Audio News for November 27th to December 3rd, 2011.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 27th to December 3rd, 2011.

South American animals brought to Caribbean island in prehistoric period


In our first story, from the tiny island of Carriacou (Kerry ah koo), an archaeological research team has found one of the most diverse collections of prehistoric non-native animal remains in the Caribbean.  The researchers, from North Carolina State University, the University of Washington and the University of Florida, found evidence of five species introduced to Carriacou from South America between 1,000 and 1,400 years ago.  

Only one of these species, the opossum, is still found on the island.  The other species were pig-like peccaries, armadillos, guinea pigs, and small rodents called agoutis (a go tis).  
Researchers believe the animals were sources of food, but the scarcity of the remains and the few sites indicate that the animals were not for daily consumption.  According to Dr. Scott Fitzpatrick, an associate professor of anthropology at NC State, the team suspects that they may have been foods eaten by people of high status, or used in ritual events.  

The team found the animal remains at two different sites on the island, and used carbon dating techniques to determine their age.  The opossum and agouti were the most common, with the latter remains reflecting the longest presence, running from AD 600 to 1400.  The guinea pig remains had the shortest possible period, running from AD 985 to 1030.
These dates are consistent with similar findings on other Caribbean islands.  However, while researchers have found these species on other islands, it is incredibly rare for one island to have remains from all of these species.  The diversity is surprising, given that Carriacou is one of the smallest settled islands in the Caribbean.  This combination of small geographical area and robust prehistoric animal diversity, along with evidence for artifact trade with other islands and South America, suggests that Carriacou may have had some significance in the pre-Columbian Caribbean as a center of interaction between island communities.  

The remains are significant because the team found them in digs at well-documented prehistoric villages.  Additionally, the team dated the remains themselves as well as materials, such as charcoal, found near the remains.  The find contributes to our understanding of the region before the arrival of Columbus, and suggests Carriacou may have been more important than previously thought.  


Stonehenge may have been sun worship site


In England, an international archaeological survey team found two previously undiscovered pits at Stonehenge that point to it being a place of sun worship before the worshipers erected the famous massive stones.  The pits, positioned on celestial alignment at the site, may have contained stones, posts, or fires to mark the rising and setting of the sun.  
Researchers propose that the pits, positioned within the Neolithic Cursus pathway, could have formed a procession route for ancient rituals celebrating the sun moving across the sky at the midsummer solstice.  A Cursus comprises two parallel linear ditches with banks on either side closed off at the end.  The team also discovered an opening in the northern side of the Cursus, which may have been an entrance and exit point for processions taking place within the pathway.  
These discoveries hint that ancient peoples were using the site as a ritual center prior to the stones erection around 4600 years ago.
Archaeologists have understood for a long time that the builders of Stonehenge intended it to mark astronomical events.  Farming societies, whose everyday concerns with growing crops linked their daily lives to the passage of the seasons and in particular, the sun, on which their livelihoods depended, built the structures.  This new evidence raises exciting questions about how complex rituals within the Stonehenge landscape were conducted and how processions along or around the Cursus were organized at the time Stonehenge was in use.

The team, a part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project, is using geophysical imaging techniques to investigate the site.  The archaeologists from the University of Birmingham and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection in Vienna have been surveying the subsurface at the landmark since summer 2010. 

Polynesian ancestors also settled in Papua New Guinea


Moving across the world to Papua New Guinea, a massive cache of artifacts including thousands of fragments of pottery is providing the first evidence that the sea-faring Lapita people settled in mainland Papua New Guinea.  

The Lapita culture developed on islands off the east coast of Papua New Guinea around 3500 years ago.  Approximately three hundred years later the Lapita people, and ancestors of Polynesians, started heading east to become the first humans to settle the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji, moving later to Samoa and Tonga.  The findings, presented at the Australian Archaeological Association Conference, show evidence of their settlement in the remains of intricately patterned pottery used for rituals.  However, while researchers found fragments of the pottery on mainland Papua New Guinea, archaeologists believed the Lapita people never settled in this area.  According to Professor Ian McNiven from Monash University, researchers thought that these were an island people only; as there was no evidence of these people going onto the mainland at all until their findings near Port Moresby (Mores bee).
Between 2009 and 2010, McNiven's team of archaeologists and local community members excavated several sites at Caution Bay, north-west of Port Moresby.  When they dug deeper down between 1 and 2 meters below the surface, they found large amounts of evidence of the Lapita people.  Buried under 110 tons of sediment lay food remains of shells, fish bones and turtle bones that indicated the marine-loving people lived in several villages that extend one square kilometer inland.  The excavations also revealed a wealth of tools:  stone tools, cutting tools and stone axes made out of volcanic rock as well as Lapita pottery fragments.
The largest site, known as Bogi (Bo ghee) 1, contained thousands of fragments of pottery.  Also included in the find were scraping tools made of rare obsidian found on West Fergusson Island, 500 kilometers to the east.  

The new finds indicate the Lapita weren't just people moving out into the Pacific moving further and further east.  They actually settled on the mainland.  Extensive radiocarbon dating on the site indicates the material is between 2500 and 2900 years old.  

The discovery may also give clues about the origin of Torres Strait Islanders.  Researchers found 2500-year-old pottery in the Torres Strait Islands.  Ancient Torres Strait Islanders, like Australian Aboriginals, did not make pots.  McNiven believes the Lapita people came around the southern part of Papua New Guinea, settled near Port Morseby and eventually their descendents moved into the Torres Strait.


Modern humans migrating out of Africa left trail of stone breadcrumbs


Our final story is from the Sultanate of Oman, in the southeastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, where a series of new archaeological discoveries reveals the timing and identity of one of the first modern human groups to migrate out of Africa.
An international team of archaeologists and geologists working in the Dhofar (DOH-far) Mountains of southern Oman, led by Dr. Jeffrey Rose of the University of Birmingham, report finding over 100 new sites classified as Nubian Middle Stone Age.  Researchers have identified distinctive Nubian stone tools throughout the Nile Valley; however, this is the first time archaeologists have found such sites outside of Africa.  

According to the team, the evidence from Oman provides a trail of stone breadcrumbs left by early humans migrating across the Red Sea on their journey out of Africa.  According to Rose, after a decade of searching in southern Arabia for some clue that might help his team understand early human expansion, they’ve at last found the evidence of the early human exit from Africa.
What makes this find so exciting is that the answer is a scenario almost never considered by researchers.  These new findings challenge long-held assumptions about the timing and route of early human expansion out of Africa.  Using a technique called Optically Stimulated Luminescence or OSL to date one of the sites in Oman; researchers have determined that Nubian Middle Stone Age toolmakers had entered Arabia by 106,000 years ago, if not earlier.
This date is considerably older than geneticists have put forth for the modern human exodus from Africa, which they peg at 70,000 to 40,000 years ago.  Even more surprising, the team found all of the Nubian sites far inland, divergent to the currently accepted theory that envisions early human groups moving along the coast of southern Arabia.  

This is an example of disconnect between theoretical models versus real evidence on the ground, according to Professor Emeritus Anthony Marks of Southern Methodist University.  The coastal expansion hypothesis looks reasonable on paper, but there is simply no archaeological evidence to back it up.

Genetics predict an expansion out of Africa about 70,000 thousand years ago, yet there have been three separate discoveries published this year with evidence for humans in Arabia thousands, if not tens of thousands of years prior to this date.  The presence of Nubian Middle Stone Age sites in Oman corresponds to a wet period in Arabia's climatic history, when profuse rains fell across the peninsula and transformed its barren deserts to sprawling grasslands.  For a while, South Arabia became a lush green paradise rich in resources of large game, abundant freshwater and high-quality flint with which to make stone tools.  The early humans who spread from Africa into Arabia were opportunistic hunters traveling along river networks like highways.  Whether or not these pioneers were able to survive in Arabia during the hyper-arid conditions of the Last Ice Age is another matter; a mystery that will require archaeologists to continue combing the deserts of southern Arabia, hot on the trail of stone breadcrumbs.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!