Humans went deep sea fishing 42,000 years ago

Archaeologists from the Australian National University excavated the Jerimalai on the southeast Asian island of East Timor have found direct evidence of humans fishing deep-sea species 42,000 years ago. Inside the shallow cave the team discovered over 38,000 fish bones from 2,843 individual fish dating back 42,000 years and half of those fish were fast-swimming deep-sea species like tuna and sharks.

Humans have been feasting on shore-based seafood like mussels for at least 165,000, but the earliest sites where deep sea fishing has been confirmed before this has been are only 12,000 years old. The Jerimalai cave also produced another first: a fish hook made of a mollusk shell that is 23,000 years old. That is the earliest confirmed date for a fish hook and the earliest evidence of line fishing.

The new evidence “certainly suggests that people had advanced maritime skills” by 42,000 years ago [Susan] O’Connor [, archaeologist at the Australian National University and the excavation leader] says, at least “in terms of fishing technology.” The finds indicate that this mastery of the sea “must have been one of the things that allowed the initial colonization” of East Timor and other Southeast Asian islands, such as Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. But O’Connor cautions that there is still no direct evidence about the maritime skills of the first people who colonized Australia, leaving open the possibility that they drifted there with the tides.

We don’t know how they might have fished tuna and sharks. The mussel shell hook would not have been used for deep sea fishing and thus far no remains have been found to answer the question. If the people who braved the oceans to populate Australia and East Timor during this period had oceanworthy ships rather than drifting there on rafts, certainly they could have mastered devising a net or dragline and hook combination that worked in the deep East Timor coastal wasters.

There are some objections to the interpretation of the data. One anthropologist noted that the tuna found in the cave are only between 20 and 30 inches long and are thus juvenile specimens who might have been caught wandering too close to shore. Since the water off the coast of East Timor gets deep very quickly, it’s easier to find deep sea fish near land. O’Connor rebuts that even young tuna are fast swimmers and can’t be speared or hooked from the beach in the thousands.

She intends to keep excavating the cave, moving deeper down into earlier eras. Here’s hoping she finds a boat.

Look at this restoration

The Dulwich Picture Gallery in London unveiled the results of a two-year restoration of Saint Cecilia, a Baroque masterpiece currently attributed to the school of Annibale Caracci. The 17th century painting was in such awful condition that it had been off public display and in storage since the late 19th century. In 2009, sufficient funds were raised to begin a full restoration and it’s taken this long to painstakingly repair tears, reframe and clean the work.

And thus at long last, the sons pay for the sins of the father, for the person who is most responsible for its deplorable condition was Sir Francis Bourgeois, the founder of the Dulwich Picture Gallery. He and his partner Noël Desenfans ran an immensely successful and high-end art dealing business. In 1790 they were commissioned by Stanislaus August, King of Poland (and former lover of Catherine the Great’s), to create a royal collection of important art that would rival those held by the other crowned heads of Europe. Desenfans and Bourgeois worked for five years to put together a world-class art collection from scratch for Poland’s new national gallery.

Unfortunately in 1795 King Stanislaus was forced to abdicate and the country was dismembered by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Thus Desenfans and Bourgeois were left with a national gallery but no nation to put it in. They spent the rest of their lives selling some of the pieces in order to fund the purchase of equally important pieces and to find a place where the collection could go on display in appropriate splendor.

Desenfran died first in 1807. Bourgeois died in 1811 and left the collection to Dulwich College stipulating that the paintings were to go on public display. The Dulwich Picture Gallery was founded that year in accordance with the terms of the will and became the first public art gallery in the United Kingdom. (There was no National Gallery until 1824.)

Saint Cecilia used to hang in Desenfans’ and Bourgeois’ gallery/home. At the time it was attributed to seventeenth-century Bolognese painter Annibale Carracci himself. They hung it next to a Sir Joshua Reynolds painting but since Saint Cecilia was smaller than Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse, just for the symmetry of it Bourgeois added wide strips of canvas around the former so that it would look like the two paintings were the same size.

The additions that Bourgeois made, however, eventually started to disintegrate and come away from the original seventeenth-century canvas. Well-known art critic Mrs. Jameson, writing in A Handbook to the public galleries of art in and near London (1842), made the rather scathing observation that she had ‘seldom seen a picture so shamefully maltreated – so patched and repainted…[Sir Francis Bourgeois’s] hand is clearly distinguishable’.

By the end of the century it wasn’t fit to be seen. Now look at it:

Now that it’s so clean and pretty, the question of attribution might be more fruitfully explored. The Gallery has a great deal of data from the conservation process that could help experts pin down whose hand painted Saint Cecilia.

The also have a rather nifty website, btw, with an extensive collection of videos about the paintings in the collection, visiting exhibits and the history of the collection. Check out the Masterpiece of the Month videos. It started in January of this year and will run until December, so you can watch them all back to back. :love:

Ashmolean opens six new Egyptian galleries

Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum will put its collection of 40,000 ancient Egyptian and Nubian artifacts back on display in six refurbished galleries starting this Saturday, November 26. The collection includes a large number of human mummies and objects that have been part of the museum’s collection since the 17th century. Over half of the mummies and coffins have been in storage for decades and will go on display for the first time in the new galleries.

The Ashmolean is home to some of the finest Egyptian and Nubian collections in the country, with Predynastic and Protodynastic material which ranks amongst the most significant in the world. With new lighting, display cases and interpretation, the project completes the Ashmolean’s Ancient World Floor, comprising galleries that span the world’s great ancient civilisations – from Egypt and Nubia, Prehistoric Europe, the Ancient Near East, Classical Greece and Rome, to India, China and Japan. […]

Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said, “These remarkable collections are among the most important outside Egypt and one of the Ashmolean’s most popular attractions. With an exciting series of new galleries, the redevelopment transforms opportunities for using the collections for teaching and research at all levels, and the way they are enjoyed, cared for and integrated within the wider Museum.”

Each gallery is dedicated to a chronological period of ancient Egyptian and Nubian history. The first one is Egypt at its Origins, covering Egypt’s history from the Paleolithic era to the Early Dynastic period (ca. 3000 B.C.), includes some of the oldest stone sculptures in the world and the colossal limestone statues of the fertility god Min. Next is Dynastic Egypt and Nubia (2686 B.C. to 1540 B.C.) whose centerpiece is the Shrine of Taharqa, part of the temple of Amun at Kawa, in what is now Sudan, and the only complete free-standing pharaonic building in Britain. Life after Death in Ancient Egypt focuses on the tools and methods the Egyptians used to mummify and secure eternal life. The Amarna Revolution singles out the reign of King Amenhotep IV and the unique religion and art produced under him. Egypt in the Age of Empires depicts daily life in ancient Egypt using the documents found engraved on limestone chips at Deir-el-Medina, the village where construction workers building royal tombs lived during the New Kingdom (ca. 1000 B.C.). The last gallery is Egypt meets Greece and Rome which displays artifacts from Ptolemy’s accession to the throne of Egypt after the death of Alexander.

The original Egyptian rooms were apparently dark and pokey. The new galleries are bright, open and airy to facilitate visitor traffic flow and show off this extraordinary collection to its best advantage. That they’ve successfully built new interior spaces, moved 40,000 objects to and fro, including colossal statues and huge display cases in only 12 months while the rest of the museum was open is astonishing. It took them two months just to move artifacts into the new rooms.

Saxon graveyard found under Warwickshire patio

Last summer, homeowners Stephen and Nicky West were having an addition built on to their house in Ratley, south Warwickshire, when their builders found a skeleton buried under the patio. The Wests are local history enthusiasts and immediately thought the body might be a casualty from a 1642 English Civil War battle that took place in nearby Edgehill.

They contacted the Warwickshire County Council who dispatched experts to determine whether the skeleton was historical or a the result of contemporary foul play. The archaeologist’s preliminary assessment was that any foul play that might have occurred took place hundreds of years ago. Under normal circumstances the find would not have been pursued much further because the local council doesn’t have the money to analyze every skeleton found under people’s patios. It was Stephen and Nicky West who personally commissioned Archaeology Warwickshire to excavate further under the patio and test the bones.

The archaeologists identified the remains of at least four bodies which included two adult females, a young male and a juvenile aged between 10 and 12.

Radiocarbon dates from two of the skeletons show that they died around 650-820 AD in what is known as the middle Saxon period. […]

[Archaeology Warwickshire’s manager Stuart] Palmer said: “The discovery of this previously unsuspected burial ground is an extremely rare and important addition to what has previously been an archaeologically invisible period of Warwickshire’s history.

“Detailed analysis of the skeletons has revealed an insight into the health of the middle Saxon population who clearly suffered periods of malnourishment and were subject to a wide range of infections indicative of lives of extreme hardship and often near-constant pain.”

Palmer believes the four skeletons found are part of a larger burial ground underneath the West’s home and adjacent properties. There won’t be further excavations, what with the people living there, but given the centuries of development on the spot, it’s remarkable that 1200-year-old plus skeletons were found at all.

The bones will be kept in storage by Archaeology Warwickshire until they decide what the final disposition will be. No little girls have been reported sucked into their TVs as of press time.

Texas drought reveals graves, ghost towns

The year of drought in Texas has caused lake and reservoir levels to recede so severely that the remains of ghost towns and graves that have been submerged for decades are now on dry land. Most of the lakes in the state were manmade, created by the construction of hydroelectric and flood control dams, hence the presence of entire towns underwater. With an average rainfall 13 inches below normal for the year, most of the lake levels have dropped over a dozen feet.

The old town of Bluffton, normally under 20 feet of Lake Buchanan, is showing its bones, literal and metaphoric. The gravestone of a little boy, Johnny C. Parks, who died in 1882 just a few days shy of his first birthday, is now in plain view. The remains of the gas station/general store, the grist mill, hotel and cotton gin are now tourist attractions for hikers, as are the rusted hulks of old oil tanks and the town well.

Local historian Alfred Hallmark, whose great-great-great grandfather helped establish Bluffton, said his research showed 389 graves were moved starting in 1931 when dam construction began. That’s the same year Bluffton’s 40 or 50 residents started moving several miles west to the current Bluffton, which today amounts to a convenience store and post office at a lonely highway intersection serving 200 residents.

Residents had to leave their ranches and abandon precious pecan trees, some of which produced more than 1,000 pounds of nuts each year. “It was devastating,” said Hallmark, 70, a retired teacher, of the move. “They had no choice.”

Some had even fewer choices. This summer an entire children’s cemetery was found under the Richland Chambers Reservoir near Dallas-Ft. Worth. Bones and a single grave had been found before on the shore of the lake, but it wasn’t until the drought that a burial ground containing the graves of 25 children buried before 1890 was discovered. The bones found on the shore dated to around the same time — 100 to 120 years ago — and were consistent with a male of African descent.

A descendant of the 19th century owner of the land that became the reservoir notes that “black people worked for my family and other white families like mine,” meaning her great-grandfather, who moved to Texas from Mississippi in 1866 to start a cotton farm and horse ranch, had sharecroppers living on the property. This might be their cemetery. Archaeologists are working urgently to get the county to fund the full excavation and respectful reburial of the human remains before the drought breaks and the site is resumberged.

The Lower Colorado River Authority, the non-profit public utility that completed Buchanan Dam after the collapse of the holding company that first fund during the Great Depression, has an incredible collections of pictures from its archives documenting the construction of the dam from 1931 onward on its Flickr page. Go back a page to see their photographic archives of the construction workers’ camp and of the newly relocated Bluffton cemetery with its freshly dug graves. It’s amazing, really, how deep a visual record they’ve kept. Every public utility should upload their archives.

You can see the ruins of Bluffton in this news clip: