Thursday, September 22, 2016

Archaeology Fall 2016

1. SYDNEY SYDNEY (AFP).- Circular stone foundations discovered on an island in Western Australia suggest that Aborigines were building "houses" up to 9,000 years ago, a researcher said
University of Western Australia archaeologists discovered the series of knee-high stone rings on Rosemary Island in the Dampier Archipelago, an area rich in Aboriginal rock art, several years ago.
But they were only recently dated to being 8,000 to 9,000 years old, meaning the island is home to one of Australia's oldest settlements.
"Excavations on Rosemary Island, one of the outer islands, have uncovered evidence of one of the earliest known domestic structures in Australia, dated between 8,000 and 9,000 years ago," researcher Jo McDonald said in a statement this week.
"This is an astounding find and has not only enormous scientific significance but will be of great benefit to Aboriginal communities in the area, enhancing their connections to their deep past and cultural heritage."
Professor McDonald, director of the university's Centre for Rock Art Research and Management, said the "houses" would probably have been covered with roofs made from plants or skins.
The spaces were divided up, with one area apparently used for grinding seeds while another held the remains of shells gathered for food. There were also engravings on several of the boulders.
McDonald said the find suggested that Aboriginal people had occupied the island before and through the last ice age but that as rising sea levels flooded what were once coastal plains, they were forced to live in more cramped spaces.
"The fact that people that long ago are thinking about how they can better deal with space... it certainly challenges most people's idea of what a hunter-gatherer is," McDonald told AFP on Friday.
The researchers hope their work, which is in collaboration with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, will help the site gain World Heritage listing.
The Dampier Archipelago -- home to a major port catering to miners shipping out iron ore and other minerals -- contains one of the densest concentrations of rock engravings in Australia.
The area, which is made up of 42 islands as well as reefs, shoals, channels and straits, is also the traditional home of five Aboriginal language groups.
"We anticipate that this extraordinary rock art estate will produce some spectacular insights into what life was really like in deep history," McDonald said.

2. OXFORD.- Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries and from universities in the Netherlands have used high-tech imaging to uncover the details of a rare Mexican codex dating from before the colonization of the Americas. The newly revealed codex, or book, has been hidden
from view for almost 500 years, concealed beneath a layer of plaster and chalk on the back of a later manuscript known as the Codex Selden, which is housed at the Bodleian Libraries. Scientists have used hyperspectral imaging to reveal pictographic scenes from this remarkable document and have published their findings in the Journal of Archaeology: Reports.

Ancient Mexican codices are some of the most important artefacts of early Mexican culture and they are particularly rare. Codex Selden, also known as Codex AƱute, dates from around 1560 and is one of fewer than 20 known Mexican codices to have survived from pre-colonial and early colonial Mexico. Of those, it is one of only five surviving manuscripts from the Mixtec area, now the Oaxaca region of Mexico. These codices use a complex system of pictures, symbols and bright colours to narrate centuries of conquering dynasties and genealogies as well as wars and the history of ancient cities. In essence these codices provide the best insight into the history and culture of early Mexico.
Since the 1950s, scholars have suspected that Codex Selden is a palimpsest: an older document that has been covered up and reused to make the manuscript that is currently visible. Codex Selden consists of a five-metre-long strip composed of deer hide that has been covered with gesso, a white plaster made from gypsum and chalk, and folded in a concertina format into a 20-page document. The manuscript underwent a series of invasive tests in the 1950s when one page on the back was scraped, uncovering a vague image that hinted at the possibility that an earlier Mexican codex lay hidden beneath.
Until now, no other technique has been able to unveil the concealed narrative in a non-invasive way. The organic paints that were partly used to create the vibrant images on early Mexican codices do not absorb x-rays, which rules out x-ray analysis that is commonly used to study later works of art.
‘After four or five years of trying different techniques, we’ve been able to reveal an abundance of images without damaging this extremely vulnerable item. We can confirm that Codex Selden is indeed a palimpsest,’ said Ludo Snijders from Leiden University, who conducted the research with David Howell from the Bodleian Libraries and Tim Zaman from the University of Delft. This is the first time an early Mexican codex has been proven to be a palimpsest. ‘What’s interesting is that the text we’ve found doesn’t match that of other early Mixtec manuscripts. The genealogy we see appears to be unique, which means it may prove invaluable for the interpretation of archaeological remains from southern Mexico,’ Snijders said.
Some pages feature more than 20 characters sitting or standing in the same direction. Similar scenes have been found on other Mixtec manuscripts, representing a King and his council. But the analysis of this particular text shows that the characters are both male and female, raising interesting questions about what the scene represents.
The imaging has also revealed a prominent individual who appears repeatedly on the document and is represented by a large glyph consisting of a twisted cord and a flint knife. The name seems to resemble a character found in other Mexican codices: the Codex Bodley (in the Bodleian’s collection) and Codex Zouche-Nuttall (in the British Museum).That character is an important ancestor of two lineages connected to the important archaeological sites of Zaachila and Teozacualco in Mexico. However, further analysis is needed to confirm that it is the same individual.
The researchers analysed seven pages of the codex for this study and revealed other images including people walking with sticks and spears, women with red hair or headdresses and place signs containing the glyphs for rivers. They are continuing to analyse the remainder of the document with the aim of reconstructing the entire hidden imagery, allowing the text to be interpreted more fully.
‘Hyperspectral imaging has shown great promise in helping us to begin to reconstruct the story of the hidden codex and ultimately to recover new information about Mixtec history and archaeology,’ said David Howell, Head of Heritage Science at the Bodleian Libraries. ‘This is very much a new technique, and we’ve learned valuable lessons about how to use hyperspectral imaging in the future both for this very fragile manuscript and for countless others like it.’
Working with the Humanities Division in the University of Oxford, the Libraries acquired the hyperspectral scanner in 2014 with the support of the University’s Fell Fund. Once a technique used by astrophysicists to study the colour of stars, hyperspectral imaging is now used by Bodleian researchers to reveal hidden text and images and identify unknown substances and pigments with a high degree of accuracy. Researchers have recently used the scanner to clarify the text of the famous Bakhshali manuscript from India, which includes the first use of zero, to analyse the medieval Gough Map, the earliest road map of Great Britain and to reveal a hidden devil in a centuries-old Armenian gospel-book.

3.PARIS (AFP).- The 5,300-year-old Alpine mummy known as the Tyrolean Iceman died wearing leather clothes and accessories harvested from no less than five wild or domesticated species, a DNA analysis published Thursday revealed.
Frozen solid after being fatally wounded by an arrow in the back, the brown-eyed, Copper Age nomad, nicknamed "Otzi", was discovered in 1991 in the Otztal Alps between Italy and Austria.
Details about his ancestry, what he snacked on, and his sundry diseases and ailments have all been dissected with scientific precision over the last two decades, but no one had taken a close look at the origin or his attire. Until now. A team led by Niall O'Sullivan, a researcher at the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Italy (and University College Dublin), put nine samples from Otzi's leather accoutrements under the microscope to determine their origin.
These included a fur hat, an archery quiver, a composite leather coat, a loin-cloth, grass-lined shoes, and tight-fighting leggings.
What they found, to their surprise, was a medley of fauna, both domesticated and wild.
The fur from the hat came from the ferocious brown bear, a species that can easily top 300 kilos (660 pounds). 
Otzi, who was about 45 when mortally wounded, would have to have been an ace shot to take one down with his slender arrows.
The quiver sheathing those arrows came from another wild species -- a roe deer, while his jacket was stitched together from domesticated goats and sheep.
"The coat alone was a combination of at least four hides and two species," the study concluded.
But the piece de resistence of the Iceman's wardrobe was the glove-like leggings, made of the same kind of goat's skin favoured by haute couture houses in Paris.
He may even have started a trend: similar leather was used to make 4,500-year-old leggings found in Schnidejoch, Switzerland, the researchers point out.
Conclusion? Our pre-historic fashionista "made considered choices when manufacturing clothes, and used everything that was available to him," O'Sullivan told AFP.
The findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports, were made by sequencing mitochondrial genomes from each of the leather samples. 
Unlike nuclear DNA, which is transferred to offspring by the mother and father combined, mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the mother alone.

4. MIAMI (AFP).- Native people living in the ancient city of Teotihuacan, now a World Heritage site located in modern-day Mexico, likely bred rabbits to eat and used their bones for tools, researchers said Wednesday.
The study in the open-access journal PLOS ONE represents one of the first known examples of small mammal breeding in an indigenous culture that existed from the first to the seventh century AD.
"Because no large mammals such as goats, cows or horses were available for domestication in pre-Hispanic Mexico, many assume that Native Americans did not have as intensive human-animal relationships as did societies of the Old World," said lead author Andrew Somerville, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego.
"Our results suggest that citizens of the ancient city of Teotihuacan engaged in relationships with smaller and more diverse fauna, such as rabbits and jackrabbits, and that these may have been just as important as relationships with larger animals."
Many archeological excavations have been done at the site, which covers eight square miles (20 square kilometers) and was home to some 100,000 residents, making it the largest urban center of its time, said the study.
Analyses have shown that wild rabbits were among the most common mammals there, making up 48 percent of all identified fauna remains near a residential compound called Oztoyahualco.
Evidence of animal butchering was found in several rooms, where "high soil phosphate levels in the floor suggest the presence of disintegrated fecal matter or blood from butchering," said the study.
Researchers found obsidian blades, multiple rabbit foot bones and low stone walls that may have been used as pens for keeping rabbits. There is also "a unique stone sculpture of a rabbit" in a nearby public courtyard.
The study said many of the rabbits were likely acquired through the practice of garden-hunting. 
Villagers would have nabbed rabbits from fields where squash, maize and beans were grown. Similar practices were seen in other pre-Hispanic societies of the era.
But saving their crops was not the only reason for the high number of rabbit remains, the study said.
Stable carbon and oxygen isotope analysis of 134 rabbit and hare bone specimens from the ancient city and 13 modern wild specimens from central Mexico showed that those inside the compound were eating more human-farmed crops, such as maize, suggesting that people were feeding them and raising them in Oztoyahualco.
"The specimens with the greatest difference in isotope values came from a Teotihuacan complex that contained traces of animal butchering and a rabbit sculpture," said the study.
That means people were likely feeding the rabbits excess maize and other crops, and breeding them for food, thereby "converting excess carbohydrates into high quality protein and economically valuable secondary products, such as fur, hide, glue and bones for tools."

5. MIAMI (AFP).- Alaskan woolly mammoths died of thirst: study - One of the world's last surviving groups of woolly mammoths likely died of thirst as the salty seas rose around these iconic Ice Age creatures 5,600 years ago, researchers say. The study also warns that a similar scenario could imperil island people and animals in the coming years as the climate warms and sea level rises, making fresh water harder to access. The research took place on St. Paul Island, a remote area of Alaska that was once part of the Bering Land Bridge that joined the Americas to Asia. The island became isolated between 14,700 and 13,500 years ago due to sea level rise during the last deglaciation, and the land area shrank significantly. Its current size is 42 square miles (110 square kilometers). No humans were known to live in the area at the time, said the report in the August 1 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal. To find out what happened to the woolly mammoths, researchers collected a sediment core from one of the few freshwater lake beds on St. Paul Island. By analyzing the core for signs of fungi that grow on animal dung and using radiocarbon dating, they were able to tell when mammoths disappeared. The sediment DNA "showed the presence of mammoth DNA until 5,650 years ago, plus or minus 80 years," said the study, which described the finding as the most precise dating yet of a major extinction event. "After that time, there is no mammoth DNA and so no mammoths on the island." So what happened?
Researchers think that these large beasts, similar to modern day elephants, somehow persisted for some 5,000 years after mainland populations disappeared -- likely from a combination of hunting and climate change -- but were done in by the continual shortage of fresh water. Much like elephants, which drink some 50 gallons (200 liters) per day, wooly mammoths would have struggled during what researchers found to be an extended period of dry conditions and declining water quality. Over the course of 2,000 years, the area grew progressively smaller and drier. Lakes became shallower, and water holes more crowded. When scientists analyzed mammoth bones and teeth as well as the remains of other aquatic creatures, they found signs of progressively drier conditions leading up to the extinction event.  "It paints a dire picture of the situation for these mammoths," said Matthew Wooller, director of the Alaska Stable Isotope Facility at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a co-author of the study. "Freshwater resources look like the smoking gun for what pushed them into this untenable situation." The Alaskan mammoths were outlived only by a population of mammoths on Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia, which survived until about 4,700 years ago. "Freshwater availability may be an underappreciated driver of island extinction," said the report in PNAS. "This study reinforces 21st-century concerns about the vulnerability of island populations, including humans, to future warming, freshwater availability, and sea level rise."

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