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Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America’s Clovis Culture by Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley

The University of California Press announces publication of the above and asks –

Who were the first humans to inhabit North America? According to the now familiar story, mammal hunters entered the continent some 12,000 years ago via a land bridge that spanned the Bering Sea. The presence of these early New World people was established by distinctive stone tools belonging to the Clovis culture. But are the Clovis tools Asian in origin? Drawing from original archaeological analysis, paleoclimatic research, and genetic studies, noted archaeologists Dennis J. Stanford and Bruce A. Bradley challenge the old narrative and, in the process, counter traditional—and often subjective—approaches to archaeological testing for historical relatedness. The authors apply rigorous scholarship to a hypothesis that places the technological antecedents of Clovis in Europe and posits that the first Americans crossed the Atlantic by boat and arrived earlier than previously thought. Supplying archaeological and oceanographic evidence to support this assertion, the book dismantles the old paradigm while persuasively linking Clovis technology with the culture of the Solutrean people who occupied France and Spain more than 20,000 years ago.

More here. See also David Keys’ feature in yesterday’s The Independent.


From last week’s RadioTimes © Robert Thompson

A guest feature by Littlestone.

Bulguksa Temple (불국사) South Korea

Rummaging through some old photographs yesterday I came across this one of Bulguksa Temple (불국사) in South Korea (which I visited some forty years ago, and where the photo was bought).

The Wikipedia entry for Bulguksa reads –

Bulguksa is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in the North Gyeongsang province in South Korea. It is home to seven National treasures of South Korea, including Dabotap and Seokgatap stone pagodas, Cheongun-gyo (Blue Cloud Bridge), and two gilt-bronze statues of Buddha. The temple is classified as Historic and Scenic Site No. 1 by the South Korean government. In 1995, Bulguksa was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List together with the Seokguram Grotto, which lies four kilometers to the east.

How things can change; not all is doom and gloom in the field of cultural preservation. Everywhere in the world archaeologists, conservators, restorers and others work tirelessly to understand, protect and preserve our shared heritage. Today Bulguksa Temple looks like this –


Source Wikipedia. Image credit Tae Hoon Kang

…sets out basic principles for the protection of underwater cultural heritage; provides a detailed State cooperation system; and provides widely recognized practical Rules for the treatment and research of underwater cultural heritage.

More videos on this as well as other topics here.

Example of one of the Fugoppe cave’s more than 200 prehistoric engravings. The engravings include shaman-like humans with horns or wings, as well as boats, fish, whales and four-legged beasts
Photo courtesy of the Yochi Town Board of Education, Hokkaido
Writing in The Japan Times on Sunday, 17 August 2003, Mark Hudson reports that –

Art is part of what makes us human. Primitive or otherwise, though, it is not only about painting pretty pictures, but also about the complex use of symbols and forms of language.

An Australian archaeologist once told me that he had listened to an Aboriginal man talk for three hours about the meaning of a bark painting he had made. What to the uninitiated may have appeared to be no more than an attractive but random series of dots and lines was, the awed archaeologist admitted, in fact part of a complex web of stories and ideas.

Despite the centrality of art to the human experience, however, the archaeological record of prehistoric art is rather patchy. While the renowned paleolithic cave paintings of southwestern France or the rock art of Australia are outstanding examples of prehistoric art, there are many areas of the world where the remains of such early art don’t exist — or haven’t yet been discovered.

Japan is one such region: Here, evidence of early prehistoric art is sparse. This is despite the fact that more than 5,000 paleolithic sites have been found to date in Japan — a huge number compared with many other parts of the world. Where Japan really comes into its own, of course, is with the ceramic arts of the Jomon Period that followed the Paleolithic Age, dating from around 8,000 B.C. through to the dawn of the Yayoi Period around 400 B.C.

Full article here.


Looking west along the southern flank of Maiden Castle iron age hillfort in Dorset, towards the Hardy Monument. The ditches are not as deep as they once were, and the ramparts were once topped with wooden pallisades. Source Wikimedia Commons
Image credit Jim Champion
Writing in the Dorset Echo yesterday, Rachael Burnett reports on Time Team’s forthcoming television programme on the South Dorset Ridgeway.
TIME Team’s Tony Robinson has come to Dorset to reveal what lies beneath the South Dorset Ridgeway. A film crew from the long-running Channel 4 archaeology TV series visited Dorset County Museum in Dorchester yesterday afternoon for their first day of filming. Tony Robinson and his team will be filming in the area for another 11 days as they unearth the secrets of the Ridgeway.

Actor and presenter of the series, Mr Robinson, said he will be exploring Dorset’s rich prehistoric past. He said: “We’re making a Time Team special about the South Dorset Ridgeway. “We’ll be having a look at what it’s made of, why it’s 1,000 feet up in the air when it used to be at the bottom of a seabed and why it was so attractive to ancient people and what they used it for.”

The Ridgeway is a ridge of high land separating Weymouth and Dorchester and Mr Robinson and his team will be investigating the various theories surrounding its origins.

Full article here.



Stonehenge © Richard Misrach

The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming tune, like the note of some gigantic one-stringed harp. No other sound came from it, and lifting his hand and advancing a step or two, Clare felt the vertical surface of the structure. It seemed to be of solid stone, without joint or moulding. Carrying his fingers onward he found that what he had come in contact with was a colossal rectangular pillar; by stretching out his left hand he could feel a similar one adjoining. At an indefinite height overhead something made the black sky blacker, which had the semblance of a vast architrave uniting the pillars horizontally. They carefully entered beneath and between; the surfaces echoed their soft rustle; but they seemed to be still out of doors. The place was roofless.

In the far north-east sky he could see between the pillars a level streak of light. The uniform concavity of black cloud was lifting bodily like the lid of a pot, letting in at the earth’s edge the coming day, against which the towering monoliths and trilithons began to be blackly defined.

The band of silver paleness along the east horizon made even the distant parts of the Great Plain appear dark and near; and the whole enormous landscape bore that impress of reserve, taciturnity, and hesitation which is usual just before day. The eastward pillars and their architraves stood up blackly against the light, and the great flame-shaped Sun-stone beyond them; and the Stone of Sacrifice midway. Presently the night wind died out, and the quivering little pools in the cup-like hollows of the stones lay still.

From Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891) by Thomas Hardy.


The Sylene stenophylla in bloom: Image credit Institute of Cell Biophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Though somewhat outside the remit of The Heritage Trust, we thought the Sky News’ report yesterday that, “…fruit and seeds hidden in an Ice Age squirrel’s burrow in Siberian permafrost have been resurrected into a flower by Russian scientists” worthy of a mention.

Using a pioneering experiment, the Sylene stenophylla has become the oldest plant ever to be regrown and it is fertile, producing white flowers and viable seeds. The seeds date back 30,000 to 32,000 years and raise hopes that iconic Ice Age mammals like the woolly mammoth could also eventually be resurrected.

The researchers, who published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, said the results prove that permafrost serves a natural depository for ancient life forms. “We consider it essential to continue permafrost studies in search of an ancient genetic pool, that of pre-existing life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the earth’s surface,” the scientists said in the article. Canadian researchers had earlier regenerated some significantly younger plants from seeds found in burrows.

Svetlana Yashina of the Institute of Cell Biophysics of the Russian Academy Of Sciences, who led the regeneration effort, said the revived plant looked very similar to its modern version, which still grows in the same area in northeastern Siberia. The Russian research team recovered the fruit after investigating dozens of fossil burrows hidden in ice deposits on the right bank of the lower Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia. They were firmly cemented together and often totally filled with ice, making any water infiltration impossible – creating a natural freezing chamber fully isolated from the surface. The burrows were located 125ft (38m) below the present surface in layers containing bones of large mammals, such as mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, bison, horse and deer.

“The squirrels dug the frozen ground to build their burrows, which are about the size of a soccer ball, putting in hay first and then animal fur for a perfect storage chamber,” said Stanislav Gubin, one of the authors of the study, who spent years rummaging through the area for squirrel burrows. “It’s a natural cryobank. If we are lucky, we can find some frozen squirrel tissue,” said Mr Gubin. “And this path could lead us all the way to mammoth.”

Article here.


National Archives Conservation Lab in Washington. Image credit Hill/NARA

A team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have been working for the National Archives in Washington, USA to design and build a state-of-the-art encasement and transport cart to protect the Archive’s prized copy of the 1297 Magna Carta. Their work – and the freshly conserved Magna Carta – were on display at a special “behind-the-scenes” showing at the National Archives Conservation Lab. The enclosure is designed to visually enhance the parchment document while maintaining the interior environment so it does not degrade the document.

The owner of this rare copy of the Magna Carta (one of only four surviving charters), David M. Rubinstein, loaned the document to the National Archives and paid for its restoration and encasement.


Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Sir Aurel Stein
An  extraordinary individual who advanced human knowledge on many fronts, Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943) pursued dramatic adventures with scientific purpose. Trained as an orientalists, Stein exerted a decisive influence on a wide spectrum of scholarly disciplines. His investigations touched on the neolithic to medieval periods and spanned the area from the Persian Gulf to the pacific watershed.

Sir Aurel Stein was one of a small, scholarly band of pioneers who expanded knowledge to include the European landmass and the interactions between each of its four high civilizations: the Mediterranean West, the Indian, the Iranian and the Chinese. Central Asia, the region with which Stein’s name is most notably associated, was a crossroads between East and West for commerce, and culture, religion, arts and peoples. Stein rediscovered the ancient Silk Route between China and the West and unearthed dozens of sites long buried in the sands of Central Asia. His recovery of the library at Tung-Huang (the Cave of the Thousand Buddhas) [see The International Dunhuang Project below] is comparable to that of the Dead Sea scrolls: and his excavations in Turfan, Nija, Miran, and other places provided important materials for the studies of Buddhism, for linguistics, for Han and T’ang history, law and administration, popular literature, painting, sculpture, and many other disciplines.
Source: Jacket introduction to Jeannette Mirsky’s Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Jacket cover to Jeannette Mirsky’s Sir Aurel Stein
Two passports used by Sir Aurel Stein and the banner given his caravan to identify and safeguard it on its way from Turfan to Kashgar in 1915
Image credit James Ballard

The Diamond Sutra from The International Dunhuang Project Newsletter Issue 38

The International Dunhuang Project (IDP) The Silk Road Online, is a ground-breaking international collaboration to make information and images of all manuscripts, paintings, textiles and artefacts from Dunhuang (敦煌) and archaeological sites of the Eastern Silk Road freely available on the Internet and to encourage their use through educational and research programmes.

Boddhisattva, Guide of Souls. Tang Dynasty, late 9th century
The British Museum


Little was known of the remarkable heritage of the Silk Road until explorers and archaeologists of the early twentieth century uncovered the ruins of ancient cities in the desert sands, revealing astonishing sculptures, murals and manuscripts. One of the most notable discoveries was the Buddhist cave library near the oasis town of Dunhuang on the edge of the Gobi desert in western China. The cave had been sealed and hidden at the end of the first millennium AD and only re-discovered in 1900. Forty thousand manuscripts, paintings and printed documents on paper and silk were found in the cave itself. Tens of thousands more items were excavated from other Silk Road archaeological sites. These unique items have fascinating stories to tell of life on this great trade route from 100 BC to AD 1400. Yet most were dispersed to institutions worldwide in the early 1900s, making access difficult.



Suggested reading:

Inoue, Jasushi, Tun-huang: A Novel. Tokyo, New York and San Francisco: Kodansha International Ltd, 1978.
Mirsky, Jeannette, Sir Aurel Stein: Archaeological Explorer. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1997.
Whitfield, Roderick, The Art of Central Asia: The Stein Collection in the British Museum. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd, 1982-5.


Felling The Ancient Oaks by John Martin Robinson

Writing in The Blackpool Gazette, Pam Norfolk reviews the new book by historian John Martin Robinson, Felling The Ancient Oaks, How England Lost Its Great Country Estates –

For some of England’s most historic estates, the current imperative to preserve our past has come far too late. Felling the Ancient Oaks offers a stunning and heartbreaking visual record of our most spectacular and scenic country estates which have been broken up for sale and lost forever, often to be replaced with an endless sprawl of light industry and soulless suburbia. [It] reminds us of how our landscape looked before death duties, mining subsidence and sometimes the recklessness and incompetence of the black sheep in the family took their toll and forced the break-up of so many historic landed estates.

Highclere Castle. Source Wikimedia Commons. Image credit JBUK_Planet

One stately house that has survived is Highclere Castle, a country house in the Jacobean style, with a park designed by Capability Brown and the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon. It is estimated however that a third of England’s historic estates, with their stately homes, parks, farms and churches have been lost.

Full review of the book here. See also a selection of photographs showing some of England’s lost stately houses here.


Heritage of Wales News has announced details of a forthcoming lecture by Dr Oliver Davies on the Archaeology of Skomer and Skokholm at the Five Valleys Conference Centre, Nailworth, Gloucestershire on 19 February 2012. The lecture begins at 15:30 and will be based on the Royal Commission of Wales’s recent high-tech survey of the island and its ground-breaking results.
Manylion pellach:
Ddydd Sul, 19 Chwefror am 3.30pm, bydd y Dr Oliver Davies, un o archeolegwyr y Comisiwn Brenhinol, yn rhoi darlith yn Aduniad Cyfeillion Sgomer a Skokholm yng Nghanolfan Gynadledda’r Five Valleys yn Nailworth, Swydd Gaerloyw. Teitl y sgwrs fydd The Archaeology of Skomer and Skokholm a bydd yn seiliedig ar arolwg uwch-dechnoleg diweddar y Comisiwn Brenhinol o’r ynys a’r canlyniadau arloesol.
More here.

Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer

In this morning’s BBC Radio 4 The Life Scientific series Jim Al-Khalili meets leading paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer to find who our ancestors were.

As a post graduate Chris went on a road trip with a difference, driving round Europe in an old Morris Minor measuring Neanderthal skulls. After being thrown out of several countries, the results of his analysis led to a controversial theory which ran counter to what many people thought at the time. Chris suggested that our most recent relative originated in Africa. He also reveals how genetics has transformed his work and talks about his own unconventional origins.

That there were cannibals in Somerset is one of the more surprising findings of Chris’ work on early man in Britain and Jim discovers what it’s like to work on an archaeological dig.

Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Listen Again here.
The Nerja seal paintings
Writing in The New Scientist on the 10 February, Fergal MacErlean reports that –

Cave paintings in Malaga, Spain, could be the oldest yet found – and the first to have been created by Neanderthals.

Looking oddly akin to the DNA double helix, the images in fact depict the seals that the locals would have eaten, says José Luis Sanchidrián at the University of Cordoba, Spain. They have “no parallel in Palaeolithic art”, he adds. His team say that charcoal remains found beside six of the paintings – preserved in Spain’s Nerja caves – have been radiocarbon dated to between 43,500 and 42,300 years old. That suggests the paintings may be substantially older than the 30,000-year-old Chauvet cave paintings in south-east France, thought to be the earliest example of Palaeolithic cave art. The next step is to date the paint pigments. If they are confirmed as being of similar age, this raises the real possibility that the paintings were the handiwork of Neanderthals – an “academic bombshell”, says Sanchidrián, because all other cave paintings are thought to have been produced by modern humans.

Dating of the Nerja seal paintings’ pigments will not take place until after 2013. Further excavations in the extensive cave system – discovered by a group of boys hunting bats in 1959 – is ongoing.

Full article here. See also the comments in the earlier Daily Mail feature which cast some doubt on the authenticity of the paintings.



February 2012
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