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Oldest know fragments of the Koran discovered recently at the University of Birmingham
 
Sean Coughlan, Education correspondent for the BBC, reports on the astonishing find of what might be the oldest know fragments of the Koran –
 
What may be the world’s oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham. Radiocarbon dating found the manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old, making it among the earliest in existence.
 
…tests, carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, showed that the fragments, written on sheep or goat skin, were among the very oldest surviving texts of the Koran. These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645. “They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam,” said David Thomas, the university’s professor of Christianity and Islam.
 
More here.
 

A Nature Video documenting a cave in Indonesia that’s home to some of the oldest paintings and hand stencils in the world

 
The earliest known cave paintings have been discovered in a rural area on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesian. Using stalactite-like growths that cover some of the paintings and hand stencils experts have been able to date them from 40,000 years – 13,000 years before the present.
 
Pallab Ghosh, Science Correspondent for BBC News, reports Dr Maxime Aubert as saying that –
 
“The minimum age for (the outline of the hand) is 39,900 years old, which makes it the oldest hand stencil in the world. Next to it is a pig that has a minimum age of 35,400 years old, and this is one of the oldest figurative depictions in the world, if not the oldest one…”
 
There are also paintings in the caves that are around 27,000 years old, which means that the inhabitants were painting for at least 13,000 years. In addition, there are paintings in a cave in the regency of Bone, 100 km north of Maros. These cannot be dated because the stalactite-like growths used to determine the age of the art do not occur. But the researchers believe that they are probably the same age as the paintings in Maros because they are stylistically identical.
 
The discovery of the Indonesian cave art is important because it shows the beginnings of human intelligence as we understand it today.
 
 
Painting of a variety a wild endemic dwarfed bovid from Bone, Sulawesi, in Indonesia. The animal is found only in Sulawesi and was probably hunted by the inhabitants.
Image credit Dr Maxime Aubert
 
Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, London is quoted as saying, “This find enables us to get away from this Euro-centric view of a creative explosion that was special to Europe.”
 
Full BBC article here. Read the research paper here. See also our earlier feature, Do the hand stencils found in prehistoric cave paintings belong to women?
    
 
Seahenge II
©
NPS Archaeology
 
Victoria Woollaston, writing in the Mail Online yesterday, reports that –
 
…research by Norfolk County Council’s historic environment team has confirmed that Seahenge’s sister circle was made from trees felled in the spring or summer of 2049BC.
 
David Robertson, historic environment officer with Norfolk County Council, said: ‘The felling date on them is the spring or early summer of 2049 BC. Those trees were felled at exactly the same time. Having one was fantastic – and having two just adds to the story. We have to try to understand not just why they were built, but what were they used for.’
One theory is that the upturned stump was the final resting place of an important person after death, where his or her body would be allowed to break down in the open air. The second circle could have been the burial place, or mound, where the wooden posts acted as a revetment, or sloping structures, into which soil was placed on top of the body.
 
Tree ring dating, or dendrochronology tests, were carried out on samples from the second circle last summer. While the results confirm it was almost certainly built by the same people as Seahenge, Robertson said the second structure would not be excavated. ‘Since 1999 it’s been visible at some times and covered by the sand at other times,’ he said. ‘There are no plans to dig it up. It’s been decided with the second circle to let nature take its course. Over the years, the sea has claimed parts of the structure.’
 
Erosion and the loss of its timbers prompted the dating project, the results of which are expected to be published soon.
 
Full article here. See also our earlier features The Seahenge Gallery, Lynn Museum and Seahenge.
   
 
The central bole from Seahenge I. Now in the Seahenge Gallery, Lynn Museum, Norfolk
Image
The Heritage Trust
 
 
CT scanner yields details of an Egyptian mummy at the British Museum
©
The Trustees of the British Museum
 
 
Pallab Ghosh, Science correspondent for BBC News Science & Environment, reports on the nonintrusive state-of-the-art CT scanner that is yielding details of eight Egyptian mummies at the British Museum –
 
The British Museum has carried out scans on eight Egyptian mummies, revealing unprecedented details about these people. Never before has anyone seen mummy hair, muscles and bone at such fine resolution. It is enabling scientists for the first time to tell the age of the mummies, what they ate, the diseases they suffered from, and how they died. Each mummy was put into a state-of-the-art CT scanner. Researchers probed them layer by layer to build up a high-definition 3D picture of each one. Once digitised, British Museum staff were then able to peel away each layer, to see the face of the person underneath the bandages.
 
Full article, photos and video here. The exhibition Ancient lives new discoveries is on show at the British Museum until the 30 November 2014.
 
Writing for the Asahi Simbun on 15 February 2014, Shunske Nakamura, Senior Staff Writer, reports on the oldest concurrent discovery of human bones and artefacts as yet found in Japan –
 
NAHA, Okinawa Prefecture–Archaeologists have unearthed shell tools around 20,000 years old that could help clear up mysteries surrounding the ancestors of modern Japanese people. The Okinawa Prefectural Museum & Art Museum said the shell tools–the first uncovered in Japan from the Paleolithic Age–were dug up at the Sakitari-do cave site in Nanjo, Okinawa Prefecture, near the site where the country’s oldest whole skeletons were found. It was Japan’s oldest concurrent discovery of both human bones and artifacts.
 
Around 40 fragments of shells of the Veneridae family, ledge mussels and other species were found that are believed to have been used as tools by humans. A human tooth and a foot bone were also found in the same geological formation. Carbon dating of charcoal from the same formation indicated the remains were 20,000 to 23,000 years old.
 
Full article here.
    
 
Entrance to the Seahenge Gallery at Lynn Museum, Norfolk
 
On a recent visit to the Lynn Museum in Norfolk to see the Seahenge Gallery, it was noticed by our American friends, Bucky and Loie, that in each of the trunks that make up the circle there is a wedge-shaped cut extending the whole width of each trunk, and one or two inches into it. Bucky writes that, “Loie noticed a horizontal band of discoloration on one timber. When she pointed it out to me, I started looking at all of them and finding similar bands, at different heights. At first, I thought they might be strips of metal helping hold the timbers to the support posts: there was a tiny bit of space between some of the bands and the wood, as if the bands weren’t tight. Looking at the bands from as close to the timber sides as was possible, it was soon apparent the bands were not connected to the metal posts: light was visible between them. So the bands were in or on the wood. I soon saw that where the bands met the sides of the timbers, they continued around the sides. And the continuations were all triangular. It became apparent that the only explanation for all the different aspects we had noted would be horizontal wedges cut into the wood, and then inexpertly filled with some kind of painted putty.”
 
The cuts had indeed been filled and in-painted so, in the subdued lighting of the Gallery, they are not easily seen (which actually contravenes accepted conservation practice as restorations should be clearly visible). Staff on the reception desk at Lynn Museum didn’t know what the cuts were (and hadn’t even noticed them before) but after telephoning one of the museum curators it appears that English Heritage’s original intention was to leave the circle in situ to naturally degrade. In order to get as much information as possible before that happened however a wedge was cut out of each timber (not just the infamous chainsaw chunk from the central bole) for dendochronological cross-dating. English Heritage’s decision to leave the circle in situ was then reversed and all the timbers were subsequently removed for safety and conservation (now unfortunately with slices taken out of them – slices which subsequently needed to be filled in and ‘restored’).
 
 
Inside part of the wooden circle
 
Other observations at the Seahenge Gallery were that not all the timbers from the circle are on show – the rest are in storage at the Museum with no plans to bring them out for display. This is strange because there appears, actually, to be enough room in the Seahenge Gallery to display them all if things were rearranged. The large (and excellent) illuminated photo of the sea actually dissects the Gallery and if this were moved to a side wall the rest of the circle could probably be displayed (ingress and egress to and from the circle being made possible by having the two halves positioned slightly apart).
 
 
The central bole
 
What is really disappointing at Lynn Museum’s Seahenge Gallery is the position of the central bole; it stands in its own case outside the circle, against a wall (so one cannot walk round it) and next to a door which is often open and which reveals another gallery with some kind of fairground attraction in it – very disconcerting, not to mention distracting the visitor’s attention from the central bole and the rest of the Seahenge Gallery.
 
The Heritage Trust would like to see all of the circle displayed, the bole repositioned within it, and the door to the other gallery either screened off or fitted with a self-closing mechanism. Other suggestions we would like to make are that the replica cast of the smaller bole is removed (it is not a cast of the Seahenge bole anyway but of another one) and a mirror fitted to the ceiling of the case in which the Seahenge bole itself stands (so that its top surface can be seen from below).
 
Money to do these things is always a problem of course but perhaps an appeal could be launched to assist in fundraising. A dedicated collection box at the entrance to the Seahenge Gallery might be installed for this purpose. The collection box at the British Museum for example asks for a £5 donation from those who can afford it; a similar request at the Lynn Museum does not seem unreasonable given that it would help towards aiding the full, and proper, display of this unique monument from our ancient past.
 
 
 
 
Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent for BBC News Science & Environment reports that –
 
The length of time modern humans (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) overlapped in Europe has been a keenly debated topic in recent times. A long overlap raises important questions about the extent to which we might have interbred with them, and possibly even contributed to their eventual demise.
 
Research published in 2011 indicated modern humans were living in the lands now known as Italy and the UK as far back as 41,000-45,000 years ago. This may have put them in contact with European Neanderthals who, according to previous dating studies, persisted on the continent for many millennia after these dates. On the Rock of Gibraltar, for example, it has been suggested that Neanderthals could possibly have hung around until as recently as 28,000 years ago before finally dying out.
 
Full story here.
 
 

 
Two adzes and one additional stone blade from New Guinea. On the upper adze the stone blade is expelled from the handle.
Source Wikimedia. Image credit Bullenwächter
 
 
BBC News Wales reports yesterday that –
 
 
A study of more than 300 Neolithic skeletons suggests evidence of “hereditary inequality” among farmers 7,000 years ago… Archaeologists from Cardiff University led a team who studied the skeletons from across Europe. They say evidence suggests farmers buried with tools had access to better land than those buried without. Dr Penny Bickle, of Cardiff University, said community diversity “probably occurred through inheritance”. The research was conducted by archaeologists from Cardiff, Bristol and Oxford universities, and others across Europe.The project was led by professor Alasdair Whittle from Cardiff University’s school of history, archaeology and religion, and involved studying more than 300 skeletons across central Europe.
 
More here and here.
 

The Plas Tirion ‘unremarkable’ cowshed. Image credit BBC Wales

Nick Bourne writing on BBC Wales News earlier this month reports that –

A project to find the ages of historic buildings by dating their timbers may have found one of Wales’ oldest homes. Experts say new evidence shows north west Wales was an innovative place architecturally with cutting edge houses built in the 16th Century. They are awaiting results on an “unremarkable” building in Conwy, a cow shed, which may pre-date Wales’ oldest homes from 1402.

The style and use of a cruck frame – a tree trunk used to support a roof – leads some specialists to think a building used as a cow shed and store near historic house Plas Tirion, in Llanrwst, Conwy, could pre-date Wales’ oldest domestic houses such as Hafod-y-Garreg in the Wye Valley, which dates to 1402.

Full article and video here.

 

 
Plas Tirion, Llanwrst. One of the houses tree-ring dated this week by Royal Commission staff
 
Heritage of Wales News reports yesterday that –
 
Earlier this week, Royal Commission staff visited the Conwy valley, to work with Margaret Dunn, the director of the Dating Old Welsh Houses project  in evaluating the final batch of houses, which will now be tree-ring dated by Dr Dan Miles and Dr Martin Bridge from the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory. Working in partnership with the Royal Commission, Dating Old Welsh Houses is a community-based history project focused on dating historic houses in the counties of North-west Wales and then compiling their house histories. In the last three years over sixty houses have been successfully dated by the partnership project and revealed some remarkable results. Contrary to the traditional view that North Wales was an architectural backwater in terms of houses, the results of the project show that the characteristic Snowdonian house took shape in the early sixteenth-century much earlier than previously believed.
 
See also The Plasauduon below.
 
 

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