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Monday, 2 February 2009

Ancient history, December, the last piece of weirdness of 2008


  1. The Long Road to Modernity
  2. Late Neandertals and Modern Human Contact in Southeastern Iberia
  4. Pre-Columbian Tribes Had BBQs, Parties on Grave Sites
  5. Mystery Pyramid Built by Newfound Ancient Culture?
  6. The Great Sphinx of Giza reborn as a lion in the desert
A long list, but the articles are very interesting. Most of them are here because they are odd. I hope you enjoy them. I liked mostly the first 3. The others are just for the fun.

The Long Road to Modernity

1 December 2008

Anthropologists and archaeologists rely on stone tools and other artifacts to gauge the sophistication of ancient humans. About 1.7 million years ago in Africa, Homo erectus, an ancestor of modern humans, started using large hand axes and cleavers. Later, this technology gave way to the Middle Stone Age, which featured smaller and more sophisticated blades and spearheads.

Many researchers have assumed that these weapons and tools were made by modern humans, because nearly all of them have been found at sites dated later than 195,000 years ago, the age of the oldest known H. sapiens fossils. That would imply a big cognitive leap on the part of modern humans, as they would have essentially developed a complex technology as soon as they arrived on the scene.

In the 1990s, for example, archaeologists dated a Middle Stone Age site in Ethiopia called Gademotta to 235,000 years ago--implying that the technology had been maturing for a while before the arrival of modern humans. A second site, Kapthurin in Kenya, was more reliably dated in 2002 to 285,000 years ago.

Now two geochronologists from the University of California, Berkeley, Leah Morgan and Paul Renne, have redated Gademotta using the argon-argon method, an improved technique for dating volcanic rock that is considered more accurate than the potassium-argon method previously employed at the site. The new results, reported in this month's issue of Geology, push the artifacts at Gademotta back to at least 280,000 years ago, essentially the same age as those at Kapthurin.

Morgan and Renne suggest that the early dates at both Gademotta and Kapthurin indicate that the tools were probably not invented by modern humans but rather by ancestral hominids intermediate between H. erectus and H. sapiens. A few fossils that might represent such ancestors have been found in Africa over the past decades and are thought to be between 400,000 and 200,000 years old.source

My comment: I think there is so much more to learn about our past. There are so many assumptions we make, based not so much on science but on our internal convictions, that are starting to prove not true. So, obviously, there isn't a major cognitive leap in modern humans. Oh, well.

Late Neandertals and Modern Human Contact in Southeastern Iberia

It is widely accepted that Upper Paleolithic early modern humans spread westward across Europe about 42,000 years ago, variably displacing and absorbing Neandertal populations in the process.

However, Middle Paleolithic, presumably Neandertal, assemblages persisted for another 8,000 years in Iberia. It has been unclear whether these late Middle Paleolithic Iberian assemblages were made by Neandertals, and what the nature of those humans might have been.

New research, published Dec. 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is now shedding some light on what were probably the last Neandertals.

The research is based on a study of human fossils found during the past decade at the Sima de la Palomas, Murcia, Spain by Michael Walker.

The human fossils from the upper levels of the Sima de las Palomas are anatomically clearly Neandertals, and they are now securely dated to 40,000 years ago. They therefore establish the late persistence of Neandertals in this southwestern cul-de-sac of Europe. This reinforces the conclusion that the Neandertals were not merely swept away by advancing modern humans. The behavioral differences between these human groups must have been more subtle than the Middle-to-Upper Paleolithic technological contrasts might imply.

In addition, the Palomas Neandertals variably exhibit a series of modern human features rare or absent in earlier Neandertals. Either they were evolving on their own towards the modern human pattern, or more likely, they had contact with early modern humans around the Pyrenees. If the latter, it implies that the persistence of the Middle Paleolithic in Iberia was a matter of choice, and not cultural retardation.

From the Sima de las Palomas, other late Neandertal sites, and recent discoveries of the earliest modern humans across Europe, a complex picture is emerging of shifting contact between behaviorally similar, if culturally and biologically different, human populations. source

My comment: I recently had an argument about Neandertals. People for unclear to me reason find difficulties to admit we maybe weren't better than them, we were just luckier. Because every new evidence we have shows that Neandertals and Humans weren't that different, nor that hostile to each another. Again, there's much to know here. I think Neandertals are much underappreciated and underestimated, but that will soon change.

Nicholas Birch 12/09/08

It’s the last day of the excavating year at Gobekli Tepe, the hill-top neolithic site whose circles of huge decorated T-shaped stones are at least 5,000 years older than any other monumental structure ever found.

In between shouted instructions, the German archaeologist who has been excavating the site since 1994 sums up four more months of digging.

Apart from a new transverse cut to the left of the main dig, and the excavation of a small, late circle that probably dates from about 8,500 B.C., little appears to have changed since March.

But there have been striking discoveries: a U-shaped stone sculpted with leopards and a boar that Schmidt compares to the Lion Gate at Mycenae; two almost life-size sculptures of a boar and wild cat found embedded within the rubble walls surrounding one early enclosure.

Schmidt and his team have also uncovered a hollowed-out stone, roughly four-foot square, lying cracked in the middle of one of the circles.

Potentially much more significant, although almost invisible to the untrained eye, archaeologists have also uncovered evidence that the builders of at least one of the oldest circles had dug roughly five meters down through the mound before erecting the standing stones on the bedrock.

DNA tests on wild wheat growing on Karacadag, a mountain just east of Gobeklitepe, suggest it may have been the source of early cultivated strains. At Nevali Cori, a neolithic village 40 miles northwest of Schmidt’s site, archaeologists found seeds of domesticated einkorn wheat dating from 9000 b.c. source

My comment: Can you even imagine how old this temple is? Wow! I can't wait to see the dating. What I find very interesting is the presence of leopards and other wild cats on the walls. I mean, this part of the world was never so full of big cats, right? Yesterday I learnt that there was a cave lion on the Balkans until maybe 2000years ago, but still I think this cat-fetish here is very odd.

Pre-Columbian Tribes Had BBQs, Parties on Grave Sites

Alexis Okeowo
for National Geographic News
December 05, 2008

Some pre-Hispanic cultures in South America had elaborate celebrations at their cemeteries, complete with feasting and drinking grounds much like modern barbecue pits, according to a new archaeological study.

Excavations of 12th- and-13th-century burial mounds in the highlands of Brazil and Argentina revealed numerous earthen ovens. The finds suggest that the graves were also sites of regular festivals held to commemorate the death of the community's chief.

"After they buried an important person on the burial grounds, they feasted on meat that had been steamed in the earth ovens and drank maize beer," said archaeologist and study co-author José Iriarte. source

My comment: That is interesting because it coincides with the behaviour of Bulgars on such events. It shows somewhat similar attitude toward death (and/or food).

Mystery Pyramid Built by Newfound Ancient Culture?

December 8, 2008

Several stone sculptures recently found in central Mexico point to a previously unknown culture that likely built a mysterious pyramid in the region, archaeologists say.

Archaeologists first found the objects about 15 years ago in the valley of Tulancingo, a major canyon that drops off into Mexico's Gulf Coast. (See Mexico map.)

Most of the 41 artifacts "do not fit into any of the known cultures of the Valley of Tulancingo, or the highlands of central Mexico," said Carlos Hernández, an archaeologist at Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History in the central state of Hidalgo.

Many of the figures are depicted in a sitting position, with their hands placed on their knees.

Some have headdresses or conical hats with snakes at the base, which could represent Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl, the Aztec god of the wind. One figure shows a man emerging from the jaws of a jaguar.

The sculptures are also made of flat stucco—a combination of fine sand, lime, and water—and painted blue or green to the give the appearance of jade.

All of the artifacts date to the Epiclassic period between A.D. 600 to 900.

The pyramid's proportions, along with smaller structures that were painted black and white, do not correspond to the Toltec or Teotihuacan cultures of the same area and time period.

The pottery found at the site—rough, cylindrical vessels that are gray and reddish-brown in color—is also not familiar to experts.

Based on the artifacts' discovery near the pyramid,"it is likely that the Huapalcalco pyramid has been built by people from this new culture," Hernández said.source

My comment: Also odd. Can't say more.

The Great Sphinx of Giza reborn as a lion in the desert

09th December 2008

The Sphinx in Egypt might have originally had the face of a lion, it is claimed.

And it could be much older than previously thought, investigations led by a British geologist suggest.

Egyptologists have long argued the monument outside Cairo, which has the head of a pharaoh and the body of a lion, was built soon after the first pyramid - around 4,500 years ago.

But geologist Colin Reader found that rain erosion on the Sphinx's enclosure suggests it was built many years before.

A sunken palace on the Giza plateau provides further evidence that there was activity in the area before the building of the pyramids, Mr Reader said.

Its style implies that it is older than the other tombs at the site. Mr Reader said the tomb would have been adapted and embellished by later inhabitants of the area.

Researchers also discovered that the Sphinx’s body and head were disproportionate, suggesting it was not originally a pharaoh.

Historical architect Dr Jonathan Foyle, who worked with Mr Reader on the project, said the head and body were massively out of proportion.

He said the reason for this could be that the Sphinx originally had an entirely different head - that of a lion.

According to this theory, the statue was later re-carved to be modelled on Khufu.

To early Egyptians the lion was a much more potent symbol of power than the human face.

Geologist Robert Schoch concluded that the Sphinx must be much older than currently believed after an investigation in the 1990s.

Schoch has argued that the particular weathering found on the body of the Sphinx and surrounding 'ditch' the monument was carved from, displays features that can only be caused from prolonged water erosion.

Egypt’s last time period where there was a significant amount of rainfall ended during the late 4th to early 3rd millennium BC.

Schoch claims the amount of water erosion the Sphinx has experienced indicates a construction date no later than the 6th millennium BC or 5th millennium BC, at least two thousand years before the widely accepted construction date and 1,500 years prior to the accepted date for the beginning of Egyptian civilisation.

Mr Reader concludes that the Sphinx is only several hundred years older than the traditionally accepted date believing the Sphinx to be a product of the Early Dynastic period. source

My comment: I think I might have written about this, but it's a story I find very interesting. Why? I'll tell you at some point, when I have time. But I do believe in the new dating. And also with the idea the head was of a lion or a leopard.

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