Category Archives: Egypt

Echoes from the past (May-9-2013)

I am getting updated with a rather long backlog, so I will speed things up placing here in nearly telegraphic style the informative snippets that require less work. This does not mean that they are less interesting, not at all, just that I have to adapt to that elusive quality of time…

Middle Paleolithic

Toba supervolcano only had short-term climate effectBBC.
Research on Lake Malawi’s sediments shows that the climate-change effect of the catastrophic eruption was limited. Droughts previously believed to be from that period have been revised to be from at least 10,000 years before, corresponding to the end of the Abbassia Pluvial rather than to Toba super-eruption.

Upper Paleolithic

Altai rock art and early astronomy from 16,000 BPSiberian Times, Daily Mail.
Sunduki (Khakassia), here there are what are surely the oldest rock art of Northern Asia, representing people hunting or interacting among them, which are from just centuries ago, however other petroglyphs are apparently much older like this horse:

Prof. Vitaly Larichev (Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Russian Academy of Sciences) has detected a whole astronomical structure implemented in the landscape.

He claims to have found ‘numerous ancient solar and lunar observatories around Sunduki’.

‘This square pattern of stones on the ground shows you the place’, he
told visiting author Kira Van Deusen. ‘I knew there would be an
orientation point, but we had to search through the grass for a long
time to find it.

‘Now look up to the top of that ridge. You see a place where there is
a crack between the rocks? If you were here on the summer solstice, you
would see the sun rise right there. Or you would if you were here 2,000
years so. Now the timing is slightly differen’.

High on one cliff wall is a rock engraving showing dragon heads in one direction, and snake heads in the other.

‘If the sun were shining, we could tell the time,’ he said. ‘In the
morning the shadow moves along the snake’s body from his head to his
tail, and in the afternoon it comes from the other direction along the

‘From the same observation point you can determine true north and south by sighting along the mountains’.


Vietnam: early cemetery dug in Thahn HoaAustralian National University.
Some 140 human remains of all ages have been unearthed at the site of Con Co Ngua, estimated to be 6-4000 years old. Cemeteries of this size and age were previously unknown in the region. The site has also revealed a dearth of artifacts. 
The people were buried in fetal position with meat cuts of buffalo or deer.


India: 4000 y.o. stone tools unearthed in Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh, Narmada river)India Today.
  • Some of them are decorated with aquatic animals.
  • 150×200 m. mound in Birjakhedi
  • Terracotta game pieces
  • Pottery (incl. jars, pots, dishes)
  • Stone and ivory beads
Bell Beaker rich lady’s burial unearthed in Berkshire (England)Wessex Archaeology.
The middle-aged woman wore a necklace of tubular golden beads, amber buttons on her clothes and a possible lignite bracelet. She was accompanied by a bell-shaped beaker of the “corded” type (oldest and roughest variant, of likely Central European inception).
The chemical signature of the gold beads is coherent with deposits from Southern Britain and SE Ireland. 

Giza pyramid construction’s logistics revealed Live Science.

Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?

Bertolt Brecht (A Worker reads History)

Now we know that at the very least the famed early pharaohs Khafra, Khufu and Menkaure, who ordered the massive pyramids of Giza to be built as their tombs did have some cooks in charge of feeding the many workers who actually built them, stone by stone. 
These workers were housed in a village some 400 meters south of the Sphinx, known as Heit el-Ghurab. In this place archaeologists have found a cemetery, a corral with apparent slaughter areas and piles of animal bones. Based on these, researchers estimate that more than 2,000 kilograms of meat were eaten every day during the construction of Menkaure’s pyramid, the last and smallest one of the three geometric mounds. 
The figures estimated for such a logistic operation border disbelief: 22,000 cows, 55,000 sheep and goats, 1200 km² of grazing land (roughly the size of Los Angeles or 5% of the Nile Delta), some 3500 herders (adding up to almost 20,000 people if we include their families). 
A curious detail is that most of the beef was destined to the building of the overseers, while the common workers were mostly fed sheep or goat instead. Another settlement to the East of apparently local farmers ate most of the pork. There were also temporary tent camps closer to the pyramids.

Iron Age

Late Indus Valley Civilization was overcome by violenceNational Geographic.

Harappa (CC by Shephali11011)
The Late Indus Valley Civilization (Cemetery H cultural layer, usually attributed to the Indoeuropean invasions) was, unlike in previous periods, quite violent, new evidence highlights. 
The evidence from the bones also highlights the arrival of many non-local men, who apparently married local women. But the most shocking element is the striking evidence of widespread violence:

The skull of a child between four and six years old was
cracked and crushed by blows from a club-like weapon. An adult woman was
beaten so badly—with extreme force, according to researchers—that her
skull caved in. A middle-aged man had a broken nose as well as damage
to his forehead inflicted by a sharp-edged, heavy implement.
Of the 18 skulls examined from this time period, nearly half showed serious injuries from violence …

Gaming pieces of Melton Mowbray (England)Science Daily.

Excavation of a hillfort at Burrough Hill revealed ancient gaming pieces, among other materials. 

Funerary chamber found near the original location of the Lady of Baza (Andalusia)Paleorama[es].

(CC by P.A. Salguero Quiles)
The tomb has an access gate and is estimated to be from the 5th or 4th centuries BCE (Iberian culture) and, unlike most burials of the time, the corpse was not incinerated. 
The finding highlights the need for further archaeological work in all the hill but the severe budgetary cuts threaten this development. 
Baza (Granada) hosts a dedicated archaeological museum inaugurated in 2011. 

Tocharian mummy buried with marijuana hoardPaleorama[es].

Some 800 grams of the psychedelic plant, including seeds, were found at the burial place of a Tocharian man, presumably a shaman, at Yanghai (Uyghuristan), belonging to the Gushi culture and dated to at least 2700 years ago. The plant belongs to a cultivated variety.
Some of the oldest cannabis evidence are also from that area (Pazyrk culture c. 2500 years ago) and also from Nepal (Mustang, similar dates). Later in Southern Central Asia it was used in combination with opium and ephedra, from where soon migrated to South Asia and many other parts of Eurasia.


New device radically reduces costs and time in DNA extractionScience Daily.
Researchers from the University of Washington and NanoFacture Inc. have developed a device, which looks like a kitchen appliance, able to extract DNA from tissues (like saliva or blood) in minutes at low cost and without using the toxic chemicals habitual in the field.
The prototype is designed for four samples but can be scaled for the lab standard of 96 samples at once.


Egyptian autosomal genetics in the regional context (quick ‘Admixture’ run)

[Important caveat: apparently both Egyptian samples are from the Delta region, the one most affected historically by Eurasian influence. The one labeled Egypt or Egypt (1) is Henn’s sample (n=18), while the one labeled  egyptan (sic) or Egyptian (2) is Behar’s (n=12)].

Some readers questioned whether the strong Iberian affinity apparently found in Egypt in the previous Admixture run focused on North Africans was actually masked Highland West Asian or otherwise non-Peninsular Arab West Asian influences. I was initially skeptic because I had expected by default that Saudi Arabs would represent better all possible West Asian influences than Iberians.

I was mostly wrong as shown here.

Methods: I just run Admixture for K=4, K=6 and K=8 on a selection from the 1000 Genomes sample, following GNXP’s instructions and using the following populations: both Egyptian samples (n=18 and n=12), plus 10 individuals from each of the following populations: Spaniards, Moroccans, Maasai, Ethiopians, Saudi Arabs, Palestinians, Turks and Kurds. The selection of Maasai and Ethiopians to represent Tropical Africans was made because previous research (mine and Henn’s) showed these two being, of the available samples, the ones to best represent ultra-Saharan influence in Egypt specifically. 

Results: I am showing only the K=8 results because the lower K levels do not seem overly informative (if anyone wants them, feel free to ask).

1. The K=8 graph:

2. The K=8 numerical apportions (same as above but in figures, minimally edited by me to improve visualization):

3. The K=8 ADMIXTURE summary, showing Fst distances between components (‘pops’), minimally edited to improve quick understanding (component ‘ethnic’ labels):


There is (and I could eventually detect) an Egyptian-specific component, of West Eurasian affinity (look at the Fst table), what implies that it’s surely descendant of the pre-Neolithic Egyptians of Asian origin. Paleolithic Egyptians that I presume existed based on other genetics (mtDNA X1, M1 and such), as well as Eurasian-like iconography like the Qurta rock art, similar to materials from SW Europe and Anatolia (but admittedly the Egyptian Paleolithic, with a few exceptions, is not well known on archaeological grounds being such a sedimentary and then desertic area overall, and also because archaeology in Egypt has been largely focused on the quite impressive pharaonic period). 

This Egyptian-specific component represents 29% of one sample but only 19% of the other one, being also of some relevance in Ethiopia (9%). This and other differences between the two samples suggest some structure to be unveiled within Egypt but I lack the means (diverse enough samples) to do it. Anyhow the two samples are only somewhat different.

Besides this component, Egyptians show a diverse array of external influences, possibly Neolithic immigrants (?). The most important ones are the Kurdish or Highland West Asian component (17-20%) and the two Arab components together (14-25%) but others (Berber, Palestinian, East African) are also quite influential. The Iberian influence was largely a mirage (although still weights 4-8%).

East Africans:

Among the other populations, the most interesting finding of this run is that the Maasai appear, unlike in other research, to be 96% themselves (but still less distant from Eurasians than the average Tropical African, which is in the Fst=0.2 range), with at most residual admixture from Eurasians (mostly Egyptian/Palestinian). Ethiopians in turn appear here as somewhat admixed Maasai, with North African (mostly Egyptian) and peninsular Arab influences. However my previous relevant exercise showed that, at sufficient K-depth (or with a different sample strategy), Ethiopians eventually converge in their own specific and dominant genetic cluster (91%), which, as in the Fulani case, is similarly distant (and not too distant) to West Eurasians and Tropical Africans, indicating (I understand) very ancient homogenized intercontinental admixture. It surely requires an specifically designed run to understand these matters well enough. 

Arabian-Egyptian (Arab 2) very distant component:

Also notice the Arab 2 extremely distant Fst values, in the >0.2 range. On first impression I thought they were the Maasai component for that reason but nope. We may be here before another OoA remnant, which is very relevant in Arabia peninsula and also in the second Egyptian sample (c. 12% in both cases) and totally absent in Iberia instead.

In any case, it is again evident that different sample strategies can produce quite different results and therefore it is good to look at these matters with an open mind and many complementary perspectives.

Update: K=4 and K=6 graphs, for the record and because some kind of speculation may have some use for them:

Update (Feb 1, after realizing that both samples are from the Delta):
The finding of an Egyptian-specific component may be even more relevant further South. If some areas of the Delta have retained some 30% of this component, it’s probable that it’d be even better preserved towards the interior. On the other hand I’d also expect more Tropical African influence further South but that should be at least balanced by a significant decrease of (post-)Neolithic West Asian influences.
Of course only real samples will provide real answers.

The Nubian techno-complex of Dhofar: yet another evidence for an early migration out-of-Africa via Arabia

Jeffrey Rose and colleagues gift us with a beautifully written and delightfully detailed open access study on a culture of the Middle Paleolithic of Arabia: the Nubian techno-complex of Dhofar: 
I strongly recommend reading this paper in full: it really deserves your attention.
The Nubian Complex: extension and origins
The Nubian techno-complex is a facies of the pan-African Middle Stone Age macro-culture (MSA for short), which is roughly equivalent in timeline to the Middle Paleolithic of Europe (and, as techno-culture, to Mousterian in this other context). A facies that is mostly concentrated in North Sudan and Upper Egypt (with the occasional Ethiopian site) and, now we get to know, in Dhofar (Oman).

Fig. 1 Nubian Complex occurrences
In Africa:

Late Nubian Complex assemblages have been found in stratigraphic succession overlying early Nubian Complex horizons at Sodmein Cave [11] and Taramsa Hill 1 [21] in Egypt; in both cases separated by a chronological hiatus. The early Nubian Complex roughly corresponds to early MIS 5, while numerical ages for the late Nubian Complex in northeast Africa fall in the latter half of MIS 5.

In Arabia:

For the time being, the apparent distribution of Nubian Levallois technology in Arabia is limited to the Nejd plateau and, perhaps, Hadramaut valley (Fig. 1). Archaeological surveys in central/northern Oman have not produced any evidence of Nubian Complex occupation [66], [68], nor have Nubian Complex occurrences yet been found in eastern [22], [69][71], central, or northern Arabia [72][74].

Fig. 10 Dhofar Nubian Complex’ points
Note that the authors’ concept of Nedj plateau does not correspond with that of Wikipedia, as they are obviously talking of the sites in highland Dhofar and not anywhere in Saudi Arabia (see map below).
The authors express their expectation that eventually other sites will be found within drainage systems along the western coast and hinterlands of central Arabia, linking Nubia with South Arabia. However it is also possible, I’d say, that the actual link is via the Horn of Africa, specially as Arabia has been quite extensively combed in recent years.
The Nubian techno-complex in Sudan appears to have evolved locally:

Taking into account its distinct, regionally-specific characteristics, Marks [2] notes that the Nubian Complex has no exogenous source and, therefore, probably derives from a local Nilotic tradition rooted in the late Middle Pleistocene (~200–128 ka). This supposition is supported by the early Nubian Complex assemblage at Sai Island, northern Sudan, which overlies a Lupemban occupation layer dated to between ~180 and 150 ka.

The oldest known Lupemban culture is dated to c. 300 Ka ago in Kenya and Tanzania.
The authors reject the presence of Nubian Complex tools claimed in the past for the Levant (Levantine Mousterian) and Persian Gulf (Jebel Barakah).
Previously to this work:

The first hint of the Nubian Complex extending into southern Arabia was documented by Inizan and Ortlieb [31], who illustrate three cores from Wadi Muqqah in western Hadramaut, Yemen, with Nubian Type 1 and Type 2 technological features. More recently, Crassard [32] presents a handful of Levallois point cores exhibiting Nubian Type 1 preparation from Wadi Wa’shah, central Hadramaut, Yemen.

Time frame and ecology: the wet MIS 5
The chronological reference of Marine Isotope Stage 5, time frame of  the Nubian Complex, corresponds to a warm period between c. 130 and 74 thousand years ago, and corresponds very roughly with the Abbassia Pluvial, when the arid region of the Sahara and Arabia was quite more welcoming. 
Fig. 3 Dhofar ecological zones and place names mentioned in text.
MIS 5 is divided in the following substages (figures are Ka ago and may vary a bit depending on source):
  • MIS 5a – 84.74 (wet)
  • MIS 5b – 92.84 (?)
  • MIS 5c – 105.92 (wet)
  • MIS 5d – 115.105 (?)
  • MIS 5e – 130.115 (very wet and warm: Eemian interglacial)
MIS 5 was followed by MIS 4, a cold and dry period triggered by the Toba caldera explosion (supervolcano).
In what regards to Dhofar:
… the monsoon increased in intensity during three intervals within MIS 5. Among these humid episodes, the last interglacial (sub-stage 5e; 128–120 ka) appears to represent the most significant wet phase within the entire Late Pleistocene, with rainfall surpassing all subsequent pluvials [42], [43]. Later, less substantial humid episodes associated with sub-stages 5c (110–100 ka) and 5a (90–74 ka) are also attested to in the palaeoenvironmental record. Uncertainties remain concerning the extent to which the climate deteriorated in the intervening sub-stages 5d (120–110 ka) and 5b (100–90 ka).
The increased humidity provided water security to all the region and is also correlated with plant and animal migration from Africa, what the authors think should almost forcibly make humans participant in this overall biological outpouring. 
Out of Africa: the alternative routes
Dhofar mountains in monsoon season

The authors discard the Levantine route because of the techno-cultural isolation of the Shkul-Qafzeh group.

They acknowledge the conceptual debt to population genetics for unveiling the probable Arabian route Out of Africa, with particular mention to Behar 2008, who points to the possibility (that I have re-elaborated myself on my own means but on his data) of mtDNA L3’4’6 (and I’d say also L0) having left very indicative remnants in Arabia Peninsula. However they make unnecessary conceptual contortions in order to adapt archaeological knowledge to the molecular clock pseudo-science when it must be the other way around, if anything. No need.
In any case, and this is very important, they describe two different cultural groups in interglacial Arabia:

… we surmise that at least two technologically (hence culturally) differentiated groups were present at this time: Nubian Levallois in southern Arabia and centripetal preferential Levallois with bifacial tools in northern/eastern Arabia.

They also suggest that, after the arid MIS 4 parenthesis, South Arabia experienced another mildly wet period with the MIS 3 (since c. 60 Ka ago), which would have enabled:

… north-south demographic exchange between ~60–50 ka. South Arabian populations may have spread to the north at this time, taking with them a Nubian-derived Levallois technology based on elongated point production struck from bidirectional Levallois cores, which is notably the hallmark of the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition in the Levant [105], [106].

But the whole Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea area, not to mention East Asia, remains to be fit in (archaeologically speaking) if we are to understand this period’s colonization of West Asia from the East (according to the genetic data).
See also:
In this blog:
In external sites:

Update (Jan 11): I have received a copy of a related paper dealing with the relations of Hadramaut tools in the context of global Levallois technique. It is however too technical and inconclusive for me to discuss separately. Yet I do not see it being published anywhere online (PPV or open source or whatever), so I am just uploading it online (for a year) so you can download and read it yourself:

Posted by on December 1, 2011 in Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Middle Paleolithic, out of Africa, Sudan


Echoes from the Past (Nov 30) – The oldest rock art and other stuff

Again, in short notice, a lot of interesting stuff. Most notably the portrait of the largest bird ever but also a lot of new info on Neanderthal (and Erectus!) Europe, the Iruña-Veleia archaeological scandal, etc.
First of all the giant duck:
Australian Aboriginal Rock Art May Depict Giant Bird Extinct for 40,000 Years : Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted) – hat tip to David. The giant bird depicted at Niwarla Gabarnmung is not an emu but a Genyornis newtoni, the largest bird that ever existed. Its extinction date, c. 40,000 years ago, is the most recent possible date for the artwork therefore.

Middle Paleolithic

The origins of Neanderthals could be in Atapuerca

Pileta de Prehistoria: Atapuerca hominins could be a sister species to Neanderthals[es]. Actually much more is claimed in fact: that they are more related to Neanderthals than any other fossil known and that, for that reason and because of chronology, they are the best candidate to be the direct ancestors of Homo neanderthalensis.

A possible issue is that the site of Atapuerca has provided such a huge number of hominin bones that it is very difficult to compare with even the whole collection of all other European sites.
Serbian Homo erectus in the age of Neanderthals
They have found a Homo ergaster or H. erectus dated to before 110,000 (preliminary dating suggested 130-250,000 years). In this period it was believed that only Neanderthals lived in Europe already. Are these ‘erectus’ related to the equally mysterious occupation of Crete also before 130,000 years ago?

Update: the reference paper is this one (hat tip to Neanderthalerin):

Mirjana Roksandic et al., A human mandible (BH-1) from the Pleistocene deposits of Mala Balanica cave (Sićevo Gorge, Niš, Serbia). Journal of Human Evolution 2011. Pay per view.

Other MP:
BBC News – Moreton-in-Marsh Stone Age axe find leads to seaside theory – a Mousterian axe in England with a whole theory on the environment it was once used.
Upper Paleolithic

Beautifully preserved bulls of Qurta

Franchthi Cave revisited: the age of the Aurignacian in south-eastern Europe << Antiquity. The Aurignacian of Greece overlaps at both sides of the Campanian Ignimbrite Eruption c. 41,000 years ago.

Shell ornaments from Franchthi

Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age

Pileta de Prehistoria: “Guide to Galician Petroglyphs” presented[es] – the book (in Galician language) can be found here. It is notable that the authors emphasize the similitudes with petroglyphs from other areas, be them in the Iberian Plateau or in Ireland. Faro de Vigo[es] titles: 4000 years ago there was a single language that linked the British Islands and Galicia.

Iron Age

Iruña-Veleia scandal
New step in the legal and scholarly controversy on the exceptional findings at the Vasco-Roman site of Iruña-Veleia: state attorney demands physical tests to Basque Autonomous Police. Previously the defense had asked for them to be made by the Guardia Civil (Spanish military police corps, similar to the French gendarmerie or Italian carabinieri).
Various mentions in Spanish:
Also  in relation to the Iruña-Veleia scandal Iruina blog tells us[es] (with video reports) that some scientists have exhausted their patience with the local politicians and tribunals and the abuses that they are inflicting on this most important archaeological site (not just for the history of Basques but also for that of the late provincial Roman Empire, including the origins of Romance languages and new religions like Christianity and Isianism) and have decided to bring the matter to the international arena, so the finger of shame would point to those guilty of unforgivable archaeological destruction.  
Human genetics and biology
Maluku people are one genetically regardless of language:

1-China (Han), 2-Austronesian speakers (Maluku), 3-Papuan speakers (Maluku), 4-Highland New Guinea
Sandwalk: What William the Conqueror’s Companions Teach Us about Effective Population Size – An interesting meditation on key concepts of population genetics, using the well known historical incident of the Norman invasion of England in 1066 that almost turned the Brits into provincial French:

Let’s assume that there are 20 well-documented companions [of William the Conqueror]. Only one of these (William Mallet) has possibly passed on his Y chromosome to the present time and even that male line of descent is disputed. This is fully consistent with our understanding of genetics when you consider that most male lines are likely to die out in a few generations. Those that survive ten generations or so are unlikely to become extinct since there will likely be several male lines at that time.

So what were you saying about Genghis Khan?

Many interesting short news

Partly because of the arrival of the Archaeo News bulletin but also because of mere randomness, it seems to me, a lot of more or less interesting news items are accumulating. In most cases I lack the information to deal with them in any greater depth but are still interesting to read about:


Study suggests that the populations leading to modern Africans and Non-Africans did keep mixing for some 40,000 years before a Non-Africans suffered a severe bottleneck and became truly separated. This period of early divergence with interaction could have begun c. 120,000 or 100,000 years ago and would have ended c. 80-60 Ka ago. It could add support to the idea that Toba explosion caused a bottleneck. I’d like to write more about this but I have no access to the paper. -> Science Daily, -> Nature (PPV).

Inheritable epigenetics confirmed: may explain how living beings of all sorts adapt to changing conditions without need to alter their genetic backbone (DNA). -> Science Daily.

Human evolution

Chimpanzee brains do not shrink with age. Unlike humans, chimpanzee do not suffer the array of symptoms we loosely call senility, this may be therefore a hidden cost of having such large brains and living for so long. -> Science News.


Heacham burial

Magdalenian Age erotic art found in Bavaria (Germany). The unusual rock art was found near Bamberg and are believed to be c. 12,000 years old. It seems that the natural shapes in thecave may have inspired the ancient artists. -> (no images provided).
Epipaleolithic open air cemetery found in Somerset (England). It is dated to c. 10,000 years ago. -> BBC.
England: Sheffield 6000 BCE: people lived continuously at nearby Whirlow Hall Farm since the Epipaleolithic and into the Iron Age. -> The Star
5000 years-old skeleton unearthed in Aosta Valley (Italy). The woman has been nicknamed Lady of Introd and was more or less contemporary of Ötzi the iceman, found frozen in Tyrol years ago. -> Archaeo News.

Tall el-Hammam pottery
And more England findings: burial of two women with amber beads found in Yorkshire, near Heacham, and dated to c. 2500 BCE (late Neolithic by British chronology, Chalcolithic by pan-European standards). -> EDP24.
Egyptian Old Kingdom may have succumbed to drought, suggests geological survey at Lake Tana (Ethiopia) at the source of the Blue Nile (the main contributor to the Nile in volume and the responsible of seasonal floods). -> PhysOrg.
Bronze and Iron Age city unearthed in Jordan, NE of the Dead Sea (near modern Kafrein, just across the Jordan river from Jerico). -> Tall el-Hammam (dig site), -> Popular Archaeology.