Category Archives: ASIA

490-Million-Year-Old Trilobites Could Solve Ancient Geography Puzzle

490-Million-Year-Old Trilobites Could Solve Ancient Geography Puzzle

490-Million-Year-Old Trilobites Could Solve Ancient Geography Puzzle

The humble trilobites may be extinct, but even as fossils, they can teach us much about our planet’s history. Indeed, ancient arthropods from nearly half a billion years ago, including ten newly discovered species,  may be key to understanding Thailand’s place on the former supercontinent Gondwana.

Trilobites are extinct sea creatures with half-moon-shaped heads that breathed through their legs.

A 100-page monograph in the British journal offers great detail about the new species, including one named in honor of Thai Royal Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

The trilobite fossils were trapped between layers of petrified ash in sandstone, the product of old volcanic eruptions that settled on the sea floor and formed a green layer called a tuff.

Unlike some other kinds of rocks or sediment, tuffs contain crystals of zircon — a mineral that formed during an eruption and are, as the name of the rock layer containing them suggests, tough.

Zircon is chemically stable as well as heat and weather resistant. It is hard as steel and persists when minerals in other kinds of rocks erode. Inside these resilient zircon crystals, individual atoms of uranium gradually decay and transform into atoms of lead.

“We can use radio isotope techniques to date when the zircon formed and thus find the age of the eruption, as well as the fossil,” said Nigel Hughes, monograph co-author and UC Riverside geology professor.

It is rare to find tuffs from this particular period of time, the late Cambrian period, between 497 and 485 million years ago. “Not many places around the world have this. It is one of the worst dated intervals of time in Earth’s history,” Hughes said.

Artist’s rendering of a trilobite based on preserved soft body parts.

“The tuffs will allow us to not only determine the age of the fossils we found in Thailand, but to better understand parts of the world like China, Australia, and even North America where similar fossils have been found in rocks that cannot be dated,” said Shelly Wernette, former Hughes lab geologist now at Texas State University, and first author of the monograph.

The fossils were uncovered on the coast of an island called Ko Tarutao. It is about 40 minutes southwest from the mainland via high-speed boat and is part of a UNESCO geopark site that has encouraged international teams of scientists to work in this area.

For Wernette, the most interesting discovery was 12 types of trilobites that have been seen in other parts of the world, but never in Thailand before. “We can now connect Thailand to parts of Australia, a really exciting discovery.”

During the trilobites’ lifetime, this region was on the outer margins of Gondwanaland, an ancient supercontinent that included Africa, India, Australia, South America, and Antarctica.

“Because continents shift over time, part of our job has been to work out where this region of Thailand was in relation to the rest of Gondwanaland,” Hughes said. “It’s a moving, shape shifting, 3D jigsaw puzzle we’re trying to put together. This discovery will help us do that.”

Location of the fossil discoveries.

For example, take the species named for Royal Princess Sirindhorn. The species was named in tribute to the princess for her steadfast dedication to developing the sciences in Thailand. “I also thought this species had a regal quality. It has a broad headdress and clean sweeping lines,” Wernette said.

If researchers can get a date from the tuffs containing her namesake species, Tsinania sirindhornae, and determine when they lived, they will be able to say that closely related species of Tsinania found in northern and southern China are roughly the same age.

Ultimately, the researchers feel that the pictures of the ancient world hidden in the fossils they found contain invaluable information for the present day.

“What we have here is a chronicle of evolutionary change accompanied by extinctions. The Earth has written this record for us, and we’re fortunate to have it,” Hughes said. “The more we learn from it the better prepared we are for the challenges we’re engineering on the planet for ourselves today.”

Archaeologists unearthed a pot of copper coins in first major discovery at Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan, in 93 years

Archaeologists unearthed a pot of copper coins in first major discovery at Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan, in 93 years

Archaeologists unearthed a pot of copper coins in first major discovery at Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan, in 93 years

A pot full of copper coins was discovered from a stupa (a dome-shaped building erected as a Buddhist shrine) at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mohenjo Daro during conservation work in Pakistan’s Sindh province.

Mohenjo Daro, or “Mound of the Dead” is an ancient Indus Valley Civilization city that flourished between 2600 and 1900 BCE. The ruins of the huge city of Moenjodaro – built entirely of unbaked brick lie in the Indus Valley. The site was discovered in the 1920s.

The Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro are the best preserved urban settlement in South Asia. The acropolis, set on high embankments, the ramparts, and the lower town, which is laid out according to strict rules, provide evidence of an early system of town planning.

Experts evaluated the discovery of the pot filled with copper coins as the first significant artifact discovery in 5,000-year-old city ruins after 93 years.

Director of Archaeology Mohenjodaro, Dr Syed Shakir Shah, who led the team comprising archaeological conservator Ghulam Shabir Joyo, had confirmed that the staff busy with preservation work had stumbled upon the pot of coins on Wednesday.

Shah said laborers recovered the pot of coins during excavation but buried it again. Later some of them informed the officials of the archives department who then dug them out.

The team continued the work for three hours and safely secured the coins buried in the debris along with the jar wherein they were kept. Officials said the jar of coins weighing about five and a half kilograms was later shifted to the soil testing laboratory at the site.

The pot of coins.

Sheikh Javed Sindhi, who was engaged in research at the site, said that previously, 4,348 copper coins were excavated by R.D. Banerji, Sir John Marshall, and Mackay from 1922 to 1931. These coins belonged to the Kushan Period dating back to the 2 to 5 Century AD, he said. “The present discovery is remarkable after 93 years and its credit goes to the Mohenjodaro team,” he said.

Shakir Shah told journalists later that most probably the coins belonged to the Kushan Period.

“Though we have shifted the coins to the laboratory [for the time being] we will definitely hire experts to confirm the period which could be revealed from the inscriptions on the coins. We have to look for which dynasties of the Kushan Period the coins belong to,” he said.

Rustam Bhutto, in-charge of the soil and water testing laboratory, said the treatment process for separating the amalgamated coins would take at least a month to make the figures and language on coins visible.

Ali Haidar Gadhi, senior conservationist at said that Mr Banerji discovered nearly 2,000 coins, 338 of which were of the period of Kushan ruler Vasudeva-1 with standing royal figure on obverse and Shiva on the reverse and the bulk comprising 1,823 un-inscribed cast copper coins. “Another nine had fire altar on the obverse and a crude figure on reverse,” he said.

Mohenjo Daro.

“Although subsequent investigations suggest a break between the end of the Indus occupation and the Kushan phase, it is unlikely that the site was ever totally abandoned due to its high position and the protection it afforded against floods,” he said.

The Kushans existed from around the 1st century CE to the 3rd century CE and played a significant role in connecting various regions through trade, diplomacy, and cultural exchange.

The first Kushan ruler was Kujula Kadphises, who may be identified with the Yabgu of Guishuang named Qiu Jiuque in Hou Han shu. Numismatic evidence shows that Kujula Kadphises continued to imitate posthumous types of coinage of the last Indo-Greek ruler in central Afghanistan.

Other copper coins issued by Kujula Kadphises copy the royal portrait on the obverse from gold coins of the Roman emperor Augustus (31 BCE – 14 CE). The image of the seated Roman emperor is transformed into a Kushan ruler, who is identified as Kujula Kadphises in Greek and Kharosthi legends. As the Kushans progressed further into northwestern India, Kujula Kadphises adopted the title “Great King, King of Kings” on coins patterned on those of Saka and Parthian rulers.

While evidence from coins and inscriptions at Rabatak and Surkh Kotal clearly shows that the Kushans maintained Iranian religious beliefs and practices, other inscriptions show that Kushan officials under Kaniska and his successors patronized Buddhists. The fire altar on previously discovered coins has Iranian influences.

Oldest Human Remains Unearthed In Vietman

Oldest Human Remains Unearthed In Vietman

Scientists report discovering the oldest human fossil ever unearthed in Vietnam.

The skeletal remains that date back 10,000 years were found during an excavation by the Vietnam Institute of Archaeology at the Tam Chuc Pagoda Complex in Kim Bang District.

“This is the first-time human remains dating back 10,000 years have been discovered in Vietnam,” Mai Thanh Chung, director of the Ha Nam Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said.

Oldest Human Remains Unearthed In Vietman
Human remains were found in the Tam Chuc Pagoda Complex in the Kim Bang District of Ha Nam Province.

While examining the site, researchers discovered three graves of children and adults, with the people buried in a kneeling position.

In addition to human remains, scientists also found mollusk shells and teeth bones of small animals in the excavation pit, which could have been food sources for ancient people, the VNExpress informs.

The team from the Institute of Archeology also made two intriguing discoveries at two caves in Kim Bang where they unearthed “prehistoric paleontological vestiges and material culture including animal fossils and reddish-brown rope pottery fragments belonging to the Dong Son culture.

Dong Son was a Bronze Age culture in ancient Vietnam centered in the Red River valley of northern Vietnam from 1000 BC until the first century AD.”

Tam Chuc pagoda – the world’s largest pagoda located in Ha Nam province of Vietnam.

“Renowned for its large, ceremonial bronze drums and viewed by many as the foundational culture for an emerging Vietnamese civilization, bearers of the Dongson Culture were farming societies scattered throughout the Bac Bo region of Vietnam along its main river systems.

These communities were marked by sophisticated bronze-working industries, intensifying agricultural practices, and degrees of social differentiation and political complexity.

They were well positioned for interaction and exchange with others throughout the local area and further afield, connecting Dongson societies with counterparts elsewhere in present-day areas of central Vietnam, southern China, Laos, and Thailand,” Nam C. Kim writes in The Oxford Handbook of Early Southeast Asia. 

When scientists explored the Tam Chuc complex, a famous spiritual destination in Vietnam and home to one of the largest pagodas in the world, they came across sea mollusk shells along with stream snails. 

At the top of the mountain in the complex were pieces of pottery lying alongside mollusk pieces.

Archaeologists from the Vietnam Institute of Archaeology conducted an excavation in the Tam Chuc Pagoda Complex in the Kim Bang District of Ha Nam Province.

According to the institute, many Kim Bang relics date from the late Pleistocene to the late Holocene age, 10,000-12,000 years ago.

Researchers concluded that the district used to be a favorable area, inhabited by many ancient residents.

Future archaeological excavations can offer more information about people who lived here a long time ago, and there is no doubt that finding the oldest human skeleton in Vietnam is an exciting and significant discovery.

10,000-Year-Old Human Remains Discovered in Vietnam

10,000-Year-Old Human Remains Discovered in Vietnam

Skeletal remains dating back 10,000 years have been found in the northern province of Ha Nam, marking the oldest human fossil ever unearthed in Vietnam.

10,000-Year-Old Human Remains Discovered in Vietnam
Human remains found in Tam Chuc Pagoda Complex in Kim Bang District of Ha Nam Province, March 2023.

Mai Thanh Chung, director of the Ha Nam Department of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, said at a meeting Thursday that the remains were found during an excavation carried out by the Vietnam Institute of Archaeology at the Tam Chuc Pagoda Complex in Kim Bang District last March.

Archaeologists discovered three graves of children and adults, with the people buried in a kneeling position.

“This is the first time human remains dating back 10,000 years have been discovered in Vietnam,” said Chung.

In addition to human remains, scientists also found in the excavation pit mollusk shells and teeth and bones of small animals, which could have been food sources for ancient people.

Archaeologists from the Vietnam Institute of Archaeology during an excavation in Tam Chuc Pagoda Complex in Kim Bang District of Ha Nam Province, March 2023.

Also during the March excavation at two caves in Kim Bang, the Institute of Archeology discovered prehistoric paleontological vestiges and material culture, including animal fossils and reddish-brown rope pottery fragments belonging to the Dong Son culture.

Dong Son was a Bronze Age culture in ancient Vietnam centered in the Red River valley of northern Vietnam from 1000 BC until the first century AD.

Within the Tam Chuc complex, the archeologists discovered sea mollusk shells along with stream snails. At the top of the mountain in the complex, they found pieces of pottery lying alongside mollusk pieces.

Many of the Kim Bang relics date back from the late Pleistocene to the late Holocene, or 10,000-12,000 years ago, according to the institute.

Researchers concluded that the district used to be a favorable area, inhabited by many ancient residents.

Headless Lamassu Sculpture Uncovered in Iraq

Headless Lamassu Sculpture Uncovered in Iraq

What has a curly beard that would make Santa Claus jealous, feathered wings and a muscular physique? No, it’s not Ozzy Osbourne on tour – you are forgiven – it’s the celestial being, the Lamassu.

Headless Lamassu Sculpture Uncovered in Iraq

A sculpture of this mythical creature dating back to the 8th Century BC was unearthed on Tuesday by archaeologists in northern Iraq, largely intact despite its huge dimensions.

Many of these towering winged alabaster deities were stationed at the entrances of ancient cities across the Neo-Assyrian Empire, now modern-day Iraq.

Boasting the head of a man, the body of a bull and the wings of an eagle, these monuments symbolised intelligence, strength and freedom. Female versions also existed and were called ‘apsasu’.

Weighing 18 tonnes, and carved from a single piece of limestone, the head was confiscated from smugglers in the 90s.

“The head of the Lamassu was cut away and was stolen and recovered during the 90s by the customs in Baghdad. I think now the head is in the Baghdad museum. The rest of the body was found here and is in excellent shape” said Pascal Butterlin, a professor of Archeology at Paris Sorbonne University.

First mentioned in the 19th century by French archaeologist Victor Place, the relief dropped from public records until the 1990s when Iraqi authorities earmarked it for “urgent intervention”.

It was originally erected at the entrance to the ancient city of Khorsabad, some 15 kilometres north of the modern city of Mosul.

It was commissioned during the reign of King Sargon II who ruled from 722 to 705 BC and erected at the city’s gates to provide protection

“We can now study the whole context of this beautiful gate which might still be in very good condition” continued Butterlin.

“I never unearthed anything this big in my life before,” Butterlin said of the piece measuring 3.8 by 3.9 metres “Normally, it’s only in Egypt or Cambodia that you find pieces this big.

“The attention to detail is unbelievable,” said the professor of Middle East archaeology at the University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne.

It was during this period that looters pillaged the head and chopped it into pieces to smuggle it abroad.

The rest of the relief was spared the destruction wreaked by the Islamic State jihadist group, which overran the area in 2014. Residents of the modern village of Khorsabad reportedly hid it before fleeing to government-held territory.

Modern Human Genome Study Tracks Neanderthal DNA

Modern Human Genome Study Tracks Neanderthal DNA

A wave of migrating farmers from the ancient Middle East may be the reason why modern Europeans don’t carry as much Neanderthal DNA as today’s East Asians do, a new study finds.

Modern Human Genome Study Tracks Neanderthal DNA
Europeans have less Neanderthal (pictured right) ancestry than East Asians do today because farming Homo sapiens migrated from the Middle East into Europe about 10,000 years ago.

All humans with ancestry from outside of Africa have a little bit of Neanderthal in them — about 2% of the genome, on average. But people with East Asian ancestry have between 8% and 24% more Neanderthal genes than people of European ancestry. That’s a bit of a paradox, because fossil evidence suggests Neanderthals lived in Europe. Why, then, should East Asians carry more of those genes today?

Now, a new study posits a solution to this conundrum: While a wave of human migration out of Africa before at least 40,000 years ago brought Homo sapiens — who were hunter-gatherers — into contact with their Homo neanderthalensis cousins and led to interbreeding, a later wave of H. sapiens migrating about 10,000 years ago diluted Neanderthal genes in Europe only. This was the movement of farmers with minimal Neanderthal ancestry from what is today the Middle East and southwestern Asia into Europe.

These early farmers mixed with local hunter-gatherers, bringing a more H. sapiens-flavored genome to the region. The Homo sapiens who settled East Asia by around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago did not undergo this dilution from newcomers.

“What we propose is a simple explanation,” study lead author Claudio Quilodrán, a postdoctoral researcher in ecology and evolution at the University of Oxford, told Live Science. “It’s just migration.”

Ever since the Neanderthal genome was first sequenced 13 years ago, there have been questions about the mixture of modern human and Neanderthal genes, said John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, who was not involved in the study.

Research suggests that having Neanderthal genes didn’t lead to any major survival advantages or disadvantages for humans, so natural selection is probably not the reason why some populations carry more of these genes than others, Hawks told Live Science.

People have suggested that maybe East Asians met and mixed with additional Neanderthal populations in parts unknown, such as India or Iran, but this is just speculation.

“This scenario says that’s not necessary,” Hawks said. “We can explain this difference based on just one expansion.”

To trace the history of human-Neanderthal relations, Quilodrán and his colleagues looked at 4,464 previously sequenced ancient to modern Homo sapiens genomes, dating from 40,000 years ago to today, examining the proportion of Neanderthal DNA in relation to latitude, longitude, time and region.

They found that early on, the proportion of Neanderthal DNA in anatomically modern humans was higher in Europe than in Asia, matching with what would be expected if early Homo sapiens were radiating out of Africa and meeting their cousins in the Near East and Europe. The reduction in Neanderthal genes in European humans came later.

Particularly stark was the difference between European hunter-gatherers and the Neolithic farmers who came to settle Europe about 10,000 years ago.

The hunter-gatherers had a higher proportion of Neanderthal genes than the Neolithic farmers, suggesting that this wave of newcomers diluted Neanderthal ancestry in Europe. East Asia didn’t see a similar influx — their farmers were homegrown, Hawks said — so East Asian genetics weren’t diluted in the same way. The researchers published their findings Wednesday (Oct. 18) in the journal Science Advances.

“What’s so fascinating about this article is that it takes into account a tremendous amount of ancient DNA evidence that’s now out there,” said Richard Potts, a paleoanthropologist and director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the research.

Encounters between Neanderthals and modern humans occurred even earlier than 40,000 years ago, Potts told Live Science. Last week (Oct. 13), a group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania reported in the journal Current Biology that well before 75,000 years ago, a group of modern humans met Neanderthals in Europe, interbred with them, and then died out, leaving their mark in 6% of the Neanderthal genome.

“It’s a very fluid system,” Potts said. “This particular paper didn’t need to take anything like that into account, but it will be really interesting once that added complexity is considered.”

A cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David

A cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David

A cryptic 2,700-year-old pig skeleton found in Jerusalem’s City of David
An ancient pig skeleton is seen in Jerusalem, having been discovered in a building dating back to the First Temple.

Israeli archaeologists have unearthed the complete skeleton of a piglet in a place and time where you wouldn’t expect to find pork remains: a Jerusalem home dating to the First Temple period.

The 2,700-year-old porcine remains were found crushed by large pottery vessels and collapsed walls during excavations in the so-called City of David, the original nucleus of ancient Jerusalem. The team of archaeologists behind the discovery reported their findings in a study published in the June edition of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

The find of swine adds to previous research showing that pork was occasionally on the menu for the ancient Israelites and that biblical taboos on this and other prohibited foods only came to be observed centuries later, in the Second Temple period. It also ties into broader questions about when the Bible was written and when Judaism as we know it was born.

This little piggy wasn’t bacon

The animal’s skull clearly identifies it as a domestic pig, as opposed to a wild swine, and its presence indicates that pigs were raised for food in the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Judah, says Lidar Sapir-Hen, an archaeozoologist at Tel Aviv University and at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History. The fact that the skeleton was found intact suggests that this specific piglet, less than seven months old, was not eaten, but died accidentally when the building was destroyed at some point in the eighth-century B.C.E, Sapir-Hen and colleagues report.

First Temple period structures near the Gihon Spring in Jerusalem’s City of David, where the pig skeleton was found along with the “butchered” remains of many other types of animals.

But there can be little doubt of what the piglet’s ultimate fate would have been having its home not collapsed for as yet unclear reasons. In addition to large storage jars and smaller cooking vessels, the room where the pig was unearthed also hosted dozens of animal bones from sheep, goats, cattle, gazelles, as well as fish and birds, the archaeologists report.

Most of these remains were burnt or showed signs of butchery, meaning the animals had long been dead and eaten when the building was destroyed, Sapir-Hen says.

This suggests that this room was where meals were prepared or eaten,” she says. “So this pig was just waiting for its turn.”

We don’t know the cause of the building’s collapse, as there is no known major destruction event in Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C.E., says Joe Uziel, the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist who led the dig. It may have been destroyed by an earthquake or a more localized event, he speculates.

In any case, the structure was rebuilt and continued to be in use until around 586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the First Temple, Uziel says. The building had at least four rooms and was located in a fairly central area near the Gihon spring, the main source of water for the city at the time. Constructed with rough fieldstones, it was probably a private home, although the fact that bullae, or seal impressions, were unearthed in another room suggests it may have also had an additional, administrative function, Uziel says.

An archaeologist retrieves the skull of a piglet from a First Temple period building in Jerusalem’s City of David at the site where the “articulated” pig skeleton was also found.

The excavation also yielded an elegantly carved bone pendant and a human figurine. Together with the great variety of animals found alongside the pig, all of this indicates the house was occupied by an upper-class family, the archaeologist says.

The importance and central location of the house suggest that pig husbandry and pork consumption may have been a rare treat, but still very much part of “mainstream” food habits, he says. In other words, it doesn’t look like this was something done secretively by, say, a poorer household that may have been desperately in need of a quick meal.

At this point, we have to wonder how to square the idea that pigs were infrequently but openly raised in Jerusalem with the biblical injunction that: “The swine, though he divides the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.” (Leviticus 11:7-8

It’s the Levantine economy, stupid

While domesticated pig bones are rarely found in Jerusalem and in most of the Levant, they are not entirely absent, Sapir-Hen notes. In excavations from the First Temple period in Jerusalem and in other sites from the Kingdom of Judah, swine bones constitute up to 2 per cent of the animal remains unearthed, she says.

Already back in the 1990s, archaeologists also observed that pig bones were much more frequent in the coastal strip that was inhabited by the Philistines. Scholars thus concluded that a dearth of pig bones identified a site as Israelite and that the biblical ban on partaking in pork was already known and observed in the First Temple period.

But more recent research by Sapir-Hen and others has shown that the picture is much more complex. For one thing, the near absence of pig bones is not unique to Israelite sites of the Iron Age, the period that roughly corresponds to the First Temple era. Swine is equally scarce in most of Canaan during the preceding era, the Late Bronze Age, a time before the writing of the Bible or the formation of ancient Israel.

This dearth then continues in the Iron Age, not only in Judah but in many of its neighbours, including sites linked to the Canaanites, Phoenicians and Arameans, Sapir-Hen notes. Even when it comes to the supposedly pork-loving Philistines, the situation is actually more nuanced.

While the diet of Philistine city-dwellers did include a larger proportion of pigs, which were seemingly imported from Greece, swine bones are almost absent from their rural settlements, in keeping with the dietary habits of the rest of the Levant. Equally puzzling is the fact that in the Kingdom of Israel, Judah’s northern neighbour, a pig is rare in the early Iron Age, but it increases to up to 8 per cent of the animal mix at urban sites in the eighth century B.C.E.

All of this indicates that the tendency to eschew pork in the Iron Age cannot be linked to a specific ethnic identity or to the biblical prohibition, Sapir-Hen concludes. Pigs were only a small part of the Levantine diet most probably because other animals, especially goats, sheep and cattle, were more suited to the local environment and economy.

Pigs can be raised in an urban environment, as they require less space, but they also need a nearby water source: it is perhaps not a coincidence that the Jerusalem piglet was found near the city’s spring. This may explain why, throughout the Levant, swine occurrences only tend to rise at times and in places where populations increase and are concentrated in larger urban settlements, whether in Philistia, in the Kingdom of Israel or, to a lesser extent, in the more built-up sections of Judah’s capital, Jerusalem.

Gods, figurines and shrimp

Figurine and bone pendant found in the building where the piglet’s remains were found

This also gels with a growing body of research on the Israelite religion in the First Temple period. While scholars believe that parts of the Bible were already compiled at the tail end of this era, it is generally agreed that the holy text we know today only reached its final form after the Babylonian exile, in the Second Temple period.

Whenever the Bible was actually written, archaeological finds have shown that, in practice, First Temple-period Judaism was very different from the religion it would later become. While the ancient Israelites believed in Yahweh, the God of the Bible, they also worshipped other deities, including Asherah, who was thought to be God’s wife. They liberally made figurines and other graven images, ostensibly banned by the Second Commandment.

Additionally, a study published just last month in the Tel Aviv journal of archaeology looked at the finding, at archaeological sites throughout Israel, of bones from scaleless and finless fish, which are also prohibited by the Bible’s dietary rules. The research showed that catfish, sharks and other non-kosher fish were commonly consumed in Jerusalem and Judah during the First Temple period, and only for the late Second Temple period is there clear evidence that Jews were eschewing such banned seafood.

In other words, biblical prohibitions that are considered signposts of the Jewish faith today were unknown, unheeded or non-existent back in the First Temple period. And it seems that, from time to time, the ancient Israelites were not averse to literally bringing home the bacon.

Smashed pottery vessels in the room where the pig was found

Meet ‘Dragon Man,’ the latest addition to the human family tree

Meet ‘Dragon Man,’ the latest addition to the human family tree

This illustration shows what Homo longi — dragon man — may have looked like.

A cranium hidden at the bottom of a well in northeastern China for more than 80 years may belong to a new species of early human that researchers have called “dragon man.”

The exciting discovery is the latest addition to a human family tree that is rapidly growing and shifting, thanks to new fossil finds and analysis of ancient DNA preserved in teeth, bones and cave dirt.

The well-preserved skullcap, found in the Chinese city of Harbin, is between 138,000 and 309,000 years old, according to geochemical analysis, and it combines primitive features, such as a broad nose and low brow and braincase, with those that are more similar to Homo sapiens, including flat and delicate cheekbones.

The ancient hominin – which researchers said was “probably” a 50-year-old man – would have had an “extremely wide” face, deep eyes with large eye sockets, big teeth and a brain similar in size to modern humans.

Three papers detailing the find were published in the journal The Innovation on Friday.

“The Harbin skull is the most important fossil I’ve seen in 50 years. It shows how important East Asia and China is in telling the human story,” said Chris Stringer, research leader in human origins at The Natural History Museum in London and coauthor of the research.

Researchers named the new hominin Homo longi, which is derived from Heilongjiang, or Black Dragon River, the province where the cranium was found. The team plans to see if it’s possible to extract ancient proteins or DNA from the cranium, which included one tooth, and will begin a more detailed study of the skull’s interior, looking at sinuses and both ear and brain shape, using CT scans.

Meet ‘Dragon Man,’ the latest addition to the human family tree
Dragon man’s large size could be an adaptation to the harsh environment in which he likely lived, researchers said.

We are family

It’s easy to think of Homo sapiens as unique, but there was a time when we weren’t the only humans on the block. In the millennia since Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa about 300,000 years ago, we have shared the planet with Neanderthals, the enigmatic Denisovans, the “hobbit” Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonensis and Homo naledi, as well as several other ancient hominins. We had sex with some of them and produced babies. Some of these ancestors are well represented in the fossil record, but most of what we know about Denisovans comes from genetic information in our DNA. The story of human evolution is changing all the time in what is a particularly exciting period for paleoanthropology, Stringer said.

The announcement of dragon man’s discovery comes a day after a different group researchers published a paper in the journal Science on fossils found in Israel, which they said also could represent another new type of early human. The jaw bone and skull fragment suggested a group of people lived in the Middle East 120,000 to 420,000 years ago with anatomical features more primitive than early modern humans and Neanderthals.

While the team of researchers stopped short of calling the group a new hominin species based on the fossil fragments they studied, they said the fossils resembled pre-Neanderthal human populations in Europe and challenged the view that Neanderthals originated there.

“This is a complicated story, but what we are learning is that the interactions between different human species in the past were much more convoluted than we had previously appreciated,” Rolf Quam, a professor of anthropology at Binghamton University and a coauthor of the study on the Israeli fossils, said in a news release

Stringer, who was not involved in the Science research, said the fossils were less complete than the Harbin skull, but it was definitely plausible that different types of humans co-existed in the Levant, which was a geographical crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe that today includes Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Jordan and other countries in the Middle East.

Two fossils found in Israel challenge the idea that Neanderthals originated in Europe.

Concealed treasure

The Harbin cranium was discovered in 1933 by an anonymous Chinese man when a bridge was built over the Songhua River in Harbin, according to one of the studies in The Innovation. At the time, that part of China was under Japanese occupation, and the man who found it took it home and stored it at the bottom of a well for safekeeping.

“Instead of passing the cranium to his Japanese boss, he buried it in an abandoned well, a traditional Chinese method of concealing treasures,” according to the study.

After the war, the man returned to farming during a tumultuous time in Chinese history and never re-excavated his treasure. The skull remained unknown to science for decades, surviving the Japanese invasion, civil war, the Cultural Revolution and, more recently, rampant commercial fossil trading in China, the researchers said.

The third generation of the man’s family only learned about his secret discovery before his death and recovered the fossil from the well in 2018. Qiang Ji, one of the authors of the research, heard about the skull and convinced the family to donate it to the Geoscience Museum of Hebei GEO University.

‘Sister lineage’

The so-called dragon man likely belonged to a lineage that may be our closest relatives, even more closely related to us than Neanderthals, the study found. His large size and where the fossil was found, in one of China’s coldest places, could mean the species had adapted to harsh environments.

Dragon man had a large brain, deep set eyes, thick brow ridges, a wide mouth and oversize teeth.

“We are human beings. It is always a fascinating question about where we were from and how we evolved,” said coauthor Xijun Ni, a research professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the vice director of the Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins.

“We found our long-lost sister lineage.”

The study suggested that other puzzling Chinese fossils that paleoanthropologists have found hard to classify – such as those found in Dali in Yunnan in southwestern China and a jawbone from the Tibetan plateau, thought by some to be Denisovan – could belong to the Homo longi species.

Stringer said also it was definitely plausible that dragon man could be a representative of Denisovans, a little-known and enigmatic human population that hasn’t yet been officially classified as a hominin species according to taxonomic rules.

They are named after a Siberian cave where the only definitive Denisovan bone fragments have been found, but genetic evidence from modern human DNA suggests they once lived throughout Asia.

Denisovans is a general name, Stringer said, and they haven’t officially been recognized as a new species – in part because the five Denisovan fossils that exist are so tiny they don’t fulfill the requirements for a “designated type specimen” that would make it a name-bearing representative.

Denisovans and Homo longi both had large, similar molars, the study noted, but, given the small number of fossils available for comparison, it was impossible to say for sure, said Ni, who hoped that DNA experiments might reveal whether they are the same species.

“We’ve only just begun what will be years of studying this fascinating fossil,” Stringer said.