12,000-Year-Old Natufian Village Unearthed in Jordan Valley
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a prehistoric village in the Jordan Valley dating from around 12,000 years ago, The Hebrew University revealed on Wednesday.
The site, named NEG II, is located in Wadi Ein-Gev, west of the Sea of Galilee and south of the Golan Heights town of Katzrin, and is estimated to cover an area of roughly 1,200 square meters (three acres).
In a series of excavations, archaeologists found numerous artefacts pointing to a vast human settlement including burial remains, flint tools, art manifestations, faunal assemblage and stone and bone tools.
While other sites from the same period have been unearthed in the area, the Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem said that NEG II was unique in that it contains cultural characteristics typical of both the Old Stone Age — known as the Paleolithic period — and the New Stone Age, known as the Neolithic period.
“Although attributes of the stone tool kit found at NEG II place the site chronologically in the Paleolithic period, other characteristics – such as its artistic tradition, size, the thickness of archaeological deposits and investment in architecture – are more typical of early agricultural communities in the Neolithic period,” said chief excavator Dr. Leore Grosman.
“Characterizing this important period of potential overlap in the Jordan Valley is crucial for the understanding of the socioeconomic processes that marked the shift from Paleolithic mobile societies of hunter-gatherers to Neolithic agricultural communities,” she added.
The Paleolithic period is considered the earliest period in the history of mankind.
The end of that era is marked by the transition to agricultural societies with the emergence of settled villages and the domestication of plants and animals.
According to Grosman, NEG II was likely occupied in the midst of the cold and dry global climatic event known as the Younger Dryas, when temperatures declined sharply over most of the northern hemisphere around 12,900–11,600 years ago.
Affected by climatic changes, groups in the area became increasingly mobile and potentially smaller in size, she said.
NEG II, however, shows that some groups in the Jordan Valley may have become larger in size and preferred town-like settlements to a nomadic existence.
Researchers said this shift in settlement pattern could be related to climate conditions that provided the ingredients necessary for prehistoric man to take the final steps toward agriculture in the southern Levant.
“It is not surprising that at a number of sites in the Jordan Valley we find a cultural entity that bridges the crossroads between Late Paleolithic foragers and Neolithic farmers,” Grosman said.
The architect believes Stonehenge once had a thatched roof to form the temple
One of the biggest mysteries surrounding Stonehenge is how any of it is still standing, given the predations of souvenir-hunters and vandals including the great 17th-century architect Sir Christopher Wren. He paid many visits to the ancient monument on Salisbury Plain and his surname can still be seen carved on one of its stones.
The Victorians were even more destructive, renting chisels to visitors so they could take great chunks of Stonehenge home, and over the centuries farmers purloined stones for building their barns. Perhaps they might all have had more respect for the monument, now a Unesco World Heritage site, had they heard the extraordinary theory being put forward in a new book by 62-year-old landscape architect Sarah Ewbank. She would have us believe that the Stonehenge we see today represents the ruins of a majestic building that once had a spectacular thatched roof. As mind-boggling as contemplating an upright Tower of Pisa or a Day-Glo Taj Mahal, this may seem as barking as other ideas expounded about Stonehenge over the centuries: that its layout was based on the female private parts, or that it was a site of human sacrifice or a landing pad for aliens.
But Sarah is deadly serious, and she backs up her arguments with the rather ferocious electric saw she keeps in the garage of her pretty Cotswolds cottage near Lechlade, Gloucestershire. The feisty grandmother does not use this to intimidate those who disagree with her — although she is rather frustrated with the academics who have repeatedly refused to engage with her idea that Stonehenge was a Neolithic version of the Royal Albert Hall.
No, the saw is used to fashion ever-more detailed models of how she thinks Stonehenge might have looked. Each has taken about two months to complete and they have got bigger each time. While three earlier models have been banished to the attic, version four is currently taking pride of place in the dining room. Built on a scale of 1:33, it is surprisingly persuasive. The moment you see the familiar stone slabs as the supports for an upper storey you think ‘Ah, yes, of course it was a building. What else could it have been?’
As to what kind of building, Sarah thinks it was an all-purpose Neolithic temple with a large oval hall overlooked by galleries in which crowds might have gathered to hear speakers below.
She points out that the total diameter — some 30 metres — is almost exactly the same as Shakespeare’s Globe, a similarly thatched building in which, several millennia later, the human voice could carry to every audience member.
‘It is unquestionably the right size for an enclosed public venue,’ she says, speculating that the scenes at Stonehenge might have been as boisterous as in Elizabethan times.
‘Maybe there was feasting in the galleries, with dancing and musicians playing below, or perhaps ceremonies took place to welcome in the solstices. It all sounds rather splendid.’
It does indeed, and Sarah contends that archaeologists have under-estimated our Neolithic and Bronze Age forebears who built Stonehenge over centuries, years starting around 5,000 BC.
‘They have assumed they were rough, tough, types who had advanced little from grunting cavemen and were hardy enough to worship outdoors. But we know that the Bronze Age was sophisticated enough to have goldsmiths making absolutely stunning jewellery and they knew how to make copper alloys like bronze.
‘It seems obvious to me that they would have wanted to mark the winter solstice inside, under a roof, not outside in the freezing cold.’ It has taken five years for Sarah to develop her theory with the support of Crispin Scott, a 65-year-old retired Army officer who is her partner of 14 years. They are both divorced, with five grown-up children between them, and Sarah has fitted in her research around her work and their shared hobby of bell-ringing.
‘Initially, Cris couldn’t understand why I was doing it. But as I got more into it, he realised that I was on to something,’ she says.
Her interest was first sparked when she saw a TV documentary about new excavations at Stonehenge. ‘I wondered: “Why to keep digging down instead of looking up?”
‘I could see its slabs were of a suitable size to be support piers for a roof and wondered if their layout held clues that would reveal its shape.’
Designing landscapes for more than 40 years, she’s been involved in consultancy and planning for everything from historic estates to Oxford colleges. But this task involved throwing her brain into reverse. Instead of creating a design from scratch, she was trying to deduce what a design might have been from the four concentric formations of stones that make up Stonehenge: an outer and an inner circle, a horseshoe and an oval. None is complete, and indications of where the missing stones once stood have been identified by archaeological investigations.
These suggest that the outer ring consisted of 30 pillars of grey sarsen stone, each about four metres high, somehow transported from quarries on the Marlborough Downs, about 20 miles away. Sarah points to other famous historic buildings — most notably the Parthenon in Athens — whose roofs are supported by similar columns. ‘It’s a common building form,’ she explains.
It’s believed that these pillars were all originally capped by horizontally placed stones known as lintels. Where these are missing it’s possible to see two knobs on top of each pillar which would have been slotted into two corresponding holes in the bottom of the lintels. Since gravity alone would have been enough to hold the lintels in place, Sarah argues that the knobs and sockets would not have been necessary unless they were supporting something.
‘Their existence suggests that the sarsens’ uprights and lintels were engineered as if to take the load of a roof,’ she says.
While the sarsen stones would have formed an outer colonnade, a wraparound walkway covered by the roof but open to the elements, Sarah believes it’s logical that the hall would have had a wall to give protection from the weather. According to her, the remains of the doorways within that wall can be seen in Stonehenge’s inner circle, made up of smaller bluestones transported from the Preseli mountains in Wales, some 150 miles away.
Before metal hinges were available, doors were jointed onto pivoting vertical poles that turned when the door was open or shut. One of the bluestone uprights contains a vertical groove into which such a pole would have fitted perfectly, while the two bluestone lintels remaining contain holes which Sarah thinks may have been used to secure a wooden board containing sockets for the door-poles.
Moving towards the centre of Stonehenge, the next formation is a horseshoe of four trilithons — sets of two stones capped by a lintel — with another taller trilithon at the end. Sarah suggests that all were supports for a central wooden framework spanning the centre of the oval hall, with rafters radiating downwards to the outer circle of sarsen stones to support the roof’s lower slopes.
In her view, Stonehenge’s builders would have known exactly how to build the central wooden cradle she posits as holding up the roof because it resembles a large upturned boat. Her final challenge was to find a purpose for the oval of bluestones at the centre of Stonehenge. She concludes that these supported columns held up the balcony. While her fourth model shows this being reached via a spiral staircase, she admits that this is pure guesswork. But she is more confident that our Neolithic predecessors were capable of high-quality carpentry using oaks from the woodlands which covered about a third of Great Britain.
All this begs a question. If Stonehenge really was a building, then how on earth did they go about constructing it?
Using her experiences of shifting weighty objects with very limited resources, Sarah imagines an ingenious arrangement for raising Stonehenge’s wooden trusses, the largest of which she estimates as weighing 20 tonnes. This involves building a high platform on which each truss could be laid flat, with one end butting the top of the lintel before being hoisted upright with ropes.
So what do the experts make of all this? Over the years, Sarah has asked but received no real replies.
‘I would like to sit down and have a sensible conversation with them, but it seems anything challenging the view of a broad consensus of current archaeologists is routinely rejected,’ she says,.
But English Heritage is unlikely to be entering such discussions any time soon. ‘The idea of a roof on Stonehenge wouldn’t make any sense,’ says the monument’s curator, Heather Sebire.
‘Part of the point of the place is the majesty of the stones, so why would you put a roof on them? The bottom line is that there isn’t any evidence for it.’
This doesn’t sit well with Sarah. ‘Just because something hasn’t survived, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist,’ she says, and her book certainly makes a plausible case that the roof on Stonehenge did exist. One thing is certain. Given the huge distances over which the stones had to be transported by land, the construction of Stonehenge was an astonishing technical accomplishment — with or without a roof.
The Largest Confirmed Pyramid on Earth Dwarfs The Great Pyramid of Giza
It is the largest pyramid on Earth, with a base four times larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza and almost doubles the volume. The Pyramid is recognized as the largest pyramid in volume with four million five hundred thousand cubic meters. It literally DWARFS the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Experts estimate that it took around 1,000 years for the Pyramid to be built. It is also so far, the largest monument ever built in the world, among all ancient civilizations. It still remains a mystery as to WHO built the Pyramid.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula or Tlachihualtepetl –from the Nahuatl meaning “handmade hill”— is the largest pyramidal basement in the world with 450 meters per side. In fact, it is not a single pyramid at all, but one monument stacked on top of another, consisting of at least six buildings. It grew in stages, as successive civilizations improved what had already been built.
With 450 meters wide and 66 meters high, the Great Pyramid of Cholula is equivalent to nine Olympic swimming pools. However, the Great Pyramid of Cholula has an impressive list of records: it is the largest pyramid on Earth, with a base four times larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza and almost doubles the volume. It is also so far, the largest monument ever built in the world, among all civilizations.
Curiously, It is also officially recognized as the largest pyramid in volume with 4,500,000 m³, but it is not the tallest one; With 65 m high the Great Pyramid of Cholula is similar to that of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan which has 64, while the Great Pyramid of Giza In Egypt it has a height of 139.
While experts are unsure as to when exactly the Pyramid building process was begun, archaeologists believe it was around 300 BC or at the beginning of the Christian era.
It is estimated that it took between 500 and 1,000 years until the pyramid was finished. According to legend, when the local inhabitants heard that the Spanish Conquistadores were approaching, the locals covered the sacred temple with dirt.
When Cortes and his men arrived in Cholula in October 1519, some 1,800 years after the pyramid was built, they massacred about 3,000 people in a single hour, 10% of the entire population of the city, and levelled many of their religious structures.
But they never touched the pyramid, because they never found it.
The Pyramid is a mind-bending structure, and it is so old that when Cortes and his men arrived in Mexico, the monument was already thousands of years old and completely covered by vegetation.
Strangely, first on-site excavations revealed a series of horrifying discoveries, including deformed skulls of decapitated children.
Curiously, little is known about the initial history of the pyramid. It is thought that construction began around 300 BC, but it remains a mystery who erected it.
According to legends, the Great Pyramid of Cholula was built by giants.
Archaeologists estimate that the Cholutecas participated in the construction.
1,500-year-old Visigoth Sarcophagus Found at Roman Villa Site
Archaeologists from the University of Murcia, financed by the Mula municipal council, the Cajamurcia Foundation, and supported by CEPOAT have excavated a sarcophagus at the site of the Roman necropolis at Los Villaricos, located 5km East of the city of Mula, in Murcia, Spain.
The discovery was made during the summer season of excavations among the ruins of a previously excavated Roman villa, which was abandoned around the 5th century AD.
During the Roman period, Los Villaricos was a large-scale agricultural site, focusing on the production and storage of olive oil.
In later years, elements of the villa were repurposed for Christian worship, whilst the villa’s central patio area was used as a necropolis, referred to as the ‘ necropolis ad sanctos ’.
Excavations in this area uncovered a two-metre-long sarcophagus, that is decorated with a swirling geometric pattern and renderings of ivy leaves, whilst a Chi-Rho symbol was carved on its top which is a form of Christogram by superimposing the first two (capital) letters—chi and rho (ΧΡ)—of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos), in such a way that the vertical stroke of the rho intersects the centre of the chi.
It is believed that the sarcophagus dates from the 6th century AD, during a period when waves of Germanic tribes swept into the former Roman territories, amongst them the Visigoths.
Under the Visigoths, many Roman structures were abandoned or re-purposed, whilst part of the villa site was built over with a small Christian church sometime during the 5-7th century AD.
Rafael González Fernández, professor of Ancient History from the University of Murcia described the discovery as “spectacular and unexpected, which corroborates previous studies on the chronology of the necropolis”.
Cannabis originated in China, genetic analysis reveals
People feeling the effects of marijuana are prone to what scientists call “divergent thinking,” the process of searching for solutions to a loosely defined question. Here is one to ponder: Where did the weed come from? No, not where it was bought, but where and when was the plant first domesticated.
Many botanists believe that the Cannabis sativa plant was first domesticated in Central Asia. But a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances suggests that East Asia is the more likely source and that all existing strains of the plant come from an “ancestral gene pool” represented by wild and cultivated varieties growing in China today.
The study’s authors found that the plant was a “primarily multipurpose crop” grown about 12,000 years ago during the early Neolithic period, probably for fibre and medicinal uses.
Farmers began breeding the plant specifically for its mind-altering properties about 4,000 years ago, as cannabis began to spread into Europe and the Middle East, the authors of the study said.
Michael Purugganan, a professor of biology at New York University who read the study, said the usual assumption about early humans was that they domesticated plants for food.
“That seems to be the most pressing problem for humans then: How to get food,” said Purugganan, who was not involved in the research. “The suggestion that even early on they were also very concerned with fibre and even intoxicants is interesting. It would bring to question what were the priorities of these Neolithic societies.
A 2016 study by other scientists said that the earliest records for cannabis were mostly from China and Japan, but most botanists believe that it was probably first domesticated in the eastern part of Central Asia, where wild varieties of the plant are widespread.
Genetic sequencing for the latest study suggests that the species has a “single domestication origin” in East Asia, the researchers wrote. By sequencing genetic samples of the plant, they found that the species had most likely been domesticated by the early Neolithic period. They said their conclusion was supported by pottery and other archaeological evidence from the same period that was discovered in present-day China, Japan and Taiwan.
But Purugganan said he was sceptical about conclusions that the plant was developed for drug or fibre use 12,000 years ago since archaeological evidence show the consistent use or presence of cannabis for those purposes began about 7,500 years ago. “I would like to see a much larger study with a larger sampling,” he said.
Luca Fumagalli, an author of the study and a biologist in Switzerland who specialises in conservation genetics, said the theory of a Central Asian origin was largely based on observational data of wild samples in that region. “It’s easy to find feral samples, but these are not wild types,” Fumagalli said. “These are plants that escaped captivity and readapted to the wild environment. “By the way, that’s the reason you call it to weed, because it grows anywhere,” he added.
The study was led by Ren Guangpeng, a botanist at Lanzhou University in the western Chinese province of Gansu. Ren said in an interview that the original site of cannabis domestication was most likely northwestern China and that the finding could help with current efforts in the country to breed new types of hemp.
To conduct the study, Ren and his colleagues collected 82 samples, either seeds or leaves, from around the world. The samples included strains that had been selected for fibre production and others from Europe and North America that were bred to produce high amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s most mood-altering compound.
Fumagalli and his colleagues then extracted genomic DNA from the samples and sequenced them in a lab in Switzerland. They also downloaded and reanalyzed sequencing data from 28 other samples. The results showed that the wild varieties they analyzed were in fact “historical escapes from domesticated forms,” and that existing strains in China — cultivated and wild — were their closest descendants of the ancestral gene pool.
“Although additional sampling of feral plants in these key geographical areas is still needed, our results, which are based on very broad sampling already, would suggest that pure wild progenitors of C. Sativa have gone extinct,” they wrote As hemp’s function as a global source for textiles, food and oilseed dried up in the 20th century, the use of cannabis as a recreational drug increased, the new study noted. But there are still “large gaps” in knowledge about its domestication history, it said, in large part because the plant is illegal in many countries.
It can also be hard to understand precisely how plant species are domesticated in the first place, said Catherine Rushworth, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota who studies plant evolution.
Although scientists can make some basic predictions about how a given plant species will diverge in nature, she added, such predictions “go out the window” when a natural selection process is driven by humans. “So, for example, we might think that species would diverge when they’re adapting to different habitats, or to different pollinators,” she said. “But people are often the pollinators and people have created those habitats.
Can 4.5 Billion-Year-Old Meteorite Hold Secrets of Life on Earth?
Scientists are set to uncover the secrets of a rare meteorite and possibly the origins of oceans and life on Earth, thanks to Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) funding.
Research carried out on the meteorite, which fell in the UK earlier this year, suggests that the space rock dates back to the beginning of the Solar System, 4.5 billion years ago.
The meteorite has now been officially classified, thanks in part to the STFC-funded studies on the sample.
The Winchcombe meteorite, aptly named after the Gloucestershire town where it landed, is an extremely rare type called a carbonaceous chondrite.
It is a stony meteorite, rich in water and organic matter, which has retained its chemistry from the formation of the solar system. Initial analyses showing Winchcombe to be a member of the CM (“Mighei-like”) group of carbonaceous chondrites have now been formally approved by the Meteoritical Society.
STFC provided an urgency grant in order to help fund the work of planetary scientists across the UK. The funding has enabled the Natural History Museum to invest in state-of-the-art curation facilities to preserve the meteorite, and also supported time-sensitive mineralogical and organic analyses in specialist laboratories at several leading UK institutions.
Dr. Ashley King, a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, said: “We are grateful for the funding STFC has provided.
Winchcombe is the first meteorite fall to be recovered in the UK for 30 years and the first-ever carbonaceous chondrite to be recovered in our country. STFC’s funding is aiding us with this unique opportunity to discover the origins of water and life on Earth. Through the funding, we have been able to invest in state-of-the-art equipment that has contributed to our analysis and research into the Winchcombe meteorite.”
The meteorite was tracked using images and video footage from the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFAll), a collaboration between the UK’s meteor camera networks that includes the UK Fireball Network, which is funded by STFC. Fragments were then quickly located and recovered.
Since the discovery, UK scientists have been studying Winchcombe to understand its mineralogy and chemistry to learn about how the Solar System formed.
Dr. Luke Daly from the University of Glasgow and co-lead of the UK Fireball Network said: “Being able to investigate Winchcombe is a dream come true.
Many of us have spent our entire careers studying this type of rare meteorite. We are also involved in JAXA’s Hayabusa2 and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx missions, which aim to return pristine samples of carbonaceous asteroids to the Earth.
For a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite to fall in the UK, and for it to be recovered so quickly and have a known orbit, is a really special event and a fantastic opportunity for the UK planetary science community.”
Funding from STFC enabled scientists to quickly begin the search for signs of water and organics in Winchcombe before it could be contaminated by the terrestrial environment.
Dr. Queenie Chan from Royal Holloway, University of London added: “The team’s preliminary analyses confirm that Winchcombe contains a wide range of organic material! Studying the meteorite only weeks after the fall, before any significant terrestrial contamination, means that we really are peering back in time at the ingredients present at the birth of the solar system, and learning about how they came together to make planets like the Earth.”
A piece of the Winchcombe meteorite that was recovered during an organized search by the UK planetary science community is now on public display at London’s Natural History Museum.
25,000-year-old human genome recovered from cave soil in the Caucasus, western Georgia
Ancient dirt has provided DNA samples that revealed evidence of a previously unknown human species that resided in a Georgian cave more than 25,000 years ago.
A few genome sequences called SAT29 obtained from a single soil sample from the Satsurblia Cave in the Caucasus region in Georgia revealed a possibly unknown population that had inhabited the area.
The researchers used an innovative approach that “permits the identification of DNA in samples of environmental material by applying extensive sequencing and huge data analysis resources,” according to a press release about the discovery.
The technique has allowed the recovery of an environmental human genome from a layer of the cave that dates to before the Ice Age, about 25,000 years ago.
The Satsurblia Cave, formed in Sataphlia-Tskaltubo karst massif, was inhabited by people at different times in the Paleolithic Period.
Until that time, the oldest sequenced genome of a human individual from the cave was 10,000 years younger than the current one.
Further, “the analysis of the genetic material has revealed that the SAT29 human-environmental genome represents a human extinct lineage that contributed to the present day West-Eurasian populations,” the release states.
In order to confirm the results, the researchers compared the recovered genome and the genetic sequences from bone remnants from Upper Paleolithic Dzudzuana Cave in the same area, which provided clear evidence of genetic similarity.
In addition to the identified human genome, other mammal genomes which supposedly belonged to a wolf or a bison species were also recovered from the soil samples.
The researchers used these sequences to reconstruct the wolf and bison populations in the Caucasus region and upgrade the collected knowledge of the population dynamics of these species.
The next project of the international research team will be to collect samples of ancient fauna and humans from the Satsurblia cave in order to determine their mutual interactions.
Through the extraction of DNA from soil samples, the scientists hope to reconstruct the evolution of past ecosystems and evaluate the effect of climate change on mammal populations.
The research was conducted by an international team led by professor Ron Pinhasi and Pere Gelabert with Susanna Sawyer of the University of Vienna in collaboration with Pontus Skoglund and Anders Bergström of the Francis Crick Institute in London.
Sunken Ship, Ancient Greek Graves Found at Underwater Ruins in Egypt
CAIRO (Reuters) – Divers uncovered the unusual remnants of a military vessel in the ancient submerged city of Thônis-Heracleion – once Egypt’s greatest Mediterranean port – as well as a funerary complex indicating the presence of Greek merchants, the country said on Monday.
The city, which controlled the entrance to Egypt at the mouth of a western branch of the Nile, dominated the area for centuries before the foundation of Alexandria nearby by Alexander the Great in 331 BC.
Destroyed and sunk along with a wide area of the Nile delta by several earthquakes and tidal waves, Thônis-Heracleion was rediscovered in 2001 in Abu Qir Bay near Alexandria, now Egypt’s second-largest city.
The military vessel, discovered by an Egyptian-French mission led by the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), sank when the famed temple of Amun it was mooring next to collapsed in the second century BC.
A preliminary study shows the hull of the 25-metre flat-bottomed ship, with oars and a large sail, was built in the classical tradition and also had features of Ancient Egyptian construction, Egypt’s tourism and antiquities ministry said.
In another part of the city, the mission revealed the remains of a large Greek funerary area dating back to the first years of the 4th century BC, it said.
“This discovery beautifully illustrates the presence of the Greek merchants who lived in that city,” the ministry said, adding that the Greeks were allowed to settle there during the late Pharaonic dynasties.
“They built their own sanctuaries close to the huge temple of Amun. Those were destroyed, simultaneously and their remains are found mixed with those of the Egyptian temple.”