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  • richardmitnick 1:05 pm on May 17, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Climate change could erase ancient Indonesian cave art", , Archaeology, , , The study revealed evidence for salt crystallisation (haloclasty) on Pleistocene-aged rock art panels at 11 limestone cave sites in Maros-Pangkep.   

    From Griffith University (AU): “Climate change could erase ancient Indonesian cave art” 

    Griffith U bloc

    From Griffith University (AU)

    May 14, 2021
    Carley Rosengreen

    Credit: Basran Burhan.

    Griffith University-led research has revealed that some of the world’s earliest known rock art is disappearing at an alarming rate. This includes cave paintings dated to at least 44,000 years ago that are believed to be the oldest surviving artistic depictions of hunting scenes and supernatural beings.

    In a study published in Scientific Reports, a team of Australian and Indonesian archaeological scientists, conservation specialists and heritage managers documented the mechanisms behind increasing loss of painted limestone cave surfaces in southern Sulawesi, Indonesia.

    Staff from the BPCB conservation agency undertaking rock art monitoring in Maros-Pangkep. Credit: Rustan Lebe.

    Their findings indicate that deterioration of these globally significant artworks is accelerating in step with climate change.

    The study revealed evidence for salt crystallisation (haloclasty) on Pleistocene-aged rock art panels at 11 limestone cave sites in Maros-Pangkep.

    Study lead, Dr Jillian Huntley from the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, specialises in rock art conservation. Her research scientifically describes the properties of rock art and the caves or rock shelter environments where it survives today.

    Dr Huntley said she was shocked by the extent of salt weathering on the painted limestone cave surfaces in Sulawesi.

    “I was gobsmacked by how prevalent the destructive salt crystals and their chemistry were on the rock art panels, some of which we know to be more than 40,000 years old,” she said.

    Unlike the temperate climates where famous European ice age cave art sites such as Altamira and Lascaux are found, the ancient Indonesian paintings are located in the tropics, the most atmospherically dynamic region on the planet. The mid-latitudes act as the heat engine for global climate cycles, and global warming can be up to three times higher in the tropics as a result.

    Dr Huntley said high temperatures and more consecutive dry days were combining with the retention of monsoonal rains in rice fields and aquaculture ponds to provide ideal conditions for stone decay.

    Climate change could erase ancient Indonesian cave art.

    “Our analyses show that haloclasty is not only chemically weakening the cave surfaces, the growth of salt crystals behind ancient rock art is causing it to flake off the walls – it is disappearing before our eyes,” she said.

    “In my opinion, degradation of this incredible rock art is set to worsen the higher global temperatures climb.”

    The research collaboration was undertaken with specialists from Indonesian peak bodies, the National Research Centre for Archaeology (ARKENAS) and Makassar’s culture heritage department, Balai Pelestarian Cagar Budaya (BPCB).

    ARKENAS director I. Made Geria said: “The rock art of Maros-Pangkep provides crucial insight into the world of ancient Indonesia. Preserving this art for future generations requires the cooperation and long-term commitment of scientific research institutions, cultural heritage agencies, government authorities, and local communities. It also requires us to educate people in Indonesia – and throughout the world – about the urgent need to study and safeguard this irreplaceable evidence of past human civilization.”

    Adhi Agus Oktaviana, an Indonesian rock art expert with ARKENAS and Griffith PhD scholar, said the true extent of the region’s rock art remained unknown.

    “We have recorded over 300 cave art sites in Maros-Pangkep. Our teams continue to survey the area, finding new artworks every year. Almost without exception the paintings are exfoliating and in advanced stages of decay. We are in a race against time,” he said.

    Rustan Lebe, a BPCB archaeologist based in Maros-Pangkep, coordinates an emerging program of rock art and microclimate monitoring in the region. According to Rustan “we have recorded rapid loss of hand-sized spall flakes from these ancient art panels over a single season (less than five months)”.

    “Apart from studying how the salts are forming on the cave walls, it is important to consider the analysis of rock art pigment composition and image production techniques, which could possibly provide insight into why some individual motifs exfoliate more quickly than others.”

    Sulawesian archaeologist and Griffith PhD scholar Basran Burhan was also an integral member of the study team.

    Credit: Linda Siagian.

    “Cave art discoveries are revealing more and more about how advanced the cultural lives of the first peoples living in Sulawesi were. Detailed paintings of animals, hand stencils and narrative scenes of great antiquity show that people have been connected to this place for tens of thousands of years,” he said.

    Aside from the direct impacts associated with industrial development such as mining, altered climate states resulting from global warming are the biggest threat to the preservation of the ice age art of the tropics.

    “The challenges of climate change adaptation for the Indonesian Maritime Continent are complex,” Dr Huntley said.

    “Understanding the mechanisms of rock art weathering is even more critical in this context. Some of the solutions of looming food insecurity such as the expansion of rice fields and aquaculture ponds can have unintended consequences. Holding surface water in these ways enhances humidity, prolonging the seasonal shrink and swell of geological salts, as well as leading to more mineral deposition. All of which leads to rock art degradation.”

    “We urgently need further rock art and conservation research to have the best chance of preserving the Pleistocene cave paintings of Indonesia.”

    See the full article here .


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    Griffith U Campus

    In 1971, Griffith University (AU) was created to be a new kind of university—one that offered new degrees in progressive fields such as Asian studies and environmental science. At the time, these study areas were revolutionary—today, they’re more important than ever.

    Since then, we’ve grown into a comprehensive, research-intensive university, ranking in the top 5% of universities worldwide. Our teaching and research spans five campuses in South East Queensland and all disciplines, while our network of more than 120,000 graduates extends around the world.

    Griffith continues the progressive traditions of its namesake, Sir Samuel Walker Griffith, who was twice the Premier of Queensland, the first Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, and the principal author of the Australian Constitution.


    Griffith researchers work in 38 centres and institutes, investigating areas such as water science, climate change adaptation, criminology and crime prevention, sustainable tourism and health and chronic disease.

    The University’s major research institutes include:

    Advanced Design and Prototyping Technologies Institute (ADaPT)
    Australian Rivers Institute
    Cities Research Institute
    Environmental Futures Research Institute
    Griffith Asia Institute
    Griffith Criminology Institute
    Griffith Institute for Educational Research
    Griffith Institute for Tourism
    Institute for Glycomics
    Institute for Integrated and Intelligent Systems
    Menzies Health Institute Queensland (formerly the Griffith Health Institute)
    Griffith Institute for Drug Discovery (GRIDD)

    Additionally, Griffith hosts several externally supported centres and facilities, including:

    Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention
    National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility
    Smart Water Research Centre
    NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Nursing

    Research commercialisation

    Griffith offers research commercialisation and services for business, industry and government through Griffith Enterprise.

    Other centres

    As well as research centres and institutes, Griffith has a number of cultural and community focused organisations. These include the EcoCentre, which provides a space for environmental education activities, exhibitions, seminars and workshops; and the Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue (formerly the Multi-Faith Centre).

  • richardmitnick 1:06 pm on February 12, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Stonehenge may be dismantled Welsh stone circle", , Archaeology, , , Waun Mawn stone circle   

    From University College London (UK): “Stonehenge may be dismantled Welsh stone circle” 

    UCL bloc

    From University College London (UK)

    11 February 2021
    Jane Bolger
    +44 (0)20 3108 9040

    The stunning discovery, published in Antiquity, has been secretly documented by filmmakers and is the subject of an exclusive BBC programme, Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed.

    The world-famous monument’s smaller stones, or bluestones, are already known to have come from the Preseli Hills of Wales and are thought to have been first erected 5,000 years ago, centuries before Stonehenge’s larger sarsen stones were brought from just 15 miles away.

    Now, the Stones of Stonehenge research team, led by Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology), has identified megalith quarries for the bluestones and a dismantled stone circle nearby, pointing to them being taken from the circle and recycled 140 miles away, perhaps as a result of migration.

    Professor Parker Pearson said: “I have been leading projects at Stonehenge since 2003 and this is the culmination of twenty years of research. It’s one of the most important discoveries I’ve ever made.”

    The find goes a long way to solving the mystery of why the Stonehenge bluestones were brought from so far away, when all other stone circles were erected within a short distance of their quarries.

    Only four stones remain at Waun Mawn, which is now revealed as having been the third biggest stone circle in Britain, after Avebury in Wiltshire and Stanton Drew in Somerset, and also one of the earliest.

    Archaeological excavations in 2018 revealed empty stoneholes at Waun Mawn, confirming that the four remaining stones were part of a former circle. Scientific dating of charcoal and sediments in the holes confirmed that it was put up around 3400 BC.

    Significantly too, both Waun Mawn and Stonehenge were aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise. One of the bluestones at Stonehenge has an unusual cross-section that matches one of the holes left at Waun Mawn. Chippings in that hole are of the same rock type as the Stonehenge stone. In addition, the Welsh circle had a diameter of 110 metres, the same as that of the ditch that encloses Stonehenge.

    Waun Mawn is further evidence that the Preseli region of Wales was an important and densely settled place in Neolithic Britain, within a concentration of megalithic tombs, or dolmens, and large enclosures. Yet, evidence of activity in the thousand years after 3000 BC is almost non-existent.

    Professor Parker Pearson said: “It’s as if they just vanished. Maybe most of the people migrated, taking their stones – their ancestral identities – with them, to start again in this other special place. This extraordinary event may also have served to unite the peoples of east and west Britain.”

    Recent isotopic analysis of people buried at Stonehenge when the bluestones are thought to have arrived reveals that the first people to be buried there came from western Britain, very possibly west Wales.

    Some 43 bluestones survive today at Stonehenge, although many of these are today buried beneath the grass. Another long-distance mover is the Altar Stone, recently confirmed as sourced from the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.

    Professor Parker Pearson wonders if this too may have been part of another Welsh monument: “With an estimated 80 bluestones put up on Salisbury Plain at Stonehenge and nearby Bluestonehenge, my guess is that Waun Mawn was not the only stone circle that contributed to Stonehenge. Maybe there are more in Preseli waiting to be found. Who knows? Someone might be lucky enough to find them.”

    The Stones of Stonehenge research team is led by UCL with Bournemouth University, the University of Southampton, the University of the Highlands & Islands and Aerial-Cam Ltd.

    See the full article here .


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    Stem Education Coalition

    UCL campus

    UCL (UK) was founded in 1826 to open up higher education in England to those who had been excluded from it – becoming the first university in England to admit women students on equal terms with men in 1878.

    Academic excellence and research that addresses real-world problems inform our ethos to this day and are central to our 20-year strategy.

  • richardmitnick 11:46 am on January 19, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A New Archaeology for the Anthropocene Era", Addressing such thoroughly modern challenges as biodiversity; conservation; food security and climate change., , , Archaeology, Archaeology today has a great deal to contribute to addressing the challenges of the modern era., Humans in the present era have become one of the great forces shaping nature., Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) [Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte] (DE),   

    From Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) [Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte] (DE): “A New Archaeology for the Anthropocene Era” 

    Max Planck Gesellschaft

    From Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) [Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte] (DE)

    January 18, 2021
    Prof. Nicole Boivin

    Scantily clad tomb raiders and cloistered scholars piecing together old pots – these are the kinds of stereotypes of archaeology that dominate public perception. Yet archaeology in the new millennium is a world away from these images. In a major new report, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History probe a thoroughly modern and scientific discipline to understand how it is helping to address the considerable challenges of the Anthropocene.

    Information from disciplines like archaeology, history, historical ecology and palaeoecology has an important role to play in shaping sustainable solutions to the challenges of the Anthropocene. Credit: Michelle O’Reilly, MPI-SHH.

    Indiana Jones and Lara Croft have a lot to answer for. Public perceptions of archaeology are often thoroughly outdated, and these characterisations do little to help.

    Yet archaeology as practiced today bears virtually no resemblance to the tomb raiding portrayed in movies and video games. Indeed, it bears little resemblance to even more scholarly depictions of the discipline in the entertainment sphere.

    A paper published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution aims to give pause to an audience that has been largely prepared to take such out-of-touch depictions at face value. It reveals an archaeology practiced by scientists in white lab coats, using multi-million-euro instrumentation and state of the art computers.

    It also reveals an archaeology poised to contribute in major ways to addressing such thoroughly modern challenges as biodiversity conservation, food security and climate change.

    “Archaeology today is a dramatically different discipline to what it was a century ago,” observes Nicole Boivin, lead author of the study and Director of the Institute’s Department of Archaeology. “While the tomb raiding we see portrayed in movies is over the top, the archaeology of the past was probably closer to this than to present-day archaeology. Much archaeology today is in contrast highly scientific in orientation, and aimed at addressing modern-day issues.”

    Around the world today, we can find many examples of how past cultural and technological practices and solutions are being revived to address pressing environmental and land management challenges. Examples include (left to right) mobilization of ancient terra preta (anthropogenic dark earth) technology, revitalization of landesque capital (long-term landscape investments) and adoption of traditional fire management regimes. Credit: Michelle O’Reilly, MPI-SHH.

    Examining the research contributions of the field over the past few decades, the authors reach a clear conclusion – archaeology today has a great deal to contribute to addressing the challenges of the modern era.

    “Humans in the present era have become one of the great forces shaping nature,” emphasizes Alison Crowther, coauthor and researcher at both the University of Queensland and the MPI Science of Human History. “When we say we have entered a new, human-dominated geological era, the Anthropocene, we acknowledge that role.”

    How can archaeology, a discipline focused on the past, hope to address the challenges we face in the Anthropocene?

    “It is clear that the past offers a vast repertoire of cultural knowledge that we cannot ignore,” highlights Professor Boivin.

    The two researchers show the many ways that data about the past can serve the future. By analysing what worked and didn’t work in the past – effectively offering long-term experiments in human society – archaeologists gain insight into the factors that support sustainability and resilience, and the factors that work against them. They also highlight ancient solutions to modern problems.

    “We show how researchers have improved the modern world by drawing upon information about the ways people in the past enriched soils, prevented destructive fires, created greener cities and transported water without fossil fuels,” notes Dr. Crowther.

    People also continue to use, and adapt, ancient technologies and infrastructure, including terrace and irrigation systems that are in some cases centuries or even millennia old.

    But the researchers are keen to highlight the continued importance of technological and social solutions to climate change and the other challenges of the Anthropocene.

    “It’s not about glorifying the past, or vilifying progress,” emphasizes Professor Boivin. “Instead, it’s about bringing together the best of the past, present and future to steer a responsible and constructive course for humanity.”

    See the full article here.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH)[Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte] (DE) in Jena was founded in 2014 to target fundamental questions of human history and evolution since the Paleolithic. It currently consists of three interdisciplinary research departments that integrate methods and research questions from the natural sciences and the humanities: the Department of Archaeology, the Department of Archaeogenetics, and the Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution.

    The MPI-SHH assembles experts, and large datasets, from research areas as diverse as archaeological science, anthropology, bioinformatics, proteomics, ancient genetics, quantitative linguistics, and others, to explore big questions of the human past:

    the settlement history of the world through past human migrations and genetic admixture events
    the impact of climatic and environmental change on human subsistence in different world regions
    human modification of ecosystems
    past human nutrition
    the spread and diversification of human-associated microbes and infectious diseases
    the spread and diversification of languages, cultures, and social practices
    the co-evolution of genes and culture

  • richardmitnick 9:52 am on January 19, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A Bitter Archaeological Feud Over an Ancient Vision of the Cosmos", , Archaeology, , ,   

    From The New York Times: “A Bitter Archaeological Feud Over an Ancient Vision of the Cosmos” 

    From The New York Times

    Jan. 19, 2021
    Becky Ferreira

    The Nebra sky disk under a scanning electron microscope in a laboratory in Grevesmuehlen, Germany, in 2003.Credit: dpa picture alliance/Alamy.

    The disk is small — just 12 inches in diameter — but it has loomed large in the minds of people across millenniums. Made of bronze, the artifact was inlaid in gold with an ancient vision of the cosmos by its crafters. Over generations, it was updated with new astronomical insights, until it was buried beneath land that would become the Federal Republic of Germany thousands of years later.

    This is the Nebra sky disk, and nothing else like it has been found in European archaeology. Many archaeologists have declared it the oldest known representation of the heavens, and to Germans it is a beloved emblem of heritage that connects them with ancient sky watchers.

    “The sky disk is a window to look into the minds of these people,” said Ernst Pernicka, a senior professor at Tübingen University and a director of the Curt-Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry in Mannheim.

    Rupert Gebhard, the director of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, said, “It’s a very emotional object.”

    But while Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Pernicka both acknowledge the disk’s past and present cultural resonance, they do not agree about much more. The two men and others are polarized by a bitter archaeological feud over the object’s true age. Many side with Dr. Pernicka in saying that the object is roughly 3,600 years old and comes from the Bronze Age. But Dr. Gebhard and some colleagues hold firm to their arguments that it must be about 1,000 years younger, saying it shares more with totems of the Iron Age.

    The dispute is an “unhappy situation,” said Harald Meller, a professor at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg and director of the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, the German institution that is the sky disk’s home. He stands by his conclusion that the disk dates to the Bronze Age.

    A paper published late last year by Dr. Pernicka and Dr. Meller offered a strong rebuttal to the case for the Iron Age made by Dr. Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause, a professor of prehistory and early European history at Goethe University Frankfurt. While some believe this should settle the argument, other archaeologists think the debate will, and should, continue.

    “This controversial discussion of questions that have not yet been finally clarified will trigger new investigations, especially in Halle, and motivate research to make progress,” said Wolfgang David, the executive director of the Archaeological Museum Frankfurt, who has not been involved in either side’s studies.

    The Nebra sky disk is plundered treasure. This is where the problems all begin.

    Two men claimed they found the disk, along with other ancient artifacts, during the summer of 1999 on a hillside called the Mittelberg near the town of Nebra, about an hour’s drive southwest of Halle. After denting and scratching the artifact as they dug it up, they sold it and the rest of the hoard to a trader in black market antiquities.

    Authorities recovered the disk in a 2002 sting operation, which Dr. Meller participated in, and prosecuted the original looters, who ultimately revealed the site where they had discovered the disk in exchange for a plea bargain.

    Dr. Meller also led the excavation of the Nebra site and worked with other archaeologists to establish its Bronze Age provenance. In earlier years, some scientists said the object was a forgery. But consensus eventually emerged that the disk was made by ancient people, and Dr. Meller has promoted the interpretation of the object as the oldest known human expression of clear astronomical phenomena, such as the Pleiades star cluster.

    “There’s plenty of evidence for archaeoastronomical orientations and an interest in cosmology and the night sky, the day sky, the planets and the stars during the Bronze Age,” said Alison Sheridan, an archaeologist who has worked with National Museums Scotland and was formerly president of the Prehistoric Society, an international group that promotes prehistoric research. However, the Nebra sky disk is “the oldest example of when somebody made a representation of that on material culture,” she said.

    The sky disk may reach new heights later this year when Matthias Maurer, a German astronaut, heads to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX capsule. Dr. Maurer incorporated the disk’s iconography into the design of the patch he will wear during the mission.

    Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause challenged that Bronze Age timeline in a study published last year in the journal Archäologische Informationen, saying that the object originated in the Iron Age, about 1,000 years later.

    “There is a very unclear situation about the history of finding the disk,” Dr. Krause said. “This is the big problem we have to solve somehow.”

    The two archaeologists argue that the disk must have been found at another location and reburied with unaffiliated artifacts at the Mittelberg site to make it appear to be from the Bronze Age, and therefore more valuable. They point in part to an account that one of the looters gave in a book, and claim that since they published their study in September other traders in the antiquities black market contacted them to affirm rumors that the disk was from another spot.

    “This site at the Mittelberg is obsolete,” Dr. Gebhard said. “We think it’s necessary to look around to a new site.”

    They believe that because of the enormous cultural significance of the disk for Saxony-Anhalt, the German state where Halle and Nebra are, criticism of its popular origin story has been stifled.

    Dr. Pernicka, Dr. Meller and other colleagues responded with a rebuttal published in November in the journal Archaeologia Austriaca that reasserts the Bronze Age roots of the artifact.

    To counter rumors that the disk came from another site, they first point out that both looters testified in court that they had unearthed the hoard, complete with the disk, at the Mittelberg site. That testimony “was corroborated by a lot of scientific or forensic evidence,” said Flemming Kaul, a senior researcher at the National Museum of Denmark, who was not involved with either study.

    Dr. Meller and his colleagues think the disk fulfilled sophisticated religious and calendric purposes for the people who made it. In their new study, they speculate that the Mittelberg site may have been selected as the resting place for the disk — along with two swords, two axes, a chisel and arm spirals in the hoard — because it served as an elevated perch for astronomical observations.

    “It was not thrown away,” Dr. Pernicka said of the contents buried at the site. It was a deliberate arrangement, he said, which might have been a ceremonial burial without a body or an offering to the gods.

    “We see this actually quite a lot in the Bronze Age, these so-called depositions, or ‘hoards of bronzes,’” said Maikel Kuijpers, an assistant professor in European prehistory at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who was not involved in either study.

    The scientific basis for the claim of Bronze Age origin rests on a small piece of birch bark, ensconced in the handle of one of the swords, which was carbon-dated to about 1,600 B.C. Over all, the hoard appears typical of the Bronze Age, which some experts think strengthens the case that the disk also hails from that era.

    “Unless it can be proved that the looters intentionally assembled a perfectly calibrated set of objects to set off an intellectual feud among specialists, the most parsimonious interpretation is that the pieces were found together,” said Bettina Arnold, an archaeologist and professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who was not involved with either study.

    The teams also disagree on evidence provided by soil samples, the provenance of the disk’s metals and the meaning of the bewitching celestial scenes that decorate its face.

    Dr. Pernicka’s analysis of the Mittelberg site revealed concentrations of gold and copper in the soil, suggesting that metals from the disk had leached out over thousands of years. Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause are not convinced that those particles are linked to the disk, and they recommend further comparative soil analysis.

    A detail of the disk.Credit: Kenneth Garrett/Danita Delimont, via Alamy.

    The debate over whether the disk’s iconography evokes the Bronze or Iron Age is more nebulous. Take the curious semicircle at the bottom of its face: Many archaeologists believe this feature, which was added some time after the disk was first created, represents a solar barge, a mythological vessel associated with an ancient Egyptian religion. The presence of this barge, known also as a barque, could hint at the northward spread of Mediterranean motifs across Europe in the Bronze Age.

    “The Nebra sky disk should be considered as a religious object of utmost importance for our understanding of Bronze Age religion,” Dr. Kaul said. “When considering this figure as a solar barque in particular, it stands among the earliest renderings of the sun ship in the iconography of Europe.”

    The solar barge interpretation is challenged by Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause, who think the curved shape of the figure does not match contemporaneous depictions of such sky boats found in dig sites from Egypt up through Scandinavia.

    “We have no pictures, indeed, with barges which are totally round,” Dr. Gebhard said.

    If their hypothesis about the solar barge is accurate, it raises doubts about the circular icon on the disk, commonly thought to be the sun. Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause counter that it is a full moon, situated to the left of the crescent phase. This interpretation of the disk, along with the presence of so many stars, corresponds to how European cultures of the Iron Age viewed the night sky, they say.

    “In the Bronze Age, the disk is unique in form and decoration,” Dr. David said. “The representations are too naturalistic for the early and middle Bronze Age, in which lunar and solar motifs are represented in a very abstract way.”

    However, some archaeologists have come to the opposite conclusion. Dr. Arnold said the disk was “much more consistent with Bronze Age iconographic and ideological concepts than those of the Iron Age in Central Europe,” and Dr. Kaul said he had “no problems with the iconography of the Nebra sky disk in European middle Bronze Age context.”

    Dr. Kuijpers sees problems with both sides’ views on the iconography because the disk “doesn’t fit either period,” he said. In his view, the fixation on an artifact that is without parallel is the biggest problem with this dispute.

    “It’s really unfortunate if we put all our focus on one exceptional status object,” Dr. Kuijpers said. “I think that’s not helping our discipline and what we can actually do. It’s great and fantastic to study and look at, but also, in a way, irrelevant to the bigger picture of normal early Bronze Age society.”

    While parts of the iconography debate will remain subjective, Dr. Sheridan said she thought Dr. Pernicka and Dr. Meller’s article should settle the argument that the artifact was “a genuine early Bronze Age find.”

    But the Nebra sky disk is an archaeological wild card, made as much from secrets as it is from gold, bronze and copper. The visual flare of its cosmic tableau continues to captivate public imagination, even as its elusive significance and the crimes that led to its excavation imbue the relic with tantalizing mystery.

    “While on balance the evidence (such as it is) is tilted in favor of a Bronze Age date,” Dr. Arnold wrote in an email, “the Nebra Disk is a fascinating but tragic find whose true importance will likely remain obscure no matter how many tests it is subjected to.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 11:04 am on January 16, 2021 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Hidden secrets revealed in microscopic images of ancient artifacts", , Archaeology, , , , , ,   

    From Live Science: “Hidden secrets revealed in microscopic images of ancient artifacts” 

    From Live Science

    Mindy Weisberger

    Close-up images display the unseen beauty in objects from the past.

    As seen under a microscope, a basalt inclusion in a ceramic tile from Gordion, an ancient site in what is now Turkey.
    © Courtesy of Penn Museum.

    Highly magnified views of archaeological artifacts display their extraordinary hidden beauty and reveal intriguing clues about how they were crafted and used long ago.

    For example, a 17th-century Persian textile contains fibers of silk thread that were individually wrapped with thin strips of metal. And the microstructure of a needle from Cyprus retains the touch of the person who shaped it, in traces of dark corrosion that emerged as the needle was rotated and hammered.

    These and other zoomed-in archaeological images are showcased in a new exhibit called Invisible Beauty: The Art of Archaeological Science, which opens at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia on Jan. 16.

    In another striking image, a bit of basalt glitters in a ceramic roof tile from Gordion, a site in Turkey that was inhabited from at least 2300 B.C., during the early Bronze Age (the tile dates to the first half of the sixth century B.C.). Basalt, a volcanic rock, looks dull and black to the naked eye. But when viewed in polarized light under a microscope, it shimmers with vivid colors.

    Inclusions such as basalt in a roof tile can tell archaeologists if the tile was made locally or imported, and this information can help them piece together historic trade routes and exchange networks, said Marie-Claude Boileau, co-curator of the exhibit and director of the Penn Museum’s Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAMM).

    The image is stunning not only because of the color-saturated crystals but also for the story it tells, she told Live Science.

    “We’re also trying to figure out the technology of those who made those tiles — how they mixed the clays and how they added any type of inclusions, including those pieces of basalt,” she said. All of the imaging in the exhibit was carried out at CAMM, most of it conducted by undergraduate and graduate students.

    Analysis of light-colored spots on a gold bead from the cloak of Queen Puabi of Ur helps researchers trace the geological origin of the gold. Credit: Penn Museum.

    Since the invention of the microscope in the 16th century, scientists have used magnification and light to peer at organisms and structures too small to be seen with the naked eye. Today, high-powered modern microscopes offer a glimpse of worlds that researchers centuries ago could only dream of seeing, such as a water flea giving birth, vessels surrounding the brain of a juvenile zebrafish and even footage of individual living cells in 3D.

    Discoveries of ancient mummies, long-lost cities, tools, jewelry and other items help experts piece together humanity’s past, and imaging technologies allow scientists to conduct noninvasive investigations that don’t damage delicate materials. With microscopy, X-rays, magnetic radiometry, and infrared and ultraviolet light, scientists can access concealed evidence about ancient societies.

    “People are really used to seeing archaeologists in the field doing the excavations; we really wanted to show the scale of analysis that we can do,” Boileau said. “Even from the smallest piece of an artifact or specimen, we get a lot of information about the past.”

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 10:24 am on September 13, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "How Old Is This Ancient Vision of the Stars?", , Archaeology, , ,   

    From The New York Times: “How Old Is This Ancient Vision of the Stars?” 

    From The New York Times

    Sept. 13, 2020
    Becky Ferreira

    The Nebra sky disk, an ancient ornament discovered near Nebra, Germany, which two scientists have proposed is 1,000 years younger than originally believed. Credit: Hildegard Burri-Bayer.

    The Nebra sky disk has been hailed as the oldest known representation of the cosmos. Uncovered by looters in 1999 and then recovered in a sting by archaeologists and law enforcement a few years later, the ancient bronze artifact, inlaid with gold decorations of the night sky, has provoked heated debates.

    Now, a pair of German archaeologists are calling into question the age and origin of the disk, adding another chapter to the complex saga of the enchanting object.

    The disk is currently judged to be about 3,600 years old, dating it to the Bronze Age. The looters who initially uncovered it said it was buried on a hilltop near the town of Nebra in Germany, next to weapons from the same era.

    Rupert Gebhard, director of the Bavarian State Archaeological Collection in Munich, and Rüdiger Krause, a professor of early European history at Goethe University Frankfurt, now propose that the disk is a product of the Iron Age, which would make it about 1,000 years younger.

    The researchers also argue that the disk was most likely moved by looters to the Nebra site from another location, meaning it may not be associated with the other artifacts, or Nebra itself, according to a study published this month in the journal Archäologische Informationen.

    “We regard the disk as a single find, as a single artifact, because nothing fits to it in the surrounding area,” Dr. Krause said.

    The State Museum of Prehistory in Halle, Germany, which exhibits the Nebra sky disk, issued a statement [https://www.lda-lsa.de/aktuelles/meldung/datum/2020/09/03/himmelsscheibe_von_nebra_eisenzeitlich_eine_richtigstellung/ (English follows German)] calling the team’s conclusions “demonstrably incorrect” and “easily refuted.”

    “The biggest mistake in science is if you don’t refer to the whole data,” said Harald Meller, the museum’s director. “What these colleagues do is refer only to very limited data that seems to fit their system.”

    Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause raised doubts about several earlier assumptions concerning the disk.

    The artifact is thought to be affiliated with the Bronze Age items in part because soil on the objects indicated a common period, but the study points to conflicting court documents about those assessments. Some of the weapons associated with the disk may not date to the Bronze Age, or come from the same deposit, according to Dr. Gebhard and Dr. Krause.

    The researchers suspect that the original looters may have moved the artifacts to the Nebra location to keep their site a secret from professional archaeologists.

    “They never tell you the place where they excavated because it is like a treasure box for them,” Dr. Gebhard said. “They just go back to the same place to get, and sell, new material.”

    Disputes about the authenticity of the Nebra sky disk are not uncommon. Its spectacular design has awed both experts and the public, but it has also provoked concerns [The Guardian] that it could be a forgery.

    “The problem here is that it’s such a one-off,” said Alison Sheridan, former president of the Prehistoric Society, who is not involved with either team. “That’s why people have said, Maybe it’s a fake.”

    Emilia Pásztor, an archaeologist at the Türr István museum in Hungary who has studied the disk, noted that its black market background amplifies these uncertainties.

    “The Nebra disk, due to the circumstances of the discovery,” she said, “belongs to those archaeological finds that can be debated forever until some very accurate absolute dating method can be found for metals.”

    Still, there is now a strong consensus that the Nebra sky disk is a bona fide ancient artifact.

    “It’s original. It’s not a fake,” Dr. Krause said of the disk. “What you can make out of it is a very interesting scientific discussion that shows the various different sides, or objectives, of how to judge this object, either in the Bronze or in the Iron Age.”

    To that end, Dr. Meller’s team intends to publish a rebuttal of the new study. Other archaeologists think they will have plenty to work with.

    “What’s been presented here certainly does not blow out of the water the argument that it’s Bronze Age,” Dr. Sheridan of the new study.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 9:50 am on August 24, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Southeast Asian megadrought dating back 5000 years discovered in Laos cave", Archaeology, Evidence for the megadrought came from Laos’ Luang Prabang Province where White has worked since 2001., Joyce White, Much like tree rings stalagmites have rings that contain datable signs of changing climate., , ,   

    From Penn Today: Women in STEM-“Southeast Asian megadrought dating back 5,000 years discovered in Laos cave” Joyce White 

    From Penn Today

    August 21, 2020
    Michele W. Berger

    In a Q&A, Penn archaeologist Joyce White discusses the partnership with paleoclimatologists that led to the finding, plus possible implications of such a dramatic climate change for societies at that time.

    Penn archaeologist Joyce White (center) has been working in Laos since 2001 with teams like the one shown here. Discovering evidence of a 1,000-year drought in a Laos cave was unexpected, she says, but does answer some questions about the Middle Holocene, a period she’d previously described as the “missing millennia.” (Pre-pandemic image: Courtesy of Joyce White.)

    Southeast Asia typically evokes rich and wet tropical forests. So, the discovery of a drought more than 1,000 years long beginning about 5,000 years ago was an unexpected outcome from research started by the Penn Museum’s Joyce White nearly two decades ago. She and colleagues from the University of California, Irvine; William Paterson University; the University of Quebec; and more published these findings in the journal Nature Communications.

    Evidence for the megadrought came from Laos’ Luang Prabang Province, where White has worked since 2001. A Henry Luce Foundation grant enabled the research program to expand starting in 2008, and a paleoclimate team that included William Paterson’s Michael Griffiths and Kathleen Johnson of UCI, co-lead authors on the latest paper, joined in 2010. Some of their work included collecting stalagmite samples from the Tham Doun Mai cave along the Ou River.

    Much like tree rings, stalagmites have rings that contain datable signs of changing climate. As rainwater drips through cracks in a cave’s roof, it interacts with a mineral called calcite to form stalactites on the cave’s ceiling. As that water-mineral mixture drips from the stalactite, stalagmites form on the floor below, building over time, layer by layer.

    “From those rings, we can interpret the occurrence of various climate events,” says White, who directs the Penn Museum’s Middle Mekong Archaeological Project and is an adjunct professor in Penn’s Department of Anthropology. “In this case, two of the stalagmites stopped growing for several hundred years, then started to grow again.” Chemical analyses confirmed that a prolonged drought lasting more than 1,000 years caused the cessation.

    When combined with climate modeling, the cave evidence seems connected to changes in vegetation and dust in northern Africa that happened around the same time—right around when the Sahara transitioned from forest to desert. The modeling also showed how such changes in northern Africa could affect rainfall across Southeast Asia. Penn Today talked with White about what the discovery means, plus the work that led to it.

    Rock shelters in Laos near the Tham Doun Mai cave where researchers found evidence of the 1,000-year megadrought. (Pre-pandemic image courtesy of Joyce White)

    What’s the main finding of this research?

    There was this absolutely huge drought that lasted for more than 1,000 years that occurred in the Middle Holocene. That’s amazing in and of itself and wasn’t really anticipated by other research. This is outstanding evidence for the type of climate change that must have affected societies, what plants were available, what animals were available. All of biotic life had to adjust to this very different climate. From an archaeological point of view, this really is a game changer in how we try to understand and reconstruct this period.

    When you refer to the Middle Holocene, what do you mean?

    The Holocene in general is commonly considered to begin about 11,000 years ago, and the Middle Holocene is from about 6,000 to 4,000 years ago.

    Before this finding, what did we know about the Holocene?

    We understood pretty well what was going on in the Early Holocene, essentially hunting and gathering. We also knew that the Late Holocene was an agrarian period. The link between the two was still a mystery, mysterious partly because there is a Middle Holocene gap in the archaeological record in interior Southeast Asia, what I’d been calling the missing millennia.

    There’s a mountain range between Vietnam and the Mekong Valley, where Laos is. On the Vietnam side, there are many Middle Holocene sites, but I wanted to find those on the west side, on the Laos side in the Mekong Valley. Archaeology is very much the tortoise and not the hare; you can’t necessarily go into a region and know you’re going to find evidence for whatever you’re hypothesizing. You record whatever you find, and that takes energy and time. We knew the Middle Holocene had to be there somewhere. I figured we just didn’t quite understand the landscape yet. This was before we knew about this drought.

    How did this archaeological work in Laos begin?

    Like many countries in Southeast Asia, Laos was not accessible to research until the ’90s. However, Thailand has been an area of archaeological study since the 1960s, and Penn was one of a handful of pioneering universities that undertook fieldwork there. The site we’re most famous for is Ban Chiang, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and research related to that site is one of my main research endeavors.

    In the late 1990s, the director of the Penn Museum urged me to set up a project in Laos. In those days, that wasn’t an easy thing to do. When I got there, I was assigned a counterpart. We rented a truck and drove around first near Vientiane, the capital, followed by a brief trip to Luang Prabang, a former royal capital. In about two and a half days in Luang Prabang, I saw evidence of 10,000 years of human occupation, which is not an everyday occurrence for an archaeologist. It was mind-blowing.

    During that initial trip, you’ve said that you noticed Luang Prabang was located at the intersection of the Seuang, Khan, and Ou rivers, where they meet and flow into the Mekong. How did that guide your next steps?

    I decided I wanted to do a regional survey that looked at all three rivers, not just one, because you could pick the wrong one. We would use mobile GIS, which was cutting edge at that time, and have three separate teams exploring each river independently. Then we’d collate the data. I took another trip to get the Lao government to agree to my plan, and it took a year or two to raise money.

    In 2005, with grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society, we conducted the first formal survey of the Middle Mekong Archaeological Project. Everything was joint teams; I wanted 50-50 Lao, non-Lao teams. In about three weeks, we found nearly 60 sites, which demonstrated that this was an archaeologically rich area. We found evidence of the Stone Age, ceramics of a wide variety, the kind of thing you can find on the surface of sites and in caves.

    We started test excavations of cave sites beginning in 2007. The research being published today is from 2010, the first season the paleoclimatologists joined us. They looked at many other sites, but that one on the Ou River and in the Tham Doun Mai cave was the outstanding one.

    How did the team unearth the megadrought?

    When rainwater from stalactites drips, stalagmites form beneath. Based on their growth and chemistry, the layers can be dated. For two of the stalactites, the dripping stopped, and preliminary data show it was for 1,000 to 2,000 years. That indicates that it wasn’t just a dry spell. It was massive.

    This type of complete change in climate has to have an impact on the biotic life, but we don’t really understand that in detail yet. That being said, I think this is going to change the conversation about that whole period across Eurasia and certainly Southeast Asia. The fact that there are profound climatic phenomena at a continental scale in the Holocene timeframe is quite new in scholarly conversations among archaeologists. This kind of research, when you combine archaeology, paleoclimatology, and modeling, will more effectively bring out this type of finding.

    What’s next for your work?

    With COVID, who knows when we can start fieldwork again. We didn’t finish our survey on the Ou River so I would like to do that. But to flesh out the human part of the story, we need to look at aspects of our excavated evidence, including shells we had collected from the four tested sites, which were different ranges of species. Once you know what the shell is adapted to, you can get human-scaled evidence for change of subsistence and environment. We made great headway this past January and we have other animal remains to study, too. You can get some nice tight data that inform much more on the human dimension in relationship to the massive climate shifts.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 9:48 am on August 15, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Researchers Unlock Secrets of the Past with New International Carbon Dating Standard", , Archaeology, IntCal curves-International Radiocarbon Calibration curves, Locked inside every slice of tree or piece of fossilized bone or ancient article of clothing is a story., ,   

    From University of Arizona and UNSW: “Researchers Unlock Secrets of the Past with New International Carbon Dating Standard” 

    From University of Arizona


    Resources for the media

    Researcher contacts:
    Charlotte Pearson
    Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research

    Anthony “Tim” Jull
    Department of Geosciences

    Media contact:
    Mikayla Mace
    University Communications

    The new and improved tool will allow scientists to learn more about ancient civilizations, the past environment and even the history of the sun.

    Data produced by the University of Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory are included in the new calibration curves. P. Brewer/University of Arizona Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research.

    Locked inside every slice of tree or piece of fossilized bone or ancient article of clothing is a story.

    To pin down where those stories fit in the larger history of the world, scientists rely on radiocarbon dating, a technique that is now set to become more accurate than ever, thanks to research done at the University of Arizona, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the University of California, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Cornell University, in collaboration with international partners.

    Bristlecone pine tree rings from the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research. Measurements of radiocarbon in single rings from ancient trees like these now cover the period 1700-1500 B.C. in IntCal20. P. Brewer, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, University of Arizona.

    In a series of three papers [see UNSW article below], the team of researchers have recalculated and adjusted the international radiocarbon calibration, or IntCal, curves, which are tools used by researchers across many disciplines to accurately date artifacts and make predictions about the future.

    Radiocarbon dating works by assessing the ratio of different kinds, or isotopes, of carbon atoms in an object. The method allows archaeologists and environmental scientists to date everything from the oldest modern human bones to historic climate patterns.

    “As we improve the calibration curve, we learn more about our history,” said Paula Reimer, head of the IntCal project and a professor at Queen’s University Belfast. “The IntCal calibration curves are key to helping answer big questions about the environment and our place within it.”

    The research team used measurements from over 15,000 samples from objects dating back as far as 60,000 years ago, as part of a seven-year project.

    “It’s hard to overstate the importance of these new IntCal curves for improving what we know about our past,” said Charlotte Pearson, UArizona assistant professor of dendrochronology, anthropology and geosciences, and a member of the IntCal Working Group.

    Archaeologists can use the curves to date ancient monuments or study the demise of the Neanderthals, while geoscientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rely upon the curves to find out about what the climate was like in the past to better understand and prepare for future changes.

    The team of researchers has developed three curves, based upon where the object to be dated is found – IntCal20 for the northern hemisphere, SHCal20 for the southern hemisphere and Marine20 for the world’s oceans.

    The new curves are published in the journal Radiocarbon, which is published by the University of Arizona in partnership with Cambridge University Press. The journal began in 1959 and has been published by UArizona since 1989.

    “The presence of the journal here reflects the great importance of radiocarbon dating at the University of Arizona, which goes back to the mid-1950s when the first lab was established by professor Emil Haury,” said UArizona geosciences professor Timothy Jull. “Great changes in technology have occurred since then. IntCal has become an essential tool for accurate calibration of radiocarbon dates and gradually improved over the last 35 years.”

    The previous radiocarbon calibration curves, developed over the past 50 years, were heavily reliant upon measurements taken from chunks of wood covering 10 to 20 years of consecutive tree ring growth, so they contained enough material to be tested for radiocarbon.

    The updated curves instead use tiny samples, such as tree rings covering just single years, that provide previously impossible precision and detail. Thanks to improvements in understanding of the carbon cycle, the curves have now been extended all the way to the approximate limit of the radiocarbon technique, which is 55,000 years ago. Any radioactive carbon older than about 55,000 years will have already decayed.

    “This is a really exciting time for radiocarbon research,” Pearson said. “Radiocarbon from individual calendar-dated tree rings is not only giving us a more accurate record for calibration but providing new ways to synchronize past timelines and uncover past solar activity. The newly calculated IntCal curves include high-quality data from a range of sources and extend further back in time than ever before.”

    Pearson and her team recently used annual radiocarbon data from tree rings to constrain the date of the ancient Thera volcano eruption – one of the largest eruptions humanity has ever witnessed.

    Radiocarbon dating is the most frequently used approach for dating the last 55,000 years and underpins archaeological and environmental science. It was first developed in 1949. It depends upon two flavors, or isotopes, of carbon called stable carbon – containing six protons – and radioactive carbon – containing eight protons.

    While a plant or animal is alive it takes in new carbon, so it has the same ratio of these isotopes as the atmosphere at the time. But once an organism dies, it stops taking in new carbon; the stable carbon remains, but the radioactive carbon decays at a known rate. By measuring the ratio of radioactive carbon to stable carbon left in an object, the date of its death can be estimated.

    If the level of atmospheric radioactive carbon were constant, this would be easy. However, it has fluctuated significantly throughout history. In order to date organisms precisely, scientists need a reliable historical record of its variation to accurately transform radioactive carbon measurements into calendar ages. The new IntCal curves provide this link.

    The curves are created based on collecting a huge number of archives that store past radiocarbon but can also be dated using another method. Such archives include tree rings from up to 14,000 years ago, stalagmites found in caves, corals from the sea and cores drilled from lake and ocean sediments.

    The University of Arizona (UA) is a place without limits-where teaching, research, service and innovation merge to improve lives in Arizona and beyond. We aren’t afraid to ask big questions, and find even better answers.

    In 1885, establishing Arizona’s first university in the middle of the Sonoran Desert was a bold move. But our founders were fearless, and we have never lost that spirit. To this day, we’re revolutionizing the fields of space sciences, optics, biosciences, medicine, arts and humanities, business, technology transfer and many others. Since it was founded, the UA has grown to cover more than 380 acres in central Tucson, a rich breeding ground for discovery.

    U Arizona mirror lab-Where else in the world can you find an astronomical observatory mirror lab under a football stadium?

    University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, located in the Sonoran desert. An entire ecosystem under a glass dome? Visit our campus, just once, and you’ll quickly understand why the UA is a university unlike any other.



    U NSW bloc

    From University of New South Wales

    13 Aug 2020

    While loading the 16th century samples, Dr. Adam Sookdeo ensures the magazine sits securely on the tracks of the sample changer. Photo: Richard Freeman / UNSW.

    Radiocarbon dating is set to become more accurate after an international team of scientists improved the technique for assessing the age of historical events and objects. The new curves will help scientists build up a more accurate picture of the past.

    Three researchers at UNSW Sydney, in collaboration with international colleagues, measured 15,000 samples from objects dating back as far as 55,000 years ago, as part of a seven-year project.

    They used the measurements to create new international radiocarbon calibration (IntCal) curves, which are fundamental across the scientific spectrum for accurately dating artefacts and making projections about the future.

    “Radiocarbon dating has revolutionised the field of archaeology and environmental science. As we improve the calibration curve, we learn more about our history,” says Professor Paula Reimer from Queen’s University Belfast, head of the IntCal project.

    “The radiocarbon calibration curves are key to helping answer big questions about the environment and our place within it.”

    Radiocarbon dating is vital to fields such as archaeology and geoscience to date everything from abrupt and extreme climate change to ancient human bones.

    Archaeologists can use that knowledge to correctly restore historic monuments or study the demise of the Neanderthals, while geoscientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rely on the curves to accurately find out about past climate patterns and extremes in order to better understand and prepare for the future.

    Dr. Adam Sookdeo loading a magazine of samples from the 16th century into the MICADAS. Photo: Richard Freeman / UNSW.

    ‘Scientific workhorse’ for the community

    UNSW project lead Professor Chris Turney, who contributed to the new curves along with UNSW colleagues Dr Adam Sookdeo and Dr Jonathan Palmer, says dating the past is essential for improving our understanding of how the Earth evolved and how climatic variations impacted its inhabitants, including humans.

    “Radiocarbon dating has been the workhorse of archaeological and environmental science,” he says.

    “We know the world faces many terrible environmental crises, but there still remains uncertainty surrounding the scale and timing of future impacts. A major reason for this is because scientific observations only go back a few hundred years at best. While the past obviously isn’t a perfect analogue for the future, the last 55,000 years provides valuable insights into the carbon cycle, abrupt and extreme shifts in climate, extinction events, and human migrations around the planet.”

    Prof. Turney says analysing these key past events and processes can help us model our future.

    “For example, ice core records show rapid warmings have occurred in the past over the polar regions. So one of the questions that radiocarbon can help answer is how do these changes translate to where people live today? By dating climate records preserved in lakes, peats and the oceans in lower latitudes, we can determine if any one region of the world warms earlier or faster than another, providing insights into the future.

    “Radiocarbon dating helps us understand so many different aspects of the environment. This is especially important in Australia as the driest inhabited continent on the planet. For instance, as part of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH), we’re looking at human migration and adaption in Australia during multiyear-long droughts known as megadroughts. Working with colleagues, we’re interrogating fossil records of megafauna to try to understand when and why they went extinct. Radiocarbon dating helps the scientific community bring the timing of these different elements together, which gives us a better sense of where we might be going.”

    Professor Chris Turney and Dr Adam Sookdeo with a 12,000 year old section of ancient wood at the Chronos 14Carbon-Cycle Facility, UNSW Sydney. Photo: Richard Freeman / UNSW.

    Three curves, 15,000 measurements

    For this update, the team of researchers developed three curves, published today in Radiocarbon: IntCal20 for objects found in the Northern Hemisphere, SHCal20 for the Southern Hemisphere, and Marine20 for the world’s oceans.

    The curves are created based on collecting a huge number of archives which store past radiocarbon but can also be dated using other methods. Such archives include tree-rings from preserved logs in bogs, stalagmites found in caves, corals from the sea and cores drilled from lake and ocean sediments. In total, the new curves are based on almost 15,000 measurements of radiocarbon taken from objects as old as 55,000 years.

    Previous versions of the radiocarbon calibration curve that were periodically compiled over the past 50 years were heavily reliant on measurements taken from blocks of wood containing 10 to 20 years of growth so they were big enough to be tested for radiocarbon. Advances in radiocarbon measurement mean the updated curves instead use tiny samples, such as tree-rings covering just single years, providing previously impossible precision and detail in the new calibration curves. Additionally, improvements in understanding of the carbon cycle have meant the curves have now been extended all the way to the limit of the radiocarbon technique, to 55,000 years ago.

    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

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    See the full U Arizona article here .

    See the full UNSW article here .

  • richardmitnick 7:58 am on July 30, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Whence Came Stonehenge’s Stones? Now We Know", , Archaeology, , , ,   

    From The New York Times: “Whence Came Stonehenge’s Stones? Now We Know” 

    From The New York Times

    July 29, 2020
    Franz Lidz

    Stonehenge, roughly 5,000 years old, is made up of two kinds of stones, called bluestones and sarsens, the latter of which weigh 25 tons on average. Credit: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images.

    Back in the 30s — the 1130s — the Welsh cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth created the impression that Stonehenge was built as a memorial to a bunch of British nobles slain by the Saxons. In his Historia Regum Britanniae, Geoffrey tells us that Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian legend, was enlisted to move a ring of giant mystical stones from Mount Killaraus in Ireland to what is commonly believed to be Salisbury Plain, a chalk plateau in southern England, where Stonehenge is located.

    Back in the 50s — the 1950s — a chunk of rock went missing from the magical tumble of megaliths that now comprise Stonehenge. The chunk, a three-and-a-half foot cylindrical core, had been drilled out of one of the site’s massive sarsen stones during repairs and taken home by an employee of the diamond-cutting firm that carried out the work.

    The core, recently repatriated after 60 years, turned out to be pivotal to an academic paper published on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. The study pinpointed the source of the sarsens, a mystery that has long bedeviled geologists and archaeologists.

    Although the project did not identify the specific spot where the stones came from, Mike Pitts, editor of the magazine British Archaeology, believes that the discovery makes the search for sarsen quarries a realistic option. “If we can find them, we could learn about how they were dressed and moved, and importantly we might be able to date that activity,” he said. “Dating matters, because then we can say what else was present in the landscape at the same time, what was old or gone and what was still to come — other sites are better dated — and of course who actually built the thing.”

    Archaeological excavations on Stonehenge in 1958. Credit: English Heritage, via Reuters.

    Two kinds of stones make up the roughly 5,000-year-old monument known as Stonehenge. A small inner horseshoe consists of 2- to 4-ton blocks of varied geology, called bluestone after the bluish-gray hue they have when wet or freshly broken. The sarsens, sandstone slabs that weigh 20 tons on average, form Stonehenge’s enormous central horseshoe, the uprights and lintels of the ragged outer circle, as well as the outlying Heel Stone, Slaughter Stone and Station Stones.

    Geologists determined nearly a century ago that the bluestones were dragged, carried or rolled to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills in western Wales, some 180 miles away. Last year a team of archaeologists led by Michael Parker Pearson of University College London revealed evidence of the exact location of two of the quarries.

    As for the sarsens, conventional wisdom holds that they derived from deposits on the highest points of the Marlborough Downs, 18 miles north of Stonehenge.

    David Nash, a geomorphologist at the University of Brighton and lead author on the new sarsen study, said the idea that the slabs hailed from the Downs dates to the writings of William Lambarde, a 16th-century antiquarian.

    “Lambarde came to that conclusion based on little more than the appearance of the stones on the Downs and their similarity to those at Stonehenge,” Dr. Nash said. “This idea has stuck around for more than 400 years but has never been tested.”

    Dr. Nash has traced the source of almost all the sarsens to West Woods, on the southern edge of the Downs and several miles closer to Stonehenge. His team analyzed the geochemical fingerprint of the 52 sarsens that remain in situ at the ancient site.

    The breakthrough came last summer when the long-lost core from Stone 58 was returned to English Heritage, the charity that manages Stonehenge. The sarsen cylinder offered Dr. Nash the unique opportunity to analyze a sample unaffected by surface weathering, which can slightly alter the chemical composition. Drilling through the ancient stones is now discouraged.

    “There are literally thousands of pieces of sarsen sitting in museums across Britain,” he said. “However, to my knowledge, the core from 58 is the only piece where we can identify precisely which stone it came from.”

    David Nash, a geomorphologist at University of Brighton, examining a core from Stone 58 that was stolen in the 1950s and was recently repatriated. Credit: Sam Frost/English Heritage.

    To determine its chemical makeup, researchers used a variety of noninvasive spectrometry techniques. Once the geochemical signature was established, they sampled sarsens from 20 locations across southern England, including six on the Downs. A data set comparison resulted in a single match, West Woods.

    Only two of the sarsens, Stones 26 and 160, appear to have come from elsewhere in the region. “The biggest surprise for me was finding out that the chemistry of the remaining sarsens was so consistent,” said Dr. Nash. “I expected a little more variability.”

    The only other authority thought to have linked West Woods and Stonehenge is John Aubrey, biographer and philosopher who surveyed the monument in the 17th century and was the first to record a ring of 56 chalk pits, now called Aubrey Holes. “Aubrey reckoned that he’d found the source of Stonehenge’s sarsens, a large quarry pit just 14 miles north of Stonehenge,” said Dr. Parker Pearson. “Given that West Woods is around 15 miles away, it’s very possible that he got it right the first time! And it’s taken us 340 years to find out again.”

    For his part, Dr. Nash writes it off to archaeologists “not seeing the wood for the trees.”

    Or perhaps leaving stones unturned.

    See the full article here .


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  • richardmitnick 9:04 am on July 2, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Australian story told beneath the sea", Aboriginal artefacts, , , Archaeology, , , , , , , , , told beneath the sea"   

    From COSMOS: “The Australian story, told beneath the sea” 

    Cosmos Magazine bloc

    From COSMOS

    2 July 2020
    Natalie Parletta

    Archaeological sites could fill vast historical gaps.

    The survey area in the Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia. Credit: Flinders University.

    Submerged archaeological sites discovered off Australia’s northwest coast offer a new window into the migrations, lives and cultures of Aboriginal people thousands of years ago, when the continental shelf was dry.

    This was a time when around 20 million square kilometres of land was exposed, before the last glacial loosened its grip on the planet and melted ice drowned coastal areas – and large swaths of human history – under the sea.

    In Australia alone, two million square kilometres were flooded, hemming back a third of the continent.

    “You’re talking about a huge, expansive cultural landscape inhabited by Aboriginal people all over the country… which is just a blank, empty map,” says Jonathan Benjamin from Flinders University, lead author of a paper published in the journal PLoS ONE.

    “So if you’re looking for the whole picture on Australia’s ancient past, you’ve got to look under water, there’s just no question.”

    Yet the country’s appreciation for underwater archaeology is only just emerging, after taking off in Europe over the last two decades with a growing number of sites revealed in the Mediterranean, the Baltic and the North Sea.

    This is a first for Australia – and the discovery was a leap of faith.

    “It was a high-risk project,” says Benjamin. “There was no guarantee that we would make a discovery of this nature, and we did.”

    His team, which included colleagues from Flinders, the University of Western Australia and James Cook University, set out to show that ancient Aboriginal sites could be preserved on the seabed, venturing into unexplored territory with divers, boats, aircrafts and remote underwater sensing technologies.

    Aboriginal artefacts discovered off the Pilbara coast in Western Australia represent Australia’s oldest known underwater archaeology. Credit: Flinders University.

    The Deep History of Sea Country project, in partnership with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, revealed two submerged settings in Murujuga Sea Country off the Pilbara coast around the Dampier Archipelago.

    One site, at Flying Foam Passage, was estimated to be at least 8500 years old and bore evidence of human activity associated with a freshwater spring 14 metres deep.

    The other was at Cape Bruguieres, with more than 260 lithic artefacts discovered up to 2.4 metres below sea level, dated to at least 7000 years old using radiocarbon and sea-level change analysis along with predictive modelling.

    The artefacts included various food processing, cutting, grinding and muller tools, such as a combined hammer stone and grindstone, which would have been used to grind seeds.

    “So you start to see the kinds of activities and the ideas that people had in mind,” says Benjamin. “They weren’t just randomly bashing rocks together; they were creating a tool that was for a purpose, whether it be a scalloped edge scraper or a long knife or a core tool that could be used like an axe.”

    One big surprise was the difference between the types of archaeological remains under water and those found on land, which clearly differentiates earlier and later cultures.

    The sites might have belonged to the same people who created the world-renowned Murujuga rock art, a heritage listing currently up for reconsideration.

    It’s hard to tie the two together with scientific evidence, says Benjamin. “But you’d have to imagine that the people who were there who left their stone tools on a dry land that is now submerged were also making rock art in the area because it goes back tens of thousands of years.”

    These things matter to people today, even if they’re 40,000 years old, he adds.

    “It matters in the way we protect sites, it matters in the way we create National Parks, it matters in the way we protect against destruction and development. So the marine environment, why would it be treated any differently?”

    “That should make some waves, if you pardon the pun, but it should change the landscape and the way that heritage practice and development-led archaeology is done in Australia.”

    The preserved remains have vast potential. The sites could offer insights into how Aboriginal people dealt with climate change during the last glacial. Present-day people might have a relationship with the sites from their ancestral heritage. And it could shift the timing of Aboriginal settlement back even further.

    “Much of what we currently understand about Australia’s deep past is based on sites which are further inland,” says Flinders’ Chelsea Wiseman, a co-author.

    “This study indicates the potential for Indigenous archaeology to preserve underwater, and that in some cases the artefacts may remain undisturbed for millennia.”

    Benjamin says it’s an exciting step for Australia “as we integrate maritime and Indigenous archaeology and draw connections between land and sea,” which he hopes will continue “long after you and I are gone”.

    “These new discoveries are a first step toward exploring the last real frontier of Australian archaeology.”

    See the full article here .

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