Neanderthal Tooth from Iran Dated to Middle Paleolithic Period
A new study conducted by a team of archaeologists and paleoanthropologists from Germany, Italy, Iran, and Britain delves into the discovery of an in-situ Neanderthal tooth, which was discovered in 2017 in a rock shelter, western Iran.
The research is described in a paper in the online journal PLOS ONE that was published last Thursday.
The tooth, which is a deciduous canine that belongs to a 6 years old child, was found at a depth of 2.5 m of the Baba Yawan shelter in association with animal bones and stone tools near Kermanshah.
The analysis that was performed by Stefano Benazzi, a physical anthropologist at the University of Bologna, Italy shows that the tooth has Neanderthal affinities. Stone tools discovered close to the teeth belong to the Middle Paleolithic period and a series of c14 dating suggests the tooth is between 41,000-43,000 years in an age which is close to the end of the Middle Paleolithic period when Neanderthal disappeared in the Zagros.
Fereidoun Biglari, a Paleolithic archaeologist at Iran National Museum, says “this recent discovery, along with other Neanderthal remains previously found in other parts of Zagros, including Shanidar Cave, Bisotun Cave, and Wezmeh Cave, indicate that Neanderthals were present in a wide geographical range of Zagros from northwest to west of this mountain range since at least 80,000 until about 40,000-45,000 years ago when they disappeared and Homo Sapiens populations spread into the region”.
He added that “Association of Yawan Neanderthal tooth with Middle Palaeolithic stone tools known as Zagros Mousterian is a further confirmation of association of this stone tool industry with Neanderthals.
Such associations have been observed in Wezmeh where a Neanderthal premolar tooth and Zagros Mousterian tools were found in the same cave, and also in the Bisotun cave that was excavated in 1949 by C. Coon.
Bisotun produced a human partial radius that most likely belongs to a Neanderthal along with Zagros Mousterian lithics in Middle Paleolithic layers of the site”.
Huw Groucutt, a Paleolithic archaeologist at Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, commented on the datings provided for the Yawan tooth in his Twitter post “Dating sites like this, with small fragments of charcoal which are highly susceptible to movement and contamination, using the only radiocarbon is challenging”. He added “Nearly half of the radiocarbon dates from the site failed. I am rather dubious about the available dates for ‘Zagros Mousterian’ sites based only on C14. But he added “this is a great work, thousands of lithics found and a nice Neanderthal tooth. It is crucial though to use other dating techniques where possible.
The frequent ca. 45 ka ages in many parts of the world may reflect samples beyond the range of C14 with a bit of contamination.”
According to the researchers, Neanderthal extinction has been a matter of debate for many years.
New discoveries, better chronologies, and genomic evidence have done much to clarify some of the issues. This evidence suggests that Neanderthals became extinct around 40,000–37,000 years before the present (BP), after a period of coexistence with Homo sapiens of several millennia, involving biological and cultural interactions between the two groups.
However, the bulk of this evidence relates to Western Eurasia, and recent work in Central Asia and Siberia has shown that there is considerable local variation. Southwestern Asia, despite having a number of significant Neanderthal remains, has not played a major part in the debate over extinction.
Yawan is the second Neanderthal tooth that has been discovered in Iran. The first Neanderthal tooth was discovered in the Wezmeh cave near Kermanshah in 2001.
This cave is well-known for the discovery of a large number of animal fossils. A recent re-excavation of the cave by Fereidoun Biglari revealed stone tools made by Neanderthals, which shows that the cave was not just a den used by carnivores such as hyenas, lions, wolves, and leopards.
Moreover, the discovery of the third tooth of a 5-7 years old Neanderthal child was announced by a joint Iranian-French team that was discovered in Qal-e Kord near Qazvin in 2019.
These discoveries show that Iran has a rich paleoanthropological record and the country can produce important data in the future.
A team of geneticists and archaeologists from Ireland, France, Iran, Germany, and Austria has sequenced the DNA from a 1,600-year-old sheep mummy from an ancient Iranian salt mine, Chehrabad.
This remarkable specimen has revealed sheep husbandry practices of the ancient Near East and underlined how natural mummification can affect DNA degradation. The incredible findings have just been published in the international, peer-reviewed journal Biology Letters.
The salt mine of Chehrabad is known to preserve biological material. Indeed, it is in this mine that human remains of the famed “Salt Men” were recovered, dessicated by the salt-rich environment.
The new research confirms that this natural mummification process – where water is removed from a corpse, preserving soft tissues that would otherwise be degraded – also conserved animal remains.
The research team, led by geneticists from Trinity, exploited this by extracting DNA from a small cutting of mummified skin from a leg recovered in the mine.
While ancient DNA is usually damaged and fragmented, the team found that the sheep mummy DNA was extremely well-preserved; with longer fragment lengths and less damage that would usually be associated with such an ancient age.
The group attributes this to the mummification process, with the salt mine providing conditions ideal for preservation of animal tissues and DNA.
The salt mine’s influence was also seen in the microorganisms present in the sheep leg skin. Salt-loving archaea and bacteria dominated the microbial profile – also known as the metagenome – and may have also contributed to the preservation of the tissue.
The mummified animal was genetically similar to modern sheep breeds from the region, which suggests that there has been a continuity of ancestry of sheep in Iran since at least 1,600 years ago.
The team also exploited the sheep’s DNA preservation to investigate genes associated with a woolly fleece and a fat-tail – two important economic traits in sheep. Some wild sheep – the asiatic mouflon – are characterised by a “hairy” coat, much different to the woolly coats seen in many domestic sheep today. Fat-tailed sheep are also common in Asia and Africa, where they are valued in cooking, and where they may be well-adapted to arid climates.
The team built a genetic impression of the sheep and discovered that the mummy lacked the gene variant associated with a woolly coat, while fibre analysis using Scanning Electron Microscopy found the microscopic details of the hair fibres consistent with hairy or mixed coat breeds.
Intriguingly, the mummy carried genetic variants associated with fat-tailed breeds, suggesting the sheep was similar to the hairy-coated, fat-tailed sheep seen in Iran today.
“Mummified remains are quite rare so little empirical evidence was known about the survival of ancient DNA in these tissues prior to this study,” says Conor Rossi, PhD candidate in Trinity’s School of Genetics and Microbiology, and the lead author of the paper.
“The astounding integrity of the DNA was not like anything we had encountered from ancient bones and teeth before.
This DNA preservation, coupled with the unique metagenomic profile, is an indication of how fundamental the environment is to tissue and DNA decay dynamics.
Dr Kevin G Daly, also from Trinity’s School of Genetics and Microbiology, supervised the study. He added:
“Using a combination of genetic and microscopic approaches, our team managed to create a genetic picture of what sheep breeds in Iran 1,600 years ago may have looked like and how they may have been used.
“Using cross-disciplinary approaches we can learn about what ancient cultures valued in animals, and this study shows us that the people of Sasanian-era Iran may have managed flocks of sheep specialised for meat consumption, suggesting well developed husbandry practices.“
Babylon knew secrets of the solar system 1,500 years before Europe
The ancient Babylonians were known to have been advanced in arithmetic. Now analysis of clay cuneiform tablets found in Babylonia and Uruk shows they could predict the position of celestial bodies using advanced geometric techniques thought to have been invented in 14th-century Europe.
Specifically, the tablets show the ancient Babylonians were evidently intrigued by the position of the planet Jupiter, writes Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University, Berlin, in his paper “Ancient Babylonian astronomers calculated Jupiter’s position from the area under a time-velocity graph”.
The tablets he describes are the earliest known examples of using geometry to calculate the future position of an object in space-time.
Discover the secrets of the Middle East
It is possible that the same techniques were discovered in Oxford, Cambridge, come the 14th century, in a geometric equivalent of convergent evolution (like wings in insects and in birds, which do not have the same origin but look similar and serve the same function). Or, the West may have learned the techniques somehow from the ancient Babylonian astronomers.
The clay tablets, which are practically intact, seem to date between 350 and 50 BCE. There are issues about provenance – Ossendrijver notes that they were “excavated unscientifically” and discuss general methodology, not mentioning specific astronomical phenomena that could be datable.
The writings describe two intervals after Jupiter appears along the horizon, projecting the planet’s position at 60 and 120 days.
The Babylonians had been thought to know only arithmetic concepts, yet these texts contain advanced geometrical calculations.
Geometry began to develop far back in man’s history.
The eminently practical ancient Greeks used geometry to describe configurations in physical space, though it bears saying that the early history of ancient Greek geometry is unknown because no records remain.
Ancient Egyptians also had geometric knowledge, and had command of trigonometry, but were also believed to have confined their use of the science to workday problem-solving, such as calculating the area of a pyramid.
The ancient Babylonians on the other hand left ample records – over 450 relevant tablets, of which some 340 are tables with computations of planetary or lunar data. Another 110 tablets have computational instructions.
We now know they were using geometry in an abstract sense, to define time and velocity, Ossendrijver explains: “In all of these texts, the zodiac, invented in Babylonia near the end of the 5th century BCE, is used as a coordinate system for computing celestian positions.”
So, he concludes, the 14th-century European scholars in Oxford and Paris who had been credited with developing time-velocity geometric predictions were over a thousand years behind their ancient Babylonian peers.
Why would the Babylonians want to calculate the position of Jupiter, anyway? Probably because their priests used astrology to interpret the will of the gods (an alternative method was to “read” the livers of sacrificed animals): Not only time-velocity geometry but celestial divination as an orderly religious practice is believed to have begun with Babylonian culture.
According to a Tehran Times report, tables and chairs carved from gypsum have been unearthed at the site of a Zoroastrian fire temple in central Iran by a team of researchers from the University of Isfahan and the University of Tehran.
Available evidence suggests the furniture was once used for traditional rituals during the Sassanid era (224-651), according to the Research Institute of Cultural Heritage & Tourism.
A joint team of archaeologists from the universities of Isfahan, Tehran discovered the objects at a fire temple in Vigol, which is located approximately 10 km north of Aran-Bidgol near Kashan.
In many ways, Iran under Sassanian rule witnessed tremendous achievements of Persian civilization. Experts say that during the Sassanid era, the art and architecture of the nation experienced a general renaissance.
In that era, crafts such as metalwork and gem-engraving grew highly sophisticated, as scholarship was encouraged by the state; many works from both the East and West were translated into Pahlavi, the official language of the Sassanians.
Encyclopedia Britannica states that a revival of Iranian nationalism took place under the Sassanid rule.
Zoroastrianism became the state religion, and at various times followers of other faiths suffered official persecution.
The government was centralized, with provincial officials directly responsible to the throne, and roads, city building, and even agriculture were financed by the government.
The dynasty was destroyed by Arab invaders during a span from 637 to 651.
Aran-Bidgol is the gateway to the Maranjab desert and caravansary, which also draws thousands of domestic travellers each year.
The desert, which is a top destination for off-roaders, lead to salt lake from the north, Band-e Rig and Desert National Park from the east, Masileh Desert, Hoz-e sultan and Moreh Lakes from the west and eventually Aran and Bidgol from the south.
Situated in Isfahan province, the town is surrounded by desert from the north and east, and thus it has a typical climate of hot and dry in summer, cold and dry in winter, and very little rainfall during the year.
Massive Ancient Wall Discovered in Iran Belongs to Unknown Ancient Civilization
Archaeologists also uncovered the remnants of a stone wall in Iran that is roughly the same length as the famous Hadrian’s Wall, which was constructed by the Romans across England.
The wall, which extends about 71 miles (115 kilometres), was found in Sar Pol-e Zahab County in western Iran.
“With an estimated volume of approximately one million cubic meters [35,314,667 cubic feet] of stone, it would have required significant resources in terms of workforce, materials and time,” wrote Sajjad Alibaigi, an assistant professor of Iranian Archaeology at Razi University in Kermanshah, Iran, in an article published online in the journal Antiquity.
The structure runs north-south from the Bamu Mountains in the north to an area near Shaw Marg village in the south, Alibaigi wrote.
Pottery found along the wall suggests that it was built sometime between the fourth century B.C. and sixth century A.D., Alibaigi wrote. “Remnants of structures, now destroyed, are visible in places along the wall.
These may have been associated turrets [small towers] or buildings,” wrote Alibaigi, noting that the wall itself is made from “natural local materials, such as cobbles and boulders, with gypsum mortar surviving in places.”
Though the wall’s existence was unknown to archaeologists, those living near it have long known about the wall, calling it the “Gawri Wall,” Alibaigi wrote.
A spokesperson for Antiquity said that since Alibaigi’s paper was published, the journal has learned that another group of archaeologists carried out earlier research on the wall; that research was never published in a journal.
Archaeologists are not certain who built the structure, and for what purpose. Because of the poor preservation of the barrier, the scientists aren’t even sure of its exact width and height. He said their best estimates put it at 13 feet (4 meters) wide and about 10 feet (3 m) high.
“It is unclear whether it was defensive or symbolic,” wrote Alibaigi, noting that it might mark the border for an ancient empire, perhaps the Parthians (who flourished between 247 B.C. and A.D. 224) or the Sassanians (A.D. 224-651).
Both empires in western Iran built large castles, cities and irrigation systems, so it’s likely that both had the resources to build the Gawri Wall, wrote Alibaigi.
The newly discovered Gawri Wall is not the only ancient long wall in Iran. Archaeologists have previously found similar structures in the north and northeastern parts of Iran. Those may have had a defensive purpose.
Alibaigi hopes to carry out more research on the Gawri Wall in the future, he wrote. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Archaeologists were shocked to discover the remains of two bodies, apparently sharing a romantic embrace before their deaths, in the ruins of an ancient, burned-out village.
The University of Pennsylvania first discovered this skeletal couple during an archaeological excavation of an ancient city in northwest Iran in the 1970s. The two skeletons were discovered in the remains of the ancient city of Teppe Hasanlu, which stood in the area that is now Iran 2,800 years ago.
These remains were found in a mudbrick bin, designed for storing grain, embracing one another in what appears to be a kiss and were dubbed “The Hasanlu Lovers.”
From archaeological evidence, researchers discovered that the city of Teppe Hasanlu was destroyed around 800 BCE by an invading army that sacked the city and burned it to the ground.
In addition to the Hasanlu Lovers, human remains from hundreds of others from the time, men, women, and children were found strewn across the city streets of Hasanlu. The people of this city, it appears, were completely wiped out by the invading raiders.
The Hasanlu Lovers were likely hiding from these invaders in the grain bin when they died of asphyxiation from the smoke emanating from the fires raging around the city.
The Urartu Kingdom of the Armenian highlands is believed to have been responsible for this slaughter.
While the media and public were quick to decide that the two people locked in this embrace were a man and woman in a romantic relationship, archaeologists responsible for the find note that the relationship and gender between the two remain unclear.
One of the “lovers,” the one laying on his back, is definitively a young male (18-22), due to his pelvic shape and dental structures. The sex of the second “lover” is much more under question.
It is unclear what the sex of the “touching” person truly was. While researchers were easily able to identify the age of the person these remains belonged to, 30 to 35, the gender remains a mystery as the skeleton has both male and female features.
Given the forensic evidence we have, it is more likely that the second body was that of a man as well.
When this evidence was first revealed in the 1980s, reporters flocked to report that the Hasanlu Lovers were gay. However, the relationship between these two ancient people, whether one was male or female, is entirely unknown.
While these two men could have been lovers, many hypothesize that the older person was, in fact, the father of the boy. If the skeleton is in fact female, then it could easily also be his mother.
Furthermore, “gay” and “straight” as discreet identities and orientations are a product of modern society, not labels that can be applied to people in the distant past.
While ancient people engaged in sex with members of the opposite gender and their own, these sexual preferences did not bring with them the same social identities that we associate with them today.
So while these intertwined skeletons from thousands of years ago maybe a stirring image, we should not assume to understand the complexities of their lives and social systems from a single snapshot.
Jiroft Civilization, one of the oldest in the world
A major cultural center
For about a century we have been aware that ancient Persia was a major factor in the complex of populations that laid the foundations for the development of civilizations, but actual proof of this fact has been made available only through very recent discoveries. Now we know for certain that already in very ancient times this country played a leading role in the formulation and elaboration of technological and artistic progress.
The recent archaeological excavations carried out in southeast Iran demonstrate that, at the dawn of urban civilization, the Persian plateau and Susiana were just as important as Mesopotamia.
Archaeological research still in progress in the Halil Rud Valley, south of Kerman, was first concerned with protecting the prehistoric necropolises from clandestine, large-scale looting on the part of the inhabitants of the region.
Local people were systematically looting the tombs, and the stolen treasures were sent to the leading art markets in the Western world — London, Zürich, New York, etc. Taken out of their context, these objects lost their cultural importance and ended up having only commercial value, thereby becoming isolated and therefore ‘voiceless’ artifacts for historians, art historians, and anthropologists.
The official ban on plundering, together with the emergence of scientific surveys organized by Iranian archaeologists, have demonstrated that the region was the center of culture and art that developed around 3100 BC. The architectural and sculptural creations brought to light in the areas situated between Kerman and the Strait of Hormuz, at an altitude of 1968 ft (600 m) above sea level and in a region of palm orchards surrounded by mountains peaks over 13,000 ft (4000 m) high, are of the utmost importance and interest. The works unearthed by the archaeologists were contemporaneous with the flowering of Sumerian art at the ancient city of Ur, El Obeid, Uruk, or Telloh (Lagash), and in certain respects rival the production of these famous sites.
The largest city in Elam in that period Was in fact Susa, situated at the confluence of the valleys of the Kherka and Karun rivers, which are perennial and flow into the Tigris and Euphrates in Lower Mesopotamia and then empty into the Persian Gulf. However, the digs carried out in these Khuzistan lowlands from 1883 on by the French mission at Susa ruined this site so badly that it is now impossible to establish chronological data with any degree of certainty. The aim of the excavations at that time was to concentrate on gathering objects (pottery and sculpture) rather than attempting to establish dates on the basis of the stratigraphy.
Consequently, archaeologists are now unable to provide precise dates for the superb pottery of Susa, which was unearthed over a century ago. The dates published by André Parrot in 1960 regarding these artifacts — the beginning of the IV millennium BC — must therefore be accepted with caution. In any case, we will return to this subject further on.
The Iranian archeologist Youssef Majidzadeh who is now in charge of the research at the site of Halil Rud (in particular Jiroft, a locality after which the art of the region was named) has accumulated a collection of hundreds of delicately decorated stone objects. The special quality of the local material — a type of chlorite —makes it particularly suitable for sculpture: vases, bowls, cylindrical bottles, statuettes, weights (in the shape of ‘purses’), and animal figures, all accompanied by various ceramic objects.
The research carried out at the tepes of Konar Sandal A and Konar Sandal B, carried out with stratigraphic excavations, has brought to light unfired brick ramparts that are 36 ft (11m) thick and has also unearthed terraces that crowned the uppermost part of the tepes.
These summit platforms, which arc from 36 to 50 ft (11 to 15 m) above the ground, have a surface area of about 10 acres (4 hectares), for centuries people lived here, repeatedly rebuilding their dwellings made of unfired bricks and clayey earth compressed with straw and rubble. Since this material was brittle, it could not resist the climate and the onslaughts of neighboring peoples or nomads, so the inhabitants had to continuously build new constructions over the ruined ones. This led to the creation of artificial mounds known as tepes.
Archaeologists identified 12, 15, or 18 superposed levels by digging carefully into these unique hillocks that dot the Iranian plateau, much like the tells in Mesopotamia.
One of the most amazing aspects of the culture that grew up in southeast Iran is the presence of a form of writing known as proto-Elamitic, which probably dates from the lVth millennium BC and was discovered on tablets whose inscriptions are now being studied meticulously in order to find a key to decipherment. The first tablets, discovered in Susa in 1901, consisted of about 200 pieces, and another 490 were found in 1923. In 1949 the specialists found 5,529 different signs.
Analogous tablets found at Tepe Sialk, near Kashan, have allowed scholars to consider the Iranian plateau the center of this early form of writing. Later on, the discovery of other tablets at Tepe Yahya, in the heart of the Jjroft site, proved that the cradle of this writing — like that of the chlorite sculpture — might very well be the Haul Rud region, south of Kerman.
Jiroft Ziggurat – Origin of the Concept
An entire repertory is given over the motif of architecture, which is another amazing subject in the artistic production of this time. On cylindrical bowls, there are images of regular facades, with pilasters that form tall plinths.
The chambers with doors and windows are surmounted by flexed architraves, whose curves seem to be produced by the weight of the structure on rather feeble palm-tree trunks. However, the most striking motifs are the images of constructions in the shape of ziggurats. Many cylindrical vases have representations of an edifice with three or four gradually receding stories, which reflect the concept of the classical Mesopotamian ziggurat. This type of object is often surmounted by a pole or ‘horn,’ which according to later Babylonian texts indicates their sacred nature. Now while the decorated vases at Jiroft have been dated at 3100-2600 BC, these small ziggurats from the Persian steppes seem to be more ancient than the structures built in the Mesopotamian plain, which are similar in some respects but much more impressive.
This fact alone means that Persia was the wellspring of these ‘artificial mountains,’ the enormous stepped bases of the temples that dotted the Land of Two Rivers (the Tigris and Euphrates). It is even possible that the storied tower originally crowned the tall terrace of the tepes, thus becoming the top part of a city as well as its religious symbol and insignia of power
At this stage, mention should be made of the votive or emblematic pieces representing tall perforated images of animals (eagles, scorpions, and even men-scorpions). These objects, which were carved tablets, have engraved guilloche decoration (interlaced bands with openings containing round devices) that is animated by polychrome stones. In this case, only a function connected to power — a ‘royal’ insignia or sacred symbol of a priest — would explain the motive behind such creations, which are from 12 to 15 inches (30 to 40 cm) high and may have been used as scepters.
Surprising archaeologists find 1,000-year-old stainless steel in Iran
Stainless steel as we know it today was created in the early 20th century, in England. But researchers found evidence of the use of an alloy of iron and chromium quite similar to stainless steel – but almost a thousand years old.
Discovery, published in Journal of Archaeological Science, was made with the help of a series of manuscripts medieval Persians, who took the researchers to an archaeological site in Chahak, in southern Iran.
“This research not only provides the first known evidence of chrome steel production dating back to the 11th century AD, but it also provides a chemical tracker that can help identify similar artefacts in museums or archaeological collections since their origin in Chahak”, believes the author study, archaeologist Rahil Alipour.
Chahak is described in a series of historical manuscripts dating from the 12th to the 19th century as a famous steelmaking centre – but its exact location has remained a mystery, as several villages in Iran bear the same name.
The manuscript “al-Jamahir fi Marifah al-Jawahir” (“A Compendium for Knowing the Gems”, dating from the 10th to the 11th centuries AD), written by the Persian polymath Abu-Rayhan Biruni, is one of those documents, which also details recipe steelmaking – but registers a mysterious ingredient called “rusakhtaj”.
The team of archaeologists used radiocarbon dating on a series of pieces of coal recovered from the archaeological site to confirm their production as having been made between the 11th and 12th centuries AD.
Using scanning electron microscopy, the researchers identified remains of the chromite mineral, described in Biruni’s manuscript as an essential additive to the process.
The steel particles analyzed contained between 1% and 2% of chromium – therefore, they were not stainless like the modern alloys, which contain between 11% and 13% of the material.
“In a 13th-century Persian manuscript, Chahak steel was known for its fine and refined patterns, but its swords were also fragile – so they lost their market value,” explains Thilo Rehren, co-author of the study.
The researchers believe that this marks a distinct tradition of steelmaking separate from the traditional methods used in Central Asia.
“The previous evidence belongs to steelmaking centres in India, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan,” said Alipour. “None of these, however, has any trace of chrome.
This is very important, as we can now search for this element in objects and track them back to their production centre or method ”, he adds.