Category Archives: archaeology

Oldest European door found in Switzerland

The door is dated, using dendrochronology, to c. 3063 BCE, more than five thousand years ago, in the Chalcolithic (or late Neolithic) era. It has been found in an emergency dig in Zurich city and is not the only one of its kind: it has a close relative from nearby Pfaeffikon and yet another one, this one made of a single plank, may be as old as c. 3700 BCE.
This door is made of several poplar planks and archaeologists find remarkable the method for keeping them together in a single unit. It has well preserved hinges.

The finding is part of a context of five newly-found lake-dwelling Neolithic villages. As always we are surprised by the persistence of the old ways of doing things, as doors much like this one can still be found in veteran rural homes.


Stupid British law hinders the work of archaeologists

A decision to implement the obsolete Burial Act of 1857 to the context of archaeological research, taken in 2008 by the previous government, is causing upheaval among British archaeologists.
The law establishes that all digs of burial grounds be screened from the view of the public and worse: that all remains must be reburied within two years. 
Scientists are not happy with either measure. Screening from the public view hinders the openness and public access that most of them want for their work (and may get the public suspicious) but the obligation to rebury in a cemetery archaeological remnants that could well be producing results many years, or even decades after their discovery is plainly idiotic.
Full story at The Guardian. Originally found at Archaeology in Europe.
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Posted by on October 11, 2010 in archaeology, Britain, European prehistory


Important Tamil Nadu Paleolithic site discovered

From Times of India (via Archaeo News).

Archaeologists S. Rama Krishna Pisipaty and S. Shanmugavelu have researched what may be a key site in a dry lake bed at Singadivakkam, a village some 65 km south of Chennai (Madras). The site is known as Kancheepuram.

The site has so far provided some 200 tools and, crucially, it seems to have no disruption from the Lower Paleolithic (thought to be work of H. erectus) and the Middle Paleolithic (maybe work of H. sapiens), unlike all other sites in the subcontinent. The tools found include hand axes, borers, scrappers, choppers and pointed tools, as well as microliths.

Kancheepuram was ideal for early settlers with its large number of safe water bodies a lifeline for any human settlement, said Pisipaty.


Neolithic findings in Sumatra and West Papua

A brief note from the Jakarta Globe (via Stone Pages’ Arhaeo News), detailing some Neolithic findings in Aceh, Norther Sumatra:

Takengon, Aceh. Two archeologists from Medan have found evidence that a village in Central Aceh district had been inhabited by prehistoric humans.

Ketut Wiradnyana and Lucas Partanda Koestoro announced on Sunday that they had found artifacts such as a a square stone axe, a niche, pottery pieces and a human skeleton inside a cave near Danau Laut Tawar, a lake in Kampung Mendale.

“One of our latest discoveries is a human skeleton which we found in the Ujung Karang Kebayakan area, another excavation site near Kampung Mendale,” Ketut said.

The skeleton’s exact age has yet to be confirmed, since the excavation is still ongoing.

Ketut said the artifacts would have to undergo a carbon dating test at the National Atomic Energy Agency (Batan).

Last May, residents of Jayapura district in Papua Province found prehistoric relics at two different locations.

Hari Suroto, head of a research team from the Archeological Institute, said locals who were digging at Kalkote, a small village in East Sentani district, came across pottery pieces now believed to date back to 1500 BC, or during the Neolithic Age.

The team also established that the same type of pottery was found in Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, in 1996.

Hari said Lapita pottery was previously discovered in many places in the Pacific region and the Bismarck Islands.

Residents of Kwadare village in Waibu district also found a bronze axe, which the archeological team said was made in 300 BC and originally came from Dong Son, North Vietnam.

The axe was kept by the village chieftain instead of being entrusted to the Archaeological Institute.

Hari said axe-making was introduced to Papua’s northern coastal regions by the Austronesian people.

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Posted by on October 9, 2010 in archaeology, Indonesia, Neolithic, SE Asia


Some key archaeological papers on the ‘coastal route’

Notice that I use the term ‘coastal route’ senso lato, meaning a migratory route in Asia (from ultimately Africa) via Arabia and South Asia, rather than Central Asia and Siberia. How strictly ‘coastal’ this migration was is subject to debate but the evidence is strong and growing in favor of the tropical route in any case.
The links were provided to me by a reader (carpetanuiq) in the comments section of this previous post. They are all very valuable but specially the three I want to introduce here. All links are PDF.
Analysis of lesser cost routes into South Asia and through it
Fields et al., The southern dispersal hypothesis and the South Asian archaeological record: Examination of dispersal routes through GIS analysis. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 2007. [LINK]
This research advances a model for coastal-based dispersals into South Asia during oxygen isotope stage (OIS) 4. A series of GIS-based analyses are included that assess the potential for expansions into the interior of South Asia, and these results are compared with known archaeological signatures from that time period. The results suggest that modern Homo sapiens could have traversed both the interior and coastlines using a number of routes, and colonized South Asia relatively rapidly. Use of these routes also implies a scenario in which modern H. sapiens, by either increased population growth or competitive ability, may have replaced indigenous South Asian hominin populations.
Key maps from this paper (there are some others also interesting):
Cut from fig.2 Location of linear origin and the results of the least-cost route analysis into South Asia. Least-cost route is indicated by the grey [black] line.
Fig. 3 Results of the wandering path analyses into and through South Asia. Least-cost routes are indicated by the grey [black] lines.
The Red Sea in the Pleistocene
Geoff Bailey, The Red Sea, Coastal Landscapes, and Hominin Dispersals. Published within M. Petraglia & J. Rose (eds.). The Evolution of Human Populations in Arabia (2009). [LINK]
(No abstract)
Key maps in this paper are:
Fig. 1 showing among other things ‘a simplified
distribution of Lower and Middle Paleolithic archaeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula’.
Fig. 5 reconstructed shoreline of Bab-el-Mandeb at different Late UP dates (cal BP)

The Persian Gulf “oasis”
The emerging picture of prehistoric Arabia suggests that early modern humans were able to survive hyperarid climatic conditions that periodically caused widespread landscape desiccation by contracting into environmental refugia around the coastal margins of the peninsula. This paper reviews new archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence from the richest of such zones in eastern Arabia: the “Persian Gulf Oasis.” These data are used to assess the role of this ancient alluvial plain, which, prior to being submerged beneath the waters of the Indian Ocean, was well-watered by the Tigris, Euphrates, Karun and Wadi Batin Rivers as well as subterranean aquifers flowing beneath the Arabian subcontinent. Inverse to the amount of annual precipitation falling across the interior of Arabia, reduced sea levels periodically exposed large portions of the Persian Gulf, equal at times to the size of Great Britain. Therefore, when the hinterland was desiccated, populations could have contracted into the Gulf Oasis and exploited the freshwater springs. This relationship between environmental amelioration/desiccation and marine transgression/regression is thought to have driven demographic exchange into and out of this zone over the course of the Upper Pleistocene and Early Holocene, as well as having played an important role in shaping the cultural evolution of local human populations during that interval.
Key maps are:
Fig. 2 Map of ancient drainage systems in Arabia showing the Ur-Schatt River Valley as
the primary recipient of runoff within the regional catchment zone. Numbers indicate
known MP/UP sites in eastern Arabia and southern Iran.
Cutoff from fig. 5 (Palaeo-shoreline configuration, drainage systems and archaeological sites around the Persian Gulf basin during the Upper Pleistocene and Early Holocene). Shown 74-24 Ka map only. Dots are archaeological sites.
Other relevant links mentioned in that discussion are:
  • Gahnim Wahida et al., A Middle Paleolithic Assemblage from Jebel Barakah,
    Coastal Abu Dhabi Emirate
    . (Chapter in M.D. Petraglia and J.I. Rose (eds.), The Evolution of Human Populations in Arabia, Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology). [LINK]
  • Marta Mirazón Lahr et al., Project: ‘Searching for traces of the Southern Dispersal’. General description of the archaeological research project0 by the ‘Petraglia team’. [LINK]
  • Ancient Indian Ocean Corridors. Blog of the same team, inaugurated this spring. [LINK]
  • Synopsis of Paleo India (2007). James B. Harrod. [LINK]

    Likely murdered family 8500 years ago in NW Turkey

    An intriguing and disturbing finding has been reported in Turkey: five people (two adults and three young children) were found in a shared grave with their hands tied on their backs.
    The macabre burial is thought to date to some 8500 years ago (Neolithic/Chalcolithic) and is located in the burial mound of Akçalar, in the province of Bursa, south of the Marmara Sea. The children are thought to be some 3-5 years old in preliminary examination, two of them were found between the adults legs and the third one was hogtied (ankles also tied).
    It is natural to think on first sight that we are before the murder of a whole family but researchers warn that it is too early to confirm this. They also doubt between using the terms murder or human sacrifice.
    They also make brief mention of the context of the site (town?) of Aktopraklık, which also dates to 8500 years ago, though some nearby settlements are older. 

    Posted by on October 2, 2010 in archaeology, Chalcolithic, Neolithic, Turkey


    Iruña-Veleia: civic association demands that analysis are made

    [Slightly updated – Oct 3]

    Almost three years since the infamous ad-hoc commission decreed in a single session and without any proper evidence nor hearing that the exceptional findings of Vasco-Roman city Iruña-Veleia were false, a parliamentary commission (of the autonomous provincial parliament of Araba) finally gathered yesterday to listen to the civic association (SOS Iruña-Veleia) and its demands that the physico-chemical analysis are finally made in order to demonstrate whether the findings are genuine or not.

    The members of SOS Iruña-Veleia explained to the commission:
    • The origin of the association as convergence of concerned citizens on the situation of the exceptional findings. 
    • The patrimonial damages caused by newly appointed site director and “archaeologist” Julio Núñez, including a document not yet available online that is described as very precise and clarifying.
    • The fraud of the Scientific Assessor Commission of 2008: half-done work, impossibility of appeal, not allowing reply by chief archaeologist Eliseo Gil, lack of demonstrating alleged falsehood with independent methods.
    • The demonstration of the existence of many many indications of carbonate crystallizations in the incisions of the inscriptions (which are blatant evidence that the pieces have been buried for a long time, with the texts on them). This is evident in the only chemical report of the 2008 commission (Madariaga) and in the many available photos of the inscribed shards.
    They replied to the questions made by the representatives and mentioned that the provincial government has not yet provided the shards to the police, as demanded by the judge, in order to be analyzed.
    They attach the graphic panels used in their exposition in PDF format (Spanish language mostly). The document on the patrimonial destruction will be available in few days.

    In 2006 it became known that an abundance of highly informative, exceptional findings, with many many inscriptions, largely in Latin (later found to be Vulgar Latin mostly) and Basque (would be the oldest non-funerary texts in Basque), had been found at the Vasco-Roman city of Veleia, later known as Iruña (the city or the capital), SW of modern Vitoria-Gasteiz. They included also what seemed some of the earliest known Christian imagery and also some apparent Egyptian hieroglyphs, as well as other drawings.
    Most of the graffiti were inscribed on shards, later used as part of the foundation of a house. There were also some on bone and even on bricks. The findings impressed everybody with an interest in history and linguistics, of course.
    However soon rumors of falsehood began circulating by the faculty of philology (linguistics) of the University of the Basque Country: a pope of Basque linguistics, namely Joseba Lakarra, was not happy with the findings because, it seems, they challenged his theories on ancient Basque.
    At that time I was an active editor at Wikipedia and created and filled with content the Iruña-Veleia page (see my latest version as of September 2006, later deprecated by anonymous users and certain Mountolive, who is at least a fanatic and stubborn Spanish nationalist). I knew of those rumors by Alan R. King, a linguist and and member of Euskaltzaindia (Academy of the Basque Language), the same as Lakarra, who was then a collaborator at Wikipedia and was persuaded early that the graffiti were false (on no other grounds but linguistic speculation). Notice that I do not think that King is “evil” in any sense but that he was mislead by his colleagues in the internal dynamics of linguistic clubs.
    However I do think by now that Joseba Lakarra (left) is an evil (selfish, false, unethical) person and that he has been the main ringleader in the unwarranted persecution by means of rumor mill, camarilla dynamics, conspiration and fraud against Basque (as well as European) history and cultural legacy.
    Why? Because, I understand now (but could not some time ago), he feels threatened in his status as pope of Basque linguistics by the discoveries. It is not just a matter of opinion, because that would have been settled easily with physico-chemical analysis and possibly independent excavations. It is a matter of power.
    Whatever the case, Lakarra managed to organize enough and sufficiently powerful people by 2008 as to bring on a defamation campaign in the Basque and Spanish media.
    Most Spaniards rushed to support the theory of falsehood because Spanish nationalist historiography has always sustained, with little evidence, that the Western Basque Country was originally of Celtic and not Basque language (together with other wacko hypothesis such as the Iberian origin of Basque language and Basques themselves or even the century-old Berber hypothesis). In brief: Spanish nationalist “historians” and “linguists” like to believe that everything is Celtic or Iberian not giving ever proper room for Basque/Vascoid distinctive personality and very much real ancient presence. If Basque would not exist at all they would be happy.
    But while (many) Spaniards supported one side like crazy, the plot is genuinely Basque.
    A key piece of support for the Veleia falsehood hypothesis was the Deputy (provincial minister) of Culture of Araba (Alava), Lorena López de Lacalle (left). She held the key power seat that ultimately ruled over the archaeological site of Iruña-Veleia.
    Whether she was initially persuaded by the smear campaign or was knowing accomplice all along I cannot say. But she was the main responsible of all what happened since 2008.
    Under her authority the infamous Scientific Assessor Commission was gathered. This commission consisted almost exclusively of linguists, all professors at the University of the Basque Country. When they gathered, only one report was ready: a linguistic one by J. Gorrotxategi (the second most visible ringleader of the linguist popes camarilla that is behind all this mess – his name is sometimes spelled Gorrochategui). All the others, including the crucial but shallow and inconclusive report by Prof. Madariaga on the physico-chemical evidence were included later.
    In spite of the lack of anything but rumors, suspicions and linguistic speculations of no objective value, the Commission gathered once, only once, and decreed without any formality that the graffiti were false. The decision had been taken a priori and the gathering was just a formality, a very shallow, shameless and almost pointless formality.
    In spite of that, the media were suddenly persuaded of the falsehood: it was official. For a year or so only silence existed on the Veleia affair. At least for me, who had remained pretty much apart from the debate.
    But by the end of 2009, gradually, new information began appearing. I was interested, I wanted to know, and gradually I discovered the dimensions of the fraud, of what can only be described as cultural crime.
    First I knew was Hector Iglesias, a French linguist of Galician origin, arguing that some of the supposed evidence of the falsehood of the shards actually supports its authenticity. He argued (PDF) that what people, including those arrogant linguists of the commission, could not believe as genuine are actually extremely rare names only known to exist to a few experts worldwide. They are not Basque words but the Celtic personal name Deirdre (modernly Deidre) and the Phoenician mythological name Miscart, an ill-known but attested version of Melqart, god protector of Tyre and widely worshiped through the Mediterranean once.
    The Miscart/Descartes shard
    Then came more and more voices supporting the authenticity of the findings: epigrapher and archaeologist Luis Silgo (PDF), world-famous archaeologist Edward Cecil Harris (PDF), linguist Enrique Fernández de Pinedo (PDF download), geologist Koenraad van Driesche (PDF download), linguist Roslyn M. Frank (press interviews: 1, 2), etc.
    I have already gone over all this in my old blog Leherensuge, where more information can be found.
    But the worst was still to come. Maybe feeling how they were losing ground, how truth was gradually outpouring the mantle of dirt it had been buried under, de Lacalle decided to give the directorship of Veleia to the only archaeologist that had participated in the infamous 2008 Commission: Luis Núñez.
    That alone smell very bad but when he announced that his director plan included mechanical removal of as much as 50cm of soil, when the previous team had detected that the agricultural layer was not deeper than 30 cm in most areas and that archaeological remains laid directly underneath this thin layer, then worry and concern spread around.
    The 50cm that became 150
    But the director plan was in fact benevolent compared with what would happen in reality. As soon as he began working, Núñez started digging not 50 cm but 150 cm in many cases. He directly removed all the archaeological layers and went to the show stuff: the paved road underneath them without the slightest documentation work or anything.
    This atrocity is well documented, thanks to the people of SOS Iruña-Veleia, in many photos and videos.
    Sad as it may be, it was this barbarity what finally called the attention of the public, the media and some politicians. I don’t want to make any political propaganda here but the first one to speak out, as far as I know, was Iñaki Aldekoa, a name that I have often heard at my parents’ home because my father, not knowing him personally much, admires him somewhat because he obtained the first place in their promotion at the Engineering School (my father was the second), even if he had to study the whole career or almost from prison (that was under fascism, in the 1960s).
    That was apparently enough for the plotting cowards to stop the cultural crime by the time being. Still they present such aggression as some sort of miraculous finding of great cultural value of some sort. They may be ruthless with the treasuries of the past but they are masterfully delicate with the media.
    Maybe it is the pressure of the Internet (the media has not discussed the matter too much, although a little more within Araban media maybe), maybe it is the pressure of the provincial elections next year, maybe the unusual situation of the government ignoring the judge’s most normal demands, maybe that some still have some dignity, but at least there has been a parliamentary hearing finally.
    That is the story so far, at least the way I see it.
    Just remind of some reference links:

    Update (Nov 25): those who can read Spanish may also want to read this anonymous paper (pamphlet if you wish, but erudite) on Lakarra’s career and why he is the center of all this problem: La Filología Vasca pese a Joseba Lakarra Andrinua (Basque Philology in spite of Joseba Lakarra Andrinua).