A rare fossil of a rhinoceros that roamed what is now Turkey reveals the tale of a sudden violent death—by volcano, 9.2 million years ago.
The ancient rhino’s skull and jaw have a rough surface and brittle teeth. Paleontologist Pierre-Olivier Antoine of the University of Montpellier in France thinks that’s because volcanic rock fragments from the Cardak caldera pelted the rhino. A speeding river of ash and rock probably dismembered the animal and “baked” its skull at temperatures reaching 840ºF (450°C).
Just 2 percent of fossils are found in volcanic rock, because the heat usually incinerates organic matter. It’s even rarer to find a mammal fossil. Read more.
After tens of thousands of years buried and exposed to the elements, it can be rare to find complete dinosaur skeletons. However, that’s exactly what archaeologists did working at a site about 30 miles east of Paris, France. The archaeologists are working along the Changis-sur-Marne river bank and are unearthing a rare almost complete skeleton of a mammoth.
Europe’s oldest prehistoric town unearthed in Bulgaria
The prehistoric town at Provadia features two-storey houses and a defensive wall.
BBC NEWS EUROPE - Archaeologists in Bulgaria say they have uncovered the oldest prehistoric town found to date in Europe.
The walled fortified settlement, near the modern town of Provadia, is thought to have been an important centre for salt production.
Its discovery in north-east Bulgaria may explain the huge gold hoard found nearby 40 years ago.
Archaeologists believe that the town was home to some 350 people and dates back to between 4700 and 4200 BC.
That is about 1,500 years before the start of ancient Greek civilisation.
The residents boiled water from a local spring and used it to create salt bricks, which were traded and used to preserve meat.
Salt was a hugely valuable commodity at the time, which experts say could help to explain the huge defensive stone walls which ringed the town.
Excavations at the site, beginning in 2005, have also uncovered the remains of two-storey houses, a series of pits used for rituals, as well as parts of a gate and bastion structures.
A small necropolis, or burial ground, was discovered at the site earlier this year and is still being studied by archaeologists.
“We are not talking about a town like the Greek city-states, ancient Rome or medieval settlements, but about what archaeologists agree constituted a town in the fifth millennium BC,” Vasil Nikolov, a researcher with Bulgaria’s National Institute of Archaeology, told the AFP news agency.
Archaeologist Krum Bachvarov from the institute said the latest find was “extremely interesting”.
“The huge walls around the settlement, which were built very tall and with stone blocks… are also something unseen in excavations of prehistoric sites in south-east Europe so far,” he told AFP.
Similar salt mines near Tuzla in Bosnia and Turda in Romania help prove the existence of a series of civilisations which also mined copper and gold in the Carpathian and Balkan mountains during the same period.
BBC Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe says this latest discovery almost certainly explains the treasure found exactly 40 years ago at a cemetery on the outskirts of Varna, 35km (21 miles) away, the oldest hoard of gold objects found anywhere in the world.
Deep within the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo are four narrow shafts, discovered in 1872—the two shafts in the “King’s Chamber” extend to open air, but the two in the “Queen’s Chamber” disappear puzzlingly into the architecture. Academics have long debated their purpose , but because no human could access the narrow spaces, no one could confirm their theories—but now we can send robot explorers instead. In 2011, the University of Leeds designed and built a robot as part of the Djedi Project, specifically for scoping out virtually inaccessible archaeological sites. The robot is well-equipped with a coring drill, a miniature robot that can fit through 19 mm holes, and an ultrasonic device that can determine the thickness of walls. It also has a “micro snake” camera that can see around corners, and on a mission through the shafts into a tiny hidden chamber, the Djedi robot sent back images of 4,500 year old markings. Researchers pieced these images together to reveal hieroglyphs marked in red paint. Red-painted numbers and graffiti are quite common around Giza—they’re often marks from masons or work gangs, depicting numbers, dates and names. These particular markings have not been seen by human eyes for thousands of years, and archaeologists think they might help us understand the purpose of the mysterious shafts.
For centuries, the peat-cutting of bogs in northwestern Europe has turned up strangely preserved human remains, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that we realised these bodies actually date back to prehistoric times. Most date back to the Iron Age, around 800 BC to 200 AD, but some are from as recent as 1000 AD—and despite their age, the bodies retain their skin, internal organs, and even their clothes. This natural mummification is a result of the highly acidic chemistry of peat bogs, creating remarkable conditions for preservation. The acidic, low-temperature, oxygen-poor environment effectively immobilises bacteria activity and hinders decomposition—the pH level of the water is similar to vinegar, so it almost pickles the bodies. The process of preservation has been described as “slow-cooking”, as it severely tans the bodies to dark brown. However, when they’re exposed to normal atmosphere, they rapidly begin to decompose—many specimens have been lost this way. Some of these bodies may have ended up in the bogs by unluckily losing their way and falling in, but most show signs of trauma and torture, supporting the idea that they were execution victims or ritual human sacrifices who suffered violent deaths.
(Image Credit: Robert Clark)
The Hunter of Bäckaskog
Now known as “the Bäckaskog Woman”, this Stone Age hunter/fisher lived and died around 9,000 years ago. She lived at a time when the climate was warm and humid in Sweden, amid dense forests of oak, elm and ash. Fishing became more important to her people as the sea level rose and new lagoons were created near her living territory.
She was buried in Kiaby, Skåne, at the age of 45. Judging by the pollen evidence recovered from the burial, the funeral took place in springtime, when birch and hazel were in bloom.
The Bäckaskog woman is the oldest and most famous skeleton found in Sweden. In her grave, a spear head was found, suitable for hunting and fishing, made of bone and sharp flint blades.
Because of the grave goods interred with her, in particular the spear and a chisel, archaeologists initially assumed that she must be a man—despite her gracile skeleton. She was first excavated in 1939, and was known as “the Fisherman” until her bones were finally subjected to a rigorous osteological study in 1970.
This was when it was discovered that “the Fisherman” was not only a female, but had given birth to several children in her lifetime—possibly as many as ten!
She was found alone with no other graves discovered nearby. In general, she remains a popular exhibit in the prehistoric section of the National Historical Museum of Sweden…but she also stands as a lasting reminder of the Victorian gender stereotypes which have always been imposed thoughtlessly and needlessly on the evidence of the human past.
Whether you have just excavated new material, or are simply re-publishing old material, do your osteology—always! Just because a grave’s artifact assemblage is gendered male or female according to your own cultural biases does not mean that the actual occupant will match up to your expectations.
Geyvall, Nils-Gustaf. 1970. “The Fisherman from Barum—mother of several children! Paleo-atomic finds in the skeleton from Bäckaskog” Fornvännen, the Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Reserach, H. 4, 1970. pp 281-289.
In a “eureka” moment worthy of Dr. Frankenstein, scientists have discovered that two 3,000-year-old Scottish “bog bodies” are actually made from the remains of six people.
According to new isotopic dating and DNA experiments, the mummies—a male and a female—were assembled from various body parts, although the purpose of the gruesome composites is likely lost to history.
The mummies were discovered more than a decade ago below the remnants of 11th-century houses at Cladh Hallan, a prehistoric village on the island of South Uist (map), off the coast of Scotland.
The bodies had been buried in the fetal position 300 to 600 years after death. (See bog body pictures.)
Based on the condition and structures of the skeletons, scientists had previously determined that the bodies had been placed in a peat bog just long enough to preserve them and then removed. The skeletons were then reburied hundreds of years later.
Terry Brown, a professor of biomedical archaeology at the University of Manchester, said there were clues that these bog bodies were more than they seemed.
On the female skeleton, “the jaw didn’t fit into the rest of the skull,” he said. “So Mike [Parker Pearson, of Sheffield University] came and said, Could we try to work it out through DNA testing?”
Brown sampled DNA from the female skeleton’s jawbone, skull, arm, and leg. The results show that bones came from different people, none of whom even shared the same mother, he said.
The female is made from body parts that date to around the same time period. But isotopic dating showed that the male mummy is made from people who died a few hundred years apart.
Danish archaeologists believe they have found the remains of the fabled Viking town Sliasthorp by the Schlei bay in northern Germany, near the Danish border.
According to texts from the 8th century, the town served as the centre of power for the first Scandinavian kings.
But historians have doubted whether Sliasthorp even existed. This doubt is now starting to falter, as archaeologists from Aarhus University are making one amazing discovery after the other in the German soil.
“This is huge. Wherever we dig, we find houses – we reckon there are around 200 of them,” says Andres Dobat, a lecturer in prehistoric archaeology at Aarhus University.
“And the houses we have dug up so far were filled with finds: beads, jewellery, pieces of broken glass, axes, keys and arrowheads.” Read more.