Archaeologists uncover a 5,000-year-old water system in Iran
A 5000-year-old water system has been unearthed during the second season of a rescue excavation project at the Farash ancient historical site at the Seimareh Dam reservoir area in western Iran.
An archaeological team led by Leili Niakan has been carrying out a second season of rescue excavation since March after the Seimareh Dam came on stream, the Persian service of CHN reported on Monday.
The team plans to save ancients artifacts and gather information about the ancient sites, which are being submerged by the dam that became operational in early March.
This system, which comprises a small pool and an earthenware pipeline, was discovered on the eastern beach of the dam on the border between Ilam Province and Lorestan Province, Niakan said.
Part of the water system has been submerged as the water level has risen. However, the team covered that part of the system beforehand to save it for more archaeological excavations while the dam is out of commission.
Each earthenware conduit measures about one meter in length and it is likely that they were made and baked in this region, Niakan stated.
The team is still working on the site to unearth the rest of the pipeline, which may lead the archaeologists to the source of the pipeline, she added.
Over 100 sites dating back to the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Copper Age, Stone Age, Parthian, Sassanid, and early Islamic periods were identified at the dam’s reservoir in 2007.
Afterwards, 40 archaeological teams from the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR) were assigned to carry out Iran’s largest rescue excavation operation on the 40 ancient sites at the reservoirs of the dam in the first season.
Signs of the Mesopotamians’ influence in the region were also identified by studies carried out on the ancient strata at the reservoir.
Most of the sites have been flooded by the dam and the rest will go underwater after the filling of the dam is completed.
How DNA has shed light on the Irish pharaoh and his ancient tomb builders
A team of Irish geneticists and archaeologists reported that a man whose cremated remains were interred at the heart of Newgrange was the product of a first-degree incestuous union, either between parent and child or brother and sister.
The finding, combined with other genetic and archaeological evidence, suggests that the people who built these mounds lived in a hierarchical society with a ruling elite that considered themselves so close to divine that, like the Egyptian pharaohs, they could break the ultimate taboos.
In Ireland, more than 5,000 years ago people farmed and raised cattle. But they were also moved, like their contemporaries throughout Europe, to create stunning monuments to the dead, some with precise astronomical orientations.
Stonehenge, a later megalith in the same broad tradition as Newgrange, is famous for its alignment to the summer and winter solstice. The central underground room at Newgrange is built so that as the sun rises around the time of the winter solstice it illuminates the whole chamber through what is called a roof box.
Archaeologists have long wondered what kind of society built such a structure, which they think must have had a ritual or spiritual significance. If, as the new findings indicate, it was a society that honoured the product of an incestuous union by interring his remains at the most sacred spot in a sacred place, then the ancient Irish may well have had a ruling religious hierarchy, perhaps similar to those in ancient societies in Egypt, Peru, and Hawaii, which also allowed marriages between brother and sister.
In a broad survey of ancient DNA from bone samples previously collected at Irish burial sites thousands of years old, the researchers also found genetic connections among people interred in other Irish passage tombs, named for their underground chambers or passages. That suggests that the ruling elite were related to one another.
Daniel G Bradley, of Trinity College, Dublin, a specialist in ancient DNA who led the team with Lara M Cassidy, a specialist in population genetics and Irish prehistory also at Trinity College, said the genome of the man who was a product of incest was a complete surprise. They and their colleagues reported their findings in the journal Nature.
Newgrange is part of a necropolis called Bru na Boinne, or the palace of the Boyne, dating to around 5,000 years ago that includes three large passage tombs and many other monuments. It is one of the most remarkable of Neolithic monumental sites in all of Europe.
Of the site’s tombs, Bradley said, “Newgrange is the apogee.” It is not just that it incorporates 200,000 tons of earth and stone, some brought from kilometers away. It also has a precise orientation to the winter sun.
On any day, “when you go into the chamber, it’s a sort of numinous space, it’s a liminal space, a place that inspires a sort of awe,” Bradley said.
That a bone recovered from this spot produced such a genomic shocker seemed beyond coincidence. This had to be a prominent person, the researchers reasoned. He wasn’t placed there by accident, and his parentage was unlikely to be an accident. “Whole chunks of the genome that he inherited from his mother and father, whole chunks of those were just identical,” Bradley said. The conclusion was unavoidable: “It’s a pharaoh, I said. It’s an Irish pharaoh.”
David Reich of Harvard University, one of the ancient DNA specialists who has tracked the grand sweep of prehistoric human migration around the globe, and was not involved in the research, called the journal article “amazing.”
“I think it’s part of the wave of the future about how ancient DNA will shed light on social structure, which is really one of its most exciting promises,” he said, although he had some reservations about evidence that the elite was genetically separate from the common people, a kind of royal family.
Bettina Schulz Paulsson, a prehistoric archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said the researchers’ finding that suggested a religious hierarchy was a “very attractive hypothesis.”
The paper is rich with other detail, including the discovery that an infant had Down syndrome. The authors believe this is the oldest record of Down syndrome. Chemical tests of the bone also showed that the infant had been breastfed and that he was placed in an important tomb. Both of those facts suggest that he was well cared for, in keeping with numerous other archaeological finds of children and adults with illnesses or disabilities who were supported by their cultures.
Cassidy said they also found DNA in other remains that indicated relatives of the man who was a child of royal incest were placed in other significant tombs. “This man seemed to form a distinct genetic cluster with other individuals from passage tombs across the island,” she said.
She said “we also found a few direct kinship links,” ancient genomes of individuals who were distant cousins. That contributed to the idea that there was an elite who directed the building of the mounds. In that context, it made sense that the incest was intentional. That’s not something that can be proved, of course, but other societies have encouraged brother-sister incest.
“The few examples where it is socially accepted,” she said, are “extremely stratified societies with an elite class who are able to break rules.”
The latest science approaches have been used by historians from Cardiff University and the University of Sheffield to provide new insight into life during the Norman Conquest of England.
Until now, the story of the Conquest has primarily been told from the evidence of the elite classes of the time. But little has been known about how it affected everyday people’s lives.
A variety of bioarchaeological methods were used in the research team, which included academics at Bristol University, to associate human and animal bones recovered from sites across Oxford, along with ceramics used for cooking.
Their results suggest only short-term fluctuations in food supplies following the Conquest which didn’t adversely affect the population’s overall health.
There is evidence the Norman invasion led to more controlled and standardized mass agricultural practices. Pork became a more popular choice and dairy products were used less. But on the whole, a diet dominated by vegetables, cereals beef, and mutton remained largely unchanged.
Dr. Elizabeth Craig-Atkins of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology said: “Examining archaeological evidence of the diet and health of ordinary people who lived during this time gives us a detailed picture of their everyday experiences and lifestyles.
Despite the huge political and economic changes that were happening, our analysis suggests the Conquest may have only had a limited impact on most people’s diet and health.
“There is certainly evidence that people experienced periods where food was scarce. But following this, an intensification in farming meant people generally had a more steady food supply and consistent diet. Aside from pork becoming a more popular food choice, eating habits and cooking methods remained unchanged to a large extent.”
Researchers used a technique called stable isotope analysis on bones to compare 36 humans found in various locations around Oxford, including Oxford Castle, who had lived between the 10th and 13th centuries.
Signals from the food we consume are archived as chemical tracers in our bones, allowing scientists to investigate the quality and variety of a person’s diet long after they have died.
The team found that there wasn’t a huge difference between the health of the individuals, who were alive at different points before and after the Conquest.
Levels of protein and carbohydrate consumption were similar in the group and evidence of bone conditions related to poor diet — such as rickets and scurvy — were rare. However, high-resolution analysis of teeth showed evidence of short-term changes in health and diet in early life during this transitional phase.
Isotope analysis was also used on 60 animals found at the same sites, to ascertain how they were raised. Studies of pig bones found their diets became more consistent and richer in animal protein after the Conquest, suggesting pig farming was intensified under Norman rule. They were likely living in the town and being fed scraps instead of natural vegetable fodder.
Fragments of pottery were examined using organic residue analysis. When food is cooked in ceramic pots, fats are absorbed into the vessel, allowing researchers to extract them.
The analysis showed that pots were used to cook vegetables like cabbage as well as meat such as lamb, mutton, or goat across the conquest. Researchers say the use of dairy fats reduced after the Conquest and that pork or chicken became more popular.
Dr. Richard Madgwick, based in Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion, said: “To our knowledge, this is the very first time globally that human osteology, organic residues analysis and isotope analysis of incremental dentine and bone have been combined in a single study.
“It is only with this innovative and diverse suite of methods that we have been able to tell the story of how the Conquest affected diet and health in the non-elite, a somewhat marginalized group until now.”
The dietary impact of the Norman Conquest: A multiproxy archaeological investigation of Oxford, UK, is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Rancher finds the strange rock on his farm, it was not what he had in mind at all
A rancher came across an old bone sticking out of his desert property near La Flecha in the Patagonia region of Argentina four years ago. With the recent news of exciting dinosaur finds in that country in mind, he scratched around some more. Then he went to a local museum to ask paleontologists to come to look for more fossils.
Many important dinosaur discoveries are made by non-experts in just this casual way. The rancher’s find soon led to the exposure of skeletal remains of six of the biggest titanosaurs. These herbivores lived about 100 million years ago, in the Late Cretaceous Period, on all continents, including Antarctica. They seemed especially plentiful in southern lands.
Now, the most imposing one of these dinosaurs from the far south of South America, assembled from 84 fossil pieces excavated from the rancher’s land, is the newest eyeful of ancient life on display at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. The hulking skeleton cast made its debut as a permanent attraction. Museum officials and scientists called it a must-see addition to the ranks of such popular icons as the institution’s great blue whale and the fierce Tyrannosaurus rex.
“There’s nothing like finding a great new fossil, especially such a huge one,” said Michael J. Novacek, the museum’s senior vice president, provost of science and a curator of paleontology.
The new research is expected to yield insights into the physiology of dinosaurs and how they were able to grow and function as such large creatures.
“Paleontology has become less geological and more biological in the last 20 years or so,” said Mark A. Norell, chairman of the paleontology division at the museum and a leading dinosaur researcher. He cited the field’s new “geochemical tools” for determining diet, growth patterns, and locomotion. “All of us are simply biologists who work on fossils,” he added.
The exhibit is not only a centerpiece for the museum’s fossil collections but also the start of a wide range of dinosaur programs for the year, including symposiums and another exhibition, “Dinosaurs Among Us,”
The Patagonian skeleton was not an easy fit in its New York home. At 122 feet in length, it was a bit too long for the gallery. Part of its 39-foot-long neck extends through an opening in a wall toward the elevator banks as if to welcome visitors to the fossil floors.
This titanosaur was a young adult, gender undetermined. Its appetite for all kinds of vegetation must have been prodigious. Based on bone sizes, researchers estimated that this individual weighed 70 tons — as much as 10 African elephants, the heaviest land animals today. Think of its possible heft if it were fully grown. Think of it satisfying its huge appetite by stretching its long neck to graze far and wide. With only a few shifts in position, it might have mowed the equivalent of all the grass in Yankee Stadium in a morning.
Weight was also a factor in preparing the skeleton cast for display, a task undertaken by Research Casting International in Canada. The actual mineralized fossils were too heavy to mount. Instead, all “bones” are made from lightweight fiberglass based on digital copies of the original fossils.
Much of the grueling excavation leading to the discovery was done by teams led by José Luis Carballido and Diego Pol, paleontologists at Paleontological Museum Egidio Feruglio in Argentina. They began excavating for months at a time after the rancher’s visit. Sometimes it took a week of digging to isolate a single femur or a forelimb. Thighs and upper arms are critical to judging the size and weight of a dinosaur.
Dr. Pol said the excavations revealed that at least six of these giant individuals, all young adults, had died at the site of what had been a flood plain near a river. Their deaths had happened at three distinct times, anywhere from a few years to centuries apart. Like many herding animals, they may have become isolated from the group and died of stress and hunger near their watering hole.
“That’s when we realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Dr. Pol said. Dinosaurs are the big game to fossil hunters, and these were some of the biggest plant-eating dinosaurs ever found.
The size and distinctive shape of an eight-foot femur of one specimen astonished scientists. This appeared to be a previously unknown titanosaur species, yet unnamed. Dr. Pol said a report that is being prepared may soon propose a formal species name.
In a bravura moment, Dr. Pol had his picture taken stretched out on the ground beside the femur, about the size of a living room couch. The photograph caught the attention of paleontologists at the natural history museum in New York, where Dr. Pol had done his Ph.D. research. “Maybe we can get that thing,” one said. “That would look great for a renovated dinosaur gallery,” another said.
Early last year, Dr. Novacek signed the deal with the Argentine museum to build the full-size skeleton cast for permanent display in New York. On a visit a few days before the titanosaur’s unveiling, workers were applying finishing touches as Dr. Norell paused at the entrance, under the watchful eye and toothy jaw of the star attraction.
“I guarantee you are going to remember this first impression,” Dr. Norell said. “Seeing something like this, you don’t quite have anything to compare its size and aspect with.”
He was right. The dinosaur was inexpressibly strange and big. Once again, we are reminded of what we know: Dinosaurs mostly were big, an engaging mystery and a challenge. The titanosaur’s arrival at the museum may inspire a new understanding of these incredible creatures. It is exciting enough to walk a corridor to the fossil galleries in anticipation of meeting it and spending some time with old friends of fond memory.
Dr. Novacek is not bothered by some skepticism that the specimens are from the biggest dinosaur discovered so far and that these may soon be eclipsed in size by new excavations.
“Every time we find the biggest dinosaur,” he said, “we soon find a bigger one in the next dig.”