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2013 NEWS CONTENTS:

=> Scientists Find Groundbreaking New Surprises in Examination of Early Human Ancestor (South Africa)
     11 April 2013
=> RIC Archaeologist Lobban and Team Discover Lost TempleRIC Archaeologist Lobban and Team
     Discover Lost Temple
(Sudan) 2 April 2013
=> Ancient Chinese coin found on Kenyan island by Field Museum expedition (Kenya) 13 March 2013
=> Stone-Age Skeletons Unearthed In Sahara Desert (Libya) 7 March 2013
=> At the core of it: a Late Palaeolithic workshop, Wadi Kubbaniya, Upper Egypt (Egypt) 5 March 2013
=> Polish archaeologists in Sudan claim 'unique' human settlement discovery (Sudan) 20 February 2013
=> 35 Ancient Pyramids Discovered in Sudan Necropolis (Sudan) 7 February 2013
=> National Museum's archaeological expedition uncovers more of Ancient Nubia's secrets (Sudan)
     5 February 2013
=> Timbuktu Update (Mali) 30 January 2013
=> A lost royal city in Nubia (Sudan) 30 January 2013
=> Oldest stone hand axes unearthed (Ethiopia) 28 January 2013
=> Timbuktu mayor: Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts (Mali) 28 January 2013
=> Searching for the lost royal city of Nubia in northern Sudan (Sudan) 15 January 2013
=> Threats to Mali's heritage (Mali) 14 January 2013
=> What Did Our Ancestors Look Like? Hair and Eye Color Can Be Determined for Ancient Human
     Remains
(Africa) 11 January 2013
=> Study Reveals Looting of Archaeological Sites as Massive Global Problem (Africa) 4 January 2013
=> Ancient Carving Shows Stylishly Plump African Princess (Sudan) 3 January 2013




Malapa Hominin 1 (MH1) left, Lucy (AL 288-1 (Centre), and Malapa Hominin 2 (MH2) right

The U.W. 88-50 (MH 1) cranium


Composite reconstruction of Au. sediba based on recovered material from MH1, MH2 and MH4

Lee Berger with a partial skeleton of Australopithecus sediba.
Scientists Find Groundbreaking New Surprises in Examination of Early Human Ancestor (South Africa)
11 April 2013
After four years of meticulous study, new revelations about the early hominin could be a gamechanger in evolutionary research.
It dominated science headlines when the news was first released. The discovery of the remains of a new species of ancient hominin (human ancestor) revealed a candidate that sported a mosaic of features both ape-like and human -- an unprecedented 2-million-year-old hybrid called Australopithecus sediba (Au. sediba). First stumbled upon in 2008 by Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand and his then 9-year-old son Matthew at the fossil bearing site of Malapa in South Africa, the finds, consisting of remarkably complete skeletal remains as well as other well-preserved fauna and flora, instantly became the subject of perhaps the most intense and thoroughly studied hominin fossils ever documented.
The team, led by Berger and composed of South African and international scientists from the Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and 16 other global institutions (totalling more than 100 researchers from around the world), recently examined the anatomy of Au. sediba based on its skeletons catalogued as "MH1" (a juvenile skeleton) and "MH2" (an adult female skeleton), as well as an adult isolated tibia catalogued as "MH4". The scientists have now completed what amounts to the second 2-year installment of a series of studies begun approximately four years ago, and the efforts of their research have resulted in additional new surprises. Dispersed among six separate studies, these latest examinations have determined in essence how the hominin walked, chewed and moved:
(1) DENTAL MORPHOLOHY AND THE PHYLOGENETIC "PLACE" OF AUSTRALOPETHICUS SEDIBA
The first study, led by Professor Joel Irish from the Research Centre for Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology at Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom, examined dental traits in the subject fossils.
In this study, Irish, Debbie Guatelli-Steinberg of the Ohio State University and their colleagues examined the teeth from sediba and compared them to eight other African hominin species, which include modern humans from Africa, and extinct species of Homo, Australopithecus, and Paranthropus. In all, the researchers examined more than 340 fossils and 4,571 recent specimens. They also examined teeth from 44 gorillas for comparison.
Based on the examination, Irish and his colleagues suggest that the species is distinct from east African australopiths (a more ape-like hominin genus found in east Africa, such as at Olduvai Gorge and the Afar region of Ethiopia), but is close to Au. africanus (an ape-like hominin genus found in southern Africa), thus forming a southern African australopith "clade" (a group consisting of an ancestor and all its descendants).
The latter, in turn, shares a number of derived states or physical characteristics with a clade comprising four fossil samples of the genus Homo (the genus that includes modern humans and species closely related to them ). This surprising result has significant implications for our present understanding of hominin phylogeny (the evolution of the species), and alludes to the possibility that Au. sediba, and perhaps Au. africanus are not descendant from the Au. afarensis lineage, represented most prominently by the famous "Lucy" skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson in Ethiopia in 1974, as has been widely hypothesized.
"Our research on teeth can't definitively settle if either sediba or africanus is more closely related to humans than the other species," Guatelli-Steinberg said. "But our findings do suggest that both are closely related to each other and are more closely related to humans than afarensis."
Irish noted that even though the results of this study were surprising and were bound to be viewed as controversial given the long held hypotheses relating to the origins of the genus Homo (the genus more directly ancestral to humans), he would have come to the same conclusion.
"The extreme age and rarity of these fossils naturally draws enhanced interest in and scrutiny of any new findings", he says. "Based on the evidence, I would have come up with the same conclusions whether the samples were three million or 30 years old."
(2) MANDIBULAR REMAINS
Professor Darryl de Ruiter of Texas A&M and the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, and his colleagues, examined new mandibular (lower jaw) material from the MH2 individual.
The study concludes that the mandibular remains share similarities with other australopiths, but can be differentiated from the southern African ape-man Au. africanus in both size and shape, as well as in their growth trajectory.
"These results add further support to the claim that Au. sediba is taxonomically distinct from the temporally – and geographically – close species Au. africanus. Where the Au. sediba mandibles differ from those of Au. africanus, they appear most similar to representatives of early Homo," says De Ruiter.
(3) THE UPPER LIMB
Professor Steven Churchill of Duke University and the Evolutionary Studies Institute at University of the Witwatersrand and his examined new, remarkably well preserved upper limb elements of Au. sediba.
They announce the first complete (or nearly complete) and undistorted humerus, radius, ulna, scapula, clavicle and manubrium (a frontal chest bone) yet described from the early hominin record, all associated with one individual.
The researchers noted that with the exception of the hand skeleton (which exhibits a suite of derived features that may signal enhanced manipulative capabilities relative to earlier australopiths), the upper limbs of the Malapa hominins are largely primitive in their morphology (physical characteristics). Au. sediba thus shares with other australopiths an upper limb that was well-suited for arboreal or other forms of climbing and possibly suspension, though perhaps more so than has been previously suggested for any other member of the australopith genus.
Churchill adds that "it is possible that the climbing features in the skeleton of Australopithecus sediba and other australopiths are functionally unimportant primitive traits retained from a more arboreal ancestor. Even so, it is curious that these features persist unchanged for several million years, only to abruptly disappear with the emergence of the genus Homo."
(4) MORPHOLOGY OF THE THORAX
Dr. Peter Schmid and colleagues at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Zurich studied the remains of the rib cage of Au. sediba.
Their findings reveal a narrow upper thorax, much like that of the large-bodied apes, and unlike the broad, cylindrical chest characteristic of humans. In conjunction with the largely complete remains of the shoulder girdle, Schmid notes that "the morphological picture that emerges is one of a conical thorax with a high shoulder joint that produces in Au. sediba an ape-like "shrugged" shoulder appearance, and thus a configuration that is perhaps uniquely australopith, and that would not have been conducive to human-like swinging of the arms during bipedal striding and running".
The research however shows that the less well-preserved elements of the lower rib cage suggest some degree of human-like narrowing to the lower thorax, a surprising feature that is not like that of Homo erectus or H. sapiens (modern humans). Homo erectus is an extinct species of hominin that lived from around 1.8 million years ago to around 300,000 years ago. The species is thought to have originated in Africa and spread as far as England, Georgia, India, China and Java.
(5) THE VERTEBRAL COLUMN
Dr Scott Williams of the Center for the Study of Human Origins at New York University and colleagues examined the vertebral column of Au. sediba, including the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral regions of the vertebral column.
The researchers describe a remarkably articulated lumbar vertebral region that shows a human-like curvature of the lower back. Williams notes that "the adult female is the first early hominin skeleton that preserves an intact terminal thoracic region and this provides critical information on the transition in inter-vertebral joints, and, by inference, mobility of the lower back".
The study also demonstrates that Au. sediba had the same number of lumbar vertebrae as modern humans, but possessed a functionally longer and more flexible lower back. In addition, morphological indicators of strong lumbar curvature suggest that Au. sediba was more similar to the Nariokotome Homo erectus skeleton than to the australopiths.
(6) THE LOWER LIMB AND THE MECHANICS OF WALKING
Dr. Jeremy DeSilva and colleagues at Boston University and the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand examined the lower limb anatomy of Au. sediba. i
"The female Australopithecus sediba preserves a heel, ankle, knee, hip and lower back- all of the ingredients necessary to reconstruct how she walked with remarkable precision. Even the famous Lucy skeleton only preserves two of these five (ankle and hip)", says DeSilva.
In isolation, the anatomies of the heel, mid-foot, knee, hip, and back are unique and curious, but in combination, they are internally consistent for a biped walking with a hyper-pronating gait (relative to the modern human gait, feet that pronates or rotates too much, for too long at the wrong time during the gait cycle).
"The implications of this study are that multiple forms of bi-pedalism were once practiced by our early hominin ancestors," adds Berger.
“What these papers suggest is that sediba probably doesn’t come from the east African species that Lucy comes from, Australopithecus afarensis, and it may be considered the best candidate as an ancestor for the genus Homo", says project leader Berger......Such clear insight into the anatomy of an early hominin species will clearly have implications for interpreting the evolutionary processes that affected the mode and tempo of hominin evolution and the interpretation of the anatomy of less well preserved species."
OTHER FINDINGS FROM THE FIRST TWO YEARS
The Cranium Scan
The exceptionally well-preserved cranium of the MH-1 juvenile was scanned at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, the most powerful facility in the world for scanning fossils, under the direction of Dr. Kristian Carlson from the University of the Witwatersrand. By doing this, he and his colleagues were able to develop a precise map or image of the impressions on the interior surface of the cranium, or brain case, producing an endocast (or 3-dimensional image) of the area where the brain, long decayed into nothing, would have been.
Said Carlson, "the actual brain residing within a cranium does not fossilize. Rather, by studying the impressions on the inside of a cranium, palaeontologists have an opportunity to estimate what the surface of a brain may have looked like. By quantifying how much volume is contained within a cranium, palaeontologists can estimate the size of a brain."
The results revealed that the brain was human-like in shape, yet much smaller than brain volumes recorded in Homo species. In fact, the size was not significantly more than that of a modern chimpanzee. However, the orbito-frontal region of the brain, which is behind the eyes, showed characteristics of neural (nerve cell structure) reorganization. The researchers suggested that this indicated a “re-wiring” of the frontal lobe’s neural constitution to a pattern more human-like. This questioned the generally-accepted theory of brain enlargement during the transition from Australopithecus to Homo as the most essential consideration and supported the alternate theory that a neural reorganization in the orbitofrontal region made it possible for A. sediba to be more "human-like" with the smaller cranium. Thus, size may not matter more than brain tissue structure and organization.
The Hands and Toolmaking
Tracy Kivell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a team of colleagues studied the more complete hand fossils of MH-2, the adult female A. sediba.
They determined that the hand exhibited a strong flexor capability, good for tree-climbing. However, it also featured a long thumb and short fingers, a clear requirement for precision gripping, or gripping that involves the more refined use of the thumb and fingers and not the palm. This suggested that A. sediba had the mechanical capability to make tools.
According to Kivell:
"The hand is one of the very special features of the human lineage, as it's very different from the hand of the apes. Apes have long fingers for grasping branches or for use in locomotion, and thus relatively short thumbs that make it very difficult for them to grasp like a human.
Au. sediba has, in contrast, a more human-like hand that has shortened fingers and a very long thumb. Although at the same time, it appears to have possessed very powerful muscles for grasping. Our team interpreted this as a hand capable of tool manufacture and use, but still in use for climbing and certainly capable of human-like precision grip."
These findings pair A. sediba with Homo habilis, the famous "handy man" Australopithecine discovered by Louis and Mary Leakey in the 1960's, as a hominin or early human candidate capable of making tools. It also suggests that there were more than one ancient hominin species that may have produced tools, either during different time periods, overlapping time periods, or concurrently in time.
To date, no stone tools have been found in association with the Malapa cave fossils. But full-scale excavations have not yet taken place, and it is anticipated that much more data will be forthcoming as excavations are carried out in the near future.
The Pelvis
Dr. Job Kibii of the University of the Witwatersrand and associates examined the partial pelvis of MH-2 and found that it also exhibited features that combined primitive elements more akin to that of earlier hominins and apes along with elements more characteristic of humans. They observed that the size of the joint that connects the sacrum with the vertebral column and the length of the front portion of the pelvis is like that of earlier hominins and apes, but the overall shape of the pelvis is short and broad, creating a bowl shape like that of humans, with an s-shape along the top of the blades, another human characteristic. Indeed, simply placing the reconstructed pelvis next to that of an ape and an earlier hominin is very telling. The pelvis clearly appears more human-like than ape-like.
Says Kibii, “It is surprising to discover such an advanced pelvis in such a small-brained creature because of previous ideas as to the origin of the shape of the human pelvis”
The generally-accepted theory is that broader pelvises evolved, at least in part, in response to the enlarging brains of hominins, on the assumption that the more human-like pelvis shape more easily accommodated the larger-brained hominin infants in childbirth. The new findings turn this on its head, suggesting that there was another, perhaps more important evolutionary reason why the pelvis changed:
The change in the pelvic morphology accommodates a more bipedal, or erect, gate – a salient hallmark of being human. Says Steven Churchill of Duke University, one of the co-authors of the paper detailing the pelvis study, "What's cool about sediba is their pelvises are already different from other australopiths [early hominins], and yet they're still small-brained… It's hard to imagine that there's no change in locomotion behind all this."
The Feet and Ankles
Dr. Bernhard Zipfel of the University of the Witwatersrand and colleagues examined the feet and ankle fossils of MH-1 and MH-2, finding them to consist of a mix of both primitive and modern characteristics unique to A. sediba as a species. As the ankle fossils represented a very rare and opportune find in that they constituted one of the most complete hominin ankles ever found, and in an articulated position or association, it was feasible to perform a study and reach reasonably sound conclusions about the characteristics of the fossils and their implications. The ankle joint and foot bones were constructed much like a human's, with some evidence for a human-like arch and a well-defined Achilles tendon. It was also clear that the distal tibia or leg bone had to contact the anklebone perpendicular to the vertical shaft of the leg bone. These are all requirements for habitual bipedal locomotion, or upright walking.
However, the heel and shin bone exhibited more ape-like qualities, suggesting that A. sediba was also a tree-climber, much like its ape cousins.
The overall analysis suggested that A. sediba likely practiced a unique form of upright walking, not quite like that of humans, along with some degree of tree climbing.
To date, investigations at the Malapa site have seen the discovery of more than 300 early human ancestor remains, including parts of skeletons still encased in rock. Included in the recent discoveries are a new species of fox, named by the team as Vulpes skinneri just three months ago.
The six papers detailing the most recent studies are published in the 12 April 2013 issue of the journal Science, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Source : http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/march-2013/article/scientists-find-groundbreaking-new-surprises-in-examination-of-early-human-ancestor

 



Richard Lobban, professor emeritus of anthroplogy, unearths Sudanese skeleton
RIC Archaeologist Lobban and Team Discover Lost Temple (Sudan)
2 April 2013
In the austere landscape of the eastern Butana desert in Sudan where there is no running water, no electricity nor paved roads, and where the few passersby are the occasional camel, goat or sheep, archaeologist Richard Lobban has discovered a lost temple of the Meroitic Empire.
He works steadily with trowel and brush, while 10 Sudanese workers haul away the dirt. He has only two months out of the year – November and December – to excavate, before the desert sun becomes too scorching to continue. Here, temperatures can climb to 120 degrees.
It's noon on this day in late 2012. Lobban calls off work. The heat is too much. The crew drink from water bottles brought in from the nearby village of Kabushiya. Even without a road, their taxi driver manages to find his way through the desert to whisk them back to their lodgings.
Each year, for the past four years, Lobban and two other archaeologists, Eleonora Kormysheva, from the Oriental Institute in Moscow, and Eugenio Fantusati, from the University of Rome, have taken this journey to Abu Erteila to unearth a Sudanese (Nubian) temple.
Lobban is professor emeritus of anthropology at Rhode Island College. He’s been a scholar of the Sudan for 43 years and is one of only half a dozen experts in the world on Sudan history, ethnography, linguistics and archaeology.
In 2008 he retired from his full-time teaching position at RIC but describes himself as “a retiree failure.”
That year, when he heard there might be promising “koms” (Arabic for “mounds”) of archaeological interest in Abu Erteila in the eastern Butana desert, he left for Sudan.
The koms, he said, were about six feet high. Broken pottery that dated back to the Meroitic Period (fourth century BC) and to the early Christian era (fourth century AD) was found scattered about the koms.
The team hired two Russian experts to use ground-penetrating radar to determine if there were formations beneath the surface. Immediately, the radar detected underground features that proved to be walls. They did an analysis of the orientation of the walls that were angled toward the sun, and realized beneath the surface was a solar temple.
“Temples were built for royalty,” Lobban said. “Based on this temple’s size, it appears that the temple belonged to a local prince. Larger temples were built for the ruling king and queen. This temple was smaller.”
He said the local prince and his people would have used the temple, as one would a local church. Their religious system was polytheistic – a belief in many gods.
In January 2009, licensed by the Sudanese National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums, the international team began their dig. Lobban would do much of the actual excavation, while archaeology students from Italy, Russia and America would also come to help, including RIC students Robert Borges ’06 and Andrea Dill ’07.
“Based on the radar reading, we knew we would not find the temple intact,” said Lobban. “We knew most of the original walls had been dismantled for reasons we don’t know.”
However, they did unearth portions of the walls that enclosed eight rooms. In each room he found diverse painted pottery. He also found six cooking pots sitting on a pile of charcoal.
“We determined that the northeast side of the temple had been used for the mass production of food. When the local people came to the temple on a daily or weekly basis to worship they were also given food.”
Grinders and the bones of butchered animals, such as sheep, goats, camels and cattle, were found where they had been left next to the kitchen. As the excavation continued, Lobban found adult skeletons identified as Sudanese. The koms had been used as a burial site.
“You see, most of the walls of the temple had been broken down and the temple buried six feet high. The people may have remembered that this was once a sacred place – a Howsh al-Kufar (the abode of nonbelievers) – and decided to bury their dead there on the kom.”
Based on carbon dating, the team discovered that the bodies dated back to early Christian times – the ninth or 10th century – when the Meroitic Empire had ended and the Christian era had begun, brought to the Sudan from Ethiopia and Egypt.
“We know the bodies were Christian by the orientation of the burial. Their heads were facing west, so that when they were resurrected, they would sit up and face east. In subsequent years we found more of these buried Christian Sudanese, 10 in all,” he said.
In 2011 the team opened a new 15 x 15 foot square on a kom, and there they had their most dramatic find to date. They unearthed columns from the temple inscribed with hieroglyphic writing and carved with images of deities, such as the image of the Nile god Hapy.
“Hapy is a bisexual god of the river who could create life by himself,” said Lobban. “He represents unity of the Nile valley.”
Other columns, he said, were carved with “the protective combination of ‘nekhbet’ (vulture) and ‘wedjat’ (cobra),” which Lobban said is unique to Nile valley royalty.
Among legible inscriptions, he found reference to “neb-tawi,” meaning “Lord of Two Lands,” a title reserved exclusively for royalty and nobility. “This title meant that they still considered themselves not only kings of Meroe, but of all Egypt,” he said.
The team also found a lintel used to decorate the top of a window or an entryway. It was made of sandstone and carved with a solar disc and a wing. The lintel was virtually identical to those found in other Meroitic solar temples dedicated to the sun god Amun.
Based on all of these findings, his team was able to confirm, at last, that they were at the site of an ancient Meroitic temple that had not been otherwise known or recorded.
Lobban’s reaction? He gave a wry smile. “Here I am reading hieroglyphics on a column that is 2,000 years old and that no one has seen before. That’s a pretty good deal,” he said.
In future seasons, he hopes to excavate further and deeper and find still more of the missing pieces of this temple. He said, “There’s a lot of African history just sitting there. Meroe was a classical civilization. They have a writing system that’s never been translated. There’s a lot of research work to be done.”
Back at Rhode Island College, anthropology students Adam and Laura Gerard – husband and wife – work with Lobban to translate the Meroitic language. Laura described Lobban as a fascinating man. She said, “I heard the Lobban legend in the anthropology department, long before I met him.”
“Legend is he was a journalist in war-torn countries and that he helped liberate people in the jungles of West Africa,” she said.
Lobban modestly confirmed that these past exploits were true.
“He’s also known as the modern-day Indiana Jones,” she said.
Lobban is founder, first president and executive director of the Sudan Studies Association. He works at the Office of Naval Research in Newport, R.I., where he does research on the Sudan conflict. And he teaches at the Naval War College “African Security and Transnational Threats,” “African Religion and Politics,” “The Governance and Economics of Africa" and “African Culture and History.”
He has also taught at the University of Khartoum and the American University in Cairo and published scores of articles, reviews, book chapters, encyclopedia entries and books on the Middle East.
Adam Gerard likened his mentor to the “greats of ages past” – great in knowledge and great in building bridges of cross-cultural understanding.

Source : http://www2.ric.edu/news/details.php?News_ID=2115

 


Ancient Chinese coin found on Kenyan island by Field Museum expedition (Kenya)
13 March 2013
A joint expedition of scientists led by Chapurukha M. Kusimba of The Field Museum and Sloan R. Williams of the University of Illinois at Chicago has unearthed a 600-year-old Chinese coin on the Kenyan island of Manda that shows trade existed between China and east Africa decades before European explorers set sail and changed the map of the world.
The coin, a small disk of copper and silver with a square hole in the center so it could be worn on a belt, is called "Yongle Tongbao" and was issued by Emperor Yongle who reigned from 1403-1425AD during the Ming Dynasty. The emperor's name is written on the coin, making it easy to date. Emperor Yongle, who started construction of China's Forbidden City, was interested in political and trade missions to the lands that ring the Indian Ocean and sent Admiral Zheng He, also known as Cheng Ho, to explore those shores.
"Zheng He was, in many ways, the Christopher Columbus of China," said Dr. Kusimba, curator of African Anthropology at The Field Museum. "It's wonderful to have a coin that may ultimately prove he came to Kenya," he added.
Dr. Kusimba continued, "This finding is significant. We know Africa has always been connected to the rest of the world, but this coin opens a discussion about the relationship between China and Indian Ocean nations."
That relationship stopped soon after Emperor Yongle's death when later Chinese rulers banned foreign expeditions, allowing European explorers to dominate the Age of Discovery and expand their countries' empires.
The island of Manda, off the northern coast of Kenya, was home to an advanced civilization from about 200AD to 1430AD, when it was abandoned and never inhabited again. Trade played an important role in the development of Manda, and this coin may show trade's importance on the island dating back to much earlier than previously thought.
"We hope this and future expeditions to Manda will play a crucial role in showing how market-based exchange and urban-centered political economies arise and how they can be studied through biological, linguistic, and historical methodologies," Dr. Kusimba said.
Other researchers who participated in the expedition to Manda include Dr. Janet Monge from the University of Pennsylvania, Mohammed Mchulla, staff scientist at Fort Jesus National Museums of Kenya and Dr. Amelia Hubbard from Wright State University. Also involved was Professor Tiequan Zhu of Sun Yat-Sen University, who identified the coin. The researchers also found human remains and other artifacts that predate the coin.

Source : http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-03/fm-acc031313.php

 


Stone-Age Skeletons Unearthed In Sahara Desert (Libya)
7 March 2013
Archaeologists have uncovered 20 Stone-Age skeletons in and around a rock shelter in Libya's Sahara desert, according to a new study.
The skeletons date between 8,000 and 4,200 years ago, meaning the burial place was used for millennia.
"It must have been a place of memory," said study co-author Mary Anne Tafuri, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge. "People throughout time have kept it, and they have buried their people, over and over, generation after generation."
About 15 women and children were buried in the rock shelter, while five men and juveniles were buried under giant stone heaps called tumuli outside the shelter during a later period, when the region turned to desert.
The findings, which are detailed in the March issue of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, suggest the culture changed with the climate.
Millennia of burials
From about 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, the Sahara desert region, called Wadi Takarkori, was filled with scrubby vegetation and seasonal green patches. Stunning rock art depicts ancient herding animals, such as cows, which require much more water to graze than the current environment could support, Tafuri said.
Tafuri and her colleague Savino di Lernia began excavating the archaeological site between 2003 and 2006. At the same site, archaeologists also uncovered huts, animal bones and pots with traces of the earliest fermented dairy products in Africa. [See Images of the Stone-Age Skeletons]
To date the skeletons, Tafuri measured the remains for concentrations of isotopes, or molecules of the same element with different weights.
The team concluded that the skeletons were buried over four millennia, with most of the remains in the rock shelter buried between 7,300 and 5,600 years ago.
The males and juveniles under the stone heaps were buried starting 4,500 years ago, when the region became more arid. Rock art confirms the dry up, as the cave paintings began to depict goats, which need much less water to graze than cows, Tafuri said.
The ancient people also grew up not far from the area where they were buried, based on a comparison of isotopes in tooth enamel, which forms early in childhood, with elements in the nearby environment.
Shift in culture?
The findings suggest the burial place was used for millennia by the same group of people. It also revealed a divided society.
"The exclusive use of the rock shelter for female and sub-adult burials points to a persistent division based on gender," wrote Marina Gallinaro, a researcher in African studies at Sapienza University of Rome, who was not involved in the study, in an email to LiveScience.
One possibility is that during the earlier period, women had a more critical role in the society, and families may have even traced their descent through the female line. But once the Sahara began its inexorable expansion into the region about 5,000 years ago, the culture shifted and men's prominence may have risen as a result, Gallinaro wrote.
The region as a whole is full of hundreds of sites yet to be excavated, said Luigi Boitani, a biologist at Sapienza University of Rome, who has worked on archaeological sites in the region but was not involved in the study.
"The area is an untapped treasure," Boitani said.
The new discovery also highlights the need to protect the fragile region, which has been closed to archaeologists since the revolution that ousted dictator Moammar el Gadhafi.
Takarkori is very close to the main road that leads from Libya into neighboring Niger, so rebels and other notorious political figures, such as Gadhafi's sons, have frequently passed through the area to escape the country, he said.

Source : http://www.livescience.com/27697-stone-age-libyan-burials-unearthed.html

 


At the core of it: a Late Palaeolithic workshop, Wadi Kubbaniya, Upper Egypt (Egypt)
5 March 2013
In 1983, the investigations of the Combined Prehistoric Expedition at 27 locales at Wadi Kubbaniya in Upper Egypt were concluded after four field seasons.
This work culminated in four comprehensive publications highlighting the importance of the Kubbaniyan lithic industry during the Late Palaeolithic (Wendorf et al. 1980, 1986, 1989a & b). Wadi Kubbaniya is located north of Aswan and is the largest wadi in the Western Desert of Upper Egypt.
During the Late Palaeolithic, overflow from the Nile became impounded in the wadi, forming a lake. An extensive dunefield formed along the north-eastern edge of this lake; Late Palaeolithic people repeatedly camped within and adjacent to this dunefield (Figure 1).
This presence dates from about 20 000 BP to around 12 000 BP. The length and intensity of occupation varied but, based on the variety of artefacts, abundant faunal remains, hearths and ash lenses, and numerous grinding implements, most loci of activity appear to have been domestic occupations.
The grinding implements are evidence that plant resources were an integral aspect of subsistence.

Source : http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/03/2013/at-the-core-of-it-a-late-palaeolithic-workshop-wadi-kubbaniya-upper-egyp

 


Polish archaeologists in Sudan claim 'unique' human settlement discovery (Sudan)
20 February 2013
Polish archaeologists working in Sudan have found remains of human settlements that appear to date back as far as 70,000 years.
If confirmed, the discovery in the Affad Basin of northern Sudan will challenge existing theories that our distant ancestors only began building permanent residences on leaving Africa and settling in Europe and Asia.
“The Middle Palaeolithic discoveries in Affad are absolutely unique,” enthused Dr Marta Osypinska, one of the members of the team, in an interview with the Polish Press Agency (PAP).
“Last season, we came across a few traces of a light wooden construction. But it's only with ongoing research that we have been able to locate the settlement precisely and identify other utility areas: a large workshop for processing flint... and an area for cutting up the carcasses of dead animals.”
The team will be cooperating at the site in the Nile Valley with academics from Oxford University, in a bid to further unravel the geological history of the area.
More information on the project, which is funded by Poland's National Science Centre, can be found at web site archeosudan.org. (nh)

Source : http://www.thenews.pl/1/10/Artykul/127828%2CPolish-archaeologists-in-Sudan-claim-unique-human-settlement-discovery

 



Ancient pyramids discovered in Sudan
35 Ancient Pyramids Discovered in Sudan Necropolis (Sudan)
7 February 2013
At least 35 small pyramids, along with graves, have been discovered clustered closely together at a site called Sedeinga in Sudan.
Discovered between 2009 and 2012, researchers are surprised at how densely the pyramids are concentrated. In one field season alone, in 2011, the research team discovered 13 pyramids packed into roughly 5,381 square feet (500 square meters), or slightly larger than an NBA basketball court.
They date back around 2,000 years to a time when a kingdom named Kush flourished in Sudan. Kush shared a border with Egypt and, later on, the Roman Empire. The desire of the kingdom's people to build pyramids was apparently influenced by Egyptian funerary architecture.
At Sedeinga, researchers say, pyramid building continued for centuries. "The density of the pyramids is huge," said researcher Vincent Francigny, a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, in an interview with LiveScience. "Because it lasted for hundreds of years they built more, more, more pyramids and after centuries they started to fill all the spaces that were still available in the necropolis." [See Photos of the Newly Discovered Pyramids]
The biggest pyramids they discovered are about 22 feet (7 meters) wide at their base with the smallest example, likely constructed for the burial of a child, being only 30 inches (750 millimeters) long. The tops of the pyramids are not attached, as the passage of time and the presence of a camel caravan route resulted in damage to the monuments. Francigny said that the tops would have been decorated with a capstone depicting either a bird or a lotus flower on top of a solar orb.
The building continued until, eventually, they ran out of room to build pyramids. "They reached a point where it was so filled with people and graves that they had to reuse the oldest one," Francigny said.
Francigny is excavation director of the French Archaeological Mission to Sedeinga, the team that made the discoveries. He and team leader Claude Rilly published an article detailing the results of their 2011 field season in the most recent edition of the journal Sudan and Nubia.
The inner circle
Among the discoveries were several pyramids designed with an inner cupola (circular structure) connected to the pyramid corners through cross-braces. Rilly and Francigny noted in their paper that the pyramid design resembles a "French Formal Garden."
Only one pyramid, outside of Sedeinga, is known to have been constructed this way, and it's a mystery why the people of Sedeinga were fond of the design. It "did not add either to the solidity or to the external aspect [appearance] of the monument," Rilly and Francigny write.
A discovery made in 2012 may provide a clue, Francigny said in the interview. "What we found this year is very intriguing," he said. "A grave of a child and it was covered by only a kind of circle, almost complete, of brick." It's possible, he said, that when pyramid building came into fashion at Sedeinga it was combined with a local circle-building tradition called tumulus construction, resulting in pyramids with circles within them.
An offering for grandma?
The graves beside the pyramids had largely been plundered, possibly in antiquity, by the time archaeologists excavated them. Researchers did find skeletal remains and, in some cases, artifacts.
One of the most interesting new finds was an offering table found by the remains of a pyramid. . It appears to depict the goddess Isis and the jackal-headed god Anubis and includes an inscription, written in Meroitic language, dedicated to a woman named "Aba-la," which may be a nickname for "grandmother," Rilly writes.
It reads in translation:
Oh Isis! Oh Osiris!
It is Aba-la.
Make her drink plentiful water;
Make her eat plentiful bread;
Make her be served a good meal.
The offering table with inscription was a final send-off for a woman, possibly a grandmother, given a pyramid burial nearly 2,000 years ago.

Source : http://news.yahoo.com/35-ancient-pyramids-discovered-sudan-necropolis-162426532.html

 






National Museum's archaeological expedition uncovers more of Ancient Nubia's secrets (Sudan)
5 February 2013
Last December a group of archaeologists from the National Museum returned from an excavation expedition in the Sudanese locality of Wad Ben Naga. They have been working there since 2009 and are helping their Sudanese colleagues fulfil the requirements to enable the whole area to be registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Radio Prague spoke to some members of the team and chief archaeologist Vlastimil Vrtal told her what exactly they have been uncovering.
“There are at least 4 temples, one large palatial structure and vast cemeteries to the north and the south. Currently, we’ve finished revising excavations of four structures which were already excavated before, but they weren’t properly published or even documented.
“Now, in this last year, we’ve started excavating in the so called “Typhonium” which is a temple building. This one was only known from pictures of ancient ruins from the 19th Century but it wasn’t excavated until we came.”
Previously at the site, fragments of an altar were discovered by the famous Prussian Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius. His expedition in the mid 19th Century uncovered two stands upon which sacred bark would have been laid. Pavel Onderka, the leader of the archaeological exhibition told me what had happened to them.
“The larger of the two was taken to Berlin and now forms part of the collections at the Egyptian museum there. The other one was left at the site. One and a half centuries later we discovered parts of it - sadly not the complete piece - but luckily with both Meroitic and Egyptian hieroglyphs.”
But archaeological digs aren’t always straight forward. Alexander Gatzsche, the conservator of the exhibition explained to me some of the problems with the finds.
“It’s really nice to get in touch with the finds there but sometimes, from the point of view of a conservator, they are in such bad condition that it is more of a big challenge to go there. The conditions and circumstances of the things there are very different to many other places and so the experiences are new for me.”
The expedition however isn’t just there to discover ancient remains. In 2011, a partnership between Otrokovice, Mr Onderka’s home town, and Wad Ben Naga was declared meaning the district receives financial support on a yearly basis. I asked him what else this partnership means for the towns.
“At first the cooperation was only established between the schools. The children from the Czech Republic were sending teaching materials and toys and clothes to children in the Sudan, but soon the town realised that this is actually an opportunity for not only the schools, but also for all the citizens of the city to help in some way.
“In 2012 we were able to build a water cleaning plant in Wad Ben Naga and to reconstruct the local kindergarten and in this coming year, 2013, we are supposed to buy new equipment and furniture for the local schools.”
In the coming year the expedition is also expecting to publish the first detailed study on Wad Ben Naga. They are also hopeful that at some point in the future, they will have the chance to present their research in an exhibition. Pavel Onderka, the leader of the archaeological expedition again:
“Whoever came to Wad Ben Naga as an explorer did not leave the site disappointed. We do not only discover wonderful things but we also discover things that bring us closer to understanding everyday life in ancient times.”

Source : http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/national-museums-archaeological-expedition-uncovers-more-of-ancient-nubias-secrets

 


Timbuctu update (Mali)
30 January 2013
Since the start of this week there are reports about the destruction of library buildings and book collections in Timbuktu. It sounds as if the written heritage of the town went up in flames. According to our information this is not the case at all. The custodians of the libraries worked quietly throughout the rebel occupation of Timbuktu to ensure the safety of their materials. A limited number of items have been damaged or stolen, the infrastructure neglected and furnishings in the Ahmad Baba Institute library looted but from all our local sources – all intimately connected with the public and private collections in the town - there was no malicious destruction of any library or collection.
By Sunday January 27 the Ansar Dine rebels had fled Timbuktu. The French army and its Malian partners entered the town on that day.
One of the first reports on Monday morning out of the town was that a library and books had been set alight. A Sky News journalist, Alex Crawford, embedded with the French forces, reported in the evening from inside the new Ahmad Baba building, which is opposite the Sankore mosque. This building was officially opened in 2009 and is the product of a partnership between South Africa and Mali. It is meant to be a state-of-the-art archival, conservation, and research facility. Images showed empty manuscript enclosures strewn on the floor, some burnt leather pouches, and a small pile of ashes. She reported that over 25,000 mss had been burned or disappeared. Additional images showed her going down to the vault of the archives and looking at empty display cabinets. No signs of fire could be seen.
The mayor of Timbuktu, Hallè Ousmane, based around 800 km away, in Bamako, was quoted in various media reports that a library building and manuscripts were torched by fleeing rebels. There is no other evidence but the word of the mayor. News spread to international media and the mayor’s words were reported as hard fact.
We tried all of Monday, since these reports appeared, to contact colleagues in Timbuktu but without success. The town was in a communications and electricity blackout since around January 20, we were told by Malian colleagues; no eyewitness reports had been coming out of the town for more than a week at this point.
Sources from Bamako in the evening reported that Mohamed Ibrahim Cissé, President of the Chairman of the Board of the Cercle of Timbuktu still confirmed, on France 24, that the new Ahmed Baba Institute building had been burned by the Ansar Dine before fleeing.
By Monday night we finally managed to contact our colleague, Dr Mohamed Diagayeté, senior researcher at the Ahmad Baba Institue, now based in Bamako. He heard much the same reports that we heard. However, he added that the majority of the mss. of the Institute was still stored in the old building – opened in 1974 and on the other side of the town, from the new building. He told us that the latest news about the new building, as of eight days before the flight of the Ansar Dine, was that the building had not been destroyed. He said that around 10,000 mss had been stored in the new building since there was no more space for the mss in the old building. They were placed in trunks in the vaults of the new building. Upstairs, where the restoration was taking place and boxes were made there were only a few mss. After seeing Sky News footage, he says that the images were of the few mss upstairs waiting to be worked on by the conservators.
However, by Tuesday morning, Dr. Mahmoud Zouber, Mali’s presidential aide on Islamic affairs and founding director of the Ahmad Baba Institute, told Time, that before the rebel take-over the manuscripts: “They were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.”
Finally, the journalist Markus M. Haeflinger, writing in Neue Zuercher Zeitung this morning, reports on his interview with the previous and present directors of the Ahmad Baba Institute in Bamako, on how the larger part of the Ahmad Baba collection was hidden and even transported out of Timbuktu during the crisis.
The protection of the cultural and intellectual heritage of this region needs to be enhanced and promoted. The abandonment of the security of Timbuktu nine months ago, the flight of archivists and researchers, and the closure of libraries should not be repeated. We remain in contact with our colleagues in Mali and are keen to establish precisely which manuscripts were damaged, destroyed, or stolen.

Source : http://www.tombouctoumanuscripts.org/blog/entry/timbuktu_update/

 




The Nubian capital of El Kurru. Image: Geoff Emberling



Map of kingdoms, states and tribes in 400 BC Africa



Remains of the pyramid of Piye. Image: Geoff Emberling
A lost royal city in Nubia (Sudan)
30 January 2013
The ancient capital he is searching for was ruled by the kings of Nubia, which now lies in northern Sudan, just south of Egypt. Surprisingly little is known about the kings who appeared on the historical stage about 900 BCE and conquered the lands of Pharaonic Egypt before fading back into the desert.
“We have no idea where these kings came from,” said Emberling, a research scientist at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. “They basically appeared out of nowhere.”
Nubia, also known as Kush, was one of Africa’s earliest centres of political authority, wealth and military power. But because of the lack of information about Nubia, it has always been on the periphery of the larger discussions about the rise and fall of civilizations, unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia.
Kush was conquered by the Egyptian empire of the New Kingdom beginning in about 1550 BCE. With the collapse of Egyptian control in the years after 1100 BCE, little is known about Kush, although new excavations are beginning to some shed light.
However, it is known that after 900 BC, a new political centre had emerged at El Kurru, where a series of burials, beginning with Nubian-style tumuli, developed into Egyptian-style royal pyramids and marks the rise of the Napatan dynasty. The kings buried here would conquer Egypt and rule as its 25th Dynasty, and are sometimes known as the “Black Pharaohs.” They would also fight against the invading Assyrian Empire in battles described in the Hebrew Bible.
A lack of research
Indeed much of the archaeological research that has been carried out has focused on tombs and temples in the Nubian capital of El Kurru, Emberling said.
“There has been a real lack of excavation of settlements, where you find out where people actually lived on a daily basis,” he explained. “I’m excited about filling in that picture.”
Emberling set off for El Kurru in the last week of December 2012 and planned to stay for six weeks, surveying near a stretch of the Nile River that flows through the Sahara Desert.
The intention is to locate the city’s remains and prepare a basic survey of the layout with some limited excavation.
Emberling has a general idea about where to dig, based on the notebooks of George Reisner, an American archaeologist who excavated Nubian pyramids in 1918-19. Reisner’s notes mentioned a long city wall with a gate facing the Nile. He also said there was a well that could have been big enough to be part of a palace. But the site was never excavated and disappeared beneath the sand.
“One of the challenges is that the city’s remnants are completely invisible on the site today,” Emberling said. “Since Reisner was only doing this in his notes, there is nothing to locate where any of this was.”
Emberling is working with archaeologists from Denmark and Sudan using a variety of techniques: satellite imagery, topographic surveys, magnetometry and geological coring.
“We might not find the city,” he said. “It might be that a Nile flood destroyed things to a degree. It might be that the remains were pretty ephemeral to begin with. We’ll see.”
The Nubian Expedition of the Kelsey Museum aims to relocate this ancient royal capital to help to understand the rise of the Napatan dynasty as well as provide insight into society in Kush during this time.
In recent years, Sudan has been better known as a place of civil war and genocide as well as a base for Al Qaeda. But Emberling said throughout all the unrest and violence, archaeologists have worked without interruption in the northern part of the country.
“It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds,” he added. “I’ve loved working with the Sudanese.”
Emberling added that for the most part, archaeology is not politicized in Sudan as it is in other countries.
“We’re able to just be archaeologists and focus on our work, without worrying about how it will affect claims of different ethnic groups or territorial boundaries, so that’s a relief.”

Source : http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/01/2013/a-lost-royal-city-in-nubia

 




Scientists have unearthed more than 350 ancient tools in Konso, Ethiopia that were used by humans' ancient ancestors. The tools, which span roughly 1 million years of evolution, show a gradual progression to more refined shaping.

Oldest stone hand axes unearthed (Ethiopia)
28 January 2013
Scientists have unearthed and dated some of the oldest stone hand axes on Earth. The ancient tools, unearthed in Ethiopia in the last two decades, date to 1.75 million years ago.
The tools roughly coincided with the emergence of an ancient human ancestor called Homo erectus, and fossilized H. erectus remains were also found at the same site, said study author Yonas Beyene, an archaeologist at the Association for Research and Conservation of Culture in Ethiopia. Collectively, the finding suggests an ancient tool-making technique may have arisen with the evolution of the new species.
"This discovery shows that the technology began with the appearance of Homo erectus," Beyene told LiveScience. "We think it might be related to the change of species."
The findings were described Jan. 28 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
Ancient tools
Human ancestors used primitive tools as far back as 2.6 million years ago, when Homo habilis roamed the Earth. But those tools, called Oldowan tools, weren't much more than rock flakes knapped in a slapdash manner to have a sharp edge.
But nearly a million years later, more sophisticated two-sided hand axes or cleavers emerged. These Aucheulean tools could be up to 7.8 inches (20 centimeters) long and were probably used to butcher meat. Scientists recently discovered tools of this type a few hundred miles away near Lake Turkana in Kenya, dating to 1.76 million years ago. [Image Gallery: New Human Ancestors from Kenya]
Because of its coincidence with the appearance of Homo erectus, scientists believed the sophisticated tools were made by the newer species of Homo, but proving that was tricky, because the dating of fossils and tools wasn't precise enough, said study co-author Paul Renne, a geochronologist and director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center in Berkeley, Calif.
Creating a timeline
Beyene, Renne and their colleagues, however, have found Aucheulean tools that are indistinguishable in age from those found in Kenya, suggesting the symmetric hand axes were widespread in the region by that time. And the Konso, Ethiopia, site also harbors Homo erectus fossils, increasing the likelihood that this species was responsible for making the new tools.
What's more, they have unearthed more than 350 of these two-faced stone tools in Konso, in different geologic layers that span about a million years of human evolution. The tool-making techniques stayed similar until 800,000 years ago, when the edges on the tools became more refined, the researchers found.
That the timing of this tool-making emerges at the same time as Homo erectus is intriguing, and allows for the possibility that the tools were made by this ancient lineage, said Leah Morgan, a geochronologist at the University of Glasgow, who was not involved in the study.
But while the new study is suggestive that Homo erectus made these tools, it's not a smoking gun.
"It's tempting to say, 'Well, Homo erectus was making these tools at Konso,' and that's very difficult to prove," Morgan said.

Source : http://www.nbcnews.com/id/50620121/ns/technology_and_science-science/#.UXO-ecq5oe9

 




A French military truck passes a bus in Mali as the army advanced towards Timbuktu. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Timbuktu mayor: Mali rebels torched library of historic manuscripts (Mali)
28 January 2013
Fleeing Islamist insurgents burnt two buildings containing priceless books as French-led troops approached, says mayor
Islamist insurgents retreating from Timbuktu set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, according to the Saharan town's mayor, in an incident he described as a "devastating blow" to world heritage.
Hallé Ousmani Cissé told the Guardian that al-Qaida-allied fighters on Saturday torched two buildings that held the manuscripts, some of which dated back to the 13th century. They also burned down the town hall, the governor's office and an MP's residence, and shot dead a man who was celebrating the arrival of the French military.
French troops and the Malian army reached the gates of Timbuktu on Saturday and secured the town's airport. But they appear to have got there too late to rescue the leather-bound manuscripts that were a unique record of sub-Saharan Africa's rich medieval history. The rebels attacked the airport on Sunday, the mayor said.
"It's true. They have burned the manuscripts," Cissé said in a phone interview from Mali's capital, Bamako. "They also burned down several buildings. There was one guy who was celebrating in the street and they killed him."
He added: "This is terrible news. The manuscripts were a part not only of Mali's heritage but the world's heritage. By destroying them they threaten the world. We have to kill all of the rebels in the north."
On Monday French army officers said French-led forces had entered Timbuktu and secured the town without a shot being fired. A team of French paratroopers crept into the town by moonlight, advancing from the airport, they said. Residents took to the streets to celebrate.
The manuscripts were held in two separate locations: an ageing library and a new South African-funded research centre, the Ahmad Babu Institute, less than a mile away. Completed in 2009 and named after a 17th-century Timbuktu scholar, the centre used state-of-the-art techniques to study and conserve the crumbling scrolls.
Both buildings were burned down, according to the mayor, who said the information came from an informer who had just left the town. Asked whether any of the manuscripts might have survived, Cissé replied: "I don't know."
The manuscripts had survived for centuries in Timbuktu, on the remote south-west fringe of the Sahara desert. They were hidden in wooden trunks, buried in boxes under the sand and in caves. When French colonial rule ended in 1960, Timbuktu residents held preserved manuscripts in 60-80 private libraries.
The vast majority of the texts were written in Arabic. A few were in African languages, such as Songhai, Tamashek and Bambara. There was even one in Hebrew. They covered a diverse range of topics including astronomy, poetry, music, medicine and women's rights. The oldest dated from 1204.
Seydou Traoré, who has worked at the Ahmed Baba Institute since 2003, and fled shortly before the rebels arrived, said only a fraction of the manuscripts had been digitised. "They cover geography, history and religion. We had one in Turkish. We don't know what it said."
He said the manuscripts were important because they exploded the myth that "black Africa" had only an oral history. "You just need to look at the manuscripts to realise how wrong this is."
Some of the most fascinating scrolls included an ancient history of west Africa, the Tarikh al-Soudan, letters of recommendation for the intrepid 19th-century German explorer Heinrich Barth, and a text dealing with erectile dysfunction.
A large number dated from Timbuktu's intellectual heyday in the 14th and 15th centuries, Traoré said. By the late 1500s the town, north of the Niger river, was a wealthy and successful trading centre, attracting scholars and curious travellers from across the Middle East. Some brought books to sell.
Typically, manuscripts were not numbered, Traoré said, but repeated the last word of a previous page on each new one. Scholars had painstakingly numbered several of the manuscripts, but not all, under the direction of an international team of experts.
Mali government forces that had been guarding Timbuktu left the town in late March, as Islamist fighters advanced rapidly across the north. Fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – the group responsible for the attack on the Algerian gas facility – then swept in and seized the town, pushing out rival militia groups including secular Tuareg nationalists.
Traoré told the Guardian that he decided to leave Timbuktu in January 2012 amid ominous reports of shootings in the area, and after the kidnapping of three European tourists from a Timbuktu hotel. A fourth tourist, a German, resisted and was shot dead. Months later AQIM arrived, he said.
Four or five rebels had been sleeping in the institute, which had comparatively luxurious facilities for staff, he said. As well as the manuscripts, the fighters destroyed almost all of the 333 Sufi shrines dotted around Timbuktu, believing them to be idolatrous. They smashed a civic statue of a man sitting on a winged horse. "They were the masters of the place," Traoré said.
Other residents who fled Timbuktu said the fighters adorned the town with their black flag. Written on it in Arabic were the words "God is great". The rebels enforced their own brutal and arbitrary version of Islam, residents said, with offenders flogged for talking to women and other supposed crimes. The floggings took place in the square outside the 15th-century Sankoré mosque, a Unesco world heritage site.
"They weren't religious men. They were criminals," said Maha Madu, a Timbuktu boatman, now in the Niger river town of Mopti. Madu said the fighters grew enraged if residents wore trousers down to their ankles, which they believed to be western and decadent. He alleged that some fighters kidnapped and raped local women, keeping them as virtual sex slaves. "They were hypocrites. They told us they couldn't smoke. But they smoked themselves," he said.
The rebels took several other towns south of Timbuktu, he said, including nearby Diré. If the rebels spotted a boat flying the Malian national flag, they ripped the flag off and replaced it with their own black one, he said.
The precise fate of the manuscripts was difficult to verify. All phone communication with Timbuktu was cut off. The town was said to be without electricity, water or fuel. According to Traoré, who was in contact with friends there until two weeks ago, many of the rebels left town following France's military intervention.
He added: "My friend [in Timbuktu] told me they were diminishing in number. He doesn't know where they went. But he said they were trying to hide their cars by painting and disguising them with mud."
The recapture of Timbuktu is another success for the French military, which has now secured two out of three of Mali's key rebel-held sites, including the city of Gao on Saturday. The French have yet to reach the third, Kidal. Local Tuareg militia leaders said on Monday they had taken control of Kidal after the abrupt departure of the Islamist fighters who ran the town.
Essop Pahad, who was chairman of the Timbuktu manuscripts project for the South African government, said: "I'm absolutely devastated, as everybody else should be. I can't imagine how anybody, whatever their political or ideological leanings, could destroy some of the most precious heritage of our continent. They could not be in their right minds.
"The manuscripts gave you such a fantastic feeling of the history of this continent. They made you proud to be African. Especially in a context where you're told that Africa has no history because of colonialism and all that. Some are in private hands but the fact is these have been destroyed and it's an absolute tragedy."
He added: "It's one of our greatest cultural treasure houses. It's also one of the great treasure houses of Islamic history. The writings are so forward-looking on marriage, on trade, on all sorts of things. If the libraries are destroyed then a very important part of African and world history are gone. I'm so terribly upset at hearing what's happened. I can't think of anything more terrible."
Riason Naidoo, who directed the Timbuktu manuscripts project, said he is still awaiting confirmation of the extent of the damage. "It would be a catastrophe if the reports are true," he said. "I just hope certain parts of the building are unharmed and the manuscripts are safe."
The then South African president, Thabo Mbeki, was inspired by the "intellectual treasure" while visiting Timbuktu in 2001, and initiated a joint project between the two countries. He attended the opening of the Ahmad Babu Institute in 2009. A spokeswoman for the Thabo Mbeki Foundation said on Monday: "We haven't yet heard anything concrete as to what the real story is, so at the moment we can't really comment. We're getting mixed stories."

Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/28/mali-timbuktu-library-ancient-manuscripts

 




Dr. Mohamed (left) and Geoff Emberling



Remains of the pyramid of Piye. Image credit: Geoff Emberling
Searching for the lost royal city of Nubia in northern Sudan (Sudan)
15 January 2013
Geoff Emberling is doing what few archaeologists do anymore in a world that has been worked over pretty well by picks, trowels and shovels. He's searching for a lost royal city.
The ancient capital was ruled by the kings of Nubia, which now lies in northern Sudan, just south of Egypt. Little is known about the kings who suddenly appeared on the historical stage about 800 B.C. and conquered all of Egypt before eventually fading back into the desert.
"We have no idea where these kings came from," said Emberling, a research scientist at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. "They basically appeared out of nowhere."
Nubia, also known as Kush, was one of Africa's earliest centers of political authority, wealth and military power. But because of the lack of information about Nubia, it hasn't been part of the bigger discussion about the rise and fall of civilizations in the way that Egypt and Mesopotamia have.
Much of the archaeological research has focused on tombs and temples in the Nubian capital of El Kurru, Emberling said.
"There has been a real lack of excavation of settlements, where you find out where people actually lived on a daily basis," he said. "I'm excited about filling in that picture."
Emberling set off for El Kurru in the last week of December and plans to stay for six weeks, working near a stretch of the Nile River that flows through the Sahara Desert.
"I'm hoping to come away with a good idea about where the city's remains are and be able to map them as extensively as I can," he said.
Emberling has a general idea about where to dig, based on the notebooks of George Reisner, an American archaeologist who excavated Nubian pyramids in 1918-19. Reisner's notes mentioned a long city wall with a gate facing the Nile. He also said there was a well that could have been big enough to be part of a palace. But the site wasn't excavated and disappeared under the sand.
"One of the challenges is that the city's remnants are completely invisible on the site today," Emberling said. "Since Reisner was only doing this in his notes, there is nothing to locate where any of this was."
Emberling is working with archaeologists from Denmark and Sudan using a variety of techniques: satellite imagery, topographic surveys, magnetometry and geological coring—driving a tube into the ground and pulling up a column of soil.
Remains of the pyramid of Piye. Image credit: Geoff EmberlingRemains of the pyramid of Piye. Image credit: Geoff Emberling"We might not find the city," he said. "It might be that a Nile flood destroyed things to a degree. It might be that the remains were pretty ephemeral to begin with. We'll see."
In recent years, Sudan has been better known as a place of civil war and genocide as well as a base for Al Qaeda. But Emberling said throughout all the unrest and violence, archaeologists have worked without interruption in the northern part of the country.
"It's not nearly as scary as it sounds," he added. "I've loved working with the Sudanese."
Emberling added that for the most part, archaeology is not politicized in Sudan as it is in other countries.
"We're able to just be archaeologists and focus on our work, without worrying about how it will affect claims of different ethnic groups or territorial boundaries, so that's a relief."

Source : http://www.ns.umich.edu/new/releases/21089-searching-for-the-lost-royal-city-of-nubia-in-northern-sudan

 




From left: 17th century Malian copy of Tawdih Al-Maqasid Bisharh Alfiyyat Bin Malik by Makudi; contents of a family library, Timbuktu photos: Seydou Camera



The 16th century mausoleum of Askia Mohamed in Gao photo: CRAterrre
Threats to Mali's heritage (Mali)
14 January 2013
The Ansar Dine rebellion in northern Mali is raising concerns about the destruction of the country's cultural heritage, writes David Tresilian
The news that Ansar Dine rebels occupying the ancient city of Timbuktu in northern Mali have been continuing their campaign of destruction against the city’s ancient mausoleums, describing them as un-Islamic, has refocussed international attention on this Islamist rebel group, which has taken control of the north of the country and is fighting the Malian government in the capital Bamako.
Last Friday, the French government declared that it was sending French troops to Mali to assist the Malian government in fighting the Islamist rebels. French President François Hollande said that he had taken the decision to intervene at the request of the Malian government and with the support of other west African states. “The operation will take as long as is necessary” to defeat the rebels, Hollande said.
“The terrorists should know that France will always stand ready to defend the rights of a people, that of Mali, that wishes to live in freedom and democracy.”
UN Security Council Resolution 2071, passed on 21 October 2012, declared the Security Council’s readiness to send military forces to Mali to assist the government in retaking the north of the country. Resolution 2085, passed on 20 December, authorised the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) to assist the Malian authorities in defeating the rebels.
In July last year, the government of Mali formally requested the International Criminal Court to investigate reports of human rights abuses by the Ansar Dine rebels in northern Mali, indicating that the group’s destruction of the country’s cultural heritage could also be considered a war crime. This could open the way to the eventual prosecution of at least the rebel movement’s leaders.
For the time being the destruction is continuing, and on 25 December Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, the UN’s cultural agency, expressed international outrage at the destruction of the mausoleums, some of which date back to the west African Songhai Empire, based in what is now Mali, which flourished between the 15th and 17th centuries, and to the Malian Empire that preceded it.
“I call on the whole of the international community to act as a matter of urgency and take the measures necessary to guarantee the protection of this heritage,” Bokova said. “Such wanton destruction of these inestimable treasures is a crime against the people of Mali.” Earlier, UNESCO had placed the ancient city of Timbuktu, which enjoys international protection as a World Heritage Site, on its list of heritage in danger of destruction.
According to reports circulating late last year, the Ansar Dine rebels have vowed to destroy all the mausoleums in the areas under their control on the grounds that they could be idolatrous. The BBC quoted rebel spokesmen as saying in July that they intended to destroy all the mausoleums, presumably including that of 16th century Songhai emperor Askia Mohamed in nearby Gao, also a World Heritage Site, which is one of the most important architectural and religious structures in west Africa.
The mosques and mausoleums in Gao and Timbuktu, examples of the traditional earth architecture of the region, are built of mud bricks faced with mud plaster, typically with scaffolding timbers projecting from the façades allowing easy access for replastering. It is the renewal of the mud plastering each year following the rains that gives the buildings their characteristic rounded shapes, the timber scaffolding lending them a dramatic spiky profile.
It is not only the built heritage of the Malian and Songhai empires that may be at risk. Timbuktu and surrounding areas are home to some 900,000 early manuscripts, most of them unrecorded and kept in private archives. Reports last year indicated that these manuscripts could also be at risk of destruction, looting or illicit smuggling abroad. Many of them are believed to be in a poor state of conservation, and the violence spread by the rebels in northern Mali is frustrating Malian and international efforts for their protection.
The manuscripts are described in detail in French journalist Jean-Michel Dijan’s Les Manuscrits de Tomboctou, secrets, mythes et réalités (Lattès, October 2012), published in Paris at a time when international concern was growing at the actions of the Ansar Dine rebels in northern Mali. As Dijan notes, they are important not only because of what they have to tell modern readers about the history and culture of this part of west Africa, but also because the manuscripts, the vast majority of which are written in Arabic, help to dispel the idea that early and early modern Africa had no written history.
Two of the manuscripts in particular, Abdel-Rahman Al-Saadi’s Tarikh Al-Sudan, and the Tarikh Al-Fettach by Mahmoud Kati and Ibn Al-Mokhtar, discovered by European travellers to Timbuktu in the 19th century and later edited and published in Paris, provide historical accounts of west African history until 1655, in the case of the Tarikh Al-Sudan, and 1599, in the case of the Tarikh Al-Fettach. Both were written by west African Muslim scholars, and both indicate a high level of historical consciousness.
In addition, there is the “biographical dictionary” of Ahmed Baba, which, composed in 1596, contains details of the area’s cultural history, together with the 18th century anonymous text the Tadhkirat Al-Nisayan, which contains an account of the area’s later history under Moroccan rule.
The manuscripts typically consist of unbound folios, most of them written in Arabic and some written in west African languages such as Fulani, Hausa or Wolof using Arabic characters. Ever since the arrival of Islam in this part of west Africa from perhaps the eighth century CE onwards, Arabic had been used as Latin was in mediaeval Europe as a language of religious expression and for scholarly debate.
By the time the mediaeval Arab traveller Ibn Battuta visited in 1352 the region was already known for its learning, its mosques and its great wealth. There are famous accounts of the pilgrimages to Mecca made by the Malian Emperor Mansa Musa in 1324-5, which took him through Cairo accompanied by a retinue of 8,000 and an enormous quantity of gold, and of Askia Mohamed in 1496-7, for example.
Schools and universities were set up throughout the region to promote Islamic learning. According to Dijan, in the 15th century there were 25,000 students in Timbuktu alone following a course of study similar to that at Al-Azhar in Cairo and studying with local scholars in what seems to have been a variant on the tutorial system. A whole industry of copyists and commentators grew up around the city’s mosques and schools to feed what Dijan describes as the system’s distinctive features of memorisation and commentary.
Texts would be recast in verse format and memorised by students who were often studying in their second or third language, and the surviving Mali manuscripts contain many examples of such cribs designed to help the students digest often difficult material. While surviving collections of religious rulings, or fatwas, provide ample evidence of the sophisticated legal reasoning of local scholars, as well as of the types of questions addressed (having to do with inheritance or property rights, for example), sometimes the Timbuktu scholars conversed with their colleagues at Al-Azhar more directly, as did Al-Sudani in his Masail ila Ulema Misri (Questions to Egyptian Scholars), written in 1605.
As well as containing fascinating material relating to the history of west Africa and the curriculum of early modern courses of study, the manuscripts also have much to say about the area’s mental horizons and worldview. Dijan emphasises what the manuscripts can tell us about the pre-modern west African legal system, particularly regarding the rights and responsibilities of individuals, its medicine and cosmology, and the scope and limits of government.
One 15th century text, the Misbah Al-Arwah wa Mizan Al-Arbah Liman Husa Bihaqiqati Al-Salam fi Al-Kifahi by Abdel-Karim Al-Maguli, an advisor to the Songhai emperor Askia Mohamed, is explicitly presented as a “lamp” of good governance much in the way that Machiavelli’s The Prince is designed as a “mirror” for rulers. According to Al-Maguli, the ideal ruler should follow the religious law, act for the good of the community as a whole, pay particular attention to the appointment of officials, and pay proper attention to matters of taxation and expenditure.
The destruction of the mausoleums, carried out in the name of a puritanical understanding of Islam, has shocked Malian and international public opinion. It would be an additional tragedy if the Ansar Dine rebels now decide to destroy the Malian manuscripts, the vast majority of which have yet to be properly studied or translated.

Source : http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/996/24/Threats-to-Mali%E2%80%99s-heritage.aspx

 




A new method of
establishing hair and
eye color from modern
forensic samples can
also be used to
identify details from
ancient human remains,
finds a new study
published in BioMed
Central’s open access
journal Investigative
Genetics. (Credit:
Jolanta Draus-Barini,
Susan Walsh, Ewelina
Pospiech, Tomasz
Kupiec, Henryk Glab,
Wojciech Branicki
and Manfred Kayser)

What Did Our Ancestors Look Like? Hair and Eye Color Can Be Determined for Ancient Human Remains (Africa)
11 January 2013
A new method of establishing hair and eye colour from modern forensic samples can also be used to identify details from ancient human remains, finds a new study published in BioMed Central's open access journal Investigative Genetics. The HIrisPlex DNA analysis system was able to reconstruct hair and eye colour from teeth up to 800 years old, including the Polish General Wladyslaw Sikorski (1881 to 1943) confirming his blue eyes and blond hair.
A team of researchers from Poland and the Netherlands, who recently developed the HIrisPlex system for forensic analysis, have now shown that this system is sufficiently robust to successfully work on older and more degraded samples from human remains such as teeth and bones. The system looks at 24 DNA polymorphisms (naturally occurring variations) which can be used to predict eye and hair colour.
Dr Wojciech Branicki, from the Institute of Forensic Research and Jagielonian University, Kraków, who led this study together with Prof Manfred Kayser, from the Erasmus University Rotterdam, explained, "This system can be used to solve historical controversies where colour photographs or other records are missing. HIrisPlex was able to confirm that General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died in a plane crash in 1943, had the blue eyes and blond hair present in portraits painted years after his death. Some of our samples were from unknown inmates of a World War II prison. In these cases HIrisPlex helped to put physical features to the other DNA evidence."
For medieval samples, where DNA is even more degraded, this system was still able to predict eye and hair colour (for the most degraded DNA samples eye colour alone), identifying one mysterious woman buried in the crypt of the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec near Kraków, sometime during the 12th-14th centuries, as having dark blond/brown hair and brown eyes.

Source : http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130113201136.htm

 








Huaca El Brujo, also
known as Huaca
ortada/Partida
at El Brujo archaeological
complex, La Libertad, Peru.
El Brujo was an important
site of the Moche civilization.
This Huaca features a cut
that was made by
scavengers, probably during
colonial times, so that it
could be looted. It is
currently closed
to the public because it is
considered to be unstable
and therefore dangerous to
visitors.
Jorge Gobbi,
Wikimedia Commons.
Study Reveals Looting of Archaeological Sites as Massive Global Problem (Africa)
4 January 2013
Based on the results of a recently conducted global survey, pervasive looting at archaeological sites is broad based and frequent. The numbers suggest serious implications for the preservation of the world's cultural heritage and in understanding or rediscovering human history.
The survey, conducted by Blythe Bowman Proulx, assistant professor of criminal justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, collected information through a structured questionnaire sent electronically to more than 14,400 field archaeologists throughout the world. The survey was designed to collect information about their personal experiences with looting at archaeological sites, with the objective of developing a picture of the nature, geographic scope, and frequency of looting and site destruction within local and global contexts.
"Field archaeologists are in a position to observe looting firsthand," writes Proulx in her report, "whether the focus of their work is archaeological survey, excavation, post-excavation analysis, or site conservation and management. This alone makes them a significant source of information on looting and site destruction".[1] According to archaeologists and historians, the looting of archaeological sites is significant not so much for the loss of the artifacts themselves, but for the loss of information about the civilizations or human settlements they represent, as the real value of the looted items actually rests with what they say about the context, or ancient site, in which they were found.
Proulx received responses from 2,358 archaeologists around the world. Based on their feedback, looting activity occurred in 87% of the 118 countries that were reported as primary locations for archaeological fieldwork. Most respondents (97.9%) reported that looting was occurring in the general area or country where they conducted fieldwork, and "78.5% reported having had personal on-site experience with looting at some point during their careers". [1]
The looting and destruction of archaeological sites, particularly as a means to feed the illicit international trade and sale of antiquities, has been known to exist for centuries and has been the subject of numerous reports, books and articles for decades. The fact that it has been occurring is therefore no revelation to scholars and the public alike. Until now, however, a carefully designed measurement of its scope and frequency on a local and global scale has not been determined based on the experiences and observations of the people perhaps best positioned to inform -- the archaeologists.
Writes Proulx: "While there may be nothing especially groundbreaking about asking archaeologists to share their personal experiences with and opinions about archaeological site looting, this study’s design and sample make it innovative in its global scope, aim, and execution. Simply put, this study lends empirical support to the claim that looting is an iterative problem that is both globally and temporally pervasive, not confined to certain areas of the world or particular types of archaeological resources.........Looting—and, consequently, the role it may play in the antiquities trade—can no longer be dismissed as simply exaggerated, nor can concerns about looting be cast off as the mere products of scaremongering archaeologists with over-blown imaginations and thinly veiled preservationist agendas." [1]
The report, entitled Archaeological Site Looting in "Glocal" Perspective: Nature, Scope and Frequency, is published in the January 2013 issue of the American Journal of Archaeology as an open access forum article. As a continuation of the article, members of the public are invited to complete a similar survey about the looting of archaeological sites.

Source : http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/december-2012/article/study-reveals-looting-of-archaeological-sites-as-massive-global-problem

 




Dating back around
2,000 years and
discovered in
a palace in the ancient
city of Meroe in Sudan,
this relief appears to
show a princess who is,
fashionably, overweight.



The ancient city of Meroe
is located on the Nile
River about 125 miles
(200 km) northeast of
Khartoum, the modern
day capital of Sudan.
Ancient Carving Shows Stylishly Plump African Princess (Sudan)
3 January 2013
A 2,000-year-old relief carved with an image of what appears to be a, stylishly overweight, princess has been discovered in an "extremely fragile" palace in the ancient city of Meroe, in Sudan, archaeologists say.
At the time the relief was made, Meroe was the center of a kingdom named Kush, its borders stretching as far north as the southern edge of Egypt. It wasn't unusual for queens (sometimes referred to as "Candaces") to rule, facing down the armies of an expanding Rome.
The sandstone relief shows a woman smiling, her hair carefully dressed and an earring on her left ear. She appears to have a second chin and a bit of fat on her neck, something considered stylish, at the time, among royal women from Kush.
Team leader Krzysztof Grzymski presented the relief, among other finds from the palace at Meroe, at an Egyptology symposium held recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Researchers don't know the identity of the woman being depicted, but based on the artistic style the relief appears to date back around 2,000 years and show someone royal. "It's similar to other images of princesses," Grzymski told LiveScience in an interview. He said that the headdress hasn't survived and it cannot be ruled out that it actually depicts a queen. [Image Gallery: Amazing Egyptian Discoveries]
Why royal women in Kush preferred to be depicted overweight is a long-standing mystery. "There is a distinct possibility that the large size of the Candaces represented fertility and maternity," wrote the late Miriam Ma'at-Ka-Re Monges, who was a professor at California State University, Chico, and an expert on Kush, in an article published in The Encyclopedia of Black Studies (Sage Publications, 2005).
An ancient palace
The discovery occurred in 2007 as Grzymski's team was exploring a royal palace in the city, trying to determine its date. The sandstone blocks that made up its foundation were "extremely fragile," according to Grzymski, and the team found that the palace dated to late in the life of Kush's existence. The blocks were re-used in antiquity by the palace's builders and were originally from buildings that stood in earlier times.
When they found the relief it "was loose and falling apart so we just took it out," Grzymski said. It was brought to a museum in Khartoum, Sudan's modern capital, for safekeeping. "There's always a danger of robbers coming and taking [them] out, so many of those decorated blocks were in danger."
They found many other decorated blocks as well, Grzymski said. Because they had been re-used in antiquity the blocks were out of order and presented researchers with a giant jigsaw puzzle.
"Ideally, I would like to dismantle this whole wall, this foundation wall, and take out the decorated blocks and see if we would be able reconstruct some other structures from which the blocks came," Grzymski told the Toronto audience.
It's one of many, many, tasks that need to be done in the ancient city. "It's considered one of the largest archaeological sites in Africa," Grzymski said of Meroe. "This site will be worked on for a hundred years perhaps before it's fully explored."
Grzymski is a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum and the symposium was organized by the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities and the museum's Friends of Ancient Egypt group.
"Ideally, I would like to dismantle this whole wall, this foundation wall, and take out the decorated blocks and see if we would be able reconstruct some other structures from which the blocks came," Grzymski told the Toronto audience.
It's one of many, many, tasks that need to be done in the ancient city. "It's considered one of the largest archaeological sites in Africa," Grzymski said of Meroe. "This site will be worked on for a hundred years perhaps before it's fully explored."
Grzymski is a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum and the symposium was organized by the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities and the museum's Friends of Ancient Egypt group.

Source : http://news.yahoo.com/ancient-carving-shows-stylishly-plump-african-princess-142123559.html