Tag Archives: artifacts

Native American 8,000-year-old stone tool technology discovered in Arabia

An expert modern flintknapper attempting to recreate the American Arabian flutting procedures as they might have happened in prehistoric times. Credit: Jérémie Vosges, CNRS.

An international team of archeologists has come across 8,000-year-old fluted points that are manufactured with Native American technology. This wouldn’t be anything remarkable in itself, were it not for the fact that these artifacts were discovered in Yemen and Oman.

Fluted tools are an advanced form of projectile points, typically spear heads and arrowheads. The manufacturing technique involves chipping an elongated flake along the length of the projectile point, leaving a distinctive groove at the base of the tool.

Fluting is believed to have been invented by early hunter-gatherers in the Americas. Such projectile points have been found all over North America at various sites dating from 13,000 to 10,000 years ago. But despite their ubiquity in North America, these artifacts have never been found elsewhere — until now.

“This work involves excavations from 2004 and 2005 in Yemen and from surveys in Oman in the early 2010s. We really wanted to make new discoveries from a place of the world that is barely explored,”  Dr. Rémy Crassard of the CNRS in France told ZME Science.

Crassard, along with colleagues from Ohio State University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, performed excavations at the sites of Manayzah in Yemen and Ad-Dahariz in Oman. They were stunned to find dozens of fluted points in the Arabian peninsula dating from the Neolithic period, about 8,000 to 7,000 years ago.

Did these distinct ancient cultures exchange ideas and trade although they were separated by thousands of kilometers? That’s almost impossible. Instead, the researchers claim that the Neolithic people in Arabia independently discovered the same flaking technique as the Native Americans — a fine example of cultural convergence, the authors wrote in their study published in PLOS ONE.

“The biggest challenges clearly involve an almost unknown part of the world regarding prehistoric archaeology. This is such a constant excitement to work in Arabia with this in mind, and almost everyday in the field brings new discoveries,” said Crassard.

Just for show?

Fluting is a specific technique that involves the extraction of an elongated flake along the length of a projectile point, leaving a distinctive groove or depression at the base of the spearhead or arrowhead. Credit: Rémy Crassard, CNRS.

However, there’s one key difference between the two manufacturing techniques. Whilst Native Americans employed fluting to make their arrowheads or spreadheads more functional, ancient people in Arabia used it to demonstrate their technical skills.

“Fluting in the Americas is clearly a way to create a hafting zone at the base of the spear point/ arrowhead (the idea is then to produce a hunting weapon, that was highly standardized throughout time and space). In Arabia, they were using this same technique to create a flat zone on the back of the points but as fluting comes from the tip most of the time, the hafting interpretation doesn’t work. It must have been done for other reasons and we tried to argue that it was more related to a form of “bravado” or display of skill, which had implications for other groups who might have been impressed in the expertise, in the highly developed know-how of the people being able to flute, as this operation required a high level of technical knowledge and prowess. We have to remember that the operation of fluting a point might risk breaking the whole piece, which would involve a waste of time and precious high-quality material,” said Crassard.

To demonstrate the craftsmanship required for fluting, as well as the authors’ interpretation of the Arabian findings, the researchers had a master technician in flintknapping attempt to recreate the same projectile points.

Although the technician was already versed, he had to make hundreds of attempts in order to learn the proper way to manufacture stone tools with fluting.

It’s remarkable that some Neolithic craftsmen went through all this costly and time-consuming effort to produce tools with no intended function. But like a peacock’s feather, this display of high-skill manufacturing may have served as a high-status honest signal. Of course, this is rather speculative at this point as the researchers have no way of telling for sure what purpose fluting served in this context.

Manayzah Rockshelter during excavation. Credit: Joy McCorriston, OSU.

Nevertheless, the most remarkable thing about this study is that two distinct cultures separated by thousands of kilometers somehow arrived at the same complex manufacturing technique. And although rare, cultural convergence is known to happen.

“For example, polished stone axes are known from the Western European Neolithic, the Mayan culture of Central America and the 19-20th century tribes of Indonesia. These three examples were never connected in time and space, but the objects produced and found by archaeologists are very similar,” said Crassard.

“We are working in Arabia, in many different regions of the peninsula. We are exploring the development of prehistoric cultures in these areas and trying to understand the evolution of humans and societies,” he added.

3000-year-old abandoned tools show that ancient warriors crossed Europe to join battlefields

Bronze artifact collection dating from 3,300 years ago. Credit: Thomas Terberger.

More than 3,000 years ago, in a swampy valley relatively close to Berlin, Germany, thousands of warriors clashed in an epic battle. Archaeologists know that such a grand battle happened from the countless metal scraps, woody remains, and nearly 12,000 pieces of bones found there, which sank to the bottom of the Tollense River to be preserved for millennia.

Archaeologists discovered the site of the Bronze Age battlefield in the Tollense Valley more than a decade ago. However, it has been only recently that they were able to describe an assemblage of 31 objects retrieved by divers from the bottom of the river. Among the objects, researchers identified three bronze cylinders that may be the fastenings of an organic container, along with a bronze knife, awl, and a small chisel. 

Credit: Antiquity.

“Most of the individuals represent young adult males in good physical condition. The unusual age and sex profiles, combined with evidence for trauma on some bones indicating the use of close- and long-range weapons, support the hypothesis that the remains are those of combat victims. Furthermore, evidence for a number of healed traumatic lesions may suggest that these individuals were trained for, and accustomed to, fighting,” the researchers wrote in the journal Antiquity.

Within a few meters of the bronze objects, divers discovered other artifacts from the battle, including dress pins, a knife with a bone handle, and arrowheads. Bits of preserved wood from the awl were used to date the artifacts to about 1300 B.C.E.

Photograph of human remains found at the battlefield. Credit: Antiquity.

Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist with the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage in Hanover and lead author of the new study, says that this tool kit likely belonged to a warrior who died on the battlefield.

The tools were likely held in a small bag or wooden container that has since decayed. Luckily, the thick mud of the riverbed preserved the artifacts in pristine condition.

“The battlefield site at the Tollense River is very different: no formal burials and no traces of settlement are present in the valley. The many bronze finds suggest that offerings took place in the valley during period III, most probably connected to post-battle rituals. It is also probable, however, that some of the battle participants lost personal equipment in the river, saving it from the looting that inevitably followed the battle,” the researchers wrote.

A previous analysis found that some bones retrieved from the Bronze Age battlefield had different strontium content than those found in people raised in the region. In the new study, the researchers claim that the warrior who owned the toolkit probably originated from southern Central Europe.

Taken together, these findings suggest that 3,000 years ago, warriors in Europe were traveling from hundreds of kilometers away to join battles, which is evidence of social organization at a grand scale during a time when there were no means of modern communication nor roads.

“This conflict should be interpreted in the framework of the social and economic development that characterised Central Europe in the thirteenth-century cal BC.,” the researchers concluded.

The findings appeared in the journal Antiquity.

LiDAR or 3D map of Tikal. Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto.

Scientists find over 60,000 new Maya structures (thanks to LIDAR)

LiDAR or 3D map of Tikal. Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto.

LiDAR or 3D map of Tikal. Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto.

More than 61,000 ancient Maya structures have been uncovered in Guatemala by a team comprised of only 18 researchers. Their secret? Laser tech known as LiDAR that can peer through the dense jungle and create a topographic map of thousands of square miles.

X-raying the jungle for ruins

Tikal (tee-KAL) is a ruined Maya city located in the northern Petén province of Guatemala, which used to be a very important and influential city during the heyday of the Maya Empire (1000 BCE-1500 CE).

The first archaeologists who arrived at Tikal during the late 19th century had to trek several days through the steamy jungle in order to reach the long-lost city.

Today, most of Tikal’s major buildings have been excavated, including structures such as the Plaza of Seven Temples, the Palace at the Central Acropolis and the Lost World complex. However, many other temples, buildings, and roads still lie hidden.

But thanks to modern technology, modern archaeologists don’t have to wander endlessly through the jungle in search for artifacts and hidden ruins.

To peek through the dense vegetation, an international team of researchers strapped LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology on a low-flying aircraft which surveyed 2,100 square kilometers of terrain around Tikal.

Top: Tikal seen above the trees. Bottom: same view, this time stripped of vegetation by LiDAR. Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto/PACUNAM.

Top: Tikal seen above the trees. Bottom: same view, this time stripped of vegetation by LiDAR. Credit: Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto/PACUNAM.

LiDAR or 3D laser scanning was developed in the early 1960s for submarine detection from an aircraft. It works by generating a laser pulse train which can travel through the gaps of dense vegetation. By calculating the time it takes for the laser pulse to reflect back to its source, researchers can determine the elevation of the ground. This way, archaeologists can identify human-made features on the ground, such as walls, roads, and buildings.

According to Marcello A. Canuto, director of the Middle American Research Institute at Tulane, and Francisco Estrada-Belli, a research assistant professor and director of the Holmul Archaeological Project, the team was able to identify more than 60,000 structures in the Petén forest of Guatemala.

LiDAR map of another Maya settlements north of the ancient city of Tikal. Creidt: Luke Auld-Thomas/PACUNAM.

LiDAR map of another Maya settlements north of the ancient city of Tikal. Creidt: Luke Auld-Thomas/PACUNAM.

The breathtaking video below offers a glimpse of the power of LiDAR and the intricate Mayan structures hidden beneath the canopies.

The new findings suggest that the Mayans used more advanced agriculture practices than previously thought. Roads linking many of the urban centers of the time also suggest that Mayan cities were more closely connected than earlier thought.

“It seems clear now that the ancient Maya transformed their landscape on a grand scale in order to render it more agriculturally productive,” said Canuto in a statement. “As a result, it seems likely that this region was much more densely populated than what we have traditionally thought.”

“Seen as a whole, terraces and irrigation channels, reservoirs, fortifications and causeways reveal an astonishing amount of land modification done by the Maya over their entire landscape on a scale previously unimaginable,” Estrada-Belli added.



Bronze artifacts Czech.

A Czech dog just made a stunning archaeological discovery

A dog named Monty is the newest hot topic among archaeologists in the Czech Republic.

Bronze artifacts Czech.

The items Monty unearthed.
Image credits Hradec Králové Region.

Back in March, Monty was out on a walk in the Orlické Mountains (northeastern Bohemia) with his owner, Mr. Frankota, when he made a stunning discovery: a cache of Bronze Age artifacts. The objects unearthed by the pet are in a “surprisingly” good state, archeologists report.


Frankota recounts that Monty rushed off during their walk and started digging frantically. He walked over to check what got his dog so excited and was surprised to see a collection of bronze objects. The stash — which has been donated to the Hradec Králové Region local government — contained 13 sickle blades, 3 axe blades, and two spearheads.

All items were fashioned out of bronze. The wealth of objects, as well as the excellent condition they were buried in, points to a ritual deposit, archeologists believe.

“The fact that there are so many objects in one place is almost certainly tied to an act of honoration, most likely a sacrifice of some sorts,” Martina Beková, an archaeologist at the nearby Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains, told Czech Radio.

“What particularly surprised us was that the objects were whole, because the culture that lived here at the time normally just buried fragments, often melted as well. These objects are beautiful, but the fact that they are complete and in good condition is of much more value to us.”

Beková was part of the team that examined the artifacts after Frankota delivered them to local authorities. They were likely produced by the Urnfield culture, a late Bronze Age Indo-European people that lived in the area. Their name stems from the group’s mortuary practices: they would cremate their dead and bury them in urns in fields.

As of now, the team cannot say for sure how or why the items were buried in the area.

The discovery has local archeologists excited — and rightly so. It’s the largest single finding in the region. They’re currently combing the region with metal detects but, so far, their search proved unfruitful. Still, they’re not about to give up just yet.

“There were some considerable changes to the surrounding terrain over the centuries, so it is possible that the deeper layers are still hiding some secrets,” Sylvie Velčovská from the local regional council.

The artifacts are currently on display as part of the exhibition Journey to the Beginning of Time at the Museum and Gallery of Orlické Mountains, Rychnov, until 21 October 2018. After that, they will undergo conservation and be moved to a permanent exhibition in a museum in Kostelec.

The team also wants to point out that archeologists often work with lucky discoveries made by members of the public or during excavation works; if you happen to stumble into some artifacts, you should notify local authorities (archeological items are considered government property in most states). It’s not a one-sided deal, either: Frankota was awarded 7,860 CZK (roughly US$360) for the items.

Hopefully, some of that will go towards buying Monty some well-deserved treats.

An Israeli power plant worker might have found a hand grenade that the Crusaders used

A host of ancient treasures was retrieved from off the coast of Israel, containing what could possibly be one of the world’s oldest hand grenades, a weapon dating back to the time of the crusaders.

The artifacts were found at sea, off the coast of Israel.
Image credits Diego Barkan / Israel Antiquities Authority.

Several metal artifacts, some of which are more than 3,500 years old, were retrieved over a period of a few years by Marcel Mazliah, a late worker at the Hadera power plant in northern Israel. Mazliah’s family recently presented the objects to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA,) whose experts believe that the objects fell overboard from a medieval metal merchant’s ship.

Hand grenades, surprisingly enough, were a common weapon in Israel during the Crusades, which spanned from the 11th century until the 13th, according to the IAA. They also saw important use in the 12th and 13h century Ayyubid period and during the Mamluk era, from the 13th to the 16th century. Haaretz reports that these early grenades were used to disperse burning liquid on enemy formations, to break them apart and soften them up before a charge.

The presumed hand grenade was found in sea sediments and is hundreds of years old.
Image credits Amir Gorzalczany / Israel Antiquities Authority.

However, some experts believe that the so-called grenades had a different purpose altogether — they may have been ancient perfume containers.

Among the artifacts found by Mazliah are a toggle pin head and a knife-head from the Middle Bronze Age, both more than 3,500 years old. Ayala Lester, a curator at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said that the other items found, including two pestles and candlestick fragments, date back to the 11th century Fatimid period.

“The items were apparently manufactured in Syria and were brought to Israel,” she said, in a statement. “The finds are evidence of the metal trade that was conducted during this period.”

Israel is a hot-bed for ancient artifacts. Fabrics from king Solomon’s time have been discovered at one of antiquity’s most important mining areas, and glass foundries which sold their goods all over the Roman Empire have been found here. So what do you think about this latest find? Was this a tool for destruction — or seduction?


The mysterious USO (unidentified sunken object) sonar scan. If you look closer, you'll see some trails leading to it. (c) Ocean Explorer/Peter Lindberg

Swedish explorers stumble across the Millennium Falcon beneath the sea?

The mysterious USO (unidentified sunken object) sonar scan. If you look closer, you'll see some trails leading to it. (c) Ocean Explorer/Peter Lindberg

The mysterious USO (unidentified sunken object) sonar scan. If you look closer, you'll see some trails leading to it. (c) Ocean Explorer/Peter Lindberg

Well, I guess Han Solo should be more careful where he parks his spaceship from now, since Swedish treasure hunters just recently found an unidentified object beneath the Baltic seas which portrays an uncanny resemblance to Star Wars’ most iconic of spaceships.

The whole find occured while the Ocean Explorer team, led by researcher Peter Lindberg, were looking for cases of rare champagne through ship wrecks with their sonar. They eventually found something more that they could bargain for – 60-foot disc sunk in the bottom of the ocean, with what appears to be 985-foot-long impact tracks leading to it.

“You see a lot of weird stuff in this job but during my 18 years as a professional I have never seen anything like this. The shape is completely round… a circle”, Peter Lindberg said.

Of course, the whole discovery left a lot of room for speculation, and before you know it there’s been a myriad of blogs and newspapers hailing the USO (unidentified sunken object) as an alien craft. Other, more reasonable, explanations have it that the sonar scan actually depicts a natural formation,  such as the rim of a small underground volcano. The shape is too perfectly round to be anything but man-made, some believe, however – their explination: a sunken WWII battleship turret.

Lindberg has refrained from hypothesizing on what the object could be, perhaps allowing the tale to grow.

“It’s up to the rest of the world to decide what it is,” he said of the item he theorizes “might be a new Stonehenge.”

A tight budget has been keeping the team of explorers from taking a closer look, but undoubtedly considering the hype that’s been built around it, another better equipped team will be sent to further investigate.

I guess people are still waiting for George Lucas’ take on this. James Cameron could do just fine too.