This is the world's oldest known drawing

Around 73,000 years ago, humans used a chunk of pigment to draw a pattern on a rock in a South African cave. The recently discovered fragment of the rock is now considered to be the oldest known drawing in history. From Science News:

The faded pattern consists of six upward-oriented lines crossed at an angle by three slightly curved lines, the researchers report online September 12 in Nature. Microscopic and chemical analyses showed that the lines were composed of a reddish, earthy pigment known as ocher.

The lines end abruptly at the rock’s edges, indicating that a larger and possibly more complex version of the drawing originally appeared on a bigger stone, the researchers say. Tiny pigment particles dotted the rock’s drawing surface, which had been ground smooth. Henshilwood suspects the chunk of rock was part of a large grinding stone on which people scraped pieces of pigment into crayonlike shapes.

Crosshatched designs similar to the drawing have been found engraved on shells at the site, Henshilwood says. So the patterns may have held some sort of meaning for their makers. But it’s hard to know whether the crossed lines represent an abstract idea or a real-life concern.

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Treasures continue to be unearthed this summer in Pompeii

Pompeii is a vast archaeological site that continues to yield treasures buried beneath the pumice. This summer, workers discovered new murals and artifacts at the site of a wealthy homeowner's estate, nicknamed House of Jupiter for a statue of the god found there. Read the rest

Welsh heat wave reveals ancient ruins under farm fields

The UK's Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has published some recent aerial shots of cropmarks, ancient ruins now covered by farm fields. Unusually dry weather conditions have created a golden opportunity to see these sites from the air. Read the rest

Inventory of a Dutch riverbed

Below The Surface presents items dredged from the river soil in Amsterdam. [Via MeFi]

Urban histories can be told in a thousand ways. The archaeological research project of the North/South metro line lends the River Amstel a voice in the historical portrayal of Amsterdam. The Amstel was once the vital artery, the central axis, of the city. Along the banks of the Amstel, at its mouth in the IJ, a small trading port originated about 800 years ago. At Damrak and Rokin in the city centre, archaeologists had a chance to physically access the riverbed, thanks to the excavations for the massive infrastructure project of the North/South metro line between 2003 and 2012.

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The "secret chamber" in King Tut's tomb does not exist

Several years ago, Egypt's Antiquities Ministry said they were "90% sure" that new scans of King Tutankhamun's tomb revealed a hidden chamber. Following that, University of Arizona archaeologist Nicholas Reeves published a headline-making research paper suggesting that the secret room may be the burial chamber of Queen Nefertiti. Well, turns out that there's no there there. From the BBC News:

Italian specialists from the University of Turin used new penetrating radar scans to reach their conclusion, saying they were confident in the results.

"It is maybe a little bit disappointing that there is nothing behind the walls of Tutankhamun's tomb, but I think on the other hand that this is good science," said Dr Francesco Porcelli, head of the research team..

Egypt's Antiquities Minister, Khaled al-Anani, said the authorities in the country accepted the results.

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Drones find over 50 new enormous artworks etched into the Peruvian desert

National Geographic reports exclusively on a project in Peru using low-altitude drones to identify dozens of ancient geoglyphs undetectable by the unassisted human eye. Read the rest

Why animals near the ancient Roman "gate to hell" really dropped dead

Thousands of years ago in Hierapolis (now Turkey), tourists visited a temple named Plutonium built at a cave thought to be a gateway to the underworld. Magically, large and small animals would drop dead at the entrance to the cave while priest somehow survived. This isn't legend, it's reality. And now scientists have determined why. From CNN:

Research published by the journal of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences in February shows that a fissure in the earth's surface, deep beneath the site, emits carbon dioxide at concentrations so high it can be deadly.

Using a portable gas analyzer, Hardy Pfanz and his team of volcanologists found CO2 at levels ranging from 4-53% at the mouth of the cave, and as high as 91% inside -- more than enough to kill living organisms...

Pfanz's research adds another possibility: the fact that the animals and priests are different heights. CO2 is a heavier than oxygen, therefore it settles lower, forming a toxic gas lake above the ground. "The nostrils of the animals were way in the gas lake," he says, whereas the priests stood taller, above the gas lake.

Above: digital rendering of the temple Read the rest

Most ancient Briton yet found was black-skinned, blue-eyed and clearly laughing at enraged Daily Mail comments about him

Meet Cheddar Man. He's from just north of Glastonbury, circa 8,000 B.C.

Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, said: “It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions, that really are not applicable to the past at all.”

Yoan Diekmann, a computational biologist at University College London and another member of the project’s team, agreed, saying the connection often drawn between Britishness and whiteness was “not an immutable truth. It has always changed and will change”.

Love that smile! If you're British, you've reportedly got about a 10% chance of descending from this guy's tribe. I suppose the more intellectually kempt white supremacists can remind themselves he isn't really black in the modern pseudoscientific or culturally-significant sense, but you know that's not how they feel about these things.

The instantly self-owning strategy among the crypto-racist morons of British punditry is to find white people who don't actually look like him in an attempt to suggest he's basically a Somerset lad with a tan.

Which he is. Read the rest

Ancient trilobites had eyes made of crystals

Fun fact: trilobites were able to see thanks to eyes made of calcite instead of soft tissue. YouTuber Thunderf00t shows off a cool fossil and explains the phenomenon. Read the rest

How do you play this boardgame from 375 C.E.

This board game was found in Poprad, Slovakia inside a German prince's tomb that dates to 375 C.E. Now, researchers at Switzerland's Museum of Games are trying to figure out how to play it. From Smithsonian:

It’s likely the board is designed to play Latrunculi or Ludus latrunculorum, which translates as “Mercenaries” or the “Game of Brigands” or some variant. That game was originally derived from an ancient Greek game called petteia which is referenced in the works of Homer. There are a handful of vague descriptions of how the game was played in ancient sources, but researchers have not successfully figured out the complete set of rules so far, though many gamers have come up with their own guesses.

“There were plenty of board games in ancient times with many variants, but reconstructing the playing technique is a very complicated process that only top experts can solve,” Karol Pieta, the archaeologist in charge of the dig, tells the Spectator.

"Researchers Are Trying to Figure Out How to Play This Ancient Roman Board Game" (Smithsonian) Read the rest

Sphinx head discovered in California desert

Archaeologists digging in the sand dunes of Santa Barbara County, California discovered a 300-pound sphinx head. Notably, the artifact does not date back to ancient times but is only 95-years-old. The sphinx is actually a prop from pioneering filmmaker Cecile DeMille's 1923 movie The Ten Commandments. It was part of the so-called "Lost City of DeMille," a massive Egyptian set made for the movie. From the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center:

Legend has it that after filming, it was too expensive to move and too valuable to leave for rival filmmakers to poach—so DeMille had it buried.

In the 1980s, director Peter Brosnan and a group of young filmmakers set out to find the ruins. Over 30 years later, excavations began, and have since turned up a trove of historical artifacts including an entire sphinx broken into pieces. Everyday relics—prohibition liquor bottles, makeup, and tobacco tins—have also been found, shedding light on what life was like for the cast and crew in 1923.

There's also a recent documentary on the subject, titled "The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille." (Hollywood Reporter)

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Space archaeology: A conversation with TED Prize winner Sarah Parcak

The After On podcast a series of unhurried conversations with thinkers, founders, and scientists. It began as a complement to the novel After On, in that its first eight episodes explore science, tech, and social issues featured in the storyline. But there is no need to read After On before listening to any of these episodes. You can subscribe to the podcast within any podcast app. Simply use your app's search function (type in "After On") to find and subscribe. Or, to subscribe via your computer click here, then click the blue “View on iTunes” button (left side of the page under the After On image), then click “Subscribe” (similar location) in the iTunes window. Or simply follow the feed http://afteron.libsyn.com/rss

Ask any archaeologist, and you'll learn that the tools of their trade are simple and universal: a pointing trowel for excavation; a brush for removing dust from finds; side arms to fend off Nazi grave robbers; and a large constellation of satellites.

That last item joined the toolkit back in 1984, when NASA's Tom Sever (who is not a Hall of Fame pitcher, and must be sick of being asked if he is) convened an archaeological summit to offer up images and other goodies from his agency. And with that, the field of space archaeology was.

In roughly the same year, the Tooth Fairy delivered a children's book about ancient Egypt to one Sarah Parcak, age 5, of Bangor Maine. An early childhood obsession with pharaonic culture is common amongst future Egyptologists, and Sarah's began then. Read the rest

Manipulate a 3D model of the Rosetta Stone

The British Museum has released this nifty 3D scan of the Rosetta Stone, which includes a nice autoplaying audio summary of its significance. Read the rest

Justice Department sues Hobby Lobby over thousands of looted Iraqi artifacts it bought

According to a lawsuit (PDF) filed Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice, craft retailer Hobby Lobby illegally imported thousands of Iraqi artifacts, intentionally mislabeled them and lied about their origins.

Though a consultant to the company estimated the artifacts' value at $11,820,000, an invoice shows Hobby Lobby paid $1,600,000 for them in deals with the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Shipment of these artifacts, which were labeled “ceramics” and “samples,” totaled more than $2,000 and thus require formal entry. Hobby Lobby continued with the deal even though an expert advised the company the artifacts were likely looted and carried "considerable risk." Hobby Lobby did not attempt verify the legal custodian or origin of 5,513 of the artifacts at any point, according to the suit.

NBC News reports that Hobby Lobby has agreed to return its stolen loot.

In a statement, Hobby Lobby President Steve Green acknowledged "regrettable mistakes" that he chalked up to inexperience.

"We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled," Green said, adding that the firm fully cooperated with the investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Hobby Lobby markets itself as a Christian company and famously took the government to court to secure a religious exemption from providing insurance plans that covered birth control.

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Remarkably preserved dinosaur fossil

Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology displays a nodosaur fossil that is so well-preserved that bumps and crevasses on its surface are clearly visible. National Geographic's Robert Clark captured amazing images. Read the rest

Humans have practiced dentistry for at least 13,000 years

Who needs anesthesia when you have a sharp rock and some naturally-occurring asphalt to fill a cavity? Archaeologists found evidence of Paleolithic dentistry. Read the rest

Eating people will not give you the nutrition you need

Evidence of cannibalism among past human species goes back almost one million years. But what made our ancestors eat each other? Probably not so much our nutritional value as it's sorely lacking, says University of Brighton archaeologist James Cole. From Erika Engelhaupt's article in National Geographic:

“When you compare us to other animals, we’re not very nutritional at all,” says study author James Cole of the University of Brighton, who published his work Thursday in Scientific Reports.

According to his estimates, boars and beavers pack about 1,800 calories into each pound of muscle compared with a measly 650 calories from a modern human. That’s about what would be expected based on our overall size and muscularity compared to other animals, he says.

So, Cole asks, if humans aren’t especially valuable in terms of prey, why eat them? After all, unless they are sick or dying, they wouldn’t be easy to hunt.

“You have to get together a hunting party and track these people, and then they aren’t just standing there waiting for you to stab them with a spear,” says Cole.

Instead, Cole argues that perhaps not all ancient cannibalism was for filling bellies; it may have also served various social functions for early humans and their ancestors...

“I agree with [Cole] that Paleolithic cannibalism was probably more often practiced as a ‘choice’ rather than mere ‘necessity,’” (says anthropologist Silvia Bello of the Natural History Museum in London). “I think, however, that to find the motivation of the choice is a very difficult matter.”

"Cannibalism Study Finds People Are Not That Nutritious" Read the rest

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