Category Archives: WORLD

Meipu teeth shed light on the human settlement of Asia

Meipu teeth shed light on the human settlement of Asia

María Martinón-Torres and José María Bermúdez de Castro, researchers at the Centro Nacional de Investigación Sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH), have participated in a study published in the Journal of Human Evolution, on one of the few human fossils known from late Early Pleistocene China, the Meipu teeth, which provides new information on the early settlement of continental Asia.

These are four dental pieces encountered at the start of the 1970s in the locality of Meipu, southern China.

These teeth. dated to between 780,000 and 990,000 years old, present a series of primitive characteristics that distinguish them from Homo erectus, the predominant species on the Asian continent during most of the Pleistocene.

The CENIEH researchers, together with scientists from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, have studied this sample, which had not been analyzed for five decades using image techniques not then available, like computerized axial microtomography, and compared it with today’s much more abundant fossil record.

“These teeth are one of the few manifestations we have from China of the earliest migrations out of Africa”, comments Bermúdez de Castro, coordinator of the Paleobiology Program at the CENIEH.

Comparison of the upper first molar of Meipu with other fossils from Africa, Asia and Europe.

To date, the oldest fossils outside the African continent were found at the Dmanisi site in the Republic of Georgia and have been dated to 1.8 million years ago.

The Meipu fossils lack the specializations which characterize classic Homo erectus, such as the deep wrinkles or “crenulations” in the dentin, the tissue lying below the dental enamel.

Between the Dmanisi fossils and those of classic Homo erectus from China, the majority of which belong to the Middle Pleistocene, between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago, there is an important gap that hinders comprehension of what happened between the first arrival of hominins in continental Asia and the advent of Homo erectus.

An African story in Asia

In certain characteristics, like the moderate convexity of the incisors or the shape of the upper premolar, the Meipu teeth are more similar to those from human populations of the Early Pleistocene, such as Homo ergaster, or the hominins found at Dmanisi.

“We believe that the Meipu fossils predate the appearance of Homo erectus”, says Martinón-Torres, researcher and director of CENIEH.

Even though they have similar chronologies, the researchers highlight the differences from Homo antecessor, the species found at the Gran Dolina site in Atapuerca (Burgos).

“Meipu continues to tell an African story, while Homo antecessor has already embarked on its own truly European journey”, concludes Martinón-Torres.

Sultan’s Grave Discovered in Eastern Turkey

Sultan’s Grave Discovered in Eastern Turkey

The graves of the SeljukThe Anadolu Agency reports that the grave of Kilij Arslan I, a Seljuk sultan who reigned from A.D. 1092 to 1107, was discovered during investigations ahead of construction work in eastern Turkey by a team of researchers from Dicle University.

The team members also found the grave of the sultan’s daughter, Saide Hatun.

Sultan of Rum Kılıç Arslan I and his daughter Saide Hatun were uncovered in southeastern Diyarbakır province following a nine-day excavation.

The archaeological site of the graves of Seljuk Sultan of Rum Kılıç Arslan I and his daughter Saide Hatun in Diyarbakır, southeastern Turkey.

After conducting archival research, Dicle University (DÜ) established a commission to find Kılıç Arslan I’s grave in Diyarbakır. Headed by the vice-rector of DÜ, professor Ahmet Tanyıldız, the commission included professor Irfan Yıldız, associate professor Oktay Bozan, associate professor Aytaç Çoşkun and academic Salih Erpolat.

Taking into consideration all graveyards in the Silvan district of Diyarbakır, the commission focused its work on two gravesites in Orta Çeşme Park in line with the data obtained from their research. After nine days of work, the team uncovered the Seljuk sultan’s final resting place on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters, DÜ Rector Mehmet Karakoç said they had been unable to pinpoint the exact location of the grave in the past but knew it was somewhere in the Silvan district.

“The discovery of the grave will bring a different perspective to historical events in terms of both Silvan and Diyarbakır’s history,” Karakoç said.

Coşkun noted that the team dug 2 meters deep (6.6 feet) across a 35-square-meter (42-square-yard) area during their work to find the grave.

“The area on which we work featured the grave of the most important ruler of the Sultanate of Rum. Therefore, we studiously sustained our work day and night,” he added.

Kılıç Arslan I succeeded Suleiman ibn Qutulmish, who founded the sultanate in 1092. As the second Anatolian Seljuk sultan, he was also the first Muslim commander to fight against the Crusaders. He defeated the Crusaders in three battles during the Crusade of 1101 and went on to conquer much of eastern Anatolia from the Danishmends.

4,000 Years old Anglo-Saxon Settlement and Cemetery Unearthed in England

4,000 Years old Anglo-Saxon Settlement and Cemetery Unearthed in England

The Northampton Chronicle & Echo reports that an Anglo-Saxon settlement and cemetery, and Bronze Age barrows and burials, were discovered in England’s East Midlands during an archaeological investigation conducted by researchers from the Museum of London Archaeology ahead of a development project.

Traces of more than 20 structures were unearthed at the Anglo-Saxon settlement site. Weapons, cosmetic kits, combs, thousands of beads, some 150 brooches, 75 wrist clasps, and 15 chatelaines were recovered from the more than 150 Anglo-Saxon burials. 

The site was excavated as part of pre-construction planning requirements at Overstone Farm where Barratt and David Wilson homes intend to build two to five-bedroom homes, a school and amenities, as part of a new housing development.

Archaeologists uncovered the site during pre-construction planning requirements.

Jewellery, weapons and more were found.

An archaeology firm – Museum of London Archaeology (Mola) – was appointed and over the course of 12 months, the archaeologists undertook detailed excavation and recording across a total of 15 hectares.

The work revealed 154 Anglo-Saxon burials, many containing grave goods including weapons, beads and brooches. Simon Markus, project manager at MoLA, said: “The Overstone site contains by far the biggest Anglo-Saxon cemetery ever found in Northamptonshire.

Jewellery, weapons and more were found.

“It is also rare to find both an Anglo-Saxon settlement and a cemetery in a single excavation.

An overview of the site in Overstone.

4,000 Years old Anglo-Saxon Settlement and Cemetery Unearthed in England
An overview of the site in Overstone.

“The excavations will help us understand the way people lived in both the Anglo- Saxon period, around 1,500 years ago as well as the Bronze Age, nearly 4,000 years ago.

“The human remains will tell us about diet, health and even the origins of the people themselves whilst their buildings can teach us what their day-to-day lives were like and how they utilised the local landscape in these two different periods.”

Jewellery found on the site included roughly 150 brooches, 15 rings, 2,000 beads, 75 wrist clasps and 15 chatelaines – decorative belt hooks.

Other findings included weapons such as spears and shields and everyday items like cosmetic kits and combs.

The site also contains a previously unknown Anglo-Saxon settlement of 22 structures, with 20 more Anglo-Saxon buildings scattered around the site, together with earlier prehistoric evidence including three Bronze Age round barrows, 46 prehistoric burials, and four Bronze Age buildings.

John Dillion, managing director at Barratt and David Wilson Homes South Midlands, said: “We’re blown away by the findings at our site in Overstone and have enjoyed learning more about what the land was previously used for.

“It is amazing to think that settlers have been building homes on this site for around 4,000 years, and we hope to continue this long-standing tradition with our new and already flourishing community.”

All of the findings from the excavations have been removed from the site and are now being analysed by MOLA’s specialist teams.

A 300 Million-Year-Old Shark Skull Was Discovered Inside Kentucky Cave

A 300 Million-Year-Old Shark Skull Was Discovered Inside Kentucky Cave

A fossilized shark head dating back some 300 million years ago has been discovered in the walls of a Kentucky cave. Experts believe it belonged a Saivodus striatus, which lived between 340 and 330 million years ago during the Late Mississippian geological period.

The well-preserved head shows the creatures skull, lower jaw, cartilage and several teeth. Based on the dimensions, the team believes the animal was similar in size to our modern-day Great White shark.

The ancient shark head was uncovered in Mammoth Cave National Park, located in Kentucky, which is Earth’s oldest known cave system, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.

A massive, fossilized shark head dating back some 300 million years ago has been discovered in the walls of a Kentucky cave. Experts believe it belonged a Saivodus striatus, which lived between 340 and 330 million years ago during the Late Mississippian geological period.

It was first spotted in a treasure trove of fossils by Mammoth Cave specialists Rick Olson and Rick Toomey, who sent images of their findings to Vincent Santucci, the senior palaeontologist for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., for help with identifying the fossils.

But it was palaeontologist John-Paul Hodnett who made the exciting discovery.

‘One set of photos showed a number of shark teeth associated with large sections of fossilized cartilage, suggesting there might be a shark skeleton preserved in the cave,’ he told the Journal.

The head was well-preserved in the cave and the team was able to make out the shark’s skull, lower jaw, cartilage and numerous teeth.

The well-preserved head shows the creatures skull, lower jaw, cartilage and several teeth. Based on the dimensions, the team believes the animal was similar in size to our modern-day Great White shark

Based on these features, Hodnett believes the shark was about the size of a modern-day great white. The Mammoth Cave National Park holds a trove of ancient fossil – more than 100 hundred shark species have been discovered so far.

‘We’ve just scratched the surface,’ Hodnett said. ‘But already it’s showing that Mammoth Cave has a rich fossil shark record.’

A discovery such as this is very rare, as cartilage does not usually survive fossilization.

However, shark teeth are commonly found, as they are made of bone and enamel, making them easy to preserve.

A 300 Million-Year-Old Shark Skull Was Discovered Inside Kentucky Cave
The remains of the ancient animal are located in Mammoth Cave National Park (pictured), which is home to the longest known cave system on Earth-one that extends for more than 400 miles

Hodnett said teeth and dorsal fins of other shark species are also exposed in the cave ceiling and walls.

‘We’ve just scratched the surface,’ Hodnett said. ‘But already it’s showing that Mammoth Cave has a rich fossil shark record.’  

A separate exudation found teeth that they believed belonged to the largest prehistoric shark that lived over 2.5 million years ago.  The discovery was made by divers in an inland sinkhole in central Mexico supporting anthropologists’ theories that the city of Maderia was once under the sea.

Fifteen dental fossils were found in total with thirteen of them believed to belong to three different species of shark, including a megalodon which existed over 2.5 million years ago.

According to the researchers involved, an initial exam of the thirteen shark dental fossils and their size and shape revealed that they might have belonged to the prehistoric and extinct species of megalodon shark (Carcharocles megalodon), the mackerel shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) and the saw shark, the last two of which are not extinct.

Hodnett said teeth (pictured) and dorsal fins of other shark species are also exposed in the cave ceiling and walls

The fossils belong to the period of Pleiocene, the epoch in the geologic timescale that extended from 5 million to 2.5 million years ago, and the Miocene, an earlier geological epoch which extended between 23 and 5 million years ago.

Reports state the Xoc cenote is the largest in the city of Merida with a diameter of 2,034 feet and 91 feet deep.

World’s Oldest Known Figurative Paintings Discovered in Borneo Cave Indonesia

World’s Oldest Known Figurative Paintings Discovered in Borneo Cave Indonesia

According to recent research that indicates that humans may have taken this art tradition with them as they moved from Africa, prehistoric cave paintings of animals and human hands in Indonesia are as old as similar paintings found in Western Europe.

Limestone karst of East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo

“Until now, we’ve always believed that cave painting was part of a suite of complex symbolic behaviour that humans invented in Europe,” says archaeologist Alistair Pike of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom. “This is actually showing that it’s highly unlikely that the origin of painting caves was in Europe.”

For decades, Indonesian researchers have known about rock art in limestone caves and rock shelters on an island called Sulawesi. The hand stencils and images of local animals, such as the “pig-deer,” or babirusa, were assumed to be less than 10,000 years old because scientists thought that the humid tropical environment would have destroyed anything older.

The oldest dated hand stencil in the world (upper right) and possibly the oldest figurative depiction in cave art—a female babirusa (a hoglike animal also called a pig-deer)—were found in Leang Timpuseng cave in Sulawesi, an island east of Borneo.

“The truth of it was, no one had really tried to date it,” says Matt Tocheri of the Human Origins Program of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “It’s not easy to date rock art.”

Now, though, in the journal Nature, a group of researchers from Indonesia and Australia, led by Maxime Aubert and Adam Brumm, have analyzed mineral deposits that formed on top of these paintings in seven caves.

Their analysis shows that one hand stencil is at least 39,900 years old and a painting of a babirusa is at least 35,400 years old.

Those ages are comparable to the age of a painted rhinoceros from the famous Chauvet Cave in France, which has been dated to 35,300 to 38,827 years ago. The oldest known cave painting is a red disk found on the wall of a Spanish cave that’s at least 40,800 years old.

This painting of a cattle-like animal in a Borneo cave has been dated at at least 40,000 years old, making it the oldest known figurative rock art in the world.

The fact that people in Indonesia were also painting cave walls way back then suggests “it is possible that rock art emerged independently at around the same time and at roughly both ends of the spatial distribution of early modern humans,” the research team writes in Nature.

But another possibility is that this type of art is much older, though scientists haven’t found evidence of it in the archaeological record.

“When something like this shows up almost instantaneously, all over the distribution of humans, within say 10,000 years, the odds are it’s something from our ancestors,” says John Shea of Stony Brook University in New York.

In Africa, our species goes back 200,000 years, Shea notes. But archaeological sites there tend to be found in shallow caves that are relatively exposed to wind and the hot, humid conditions — unlike the deep, cold caves in Europe that are ideal for preserving artwork.

Human figures from East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo. This style is dated to at least 13,600 years ago but could possibly date to the height of the last Glacial Maximum 20,000 years ago.
Composition of mulberry-coloured hand stencils superimposed over older reddish/orange hand stencils. The two styles are separated in time by at least 20,000 years.

“What we can find in older archaeological sites is evidence of symbolic behaviour, such as the production of little beads and personal adornments, the production of mineral pigments — of red ochre and other kinds of coloured pigments that people used, presumably, to decorate themselves — and traces of artistic embellishments on stone tools and on bone artefacts,” says Shea.

Figurative artwork depicting animals has been found on stone slabs in a rock shelter known as Apollo 11 in Namibia, points out Alison Brooks of George Washington University, who says these images were made more than 30,000 years ago.

“What this suggests is that this whole ability to make these things and possibly the tradition of making them is part of the cultural repertoire of the people who left Africa,” says Brooks.

She says that the paintings in Indonesia are very similar to images seen in Europe — for example, the babirusa in profile, with hair, is similar to European depictions of hairy mammoths.

But the Indonesian animals have stick legs and feet, instead of more detailed limbs. And there’s a hint of a red line that might depict the ground surface of the land that the animal is standing on, which is not found in other places.

“There are some things that are a little bit different about this,” says Brooks, though “it does seem to be that its part of the tradition.”

Fossil Discovery Suggests the Pyramids and Sphinx Were Submerged Under Water

Fossil Discovery Suggests the Pyramids and Sphinx Were Submerged Under Water

The entire region of the Giza Necropolis, including the pyramids and the Sphinx, shows erosion that some say suggests the area was once submerged by seawater. A unique fossil amplifies this theory.

For over two decades, archaeologist Sherif El Morsi has worked extensively on the Giza Plateau, and in 2013, he collaborated with founder and fellow scholar Antoine Gigal of Giza for Humanity to publish his controversial discovery of this fossil.

One of the first scientists to actually discuss the issue of plateau systems being older than previously thought was Dr Robert M. Schloch. In the early 1990s, based on water erosion patterns found both on the statue and the surrounding soil, he indicated the Sphinx was thousands of years older than usually thought, dating back to 5000-9000 B.C.

Morsi has been digging deeper into the mystery ever since. During one of his photo shoots documenting the erosion patterns of many of the megaliths in the area, he made a discovery that further suggests the area was submerged at one time.

“During my photoshoot of this ancient seashore line, I nearly tripped off a second level temple block,” said Mr Morsi in an article published on the Gigal Research website.

“To my surprise, the bulge on the top surface of the block that nearly made me the trip was a petrified exoskeleton of what seems to be an echinoid (sea urchin), which is a shallow sea marine creature.”

Morsi believes the Giza Plateau was once inundated by a sea surge. The Menkara temple site, in particular, may have once been an ancient lagoon when the high sea covered the Necropolis, the Sphinx, the temple complexes, and other sites.

Other scientists have suggested the echinoid in the limestone was exposed by erosion and the creature was part of the original limestone that formed 30 million years ago.

But, Morsi countered those claims and suggested that the creature was cemented, or petrified, in a relatively more recent time, citing evidence that the creature is lying gravitationally flat, that it’s in pristine condition, that it is within the intertidal range of the lagoon, and that it is a large specimen unlike the tiny specimens typically found in limestone blocks.

“We can clearly see the pristine condition and minute details of the exoskeleton perforation,” continued Morsi, “which means that this marine creature must have petrified from recent times. It is not a body fossil as most fossils are that date back to 30 million years, but petrified by the sediment deposits that have filled its hollow.”

The fossil was discovered at the Giza plateau. El Morsi and Gigal write: “We can clearly see the pristine condition and minute details of the exoskeleton perforation, which means that this marine creature must have petrified from recent times.”

The inundation, Morsi believes, was rather significant, reaching a maximum of about 245 feet (75 meters) over the current sea level and creating a shoreline spanning the Khafra enclosure near the Sphinx to the Menkara temple.

A rare, ancient photograph of the Sphinx before it was completely excavated.

Pitting and tidal notches due to waves and tidal ebbing pepper the stones in this area showing a 6.5-foot (2-meter) intertidal range, according to Morsi.

Moreover, at sites such as the Sphinx, the Sphinx temple, and the first 20 courses of the Great Pyramid, the stones are said to exhibit erosion due to deeper water saturation.

A Village and the pyramids during the flood-time, circa 1890.

On temple blocks, there are sediment and alluvial, or material, deposits seen in shallow sea beds and lagoons. As the water recedes, it creates an oozing spongy effect in the rock.

For an echinoid to reach 3 inches (8 centimeters), the size of the fossil, it would take about 15 years. Furthermore, the amount of sediments and alluvium deposits, as well as the intertidal erosion on the shallower areas, would takes centuries, suggesting the area was flooded for quite some time.

However, it’s difficult to determine the exact year of the flooding. Over the past 140,000 years, the sea levels have fluctuated by more than 400 feet (120 meters), as major ice sheets have grown and receded during glacial cycles, according to CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.

Jiroft Civilization, one of the oldest in the world

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.

The excavation at Jiroft’s Konar Sandal

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.

In Southeast Persia, there was a proto-Elamitic civilization that early on boasted a primitive form of writing, proof of which is provided by tablets brought to light at Tepe Sialk (Kashan, north of Isfahan), Tepe Yahya, and Susa.

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.

Present-day Excavations

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.

A bowl made of chlorite from Halil Rud with the image of a divinity: the mythical being, half-human and half-scorpion, had a protective function. Besides the relief motifs, the decoration consisted of encrustations of hard stone, shells or coral. Diameter 4.7 in. (12 cm), height 2.7 in.(7 cm), 3rd millenium BC; Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva.
This divinity from the Halil Rud region in southeastern Persia Marked the rise of a new culture. Made of composite material and dating from the third millenniumBC, the statuette is only 2 in.(5 cm) high. Seated and wrapped in a sheepskin, the goddess mother has a strange hairstyle and her large eyes and face are extremely elegant. The site of Jiroft, which was still unknown about fifteen years ago, has yielded thousands of finely worked objects. Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva.
Left and bottom in the foreground are two sculpted objects from Haul Rud. At left is a truncated cone vase decorated with incrustations of white stone and with the mythical image of a wild beast attacking a snake. At right is a goblet with relief decoration of crouching ibexes. Height 5.1 and 2.8 in. (13.2 and 7.3 cm), IIIrd-IInd millennia BC; Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva.

Right Gazelles and predatory animals are represented on this Jiroft-style truncated cone vase in chlorite. Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva.

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.

Ziggurat of Choga Zanbil, Iran

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.

The Unique Architectural Heritage Of Icelandic Turf Houses that Hidden In The Landscape

The Unique Architectural Heritage Of Icelandic Turf Houses that Hidden In The Landscape

Memorable, popular, and rumored to be the inspiration for Tolkien’s hobbit holes, turf houses are a rare form of home for the people who live in difficult climates.

For millennia, they have existed, and although layouts and materials may have changed, the basic format remains the same wood and stone frames surrounded by the Icelandic landscape’s most plentiful material: turf. In Iceland, where turf houses were the most common housing as late as the 1960s, the structures were practical and well-suited for the difficult weather and lack of timber.

The people responsible for bringing the knowledge of turf houses were the very first settlers and themselves from another cold, difficult climate – the Vikings.

When the Vikings arrived in Iceland in 874 AD, it wasn’t as barren as it appears today – in fact, 25-40% of the island was covered in forest, mainly birch trees, though they were on the short side due to lack of light and low temperatures. 

But the new inhabitants cleared the forests for sheep grazing, agriculture, shelter, and firewood. Tree regeneration was inhibited by all the grazing and thus, the Vikings deforested Iceland.  So where did they get the wood for their houses after they used up the forest? Driftwood and shipwrecks made up the deficit.

The Vikings built communal longhouses, often sharing one large room with dozens of people and occasionally, animals.  Body heat was a very important tool for not freezing to death during the long dark winter, so inhabitants slept all in the same room with two or more per bed. 

Turf longhouses varied in size depending on the wealth of the farmer or clan, and occasionally outbuildings like sheds and privies were also built.

The building method is genius.

First, a hole was dug a few feet down to where the ground doesn’t freeze.  Then a stone footprint was laid using the flattest stones possible – this kept the wood from touching the damp ground and helped prevent rot. 

A wooden frame was then erected on top of the stone footprint; the posts and beams were held together using notches and pegs, and a mat of small branches was laid over the roof beams to create airflow between the beams and the turf. 

The turf was cut directly out of the ground using special tools and laid out to dry; then the turf “bricks” – held together by the root mass of the plants therein – were laid in two courses around the wood frame, with dirt and gravel compacted between the layers. 

Turf bricks also covered the roof at a steep angle to facilitate water runoff.  The resulting walls were extremely thick and provided excellent insulation and surprising water-tightness.

Viking houses included some very interesting features, like elaborate carved front doors with complex locks and holes for shooting arrows at attackers, and a sleeping closet for the master of the house and his wife that locked from the inside for extra protection against invaders. 

Archaeological evidence suggests that more than the longhouse was communal – the turf outhouses featured group seating!

While the Viking turf houses undoubtedly fared well against Iceland’s notorious cold, damp, and dark weather, they did have some downsides. 

Mice and lice often lived in the turf, and very bad storms could sometimes peel up the roofs.  Turf houses also required a lot of maintenance, and depending on the severity of the winter needed to be re-turfed every 20 or so years.

By the 14th century, Viking style longhouses had given way to smaller, specialized buildings that were connected by tunnels to conserve heat.  By the late 18th century, the burstabær style was the most popular, introducing wooden ends, or a wooden face with the back built into the side of a hill. 

Many houses in this style still stand and have become the iconic Icelandic turf house.  They remained the most common form of housing in Iceland until the 20th century when urbanization and modernization took the country by storm.  Within 30 years, Icelanders had made the change to modern houses and city living, and the last full-time residents of turf houses moved out in the 1960s.

Today you can visit several turf houses, most of which have been restored and incorporated into the National Museum of Iceland, though some families have privately restored their ancestral homes.

Once a common skill, knowledge of turf house construction is now relegated to a handful of specialized craftsmen doing restoration and educational work. 

But the influence of turf houses lives on: architecture firms in Iceland and abroad are rediscovering the appeal of the original “green” buildings, with their insulating properties and use of local materials.  Besides being strong and practical, turf houses are cute – especially when the roofs are in bloom.