Audio News for February 4th to February 10th, 2007.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for February 4th to February 10th, 2007.
Back to the Stone Age in German hunting site
Our first story is from Germany, where archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 120,000-year-old Stone Age hunting camp. The discovery was made in an open-cast lignite mine near Inden in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. According to archaeologist Jürgen Thissen, from the Rhineland Commission for Historical Sites, the find was the first of its kind in the region, and has major European importance. Thissen and his assistants came across postholes of three shelters in the open-cast mine last fall. Two fireplaces with evidence of use were found, along with more than 600 stone tools such as a knife and serrated blades. A hand ax, typical of Middle Paleolithic cultures in Europe, was discovered in the mine in December 2005, prompting the full excavation. The team used the mine's mechanical shovel to remove 30,000 tons of soil, exposing ground that had last been seen during the Eemian or Sangamon interglacial era. That warm spell lasted approximately from 130,000 to 119,000 years ago. Thissen theorized that this was a temporary camp, which would have been used by one or more groups of hunter-gatherers during a summer hunting expedition. In northern Germany, the climate at the time would have been similar to the Mediterranean today.
Early human tooth tells new North American arrival story
From the United States, a study of the oldest known sample of human DNA in the Americas suggests that humans arrived in the New World recently around 15,000 years ago. DNA was extracted from a tooth 10,300 years old, which was found in 1966 in a cave on Prince of Wales Island in southeastern Alaska. The sample represents an unknown lineage of people arriving in the Americas. This early line may shed light on where the descendants of the Alaskan who lost this tooth might have gone. Comparing the DNA found with samples from 3,500 Native Americans, researchers discovered that only one percent of the modern native population have genetic patterns that matched the prehistoric sample. Those who match live primarily on the Pacific coast of North and South America, suggesting that the first Americans may have spread through the New World along a coastal route. According to Brian Kemp, a molecular anthropologist who sequenced the DNA, the discovery emphasizes the importance of genetic research in understanding human migration. Kemp, a research associate at Vanderbilt University, believes that information contained in old skeletons will clarify the arrival of the first people in the Americas and perhaps identify where Native Americans originated in Asia. When and how the first people came to the Americas has been a subject of intense debate. The most familiar idea is that the first to arrive descended from prehistoric hunters who walked across a thousand-mile land bridge from Asia to Alaska around 15,000 years ago. The oldest human remains discovered so far are 13,000 years old, but other scientists propose that the first Americans arrived up to 40,000 years ago. Using material taken from the tooth, Kemp isolated fragments of mitochondrial DNA. Drawing on a genetic database of 3,500 Native Americans, Kemp found 47 individuals in North and South America who exhibited the same genetic markers as the Alaskan cave sample. Some of the samples were from living people and others from ancient bones. He then compared the DNA of the tooth itself with the matching modern samples and tracked the mutations that had occurred in that DNA over time. By measuring the rate of mutation, Kemp found that molecular evolution, as it is sometimes called, suggests entry into the Americas around 15,000 years ago. That marker is quite consistent with the archaeological record. All of the DNA lineages found among Native Americans are associated with five founding lineages believed to have originated in Asia. But the cave DNA turns out to be an independent founding lineage. Of the 47 samples that matched the tooth DNA, four were from Chumash Indians living along California's central coast. DNA samples of people living in Japan and northeast Asia show some of the genetic mutations found in the cave tooth and Chumash samples. Kemp believes that rapidly advancing DNA technology will help scientists piece together the story of the first Americans.
Italian burial reveals a prehistoric Romeo and Juliet
In Italy, archaeologists have unearthed two Neolithic skeletons found locked in an embrace near the city of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Dating back 5,000 to 6,000 years, the skeletons were found outside Mantua, just south of Verona. According to Elena Menotti, the archaeologist who led the dig, the prehistoric pair is believed to be a man and a woman and thought to have died young, based on examination of their still-intact teeth. Menotti called the find unique, since double burials from the Neolithic are unheard of. Archaeologists digging in the region have found some 30 graves, all single, as well as the remains of prosperous villages filled with artifacts made of flint, pottery and animal horns. According to Luca Bondioli, an anthropologist at Rome's National Prehistoric and Ethnographic Museum, although the Mantua pair strikes an unusual pose, archaeologists have found other prehistoric burials in which the dead hold hands or have other contact. He noted that the Neolithic era is a very formative period of our society, when the roots of religious sentiment were formed. Menotti believes the burial was a ritual, but is not sure what it means. Experts might never determine the exact nature of the pair's relationship, but Menotti said she had little doubt it was born of a deep sentiment and that it was a very emotional discovery. In her words (quote): "From thousands of years ago we feel the strength of this love. Yes, we must call it love." (Unquote) Alongside the couple, archaeologists found flint tools, including arrowheads and a knife. Researchers will study the artifacts and the skeletons to determine the burial site's age and how old the two were when they died. Establishing the cause of death could prove almost impossible; unless evidence on the bones point to a debilitating disease or damage from a weapon. Bondioli concluded the two bodies, which cuddle closely while facing each other on their sides, were probably buried at the same time, an indication of a possible sudden and tragic death.
Ancient site in Antigua is under threat
Our final story is from Antigua, where a land-clearing project is threatening a unique ancient settlement in the southern region of the country. The site is where Arawak Indians lived from roughly 500 BC until the arrival of Christopher Columbus. According to archaeologist Reginald Murphy, crews have begun removing trees on privately owned property and risk damaging pottery and other artifacts at Indian Creek, one of the most important archaeological sites in the Caribbean. The low-lying site in the island's interior was partially excavated in 1973 by Yale University researchers led by Irving Rouse. Rouse used the different pottery styles found to establish a cultural chronology of the Arawaks. Antigua has two other valuable archaeological sites; one dating to around 500 BC and another that was settled closer to the arrival of European explorers. But only the Indian Creek site was occupied continuously throughout that period. Murphy stressed that this development and the lack of time to excavate is causing the loss of the single most important heritage site in Antigua. Arawak Indians inhabited many Caribbean islands and large areas of South America before the European conquest. Small numbers of their descendants live in areas of Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela. UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, has asked Antiguan authorities to have Indian Creek declared a World Heritage Site.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!