Monkeys in southern Thailand use rocks to pound open oil palm nuts, inadvertently shattering stone pieces off their makeshift nutcrackers. These flakes resemble some sharp-edged stone tools presumed to have been created on purpose by ancient hominids, researchers say.
Thailand’s long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) produce shards that could easily be mistaken for stone flakes previously found at 17 East African hominid sites dating from about 3.3 million to 1.56 million years ago, say archaeologist Tomos Proffitt and colleagues.
Observations of rock bashing by these two monkey species undermine a long-standing assumption that hominids must have intentionally made certain ancient stone flakes, including some of the earliest known examples of tools, Proffitt says (SN: 6/3/19). It’s time to reevaluate how such determinations are made, he contends.
Proffitt’s group identified 219 complete and fragmented stone flakes at 40 macaque nut-cracking sites on the island where the monkeys live.
The team also found rocks showing damage consistent with having been used either as pounding implements or pounding platforms.
Some differences do exist between macaque and hominid stone flakes, says Proffitt, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. For instance, many macaque flakes display battering damage on only one side, versus frequent two-sided damage on hominid artifacts.
Such clues may help archaeologists develop guidelines for estimating whether ancient hominids made stone flakes on purpose or by accident, Proffitt suspects.
Atlanta FBI agents started investigating the stolen art last year. The artifact turned up at an Emory University museum in 2006.
The FBI announced Thursday that the U.S. has returned a stolen Iraqi artifact that has been missing for 20 years, officials said.
The “Furniture Fitting with Sphinx Trampling a Youth” first disappeared in Baghdad in 2003.
It was recently being held at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta before it was returned. The Carlos Museum purchased the artifact from a third party in 2006.
The FBI said that the party used a fake record with the wrong date the artifact entered the country.
“While we realize there was no ill intent on behalf of Emory University, we are glad our agents could return a small part of history back to where it belongs in Iraq,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in charge of FBI Atlanta.
Atlanta FBI Agents began investigating the theft last year in January. Officials with the Emory museum handed over the artifact to FBI Atlanta agents last December.
According to historians, the art dates back to the Iron Age, which happened in the 7th Century B.C. It is made of ivory, pigment and gold leaf.
Officials held a ceremony Wednesday at the Iraqi Embassy in the nations capital where the special agent team presented the artifact to an Iraqi official.
The team signed documents at the ceremony where they made it the artifact’s return to Iraq official.
Agents believe the artifact was stolen during the looting of the Iraq Museum in 2003. Experts determined it was stolen from the Iraq Museum using photographs.
“The protection of the world’s cultural heritage is a priority for the U.S. Government,” said Special Agent Rafael Jimenez.
Officials said the piece was stolen with thousands of other priceless artifacts.
Archaeologists in China have unearthed 3,500-year-old ice skates crafted from animal bone in the country’s western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, a mountainous area that some archaeologists think was the birthplace of skiing.
These ice skates, the oldest ever found in China, were made from the bones of oxen and horses, according to a translated statement. They were found in a tomb in the Gaotai Ruins, about 240 miles (385 kilometers) west of the regional capital Ürümqi, archaeologists with the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous regional government said at a news event on Feb. 27.
It’s not known if the skates were used for hunting or for regular travel. They consist of a straight piece of bone with holes at both ends so they could be strapped to footwear. The resulting “blade” is very flat compared with modern skates, but it formed a cutting edge that allowed the wearer to glide across the ice.
Archaeologist Ruan Qiurong, of the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology, told reporters that the newly-found skates are almost exactly the same as ice skates from prehistoric Europe, which can be interpreted as new evidence of a theorized exchange of information between the ancient west and east in the Bronze Age. They are also rare physical material for studying the origins of ice skating in China, he said.
Bronze Age ruins
The Goaotai Ruins where the ice skates were found are part of the Jirentai Goukou (Jartai Pass) archeological site, which was discovered in 2015. The site comprises an ancient settlement and a nearby tomb complex within a high platform surrounded by stone slabs.
Archaeologists think the site dates from about 3,600 years ago, when the region was occupied by people from the Andronovo culture of cattle-herders, which also occupied parts of Central Asia and the far east of Europe in the late Bronze Age.
The tomb platform is one of the best-preserved Bronze Age tomb buildings in Xinjiang and possibly on the Eurasian steppe, the archaeologists said.
The tombs are thought to have belonged to a noble family among the early cattle-herding people of the area, Qiurong noted; and that the excavations there have revealed important aspects of their burial rites, beliefs and social structures.
Other features of the tombs, including a ray-like structure made from 17 lines of stones, indicate a possible belief in sun-worship, he told the Indo-Asian News Service in 2020.
Wheels and wagons
The archaeologists also found the remains of dozens of wooden wagons or carts that appear to have been used to build the tomb platform. They include 11 solid wooden wheels and more than 30 wooden parts, including rims and shafts.
“We initially judged that [the wagons] were used to build the high platform around the tombs, and then dismantled and deliberately buried,” Qiurong said at the news conference.
The bone skates found at the Goaotai Ruins are not the oldest on record, but are surprisingly similar to 5,000-year-old skates found in Finland, and similar ice skates have been found at archaeological sites throughout northern Europe.
Scientists think the Finnish skates were used by ancient people in the mostly-flat regions of southern Finland, which is dotted with tens of thousands of small lakes that freeze over in the winter.
China’s mountainous Xinjiang region might also be the birthplace of skiing, according to The New York Times.
Ancient cave paintings in northern Xinjiang’s Altai Mountains, which some archaeologists think may be 10,000 years old, depict hunters on what appear to be skis. But other archaeologists dispute the claim, saying the cave paintings can’t be reliably dated.
Excavations continue in Kültepe, the starting point of Anatolian written history. During the excavations, a 4,000-year-old lion jawbone was unearthed.
For the first time, a lion’s jawbone was found in Kültepe.
Prof. Dr. Fikri Kulakoğlu of Ankara University’s Faculty of Language, History-Geography, and Archeology Department said that in 2021, they discovered many animal bones and large storage logs in the basement of a large edifice in the region.
Providing information about the lion bone found in the Kültepe excavation site to journalists, Kulakoğlu said, “For the first time, a lion’s jawbone has been found in Kültepe.”
“During the excavations, we made this year, we found a group of bones of two lions, bears, mountain sheep, deer, and wild pigs in a trench. These bones were found in bulk.
All of these animal bones belong to large, large, and wild animals. For the first time, we found two separate jawbones from two different lions, a very large bear, and bones from a large deer in this period in Anatolia. It is necessary to evaluate them as follows, these are the animals that we will accept to be raised in this region.
Animals living around Erciyes or in mountainous areas or up to Sivas. There are no lion bones unearthed in other regions dating back 4,000 years. Of course, there are bones from several million years ago. But these are two of the earliest examples of human settlement. We date these bones to 4,000 years ago. These are wild animals, they must be hunted and brought to Kültepe..”
Animal bones might be linked to the mythos
Kulakoğlu stated that the animal bones discovered at Kültepe may be connected to a myth:
“There is a tablet found in Boğazköy, its name is the Anitta tablet. According to this tablet, the king named Anitta captured Nesha with his father, and they did not touch anyone. They even built palaces and temples.
These bones were found in the area of these temples and palaces. In the inscription allegedly written by this king, it is written that he went hunting. ‘I hunted and brought back more than 100 animals, including two lions, leopards, panthers, bears, deer, and wild animals.’ he writes. This is the area right next to the temple. Of course, we don’t think for sure that these bones are related to this story, but there is a high probability that they are. Because there are traces of injury among the animal bones we found, so these were brought by hunting. This must have a historical significance and a relationship with a subject in Kültepe..”
On the lion’s jawbone and bone finds of other animals, a member of the Kültepe Excavation Committee, zooarchaeologist Prof. Dr. Claudia Minniti does scientific studies.
6,000-year-old defensive trench unearthed in China’s Henan
A defensive trench dating back around 6,000 years has been discovered at a relics site in central China’s Henan Province, according to the municipal institute of archaeology of Luoyang City.
The semi-annular trench, located at the Suyang relics site in Yiyang County, was dug manually, and the shape and structure reflected the powerful and orderly social organization ability and technical level at that time, said Ren Guang, who is in charge of the excavation of the site.
Based on unearthed relics and the accumulated layers in the trench, archaeologists believe that the trench had gone through three periods of the Yangshao Culture, dating back 5,000 to 7,000 years.
By the late period of the Yangshao Culture, the trench had probably lost its defensive function, as a number of house sites, ash pits, and production and household relics from this period were found on both sides of the trench, Ren said.
Rows of wooden posts that may have been used to protect the trench reflected the re-use of the abandoned facility by people at that time, Ren added.
Pottery, stone, jade, bone and mussel wares were also found at the site, as well as a few well-preserved remains of carbonized corn and millet.
Archaeologists initiated the Suyang relics site excavation work in early 2021.
A Rare Inscription in an Ancient Arabian Script Was Uncovered by Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia
Archaeologists in Saudi Arabia have discovered one of the longest-known plaques baring Musnad, or the pre-Islamic southern Arabian script, at the Al Ukhdud excavation site in the country’s Najran region.
Other artifacts, including three gold rings and a bronze bull’s head, were also uncovered.
The country’s heritage commission announced the finding of these pre-Islamic artifacts on Twitter, stating that the discoveries “shed a unique light on the ancient culture” that was present in southern Saudi Arabia. The commission called the discovery “exciting” and the finds “rare.”
Measuring seven-and-a-half feet long and one-and-a-half feet wide, the ancient inscription is the longest of its kind ever discovered at the site. It originally belonged to Wahib Eil bin Magan, who lived locally and worked as a water carrier, whose biography is detailed in the carving.
The term Musnad originated in early Islamic times to describe inscriptions written in the ancient script’s characters. Some of the earliest examples date back to the first half of the first millennium BCE.
The three rings each have a delicate golden butterfly-shaped lobe at the top and a small lock on the side connecting the ends of the circles. Other pieces found at the site include several ceramic jars and a ceramic pot believed to be from the third century BCE.
The bull’s head was commonly depicted in art across the pre-Islamic kingdoms of southern Arabia, as it symbolized power, fertility, and reproduction, as well as wisdom and divinity.
The artifact at Al Ukhdud has traces of oxidation and is currently being restored.
Scientists dissect 3,500-year-old bear discovered in Siberian permafrost
A brown bear that lay almost perfectly preserved in the frozen wilds of eastern Siberia for 3,500 years has undergone a necropsy by a team of scientists after it was discovered by reindeer herders on a desolate island in the Arctic.
“This find is absolutely unique: the complete carcass of an ancient brown bear,” said Maxim Cheprasov, laboratory chief at the Lazarev Mammoth Museum Laboratory at the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk, eastern Siberia.
The female bear was found by reindeer herders in 2020 jutting out of the permafrost on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island, part of the New Siberian archipelago around 4,600 km east of Moscow.
Because it was found just east of the Bolshoy Etherican River, it has been named the Etherican brown bear.
The extreme temperatures helped preserve the bear’s soft tissue for 3,460 years, as well as remains of its final repasts – bird feathers and plants. The bear is described as being 1.55 metres (5.09 ft) tall and weighing nearly 78 kg (12 stone).
“For the first time, a carcass with soft tissues has fallen into the hands of scientists, giving us the opportunity to study the internal organs and examine the brain,” said Cheprasov.
The scientific team in Siberia cut through the bear’s tough hide, allowing scientists to examine its brain, internal organs and carry out a host of cellular, microbiological, virological and genetic studies.
The pink tissue and yellow fat of the bear was clearly visible as the team dissected the ancient beast.
They also sawed through its skull, using a vacuum cleaner to suck up the skull bone dust, before extracting its brain.
“Genetic analysis has shown that the bear does not differ in mitochondrial DNA from the modern bear from the north-east of Russia – Yakutia and Chukotka,” Cheprasov said.
He said the bear was probably aged about 2-3 years. It died from an injury to its spinal column.
It is, though, unclear how the bear came to be on the island, which is now divided from the mainland by a 50 km (31 mile) strait. It may have crossed over ice, it might have swum over, or the island might still have been part of the mainland.
The Lyakhovsky islands contain some of the richest palaeontological treasures in the world, attracting both scientists and ivory traders hunting for woolly mammoths.
In Medieval burial ground, a rare embroidered Deisis depicting Jesus Christ was discovered
Russian archaeologists have uncovered a rare embroidered Deisis depicting Jesus Christ in a medieval burial ground.
46 graves have been dug up during excavations; one of them contained a woman who was buried with an embroidered Deisis depicting Jesus Christ and John the Baptist and was between the ages of 16 and 25.
The discovery was made during the construction of the Moscow-Kazan highway, where archaeologists found an 8.6-acre medieval settlement and an associated Christian cemetery.
The iconography of Jesus Christ known as Deesis, which can be translated from Greek as “prayer” or “intercession,” is one of the most potent and prevalent images in Orthodox religious art.
The composition of the Deisis unites the three most important figures of Christianity. A tripartite icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church showing Christ usually enthroned between the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist.
The fabric is 12.1 cm long by 5.5 cm wide and is composed of two parts joined by a vertical seam made of a woven gold ribbon with a braided pattern.
The fabric’s lining did not survive, but a microscopic examination revealed birch bark remnants and needle punctures along the lower and upper edges.
In the center of the fabric is a frontal image of Jesus Christ making a blessing gesture, and to the right of him is John the Baptist praying. A second figure, probably Mary, was once on the left, but it has since disappeared, according to the inspection.
The archaeologists believe the embroidered fabric was once a dark silk samite headdress.
Similar examples include the embroidered crosses and faces of saints discovered in the Karoshsky burial ground in the Yaroslavl region, as well as the Ivorovsky necropolis near Staritsa that features an image of Michael the Archangel wielding a spear.