Archive for the ‘Ancient’ Category

More preserved organic material found at ruins of Lechaion

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Lechaion, the main harbour town of the rich and powerful city of Corinth at the north end of the strategic isthmus connecting the Peloponnese peninsula to mainland Greece, was a bustling hub of Mediterranean trade from more than 1,000 years (with a brief interruption courtesy of the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 B.C. Julius Caesar had it rebuilt in 44 B.C., and the shinier, bigger Lechaion, aka Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis, got right back to business until it was destroyed in an earthquake in the late 6th century A.D.

The harbour structures, including massive ones from the Roman era, have been fully submerged, most of them deep under layers of sand and sediment, ever since and were barely explored despite their historical significance until 2014 when the Lechaion Harbour Project (LHP) took on the long-delayed task of surveying the site. The Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, the University of Copenhagen and the Danish Institute at Athens have been collaborating on this ambitious project, sending teams of marine archaeologists to explore the physical ruins and geologists with the latest scanning technology to detect the buried remains that can’t be seen.

In 2015, LHP researchers discovered extremely rare surviving remains: large sections of six wooden barges, a total of 187 feet of wood, used as caissons to protect the harbour from heavy wind, surf and sedimentation. The warm brine of the Mediterranean is a welcoming environment for woodworm which can reduce timbers to nothingness in weeks. The odds of finding organic remains of any kind from thousands of years ago, never mind on so grand a scale, are vanishingly small. It gave rise to the hope that the team might someday find actual ship remains, maybe even a trireme, much sought but never found.

No trireme has turned up yet, but this season’s archaeological survey has found more organic material, including a worked wood post in jaw-dropping condition, seeds, nuts, twigs, fruit pits and bones. The caissons were part of two Roman-era monumental piers, dubbed Mole L-M1 and Mole L-M2, whose massive stone block are the only remains of the Outer Harbour still visible just above the water line.

“During the 2017 excavations, the first Roman-period harbour structures at Lechaion have come to light. The mysterious island monument in the middle of Harbour Basin 3 – an area of the Inner Harbour measuring 24,500 m2 – was dated to the early 1st century AD. It was likely built as part of a Roman building program designed to help restore Corinth, just as the enormous 45 metres long, 18 metres wide and 4 metres high mole was constructed on exactly the same orientation as the mysterious island monument. Also, we identified a new roughly 40.000 m2 large harbour basin in the Outer Harbour (probably 6th century AD), another 40.000 m2 basin in the Inner Harbour dated to the mid-1st century AD, and the possible foundation for a lighthouse,” reports University of Copenhagen archaeologist Bjørn Lovén who co-directs the Lechaion Harbour Project.

“We have excavated archaeological layers where almost everything is preserved. Consider the pristine preservation of the roughly 2000-year-old wooden post (see video) and imagine how well-preserved wood and other organic materials that still lie at the bottom of this harbour,” says Bjørn Lovén.

The wooden post probably served as either a part of the foundations for the structure itself or perhaps as a bollard for mooring ships. The team also unearthed a variety of seeds, bones with cut marks, a roller from a wooden block, and fragments of worked wood.

“As a part of our research the Centre for GeoGenetics will extract and analyse the ancient environmental DNA from the important archaeological deposits and attempt to reconstruct the past environment genetically. Recently, they have shown that ancient DNA in deposits can identify a wide variety of organisms, everything from bacteria to plants and animals. Hence, they will characterise what lived in the area of Lechaion during the various phases of Antiquity, including the Roman period. We are discovering everything from DNA evidence to monumental moles constructed of five-ton blocks,” concludes Lovén.

This video has some phenomenal footage of the moles from above and under the water, including shots of mud lines and trident marks carved into the massive five-ton blocks, plus the island monument in the Inner Harbour and its glossy golden wooden post.

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How to kill with a Neolithic club

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

University of Edinburgh researchers have gone full CSI to discover how a Neolithic artifact could have been used to inflict fatal damage on a human skull. We don’t know much about what kind of weapons Neolithic people deployed to kill each other. Skulls have been found bearing the tell-tale signs of blunt force trauma, but objects that are clearly identifiable as weapons are thin on the ground. There are all kinds of weapons in the archaeological record from the Bronze and Iron Age periods — daggers, swords, pointy things made for the express purpose of person-to-person combat — but Stone Age objects like bows and arrows, clubs and axes are more ambiguous. They could be hunting tools, intended to injure or kill animals, or work tools.

There hasn’t been a great deal of research into what implements might have inflicted the cranial blunt force trauma wounds seen in the Neolithic osteological record, so the UoE’s Meaghan Dyer and Linda Fibiger turned to experimental forensic testing not unlike the methods dramatized in more or less ludicrous ways on TV shows like CSI. They chose not to opt for animal carcasses (of questionable accuracy) and human cadavers (of questionable medical ethics). They took a more cutting edge approach, employing a synthetic polyurethane “skin-skull-brain” model which unlike the animal carcasses accurately replicates human cranial morphology and unlike the cadavers does not require the violent treatment of human remains. This is the first use of the synthetic model in an experimental investigation of Neolithic blunt force trauma.

The weapon of choice for this test was a replica of the Thames Beater, an alder club recovered from the River Thames near London’s Chelsea neighborhood that was radiocarbon dated to 4660 ± 50 before the present, towards the end of the Neolithic period (about 7000 to 2000 B.C.). It was a very rare find, one of only a small number of Neolithic clubs to survive in Britain until the present, and is now in the Museum of London. Cracked and chipped from its advanced age, the Thames Beater is reminiscent of a busted cricket bat with an angled wooden blade tapering down to a thinner barrel and capped with a round pommel. It was more than two feet long when it was made.

The research team commissioned master carpenter David Lewis of Pelynt, Cornwall, to recreate the piece as it was 4600 years ago. He used alder wood and reproduced the weight, shape, dimensions and every other known aspect of the object to make the experiment as accurate as possible. Two skin-skull-brain models of different thicknesses to account for human variance (one 5mm thick, one 7mm) were created in Switzerland from polyurethane spheres coated in rubber skin. They left a hole open in the bottom for the researchers to introduce brain-simulating ballistics gelatin.

Then it was show time. One of the research assistants was the lucky wielder of the replica Thames Beater.

Once constructed the skin-skull-brain spheres were placed on an elevated platform 108.0cm high, supported on a cork ring 3.1cm tall and 13.8cm in diameter. The hole in the sphere was placed facing down. A right-handed adult male, 30 years old, 193.0cm tall and 88.5kg carried out the strikes.

Two types of blows were used to investigate any variable fracture patterns produced by different areas of the club. Figure four shows the hand positions for the pommel blow and the double-handed blade strike. For the doubled handed strikes with the blade, the club was swung into the air and down onto the skin-skull-brain model, contacting at the end of the blade. The blows with the pommel end of the club, had the club drawn up and the pommel aimed at the skin-skull-brain model. The strikes with the pommel had a notable decrease in force.

The skin-skull-brain models amply proved their worth, producing depression fractures deep enough to displace bone and radiating fractures that spread around the spheres. These are the wounds you’d expect to see in blunt force trauma. The pommel blows were particularly effective, creating large linear fractures extending outwards from the impact point. When the results were compared with the trauma evident on Neolithic skulls, they matched, in one case all but perfectly.

The depression fractures formed by the double-handed blade strikes to the skin-skull-brain models have significant resemblance to examples of diagnosed intentional blunt force trauma in the Neolithic osteological record. The fracture morphology, shape of displaced fragments and the beveled fracture edges produced in both spheres match very closely with trauma hypothetically linked to wooden club weapons (Teschler-Nicola et al. 1996; Schulting and Wysocki 2005: 125; Teschler-Nicola 2012: 108). This experimental study successfully demonstrates the accuracy of this summation, most notably with the remarkable match found in the 7mm thick sphere.

The fractures present on the 7mm sphere bear remarkable similarity to injuries in Individual 3, a 35-40 year old male from the Neolithic Austrian site of Asparn/Schletz (Teschler-Nicola et al. 1996; Teschler-Nicola 2012: 107). As seen in Figure 8, both skulls have a long thin depression site near the top of the skull, with several radiating fractures. The impact sites on both also have one straight and one slightly curved border. This is a remarkable match between the archaeological record and the experimental results.

The study breaks as much ground as it did polyurethane spheres. It confirms the viability of the models in doing this kind of experimental testing and can be applied to osteological remains from many time periods and contexts.

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First the dinobird, now its ticks found in amber

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

The rich deposits of amber mined in Myanmar (formerly Burma) have produced another stellar example of Cretaceous creatures frozen in a dramatic and scientifically significant posture. Earlier this year researchers found the remains of a baby avian dinosaur of the enantiornithes species which was uniquely well-preserved having spent 99 million years encased in amber. The discovery shed new light on the animal’s growth and development, and now the same can be said for a long-extinct tick. A nymph tick of the Cornupalpatum burmanicum species has been found in resin caught in the act of grabbing onto the feather of an avian dinosaur.

Modern ticks feast mightily on the blood of mammals, but their ancestors didn’t have the smorgasbord of mammal species to enjoy that exist on the planet today. Mammals only got so numerous, large and varied after the Cretaceous–Paleogene mass extinction event 65 million years ago. What animals were their primary source of food in the Cretaceous? Most scientists thought reptiles, amphibians and the little mammals that were scurrying about at the time were likely sources. For one thing, there were enough of them to support an extensive parasitic population, unlike avian dinosaurs.

Researcher Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History thought the avialans worth exploring as prospective tick drive-thrus, and spent years studying ticks trapped in amber for evidence of their environment.

The tick-and-feather pair support a theory that Pérez-de la Fuente had already spent years developing, based on other ticks trapped in amber from the same period. Those ticks didn’t have dinosaur feathers encased with them, but there were little hairs. The hairs resemble those left behind by a type of beetle larva that, today, lives in bird nests.

“We had this indirect evidence about the relationship between ticks and feathered dinosaurs,” Pérez-de la Fuente says, but the researchers didn’t have any direct evidence for the relationship until they saw the tick and feather trapped together in amber. […]

Now, just because there’s a feather and a tick holding on to it during the resin flood that would kill it doesn’t make it incontrovertible proof that they fed off the avian dinosaurs. Other animals lived in nests (viz the above-mentioned beetle larva) and the feather could be an accidental floater that seems more suggestive than it is.

Pérez-de la Fuente acknowledges there is more work to be done to clarify the ancient origins of ticks and their blood-sucking behaviors. For example, one amber specimen contains a tick engorged with blood, but Pérez-de la Fuente and his co-authors couldn’t figure out how to analyze that blood because the tick wasn’t entirely encased in amber, so the iron in the blood was contaminated with minerals.

USE FROG DNA!11 What could possibly go wrong? Seriously, being able to purify and analyze prehistoric blood, even blood that has been contaminated environmentally, would open up intriguing new avenues of exploration. Give the leaps in analytic and DNA technology over the past few decades, it’s not inconceivable that someone will figure out how to study the blood of these kinds of specimens.

Interesting side note: we don’t know exactly where in Myanmar the amber ticks used in the study were found. The specimens were sold online to private collectors, but in something of a watershed event, one collector donated his amber to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the other actually participated in the study. He has an author credit on the newly published study in the journal Nature Communication.

“We actually broke the wall between private collectors and scientists which is very uncommon, especially in paleontology,” Pérez-de la Fuente says. “That by itself is a success.”

May it be the first of many.

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Ice Age fossils found in LA subway construction

Monday, December 11th, 2017

The expansion of the subway system in Los Angeles, California, has an unexpected commonality with Rome’s tortured endeavors to build a new line through the historic center: the ground under these cities is crammed full of the remains of the current residents’ predecessors. In Rome’s case it’s ancient archaeological materials, while Los Angeles’ specialty is Ice Age fossils. The company that has LA’ contract for digging the new tunnels keeps a paleontologist on call at all times so that whenever they find something, which is often, it can be properly handled and recovered by a professional. It’s a state regulatory requirement that has ensured the protection of cultural and natural historic patrimony since subway construction first began the 1990s, an attempt to right the many wrongs done to Los Angeles’ history and prehistory during its earlier spurts of rapid growth.

The latest fossil bumper crop has been springing up since 2014 when construction on the extension of the Metro Purple Line started. Paleontologist Ashley Leger of Cogstone Resource Management (CGM) was contracted to examine any finds made by work crews excavating tunnels. Whenever they found something, they’d stop what they were doing, call her and move over to another location to continue work on the project. That gave her the space she needed while still keeping the extension on some semblance of a schedule. The construction crews even pitch in when help is needed.

Most of the finds haven’t required their aid. Leger has unearthed, among other remains, fragments of a rabbit jaw, one mastodon tooth, the foreleg bone of a camel, several bison vertebrae, one tooth and one ankle bone from a horse. But, appropriately for a show business industry town, Los Angeles had something far more spectacular saved up for her. Last year, she got a late night call from one CGM’s site monitors. He said they’d found something and that “it looks big.”

The next morning, Leger knelt at the site and recognized what appeared to be a partial elephant skull.
It turned out to be much more. After 15 hours of painstaking excavation, the team uncovered an intact skull of a juvenile mammoth.

“It’s an absolute dream come true for me,” said Leger, who spent the previous decade at a South Dakota mammoth site with no discoveries even close to the size of the one in Los Angeles. “It’s the one fossil you always want to find in your career.” […]

From there, the skull was hauled a mile or so to Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, home to one of America’s most fossil-rich sites.
Assistant curator Dr. Emily Lindsey called it a “pretty remarkable find,” noting that while thousands of dire wolf and saber-toothed cat remains have been uncovered in L.A., there have been only about 30 mammoths.

A few hundred pounds and the size of an easy chair, the skull is especially rare because both tusks were attached. It’s being studied and is available for public viewing inside the museum’s glass-walled Fossil Lab.

The skull with its glamorous attached tusks and those crazy mammoth teeth with the Golgi Apparatus-looking molars was named Hayden after the actress Hayden Panettiere who was apparently on TV when the CGM monitor first spotted the big head.

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Two unopened tombs rediscovered in Luxor

Sunday, December 10th, 2017

Luxor’s Draa Abul Nagaa necropolis has capped a year of sensational finds with another compelling rarity: two unexplored tombs discovered in the 1990s but never opened or excavated. They were first unearthed by German Egyptologist Friederike Kampp-Seyfried who recorded their existence and named tem Kampp 150 and Kampp 161, but he did not explore them. He excavated Kampp 150 only up to the entrance, and he didn’t get to Kampp 161 at all. They were forgotten and neglected and only rediscovered by Egyptian archaeologists who have been exploring the necropolis

In less than 10 months, archaeologists excavating the necropolis have found more than a thousand ushabti figurines, eight mummies, 10 wooden sarcophagi with still-vibrant polychrome paint, all in the tomb a magistrate named Userhat, the first funerary garden ever discovered and the tomb of a New Kingdom goldsmith named Amenemhat. All of the tombs unearthed this remarkable year date to the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom (1550-1292 B.C.) when Luxor, then Thebes, was the capital and the primary religious and administrative center of the kingdom. The people buried at Draa Abul Nagaa originally were likely priests, courtiers and government functionaries.

Neither of the newly-opened tombs include inscriptions specifically identifying the deceased as such, so we can’t be certain who was buried there or what function they may have performed at the pharaonic courts. The earlier tomb, Kampp 150, a mud-brick and masonry structure, is about 3,500 years old. It is larger than Kampp 161, with five entrances that open onto a courtyard that has two shaft burials on the north and south side.

Archaeologists found a significant number of artifacts inside, including painted wood funerary masks, funerary cones, earthenware vessels and around 450 painted wood figurines. They also found human remains: a mummy with intact linen wrappings indicating he was an individual of rank and ministerial importance. On the ceiling is a cartouche of the pharaoh Thutmose I, which dates the tomb and indicates the deceased may have been an official in his government. We do have one potential clue to the occupants of the tomb. Funerary seals in the courtyard bear the names of Maati and Mohi, a scribe and his wife. It’s not as precise as an inscription or dedication, but the presence of multiple seals naming the same couple does suggest they might have been buried there.

Kampp 161 has a single shaft burial but no remains were found there. There is no tell-tale cartouche to date it, but stylistically the tomb is comparable to its neighbors built in the reigns of Amenhotep II or Thutmose IV, around 3,400 years ago. The crown jewel of the tomb’s decoration is a mural on the western wall that has had some paint loss but not much. What’s left is a richly colored banquet or ritual during which people present offerings to the deceased and his wife. Archaeologists unearthed wooden funerary masks, intact and fragmentary, pieces of wooden furniture, and a painted coffin in the tomb.

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Massive Venezuela petroglyphs mapped for the first time

Friday, December 8th, 2017

Large rock art panels discovered recently on islands in the Atures Rapids in the Amazonas region of western Venezuela have been thoroughly mapped and studied for the first time by researchers from University College London (UCL). The engraved images of animals, people and symbols were carved by local people up to 2,000 years ago. (Shortly after the Spanish arrived, Jesuit missionaries identified the Adoles as the inhabitants of this area, but we don’t know who was there before.) Thanks to the historically low level of the Orinoco River, more petroglyphs have been exposed. Researchers found eight groups of rock art on five islands. Some of these engravings, individual and as a group, are huge. One panel is festooned with 93 petroglyphs over an area of 3270 square feet. A horned snake from another panel is 100 feet long just on its own. These are some of the largest rock art panels ever found anywhere in the world.

It was a challenging task recording such large and spread-out petroglyphs carved into high rock faces in the middle of the Orinoco River. That’s why this study is unprecedented. Others have studied the artworks, but were not able to get anywhere near as close and as a detailed a view as the University College London archaeologist. The team employed robot aides in the form of drones to take aerial overhead pictures of the engraved surfaces that were out of puny human reach. Every petroglyph was documented in photographs and their dimensions and positioning measured using photogrammetry (a technology that derives precise spatial data from photographs by creating 3D renderings of the pictures). Researchers also studied the relationship between the Atures Rapids petroglyphs, their archaeological and cultural context and the links they suggest between the locals who carved them and other indigenous peoples of pre-Hispanic Latin America.

The paper’s author Dr Philip Riris (UCL Institute of Archaeology) said: “The Rapids are an ethnic, linguistic and cultural convergence zone. The motifs documented here display similarities to several other rock art sites in the locality, as well as in Brazil, Colombia, and much further afield. This is one of the first in-depth studies to show the extent and depth of cultural connections to other areas of northern South America in pre-Columbian and Colonial times.”

“While painted rock art is mainly associated with remote funerary sites, these engravings are embedded in the everyday – how people lived and travelled in the region, the importance of aquatic resources and the seasonal rhythmic rising and falling of the water. The size of some of the individual engravings is quite extraordinary.” […]

In one panel surveyed, a motif of a flautist surrounded by other human figures probably depicts part of an indigenous rite of renewal. Performances conceivably coincided with the seasonal emergence of the engravings from the river just before the onset of the wet season, when the islands are more accessible and the harvest would take place.

The research is part of the Cotúa Island-Orinoco Reflexive Archaeology Project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Principal Investigator, Dr José Oliver (UCL Institute of Archaeology), said: “Our project focuses on the archaeology of Cotúa Island and its immediate vicinity of the Atures Rapids. Available archaeological evidence suggests that traders from diverse and distant regions interacted in this area over the course of two millennia before European colonization. The project’s aim is to better understand these interactions.”

“Mapping the rock engravings represents a major step towards an enhanced understanding of the role of the Orinoco River in mediating the formation of pre-Conquest social networks throughout northern South America.”

The UCL research team’s findings have been published in the journal Antiquity and can be read here. It’s openly available for now (be warned: that could change) and makes a fascinating read.

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Google, British Museum digitize Maya collection

Monday, December 4th, 2017

The British Museum and the Google Arts & Culture have been collaborating on creating a complex, in depth digital virtual museum experience for years now. It’s been an exceptionally fruitful partnership from the outset, when the the new Google subsite dedicated to the British Museum’s physical structure, contents, permanent collection and exhibitions opened two years ago. Google Street View’s cameras crawled the entire space and put one of the world’s greatest encyclopedic museums online for everyone in the world with an Internet connection to explore in mind-blowing detail. The collection was rephotographed, this time in the massive resolution of gigapixel cameras, so objects could be viewed on computer screens in far greater dimensions than in person.

Their latest endeavour is dedicated to the preservation of endangered Mayan cultural knowledge and artifacts. It’s a fully functional guided tour, not just of the British Museum’s Maya collection, but of Mayan history and culture. If you go through the virtual exhibition in order, you’ll first encounter an introduction by writer Kanishk Tharoor who gives a summary of who the Maya were and are, a timeline of key events, what we know about their cities, architecture, engineering, language, art and science. That’s followed by a piece by historian Robert Bevan on what the collapse of Mayan cities can tell us about our own present. It’s highly relevant to the British Museum’s collection because since the Spanish burned almost all of the written manuscripts, in order to read Mayan history we have to rely on inscriptions carved in stone.

Atmospheric erosion has caused many in situ written carvings to become illegible, but a new collaboration between Google Arts & Culture and the British Museum is working to combat this gradual destruction. Using 19th century photographs and casts, combined with 21st century digital techniques, means fresh texts to decipher, and a deeper understanding of the ancient Maya.

The project’s source material is the work of the much-overlooked Victorian explorer Alfred Maudslay who traveled through Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras in the 1880s. He used the up-to-date photographic technique of dry plate photography and hauled tons of plaster of Paris with him to create moulds of some of the monuments he encountered, and paper to make impressions (‘squeezes’) of others. 400 of the resulting casts and 800 glass plate negatives are now in the British Museum, among the 100,000 American items held in its collection.

Now, all of these casts and squeezes are being 3D-scanned, allowing researchers to manipulate the images in a way that will assist in translating the Maya inscriptions. Alongside this, an immersive VR journey is being created that takes children, via objects in the museum, to see the ruins in the forests of the Maya region, complete with howler monkeys and soaring ceiba trees that, amongst the Maya, are thought to connect the underworld with the sky. The project is giving us a clearer picture of what happened to the ancient Maya.

Bevan’s article includes embeds of some of the newly digitized Mauslay photographs and 3D models of the moulds he took. You cannot download them, sad to say, but click on the embeds to see them in their fully zoomable fulgor. The next section is a multi-media slide show that explain Mayan writing, the conservation of Mauslay’s casts, the history of Guatemalan masks and the many challenges of preserving Mayan monuments using pictures and animated street view captures. It culminates in a YouTube video of curator Dr. Jago Cooper speaking about Maudslay’s work and how the British Museum can help Google to preserve Mayan history.

The next section is another slideshow, this one about the history of the museum’s Mayan collection which is of comparatively recent extraction. They didn’t really start collecting Maya artifacts until the mid-19th century. Maudslay’s casts didn’t join the party until the 1920s and the best known original artifacts only arrived in the 1930s when coffee planter Charles Fenton donated his important private collection to the museum. The two slideshows after this one focus on the explorer and his casts, followed by a huge photos and 3D models of the casts.

Because it’s Google we’re talking about, there are opportunities to take a virtual stroll through ancient Maya archaeological sites, explore their cities in 360-degree flexibility, even tools for teachers to design virtual trips through space and time for their classes. It’s an ambitious assemblage with a deep bench of content and media to devour. So what are you waiting for?

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Ancient orca geoglyph rediscovered in Peru

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

The arid desert coast of southern Peru is famed worldwide for its enormous geoglyphs, the abstract, geometric and zoomorphic shapes known as the Nazca lines after the ancient Peruvians who moved rocks to expose the topsoil creating a line-drawing effect when viewed by the aliens who used them as a landing pad. (Sorry about that. I haven’t watched the History channel in years and still the sarcasm flows out of me like honey. Really bitter, eye-rolly honey.) It seems the Nazca’s abilities may have antecedents, however, in another culture that preceded them, and a recently rediscovered geoglyph may hold the key to unlocking the early history of this magnificent art form.

In the 1960s, German archaeologists discovered a geoglyph of an orca in the Palpa Valley, an area neighboring Nazca in the same Ica region about 250 miles south of Lima. It was photographed at the time but not documented properly so its exact location was lost and nobody could find the enormous killer whale drawn into the side of a hill for 50 years. In 1997, a team of researchers from the German Archaeological Institute’s Commission for Archeology of Non-European Cultures (KAAK) started a project in cooperation with the Instituto Andino de Estudios Arqueológicos (INDEA) to study, map, document and restore all the great line drawings in Nazca and Palpa. There are thousands of geoglyphs in less than hospitable terrain, and when they haven’t been maintained or even seen in decades, they can be hard to track down.

Team leader Johny Isla Cuadrado, head of the Decentralized Office of Culture of the Ica region, saw the old picture of the orca geoglyph in an archaeological catalog published in the 1970s. The description was confused and not specific enough as to the size and find site for Isla to figure out where it might be. When he researched it further, he found the area’s residents had no idea where it was either. He used Google Earth to search for it but it the elements had not been kind and the design was difficult to discern. Well, impossible for any normal human. Archaeologists are special, though, and he was able to pick out clues to possible locations of the geoglyph here and there. Finally he found the long-lost orca the old fashioned way: he tromped the desert hills until he saw it with his own two eyes.

That was January of 2015. This spring, Isla returned with Ministry of Culture experts to clean and restore it so it would again be visible to the untrained human eye instead only satellites and archaeologists who know what to look for. Now their work is done and the geoglyph is back to its former splendor inhabiting the characteristic shape of early Peruvian killer whale iconography.

About 70 meters (230 feet) long, the orca is unusual in several ways. Its location on a rolling hillside distinguishes it from the Nazca lines which were all more practically placed on flat plateaus. Archaeologists believe this was one of the earliest stages of this type of artwork. It is found elsewhere among the Palpa geoglyphs, while very rarely at Nazca. It seems the successors of the tradition simplified the task by selecting more ideal surfaces. The hilly terrain also makes the older line drawings more susceptible to damage from erosion.

The creators of the orca drew it on the hillside in negative relief by removing a thin layer of stones to form the outline of the figure. This is similar to the technique used by the people of the Nazca culture to create geoglyphs from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 800.

But some contrasting parts of the rediscovered pattern, such as the eyes, were created out of piles of stones, the researchers said. This technique was used by people of the older Paracas culture, who occupied the region from around 800 B.C. to 200 B.C.

Soil tests have indicated that the orca geoglyph dates from around 200 B.C. The style of the pattern and its location on a hillside, rather than on a plain, suggest that it may be one of the oldest geoglyphs in the region, said one of Isla’s colleagues, Markus Reindel of the German Archaeological Institute, in an interview in a German newspaper.

The Paracas culture, you might recall, produced some of the most exquisite textiles and knits in the ancient world, some of which were used to wrap mummy bundles and survived in extraordinarily vibrant color thanks to the arid climate. They were also innovators in the creation of pottery.

Peru would like to make this remarkable early example of some of its most beloved cultural patrimony accessible to the public, but they can’t because terrible people are terrible and have basically stolen the land using some offensively stupid loophole that allows any grasping greedo to claim huge swaths of state-protected property as “uncultivated lands.” This is a major problem in Peru right now, land traffickers who snatch public land, even in a desert, even covered in priceless ancient art, enclose it and exploit it giving not a rat’s ass about the impact their construction/agriculture/whatever has on the patrimony it abuts.

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Hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs, some with embryos, found in China

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs in northwestern China. The number is unprecedented — 215 eggs — but even more significant from a paleontological perspective is the discovery of 16 unsquashed, still perfectly 3D embryos among them. Before this, only six other well-preserved pterosaur eggs had been found and none of them had 3D embryos inside. Frozen in time at various stages of development, the embryos have to potential to reveal a great deal we don’t know about the creatures, their lives and behaviors. The team saw what a treasure they had when they CT-scanned the eggs.

The discovery has kicked off debate about whether the creatures could fly as soon as they hatched. Some previous theories had posited that they could, but the paper suggests otherwise. The research team found that the animal’s hind leg bones were more developed than the wings at the time of hatching, and none of the embryos were found with teeth.

“Thus, newborns were likely to move around but were not able to fly, leading to the hypothesis that Hamipterus might have been less precocious than advocated for flying reptiles in general … and probably needed some parental care,” the paper reads.

A separate commentary in Science calls the study “remarkable” but cautions against drawing firm conclusions about how the animal moved immediately after hatching. That’s because it’s hard to pinpoint just how close to hatching the embryos actually were.

The discoveries weren’t made all at once. They are the result of a decade of excavations between 2006 and 2016 at a site in the Turpan-Hami Basin of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Fossils of bones from hundreds of adult male and female pterosaurs (Hamipterus tianshanensis) and babies and young pterosaurs were found in the same location at the collection of eggs all 215 of which were excavated from a single sandstone block.

Pterosaur were toothed flying reptiles who lived on land near bodies of water and fed largely on fish. Their long beaks were filled with pointy teeth and they had a properly intimidating 13-foot wingspan. When they occupied the Turpan-Hami Basin site 120 million years ago in the Lower Cretaceous, there was a large lake which no longer exists. Because of the spectacular finds, scientists refer to the area as “Pterosaur Eden” although it definitely wasn’t one girl-one guy and the eggs appear to have been banished from terrestrial paradise by flash floods.

The sheer number of eggs found together, the researchers say, suggest they belonged to clutches from multiple female pterosaurs and indicate that the animals may have bred in colonies.

It’s worth noting that the massive discovery does not appear to include a nest. Jiang says the eggs had been moved from the place they were originally laid and may have been carried by water after a series of storms hit the animals’ nesting ground.

The findings have been published in the latest issue of the journal Science (requires subscription or payment to read).

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Third Roman temple unearthed in Silchester

Friday, December 1st, 2017

Archaeologists excavating near the village of Silchester in Hampshire have unearthed the remains of a Roman temple, the third discovered to date in the town.

Known in Roman times as Calleva Atrebatum after the Atrebates tribe who founded the town in the 1st century B.C., it was first an autonomous ally of Rome. It was an oppidum, a fortified settlement, which appears to have largely functioned as an independent city-state under a series of rulers. The first of these and the city founder was Commius, a Gallic chieftain who had aided Julius Caesar’s veni, vidi, vicing in Gaul before becoming switching sides to Vercingetorix and ultimately cutting a deal with Mark Anthony in which Antonius guaranteed Commius would never have to see a Roman again if he took his annoying crew across the Channel and stayed there for good. Coins have been found in Silchester with Commius’ name, so it seems he followed through and was indeed left alone.

A hundred years later times had changed. Now the Romans were interested. One Roman in particular. Specifically the biggest Roman kahuna of them all: the Emperor Nero. He bought Calleva, land, buildings, lock, stock and barrel, as his personal property. He seems to have taken the town as a kind of pet project, endowing it with major public buildings and converting the Atrebates settlement into a symbol of Roman industry, splendour and powder. Perhaps it was carrot, perhaps it was stick, probably a little of both, but he wanted his subjects way up at the perimeter of empire to feel his (and Rome’s) reach keenly. With imperial moneys flowing in for construction, the new city became a hive of proper Roman industry. Lots of new trades, lots of temples and other civic structures.

University of Reading archaeologists have been excavating in Silchester for years, always hoping to find a little Nero under the next shovel-full of soil. Two years ago they found a two-letter inscription and even that meagre material (albeit very cool because it was the second fragment of an inscription whose first fragment had been discovered in 1891) was enough to give them hope they might find Nero’s name somewhere. They didn’t that time, but this time they sure have.

The temple remains were found within the grounds of The Old Manor House in the Roman town at Silchester, along with rare bricks stamped with the name of the emperor, who ruled AD54-68.

Professor Michael Fulford CBE said: “The stamped bricks we’ve found were made just south from Silchester at a place called ‘Little London’.

“They were stamped to show the Emperor’s ownership of what was being built there, and are quite unique to Silchester.

“The stamping of Nero’s name on the bricks essentially acted like a batch marker.”

Four fragments of the bricks were found in a ritual pit within the temple site – the largest concentration ever found in the town – along with another three at the kiln site which made the tiles in Little London.

“These findings are a crucial piece of the jigsaw as we look to solve the mystery of Nero’s links to Silchester. This is something that has puzzled archaeologists for more than a century.

“Only a handful of Nero-stamped tiles have ever been found in the UK, so to unearth this many was very exciting.”

No references to specific deities have been found that would explain which temple this one, or which gods the other two temples were dedicated to. Fulford speculates that if there were only three temples total, they could each have been dedicated to the central triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva which was a common combination. There is no hard physical evidence either way.

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