Category Archives: ASIA

Life-sized camel carvings in Northern Arabia date to the Neolithic period

Life-sized camel carvings in Northern Arabia date to the Neolithic period

This close-up image shows one of the camel carvings, revealing the body, legs and base of the neck of an adult camel with a possible young equid to the left.

A parade of life-size stone camel carvings in northern Arabia dates back to the Stone Age, new research finds. The 21 camels and horse-like figures were found in 2018 in the province of Al-Jouf in the northwestern Saudi desert. Researchers first believed that the carvings were about 2,000 years old, in part because they look similar to rock reliefs found in the famous stone city of Petra in Jordan. 

New dating efforts reveal that the carvings are much older: They date back 8,000 years. They were probably carved between 6000 B.C. and 5000 B.C. when the region was wetter and cooler.

At the time, the landscape was a grassland punctuated with lakes, where camels, horses and their relatives roamed wild, the researchers said. Humans herded flocks of cattle, sheep and goats — and apparently created great works of art. 

The carvings are chiselled into naturally occurring rocks at the site, and they often seem to meld with the natural grain of the rock. Their creation would have required tools made of a stone called chert, which would have come from at least 9 miles (15 kilometres) away.

Artists who took on the laborious job of carving each animal would have needed some sort of scaffolding and a couple of weeks’ time to complete, according to researchers from the Saudi Ministry of Culture, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the Centre National de la recherche Scientifique in France and King Saud University.

Life-sized camel carvings in Northern Arabia date to the Neolithic period
At the Camel Site in northern Arabia, viewed from the northwest, researchers identified several large carvings or reliefs of camels and horses (red stars), small reliefs (white stars) and large fragments (stars with red outline).
Panel 1 showing the belly, thigh and upper tail of a camel. Tool marks can be seen on the lower abdomen and the upper thigh, as well as a series of deep grooves. Detail photographs are shown on the lower left and lower right.

“Neolithic communities repeatedly returned to the Camel Site, meaning its symbolism and function was maintained over many generations,” said Maria Guagnin, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Science of Human History, who led the new research.

The study was published Wednesday (Sept. 15) in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.

The carvings are quite eroded, meaning that dating them was difficult. The researchers used multiple lines of evidence to do so, ranging from the tool marks in the rock to the radiocarbon dating of bones found in related rock layers. (Radiocarbon dating uses the radioactive decay of certain carbon molecules to mark time, but it requires organic material for the analysis.) 

The researchers also measured the density of the desert varnish on the rocks using a technique called portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry.

Desert varnish is a mineral coating that forms on desert rocks over time.

Portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry uses a handheld device to beam X-rays at a sample and non-destructively analyze the elements on its surface.

Finally, the team used luminescence dating of fragments that had fallen off the rock wall to determine when those fragments fell.

This method measures the amount of naturally occurring radiation in rocks and can reveal when rock was first exposed to sunlight or intense heat and how long it’s been acquiring radiation from the sun since that time. 

The new Neolithic, or Stone Age, date, puts the carvings in the context of other rock art made by pastoral people in northern Arabia, the researchers said in a statement.

These include large stone monuments called mustatil, which are made of sandstone walls surrounding a courtyard with a stone platform at one end. 

A Knights Templar’s secret tunnel has been hidden for 700 years

A Knights Templar’s secret tunnel has been hidden for 700 years

Crusaders from the Latin West left an unmistakable imprint on the cities of the Near East throughout the Middle Ages, building castles and fortresses that could resist waves of conquest.

Many of these castles still stand today, and in some cases, remain in use. Krak des Chevaliers, perhaps the most iconic crusader castle, was even occupied and used as a military base in the recent Syrian conflict.

However, many of these impressive structures have yet to give up all of their secrets. Even in the late 20th century, crusader structures were still being discovered in the Levant, the most notable of which was the 350 meters (985 feet) “Templar tunnel” running underneath the modern city of Acre. These discoveries continue to shed light on this fascinating period of Middle Eastern history.

Remains of the Crusader-period Pisan Harbour.

The Templars were a military religious order, originally founded to ensure the safety of the regular stream of pilgrims that made the arduous and dangerous journey from Western Europe to the Holy Land.

According to historian Dan Jones, they were so named because their original headquarters stood next to the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, and in the 12th and 13th century they played an important role in defining the political and military successes (and failures) of the crusader states in the Levant.

In 1187, however, the city of Jerusalem was lost after a decisive victory by the Ayyubid leader Salah ad-Din (otherwise known as Saladin) at Hattin.

The crusader states had lost their capital, and their shock defeat at the hands of a powerful Muslim army launched what would later be known as the Third Crusade.

According to Jones, several large armies set out from England and France to provide aid to the beleaguered crusader kingdoms, with the goal of reconquering Jerusalem.

This was a vain hope, and the armies of the Third Crusade, led (amongst others) by Richard the Lionheart, would eventually leave without reclaiming Jerusalem. However, they did manage to recover the important port city of Acre.

Following a long siege led by the king of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, the Muslim inhabitants of the city surrendered, and Acre became the new capital of the crusader states.

Portrait of Guy de Lusignan.

Ever fearful of a renewed attack by Saladin and his successors, the Templars set about constructing an impressive fortress at Acre. The settlement was already well protected by high walls and the surrounding sea, but the new Christian occupants proceeded to construct seemingly impenetrable defences.

According to Jones, Acre was a strategically significant Mediterranean port and controlling it was key to controlling access to the rest of the region. However, this meant that it was constantly under threat, both from enemies outside its walls and from infighting amongst those within.

This may explain why the Templars decided to construct a secret underground tunnel, leading from the fortress to the port. This would ensure a quick, easy escape for any inhabitants in case the city was overthrown and could provide a useful, secret channel for supplies if the city was besieged.

Underground Knights Templar citadel of Acre, Israel.

However, in 1291, disaster struck. Acre was attacked and taken by the Mamluk ruler of Egypt, Sultan al-Ashraf Khalil, and he ordered that the city be razed to the ground to prevent further Christian reoccupation. This once-pivotal, strategic port fell into insignificance.

However, in 1994, over 700 years after the fall of the fortress, a startling discovery was made by a woman living in the modern city of Acre.

When she sent a local plumber to investigate the cause of her blocked drains, he stumbled into a medieval tunnel running right underneath her house.

Further excavations revealed that the tunnel had been constructed in the Crusader period, and ran all the way from the fortress to the port. This was an extremely significant discovery, as it’s one of the rare pieces of Crusader architecture in Acre to have survived the invasion of the Mamluks.

Today, it’s even possible to visit the tunnel, which has been fully restored, cleaned and drained. Although the Templar fortress may be long gone, modern tourists can still walk in the footsteps of these crusading knights, 700 years after their deaths.

1,500-Year-Old Temple Ruins Discovered in Uttar Pradesh, India

1,500-Year-Old Temple Ruins Discovered in Uttar Pradesh, India

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has found remains of an ancient temple dating back to the Gupta Period, 5th Century CE in Bilsarh village of Uttar Pradesh’s Etah. 

At the spot, the archaeologists discovered “two decorative pillars (at the spot) close to one another, with human figurines (found earlier).”  Vasant Swarnkar, superintending archaeologist of ASI’s Agra circle said, “To understand their significance, we conducted further excavation and found the stairs,” quoted The Times of India. 

Last month, the staircase was excavated has Shankhalipi inscriptions that were ” deciphered as saying ‘Sri Mahendraditya’, which was the title of Kumaragupta I of the Gupta dynasty.” 

Shankhalipi is an ancient script that was used from the 4th to 8th centuries CE for names and signatures. 

In the 5th century CE, Kumaragupta I ruled for 40 years over what is now north-central India.

The ASI made the discovery in Etah’s Bilsarh village, which has been protected since 1928, during a routine check-up. The ASI scrubs its protected sites during monsoons. 

The Shankhalipi inscription was earlier found on a horse status found in Lakhimpur Kheri and is now at the State Museum in Lucknow, the TOI reported. 

The remains recently found in Etah are the third structural temple found so far from the Gupta period. “Before this, only two structural temples were found — Dashavatara Temple in Deogarh and Bhitargaon Temple in Kanpur Dehat.

The Etah pillars are well-sculpted, better than the earlier examples in which only the lower sections were carved. The decorative pillars and staircase are a bit more advanced than the earlier ones,” said History Professor Manvendra Pundhir of the Aligarh Muslim University.

He said, “The Guptas were the first to build structural temples for Brahminical, Buddhist and Jain followers. Prior to that, only rock-cut temples were built,” quoted TOI. 

A treasure trove of antiquities has been discovered in southwest China at one of the world’s most remarkable archaeological sites

A treasure trove of antiquities has been discovered in southwest China at one of the world’s most remarkable archaeological sites

A treasure trove of antiquities has been discovered in southwest China at one of the world's most remarkable archaeological sites
Some scholars have said the Sanxingdui ruins in southwest China’s Sichuan Province are more important than the Terracotta Army in Xian.

Scientists at one of China’s most important archaeological sites continue to unearth remarkable artefacts from an ancient Chinese civilisation that dates back over 3,000 years. Researchers on Thursday revealed over 500 artefacts discovered at the Sanxingdui ruins in southwest China’s Sichuan province

The findings included extremely detailed bronze statues, jade and ivory artefacts as well as a fully preserved gold mask. The new gold mask was reminiscent of one that awed the world back in March, which was far more damaged than the latest revelation. The first mask was so unique it had some people speculating that aliens once inhabited the area

Scientists told China Daily that the mask was found in June and it is consistent with the hypothesis that gold was important to people of the area, called the Shu kingdom. The gold mask is the largest, and most well preserved, of similar golden artefacts discovered at the site. It stands at 37.2cm wide and 16.5cm tall.

A head-turned kneeling bronze figure was discovered at the Sanxingdui ruins over the summer.
A well preserved gold mask was the pièce de résistance of the recent announcement at Sanxingdui.

Scientists believe that the masks were manually shaped by ancient people and had not been melted down and poured into a cast. The mask has similar facial features to bronze statues discovered in the area. It has large eyes covering much of the face, a big nose, gigantic ears and a flat, wide, mouth.

The strange facial features led some people to suggest they were representatives of extraterrestrials, an idea thoroughly debunked by Wang Wei, the director of the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“There is no chance that Sanxingdui belongs to an alien civilisation. These wide-eyed masks look exaggerated because the makers want to emulate the look of deities. They shouldn’t be interpreted as the look of everyday people,” Wang said in March.

This bronze statue discovered in Sanxingdui shares the same facial structure as the gold mask.

Besides the mask, other discoveries included bronze statues, a knife made out of jade and a series of artefacts made of ivory, among many others.

Scientists said the artefacts discovered at Sanxingdui had transformed the perception of the creativity and ingenuity of the people who lived in China thousands of years ago.

A jade knife that might be thousands of years old looks like it could be used to spread butter today.

While scientists are confident that the pits are not the remnants of an alien civilisation, they do not know what they are. The most common hypothesis is that it was an ancient burial ground, but that idea has not been sufficiently confirmed.

One scientist, Lei Yu, a leader of the Sanxingdui dig, told the South China Morning Post in June that he hopes to find ancient text.

“Because these people could create advanced and developed bronze, there must be text in such a high level of civilisation. We need to find it,” he said.

Scientists said the bronze statues found in Sanxingdui are unique to other discoveries in the country.

Many of the bronze artefacts are brand new discoveries and unique to anything found before in China. They are highly detailed, with statues showcasing facial features that bear a striking resemblance to the gold mask.

The artefacts give insights into the ancient Shu kingdom, home to a mysterious civilisation that was the source of legend until the recent discoveries proved its existence. One of the artefacts revealed this week was a vessel called a zun, which is commonly found across ancient Chinese culture. It was used to hold wine.

The archaeology site is providing insight into a culture that was relegated to legend until recently.

The Sanxingdui zun features detailed birds halfway down the vase and large spirals along the base engraved with smaller spirals to add detail.

Zuns come in all shapes and sizes and are sometimes built to appear like animals. Zuns were commonly used during the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BC), and can be found in Chinese cultures as late as the end of the northern Song dynasty in 1126.

Scientists believe this piece of pottery was a zun, a vessel used to hold wine by many Chinese cultures across the millennia.

Artefacts near Sanxingdui were first discovered in 1929 by a farmer who found jade artefacts while digging a well. But the first professional excavation did not happen until 1986 after kiln workers accidentally uncovered more artefacts.

That original excavation in the 1980s was a low-budget affair, with scientists using simple shovels to dig. They shared one camera to gather evidence and used bicycles to transport their discoveries.

Lei, who was also part of those original digs in the 1980s, said in June that, “Archaeology was difficult at that time because it was salvage excavation due to the many brick factories around. Farmers dug up soil to make bricks and we did our excavation wherever they dug.”

Inscriptions were found on the outside of a cong made of jade. A cong is a cylindrical piece of pottery but scientists do not know what it was used for.

Today, the ruins at Sanxingdui leverage the best technology has to offer. Workers surrounded the pits with transparent walls and built a sterilised room that maintains an environment of 80 per cent humidity and 20 degrees Celsius.

Semi-permanent laboratories were built at the site so archaeologists can quickly analyse both organic and inorganic material. The rooms were designed so that scientists have minimal contact with the artefacts when they move around. The site hosts dozens of teams from across China working to uncover the latest remarkable discovery.

Workers cover themselves in protective gear to make sure they do not contaminate the artefacts.

Chinese scientists told Xinhua they are entering a “critical stage” and expect to find an array of artefacts that change how archaeologists think about ancient China. The site is about 60km from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, and some scholars have said it is more important than the Terracotta Army further north in Xian.

Scientists said the public should expect more revelations in the near future.

First Excavations at 2,300-Year-Old Bactria Kingdom Fortress Completed

First Excavations at 2,300-Year-Old Bactria Kingdom Fortress Completed

Archaeologists from the Russian-Uzbek archaeological expedition has conducted the first excavations of the Bactrian fortress of Uzundara, a border outpost that protected ancient Bactria during the Hellenistic period.

Uzundara was part of a wider system of fortifications in the present-day Boysun region of Uzbekistan, that protected the northern borders of Bactria from raiding nomads.

Data from GPR studies and tachymetric surveys have established that the fortress consisted of the main quadrangle, a triangular citadel, and an outer wall reinforced with 13 rectangular towers.

The fortress was built around the early 3rd century BC, during the reign of Antiochus I of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire. During the reign of Eucratides I of the Diodotid dynasty, Uzundara was destroyed in a nomad assault on the Bactrian borders.

In recent excavations, archaeologists have uncovered one of the defensive towers, sections of the fortress wall, and a significant number of artefacts, which confirms that the fortress was rebuilt at the beginning of the 3rd century BC, and abandoned in the 2nd century BC.

The fragmented iron umbilicus of a fire rap shield

In the upper layers of the inner-wall galleries, the team excavated coins of Euthydemus I, who ruled around 235-200 BC, whilst in the lower layers belonging to the early stage, weapons and a coin of the Alexander type were unearthed.

In the outer gallery of the fortress wall adjacent to the north-eastern tower, a fragmented iron umbilicus of a fire rap shield was also discovered.

Nigora Dvurechenskaya from the Russian Academy of Sciences said: “Excavations have shown that the fortifications are perfectly preserved.

For the first time since the destruction of the fortress, the walls of Uzundara saw the light again: we uncovered half of the corner tower, which remained two stories high, opened the passage and the fortress walls with two galleries, which survived to a height of up to three meters.”

Dark secrets of Korea’s famous Wolseong palace complex are unearthed

Dark secrets of Korea’s famous Wolseong palace complex are unearthed

Korea JoongAng Daily reports that a young woman’s remains have been unearthed at the site of Wolseong, a Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.–A.D. 935) palace complex in eastern South Korea.

Remains of an adult female from 1,500 years ago were found in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, at the site of a palace complex known as Wolseong. Intact pottery was found next to the head.

Until 2017, the legend of Koreans’ practice of human sacrifice during large-scale construction to pray for the building to stand firm for a long time, remained a horrific myth. However, the archaeological discovery of human remains in Wolseong, a palace complex of the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.-A.D. 935) located in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, turned this myth into fact.  
 
Remains from two people from the fifth century were discovered near the west entrance of Wolseong, throwing the nation into a state of shock. One was of a male and the other was a female. It was the country’s first archaeological evidence that proved that human sacrifice may have been a common practice for Silla people.  
 
Remains of another female adult have been discovered, just 50 centimetres (1.64 feet) above the area where the couple was found in 2017, the Gyeongju National Institute of Cultural Heritage announced on Tuesday.   
 
“Like the remains discovered in 2017, the recently discovered remains of a female adult showed no sign of struggle,” said Jang Ki-myeong, a researcher at Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage.
 
The woman, like the other two bodies, was laid to face the sky and is believed to have been in her 20s when she was sacrificed. The couple found in 2017 were in their 50s.  

An x-ray of the discovered pottery shows a smaller pot inside the larger one

“The first thing we do when we find human remains is figuring out the gender and age,” said Kim Heon-Seok, another researcher from the institute. “Though her remains were also in good condition, her pelvis, which we use to find out the gender, was damaged, so we had to look at other things like her physique and height to figure it out.”
 
Like the two Silla people discovered in 2017, researchers believe the sacrificed humans are probably from lower-ranking class as they were “all quite undersized and had nutrition imbalances as seen from their teeth.”  
 
Intact pottery was also discovered next to her head. Back in 2017, four pieces of pottery were found next to the feet of the sacrifices.  
 
“When we did an x-ray of the pottery, we found a smaller bowl inside the jar. It looks like the larger pottery carried alcohol or some kind of liquid. It was buried together with the body,” said Jang. “This is not a common feature you witness in ancient tombs, but something similar was found at the 2017 site.”  
 
When the remains of the two bodies were discovered, some raised the possibility that their deaths could have been accidental. But, the Cultural Heritage Administration concluded that the evidence — the remains showing no signs of struggle and the discoveries of animal bones and objects used for ancestral rites in the same area — clearly points that the pair died as part of a sacrificial ceremony.
 
“Now with the additional discovery, there’s no denying Silla’s practice of human sacrifice,” said Choi Byung-Heon, professor emeritus of archaeology at Soongsil University, adding that the specific location of where the remains were discovered is also important.  According to Choi, the remains of three Silla people were laid on top of the bottommost layer of the fortress’s west wall, right in front of where the west gate would have been located.  
 
“After finishing off the foundation and moving onto the next step of building the fortress, I guess it was necessary to really harden the ground for the fortress to stand strong. In that process, I think the Silla people held sacrificial rites, giving not only animals but also humans as sacrifices,” said Choi.  
 
Geology Professor Lee Seong-Joo of Kyungpook National University also said there are records of human sacrifices in neighbouring China, by people of the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.) when constructing large buildings and these sacrifices were commonly found near entrances.  
 
“Historical records say such rituals were carried out before making the gates or just before engaging in the most important part of the construction process,” Lee said.  
 
“Samguksagi,” or “The Chronicles of the Three States” states that Wolseong was built in year 101 and was used for 800 years as the residence of Silla kings until Silla gave way to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). But by studying the pieces of pottery unearthed from the fortress, researchers predicted the date of its construction to be somewhere between the fourth and fifth centuries.

The remains of adult females were discovered just 50 centimetres (1.64 feet) above the remains found in 2017.

There’s been a clear gap between the two, and debates among researchers. The Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage said it has managed to settle the debate by scientifically proving that the construction period began in the early fourth century and it took about 50 years to complete. 
 
“By analyzing the data collected through a newly adopted technology known as AMS [Accelerator Mass Spectrometer] and cross-checking with the existing data we have, we were able to provide a more reliable construction period,” said Jang from the institute.  
 
Does that mean there are factual errors in Korea’s historical documents?
 
Jang says it’s better to approach the issue as, “Why is it recorded as 101?”  
 
“We should further the research on Wolseong and try to find out what may have resulted in making such a record,” Jang added. “Wolseong is a vast research area not only in terms of its literal size but also academically and historically.”

Wolseong, Korea’s Historic Site No. 16 and a Unesco World Heritage Site, can be literally translated as “moon castle” in English.

The official excavation research of Wolseong began in December 2014. 
 
Literally translated as “moon castle” in English, Wolseong, which is also listed at Unesco World Heritage, measures more than 200,000 square meters and is considered one of the most important historical sites in Korea as it was the seat of the Silla Dynasty. Compared to its historical weight, the Wolseong area had been left largely unexplored.
 
The government previously conducted several different inspections and excavations, which resulted in the discovery of the remains of 20 Silla people, just 10 meters away from the site where the recent remains were discovered, during two separate inspections in 1985 and 1990. Researchers at the Gyeongju National Institute of Cultural Heritage believe the discoveries are of great significance but have yet to conclude if the remains were part of sacrificial rites. 
 
“As for the remains of the 20 people, only three people’s remains were in good condition while the rest were just scattered across a vast area with animal bones,” said Jang. “It is certain that they are related to Wolseong but we need to conduct more research to find out if they were human sacrifices.”
 
Researchers believe they may discover more human remains in Wolseong, but more importantly, “so much more about the unknown 1,000 years of Silla,” said Jang.  
 
“We’ve discovered the method of building Wolseong, which mainly used soil,” said Ahn So-Yeon, a researcher from the institute. “We’ve discovered how Silla people mixed stones, pieces of wood, seeds of fruits and grains with soil to make the fortress stronger.”  
 
Professor Lee from Kyungpook National University said Silla had built the strongest and highest fortress compared to Goguryeo and Baekje.  
 
“The fundamental power of unification can also be found in the fortress. A more specific time period and the revealed methodology are significant to the researchers of this field,” Lee said.  

Periodic Prehistoric Rainfall Made Northern Arabia Navigable

Periodic Prehistoric Rainfall Made Northern Arabia Navigable

Excavations at the Jubbah oasis (shown) in northern Saudi Arabia produced stone tools that, along with nearby lake bed finds, indicate that hominids periodically trekked through the region starting around 400,000 years ago.

Arabia, known today for its desert landscape, served as a “green turnstile” for migrating Stone Age members of the human genus starting around 400,000 years ago, a new study finds.

Monsoon rains periodically turned northern Arabia into a well-watered oasis, creating windows of opportunity for long-ago humans or their relatives to trek through that crossroads region from starting points in northern Africa and southwest Asia.

That’s the implication of a series of five ancient lake beds of varying ages, each accompanied by distinctive stone tools, unearthed at a northern Saudi Arabian site called Khall Amayshan 4, or KAM 4. Sediments from the lake beds, which were linked to periods when the climate was wetter than today, also yielded fossils of hippos, wild cattle and other animals. Like hominids, those creatures must have migrated into the region along rain-fed lakes, wetlands and rivers, an international team reports online September 1 in Nature.

Until now, the oldest stone tools in Arabia dated to at least 300,000 years ago. Previous finds only hinted that Stone Age Homo sapiens or other Homo species temporarily inhabited green, wetter parts of Arabia, a conclusion largely resting on discoveries at two other Saudi sites, each preserving stone tools from a single point in time.

Aside from providing the earliest known evidence of hominids in Arabia, the new finds demonstrate for the first time that ancient Homo groups travelled there when conditions turned wet, say archaeologist Huw Groucutt of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and colleagues.

Evidence of hominid occupations at five ancient lake sites, each dated to a different Stone Age time, was found at northern Saudi Arabia’s Khall Amayshan 4 site (shown).

As a result, northern Arabia could have served as a key, if intermittent, passageway out of Africa for humans or close evolutionary relatives who reached South Asia by around 385,000 years ago, southern China between 120,000 and 80,000 years ago and the Indonesian island of Sumatra between 73,000 and 63,000 years ago.

The number, completeness and time frames of KAM 4’s ancient lake deposits make this site “one of a kind … that will continue to produce remarkable results,” says archaeologist Donald Henry of the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, who did not participate in the new study.

Across five occupation phases covering hundreds of thousands of years, different Homo species or closely related populations at KAM 4 “were doing broadly the same things,” Groucutt says. Small groups camped by lakes where individuals made stone tools for food preparation, hunting and woodworking.

But each phase, dated mainly by a technique that estimated the amount of time since grains of lake sediment had last been exposed to sunlight, had its own evolutionary character.

For example, the identity of the KAM 4 crowd 400,000 years ago, who left behind large hand axes, is unclear, but the researchers know it couldn’t have been H. sapiens. Our species didn’t originate until roughly 300,000 years ago in Africa. One possibility is that those ancient Arabians represented a now-extinct Homo population from southwest Asia that later migrated into Africa, possibly contributing to H. sapiens evolution, Groucutt speculates.

Members of an unidentified Homo group left behind stone hand axes such as this one (shown from different angles) along the shore of a northern Arabian lake about 400,000 years ago.

Similar but slightly smaller, more finely worked hand axes turned up along the shore of a roughly 300,000-year-old KAM 4 lake bed, indicating the second phase of occupation. Groucutt and colleagues doubt that early H. sapiens from Africa scurried over to KAM 4 in time to make those tools. Whichever Homo group did could have come either from northern Africa or southwest Asia, the researchers say.

The third round of KAM 4 occupants, probably H. sapiens, fashioned artefacts excavated at an approximately 200,000-year-old lake bed, Groucutt says. These finds consist of rock chunks shaped so that sharp flakes, also unearthed there, could be pounded off. Humans based in northeastern Africa around that time made similar tools. Some of those people may have reached Arabia before eventually journeying to southwest Asia, Groucutt suggests.

Groucutt’s group excavated comparable tools at a site called Jubbah about 150 kilometres east of KAM 4 that date to around 210,000 years ago.

Those finds are another sign of human migrations into Arabia at a time when the corresponding KAM 4 lakebed shows that wet conditions reigned. Additional stone tools unearthed at Jubbah date to around 75,000 years ago.

Stone implements resembling the Jubbah finds were also excavated at the youngest two KAM 4 sites, one dating to between about 125,000 and 75,000 years ago and the other to roughly 55,000 years ago. The older site likely hosted H. sapiens, possibly a group that left Africa, Groucutt suggests.

The youngest KAM 4 artefacts could represent either H. sapiens or Neandertals, he says. Neandertals reached the Middle East about 70,000 years ago and could have reached a green Arabia by 55,000 years ago. If so, Neandertals may have interbred with H. sapiens in Arabia, a possibility not raised before.

Despite uncertainties about which hominids reached KAM 4 during its green phases, KAM 4 tools generally look more like similarly aged African tools than artefacts previously found in southern Arabia or at eastern Mediterranean sites, says Henry, the University of Tulsa archaeologist.

Migrations out of Africa, he says, now appear more likely to have wended through northern Arabia rather than across the narrow Red Sea crossing to southern Arabia, often regarded as a major dispersal route for ancient humans.

A cache of Medieval Jewelry Unearthed in Russia

Cache of Medieval Jewelry Unearthed in Russia

Archaeologists in southwest Russia have unearthed a trove of medieval silver at a site where the treasure was often hidden from an invading Mongol army in the 13th century — but oddly it seems to have been buried there at least 100 years before the Mongols swept through.

Among the treasure are several “seven ray rings” that are thought to represent the rays of the sun.

The trove of silver pendants, bracelets, rings, and ingots was found during excavations earlier this year near the site of Old Ryazan, the fortified capital of a Rus principate that was besieged and sacked by Mongols in 1237. 

The Mongol attack was particularly bloodthirsty; historical accounts report that the invaders left no one alive in Old Ryazan and archaeologists have discovered nearly 100 severed heads and several mass graves there from the time. 

The hidden treasure was found in the forested bank of a ravine several hundred yards away from two small medieval settlements that had existed there; archaeologists also found remains of a cylindrical container probably made from birch bark that had once held the trove, according to a translated statement from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The treasure includes 14 ornate bracelets, seven rings and eight “neck hryvnias” — a type of pendant worn around the neck that gave its name to the modern Ukrainian currency — and weighs 4.6 pounds (2.1 kilograms).

Cache of Medieval Jewelry Unearthed in Russia

The jewelry is finely made, and archaeologists think its mixed composition shows it was a trove of accumulated wealth rather than a set of jewellery for a particular costume.

Golden Horde

Ryazan was one of several medieval principalities of the Rus people in the 11th century. It was centered on the city now known as Old Ryazan — about 30 miles (50 km) southeast of the modern city of Ryazan and about 140 miles (225 km) southeast of Moscow — and grew powerful enough to occasionally go to war with its neighbours.

But Ryazan was east of the other Rus principalities, and so it was the first to fall to an invading Mongol army from the far east, led by a grandson of Genghis Khan called Batu Khan.

The Mongols first defeated the Ryazan army in battle and then besieged the capital city, using catapults to destroy its fortifications.

The inhabitants of the city repelled the besiegers for almost a week — but in the end, the Mongols plundered the city, killed its prince, his family, and its inhabitants, and burned all that remained to the ground. A Rus chronicler noted “there was none left to groan and cry.”

Batu Khan’s armies went on to conquer and subjugate other Rus principalities until the Mongol leader’s death in 1255; his successors ruled much of southern and central Russia as the Golden Horde — from the Turkic phrase “Altan Orda,” which means “golden headquarters,” possibly from the golden colour of Batu Khan’s tent.

The hidden hoard of medieval silver, including several finely-made bracelets, was found at the site of Old Ryazan which was destroyed by an invading Mongol army in the 13th century. Archaeologists say the silver bracelets and other items of jewellery in the medieval hoard are especially well-made.

Among the treasure are several “seven ray rings” that are thought to represent the rays of the sun. Seven-ray rings became a distinctive feature of early medieval Russian jewellery; it’s thought their design was introduced from the far east.

Some of the bracelets, including this one of braided silver wire, are thought by their style to date from the 10th and 11th centuries. The ends of some of the bracelets are hollow and delicately embossed with intricate ornamental designs, including stylized palm trees that suggest an eastern and southern influence. Some of the bracelets are embossed at the ends with crosses that presumably portray Christian crucifixes.

Several buried treasures found at Old Ryazan date from the siege of the city in 1237, but archaeologists think this hoard of silver was buried about 100 years before that.

Hidden treasure

The practice of hiding treasure to prevent the invading Mongols from finding it seems to have been relatively common during the siege — more than a dozen hidden troves have now been found nearby, including the famous Old Ryazan Treasure, a collection of bejewelled royal regalia which was discovered by chance in the 19th century and is now on display in a nearby cathedral.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, the newly-discovered trove seems to have been hidden away between the end of the 11 century and the beginning of the 12th century —  a century before the Mongol invasion, based on analysis of the style of the jewelry and ceramics found nearby, the RAS archaeologists said.

“The… treasure is clearly older than the Old Ryazan Treasure and includes jewellery made with simpler techniques and a more archaic manner,” the statement read.

The trove includes several six-sided “grivna,” a relatively small type of standardized silver ingot that could be used as jewellery, a measure of weight, or currency during the medieval Rus period.  The bracelets are especially well made. The most complex has three silver braids and are ornamented at the ends with embossed crosses and palm leaves, the archaeologists said.

“Further studies of the treasure items, the technique of their manufacture, the composition of the metal will complement our knowledge of the early history of Old Ryazan,” they wrote; “possibly it will reveal the historical context of the concealment of the treasure.”