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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Our glorious past-reality strikes back

Today:

  1. 1.5 million-year-old fossil humans walked on modern feet (Video)
  2. Maritime Archaeologist at Helm of Modern Journey to Ancient Egyptian Land
  3. Archaeologists find earliest known domestic horses
  4. Found in Iraq: "King Tut"
  5. Copper Age began earlier than believed, scientists say
Apologies for the delay of this post, but I had a hell of a week.

1.5 million-year-old fossil humans walked on modern feet (Video)

February 26th, 2009

Ancient footprints found at Rutgers' Koobi Fora Field School show that some of the earliest humans walked like us and did so on anatomically modern feet 1.5 million years ago.

The footprints were discovered in two 1.5 million-year-old sedimentary layers near Ileret in northern Kenya. These rarest of impressions yielded information about soft tissue form and structure not normally accessible in fossilized bones. The Ileret footprints constitute the oldest evidence of an essentially modern human-like foot anatomy.

To ensure that comparisons made with modern human and other fossil hominid footprints were objective, the Ileret footprints were scanned and digitized.

The authors of the Science paper reported that the upper sediment layer contained three footprint trails: two trails of two prints each, one of seven prints and a number of isolated prints. Five meters deeper, the other sediment surface preserved one trail of two prints and a single isolated smaller print, probably from a juvenile.

In these specimens, the big toe is parallel to the other toes, unlike that of apes where it is separated in a grasping configuration useful in the trees. The footprints show a pronounced human-like arch and short toes, typically associated with an upright bipedal stance. The size, spacing and depth of the impressions were the basis of estimates of weight, stride and gait, all found to be within the range of modern humans.

Based on size of the footprints and their modern anatomical characteristics, the authors attribute the prints to the hominid Homo ergaster, or early Homo erectus as it is more generally known. This was the first hominid to have had the same body proportions (longer legs and shorter arms) as modern Homo sapiens. Various H. ergaster or H. erectus remains have been found in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa, with dates consistent with the Ileret footprints.

Other hominid fossil footprints dating to 3.6 million years ago had been discovered in 1978 by Mary Leakey at Laetoli, Tanzania. These are attributed to the less advanced Australopithecus afarensis, a possible ancestral hominid. The smaller, older Laetoli prints show indications of upright bipedal posture but possess a shallower arch and a more ape-like, divergent big toe. source

My comment: I've talked about this before. Just imagine, humans with approximately the same body as ours, roamed on Earth 1.5 MILLION years ago. Let's see, for around 5000 years we got from the wheel to spaceships. 1.5 Million/5000=3000! Or in the worst case, if we say that those homo erectus needed say .5 million years to evolve to the wheel phase, that's still 2000 times the time in which our civilisation developed. Or even if we say, they need 1 million years to evolve, we still have at least 100 times the period we took to become who we are. That means that in the mean time, 100 civilisations as ours may have existed. Of course, that's oversimplification, but still-we have only the bones of those hominids, we don't know what was their brain like!

Maritime Archaeologist at Helm of Modern Journey to Ancient Egyptian Land

March 4th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ancient Egyptians may be best known for building pyramids, but internationally renowned maritime archaeologist Cheryl Ward wants the world to know that they were pretty good sailors, too.

She ought to know. Ward, an associate professor of anthropology at The Florida State University, and an international team of archaeologists, shipwrights and sailors recently built a full-scale replica of a 3,800-year-old ship and sailed it on the Red Sea to re-create a voyage to a place the ancient Egyptians called God’s Land, or Punt.

“This project has demonstrated the extraordinary capability of the Egyptians at sea,” Ward said. “Many people, including my fellow archaeologists, think of the Egyptians as tied to the Nile River and lacking in the ability to go to sea.

The project grew out of the 2006 discovery of the oldest remains of seafaring ships in the world in manmade caves at Wadi Gawasis, on the edge of the Egyptian desert. The Egyptians used the site to assemble and disassemble ships built of cedar planks and to store the planks, stone anchors and coils of rope until the next expedition -- one that obviously never came. Civil unrest and political instability after the Middle Kingdom period (2040-1640 BC) likely put a halt to further exploration, and the caves were long forgotten, Ward said.

Ward, who serves as principal investigator for maritime archaeology at Wadi Gawasis, determined that the wooden planks found in the caves were nearly 4,000 years old. Based on the shipworms that had tunneled into the planks, she hypothesized that the ships had weathered a long voyage of up to six months, likely to the fabled southern Red Sea trading center of Punt.

Scholars had long known that Egyptians traveled to Punt, but they debated its exact location and whether the Egyptians reached Punt by land or by sea. Some had thought the ancient Egyptians did not have the naval technology to travel long distances by sea, but the findings at Wadi Gawasis confirmed that Egyptians sailed a 2,000-mile round trip voyage to Punt, located in what is today Ethiopia or Yemen, Ward said.

Along the way, Ward enlisted the FSU Master Craftsman Program to build small-scale models of the ship to help her to refine details of the plank shape and layout.

By October 2008, the 66-foot-long by 16-foot-wide ship, which Ward dubbed the Min of the Desert, was completed using the techniques of the ancient Egyptians -- no frames, no nails and planks that were designed to fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. After immersing the ship in the Nile to permit the timbers to swell closed around the wood fastenings, mounting the rigging and testing the steering system, they transported the complete ship by truck to the Red Sea -- rather than carry it piece by piece across the desert as the ancient Egyptians would have done.

In late December, the 24-person international crew set sail on the Red Sea. Political limitations as well as an abundance of modern-day pirates along the southern end of the route kept the crew from leaving Egyptian waters, and the voyage ended after seven days and about 150 miles into what would have been a 1,000-mile trip to Punt. But the weeklong voyage provided a new appreciation for the skills and ingenuity of the ancient Egyptians, Ward said, noting that the crew was surprised at how fast the ship was able to travel -- approximately 6 knots, or 7 mph.

She said that it probably took about a month to sail to Punt and two months to return.source

My comment: I'm not going to comment on the many "if"s in the article-where Punt was, how they got there, but I find the approach adorable. You don't speculate, like archaeologists do, you build the ship and check how it's sailing. And it sails all right. I'm not surprised that Egyptians could sail, I'm surprised this surprises someone. I'm reading right now about the ancient maps that showed the Earth as seen from 10 000 years ago. Someone made that maps. I'm not saying that it was the Egyptians, only that they had the knowledge how to sail and probably used it.

Archaeologists find earliest known domestic horses

March 5th, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- An international team of archaeologists has uncovered the earliest known evidence of horses being domesticated by humans. The discovery suggests that horses were both ridden and milked. The findings could point to the very beginnings of horse domestication and the origins of the horse breeds we know today.

The researchers have traced the origins of horse domestication back to the Botai Culture of Kazakhstan circa 5,500 years ago. This is about 1,000 years earlier than thought and about 2,000 years earlier than domestic horses are known to have been in Europe. Their findings strongly suggest that horses were originally domesticated, not just for riding, but also to provide food, including milk.

Their findings show that in the fourth millennium BC horses in Kazakhstan were being selectively bred for domestic use. They also show horses were being harnessed, possibly for riding, and that people were consuming horse milk.

Analysis of ancient bone remains showed that the horses were similar in shape to Bronze Age domestic horses and different from wild horses from the same region. This suggests that people were selecting wild horses for their physical attributes, which were then exaggerated through breeding.

The team used a new technique to search for 'bit damage' caused by horses being harnessed or bridled. The results showed that horses had indeed been harnessed, suggesting they could have been ridden.

Using a novel method of lipid residue analysis, the researchers also analysed Botai pottery and found traces of fats from horse milk. Mare's milk is still drunk in Kazakhstan, a country in which horse traditions run deep, and is usually fermented into a slightly alcoholic drink called 'koumiss'. While it was known that koumiss had been produced for centuries, this study shows the practice dates back to the very earliest horse herders.

The steppe zones, east of the Ural Mountains in Northern Kazakhstan, are known to have been a prime habitat for wild horses thousands of years ago. They were a commonly hunted animal. This may have set the stage for horse domestication by providing indigenous cultures with access to plentiful wild herds and the opportunity to gain an intimate knowledge of equine behaviour. Horses appear to have been domesticated in preference to adopting a herding economy based upon domestic cattle, sheep and goats. Horses have the advantage of being adapted to severe winters and they are able to graze year round, even through snow. Cattle, sheep and goats need to be to be provided with winter fodder, and were a later addition to the prehistoric economies of the region. source

My comment: You probably won't feel so touched by this article, but the Koumiss is very characteristical for the Bulgarian tribes living in Asia. And that's why, although they call it the Botai culture, they are actually what has left from the path of Bulgarians back home(ok, not today's Bulgarians, but the Bulgars). That's a long time, but anyway, the point is that scientists are slowly discovering that forgotten and ignored culture and even if they won't call it like this, it doesn't matter. The past must be known. And by the way, they still consume Koumiss there and eat horses. Which is kind of disgusting, but well, it's a harsh land.

Found in Iraq: "King Tut"

Feb 12, 2009, 16:48 GMT

Dohuk, Iraq - A Kurdish archaeological expedition announced on Thursday that it had found a small statue of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen in northern Iraq, a Kurdish news agency reported.

Hassan Ahmed, the director of the local antiquities authority, told the Kurdish news agency Akanews that archaeologists had found a 12-centimeter statue of the ancient Egyptian king in the valley of Dahuk, 470 kilometres north of Baghdad, near a site that locals have long called Pharaoh's Castle.

He said archaeologists from the Dahuk Antiquities Authority believe the statue dates from the mid-14th Century BC.

Ahmed said the statue of Tutankhamen showed 'the face of the ancient civilization of Kurdistan and cast light on the ancient relations between pharaonic Egypt and the state of Mitanni.'

The kingdom of Mittani occupied roughly the same territory spanning Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran in the 14th Century BC that many Kurds now hope will one day form an independent Kurdistan. source

My comment: Yeah, right, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran will join in independent Kurdistan. Some people are quire ridiculous, but that's not so important. Let them dream, as long as they don't change the history, like Macedonians do, it's safe. Though, you never know when someone of them would get the support of some "benefactor". Anyway, I find this kingdom for very interesting and I would love to know what kind of language they had and how it relates to the Thracian language. Because, if Greeks said Thracians are the most numbreous people on world after the Indus, one would ask-where did they live?Because currently, Thrakia is only considered to be on the Balkans, and mostly Bulgaria. And that's a very small piece of land for so many people. (note, I'm not saying that independent Kurdistan should be replaced by Trakia-no way. It's about the history, not about current politics!)

Copper Age began earlier than believed, scientists say

Europe News

Oct 7, 2008, 14:47 GMT

Belgrade - Serbian archaeologists say a 7,500-year-old copper axe found at a Balkan site shows the metal was used in the Balkans hundreds of years earlier than previously thought.

The find near the Serbian town of Prokuplje shifts the timeline of the Copper Age and the Stone Age's neolithic period, archaeologist Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic told the independent Beta news agency.

'Until now, experts said that only stone was used in the Stone Age and that the Copper Age came a bit later. Our finds, however, confirm that metal was used some 500 to 800 years earlier,' she said.

The Copper Age marks the first stage of humans' use of metal. It is thought to have started in about the 4th millennium BC in southeastern Europe and earlier in the Middle East.

Archaeologists at the Plocnik site also found furnace and melting pots with traces of copper, suggesting the site may have been an important metal age center of the Balkans.

'All this undeniably proves that human civilization in this area produced metal in the 5th millennium BC,' archaeologist Dusan Sljivar told Beta.

The Plocnik site was discovered in 1927 and first excavations began a year later when first neolithic items were found. It is part of the Vinca culture, Europe's biggest prehistoric civilization.

Vinca culture flourished from 6th to 3rd millennium BC in present-day Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia. Its name came from the village Vinca on the Danube river, some 14 kilometers downstream from Belgrade.source

My comment: Go figure why the culture is named after a Serbian village, when most of the artefacts are found in Bulgaria. Oh, well, politics. The important part is that this is the first sign that Thracians were much more advanced that people think. I know archaeologists wouldn't call them Thracian, but that's their problem. The magnificent golden treasuries we have back home are Thracian and they are from the same time. Or products of that time. So...

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