Category Archives: EUROPE

Frozen Bird Found in Siberia is 46,000 years old

Frozen Bird Found in Siberia is 46,000 years old

During the last Ice Age, a bird found in northeastern Siberia died and gives a crucial insight into the evolution and effects of climate change.

An international team of scientists has learned that at least 46,000 years ago, a bird discovered in the Siberian permafrost died.

The bird was found in northeastern Siberia, a mammoth steppe that extended across northern Canada, Europe and Asia during the last Ice Age when the bird was still alive.

The 46,000-year-old bird’s delicate feet are still in good shape.

DNA collected from this frozen bird could help shed light on how at the end of the last Ice Age, when the Earth was mostly covered in ice and snow, the mammoth steppe turned into tundra, taiga and steppe biomes and could further illuminate the evolution of subspecies.

In 2018, a well-preserved bird was discovered by local fossil ivory hunters 30 km east of the village of Belaya Gora, Yakutia, in northeastern Siberia (red dot, figure 2). The bird carcass was found approximately 150 meters (492 feet) into an ice tunnel that had been hydraulically mined into the permafrost at a depth of roughly 7 meters below the earth’s surface.

The frozen bird appeared to have died non-violently before being rapidly frozen, thus preserving its body for millennia. The ‘nearly intact’ body was so well preserved that it could be identified as a horned lark, Eremophila alpestris, appearing as if she had ‘died yesterday’. So it was somewhat surprising (and quite exciting) when radiocarbon dating revealed that the lark died sometime between 44,163–48,752 years BP — in the middle of the last Ice Age.

During the last ice age, mammoth steppe was the Earth’s most extensive ecosystem, covering much of the northern portion of the planet. It featured a cold, dry climate that favoured high-productivity grasses, herbs and willow shrubs, and was dominated by long-horned bison and horses — and was home to woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceros and cave lions, all of which are now extinct. This ecosystem thrived for approximately 100,000 years before the thawing climate suddenly made it nearly extinct about 11,700 years ago.

This vast wide-open habitat is favored by horned larks, a species may have originated in northeastern Siberia during the middle Pleistocene (ref) before diverging into separate Eurasian and North American lineages. These small ground-nesting songbirds breed in the wide-open spaces of the high Arctic and above the tree line in mountains. Lacking any closely-related competitors, North American horned larks also breed in other, more temperate wide-open spaces, such as prairies, semi-arid regions and in deserts, which is where I first saw them.

To learn how this Pleistocene bird is related to modern horned larks, the researchers from the Centre for Palaeogenetics isolated ancient DNA from the specimen and analyzed it.

“The genetic analysis suggests that the bird belonged to a population that was a joint ancestor of two subspecies of horned lark living today, one in Siberia, and one in the steppe in Mongolia”, said lead author of the study, ornithologist Nicolas Dussex, a postdoctoral researcher at Stockholm University who specializes in conservation genomics and avian evolution.

“Our results support this theory since the diversification of the horned lark into these subspecies seems to have happened about at the same time as the mammoth steppe disappeared”, said co-author of the study, Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Swedish Museum of Natural History and research leader at the Centre for Palaeogenetics.

As the planet warmed at the end of the last Ice Age, mammoth steppe nearly disappeared, giving way to several habitats that we are familiar with today: tundra in the north, boreal forest (taiga) in the middle and steppe in the south.

The researchers’ ultimate goal is to map the ancient lark’s genome and compare it to genomes of modern subspecies of horned larks to learn where this bird fits into the lark evolutionary tree and to better understand how subspecies arise.

Currently, there are at least 42 formally recognized subspecies of horned larks that cluster into one of six separate lineages. Additional studies may reveal that any or all of these lineages may qualify as distinct species clusters.

“This helps us understand how the diversity of subspecies evolves”, Dr Dussex said. In recognition of being the oldest bird yet unearthed from this time period, the researchers refer to her the ‘Icebird’.

Uncovering frozen mammals in Siberia is not new: people have uncovered a veritable zoo of frozen mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, horses, bison and wolverines for many years, the researchers noted in their study (ref). But finding a frozen bird is something special because their bodies are small and fragile and thus, don’t typically preserve well.

Scientists at the Centre for Palaeogenetics are working with some of these other ancient animals, including an 18,000-year-old puppy named ‘Dogor’, which the research team are still working on to identify whether it’s a wolf or a dog. They also are working on a 50,000-year-old cave lion cub, ‘Spartak’, a 30,000-year-old severed wolf head, and a partially preserved woolly mammoth.

The horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), also known as the shore lark in Europe, is a small songbird that breeds across the northern hemisphere. It has 42 formally recognized subspecies that are divided into six different clades, each of which could warrant reclassification into distinct species clusters.

Analyzing the complete genomes of ‘Icebird’ and these other ancient specimens could provide a deeper understanding of the evolution of animals during the Pleistocene and of the impacts upon them from climate change.

“The new laboratory facilities and the intellectual environment at the Centre for Palaeogenetics will definitely be helpful in these analyses”, Professor Dalén pointed out.

The Centre for Palaeogenetics is a joint venture between Stockholm University and the Swedish Museum of Natural History. Its main objective is to bring together scientists from different disciplines, such as biology, archaeology and geology, into a cutting edge research environment dedicated to ancient DNA analyses.

A ‘very rare’ clay figurine of god Mercury and a previously unknown Roman settlement were discovered at the excavation site in Kent

A ‘very rare’ clay figurine of the god Mercury and a previously unknown Roman settlement were discovered at the excavation site in Kent

A ‘very rare’ clay figurine of the god Mercury and a previously unknown Roman settlement were discovered at the excavation site in Kent

At a previously unknown Roman settlement that was formerly next to a busy port but is now 10 miles from the sea, a very rare clay figurine of the god Mercury—one of less than 10 found in Britain—was found.

The settlement, located in the modern hamlet of Smallhythe (or Small Hythe), near Tenterden in Kent, is surrounded by fields but was once an important link in the Roman Empire’s import and infrastructure network in southern England and the Channel.

Smallhythe Place has been one of the most significant shipyards in medieval England. It cared for since 1947 by the National Trust.

While excavating the National Trust plot, archaeologists came across earlier evidence of a Roman settlement, in use between the 1st and 3rd centuries.

The discovery that it had previously also been the site of a Roman settlement, along with the artifacts found there, was “massively exciting”, according to Nathalie Cohen, a National Trust archaeologist.

The settlement was small in scale and modest in prestige, said Cohen. “It’s not Roman Londinium, it’s not Cirencester. It’s a smallish settlement by a port.” That said, “it would have been vital in the logistics chain for exporting timber and iron out of [south-east England] and importing materials from the continent”.

The waterside site’s significance is further highlighted by another find from the area: a tile bearing the stamp of the Classis Britannica, the Roman fleet in Britain.

Part of a Roman tile stamped with Classis Britannica, the mark of the Roman fleet.

Among the finds was the head of a figurine of the god Mercury made from pipeclay. While Mercury is the most common god for metal figurines, pipeclay examples are extremely rare.

Roman figurines in pipeclay were mainly used for private religious practice and placed in the graves of children.

Pipeclay figurines were made of clays local to central Gaul (modern-day France) and the Rhine-Moselle region and were imported, however, most pipeclay figurines found in Britain are of female deities, the majority being of Venus.

The 5cm-tall (2in) head of Mercury was discovered with no body. This complete figurine probably would have depicted Mercury standing, either draped with a chlamys (a short cloak), or naked, holding a caduceus (a staff with two intertwined snakes).

Mercury was the god of all the fine arts as well as commerce and financial success. Religion was an important part of daily life in most Roman provinces, and statues and portable figurines of gods, such as the one discovered at Smallhythe, were worshipped by both the Roman elite and ordinary citizens in their homes. Therefore, rather than appearing in a grand temple, experts believe that the statue is likely to have a more modest use.

“Intriguingly, it appears to have been deliberately broken, perhaps indicating a ritual significance,” said Matthew Fittock, an expert on ceramic figurines in Roman Britain. “Rather than pieces being discarded because they were broken, there is evidence to suggest that deliberately breaking some figurine heads was an important ritual practice, whereas whole figurines are usually found in graves.”

The Mercury head, along with other finds from the excavation, will go on show from 28 February at Smallhythe Place.

A metal detectorist finds a 4,000-year-old Dagger in Poland Forests

A metal detectorist finds a 4,000-year-old Dagger in Poland’s Forests

A metal detectorist finds a 4,000-year-old Dagger in Poland's Forests

A copper dagger more than 4,000 years old was found in a forest near the town of Jarosław on the San River in south-eastern Poland. This discovery is the oldest dagger made of metal found in the Podkarpackie Voivodeship.

In the 3rd millennium BC, objects made of copper were extremely rare in the area, Dr Elżbieta Sieradzka-Burghardt, an archaeologist from the Jarosław museum, told PAP.

This valuable object, dating back over 4,000 years, was discovered last November by Piotr Gorlach of the Jarosław Historical and Exploration Association, who – with the permission of the Podkarpacie Regional Historical Monument Conservator in Przemyśl – conducted a search with a metal detector in the forests in the area of the Jarosław Forest Inspectorate, near the village of Korzenica.

“I had already finished my search for the day. When I returned to the car, I left the detector on out of habit. At some point, there was a signal. When I was digging up the forest floor, I saw a flat metal object covered with a green patina.

I quickly realized that I was dealing with something much older than the military items from World War I and II that I was looking for in this area,” Gorlach said.

Archaeologists from the Museum in Jarosław Orsetti House identified the artifact as an extremely rare 4,000-year-old dagger. The ancient weapon was made of copper and measured just over 4 inches (10.5 cm) in length.

According to archaeologist Dr. Marcin Burghardt from the Jarosław Museum, the dagger discovered in Korzenica can be dated to the second half of the third millennium BC.

“In Polish lands, this is a period of enormous changes related to, among others, with a change in the main raw materials for the production of tools.

Instead of flint tools commonly used in the Stone Age, more and more metal products appear, heralding the transition to the next period – the Bronze Age,” noted Dr. Burghardt.

In contrast, the now-discovered dagger from Korzenica – as noted by Dr Elżbieta Sieradzka-Burghardt, an archaeologist from the Jarosław museum – was not cast in bronze, but is made of copper.

 “So it predates the development of bronze metallurgy,” the archaeologist noted. “In the third millennium BC, objects made of copper were extremely rare, so only people of the highest social status could afford them. There is rather no doubt that the dagger is not a local product,” Dr Burghardt-Sieradzka added.

 During this period, metal products were imported from modern-day Ukraine or Hungary and only available to elites who could afford them. Links to the ancient weapon’s origin will be determined in the future through special metallurgical analysis.

425 Million-years-old Millipede Fossil Discovered In Scotland

425 Million-years-old Millipede Fossil Discovered In Scotland

A 425-million-year-old fossilized millipede has been discovered by researchers as the world’s oldest ‘bug’.

The remains were discovered on Kerrera, a Scottish island, and show that bugs and plants evolved much more quickly than previously thought.

After examining the petrified bug, the researchers discovered that ancient creatures left lakes 40 million years ago to live in complex forest ecosystems.

Researchers used a technique to determine that the millipede is 75 million years younger than previously estimated by extracting zircons, which is a microscopic mineral needed to accurately date the fossils.

425 Million-years-old Millipede Fossil Discovered In Scotland
Researchers have discovered the world’s oldest ‘bug’ on record – a 425-million-year-old fossilized millipede. After analyzing the petrified insect, the team determined that the ancient creatures left lakes to live in complex forest ecosystems in just 40 million years

Michael Brookfield, a research associate at the University of Texas Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences and adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said: ‘It’s a big jump from these tiny guys to very complex forest communities, and in the scheme of things, it didn’t take that long.’

‘It seems to be a rapid radiation of evolution from these mountain valleys, down to the lowlands, and then worldwide after that.’

Brookfield, who led the study, worked with co-authors Elizabeth Catlos, a professor in the Jackson School’s Department of Geological Sciences, and Stephanie Suarez, a doctoral student at the University of Houston. Together they made improvements to the fossil dating technique used in the study.

Following the analysis, the team determined the fossilized millipede is 425 million years old, or about 75 million years younger than the age other scientists have estimated the oldest millipede to be using a technique known as molecular clock dating, which is based on DNA’s mutation rate.  

Although it’s certainly possible there are older fossils of both bugs and plants, Brookfield said that the fact they haven’t been found – even in deposits known for preserving delicate fossils from this era – could indicate that the ancient millipede and plant fossils that have already been discovered are the oldest specimens.

If this theory is true, then experts can determine that both bugs and plants evolved much more rapidly than the timeline indicated by the molecular clock.  Previous work has dated insect deposits to just 20 million years later than the fossils. 

And by 40 million years later, there’s evidence of thriving forest communities filled with spiders, insects and tall trees.

Given their potential evolutionary significance, Brookfield said that he was surprised that this study was the first to address the age of the ancient millipedes.

The remains were uncovered on the Scottish Island of Kerrera (pictured) and suggest bugs and plants evolved much faster than previously believed.

Suarez said a reason could be the difficulty of extracting zircons – a microscopic mineral needed to precisely date the fossils – from the ashy rock sediment in which the fossil was preserved. She improved the technique by separating the zircon grain from the sediment. 

Once zircons are released from the surrounding rock, the team was able to retrieve them with a pin glued to the tip of a pencil – a process the researchers said ‘involves an eagle-eye hunt.’

‘That kind of work trained me for the work that I do here in Houston,’ Suarez said. ‘It’s delicate work.’

She used the technique to find that a different millipede specimen, thought to be the oldest bug specimen at the time, was about 14 million years younger than estimated – a discovery that stripped it of the title of oldest bug.  Using the same technique, this study passes the distinction along to a new specimen.

Blue Eyes Originated 10,000 Years Ago In The Black Sea Region

Blue Eyes Originated 10,000 Years Ago In The Black Sea Region

A team of researchers from Copenhagen University have located a single mutation that causes the mysterious phenomenon of blue eyes.  And all blue-eyed people are genetically related to a person who lived in the Black Sea region sometime between 6 – 10,000 years ago.

The research was published in the Journal of Human Genetics. A mutation in a gene called OCA2 came into being nearly 8,000 years ago. It can be definitively traced back to an ancestor from the Black Sea.

Dr. Hans Eiberg claims that before this time, every human being had brown eyes.

Blue Eyes Originated 10,000 Years Ago In The Black Sea Region
“A genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a ‘switch,’ which literally ‘turned off’ the ability to produce brown eyes,” Eiberg said.

“A genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a ‘switch,’ which literally ‘turned off’ the ability to produce brown eyes,” Eiberg said.

When blue-eyed peoples from Jordan, Denmark and Turkey were examined, their genetic difference was traced back to the maternal lineage according to Eiberg’s team.

The brown melanin pigment is still dominant. However, following the last Ice Age, Europeans developed this rare mutation that differentiated them from the rest of the human race.

Ninety-five per cent of Europeans in Scandinavian countries have blue eyes. They are also found to have a greater range of hair and skin colour.

Comparatively, Europe has a wider variety of hair colour and skin pigment than is found in any other continent in the world. These mutations are recent as Europe was colonized only a few thousand years ago, say mainstream scientists.

Through interbreeding, the brunette with blue eyes was evidenced about 25,000 years ago. Researchers attribute this to ancient interbreeding with Neanderthals.

Although no Neanderthal DNA has been found in modern Homo Sapien-Sapien, mainstream science clings to this theory as fact because they haven’t come up with anything better.

“The question really is, ‘Why did we go from having nobody on Earth with blue eyes 10,000 years ago to having 20 or 40 per cent of Europeans having blue eyes now?” John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison said. “This gene does something good for people. It makes them have more kids.”

The Theopetra Cave and the Oldest Human Construction in the World

The Theopetra Cave and the Oldest Human Construction in the World

The Theopetra Cave is an archaeological site located in Meteora, in the central Greek region of Thessaly. As a result of archaeological excavations that have been conducted over the years, it has been revealed that the Theopetra Cave has been occupied by human beings as early as 130000 years ago. In addition, evidence for human habitation in the Theopetra Cave can be traced without interruption from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period. This is significant, as it allows archaeologists to have a better understanding of the prehistoric period in Greece.

The cave is located on the slopes of a limestone hill overlooking Theopetra village.

Occupation of Theopetra Cave

The Theopetra Cave is situated on the northeastern slope of a limestone hill, about 100 m (330 ft above a valley. The cave overlooks the small village of Theopetra, and the Lethaios River, a tributary of the Pineios River, flows nearby.

According to geologists, the limestone hill was formed between 137 and 65 million years ago, which corresponds to the Upper Cretaceous period.

Based on the archaeological evidence, human beings only began to occupy the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period, i.e. around 130000 years ago.

The cave itself has been described as being roughly quadrilateral in shape with small niches on its periphery and covers an area of about 500 sq meters (5380 sq ft). The Theopetra Cave has a large entrance, which allows light to enter abundantly into the interior of the cave.

The interior of the Theopetra Cave.

Investigation Begins

The archaeological excavation of the Theopetra Cave began in 1987 and continued up until 2007.

This project was directed by Dr. Nina Kyparissi-Apostolika, who served as the head of the Ephorate of Palaeoanthropology and Speleography when the excavations were being carried out.

It may be mentioned that when the archaeological work was first conducted, the Theopetra Cave was being used by local shepherds as a temporary shelter in which they would keep their flocks. It may be added that the Theopetra Cave was the first cave in Thessaly to have been archaeologically excavated, and also the only one in Greece to have a continuous sequence of deposits from the Middle Palaeolithic to the end of the Neolithic period. This is significant, as it has allowed archaeologists to gain a better understanding of the transition from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic way of life in mainland Greece.

Excavations at the Theopetra cave began in 1987 under the direction of N. Kyparissi-Apostolika.

Several interesting discoveries have been made through the archaeological study of the Theopetra Cave. One of these, for instance, pertains to the climate in the area when the cave was being occupied.

By conducting micromorphological analysis on the sediment samples collected from each archaeological layer, archaeologists were able to determine that there had been hot and cold spells during the cave’s occupation. As a result of these changes in the climate, the cave’s population also fluctuated accordingly.

The World’s Oldest Wall

Another fascinating find from the Theopetra Cave is the remains of a stone wall that once partially closed off the entrance of the cave.

These remains were discovered in 2010, and using a relatively new method of dating known as Optically Stimulated Luminescence, scientists were able to date this wall to be around 23000 years old.

The age of this wall, which coincides with the last glacial age, has led researchers to suggest that the wall had been built by the inhabitants of the cave to protect them from the cold outside. It has been claimed that this is the oldest known man-made structure in Greece, and possibly even in the world.

The wall at Theopetra – is possibly the oldest existing man-made structure.

A year before this incredible discovery was made, it was announced that a trail of at least three hominid footprints that were imprinted onto the cave’s soft earthen floor had been uncovered. Based on the shape and size of the footprints, it has been speculated that they were made by several Neanderthal children, aged between two and four years old, who had lived in the cave during the Middle Palaeolithic period.

In 2009, the Theopetra Cave was officially opened to the public, though it was closed temporarily a year later, as the remains of the stone wall were discovered that year. Although the archaeological site was later re-opened, it was closed once again in 2016 and remains so due to safety reasons, i.e. the risk of landslides occurring.

A Large Copper Age Necropolis Discovered in Italian Town

A Large Copper Age Necropolis Discovered in Italian Town

In the town of San Giorgio Bigarello, near the northern Italia city of Mantua, a large Copper Age necropolis dating back to about 5000 years ago has been discovered.

The discovery of the large necropolis has proved to be a surprise both in terms of the quantity of excavated tombs, a total of 22, and the archaeological data that promise to be very valuable for researchers.

The unexpected number of graves and the exquisitely crafted weapons discovered in some of them are likely to provide new insights into the prehistoric inhabitants of this region of northern Italy.

Excavated in November 2023 and January-February 2024, the first isolated tombs were, in fact, only a small portion of a larger cemetery, the precise dimensions of which have undoubtedly been lost over the ages.

A variety of flint weapons were found in many tombs, including expertly crafted daggers, flawless arrowheads, and other blades.

Flint dagger from the archaeological excavations of the Copper Age necropolis in San Giorgio Bigarello, Northern Italy.

Aside from that, SAP archaeologists, working under the scientific guidance of Simone Sestito, the archaeological officer of the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio di Mantova, and with the enthusiastic support of the town’s municipal administration, also discovered jewelry, such as necklace beads, made of materials that raise some preliminary questions regarding chronology and are most likely from the 4th millennium BCE.

The majority of the burials discovered at Bigarello are simple individual inhumations, with the deceased lying on their left sides, legs bent to their chests, and heads oriented northwest.

Since excavations began again in January, 19 more graves have been discovered, supporting the archaeologists’ theories that this was a cemetery rather than a few haphazard burials.

The 22 burials were discovered only 40 or so centimeters below the surface.

The region that is now Mantua was a part of the River Mincio basin during the Neolithic (c. 6000–4,000 B.C.) and Chalcolithic (c. 4000-1700 B.C.) periods.

The famous Neolithic double-burial, the Lovers of Valdaro, was discovered in San Giorgio Bigarello. It is certainly not new to archaeological finds of considerable value.

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs in Roman town of Marcianopolis, in Bulgaria

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs in Roman town of Marcianopolis, in Bulgaria

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs in Roman town of Marcianopolis, in Bulgaria

Archaeologists discovered floor mosaics with early Christian designs and nearly 800 artifacts in the archaeological reserve of Marcianopolis in Devnya, in the northeastern part of Bulgaria.

The Roman town of Marcianopolis (present-day Devnya) in northeastern Bulgaria appears to have originated as a Thracian settlement.

It was later inhabited by Hellenized settlers from Asia Minor and named Parthenopolis.

Roman Marcianopolis was established around 106 CE, following Trajan’s campaigns in Dacia to the north.

The settlement was named after his sister, Ulpia Marciana. At the crossroads between Odessos (modern Varna), Durostorum, and Nicopolis ad Istrum, as well as the location of plentiful springs, Marcianopolis became a strategically important settlement.

Diocletian’s administrative reforms in the late third century CE divided Moesia Inferior into Moesia Secunda and Scythia Minor, with Marcianopolis serving as the former’s administrative capital.

Marcianopolis experienced its most prosperous period during the middle of the fourth century CE. From 367 CE to 369 CE, the eastern emperor Valens used Marcianopolis as his winter quarters during campaigns against Visigoth incursions in the region. During this time, it served as the Eastern Empire’s temporary capital.

Floor mosaics with early Christian designs were found in the remains of a building. Archaeologists are not yet sure whether it was a public building or it belonged to a rich Roman citizen. 

Excavations in Devnya.

The tentative dating of the mosaics is in the first half of the 4th century AD.

The finds from the current archaeological season in Devnya contain another thousand bronze coins, several clay lamps and two clay vessels, which are awaiting scientific processing and restoration.

During the past archeological season, researchers restored bronze vessels discovered in the 1990s in a brick-walled tomb dating to the late 2nd – early 3rd century.

The vessels had a ritual use and were related to the personality of the person buried, Mosaic Museum director Ivan Sutev said in a statement to BTA.

They are richly decorated and the workmanship is exquisite, he added. The find includes a vessel for pouring liquids as offering to a deity, and a wine jug with a trefoil mouth (oenochoe). A simple kitchen pan was also found along with these.

All this leads archaeologists to suggest that a Roman citizen of Marcianopolis may have been laid to rest in the tomb, but that he may have had more specific functions: a soldier, a cook, or even a priest, Sutev said.

Gold solid coins.

Pottery that was discovered in the basilica’s environs during excavations in 2023 has since been restored. Among these are a mortarium vessel for liquids and an exquisite crater-shaped pot for liquids. These were located in the structure with the mosaic floors. Coins from the time of Emperor Theodosius II were also found scattered on the floor.

In 447, Attila’s Huns captured and destroyed Marcionopolis after conquering the entire Balkan Peninsula but failing to capture Constantinople. That is determined by 20 gold coins scattered on the floor of the building being studied.

On one side of the coins is an image of Theodosius II, while on the other is the patron goddess of Constantinople. Among the coins discovered during the Marcianopolis excavations were those from the city’s founding in the second century. The latter are dated to the sixth century, around the time of Emperor Justinian.