Archive for March, 2014


Archaeological excavations have finally answered the question regarding the age and development of the mysterious prehistoric fields enclosed by earthen ridges known as ‘Celtic fields’.

Using Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), a technique that dates the last exposure to light or heat sources of quartz minerals, archaeologist Stijn Arnoldussen from the University of Groningen managed to determine that these banks around the later prehistoric field plots were constructed more than 3100 years ago and remained in use for hundreds of years thereafter. Until now, no reliable dates were available to securely date the Dutch Celtic fields. Moreover, his research indicated that the Celtic field-banks were constructed out of sods taken from wet heathlands, near alder carrs or from stream valleys. Such sods were taken to the settlements, mixed with dung and domestic refuse and – akin to modern fertilizer – taken back to the field plots as manure. Through the process of uprooting field weeds and then discarding them at the field’s edges, this mixture came to form banks, ever so gradually, between fields. Over the course of hundreds of years, c. 1 m high banks developed.


Through manually digging small test-pits and analysing hundreds of soils samples from the banks and Celtic field plots at Lunteren (municipality of Ede, the Netherlands), Arnoldussen successfully managed to determine how the banks were constructed and to accurately date the banks. These excavations were conducted in cooperation with the Municipality of Ede, the Province of Gelderland and land-owner ‘Stichting Geldersch Landschap & Kastelen´. “The problem is that we have known the locations of these Celtic fields for decades thanks to aerial photography and, more recently, due to laser altimetry analyses”, states Arnoldussen, “but that we essentially were clueless about how the banks were constructed or for what period of time this system of embanked fields was in function”. This is peculiar, as Arnoldussen argues that “Celtic fields are one of the most extensive and still visible types of archaeology in the present-day Dutch landscape”. Indeed, the size of Celtic field systems can be vast. The Celtic field complex targeted by the Groningen Institute of Archaeology at Lunteren measured at least 210 hectares in prehistory.

Age of the Celtic field banks

Through the application of a special technique that dates the last heat- or light-exposure of quartz particles (Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating or OSL, in collaboration with the Netherlands Centre for Luminescene dating at Wageningen University), various soil samples from the Celtic field banks could be dated. “The results are way more spectacular than anticipated!”, exclaims Arnoldussen, “It showed that the Celtic field system remained in use for hundreds of years: certainly 700 years, but possibly even for one millennium!”. The prehistoric banks were constructed around 1100 cal BC but were still increasing in height 700 years later. It is probable that their use spanned into the Roman era. This shows that Celtic field systems are not only vast in surface area, but also represent an agricultural landscape of unprecedented stability and durability. “This most have been an utmost traditional agricultural system”, clarifies Arnoldussen, “in which is was of vital importance to continue the planting, tending to and harvesting of crops in the same ways, and on the near same spots, as your ancestors”. Palaeobotanical analyses of the samples showed that barley, wheat and flax were cultivated. According to Arnoldussen, there has never been a (agri)cultural landscape in the history or the prehistory of the Dutch, that surpasses the Celtic field system in permanence and durability.

Celtic field banks

The composition of the Celtic field banks was previously subject to debate, states Arnoldussen: ”Many wild theories have been brought to the fore, for example that the banks consisted of cleared-out tree stubs, stones or driftsand, yet none of these were found during our excavations of the banks. The banks rather appear to comprise mineral and organic sods of low-lying, wet, parts of the landscape that were mixed with dung and debris at small prehistoric hamlets.” As the excavation of the Groningen team was situated on the high-and-dry flank of a Saale-period glacial ridge (the Goudsberg of Lunteren), the team was initially somewhat puzzled by the discovery of plants of wet landscapes (lesser bulrush, sedges, alder pollen) on the ridge. “They would have needed to walk two kilometres to lower lying land beyond the glacial ridge in prehistory”, clarifies Arnoldussen, “but as we have also found charcoal indicative of alder trees used for firewood from the same lowland areas, they presumably used ox-powered carts to do the heavy lifting.”

Despite these important discoveries, the investigators are adamant that there is still much to be learned. “We now know the age of several banks in two Dutch Celtic fields, yet the precise ways in which the Celtic field agriculture was executed (crop rotation, fallow period, and interspersed occupation) and whether Celtic fields in other parts of the Low Countries are similar, remains unclear”, according to Arnoldussen. Therefore, this summer, Arnoldussen sets out to excavate yet another Dutch Celtic field, this time within the coversand landscapes of the Southern Netherlands.
Research by University of Groningen archaeologist Stijn Arnoldussen

Original article:
March14, 2014



Read Full Post »

A post about tea and ancient teapots, I couldn’t resist!
Thanks Rita for the post!

Ritaroberts's Blog

I think by now you will all know that my main interests lie with anything to do with archaeology and ancient times, mainly pottery  Therefor it will come as no surprise  that I also like collecting certain antique items, one of which are the beautiful Yixing teapots, of which I only ever managed to obtain two to add to my collection of teapots.

Chinese Yixing Teapot with looped handlec 1900

Yixing Ware Teapot with looped handle c 1900


Archaeology reveals that as early as the Song Dynasty (l0th century) potters near Yixing were using local ” Zisha”  (purple sand/clay) to make utensils that may have functioned as teapots.

According to the ‘ Ming dynasty ‘  Zhou Gaoqi , during the reign of Zhengde Emperor, a monk from Jinsha Temple (Golden Sand Temple) in Yixing handcrafted a fine quality teapot from local clay, such teapots soon became popular and the fame of Yixing teapots quickly spread.

These wares…

View original post 178 more words

Read Full Post »

Chicken bones tell true story of Pacific migration.

Read Full Post »


It is thought the beds would have been used to grow grapes or asparagus
Excavations at a Cambridge University development have revealed what archaeologists believe is Britain’s oldest-known Roman irrigation system.

Planting beds and pit wells were unearthed at the North West Cambridge site near Huntingdon Road.

Chris Evans from the university’s archaeological unit said they dated from between 70 AD and 120 AD.

It was an “unparalleled discovery” and “effectively the first irrigation system we’ve seen”, he said.

Excavations have so far uncovered evidence of settlements and habitation on the site from as early as the later Neolithic period, about 2800 BC to 2200 BC, to the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman period as well as more modern finds including World War II practice trenches.

‘New territory’
The team has been investigating how people through the ages adapted to living in an inland area away from main river valleys.

“Start Quote
I’m not aware of an irrigation system of this kind before”
Chris Evans Cambridge University
“Our findings have unearthed zebra-like stripes of Roman planting beds that are encircled on their higher northern side by more deep pit wells,” Mr Evans said.

“The gully-defined planting beds were closely set and were probably grapevines or possibly asparagus.”

During dry spells water would have been poured from the wells into the ditches to irrigate crops, he added.

“I’m not aware of an irrigation system of this kind before,” he said.

“There has been evidence of gardens and wells, but the extent to which there are planting beds arranged in parallel and along a slope, connecting directly to a water source, is new territory.

“It points to the sophisticated knowledge of hydrology and the introduction of horticulture the Romans had.”

Excavation is continuing at the 370-acre (150 hectares) planned development on Cambridge University farmland between Huntingdon Road, Madingley Road and the M11.

The site is expected to include 3,000 homes and accommodation for 2,000 postgraduate students, together with research and community facilities.

Original article:
March 18, 2014

Read Full Post »

Topic: Ancient forest
The discoveries could boost indigenous populations’ claims to ancestral lands long thought to be untouched by human activity

A tropical forest writes much of its history at large scale, producing trees as tall as skyscrapers and flowers the size of carry-on luggage. But by zooming in, scientists are uncovering chapters in forest history that were influenced by human activity far earlier than anyone thought.

A new study of pollen samples extracted from tropical forests in southeast Asia suggests humans have shaped these landscapes for thousands of years. Although scientists previously believed the forests were virtually untouched by people, researchers are now pointing to signs of imported seeds, plants cultivated for food, and land clearing as early as 11,000 years ago—around the end of the last Ice Age.

The study, to be published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Archaeological Science comes from researchers led by paleoecologist Chris Hunt, of Queen’s University, Belfast, who analyzed existing data and examined samples from Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam.

Pollen offers an important key for unlocking the history of human activity in a region where dense tropical forests make traditional excavations slow, arduous work, and thick canopies hinder aerial surveys. Reliance on building materials that perish with the centuries (rather than stone or ceramic) can make it difficult to recognize signs of long-gone inhabitants. Pollen, however, can survive for thousands of years in the right conditions and paint a picture of vegetation over time.

In the Kelabit Highlands of Borneo, for example, pollen samples dated to about 6,500 years ago contain abundant charcoal evidence of fire. That alone doesn’t reveal a human hand. But scientists know that specific weeds and trees that flourish in charred ground would typically emerge in the wake of naturally occurring or accidental blazes. What Hunt’s team found instead was evidence of fruit trees. “This indicates that the people who inhabited the land intentionally cleared it of forest vegetation and planted sources of food in its place,” Hunt explained in a statement about the study.

Hunt’s team also looked at the types of pollen reported in cores extracted from very isolated areas where, in all likelihood, humans did not intervene with the succession of plants that would have come about simply because of changes in temperature, rainfall, and competition among species. The patterns in these cores could then be used as a proxy for what to expect without human intervention. When layers sampled from other, comparable sites in the region failed match up, it raised a flag for the researchers that humans may have disrupted the natural succession through burning, cultivation, or other activities.

“Ever since people had the ability to make stone tools and control fire, they were able to manipulate the environment,” explained biologist David Lentz, who directs the Center for Field Studies at the University of Cincinnati. “In pre-agricultural times, they would burn forest to improve hunting and increase the growth of plants that were edible—often weedy plants with lots of seeds. This is a pattern that we see all over the world.” It’s not surprising, he added, to see it documented in Southeast Asia.

And yet, Hunt said, “It has long been believed that the rainforests of the Far East were virgin wildernesses, where human impact has been minimal.” To the contrary, his team traced signs of vegetation changes resulting from human actions. “While it could be tempting to blame these disturbances on climate change,” he said, “that is not the case as they do not coincide with any known periods of climate change.

This kind of research is about more than glimpsing ancient ways of life. It could also present powerful information for people who live in these forests today. According to Hunt, “Laws in several countries in Southeast Asia do not recognize the rights of indigenous forest dwellers on the grounds that they are nomads who leave no permanent mark on the landscape.” The long history of forest management traced by this study, he says, offers these groups “a new argument in their case against eviction.”

Such tensions have played out beyond Southeast Asia. In Australia, for example, “the impact of humans on the environment is clear stretching back over 40,000 years or so,” says environmental geoscientist Dan Penny, of The University of Sydney. And yet, he says, “the material evidence of human occupation is scarce.” Starting in the 18th century, the British used that fact “to justify their territorial claim” to land inhabited by Aboriginal Australians—declaring it terra nullius (belonging to no-one), establishing a colony, and eventually claiming sovereignty over the entire continent.

This latest study comes as part of a larger discussion about when and how our species began shaping the world around us. “Humans and pre-humans have been present in Asia for a very long time, and there have been a number of studies that point to a very long history of human alteration of the natural environment,” says Penny. Hunt’s work in Southeast Asia, he says, makes a “valuable contribution” to that discussion, and to a broader debate surrounding the timing of what scientists call the Anthropocene—a proposed period in human history when activity began to alter natural processes in a significant way.”

Original article:
smithsonian magazine

By Josie Garthwaite
March 5, 2014

Read Full Post »


A cattle herder drives his animals in Tanzania. The study linked the spread of pastoralism with the ability to digest milk.

Credit: University of Pennsylvania

Topic: Milk
A new study led by University of Pennsylvania researchers — constituting the largest examination ever of lactase persistence in geographically diverse populations of Africans — investigated the genetic origins of this trait and offers support to the idea that the ability to digest milk was a powerful selective force in a variety of African populations which raised cattle and consumed the animals’ fresh milk.

The research was led by Alessia Ranciaro, a postdoctoral fellow in Penn’s Department of Genetics in the Perelman School of Medicine, and Sarah Tishkoff, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with appointments in Penn Medicine’s Department of Genetics and Penn Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology.

The paper will be published March 13 in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Previous research had shown that northern Europeans and people with northern European ancestry, as well as populations from Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia with a tradition of fresh milk production and consumption, continue to express the lactase enzyme into adulthood. Some of these earlier studies had traced the genetic origin of this trait in Europeans to a particular mutation that regulates the expression of the gene that codes for lactase. And in 2007 a study by Tishkoff, Ranciaro and colleagues examined African populations and found three addition genetic variants associated with lactase persistence that had not been previously identified.

“But these variants didn’t completely account for the reason why some Africans were able to digest milk,” Ranciaro said.

To try to reconcile these apparent discrepancies between genotype, the genetic basis of a characteristic, and phenotype, the characteristic itself, Ranciaro, along with colleagues, led field studies to often-remote areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Sudan to collect blood samples and perform a lactose tolerance test on people from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

“The idea was that we wanted to sample as many populations, and as diverse a set of populations, as possible,” Ranciaro said. “We included pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers, so the four major subsistence patterns were all covered.”

The Penn researchers worked with African collaborators and local district offices and tribal chiefs to spread the word and recruit volunteers for their study.

“This was a very challenging test to do in the field in remote regions,” said Ranciaro. “We were careful to make sure that people understood why we were doing this study and that they would need to commit to the hour or more of time needed to do the test.”

The test reveals whether someone has the ability to digest lactose into glucose and galactose. It requires participants to fast overnight, have their blood sugar measured, then drink a sweet beverage containing the equivalent lactose of one to two liters of cow’s milk and subsequently have their blood sugar tested at set intervals.

To look for genetic variations among the populations’ abilities to digest milk, the team sequenced three genomic regions thought to influence the activity of the lactase-encoding LCT gene in 819 Africans from 63 different populations and 154 non-Africans from nine different populations in Europe, the Middle East and Central and East Asia. They also examined the results of the lactose tolerance test in 513 people from 50 populations in East Africa.

Their sequencing and phenotyping efforts confirmed the association between lactase persistence and three known single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, places where the DNA sequence varies in just one “letter.” But they also identified two new SNPs associated with the trait located in regions that are thought to regulate lactase gene expression.

Their analysis revealed strong evidence of recent positive selection affecting several variants associated with lactase persistence in African populations, likely in response to the cultural development of pastoralism. The distinct geographic patterns in which these variants were present correlate in many cases with historic human migrations, mixing between populations as well as the spread of cattle, camels or sheep.

For example, they found the variant associated with lactase persistence in Europeans, T-13910, in central and northern African pastoralist groups, suggesting that these groups may have mixed historically with a non-African population. The age of this genetic mutation is estimated to be 5,000-12,300 years old, coinciding with the origins of cattle domestication in North Africa and the Middle East. And a variant, G-13915, found at high frequencies in the Arabian Peninsula, and also present in northern Kenya and northern Sudan, dates to roughly 5,000 years ago, around the time that archaeological evidence suggests that camels were domesticated in the region.

Another variant, G-13907, was identified in the northern reaches of Sudan and Kenya as well as in Ethiopia. The researchers speculate that the mutation may have arisen in Cushitic populations in Ethiopia, who later migrated into Kenya and Sudan in the last 5,000 years.

They observed still another variant, C-14010, in Tanzania and Kenya as well as in southern Africa. This variant is believed to have arisen 3,000 to 7,000 years ago, a timing in line with the migration of pastoralists from North Africa into East Africa. The researchers’ analysis suggests that this variant spread more recently into southern African, perhaps only in the last 1,000 years.

“We’re starting to paint a picture of convergent evolution,” Tishkoff said. “Our results are showing different mutations arising in different places that are under selection and rising to high frequencies and then reintroduced by migration to new areas and new populations.”

Even with the new variants the Penn team identified, there were still patterns that the genetic data couldn’t explain. Some groups that appeared to be able to digest milk lacked any genetic sign of this ability. The Hadza, nearly half of whom had the lactase persistence trait, are one example.

“This raises the strong possibility that there are other variants out there, perhaps in regions of the genome we haven’t yet examined,” Tishkoff said.

Another possibility is that commensal bacteria in the gut could offer humans a helping hand in digesting milk. The team is now assaying Africans’ gut bacteria to see if that might be the case.

Additional co-authors on the study included Michael C. Campbell, Jibril B. Hirbo and Wen-Ya Ko of Penn’s Department of Genetics; Alain Froment of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris; Paolo Anagnostou of Universita’ La Sapienza and Istituto Italiano di Antropologia in Rome; Maritha J. Kotze of the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa; Muntaser Ibrahim of the University of Khartoum; Thomas Nyambo of Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania; and Sabah A. Omar of the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

Original article:
March 13, 2014

Read Full Post »


Topic: ancient Wand

Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient staff carved with two realistic human faces in southern Syria.

The roughly 9,000-year-old artifact was discovered near a graveyard where about 30 people were buried without their heads — which were found in a nearby living space.

“The find is very unusual. It’s unique,” said study co-author Frank Braemer, an archaeologist at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France. [See Images of the Ancient Wand and Skeletons]

The wand, which was likely used in a long-lost funeral ritual, is one of the only naturalistic depictions of human faces from this time and place, Braemer said.

Ancient site

Researchers first uncovered the wand during excavations in 2007 and 2009 at a site in southern Syria called Tell Qarassa, where an artificial mound made from the debris of everyday human life gradually built up in layers over millennia. (Though many stunning archaeological sites have been looted or bombed since the onset of the Syrian Civil War, this site is in a fairly peaceful area and has so far escaped damage.) [Photos: 7 Stunning Archaeological Sites in Syria]

Other archaeological evidence from the site suggests the ancient inhabitants were amongst the world’s first farmers, consuming emmer (a type of wheat), barley, chickpeas and lentils, and herding or hunting goats, gazelles, pigs and deer, the authors write in the March issue of the journal Antiquity.

Mysterious wand

After the skeletons and wand were buried, someone seems to have dug up and removed the skulls, placing them in the inhabited portion of the settlement.

The bone wand was likely carved from the rib of an auroch, the wild ancestor of cows, and was about 4.7 inches (12 centimeters) long. Two natural-looking faces, with eyes closed, were carved into the bone, though the wand was intentionally broken at both ends, with more faces likely originally adorning the staff.

The relic’s purpose and symbolism remain a mystery.

“It’s clearly linked to funerary rituals, but what kind of rituals, it’s impossible to tell,” Braemer told Live Science.

The find marks a transition in culture toward more interest in the human form. Older artifacts typically showed stylized or schematic representations of humans, but realistic depictions of animals. Art unearthed in what is now Jordan and Anatolia from the same time period also employs delicate, natural representations of the human form, suggesting this trend emerged simultaneously in regions throughout the Middle East, Braemer said.

The artistic innovation may have been tied to the emerging desire to create material representations of identity and personhood, the authors write in the paper.

Exactly why someone dug up the skulls and placed them within the living areas of the settlement is also unclear. But archaeologists unearthed similar finds in Jericho, Israel, dating to around 9,000 years ago, where the skulls of ancestors were covered with plaster and painted with facial features, then displayed in living spaces.

One possibility is that the practice was a form of ancestor worship, in which the human faces represented the living presence of supernatural beings in a hunanized form. It’s also possible the heads on display were trophies from vanquished enemies, Braemer told Live Science.

Original article:

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer | March 11, 2014 12:33pm ET

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: