1,900-Year-Old Roman Gold Coin Found in Eastern Galilee

1,900-Year-Old Roman Gold Coin Found in Eastern Galilee

“Laurie demonstrated exemplary civic behavior by handing this important coin over to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA),” said Dr. Nir Distelfeld, an inspector with the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.

“This is an extraordinarily remarkable and surprising discovery. I believe that soon, thanks to Laurie, the public will be able to enjoy this rare find.”

According to archaeologists at the IAA, the find is so rare that only one other such coin is known to exist.

“This coin, minted in Rome in 107 CE, is rare on a global level,” explained IAA numismatist Dr. Danny Syon.

“On the reverse we have the symbols of the Roman legions next to the name of the Roman emperor Trajan, and on the obverse — instead of an image of Trajan, as was usually the case — there is the portrait of the emperor ‘Augustus Deified’ (Divus Augustus).”

This coin is part of a series of coins minted by the emperor Trajan (reigned 98 – 117 CE) as a tribute to the emperors that preceded him.

“The coin may reflect the presence of the Roman army in the region some 2,000 years ago – possibly in the context of activity against Bar Kokhba supporters in the Galilee – but it is very difficult to determine that on the basis of a single coin,” added Dr. Donald T. Ariel, head curator of the IAA Coin Department.

“Historical sources describing the period note that some Roman soldiers were paid a high salary of three gold coins, the equivalent of 75 silver coins, each payday. Because of their high monetary value soldiers were unable to purchase goods in the market with gold coins, as the merchants could not provide change for them.”

“Whilst the bronze and silver coins of Trajan are common in the country, his gold coins are extremely rare,” Dr. Ariel said.

First Humans Arrived in North America 116,000 Years Earlier than Thought: Evidence from Cerutti Mastodon Site

First Humans Arrived in North America 116,000 Years Earlier than Thought: Evidence from Cerutti Mastodon Site

The Cerutti Mastodon site was discovered by San Diego Natural History Museum researchers in November 1992 during routine paleontological mitigation work.

This site preserves 131,000-year-old hammerstones, stone anvils, and fragmentary remains — bones, tusks and molars — of a mastodon (Mammut americanum) that show evidence of modification by early humans.

An analysis of these finds ‘substantially revises the timing of arrival of Homointo the Americas,’ according to a paper published this week in the journal Nature.

“This discovery is rewriting our understanding of when humans reached the New World,” said Dr. Judy Gradwohl, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Until recently, the oldest records of human activity in North America generally accepted by archaeologists were about 15,000 years old.

But the fossils from the Cerutti Mastodon site — named in recognition of San Diego Natural History Museum paleontologist Richard Cerutti, who discovered the site and led the excavation — were found embedded in fine-grained sediments that had been deposited much earlier, during a period long before humans were thought to have arrived on the continent.

“When we first discovered the site, there was strong physical evidence that placed humans alongside extinct Ice Age megafauna,” said lead co-author Dr. Tom Deméré, curator of paleontology at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

“Since the original discovery, dating technology has advanced to enable us to confirm with further certainty that early humans were here much earlier than commonly accepted.”

Since its initial discovery, the Cerutti Mastodon site has been the subject of research by top scientists to date the fossils accurately and evaluate microscopic damage on bones and rocks that authors now consider indicative of human activity.

In 2014, U.S. Geological Survey geologist Dr. James Paces used state-of-the-art radiometric dating methods to determine that the mastodon bones were 130,700 years old, with a conservative error of plus or minus 9,400 years.

“The distributions of natural uranium and its decay products both within and among these bone specimens show remarkably reliable behavior, allowing us to derive an age that is well within the wheelhouse of the dating system,” Dr. Paces said.

The finding poses a lot more questions than answers.

“Who were the hominins at work at this site? We don’t know. No hominin fossil remains were found. Our own species, Homo sapiens, has been around for about 200,000 years and arrived in China sometime before 100,000 years ago,” the researchers said.

“Modern humans shared the planet with other hominin species that are now extinct (such as Neanderthals) until about 40,000 years ago. If a human-like species was living in North America 130,000 years ago, it could be that modern humans didn’t get here first.”

“How did these early hominins get here? We don’t know. Hominins could have crossed the Bering Land Bridge linking modern-day Siberia with Alaska prior to 130,000 years ago before it was submerged by rising sea levels,” they said.

“For some time prior to 130,000 years ago, the Earth was in a glacial period during which water was locked up on land in great ice sheets. As a consequence, sea levels dropped dramatically, exposing land that lies underwater today.”

“If hominins had not already crossed the land bridge prior to 130,000 years, they may have used some form of watercraft to cross the newly formed Bering Strait as glacial ice receded and sea levels rose.”

“We now know that hominins had invented some type of watercraft before 100,000 years ago in Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean Sea area. Hominins using watercraft could have followed the coast of Asia north and crossed the short distance to Alaska and then followed the west coast of North America south to present-day California.”

“Although we are not certain if the earliest hominins arrived in North America on foot or by watercraft, recognition of the antiquity of the Cerutti Mastodon site will stimulate research in much older deposits that may someday reveal clues to help solve this mystery.”

The authors also conducted experiments with the bones of large modern mammals, including elephants, to determine what it takes to break the bones with large hammerstones and to analyze the distinctive breakage patterns that result.

“It’s this sort of work that has established how fractures like this can be made,” said co-author Daniel Fisher, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan, and director of the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology.

“And based on decades of experience seeing sites with evidence of human activity, and also a great deal of work on modern material trying to replicate the patterns of fractures that we see, I really know of no other way that the material of the Cerutti Mastodon site could have been produced than through human activity.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind this is an archaeological site,” added lead co-author Dr. Steve Holen, director of research at the Center for American Paleolithic Research.

“The bones and several teeth show clear signs of having been deliberately broken by humans with manual dexterity and experiential knowledge. This breakage pattern has also been observed at mammoth fossil sites in Kansas and Nebraska, where alternative explanations such as geological forces or gnawing by carnivores have been ruled out.”

The scientists also created 3D digital models of bone and stone specimens from the Cerutti Mastodon site.

“The models were immensely helpful in interpreting and illustrating these objects,” said co-author Dr. Adam Rountrey, collection manager at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology.

“We were able to put together virtual refits that allow exploration of how the multiple fragments from one hammerstone fit back together.”

“The 3D models helped us understand what we were looking at and to communicate the information much more effectively.”

New Evidence Pushes Back Aboriginal Occupation of Australia to 65,000 Years Ago

New Evidence Pushes Back Aboriginal Occupation of Australia to 65,000 Years Ago

The discovery was made by a team of archaeologists and dating specialists led by University of Queensland researcher Dr. Chris Clarkson.

The team found new evidence at the Madjedbebe rockshelter in the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, near Jabiru in northern Australia.

“This latest evidence pushes back the initial human occupation estimate by some 10,000 years or more, and supports a longer Aboriginal connection with the continent than previously thought,” said team member Dr. Lee Arnold, from the University of Adelaide.

“Intriguingly, the new occupation age implies at least 20,000 years of overlap between humans and the megafauna in the far north of Australia.”

“The evidence suggests that the causes of Australian megafauna extinction may be much more complex than is often assumed.”

“The new date makes a difference,” said team member Dr. Ben Marwick, from the University of Washington.

“Against the backdrop of theories that place humans in Australia anywhere between 47,000 and 60,000 years ago, the concept of earlier settlement calls into question the argument that humans caused the extinction of unique megafauna such as giant kangaroos, wombats and tortoises more than 45,000 years ago.”

“Previously it was thought that humans arrived and hunted them out or disturbed their habits, leading to extinction, but these dates confirm that people arrived so far before that they wouldn’t be the central cause of the death of megafauna.”

“It shifts the idea of humans charging into the landscape and killing off the megafauna. It moves toward a vision of humans moving in and coexisting, which is quite a different view of human evolution.”

The Madjedbebe rockshelter, also known as Malakunanja II, has been excavated four times since the 1970s.

More than 10,000 artifacts were revealed at the site, including the oldest ground-edge stone axe technology in the world and the oldest known seed-graining tools in Australia.

“The site contains the oldest ground-edge stone axe technology in the world, the oldest known seed-grinding tools in Australia and evidence of finely made stone points which may have served as spear tips,” Dr. Clarkson said.

“Most striking of all, in a region known for its spectacular rock art, are the huge quantities of ground ochre and evidence of ochre processing found at the site, from the older layer continuing through to the present.”

“Aboriginal people lived at Madjedbebe at the same time as extinct species of giant animals were roaming around Australia, and the tiny species of primitive human, Homo floresiensis, was living on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia,” the researchers said.

The dig also discovered an upper jaw fragment of a thylacine (also known as the Tasmanian tiger) coated in red pigment, giving insight to the central role ochre played in local customs at the time.

“Our team has rewritten Australian and, indeed, world history by proving that the colonization of Australia and the first major sea voyage in human history occurred at least 65,000 years ago,” said team member S. Anna Florin, a PhD student at the University of Queensland.

“This incredible discovery, and its many implications, is the work of many archaeologists, using small pieces of evidence such as stone tools and grains of sand to understand human behavior many millennia ago.”

“The new evidence sets a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia, the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, and the subsequent interactions of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans,” the scientists said.

Oldest Evidence for Plant Processing in Pottery Found

Oldest Evidence for Plant Processing in Pottery Found

The team, led by University of Bristol Professor Richard Evershed, studied unglazed pottery dating from more than 10,000 years ago, from two sites in the Libyan Sahara.

“We reveal the earliest direct evidence for plant processing in pottery globally, from the sites of Takarkori and Uan Afuda in the Libyan Sahara, dated to 8200–6400 BC,” the scientists said.

“Characteristic carbon number distributions and 13C values for plant wax-derived n-alkanes and alkanoic acids indicate sustained and systematic processing of C3/C4 grasses and aquatic plants, gathered from the savannahs and lakes in the Early to Middle Holocene green Sahara.”

Ancient cooking would have initially involved the use of fires or pits and the invention of ceramic cooking vessels led to an expansion of food preparation techniques. Cooking would have allowed the consumption of previously unpalatable or even toxic foodstuffs and would also have increased the availability of new energy sources.

Remarkably, until now, evidence of cooking plants in early prehistoric cooking vessels has been lacking.

Prof. Evershed and co-authors detected lipid residues of foodstuffs preserved within the fabric of unglazed cooking pots.

Over half of the vessels studied were found to have been used for processing plants based on the identification of diagnostic plant oil and wax compounds.

“The finding of extensive plant wax and oil residues in early prehistoric pottery provides us with an entirely different picture of the way early pottery was used in the Sahara compared to other regions in the ancient world,” Prof. Evershed said.

“Our new evidence fits beautifully with the theories proposing very different patterns of plant and animal domestication in Africa and Europe/Eurasia.”

Detailed analyses of the molecular and stable isotope compositions showed a broad range of plants were processed, including grains, the leafy parts of terrestrial plants, and most unusually, aquatic plants.

The interpretations of the chemical signatures obtained from the pottery are supported by abundant plant remains preserved in remarkable condition due to the arid desert environment at the sites.

The plant chemical signatures from the Saharan pottery show that the processing of plants was practiced for over 4,000 years, indicating the importance of plants to the ancient people of the prehistoric Sahara.

“Until now, the importance of plants in prehistoric diets has been under-recognized but this work clearly demonstrates the importance of plants as a reliable dietary resource,” said study lead author Dr. Julie Dunne, also from the University of Bristol, UK.

“These findings also emphasize the sophistication of these early hunter-gatherers in their utilization of a broad range of plant types, and the ability to boil them for long periods of time in newly invented ceramic vessels would have significantly increased the range of plants prehistoric people could eat.”

Neanderthals Capable of Incorporating Symbolic Objects into Their Culture, Discovery Suggests

Neanderthals Capable of Incorporating Symbolic Objects into Their Culture, Discovery Suggests

The rock was collected more than a century ago from the Krapina Neanderthal site and was just recently analyzed by experts from the Croatian Natural History Museum, the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts and the University of Kansas.

“At the Croatian site of Krapina dated to about 130,000 years ago, among many items, a split limestone rock was excavated by Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger between 1899 and 1905,” the researchers said.

“Of more than 1,000 lithic items at Krapina, none resemble this specimen and we propose it was collected and not further processed by the Neanderthalsbecause of its aesthetic attributes.”

“If we were walking and picked up this rock, we would have taken it home. It is an interesting rock,” added David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Kansas.

In 2015, Prof. Frayer and colleagues published an article about a set of eagle talons from the same Neanderthal site that included cut marks and were fashioned into a piece of jewelry.

“People have often defined Neanderthals as being devoid of any kind of aesthetic feelings, and yet we know that at this site they collected eagle talons and they collected this rock,” said Prof. Frayer, corresponding author of a paper on the discovery published in the November/December 2016 issue of the journal Comptes Rendus Palevol.

“At other sites, researchers have found they collected shells and used pigments on shells.”

The limestone rock from the Krapina site is 9.19 cm long, 6.61 cm wide, with a maximum thickness of 1.69 cm and minimum thickness of 3.1 mm.

“The specimen is a brownish, flat piece of micritic limestone (mudstone) bearing an array of dendritic forms. The brownish color comes from the surface patina, whereas afresh break exposes the original grayish color of the rock,” Prof. Frayer and co-authors said.

“The split rock shows some irregular surfaces, but no cortex is present. Both faces are smooth and the edges are unmodified. We could find no striking platform or other areas of preparation on the rock’s edge.”

“From this, we assume the cobble was not broken apart by a Neanderthal, but was picked up in its present condition.”

“The fact that it wasn’t modified, to us, it meant that it was brought there for a purpose other than being used as a tool,” Prof. Frayer explained.

There was a small triangular flake that fits with the rock, but the break appeared to be fresh and likely happened well after the specimen was deposited into the sediments of the Krapina site. Perhaps it occurred during transport or storage after the excavation around 1900.

“The dendritic forms, ‘stem’ and veins are visually appealing and have an aesthetic quality, often appreciated by today’s rock hunters,” the scientists said.

“No one would ever suggest that Neanderthals knew the source and the meaning of the dendritic forms in rock, but there is no reason to think they would not recognize their distinctiveness and the visual appeal of them. Presumably, they considered the rock unusual and worthy of keeping.”

The team suspects a Neanderthal collected the rock from a site a few miles north of the Krapina site where there were known outcrops of biopelmicritic grey limestone. Either the Neanderthal found it there or the Krapinica stream transported it closer to the site.

“The discovery is likely minor compared with other discoveries, such as more modern humans 25,000 years ago making cave paintings in France. However, it added to a body of evidence that Neanderthals were capable assigning symbolic significance to objects and went to the effort of collecting them,” Prof. Frayer said.

The discovery could also provide more clues as to how modern humans developed these traits.

“It adds to the number of other recent studies about Neanderthals doing things that are thought to be unique to modern Homo sapiens. We contend they had a curiosity and symbolic-like capacities typical of modern humans,” Prof. Frayer said.

4,000-Year-Old ‘Multi-Dolmen’ Found in Israel

4,000-Year-Old ‘Multi-Dolmen’ Found in Israel

The newly-discovered megalithic stone structure is a unique, monumental, multi-chambered dolmen: a central chamber roofed by a gigantic engraved capstone and surrounded by a giant tumulus (stone heap) into which at least four additional sub-chambers were built.

This is the first reported complex ‘multi-dolmen’ in the Levant and one of the largest dolmens ever reported from the region, according to a team of archaeologists led by Tel Hai College Professor Gonen Sharon.

“The dolmen tumulus, built around a central chamber, is 20 m in diameter. The total weight of the basalt stones used is estimated at 400 tons,” Prof. Sharon and colleagues explained.

“The four sub-chambers built into the tumulus are each medium-sized (1 x 3 m) and elongated, and covered by one to three massive basalt capstones.”

“In the upper part of the tumulus is the central chamber. The chamber is rectangular, 3 m long by 2 m wide, and the ceiling is 1.7 m above the present day surface prior to excavation.”

“Topping the central chamber of the dolmen is a single giant, basalt capstone. The stone, irregular in shape, measures over 4 m in length, 3.5 m in width and more than 1.2 m in thickness, with an estimated weight of over 50 tons.”

The archaeologists also discovered rock art engravings on the ceiling of the central chamber.

“This is the first art ever documented in a dolmen in the Middle East,” said team member Dr. Uri Berger, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The ceiling panel, located at the southeast quarter of the chamber ceiling, includes 14 clearly identified schematic, engraved elements,” the researchers said.

“The forms represent variations on a single motif, comprising a vertical line with a downturned arc attached to its upper part.”

“The length of the central line differs between elements as does the curvature of the arc. The average size of the elements is about 25 cm.”

“The forms were made by pecking into the face of the basalt rock. The inner surface of the engraved lines is relatively uniform and could have been made by chisel or hammer/axe either of metal (bronze) or stone such as flint.”

Middle Stone Age Humans Used Innovative Heating Techniques to Make Tools

Middle Stone Age Humans Used Innovative Heating Techniques to Make Tools

South African Middle Stone Age humans deliberately heated silcrete, a hard, fine-grained, local rock, so that they could more easily obtain blades from the core material. The blades were then crescent shaped and glued into arrow heads.

“This is the first time anywhere that bows and arrows were used. This would have had a major effect on hunting practices as both spears and bow and arrow could be used to hunt animals,” said study senior author Prof. Christopher Henshilwood, from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the University of Bergen in Norway.

The extensive heat treatment enabled early humans to produce tougher, harder tools — the first evidence of a transformative technology. However, the exact role of this important development in the Middle Stone Age technological repertoire was not previously clear.

Prof. Henshilwood and his colleagues addressed this issue by using a new non-destructive approach to analyze the heating technique used in the production of silcrete artifacts at Klipdrift Shelter, a recently discovered Middle Stone Age site located on the southern Cape of South Africa, including unheated and heat-treated comparable silcrete samples from 31 locations around the site.

The researchers noted intentional and extensive heat treatment of over 90% of the silcrete, highlighting the important role this played in silcrete blade production.

The heating step appeared to occur early during the blade production process, at an early reduction stage where stone was flaked away to shape the silcrete core.

The hardening, toughening effect of the heating step would therefore have impacted all subsequent stages of silcrete tool production and use.

“Heating was applied, non-randomly, at an early stage of core exploitation and was sometimes preceded by an initial knapping stage,” said co-author Dr. Karen van Niekerk, from the University of Bergen.

“As a consequence, the whole operational chain, from core preparation to blade production and tool manufacturing, benefited from the advantages of the heating process.”

The scientists suggest that silcrete heat treatment at the Klipdrift Shelter may provide the first direct evidence of the intentional and extensive use of fire applied to a whole lithic chain of production.

Along with other fire-based activities, intentional heat treatment was a major asset for Middle Stone Age humans in southern Africa, and has no known contemporaneous equivalent elsewhere.

“The advantages of the heating process are multiple: by reducing the material’s fracture toughness and increasing its hardness, less force was needed to detach blades after heat treatment, resulting in better control and precision during percussion,” Prof. Henshilwood explained.

“This heating process marks the emergence of fire engineering as a response to a variety of needs that largely transcend hominin basic subsistence requirements, although it did not require highly specialized technical skills and was likely performed as part of on-site domestic activities,” he said.

The research was published this week in the journal PLoS ONE.

Swedish Researchers Find Submerged Mesolithic Settlement

Swedish Researchers Find Submerged Mesolithic Settlement

“The submerged landscape at Haväng is unique, as the excellent preservation of both natural and cultural objects and the longevity of the site are rarely seen in other submerged Mesolithic sites,” Prof. Hammarlund and co-authors said.

Changes in the sea level have allowed the findings to be preserved deep below the sea surface.

“Organic-rich sediment ridges with abundant wood remains and archaeological artifacts extend 3 km from the modern coast to depths of at least 20 m below the present sea level,” the scientists said.

“This exceptionally well-preserved material gives evidence of a lagoonal environment surrounded by a pine-dominated forest, which was inhabited by Mesolithic humans during two low-stand phases of the Baltic Basin, from the Yoldia Sea stage to the Initial Littorina Sea stage (11,700-8,000 years ago).”

Prof. Hammarlund and his colleagues from Lund University and the National Historical Museums drilled into the seabed and radiocarbon dated the core, as well as examined pollen and diatoms.

They also produced a bathymetrical map that reveals depth variations.

”As geologists, we want to recreate this area and understand how it looked. Was it warm or cold? How did the environment change over time?” said Lund University researcher Anton Hansson, a team member and first author of a paper reporting the results in the journal Quaternary International.

The team also made several spectacular finds, including 9,000-year-old stationary fish traps and a pick axe made out of elk antlers.

“Bones and antlers of red deer with slaughter marks and a unique pick axe made of elk antler provide evidence of human exploitation of terrestrial resources,” the scientists said.

“Of great interest are the remains of various kinds of stationary fishing equipment made of hazel wood; weirs, wattles, posts and fences,” they added.

“In total, eight fishing constructions have been found at Haväng, and two of these constructions have been radiocarbon dated to 9,200-8,400 years ago.”

“These fishing constructions are the oldest known of its kind in northern Europe, and demonstrate exploitation of riverine fish at Haväng.”

”If you want to fully understand how humans dispersed from Africa, and their way of life, we also have to find all their settlements,” Hansson said.

“Quite a few of these are currently underwater, since the sea level is higher today than during the last glaciation. Humans have always preferred coastal sites.”

Turkeys Were Part of Native American Life Centuries before First Thanksgiving

Turkeys Were Part of Native American Life Centuries before First Thanksgiving

Researchers knew that turkeys had been a part of Native American life long before the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Their feathers were used on arrows, in headdresses and clothing. The meat was used for food. Their bones were used for tools including scratchers used in ritual ceremonies.

There are even representations of turkeys in artifacts from the time. An intricately engraved marine shell pendant found at a site in central Tennessee shows two turkeys facing each other.

But the new research, reported in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, indicates turkeys were more than just a casual part of life for Native Americans of that era.

The authors came across a few curiosities as they examined skeletons of turkeys from archaeological sites in Tennessee that led them to believe that Native Americans were actively managing these fowls.

For one, the groupings researchers worked on had more male turkeys than a typical flock.

“In a typical flock of turkeys, there are usually more females. But in the flock they examined, they found more remains of males. That would only happen if it were designed that way,” said lead author Dr. Tanya Peres, from the Department of Anthropology at Florida State University.

“It appears Native Americans were favoring males for their bones for tools.”

“And they certainly would have favored males for their feathers. They tend to be much brighter and more colorful than the female species. Female feathers tend to be a dull grey or brown to blend in to their surroundings since they have to sit on the nest and protect the chicks.”

The other immediately noticeable trait that stood out to the team was that these ancient American gobblers were big boned — much larger than today’s average wild turkey. That could be the result of them being purposefully cared for or fed diets of corn.

“The skeletons of the archaeological turkeys we examined were quite robust in comparison to the skeletons of our modern comparatives,” said co-author Kelly Ledford, a graduate student at Florida State University.

“The domestication process typically results in an overall increase in the size of the animal so we knew this was a research avenue we needed to explore.”

8,000-Year-Old Female Figurine Found at Çatalhöyük

8,000-Year-Old Female Figurine Found at Çatalhöyük

The ancient figurine measures 6.7 inches (17 cm) long and weighs 2.2 pounds (1 kg), and was carved from a marmoreal stone.

The statuette was unearthed earlier this year by an international team led by Stanford University archaeologist Professor Ian Hodder.

The remarkable object is “considered unique due to its intact form and fine craftsmanship,” according to a statement from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The archaeologists said the figurine was probably used in rituals.

The site of Çatalhöyük where the figurine was found is one of the largest and best preserved Neolithic sites in the world.

It is located southeast of the modern Turkish city of Konya, about 90 miles from Mount Hasan.

The settlement was founded around 7500 BC and was inhabited for more than two millennia.

The site was discovered in the early 1960s by British archaeologist James Mellaart.

Excavations at the site produced a huge number of artifacts and ancient structures including a 10-foot-wide wall painting of the town and two peaks, sometimes referred to as the world’s oldest map.