kottke.org posts about archaeology

Evidence of humans in South America 22,000 years agoMar 31 2014

Recent discoveries in Brazil that humans were present in South America as early as 22,000 years ago has contributed to the growing belief that the Clovis First hypothesis is wrong.

Researchers here say they have unearthed stone tools proving that humans reached what is now northeast Brazil as early as 22,000 years ago. Their discovery adds to the growing body of research upending a prevailing belief of 20th-century archaeology in the United States known as the Clovis model, which holds that people first arrived in the Americas from Asia about 13,000 years ago.

"If they're right, and there's a great possibility that they are, that will change everything we know about the settlement of the Americas," said Walter Neves, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Sao Paulo whose own analysis of an 11,000-year-old skull in Brazil implies that some ancient Americans resembled aboriginal Australians more than they did Asians.

Up and down the Americas, scholars say that the peopling of lands empty of humankind may have been far more complex than long believed. The radiocarbon dating of spear points found in the 1920s near Clovis, N.M., placed the arrival of big-game hunters across the Bering Strait about 13,000 years ago, long forming the basis of when humans were believed to have arrived in the Americas.

More recently, numerous findings have challenged that narrative. In Texas, archaeologists said in 2011 that they had found projectile points showing that hunter-gatherers had reached another site, known as Buttermilk Creek, as early as 15,500 years ago. Similarly, analysis of human DNA found at an Oregon cave determined that humans were there 14,000 years ago.

The sea giveth, the sea taketh awayFeb 10 2014

This is nutty...by chance, a group of archaeologists found what are believed to be the oldest known human footprints outside of Africa on a beach in England. The footprints are an estimated 800,000 years old and are now completely gone. The tide that uncovered them washed them away in less than a month.

The footprints have been described as "one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery that has been made on [Britain's] shores," by Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum.

"It will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe," he told BBC News.

The markings were first indentified in May last year during a low tide. Rough seas had eroded the sandy beach to reveal a series of elongated hollows.

All in the familyJul 08 2013

Did you know that there are new human beings? Like, not just new human babies but new species of humans? And not just new species of humans, but new species of humans who lived at the same time as, and even possibly bred with, modern humans, aka us? (Helloooooo, mesofacts.)

If you've read kottke.org over the years, you've likely heard of Homo floresiensis (aka Flores man, aka Hobbits), a species whose remains were discovered in present-day Indonesia in 2003. Homo floresiensis lived 95,000 to 13,000 years ago and stood about three feet high.

In this month's National Geographic, Jamie Shreeve tells the story of the 2010 discovery of the Denisovans, hominids who lived in modern-day Russia as late as 40,000 years ago. Only a handful of bone fragments and teeth have been recovered, but DNA and other evidence suggests that Denisovans, Neanderthals, and modern humans lived together in the same place and interbred.

By the time of the Denisova symposium, Pääbo and his colleagues had published first drafts of the entire Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes. Reading so many more pages allowed Pääbo and his colleagues, including David Reich at Harvard University and Montgomery Slatkin at the University of California, Berkeley, to discover that human genomes today actually contain a small but significant amount of Neanderthal code -- on average about 2.5 percent. The Neanderthals still may have been swept into extinction by the strange, high-browed new people who followed them out of Africa, but not before some commingling that left a little Neanderthal in most of us, 50,000 years later. Only one group of modern humans escaped that influence: Africans, because the commingling happened outside that continent.

Although the Denisovans' genome showed that they were more closely related to the Neanderthals, they too had left their mark on us. But the geographic pattern of that legacy was odd. When the researchers compared the Denisovan genome with those of various modern human populations, they found no trace of it in Russia or nearby China, or anywhere else, for that matter -- except in the genomes of New Guineans, other people from islands in Melanesia, and Australian Aborigines. On average their genomes are about 5 percent Denisovan. Negritos in the Philippines have as much as 2.5 percent.

In 2012, evidence emerged of a possible new human species, the Red Deer Cave people, who lived in what is now southern China.

The Red Deer Cave dwellers' unusual features included a flat face, a broad nose, a jutting jaw that lacked a chin, large molar teeth, a rounded braincase with prominent brow ridges, and thick skull bones, the researchers say.

Their brains were "moderate in size," Curnoe added.

Despite this seemingly primitive human design, radiocarbon dating of charcoal from the fossil deposits suggests the Red Deer Cave people lived just 14,500 to 11,500 years ago, the team says-a time by which all other human species, such as Neanderthals, are thought to have died out.

As with the other potential new human species, and as is proper in science, there is some skepticism about the Red Deer Cave people.

The team's suggestion that the Red Deer Cave people are somehow evolutionarily unique is receiving a skeptical reception from other scientists.

Physical anthropologist Erik Trinkaus described the findings as "an unfortunate overinterpretation and misinterpretation of robust early modern humans, probably with affinities to modern Melanesians"-indigenous peoples of Pacific islands stretching from New Guinea to Fiji (map).

"There is nothing extraordinary" about the newly announced fossil human, added Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis, via email.

Philipp Gunz, of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, isn't convinced by the study team's interpretation either.

"I would be surprised if it really was a new human group that was previously undiscovered," said, Gunz, also a physical anthropologist.

Cave paintings were Stone Age animationsSep 18 2012

Archaeologist Marc Azéma thinks that Stone Age artists may have fashioned their cave paintings in such a way as to suggest movement, crude movies that came to life as the flickering light from a fire danced on the walls.

Not only that, Paleolithic artists may have also have invented the thaumatrope thousands of years before the Victorians in the 1800s.

Consisting of a card or disk with different designs on either side, the device demonstrates the persistence of vision: When the card or disk is twirled, the designs appear to blend into one.

Rivère discovered that Paleolithic artists used similar optical toys well in advance of their 19th-century descendants.

The artist examined Magdalenian bone discs -- objects found in the Pyrenees, the north of Spain and the Dordogne, which measure about 1.5 inches in diameter.

Often pierced in their center, the discs have been generally interpreted as buttons or pendants.

"Given that some are decorated on both sides with animals shown in different positions, we realized that another type of use, relating to sequential animation, was possible," the researchers said.

They mentioned one of the most convincing cases, a bone disc found in 1868 in the Dordogne. On one side, the disc features a standing doe or a chamois. On the other side, the animal is lying down.

Azéma and Rivère discovered if a string was threaded through the central hole and then stretched tight to make the disc rotate about its lateral axis, the result was a superimposition of the two pictures on the retina.

Incredible that moviemaking is tens of thousands of years old instead of just a couple hundred.

Using satellites to find ancient civilizationsMar 21 2012

Any old archaeologist can find ancient cities by looking for evidence of buildings etc, but it takes a next level Indiana Jones to use satellites. A group of archaeologists are doing just that, finding "14,000 settlement sites spanning eight millennia in 23,000 square kilometres of northeastern Syria".

The satellite-based method relies on the fact that human activity leaves a distinctive signature on the soil, called anthrosols. Formed from organic waste and decayed mud-brick architecture, anthrosols are imbued with higher levels of organic matter and have a finer texture and lighter appearance than undisturbed soil -- resulting in reflective properties that can be seen by satellites.

...


Menze trained software to detect the characteristic wavelengths of known anthrosols in images spanning 50 years of seasonal differences. This automation was key. "You could do this with the naked eye using Google Earth to look for sites, but this method takes the subjectivity out of it by defining spectral characteristics that bounce off of archaeological sites," says Ur.

(via @phillydesign)

Viking colonists?Jul 25 2011

Recent analysis of some Viking bones suggests that women were a significant part of the Viking settlement of England around 900 A.D.

So, the study looked at 14 Viking burials from the era, definable by the Norse grave goods found with them and isotopes found in their bones that reveal their birthplace. The bones were sorted for telltale osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male burial.

Overall, McLeod reports that six of the 14 burials were of women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. Warlike grave goods may have misled earlier researchers about the gender of Viking invaders, the study suggests. At a mass burial site called Repton Woods, "(d)espite the remains of three swords being recovered from the site, all three burials that could be sexed osteologically were thought to be female, including one with a sword and shield," says the study.

Satellite archaeologyMay 27 2011

Archaeologists are using infrared satellite images to find several undiscovered pyramids and ancient settlements in Egypt.

The team analysed images from satellites orbiting 700km above the earth, equipped with cameras so powerful they can pin-point objects less than 1m in diameter on the earth's surface.

Infra-red imaging was used to highlight different materials under the surface.

Ancient Egyptians built their houses and structures out of mud brick, which is much denser than the soil that surrounds it, so the shapes of houses, temples and tombs can be seen.

Be sure to click through to see some of the satellite images...the scale and the amount of detail uncovered is amazing. (via @tomcoates)

Dry weather reveals ruinsSep 01 2010

This summer's dry English weather has been unexpectantly good for archaeology. Aerial surveys over dry cropland has revealed the outlines of several prehistoric and Roman ruins.

The surveys show marks made when crops growing over buried features develop at a different rate from those nearby.

Photos here. (via clusterflock)

Tags related to archaeology:
science humans

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