Newly discovered stone tools drag dawn of Greek archaeology back by a quarter-million years

Deep in an open coal mine in southern Greece, researchers have discovered the antiquities-rich country’s oldest archaeological site, which dates to 700,000 years ago and is associated with modern humans’ hominin ancestors.

The find announced Thursday would drag the dawn of Greek archaeology back by as much as a quarter of a million years, although older hominin sites have been discovered elsewhere in Europe. The oldest, in Spain, dates to more than a million years ago.

The Greek site was one of five investigated in the Megalopolis area during a five-year project involving an international team of experts, a Culture Ministry statement said.

It was found to contain rough stone tools from the Lower Palaeolithic period — about 3.3 million to 300,000 years ago — and the remains of an extinct species of giant deer, elephants, hippopotamus, rhinoceros and a macaque monkey.

Keep reading

DNA Analysis Reveals Interesting Information About the Origins of Native Americans

Using DNA analysis, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have made some surprising discoveries about the ancestry of Native Americans. They looked at mitochondrial DNA passed down in females to follow the trail of an ancestral lineage that might link East Asian Paleolithic-age populations to founding populations in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, and California. What they ended up discovering is that during the Ice Age, humans migrated from northern China to Japan and the Americas.

“The Asian ancestry of Native Americans is more complicated than previously indicated,” explains lead author Yu-Chun Li, a molecular anthropologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “In addition to previously described ancestral sources in Siberia, Australo-Melanesia, and Southeast Asia, we show that northern coastal China also contributed to the gene pool of Native Americans.”

It’s commonly accepted that Native Americans are descendants of Siberians who crossed the temporary Bering Strait land bridge. However, new findings published in Cell, show that these ancestors most likely landed on the Pacific coast. The researchers determined this by analyzing over 100,000 contemporary and 15,000 ancient DNA samples from across Eurasia to eventually identify 216 contemporary and 39 ancient individuals belonging to this rare lineage.

Through genetic mutations, geographic locations, and carbon dating, it appears that these travelers would have landed in America prior to the land bridge being open. In fact, they believe that these intrepid individuals came over in two different waves. The first migration—or radiation—would have occurred between 19,500 and 26,000 years ago. At this time, the ice sheets in northern China would have made conditions inhospitable and forced people to seek out a better climate.

The second radiation would have happened between 11,500 and 19,000 years ago, when the melting of these ice sheets led to a population boom. This fact, coupled with the better climate, may have pushed people to explore new locations.

Interestingly, the genetic research also showed a link between the Native Americans and the Japanese. The researchers hypothesize that during the deicing period, part of the population from northern China migrated to Japan, while others set off for the Americas. This theory is backed up by archeology, as these regions of China, Japan, and the Americas show similarities in how arrowheads and spears were crafted.

Keep reading

In England, Bar Hill’s ‘Skull Comb’ Is an Iron Age Mystery

FENS AND FARMLAND DOMINATE ENGLAND’S Cambridgeshire. The A14 motorway runs the length of the entire county and, just a few miles northwest of the ancient university town of Cambridge, it passes by the small village of Bar Hill. There, during excavations a few years ago, archaeologist Michael Marshall and his team found something extraordinary: a piece of ancient human skull, carved to resemble—almost, but not quite—a comb.

It’s not unusual to find artifacts in this corner of England, which has been inhabited for millennia. In particular, Cambridgeshire was home to several Iron Age settlements, dating from around 350 BC to the arrival of the Romans about 400 years later. Marshall and his colleagues knew they would turn up some interesting things when they began digging in 2016 ahead of a planned A14 expansion. Two years later, after excavations at about 40 sites, they had collected more than 280,000 artifacts.

Of all the tools and bits of bone unearthed, the skull comb stood out. It’s one of only three ever found, worldwide—the other two were discovered at nearby sites decades ago—and was a career first for Marshall, the prehistoric and Roman finds specialist at the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). It was also an item of intrigue: something that could easily fit in the palm of one’s hand, but which clearly carried great value. Someone had carefully carved nearly a dozen teeth along one edge, and then drilled a hole at the top. Was it a tool? An amulet? Something else entirely? Figuring out the comb’s purpose required understanding how it might have fit into Iron Age Britain.

Keep reading

Boncuklu Tarla: A megalithic site predating Göbekli Tepe

The uncovering of the stunning megalithic architecture of Göbekli Tepe in modern day Türkiye less than three decades ago turned our view of pre-history upside down, with the massive t-shaped pillars of the site pre-dating the pyramids and Stonehenge by some six or seven thousand years. But while it took the spotlight, archaeologists in the area continued finding other, similar sites with impressive architecture and dating back the same mind-boggling stretch in time, some 10,000 years before present.

One of the sites that has become well-known recently is Karahan Tepe (perhaps most notably after it was covered in Graham Hancock’s Netflix series Ancient Apocalypse). But another, lesser known site that lies further to the east may end up being even more important: Boncuklu Tarla. Discovered during construction work on the Ilısu Dam in 2008, it has undergone excavation over the last 11 years and has already turned up many things of note.

Like the other ancient sites of that time in Turkey, Boncuklu Tarla features a walled ‘temple’ with rock pillars – but they appear to predate Göbekli Tepe by a thousand years or so (though the pillars don’t appear to be as impressive), with the earliest layer of the site dating back a staggering 13,000 years. What’s more, the excavation over the past eleven years has worked through multiple layers of the site, with dating of those layers suggesting that it was occupied for around 4,000 years – from around 11,000 BCE to 7,000BCE!

Keep reading

The origins of weed: How the plant spread across the world

Cannabis has grown and evolved with humans for thousands of years. Many separate cultures cultivated the plant, using its seeds for food, its fibers to make textiles, rope, and other materials, and its buds as a medicine and psychoactive substance in spiritual ceremonies. Cannabis proved to be a very useful plant for our ancestors and it continues to be today.

If there was one thing our ancestors knew, it was the healing properties of cannabis. While the wonders of cannabis medicine may feel like a new discovery in the West, cultures in the East have used and documented it for thousands of years. 

Check out the story of cannabis—where it originated, how it spread across the globe, and which cultures used it. Learn how important the plant was to ancient humans and how it continues to be important to humans today. 

Keep reading

Eight-Year-Old Norwegian Girl Discovers Neolithic Dagger at School Playground

For Elise, a student at Our Children’s School in Osøyro, Norway, a recent trip to the playground brought a special surprise—and international attention.

The 8-year-old girl was outside with her classmates when she bent down to pick up a stray shard of glass. Instead, she says in a statement, what appeared to be a small rock caught her eye. Realizing the item’s potential significance, Elise’s teacher, Karen Drange, notified the Vestland County Council of the discovery.

The almost five-inch-long object turned out to be a flint dagger dated to the Neolithic era, which began in the region around 2400 B.C.E., when humans started shifting from hunting and gathering to farming, according to the educational website Talk NorwayLive Science’s Laura Geggel notes that this specific type of dagger “is often found with sacrificial finds.”

Because flint isn’t a resource native to Norway, researchers suspect the roughly 3,700-year-old dagger originated elsewhere, perhaps in Denmark. An excavation of the school’s grounds following Elise’s discovery unearthed no related artifacts, strengthening the theory that the tool was brought to Norway after its creation.

In the statement, Louise Bjerre Petersen, an archaeologist who assessed the tool, calls it a beautiful, incredibly rare find. The dagger is now in the possession of experts at the University Museum of Bergen, who will study it for clues on life in Neolithic Norway.

Elise is far from the only schoolchild to happen upon an astonishing ancient artifact in the past few years. In July 2018, another 8-year-old girl, Saga Vanecek, uncovered an Iron Age sword in a Swedish lake, leading locals and news outlets alike to dub her the “Queen of Sweden” in reference to the Arthurian legend of the Sword in the Stone.

“I held it up in the air and I said, ‘Daddy, I found a sword!’” Vanecek told the Local’s Catherine Edwards. “When he saw that it bent and was rusty, he came running up and took it.”

Keep reading

Enigmatic human fossil jawbone may be evidence of an early Homo sapiens presence in Europe – and adds mystery about who those humans were

Homo sapiens, our own species, evolved in Africa sometime between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago. Anthropologists are pretty confident in that estimate, based on fossilgenetic and archaeological evidence.

Then what happened? How modern humans spread throughout the rest of the world is one of the most active areas of research in human evolutionary studies.

The earliest fossil evidence of our species outside of Africa is found at a site called Misliya cave, in the Middle East, and dates to around 185,000 years ago. While additional H. sapiens fossils are found from around 120,000 years ago in this same region, it seems modern humans reached Europe much later.

Understanding when our species migrated out of Africa can reveal insights into present-day biological, behavioral and cultural diversity. While we Homo sapiens are the only humans alive today, our species coexisted with different human lineages in the past, including Neandertals and Denisovans. Scientists are interested in when and where H. sapiens encountered these other kinds of humans.

Keep reading

Psychedelic drugs were used by ancient man, new study shows

Researchers have found evidence of drug use during Bronze Age ceremonies.

Analysis of strands of human hair from a burial site on the Spanish island of Menorca indicates ancient human civilisations used hallucinogenic drugs derived from plants.

The findings are the first direct evidence of ancient drug use in Europe, which may have been used as part of ritualistic ceremonies, researchers say.

Researchers detected scopolamine, ephedrine and atropine in three replicated hair samples.

Atropine and scopolamine are naturally found in the nightshade plant family and can induce delirium, hallucinations and altered sensory perception.

Ephedrine is a stimulant derived from certain species of shrubs and pines which can increase excitement, alertness and physical activity.

Elisa Guerra-Doce, from the Universidad de Valladolid in Spain, and colleagues examined hair from the Es Carritx cave, which was first occupied around 3,600 years ago.

Writing in the Scientific Reports journal, the authors said: “Interestingly, the psychoactive substances detected in this study are not suitable for alleviating the pain involved in severe palaeopathological conditions attested in the population buried in the cave of Es Carritx, such as periapical abscesses, severe caries and arthropathies.

“Considering the potential toxicity of the alkaloids found in the hair, their handling, use and applications represented highly specialised knowledge. This knowledge was typically possessed by shamans, who were capable of controlling the side-effects of the plant drugs through an ecstasy that made diagnosis or divination possible.”

Keep reading

Study Suggests Bronze Age Ice Skates Discovered In China Were Imported From Europe

A 3,500-year-old pair of ice skates were discovered in a mountainous area of China, archaeologists claimed in late February.

Researchers investigating the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region discovered the oldest-known skates in a tomb in the Gaotai Ruins, according LiveScience. The skates are made out of the bones of oxen and horse, but it is unclear whether they were used for sport, hunting, or regular travel throughout the region.

The design is unique, made of a very flat blade that forms a cutting edge allowing users to glide over ice, LiveScience continued. Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology researcher Ruan Qiurong said the newly-discovered skates are almost exactly the same as some found in prehistoric Europe.

Keep reading

Mystery Surrounds Sudden Firing Of Notable Archaeologist. What Was He Digging Up?

World-renowned archeologist and university professor David Keller was mysteriously released from his job in December, and no one will go on record to say why.

Keller, 52, is best known as an award-winning author and intrepid researcher of human history and for bringing grants to his former employer of 21 years, the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross State University, according to a report from mid-2022. Keller was fired from his position at the school despite being in the throes of research.

“It was humiliating and sad and infuriating all at the same time,” Keller told Texas Monthly following his firing. “That was my career, my livelihood, and much of my identity. To fire me in such a swift and cavalier manner felt very unfair considering my time there.” Keller said he planned to retire in five years anyway and was in the middle of three major projects for the institution.

According to Keller, the school told him, “We’re not going to tell you why, and we appreciate your service, and you need to pick up your stuff and go.” He further claimed that the school told him the decision had something to do with his work at Big Bend National Park, where Keller’s permit was suspended in December.

Keep reading