New technology is revolutionizing the precise recording of history at an ancient, lost city, bucking a tradition that has been in place for centuries. University of Cincinnati researchers will present "The Paperless Project: The Use of iPads in the Excavations at Pompeii"* at the 39th annual international conference of Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA). The conference takes place April 12-16 in Beijing, China.
UC teams of archaeologists have spent more than a decade at the site of the Roman city that was buried under a volcano in 79 AD. The project is producing a complete archaeological analysis of homes, shops and businesses at a forgotten area inside one of the busiest gates of Pompeii, the Porta Stabia.
Through years of painstaking recording of their excavations, the researchers are exploring the social and cultural scene of a lost city and how the middle class neighborhood influenced Pompeian and Roman culture.
The standard archaeological approach to recording this history -- a 300-year tradition -- involves taking precise measurements, drawings and notes, all recorded on paper with pencil. But last summer, the researchers found that the handheld computers and their ability to digitally record and immediately communicate information held many advantages over a centuries-honed tradition of archaeological recording.
"There's a common, archival nature to what we're doing. There's a precious timelessness, a priceless sort of quality to the data that we're gathering, so we have made an industry of being very, very careful about how we record things," explains Ellis. "Once we've excavated through it, it's gone, so ever since our undergraduate years, we've become very, very good and consistent at recording. We're excited about discovering there's another way," Ellis says.
"Because the trench supervisor is so busy, it can take days to share handwritten notes between trenches," explains Wallrodt. "Now, we can give them an (electronic) notebook every day if they want it."
Wallrodt says one of the biggest concerns of adopting the new technology was switching from drawing on a large sheet of paper to sticking one's finger on the iPad's glass. "With the iPad, there's also a lot less to carry. There's no big board for drawing, no ruler and no calculator."
The researchers say they plan to pack even more iPads on their trip to Pompeii this June. The research project is funded by the Louise Taft Semple Fund through the UC Department of Classics.
*The iPad research experiment, led by Steven Ellis, UC assistant professor of classics, and John Wallrodt, a senior research associate for the Department of Classics, has been featured on the National Geographic Channel as well as Apple's website. That's after the researchers took six iPads to UC's excavation site at Pompeii last summer. The iPads themselves were just being introduced at the time.
An armchair archaeologist has identified nearly 2,000 potentially important sites in Saudi Arabia by using Google Earth and without visiting the country.
David Kennedy, a professor of classics and ancient history at the University of Western Australia, used the satellite maps to pinpoint 1,977 potential archaeological sites, including 1,082 teardrop-shaped stone tombs.
Dr Kennedy told New Scientist magazine that he had verified that the images showed archaeological sites by asking a friend working in Saudi Arabia to photograph the locations.
Aerial and satellite imaging has been used in Britain to locate Iron Age and Roman sites as well as Nazca lines in Peru and Mayan ruins in Belize.
Few archaeologists have been given access to Saudi Arabia because of fears that focusing attention on civilisations which flourished before the rise of Islam could undermine the state religion.
In 1994, a council of Saudi clerics was reported to have issued an edict that preserving historical sites "could lead to polytheism and idolatry" - both punishable by death.
Saudi Arabia's rulers have, in recent years, allowed archaeologists to excavate some sites, including the spectacular but little-known ruins of Maidan Saleh, a 2,000-year-old city, but access to ancient sites has remained severely restricted.
As the crisis in Egypt continues, experts have expressed concern that the country’s priceless archaeological heritage could come under threat from vandals and looters, who have already stolen some of the country’s precious antiquities.Dr Bob Brier, an Egyptologist, told CNN the country was a “vast outdoor museum” and that the great monuments were definitely at risk.Meanwhile, a Reuters report says museums around the world are on “high alert” for artefacts recently stolen from Egyptian museums and archaeological digs after looters broke into the Egyptian museum in Cairo last week. A statement by London’s Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology said:"All of us who are friends of Egypt can help the efforts to stop looting of archaeological sites, stores and museums, by focusing on the international antiquities trade."The call was echoed by the British Museum, home of the famed Rosetta Stone, an inscription in Egyptian and Greek writing which allowed linguists to decode Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Museum said:"It is a matter of the greatest concern that these irreplaceable objects should be fully protected to ensure their safety and survival for future generations."The country's new Antiquities Minister, the well-known former Antiquites Council leader, Dr Zahi Hawass, had good news, according to Past Horizons:“I would like to tell the people, all over the world, the good news: the storage magazine that was looted in Qantara, in the Sinai, has had 288 objects returned! I cannot say exactly how many objects were lost, but it seems that the majority of what was stolen has been returned.”Hawass, known for his tough stand on the return of Egyptian antiquities, went on to say:“The commanders of the army are now protecting the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and all of the major sites of Egypt (Luxor, Aswan, Saqqara, and the pyramids of Giza) are safe. The twenty-four museums in Egypt, including the Coptic and Islamic museums in Cairo, are all safe, as well. I would like to say that I am very happy to see that the Egyptian people, young and old, stood as one person against the escaped prisoners to protect monuments all over the country. The monuments are safe because of both the army and the ordinary people.”
A chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Nubians shows that they were regularly consuming tetracycline, most likely in their beer. The finding is the strongest evidence yet that the art of making antibiotics, which officially dates to the discovery of penicillin in 1928, was common practice nearly 2,000 years ago.
The research, led by Emory anthropologist George Armelagos and medicinal chemist Mark Nelson of Paratek Pharmaceuticals, Inc., is published in theAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology.
“We tend to associate drugs that cure diseases with modern medicine,” Armelagos says. “But it’s becoming increasingly clear that this prehistoric population was using empirical evidence to develop therapeutic agents. I have no doubt that they knew what they were doing.”
Armelagos is a bioarcheologist and an expert on prehistoric and ancient diets. In 1980, he discovered what appeared to be traces of tetracycline in human bones from Nubia dated between A.D. 350 and 550, populations that left no written record. The ancient Nubian kingdom was located in present-day Sudan, south of ancient Egypt.
Armelagos and his fellow researchers later tied the source of the antibiotic to the Nubian beer. The grain used to make the fermented gruel contained the soil bacteria streptomyces, which produces tetracycline. A key question was whether only occasional batches of the ancient beer contained tetracycline, which would indicate accidental contamination with the bacteria.
Nelson, a leading expert in tetracycline and other antibiotics, became interested in the project after hearing Armelagos speak at a conference. “I told him to send me some mummy bones, because I had the tools and the expertise to extract the tetracycline,” Nelson says. “It’s a nasty and dangerous process. I had to dissolve the bones in hydrogen fluoride, the most dangerous acid on the planet.”
The results stunned Nelson. “The bones of these ancient people were saturated with tetracycline, showing that they had been taking it for a long time,” he says. “I’m convinced that they had the science of fermentation under control and were purposely producing the drug.” Even the tibia and skull belonging to a 4-year-old were full of tetracycline, suggesting that they were giving high doses to the child to try and cure him of illness, Nelson says.
Pigment-stained seashells, likely worn as necklaces by Neanderthals, suggest these early Europeans were not only stylish, but that they were also just as smart and crafty as humans in Africa were, according to a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The colorful mollusk shells, which date to 50,000 years ago, were recently found in Murcia Province, Spain. Since the shells were painted 10,000 years before modern humans are believed to have settled in Europe, this leaves little doubt that Neanderthals made the still eye-catching pieces.
Humans in Africa at the time created comparable objects, so lead author Joao Zilhao and his team believe both groups of hominids were on equal intellectual footing.
Neanderthal "intelligence was no different from ours," Zilhao, a professor of paleolithic archaeology at the University of Bristol, told Discovery News.
"Their societies had the same kind of band level organization documented among contemporary hunter-gatherers and inferred from prehistoric ones," he added.
Although most of the stained shells were perforated, the researchers think the holes occurred naturally, and that Neanderthals preferentially gathered the necklace-ready objects on nearby beaches.
A paint cup and ground up coloring agents were also found near the stained shells. One particularly well-preserved shell had a natural red coloration on one side while its reverse was painted with an orange pigment made out of the minerals goethite and hematite.
Anthropologists have unearthed the remains of an apparent Neanderthal cave sleeping chamber, complete with a hearth and nearby grass beds that might have once been covered with animal fur.
Neanderthals inhabited the cozy Late Pleistocene room, located within Esquilleu Cave in Cantabria, Spain, anywhere between 53,000 to 39,000 years ago, according to a Journal of Archaeological Science paper concerning the discovery.
Living the ultimate clean and literally green lifestyle, the Neanderthals appear to have constructed new beds out of grass every so often, using the old bedding material to help fuel the hearth.
"It is possible that the Neanderthals renewed the bedding each time they visited the cave," lead author Dan Cabanes told Discovery News.
Cabanes, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science's Kimmel Center for Archaeological Research, added that these hearth-side beds also likely served as sitting areas during waking hours for the Neanderthals.
"In some way, they were used to make the area near the hearths more comfortable," he said, mentioning that artifacts collected from various other Neanderthal sites suggest the inhabitants prepared stone tools, cooked, ate and snoozed near warming fires.
For this study, Cabanes and his team collected sediment samples from the Spanish cave. Detailed analysis of the samples allowed the scientists to reconstruct what materials were once present in certain parts of the cave at particular times.
The bedding material was identified based on the presence and arrangement of multiple phytoliths from grasses near the hearth area. Phytoliths are tiny fossilized particles formed of mineral matter by a once-living plant.
There was no evidence of plants growing, soil developing or animal transport of phytoliths via dung, so the scientists believe the only plausible explanation is that Neanderthals gathered the grass and placed it in this room of the cave.
While the hearth contained some grass phytoliths, most belonged to wood and bark, "indicating that this material was the main type of fuel used," according to the researchers. Some animal bones were also tossed into the hearth, perhaps to dispose of them after dinner and/or for use as extra fire fuel.
Evidence is building that Neanderthals in other locations constructed such functional living spaces within caves and rock shelters.
Earlier this year, Josep Vallverdu of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution and his team identified a "sleeping activity area" at Spain's Abric Romani rock shelter.
Similar to the Esquilleu Cave finds, Vallverdu and his colleagues discovered the remains of hearths spaced enough for seating and sleeping areas.
"This set of combustion activity areas suggests analogy with sleeping and resting activity areas of modern foragers," Vallverdu and his team wrote. They added that such information can allow anthropologists to estimate the size of Neanderthal populations, in addition to learning more about how they lived.
The big question, according to Cabanes, is how such a resourceful species went extinct.
"In my opinion, Neanderthal extinction may have been caused by several factors working at the same time," he said. "Environmental changes, a slightly different social organization, a different rate of reproduction, spread of diseases, direct competition for resources and many other factors may have played an important role in the fate of Neanderthals."
He and other researchers have also not ruled out that Neanderthals were simply absorbed into the modern human population.
Cabanes is hopeful that future analysis of phytoliths, as well as other less obvious clues that have often been overlooked by scientists in the past, may shed additional light on the still-mysterious Neanderthals.
The 34th session of the World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia has declared the site of Siega Verde in Salamanca, new World Heritage Site in extension of Coa Valley in Portugal.
The Prehistoric rock-art ensemble in the Côa Valley, Portugal, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1998, is an exceptional concentration of rock carvings from the Upper Palaeolithic (22,000-10,000 B.C.) and is on a scale that makes it the most outstanding example of early human artistic activity in this form anywhere in the world. The archaeological zone of Siega Verde, in the Castilla y León region (Spain), completes the site. The 645 engravings were made on an impressive cliff, the result of erosion by the river. They are mostly figurative, representing animals, although some schematic and geometric figures have also been identified. The prehistoric rock-art sites of the Côa Valley and Siega Verde represent the most remarkable open-air ensemble of Palaeolithic art on the Iberian Peninsula.
A 5,000 year old ceremonial building in Orkney (Scotland) has revealed a unique treasure. Two stone slabs bearing red, yellow and orange pigment are the first evidence of painted walls ever found in the UK. "To find coloured Neolithic paint - 5,000-year-old Dulux - is something we never expected to see", said Nick Card, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. The discovery was made by 22-year old Dutch archaeologist Anniek Manshanden, who was clearly thrilled. She said: "To have found evidence of the first Neolithic painted building is awesome."
The paint will be subjected to laboratory analysis to determine its composition. It is probably based upon hematite or limonite, two iron ores found in the region. These would have been finely ground and mixed with animal fat, milk or eggs to create pigments.
Since this is the first finding of its kind, it is not known if walls were commonly painted or if this was reserved for ceremonial structures such as the 'cathedral' at Ness of Brodgar where the discovery was made. There is speculation that decorative markings carved into the sandstone of the interior walls may also have been enhanced with color.
Sources: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations, BBC News (26 July 2010), The Scotsman (28 July 2010)