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The Stone of Many Faces (or The Makapan Pebble)
Image credit and © Brett Eloff (University of Witwatersrand)
 
Writing in The Art NewspaperMartin Bailey, reports –
 
Some three million years ago a humanoid in southern Africa stumbled upon a naturally formed stone in the shape of a head and carried it to a nearby cave. The Makapan Pebble, also known as the Stone of Many Faces, was most likely found by an Australopithecus africanus, an ape-like species with some early human characteristics, which became extinct around two million years ago.
 
The Makapan (or Makapansgat) Pebble, which has never been displayed, will be exhibited for the first time at the British Museum in London this month in a show entitled South Africa: the Art of a Nation (27 October-26 February 2017). The stone belongs to the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, where it is kept in storage. John Giblin, the British Museum’s co-curator of the show, says the pebble “is the perfect size to hold in the palm of the hand”.
 
Full article here.
   
 
 
Australopithecus afarensis, a species of hominin thought to be a direct ancestor of modern humans
Image credit Science Photo Library
 
Rebecca Morelle, Science Correspondent for BBC News, reports that scientists have unearthed a new species of ancient human in the Afar region of Ethiopia. “Researchers discovered jaw bones and teeth, which date to between 3.3m and 3.5m years old. It means this new hominin was alive at the same time as several other early human species, suggesting our family tree is more complicated than was thought.
 
“The study is published in the journal Nature. The new species has been called Australopithecus deyiremeda, which means “close relative” in the language spoken by the Afar people. The ancient remains are thought to belong to four individuals, who would have had both ape and human-like features…”
 
More here.
   
 
 
The Malapa site, August 2011. Site of discovery of Australopithecus sediba
Photo by Lee R. Berger. Source Wikimedia Commons
 
April Holloway co-owner, editor and writer of Ancient-Origins, reports May 9 on possibly the oldest human skin so far discovered –
 
A team of scientists investigating early human species in an ancient cave near Johannesburg, South Africa, have revealed that preserved tissue found on a 2-million-year-old fossil may be the oldest sample of human skin ever recovered. The finding may reveal new information about the species and about our human origins.
 
The sample came from the remains of 4ft 2 inch tall male juvenile belonging to the species known as Australopithecus sediba, which were recovered in 2008 within an ancient cave in the Malapa Nature Reserve, situated in the ‘Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site’.  The area is important as nearly a third of the entire evidence for human origins in Africa comes from just a few sites in this region.
 
Full Ancient-Origins article here.
    

This unique stone bracelet dates back 40,000 years and is thought to have been made by a member of the Denisovan species of early humans. Museum of History and Culture of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East in Novosibirsk. Image credit Vera Salnitskaya

The stone bracelet above was unearthed in the Altai region of Siberia in 2008. After detailed analysis Russian experts now believe its remarkable age of 40,000bce is correct. What is even more extraordinary is that the bracelet was not made by a member of Homo sapiens or Neanderthals but another species of humans known as the Denisovans

It is intricately made with polished green stone and is thought to have adorned a very important woman or child on only special occasions. Yet this is no modern-day fashion accessory and is instead believed to be the oldest stone bracelet in the world, dating to as long ago as 40,000 years. Unearthed in the Altai region of Siberia in 2008, after detailed analysis Russian experts now accept its remarkable age as correct.

New pictures show this ancient piece of jewellery in its full glory with scientists concluding it was made by our prehistoric human ancestors, the Denisovans, and shows them to have been far more advanced than ever realised. ‘The bracelet is stunning – in bright sunlight it reflects the sun rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green,’ said Anatoly Derevyanko, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Full article by Anna Liesowska in The Siberian Times here.

   

 
 
Reproduction of Australopithecus afarensis in the CosmoCaixa Science Museum, Barcelona, Spain
Source Wikimedia Commons
 
 
Irina Slav, writing for the New Historian, reports on an exciting find of stone tools predating Homo Genus –
 
US archaeologists digging in Kenya say they have discovered the oldest tools ever, dating back 3.3 million years. This means they were made 700,000 years before the first signs of human presence on the planet, suggesting that our primate ancestors, the Australopitheci, were capable of making and using tools, and the Homo genus was not the first species to discover how to do this.
 
Lead researcher Sonia Harmand, an archaeologist at Stony Brook University, said the team found the site, near lake Turkana in northern Kenya, by accident four years ago after taking a wrong turn. They noticed several stone tools on the surface of the earth, and got digging. Their work yielded 20 more artefacts that were underground, and as many as 130 on the surface. These included cores – chunks of rock from which pieces are chipped to make tools, anvils and flakes (small pieces of stone used as tools). According to Harmand, the pieces bore marks of deliberate manipulation, so they could not have been the result of accidental fracture.
 
Full article here.
   
 
 
The eight eagle talon necklace (or bracelet) from Krapina, Croatia. The object is arranged with an eagle phalanx also found at the site
Image credit Luka Mjeda, Zagreb
 
Writing for Live Science, Megan Gannon, News Editor, reports on the extraordinary 130,000 year-old piece of Neanderthal jewellery first excavated more than 100 years ago at a Krapina sandstone rock-shelter in Croatia –
 
Researchers identified eight talons from white-tailed eagles — including four that had distinct notches and cut marks — from a 130,000-year-old Neanderthal cave in Croatia. They suspect the claws were once strung together as part of a necklace or bracelet.
 
“It really is absolutely stunning,” study author David Frayer, an anthropology professor at the University of Kansas, told Live Science. “It fits in with this general picture that’s emerging that Neanderthals were much more modern in their behavior.”
 
 Full article here.
 

Reconstruction by Elisabeth Daynes of a 70,000 year old Neanderthal child

The American Association for the Advancement of Science reports –

LA FERRASSIE, FRANCE – The French Dordogne is known for its hearty wine, rich foie gras – and spectacular prehistoric finds. This hamlet is home to one of the most famous: During excavations here beginning more than 100 years ago, French archaeologists discovered the skeletons of seven Neandertals, including four children and infants, and the most complete adult Neandertal skull ever found. They concluded that all were deliberately buried, making this site pivotal to contentions that Neandertals had symbolic capacities.

More here. See also our Lost innocence feature.

 
 
Mark Strauss, writing for KINJA, reports on the earliest know decoration by a Homo erectus
 
Archaeologist Stephen Munro nearly fell off his chair when he noticed patterns of straight lines purposefully etched on a fossilized clamshell. The engravings were half a million years old, which meant they’d been made by a Homo erectus—an extinct human species that predated Homo sapiens by upwards of 300,000 years.
 
In addition to the engravings, Munroe and his colleagues found shells that were carefully crafted into specialized tools. Taken together, these discoveries suggest that Homo erectus was far more sophisticated than previously believed and capable of symbolic thought.
 
“It is a fascinating discovery,” says Colin Renfrew, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge. “The earliest abstract decoration in the world is really big news.”
 
The shells, which previously had been sitting in a museum, were collected more than a century ago by Dutch archaeologist Eugene Dubois on the Indonesian island of Java. Dubois had obtained the specimens from the same excavation site where, in the 1890s, he discovered the first-known remains of Homo erectus. In 2007, Leiden University archaeologist Josephine Joordens began studying the shells, looking for clues about what the environment had been like for humanity’s ancestors. It was then that her colleague, Munro, noticed the etchings.
 
In the seven years since, a team of scientists led by Joordens have been studying the shells, confirming their age and that the lines had not been made by animals. The results of their research have been published in Nature.
 
More here 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?
    
 
A linear Neanderthal engraving found on a rock at the back of Gorham’s Cave, Gibraltar
Image credit Stewart Finlayson
 
Paul Rincon, Science editor, BBC News website, reports in BBC News Science & Environment yesterday that –
 
…the geometric pattern [above] identified in Gibraltar, on the southern tip of Europe, was uncovered beneath undisturbed sediments that have also yielded Neanderthal tools. Details of the discovery by an international team of researchers has been published in the journal PNAS.
 
There is now ample evidence that Neanderthal intellectual abilities may have been underestimated. Recent finds suggest they intentionally buried their dead, adorned themselves with feathers, painted their bodies with black and red pigments, and consumed a more varied diet than had previously been supposed. One of the study’s authors, Prof Clive Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, said the latest find “brings the Neanderthals closer to us, yet again”.
 
Full BBC article here.
    

Model of a Neanderthal child studying its reflection. From a display in the Neanderthal Museum in Krapina, Croatia
 
According to Tom Porter, writing in the International Business Times
 
Stone Age children may have played with toy axes and gone to school… Archaeologists have studied Neanderthal sites across Europe, collecting bones and artefacts,  building a picture of everyday life in prehistoric communities. Instead of caveman life being nasty, brutish and short, the team believes that it was formed around tightly bonded families, where children were educated, and the elderly and disabled supported.
 
“The reputation of the Neanderthals is changing. Partly that’s because they have been shown to have bred with us – and that implies similarities to us – but also because of the emerging evidence of how they lived,” Penny Spikins, a researcher in human origins at York University, told the Sunday Times. In a paper, she and her colleagues identify three sites, two of them in England, where toy-like hand axes were found. They believe that Neanderthal children may also have been schooled in how to make tools. At one site in France and another in Belgium, stones were found that had been skilfully crafted alongside others that were inexpertly chipped, as if by learning children.
 
Read the full International Business Times article here.
 
This feature is dedicated to children all over the world, and from all ages, who have and are being mistreated. Let the abuse stop!
 
 
40,000 year-old mammoth ivory figurine of a lion (right) and missing fragment (left)
Image credit: Hilde Jensen, Universität Tübingen
 
Phys.org reports last month that –
 
Archaeologists from the University of Tübingen have found an ancient fragment of ivory belonging to a 40,000 year-old animal figurine. Both pieces were found in the Vogelherd Cave in south-western Germany, which has yielded a number of remarkable works of art dating to the Ice Age. The mammoth ivory figurine depicting a lion was discovered during excavations in 1931. The new fragment makes up one side of the figurine’s head…
 
The 40,000 year-old figurine is one of the most famous works of Ice Age art. It was on show at last year’s Ice Age art exhibition hosted by the British Museum. According to archaeologist Nicholas Conard of Tübingen University’s Institute of Prehistory and Medieval Archaeology, and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment Tübingen, the lion was originally thought to be a relief and was unique for this period. With the small fragment of one side of the lion’s head now reattached however it is clear that the figurine is, in fact, a three-dimensional sculpture. “The site has yielded a wealth of objects that illuminate the development of early symbolic artefacts dating to the period when modern humans arrived in Europe and displaced the indigenous Neanderthals,” says Conard, including evidence of the world’s earliest figurative art and music.
 
The lion figurine is now on show at the Tübingen University Museum.
 
Full Phys.org article here. See also our earlier How to make a thaumatrope… feature.
    

 Video credit National Archaeological Museum of Spain

Yahoo News reports on the reopening of Spain’s National Archaeological Museum –

Spain’s National Archaeological Museum reopens to the public on Tuesday after a massive six-year overhaul that aims to offer a state-of-the-art space for its collection of ancient artefacts. The redesign of one of Madrid’s largest museums, housing items from prehistoric times until the 19th century, began in 2008 and cost 65.2 million euros ($89.8 million).

One of the star attractions is a celebrated Celto-Iberian bust from the fifth century BC known as “The Lady of Elche” depicting the bust of a woman wearing elaborate headgear.

The museum also features a reconstruction of Spain’s Altamira Caves and their prehistoric wall paintings of bison, horses, deer and animal-headed humans. The room housing a replica of the remains of 3.2-million-year old female hominid known as “Lucy” features videos that show what life was like during the period when she lived. The fossilised remains were discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia by US scientist Donald Johanson and they are considered one of the world’s most significant archeological finds.

Full article here.

 

  

 
 
Latest British Archaeology magazine featuring the reconstructed bust of a Neanderthal
 
The latest British Archaeology magazine landed on our doormat a few days ago, sporting a stunning cover image of the reconstructed bust of a Neanderthal. As always, the magazine is packed full of fascinating and informative features for everyone (young and old alike) interested in archaeology or the past in general.
 
This addition includes articles on the recently discovered ancient footprints in Norfolk, the Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story exhibition now showing at the Natural History Museum in London and much, much more (see the British Archaeology page here and editor Mike Pitts’ feature here for details.
 
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foot-print-5 
800,000 year-old footprints of the Hominid species, Homo antecessor, found on a Norfolk beach Image credit AHOB/Martin Bates
 
David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent for The Independent, writes today that –
 
Extraordinary new evidence of Britain’s first human inhabitants has been discovered in Norfolk. Around 50 footprints, made by members by an early species of prehistoric humans almost a million years ago, have been revealed by coastal erosion near the village of Happisburgh, in Norfolk, 17 miles north-east of Norwich.
 
The discovery – made by a team of experts from the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and Queen Mary University of London – is one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in Britain and is of great international significance, as the footprints are the first of such great age ever found outside Africa. Indeed even there, only a few other examples have ever come to light – all in Kenya and Tanzania.
 
In Britain, the oldest footprint discoveries prior to the Norfolk finds, had dated from just 7,500 years ago, a tiny fraction of the age of the newly revealed examples.
 
The Happisburgh prints appear to have been made by a small group, perhaps a family, of early humans, probably belonging to the long-extinct Hominid species Homo antecessor (‘Pioneer Man’). Archaeologists are now analysing detailed 3D images of the prints to try to work out the approximate composition of the group. Of the 50 or so examples recorded, only around a dozen were reasonably complete – and only two showed the toes in detail. Tragically, although a full photogrammetric and photographic record has been made, all but one of the prints were rapidly destroyed by incoming tides before they could be physically lifted.
 
Full article here.
   

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