Tag: archaeology

Priceless Egyptian Sarcophagi Lids Were Sawn in Half by Smugglers

By Veronique Greenwood | April 4, 2012 10:52 am

mummy

Two wooden coffin lids, painted with Egyptian symbols, were recently seized by the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Carbon dating of the lids has revealed that they are truly ancient: one is between 2,800 and 3,000 years old, dating from the Iron Age, the other between 3,600 and 3,400 years old, from the late Bronze Age. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

Preserving the Moon Landings for Posterity

By Valerie Ross | January 11, 2012 11:13 am

Archaeologists, historians, and governments take great care to preserve human history across the globe, protecting monuments of our civilizations and traces of our origins. Even what may seem, at first, like the detritus of existence—footprints left millions of years ago, the contents of well-preserved wastebins—can serve as tangible, informative links to the past.

Now, scientists and officials are working preserve some of humanity’s best-known footprints, left by a giant leap for mankind, by extending those same sorts of historical protections to the Apollo missions’ lunar landing sites. The tricky part is, many such protections require that a site be on the territory of a state or nation—and the US government can’t claim sovereignty over any part of the moon, and doesn’t want to appear as though it’s trying to. But NASA and the New Mexico and California state governments have gotten onboard with the effort to safeguard the sites, spearheaded by New Mexico State University anthropologist Beth O’Leary. A NASA panel recently issued recommendations for protecting the sites that suggest future explorers give a wide berth to the astronautical artifacts left behind, Kenneth Chang reports at the New York Times:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins, Space

Scientists Find the Oldest Known Sleeping Mats, Laced With Insect-Repelling Leaves

By Valerie Ross | December 9, 2011 2:59 pm


Remnants of a Cryptocarya woodii leaf, which researchers
say was part of the oldest bedding ever found

In a South African cave, researchers have uncovered traces of the oldest known human bedding, 77,000-year-old mats made of grasses, leaves, and other plant material. While it’s not especially surprising that early humans would have found a way to improve the cold, generally unpleasant experience of sleeping on a cave floor, archaeologists know little about our ancestors’ sleeping habits and habitats.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

Satellite Photos Show Ancient Saharan Fortresses of a Lost Empire

By Valerie Ross | November 17, 2011 4:05 pm

New satellite images have revealed more than a hundred ancient fortified settlements still standing in the Sahara. The settlements, located in what today is southern Libya, were built by the Garamantes, a people who ruled much of the area for nearly a thousand years until their empire fragmented around 700 AD. Information about the Garamantes is relatively scarce: Other than the accounts of classical historians (who aren’t known for careful accuracy) and excavations of the Garamantian capital city in the 1960s, archaeologists haven’t had a lot to go on. During the decades-long reign of Muammar Gadhafi, antiquities and archaeology weren’t exactly a national priority; the fortresses were largely ignored. As David Mattingly, the British archaeologist who led the project, said to OurAmazingPlanet of the discoveries: “It is like someone coming to England and suddenly discovering all the medieval castles.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

100,000-Year-Old Paint Factory Suggests Early Humans Knew Chemistry

By Veronique Greenwood | October 14, 2011 12:22 pm

spacing is important
The ochre paint found in the abalone shells
seems to have been made from a specific recipe.

As archaeologists unearth scattered artifacts from the early years of our species, one of the questions they ask themselves is, when did early humans start thinking and behaving like modern humans? The recent discovery of 100,000-year-old site where paint was manufactured—equipped with mixing containers and tools—suggests that even very distant ancestors had something of our ability to plan, as well as a basic sense of chemistry.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

Rats, Not Recklessness, May Have Done Easter Islanders In

By Valerie Ross | September 19, 2011 5:45 pm


Enormous stone statues, called moai, on Easter Island

What’s the News: Easter Island is often held up as an example of what can happen when human profligacy and population outpace ecology: Wanton deforestation led to soil erosion and famine, the story goes, and the islanders’ society declined into chaos and cannibalism. But through their research on Easter Island, paleoecologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo have unearthed evidence that contradicts this version of events. The Polynesian settlers of Easter Island prospered through careful use of the scant available resources, they argue in their new book The Statues That Walked; the island’s forests were done in not by greedy humans, but by hungry rats.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Human Origins, Top Posts

Calling All Egyptology Geeks: Help Decipher Ancient Papyri

By Veronique Greenwood | July 29, 2011 12:43 pm

transcribe
Is that an alpha or a beta?

Sometimes you need a little help from your friends. Taking a leaf from reCaptcha‘s book, archaeologists from the Egypt Exploration Society and Oxford University have taken a voluminous store of ancient Egyptian papyri online in a bid to have web users transcribe the fragments, which come from a lost city known to its inhabitants as the City of the Sharp-Nosed Fish.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Digital Archaeology Revives the Ancient Chip That Ran the First Nintendo

By Veronique Greenwood | July 20, 2011 12:30 pm

chip

Modern microchip designers have numerous digital backup copies of their work. But in the early days of home computers, chip designs were drawn out by hand on sheaves of paper, many of which have since gone missing. In the last 30 years, we have already forgotten how the first chips that brought computers into our homes worked.

A team of enthusiasts calling themselves “digital archaeologists” have reconstructed the design of several key early chips, including the MOS 6502. The name might not be familiar, but if you’re of a certain age, you used it in such early computing gems at the Atari, the Commodore, the Apple I and II, and, of course, the Nintendo Entertainment System. (It also appears to have powered the Terminator—Nikhil Swaminathan at Archaeology Magazine, who has written a delightful feature on the project, notes that when the 1984 film switches to the killing machine’s point of view, 6502 code is running up the side of the screen.) By dissecting the chip with acid and photographing each layer of its workings, they’ve developed a map of its circuits that can be plugged into a programmable chip and used to play Atari games, as well as serve as a resource for understanding how early chips were designed.

Read the whole story at Archaeology Magazine, and check out the group’s site for beautiful, massive images of the chip architecture.

Image credit: Visual 6502 project

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology

Experimental Archaeologists: Investigating the Past by Recreating It

By Valerie Ross | July 19, 2011 11:56 am

Most archaeologists dig up the past, examining artifacts for clues—but experimental archaeologists build the past from the ground up, testing out what they can make and do using the same tools and techniques ancient peoples did. Brandon Keim at Wired Science has compiled a fascinating collection of these studies, following scientists as they sail the South Pacific on rafts of balsa wood, hunt deer with flint-tipped spears, and build smoky fires to keep warm through the Scandinavian winter (above).

[See the rest at Wired Science.]

Image: Liedgren & Östlund, Journal of Archaeological Science, 2011

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Human Origins

Early Farmers Were Sicker and Shorter Than Their Forager Ancestors

By Valerie Ross | June 17, 2011 2:30 pm

What’s the News: As human societies adopted agriculture, their people became shorter and less healthy, according to a new review of studies focused on the health impacts of early farming. Societies around the world—in Britain and Bahrain, Thailand and Tennessee—experienced this trend regardless of when they started farming or what stapled crops they farmed, the researchers found.

This finding runs contrary to the idea that a stable source of food makes people grow bigger and healthier. The data suggest, in fact, that poor nutrition, increased disease, and other problems that plagued early farming peoples more than their hunter-gatherer predecessors outweighed any benefits from stability.

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