Huge Cache of Stolen Antiquities Found in Central Israel
A vast cache of antiquities looted from sites in the West Bank was revealed on Thursday by the Israel Antiquities Authority. While antiquities theft is common in Israel, and thieves and traders are often caught, this was a big catch.
Ancient cuneiform tablets, a bronze figurine, jewellery, seals, and no less than 1,800 coins were seized from the home of an antiquities trader in Modi’in on Sunday by police working with the Israel Antiquities Authority theft prevention team.
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According to the IAA, the trader admitted to buying antiquities from looters operating in the West Bank, smuggling them into Israel, and illegally trading them.
Some of the items and coins appear to have fresh dirt on them, the inspectors reported, lending credence to the suspicion that they were looted recently.
Some of the coins bear the name of Shimon Bar Kochba, the leader of the ill-fated revolt against the Romans from 132 to 135 C.E.
The inspectors also seized coins from the Persian period, silver coins from the Hellenistic period, more from the Hasmonean period and others from the time of the rebellion, the IAA announced on Thursday.
One rare item was a silver “shekel” coin from the time of the First Jewish-Roman War in 67 C.E., the IAA stated. It bears the legend “Holy Jerusalem” in Hebrew on one side with the image of a bunch of three pomegranates. The other side says “Shekel Israel Year 2” (the letter bet) and the image of a goblet.
That particular coin seems to have been in the process of being cleaned, a job only half done, the IAA says.
Some of the seized coins had already been packaged in envelopes for mailing abroad.
The suspect is not licensed to sell antiquities overseas, said IAA theft prevention chief Ilan Hadad. The next stage of this case is to track down the thieves, the anti-theft unit said.
Eli Eskosido, the director-general of the IAA, mourned that the illegal trade encourages looters who do not cavil at destroying ancient sites, to the detriment of posterity.
“The worst thing about destroying a site is that you only have one shot at excavating,” antiquities inspector Hillel Silberklang told Haaretz in February. “Whatever information it had is lost forever, and damage to an archaeological site is final.”
Livestock and dairying led to dramatic social changes in ancient Mongolia, U-M study shows
The movement of herders and livestock into the eastern steppe is of great interest to researchers, but few scholars have linked the introduction of herds and horses to the rise of complex societies.
Now, a new study in the journal PLOS ONE provides interdisciplinary support for connections between livestock dairying and the rise of social complexity in the eastern steppe. Using proteomic analysis of human dental calculus from sites in the Mongolian Altai, the researchers demonstrate a shift in dairy consumption over the course of the Bronze Age.
By tracking the consumption of dairy among populations in the Altai Mountains in Mongolia, researchers revealed the critical role of domesticated sheep, goats and cattle in ancient economies.
The adoption of ruminant livestock eventually led to population growth, the establishment of community cemeteries and the construction of large monuments. While these pronounced changes occurred in tandem with the earliest evidence of horse dairying in Mongolia, the consumption of horse dairy remained a relatively novel practise until later periods.
Thus, the spread of herds into the Mongolian Altai resulted in immediate changes to human diets, with a delay in subsequent social and demographic transformations, said study lead author Alicia Ventresca Miller, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan.
“As we push back the dates of the introduction of livestock, we need to rethink the pace of social change, which may occur on much longer timescales,” she said.
Ventresca Miller and colleagues from U-M and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany extracted proteins from calculus samples to identify caseins and whey associated with ruminant and horse dairy.
Results were interpreted in consultation with researchers from the National University of Mongolia and National Museum of Mongolia, in an effort to clarify how ancient societies changed after the adoption of domesticated livestock.
Dramatic social changes and monumental constructions were fueled by a long-term dependence on sheep, goats and cattle, Ventresca Miller says. This is supported by finds of mostly ruminant bones in large monumental Khirgisuurs in the Altai Mountains, while in other areas of Mongolia horse bone deposits have been identified along with ruminants.
“These new results might allow for a shift in our understanding of Bronze Age dynamics,” said Tsagaan Turbat, professor of archaeology and anthropology at the National University of Mongolia.
Turbat believes that Deer Stone-Khirgisuur complexes, the most studied in the region, may have originated from Sagsai groups in the Altai Mountains.
The current study pushes back the earliest date of horse dairying in the eastern steppe associated with Sagsai burials to about 1350 B.C.
As initial evidence of horse milk consumption is rare, this may have been a novelty since horses were an important feature of ritual life, the researchers say.
A child’s 130,000-year-old tooth could offer clues to an extinct human relative
Palaeontologists in Laos have uncovered an ancient molar that likely belonged to a young Denisovan girl. The discovery is a big deal, as the Laotian cave in which the molar was found is now one of only three spots known to host these enigmatic humans.
In addition to Siberia and the Tibetan Plateau, we can now add Laos to the achingly shortlist of places that have yielded fossils of an elusive human species known as the Denisovans.
A team of palaeontologists found the suspected Denisovan molar at the Tam Ngu Hao 2 cave in the Annamite Mountains of Laos. The molar dates to the middle Pleistocene, and it’s the first Denisovan fossil ever to be found in southeast Asia. A paper detailing this discovery is published today in Nature Communications.
Laura Shackelford, an anthropologist from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a co-author of the new study, was excited to learn that Denisovans, like their Neanderthal cousins, inhabited a variety of environments, some of them extreme.
“Although we only have a few fossils representing the Denisovans, this new fossil from Laos demonstrates that much like modern humans, Denisovans were widespread and they were highly adaptable,” Shackelford explained in an email. “They lived in the cold arctic temperatures of Siberia, in the cold, [oxygen poor] environment of the Tibetan Plateau, and now we know they were also living in the tropics of southeast Asia.”
What’s more, the new discovery “further attests” that southeast Asia was “a hotspot of diversity for the genus Homo” during the middle to late Pleistocene, as the scientists write in their study. So in addition to Denisovans, this part of the world was once home to H. Erectus, Neanderthals, H. floresiensis, H. luzonensis, and H. sapiens.
That a Denisovan fossil was found in Laos is not a huge surprise. Traces of Denisovan DNA have been detected within the genomes of modern southeast Asian and Oceanian populations. The Ayta Magbukun—a Philippine ethnic group—have retained approximately 5% of their Denisovan ancestry, the highest of any human group in the world. Denisovans branched off from Neanderthals at some point between 200,000 and 390,000 years ago. They eventually went extinct, but not before interbreeding with modern humans. The Laotian molar is just the 10th Denisovan fossil to be found and the first outside of Siberia and Tibet.
The Annamite Mountains contain an abundance of limestone caves. Each year, Shackelford and her colleagues dispatch geologists to the area in hopes of finding spots worthy of further paleontological investigation.
“In 2018, our geologists spent the morning surveying and returned to the site before lunch with their pockets full of sediment samples that they had collected from a potential new site, what we now know as Tam Ngu Hao 2 or Cobra Cave,” Shackelford told me. “In these first samples, among fragments of fossil animal teeth, we found the tooth.”
By dating the sediment in which the molar was found, the team aged the fossil to between 164,000 and 131,000 years old. Protein analysis of the tooth’s enamel identified the fossil as belonging to a member of the Homo genus, but this test couldn’t pin down the exact species.
“We do know that this is the tooth of a girl who died when she was between about 4 to 8 years old,” said Shackelford. “Since this tooth comes from a child, we are currently doing additional analyses of tooth growth and development.”
Clément Zanolli, an expert on the evolution of human teeth and a co-author of the new study, said the identification of the Denisovan molar arose from multiple lines of morphological evidence.
The Laotian molar, he told me, bears a resemblance to teeth found on the partial Denisovan mandible from Tibet, including large tooth dimensions and various distinguishing features that separate it from other Homo species known to inhabit southeast Asia, including Neanderthals and modern humans.
“Among the human groups previously cited, the molar from Laos is closest to Neanderthals, and we know from paleogenetics that Denisovans were a sister group of Neanderthals, meaning that they were closely related and shared morphological features,” Zanolli, who works at the University of Bordeaux, explained in an email. “For these reasons, the most parsimonious hypothesis is that the tooth that we found in Laos belongs to a Denisovan individual.”
It’s not impossible that the molar belonged to a Neanderthal, but if that’s the case, that “would make it the south-eastern-most Neanderthal fossil ever discovered,” according to the paper.
“We are confident it is Denisovan,” Fabrice Demeter, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Copenhagen and a co-author of the study, told me in an email. But to “further confirm our results if needed, genetic analyses would be useful,” he said. Unfortunately, however, “DNA tends to fragment more quickly and intensely in tropical environments,” and it’s for this reason that “no ancient DNA from any Pleistocene human has been sequenced so far,” he added.
The new fossil is important because it affirms something already hinted at by the genetic data—that Denisovans once inhabited a wide area of southeast Asia. What’s more, it “confirms that Denisovans were present in this region and could have met with Late Pleistocene modern humans,” according to Zanolli. And lastly, it shows that Denisovans could live in both cold, high-altitude environments and the tropical forests of southeast Asia.
The Denisovans appear to have been an adaptable group. But that just makes their sudden disappearance some 50,000 years ago all the more mysterious.
The current concept of time was created by the Sumerians 5,000 years ago!
Any ancient civilizations had a concept of time, although vague. Obviously, they knew that the day started when the sun rose and the night when the sun disappeared over the horizon.
But the ancient Sumerians, watching the skies, developed a much more complex system.
They realized that it was possible to divide the hours into 60 minutes and the days into 24 hours, developing the time measurement systems used today.
Ancient civilizations looked to the heavens to mark the passage of time.
The Sumer, or “land of the civilized kings”, flourished in Mesopotamia, which today is located in modern Iraq, around 4,500 BCE.
The Sumerians created an advanced civilization with its own system of elaborate language and writing, architecture and arts, astronomy and mathematics.
The Sumerian Empire did not last long. However, for more than 5,000 years, the world remained committed to its definition of time.
The Sumerians initially favoured the number 60, as it was very easily divisible. The number 60 can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30 into equal parts. In addition, ancient astronomers believed that there were 360 days in a year, a number that 60 fits perfectly six times.
Ancient people and the passage of time
Many of the ancient civilizations had an approximate notion of the passage of time. as the passage of days, weeks, months and years.
A month was the duration of a complete lunar cycle, while a week was the duration of a phase of the lunar cycle.
A year could be estimated based on the changes in the season and the relative position of the sun. The ancients realized that observing the skies could provide many answers to questions considered complex in their day.
When the Sumerian civilization came to decay, being conquered by the Akkadians in 2400 BCE and later by the Babylonians in 1800 BCE. In this way, the notion of dividing time into 60 units persisted and spread all over the world.
A round clock and a 24-hour day
When geometry was unveiled by the Greeks and the Islamists, the ancients realized that the number 360 was not only the time period of the Earth’s ideal orbit but also the perfect measure of a circle, forming 360 degrees.
24,000-Year-Old Siberian Boy Sheds New Light on Origins of Native Americans
Results from a DNA study of a young boy’s skeletal remains believed to be 24,000 years old could turn the archaeological world upside down — it’s been demonstrated that nearly 30 per cent of modern Native American’s ancestry came from this youngster’s gene pool, suggesting First Americans came directly from Siberia, according to a research team that includes a Texas A&M University professor.
Kelly Graf, assistant professor in the Center for the Study of First Americans and Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, is part of an international team spearheaded by Eske Willerslev and Maanasa Raghaven from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and additional researchers from Sweden, Russia, United Kingdom, University of Chicago and the University of California-Berkeley.
Their work, funded by the Danish National Science Foundation, Lundbeck Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, is published in the current issue of Nature magazine.
Graf and Willerslev conceived the project and travelled to the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the remains are now housed to collect samples of ancient DNA.
The skeleton was first discovered in the late 1920s near the village of Mal’ta in south-central Siberia, and since then it has been referred to as “the Mal’ta child” because until this DNA study the biological sex of the skeleton was unknown.
“Now we can say with confidence that this individual was a male,” says Graf.
Graf helped extract DNA material from the boy’s upper arm and “the results surprised all of us quite a bit,” she explains.
“It shows he had close genetic ties to today’s Native Americans and some western Eurasians, specifically some groups living in central Asia, South Asia, and Europe. Also, he shared close genetic ties with other Ice-Age western Eurasians living in European Russia, the Czech Republic and even Germany.
We think these Ice-Age people were quite mobile and capable of maintaining a far-reaching gene pool that extended from central Siberia all the way west to central Europe.”
Another significant result of the study is that the Mal’ta boy’s people were also ancestors of Native Americans, explaining why some early Native American skeletons such as Kennewick Man were interpreted to have some European traits.
“Our study proves that Native Americans ancestors migrated to the Americas from Siberia and not directly from Europe as some have recently suggested,” Graf explains.
The DNA work performed on the boy is the oldest complete genome of a human sequenced so far, the study shows. Also found near the boy’s remains were flint tools, a beaded necklace and what appears to be pendant-like items, all apparently placed in the burial as grave goods.
The discovery raises new questions about the timing of human entry in Alaska and ultimately North America, a topic hotly debated in First Americans studies.
“Though our results cannot speak directly to this debate, they do indicate Native American ancestors could have been in Beringia — extreme northeastern Russia and Alaska — any time after 24,000 years ago and therefore could have colonized Alaska and the Americas much earlier than 14,500 years ago, the age suggested by the archaeological record.”
“What we need to do is continue searching for earlier sites and additional clues to piece together this very big puzzle.”
India knew to use iron 4,000 years ago, archaeological findings show
Carbon dating of cultural deposits found during archaeological excavations in Mayiladumparai in Krishnagiri district has found they belong to 2172 BCE, establishing that the Tamils were aware of the use of iron 4,200 years ago.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin told the Assembly that the first phase of excavation in 2020-2021 has yielded two important dates – 1615 BCE and 2172 BCE, which provide a new understanding of the nature of cultural deposits.
The AMS dating by Beta Analytical Lab in Florida, US has established three important features – iron appeared in Tamil Nadu as early as 220 BCE, the late Neolithic phase was identified before 2200 BCE as there is a cultural deposit of 25 cm below the dated level, and black-red-redware was in use the late Neolithic phase itself, in contrast to the wider belief that they were introduced in the Iron Age.
The recent archaeological excavations in Tamil Nadu have thrown up surprises – carbon dating of artefacts in Keeladi, a Sangam Era site near Madurai, and paddy husks found in a burial urn in Sivakalai in Thoothukudi district established their age to 2,600 and 3,200 years old.
“Through the findings, it has been established that Tamils who lived 4200 years ago were aware of iron. Dense forests were converted into fertile lands only after humankind began realising the use of iron. This finding has answered questions relating to the start of agricultural activity in Tamil Nadu,” Stalin said.
He also announced that the Tamil Nadu State Department of Archaeology (TNSDA) will begin work on a comparative study of graffiti found in Keeladi and the signs of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
AMS dating of the Iron Age has so far been done in many places, including in the Gangetic plains and Karnataka, Stalin said, adding that the period that has thrown up in Mayiladumparai is the earliest so far.
“I have been saying that the goal of this government is to establish through scientific methods that the history of India should be rewritten from the Tamil land. The latest findings reinforce our thoughts,” Stalin added.
The Chief Minister also announced that the TNSDA will continue its efforts to trace the journey of ancient Tamils. As part of the efforts, excavations in Pattanam (Kerala), Thalakadu (Karnataka), Vengi (Andhra Pradesh), and Palur (Odisha) will begin this year, Stalin added.
Dr R Sivananthan, Commissioner, TNSDA, told DH that Mayiladumparai can be termed as the earliest Iron Age site in South India as Brahmagiri in Karnataka was the earliest so far with AMS dates going back to 2040 BCE.
“The date we have got for Mayiladumparai is 2172 BCE. It is just about a century and we need more evidence. The earliest evidence of the Iron Age in Tamil Nadu so far was 1500 BCE and Mayiladumparai pushes it back by another six to seven centuries. Since this is just the 1st phase in Mayiladumparai, we should wait for more cultural deposits,” he told DH.
An archaeological expert put the findings in perspective saying that the AMS dating has brought Tamil Nadu “within the Indian framework” as the cultural deposits in Mayiladumparai are 4,200 years old.
“The earliest Iron Age site in Tamil Nadu so far was 1500 BCE old while all other such sites in the country were beyond 2000 BCE. There were a lot of questions on why there was no scientific evidence on the use of iron despite it being mentioned in literature and having rich iron ore in the Salem region. With this, we now have findings,” the expert said.
The report released by the government also spoke about references in Sangam literature on iron, the use of iron, and the methods of making iron weapons. Literature refers to iron as ‘blacksmiths’ and ‘blacksmiths with strong hands’.
“It can be said that the iron industry was very advanced from the fact that many fine words about the iron industry find a place in Tamil literature. One could realise that the iron technology was in an advanced stage as one could find many fine technical terms in Tamil literature,” he said.
5000-Year-Old Jewellery Making Factory Discovered In Millennia-Old Harappan City In Haryana’s Rakhigarhi
Rakhigarhi in Haryana is world-famous for some of the most well-known sites Harrapan civilisation, and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has been conducting new excavations for the last 32 years. Now, it seems ASI has made one of its biggest discoveries in the 7,000-year-old planned Harappan city with the excavation of a 5000-year-old factory which used to manufacture jewellery.
The excavation and study at Rakhigarhi have so far revealed that this place once not only housed a planned Harappan city with some of the best engineering marvels of the time but also engaged in trading and business practices.
The archaeologists found evidence of town planning, including streets, pucca walls and multi-storeyed houses. Evidence of modern engineering which is currently being used to build big cities– like straight streets, drains, and dustbins placed at corners of streets for garbage– were also found from the excavation site in Rakhigarhi.
During the latest round of excavation in Rakhigarhi, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of May, skeletons of two women were found along with jewellery. Along with skeletons, utensils used by the deceased were also found.
Elaborating on the latest discoveries, Sanjay K Manjul, Joint Director General, ASI told news agency ANI that Rakhigarhi archaeological site has seven mounds and pieces of evidence of Harappan culture have been uncovered in all seven of them. “Similar excavations have happened before and this is the third phase,” he said.
Sharing his observations on the engineering marvels of the Harappan civilisation, the archaeologist said well-led planning could be observed here, with streets and walls along with it, house complexes, drainage systems, burnt brick structural support and varieties of pottery components with many paintings showing their improved baking technique.
“Copper and gold objects were also found, along with artefacts, beads, sealed scripts with motifs, and ceilings with Harappan script and elephant depictions. This shows their cultural diversity. Our motive is to develop this site iconically,” he added.
History of Rakhigarhi: In Points
Rakhigarhi is the largest archaeological site of the Harappan civilisation which comes under two modern villages Rakhi-Shahpur and Rakhigarhi-Khash. For the first time, this site was excavated in 1998-2001 by the ASI. After that from 2013 to 2016, Deccan College, Pune worked here.
Rakhigarhi has been classified as a major metropolitan centre of the Harappan culture. During an investigation conducted in 1969 by Professor Suraj Bhan, it was found that archaeological remains of Rakhigarhi and settlements are of the nature of the Harappan culture.
Later, during an investigation conducted by the ASI and Pune Deccan College, it came to the fore that this place has a cluster township spread across 500 hectares. It includes 11 mounds which have been named RGR- 1 TO 11.
The excavations carried out by the ASI under the directions of Amarendra Nath during the year 1997-98 to 1999-2000 revealed various occupational phases beginning from the pre-formative stage to the mature Harrapan period covering the time from 5th millennia BCE to 3rd millennia BCE based on the radiocarbon dates obtained from various layers.
How ASI plans to develop Rakhigarhi In Future
According to a report by news agency IANS, there is a procedure going on for a memorandum of understanding between the ASI and Haryana government under which the ancient things of the Rakhigarhi will be displayed in a museum which is under the Haryana government.
The ASI will soon start excavation in September 2022 and after that will throw open these mounds, so that the tourists can get full information. Very soon Rakhigarhi will witness a beeline of tourists as the officials want that when the tourists see the remains they get the information about the antique and the truth about it.
As per the announcement made by the Central government in the Union Budget 2020-21, Rakhigarhi will be developed as one of the five best iconic places for which excavation started on February 24, 2022.
The government’s aim is to facilitate the tourists who come to Rakhigarhi besides exposing structural remains. Besides, its aim is also to understand the settlement of Harappa in Rakhigarhi and the interrelation of seven mounds.
Ancient Chinese Earthquake Detector Invented 2,000 Years Ago Really Worked!
A seismometer or seismoscope is an instrument that detects and measures the motions of the ground as a result of seismic waves gushing from an earthquake, volcanic eruption or powerful explosion.
Today, there are thousands of such instruments dispersed in key places around the world that constantly keep watching, gather data and help seismologists better their understanding of how earthquakes work. And no, we can’t predict earthquakes yet.
You might be surprised to find, however, that the first seismometer was invented in China in 132 AD by a Chinese astronomer, mathematician, engineer, and inventor called Zhang Heng.
The instrument was said to resemble a wine jar six feet in diameter, with eight dragons positioned face down along the outside of the barrel, marking the primary compass directions. In each dragon’s mouth was a small bronze ball.
Beneath the dragons sat eight bronze toads, with their broad mouths gaping to receive the balls.
When the instrument sensed an incoming seismic wave, one of the balls would drop and the sound would alert observers to the earthquake, giving a rough indication of the earthquake’s direction of origin.
The device is said to have been very accurate and could detect earthquakes from afar, and did not rely on shaking or movement in the location where the instrument was positioned.
The first-ever earthquake recorded by this seismograph was supposedly somewhere in the east. Days later, a rider from there reported this earthquake.
Moreover, it had the most wicked ornaments. They don’t make scientific instruments like they used to!
Of course, the insides of the seismometer were filled with a sensing mechanism of some sort, the contents of which have been lost in time. In all likelihood, a simple or inverted pendulum was employed, according to experts.
In 2005, scientists in Zhengzhou, China built a replica of Zhang’s seismoscope, estimating the content of the inner mechanism by using technology that was available during the great inventor’s time.
They used the replica to detect simulated earthquakes based on waves from four different real-life earthquakes in China and Vietnam.
The seismoscope detected all of them. As a matter of fact, the data gathered from the tests corresponded accurately with that collected by modern-day seismometers!