. Driving on I-4, the transmission tower is easily recognizable and connected to Disney World. That is successful theming.

Mickey_Mouse_shaped_transmission_tower_Celebration_FL

Archaeology is a source for theming. Archaeological artifacts invoke history and adventure. So Busch Gardens, which is a theme park using Africa for inspiration, has a subsection for its Ancient Egypt area as seen in the Egyptology restaurant, gift shop, playground, and exhibit. Egyptology is just the most popular of archaeo-themes for theme parks.

Theming is not just for American theme parks. For the tourists to the famous archaeological site of Troy in Turkey, there is a replica of a horse. There has been a horse at Troy for decades; in 2004 after the Warner Brothers film, a new replica for tourists to photograph and climb was donated to stress the Homeric theme for the location.

Archaeology is a source for themes but archaeology is also themed. In the Middle East archaeological expeditions have been named after benefactors for decades, and many have logos that go nicely on tee-shirts. In the USA, the excavations are focused to highlight particular issues although most present the titles as informative for the research focused on the place or time period. In a 2005 essay in the SAA Archaeological Bulletin, I raised concerns over the competing demands of heritage tourism, with its want for themes, and academic research. But even then I realized themes do help with communication, clarifying the intent and goals for a research project in a concise manner.

Themes for Heritage Interpretation

I learned to appreciate theming as a member of the interdisciplinary public anthropology program Looking for Angola , the search for material remains of an early 19th century maroon community. At first when I presented on the project, I would start with a long discussion of the time period and then the meaning of the term maroon. The questions from the audience focused on techniques and the challenges of excavations. But when I heard historian Canter Brown Jr. in Vickie Oldham’s 2006 video Looking for Angola invoke the project in terms of freedom, I realized the clunkiness dissolved. An archaeology of freedom allowed concise, productive presentations. At public presentations where I explained the goal of freedom in early 19th century, the questions raised by audiences brought out the details of the larger historical context and a concern for the descendant communities – a more satisfying dynamic, more in line with the anthropology of the program and the social justice goals of the project.

So as I plan my next public anthropology program in partnership with Sarasota County, at Phillippi Estate Park, there are multiple steps before engaging the public but I am thinking about themes as well. What is the archaeology of trust at Phillippi Creek?

Read the full article here.

22 Jan 2015

Physicists read scrolls scorched by ancient volcano By Lizzie Wade

Comments Off Ancient civilizations, Explorers

To read the whole article, please go to

http:/ /news.sciencemag.org/archaeology/2015/01/physicists-read-scrolls-scorched-ancient-volcano

Herculaneum photo by SANDRO VANNINI/CORBIS

 

 

Pompeii wasn’t the only Roman town destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E. The blast of hot air and rain of volcanic ash also reached nearby Herculaneum (pictured above), where it entombed a library of papyrus scrolls. Unfortunately, it also transformed them from pliable parchment into little more than blackened, carbonized lumps. Archaeologists have tried several techniques to unroll the scrolls since the library was discovered in the 1750s, but they always ran the risk of destroying them in the process. Now, a new technique using high-energy x-rays offers a nondestructive way of reading these ancient texts. By placing a rolled up scroll in the path of a beam of powerful x-rays produced by a particle accelerator, researchers can measure a key difference between the burned papyrus and the ink on its surface: how fast the x-rays move through each substance allows them to differentiate between the scroll and the writing on it . Although they’ve managed to read only a few complete words so far.   The handwriting style is characteristic of texts written in the middle of the first century B.C.E.; in fact, it looks a lot like the handwriting on a previously unrolled scroll attributed to the philosopher Philodemus, the team says. More studies with even higher energy x-rays are needed to reconstruct the whole text on this and other scrolls, but the technique offers the possibility of reading works that haven’t been seen for nearly 2000 years.

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