Posts Tagged ‘archaeology’
Peruvian archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo flies a drone over Cerro Chepén – Mariana Bazo/Reuters
In Peru, home to the spectacular Inca city of Machu Picchu and thousands of ancient ruins, archaeologists are turning to drones to speed up sluggish survey work and protect sites from squatters, builders and miners.
Remote-controlled aircraft were developed for military purposes and are a controversial tool in U.S. anti-terrorism campaigns, but the technology’s falling price means it is increasingly used for civilian and commercial projects around the world.
Small drones have been helping a growing number of researchers produce three-dimensional models of Peruvian sites instead of the usual flat maps – and in days and weeks instead of months and years.
Speed is an important ally to archaeologists here. Peru’s economy has grown at an average annual clip of 6.5 percent over the past decade, and development pressures have surpassed looting as the main threat to the country’s cultural treasures, according to the government.
Researchers are still picking up the pieces after a pyramid near Lima, believed to have been built some 5,000 years ago by a fire-revering coastal society, was razed in July by construction firms. That same month, residents of a town near the pre-Incan ruins of Yanamarca reported that informal miners were damaging the three-story stone structures as they dug for quartz…
Archaeologists say drones can help set boundaries to protect sites, watch over them and monitor threats, and create a digital repository of ruins that can help build awareness and aid in the reconstruction of any damage done.
“We see them as a vital tool for conservation,” said Ana Maria Hoyle, an archaeologist with the Culture Ministry…
Drones are already saving archaeologists time in mapping sites – a crucial but often slow first step before major excavation work can begin. Mapping typically involves tedious ground-level observations with theodolites or pen and paper…
In Peru, archaeologists say it is only a matter of time before drones replace decades-old tools still used in their field, and that the technology can and should be used for less destructive uses.
“So much of the technology we use every day comes from warfare,” said Hoyle. “It is natural this is happening.”
Today’s Luddites will continue to mess their knickers over this, of course. They get even more uptight when you point out they’re Luddites – without understanding the roots of the definition, no doubt.
Condemning a technology on its own because of how it’s used by some – and who is using it – is ridiculous. You may as well stop wearing shoes because Caeser’s legions wore them.
A garden doorstep at a home in Devon in the UK has been identified as a rare Sri Lankan artefact expected to fetch more than £30,000 at auction.
The auctioneer Bonhams says the carved granite step is a Sandakada Pahana – or moonstone – similar to those found in temples dating from Sri Lanka’s Anuradhapura period (c400BC-1000AD).
Sri Lanka’s director of archaeology says it is unclear if it is authentic…But if so, he believes the authorities should take steps to acquire it.
The stone was found in the garden of a bungalow in Devon. Its owner said that it was originally in a home in Sussex that her family had bought in 1950.
Bonhams says the house had been purchased from a tea planter who had lived in Sri Lanka…
The stone will be put up for auction in Bonhams’ Indian and Islamic sale in London on 23 April.
This is why everyone in America watches ANTIQUES ROADSHOW on PBS. Those exciting moments when you discover something you’ve played with since you were a child is worth more than your car.
A team working in South Africa claims to have found the earliest known sleeping mats, made of plant material and dated up to 77,000 years ago — 50,000 years earlier than previous evidence for human bedding. These early mattresses apparently were even specially prepared to be resistant to mosquitoes and other insects.
Early members of our species, Homo sapiens, were nomads who made their living by hunting and gathering. Yet they often created temporary base camps where they cooked food and spent the night. One of the best studied of these camps is Sibudu Cave, a rock shelter in a cliff face above South Africa’s Tongati River, about 40 kilometers north of Durban. Sibudu was first occupied by modern humans at least 77,000 years ago and continued to serve as a favored gathering place over the following 40,000 years. Since 1998, a team led by Lyn Wadley, an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, has been excavating at Sibudu, uncovering evidence for complex behaviors, including the earliest known use of bows and arrows.
Over the past several years, the team has found that many of the archaeological layers featured large, 1-centimeter thick swaths of plant remains, including the remnants of both stems and leaves. Most of them cover at least three square meters. The team suspected that these swaths were the remains of bedding, but the earliest previous evidence for sleeping mats is only between 20,000 and 30,000 years old, at sites in Spain, South Africa, and Israel, where similar but more fragmentary arrangements of plant remains have been found…
The team found that the swaths, which dated from 77,000 to 58,000 years ago, were made from sedges, rushes, and grasses, plants that grow down by the Tongati River but are not found in the dry rock shelter. Thus the people at Sibudu must have gathered them deliberately and brought them to the cave. Under the microscope, blocks of the plant material showed signs of compression and repeated trampling. In the earliest layer, 77,000 years old, the team found the leaves of Cryptocarya woodii, also known as Cape laurel, or the “bastard camphor tree,” an aromatic plant whose leaves are used in traditional medicines even today. The leaves contain several chemical compounds that can kill insects, and the team suggests that early humans chose them to protect against malaria-carrying mosquitoes and other pests…
Among the plant remains, Wadley’s team also found tiny fragments of chipped stone and crushed, burnt bone, which the researchers interpret as evidence that these were not only sleeping mats but also work surfaces where tools were fashioned and food was prepared. Thus while early modern humans were skilled at organizing their living spaces, some parts of the cave served double duty, Wadley says. “There were no rules for separate eating, working, or sleeping places,” she says. “Breakfast in bed may have been an almost daily occurrence.”
AAAS articles are almost always informative, useful, educational. Sometimes the effort to be entertaining can be pretty corny.
Among the various substances and structures they examined at microscopic level I wonder what remains of insects associated with humans may have been found? Like fossilized Cimex lectularius?
Why on Earth would you want to strap one of these to your wrist? It barely tells the time, and it can’t take pictures, tweet or connect to your Facebook. In fact, very few people would have the faintest idea what it is, or why you’d want one at all. But for those that do recognize its intricate gears and dials, this tiny, complex piece of machinery tells a vivid and incredible tale. It’s a story of gigantic scientific upheaval, of adventure and shipwreck on the high seas, of war and death. A story of amazing intellect, lost riches and impossible chance – a sunken treasure that Jaques Cousteau once described as “more valuable than the Mona Lisa” – and it’s connected with an ancient celebrity whose star shone so brightly that he’s still a household name more than 2200 years after his death… Read on!
Historians and scientists alike live for the great “Eureka” moments, where some newly discovered fact can turn our understanding on its head and lead to a richer picture of our world and our species. And there are few scientific or historic discoveries more significant than the one made by a Greek sponge diver in October 1900, on the Mediterranean sea bed…
Historians at the time largely ignored the device for one simple reason – the technology required to make such complex metallic gear systems simply didn’t exist back in 100 B.C. It appeared to have an epicyclic, or planetary gear system in it – and those hadn’t popped up anywhere else in history for another 1900 years or so. It was assumed that the machine had been misplaced, accidentally left with the wreckage, or wrongly cataloged, so it was shelved for another 49 years, until an English physicist called Derek Price decided to have a closer look in 1951.
With better technology and plenty of time at hand, Price soon realized that this was indeed an ancient device – in fact, there was some kind of instructive script carved into it, faded almost to obscurity, that put it right in the 100-300 B.C. period. This was a true Eureka moment – it put amazingly advanced technology in the hands of the Ancient Greeks.
In fact, it instantly became not only the world’s earliest known use of planetary gears, but the first known mechanism that used clockwork gears at all. Various civilizations earlier than the Ancient Greeks had used wooden peg-in-hole gear systems to transfer motion, but this was an order of magnitude more complex than anything before it, and indeed anything for a millennium and a half after it.
There began a painstaking scientific examination of every available fragment of this ancient machine – there were 82 pieces in total – over the course of the next 50 years. As technology improved, it was applied to the fragments of what had become known as the Antikythera mechanism.
RTFA. I’ve blogged about the antikythera mechanism before – especially when the first complete replication was completed. This is a fascinating tale of engineering history, coupled with early knowledge of the relative motion of heavenly bodies.
Bravo for Hublot deciding to replicate this in miniature.
Humans were hunting large mammals in North America about 800 years earlier than previously thought, new analysis of a controversial mastodon specimen – with what appears to be a spear tip in its rib – seems to confirm.
The find suggests humans were hunting mastodons using tools made from bone about a thousand years before the start of the “Clovis culture”, reputedly the first human culture in North America. Other evidence points to mammoth hunting using stone tools around this time, but the notion of pre-Clovis hunting has remained highly controversial.
The mastodon was found in 1977 by a farmer called Emanuel Manis. He contacted archaeologist Carl Gustafson, who excavated the skeleton and noticed a pointed object embedded in its rib. Gustafson took a fuzzy x-ray and interpreted the object as a projectile point made of bone or antler.
By dating organic matter around the fossil, he estimated that it was about 14,000 years old. Other archaeologists challenged Gustafson’s dates and his interpretation of the fragment as a man-made point.
Decades later Professor Michael Waters from Texas A&M University contacted him about re-examining the specimen using modern technology. His analysis was published on Thursday in the journal Science…
Waters analysed collagen protein from the mastodon’s rib and tusks to confirm that the animal died about 13,800 years ago, almost exactly as Gustafson predicted…
Two other sites in Wisconsin appear to show people were hunting woolly mammoths and using stone tools between 14,200 and 14,800 years ago. The Manis specimen suggests they also hunted mastodons and used bone tools.
Together, the three sites provide strong evidence for pre-Clovis hunting. “They’re incontrovertible,” said Waters. “Clearly, people were hunting mammoths and mastodons again and again, playing a part in their ultimate demise…”
Waters does not credit alternative hypotheses. “Ludicrous what-if stories are being made up to explain something people don’t want to believe,” he said. “We took the specimen to a bone pathologist, showed him the CT scans, and asked if there was any way it could be an internal injury. He said absolutely not…”
Archaeologists can be as inflexible as politicians. Facts transmute into ideology and even when the ideology is disproven by new facts, advancements in analyzing evidence, those who are committed to their original understanding find it difficult to move on.
Waters said it best – describing what-if stories made up to explain something people don’t want to believe.
A spectacular haul of stone tools discovered beneath a collapsed rock shelter in southern Arabia has forced a major rethink of the story of human migration out of Africa. The collection of hand axes and other tools shaped to cut, pierce and scrape bear the hallmarks of early human workmanship, but date from 125,000 years ago, around 55,000 years before our ancestors were thought to have left the continent.
The artefacts, uncovered in the United Arab Emirates, point to a much earlier dispersal of ancient humans, who probably cut across from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian peninsula via a shallow channel in the Red Sea that became passable at the end of an ice age. Once established, these early pioneers may have pushed on across the Persian Gulf, perhaps reaching as far as India, Indonesia and eventually Australia.
Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at Oxford University who was not involved in the work, told the Science journal: “This is really quite spectacular. It breaks the back of the current consensus view.”
1. Pretty consistent with human spirit to have early adopters.
2. Perfectly consistent for scientists to be open to further examination of existing theories. It’s part of what peer review is about.
Anatomically modern humans – those that resemble people alive today – evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Until now, most archaeological evidence has supported an exodus from Africa, or several waves of migration, along the Mediterranean coast or the Arabian shoreline between 80,000 and 60,000 years ago…
The stones, a form of silica-rich rock called chert, were dated by Simon Armitage, a researcher at Royal Holloway, University of London, using a technique that measured how long sand grains around the artefacts had been buried…
The discovery has sparked debate among archaeologists, some of whom say much stronger evidence is needed to back up the researchers’ claims. “I’m totally unpersuaded,” Paul Mellars, an archaeologist at Cambridge University, told Science. “There’s not a scrap of evidence here that these were made by modern humans, nor that they came from Africa.”
Chris Stringer, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “The region of Arabia has been terra incognita in trying to map the dispersal of modern humans from Africa during the last 120,000 years, leading to much theorising in the face of few data.
“Despite the confounding lack of diagnostic fossil evidence, this archaeological work provides important clues that early modern humans might have dispersed from Africa across Arabia, as far as the Straits of Hormuz, by 120,000 years ago.”
The debate will continue. More will be learned. It is the nature of good science.
RTFA and reflect upon the first bits of information coming from the research.
Archaeologists on Orkney are investigating what is thought to be a 5,000-year-old tomb complex.
A local man stumbled on the site while using a mechanical digger for landscaping.
It appears to contain a central passageway and multiple chambers excavated from rock…
“Potentially these skeletons could tell us so much about Neolithic people,” said Orkney Islands Council archaeologist Julie Gibson. “Not only in relation to their deaths, but their lives.”
One end of the tomb was accidentally removed as it was discovered and as a result, the burial site has now been flooded. Archaeologists are in a race against time to recover its contents before they are damaged or destroyed.
“There might also be other material, pottery or organics such as woven grass, buried in there – which cannot last under the circumstances,” said Ms Gibson.
“Call before you dig” only works for gas lines and phone cables.
The team are posting daily video updates from the excavations which are expected to take 10 days.
A team of archaeologists from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, along with a team of Syrian colleagues, is uncovering new clues about a prehistoric society that formed the foundation of urban life in the Middle East prior to invention of the wheel.
The mound of Tell Zeidan in the Euphrates River Valley near Raqqa, Syria, which had not been built upon or excavated for 6,000 years, is revealing a society rich in trade, copper metallurgy and pottery production. Artifacts recently found there are providing more support for the view that Tell Zeidan was among the first societies in the Middle East to develop social classes according to power and wealth.
A parallel development – no doubt – was a class of politicians telling all they were Free and Equal.
Tell Zeidan dates from between 6000 and 4000 B.C., and immediately preceded the world’s first urban civilizations in the ancient Middle East. It is one of the largest sites of the Ubaid culture in northern Mesopotamia.
Thus far, archaeologists have unearthed evidence of this society’s trade in obsidian and production and development of copper processing, as well as the existence of a social elite that used stone seals to mark ownership of goods and culturally significant items…
Covering about 31 acres, Tell Zeidan was situated where the Balikh River joins the Euphrates River in modern-day Syria. The location was at the crossroads of major, ancient trade routes in Mesopotamia that followed the course of the Euphrates River valley. The Ubaid period lasted from about 5300 to 4000 B.C.
“This enigmatic period saw the first development of widespread irrigation, agriculture, centralized temples, powerful political leaders and the first emergence of social inequality as communities became divided into wealthy elites and poorer commoners,” said Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute and a leader of the expedition.
“The research also is important because it provides insight into how complex societies, based on linkages which extended across hundreds of miles, developed,” said Yellen, noting the distance travelled for raw materials needed for many of the Tell Zeidan artifacts…
Fascinating stuff. I realize we live in a present-day culture immersed in instant gratification – whether your choice of satisfaction is electronic or superstition-based. Still constructive to discover the intricate trail we followed through time and venture.
You can make major discoveries by walking across a field and picking up every loose item you find. Dutch researcher Eva Kaptijn succeeded in discovering – based on 100,000 finds – that the Zerqa Valley in Jordan had been successively inhabited and irrigated for more than 13,000 years. But it was not just communities that built irrigation systems: the irrigation systems also built communities.
Archaeologist Eva Kaptijn has given up digging in favour of gathering. With her colleagues, she has been applying an intensive field exploration technique: 15 metres apart, the researchers would walk forward for 50 metres. On the outward leg, they’d pick up all the earthenware and, on the way back, all of the other material. This resulted in more than 100,000 finds, varying from about 13,000 years to just a few decades old. Based on further research on the finds and where they were located, Kaptijn succeeded in working out the extent of habitation in the Zerqa Valley in Jordan over the past millennia.
The area where she undertook her research is also called the Zerqa Triangle; it is bounded by the River Zerqa and forms part of the Jordan Valley. The area covers roughly 72 square kilometres. Kaptijn discovered that the triangle had been inhabited, on and off, for thousands of years, but that this habitation was always highly dependent on the irrigation methods used by those who lived there. While the soil in the valley is very rich, there was usually not enough rainfall to cultivate plants without some additional irrigation.
The irrigation methods exerted a major influence on the people who lived in the valley; power was often dependent on controlling the allocation of water. Kaptijn discovered that the type of irrigation system could result in a community of internally egalitarian tribes, with these tribes being linked to each other in a strict, hierarchical order. At other times, the valley was actually dominated by a large-scale, almost capitalist cultivation of sugar cane.
I’m jealous. Any suggestions on how to rid myself of several decades – and start all over again as an archaeologist?
HMS Beagle in Sydney Harbour by Ron Scobie
A muddy river bank in the flat, watery landscape of southern Essex may seem an unlikely place to find one of the most important ships in scientific history. But a combination of painstaking detective work and archaeology have convinced maritime historian Dr Robert Prescott that the banks of the River Roach near the village of Paglesham are the last resting place of HMS Beagle.
The historic ship will be forever associated with Charles Darwin who served as its naturalist on her second great voyage between 1831 and 1836…
Dr Prescott, from the University of St Andrews, decided to find out what happened to the Beagle after she completed her third and final great voyage in 1843. “The notion that there was this interesting ship which also had a very interesting connection with one of the major scientific developments in recent history was just too good to be true. I wanted to find out more,” he told the BBC Radio 4 programme Hunting the Beagle…
A document records the ship was decommissioned as a coastguard watch vessel, and sold off in 1870 to “Messrs Murray and Trainer”.
Dr Prescott believes this was probably an ad-hoc partnership of two local farmers who did not have any experience of ship-breaking and who would have salvaged what they could in difficult conditions. “I believe that the lower half of this vessel was probably abandoned and has slowly settled deeper and deeper into the mud.”
Dr Prescott and a team of archaeologists discovered a structure buried which matches the size and shape of the Beagle, after using ground radar and other geophysical techniques at the Paglesham site.
He hopes that by the end of this year the ship will once again be brought to light after 140 years buried in the Essex mud.
Some interesting side notes about Darwin and his travails over the voyages of the Beagle. An article worth reading – especially as part of the Darwin celebrations this year.