Tag Archives: jewelry

Archaeologists discover stunning, ancient gold trove in Cyprus

In 2018, archaeologists at the New Swedish Cyprus Expedition struck gold — quite literally. They discovered two Bronze Age tombs, both underground chambers, in the ancient city of Hala Sultan Tekke. Hala Sultan Teke is a mosque and tekke complex in the capital of Cyprus, Larnaca, built on one of the largest Bronze Age archaeological sites. Based on these new findings, the site may be even more important than previously thought.

Some jewelry pieces found in the tombs resemble designs worn by Queen Nefertiti. Image credits: Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge.

The excavations were made by researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden as part of the “New Swedish Expedition” which started in 2010. The team discovered burial chambers that must have belonged to a family (or families) of great wealth. Overall, the research team found 150 human remains and over 500 funeral goods, including many pieces containing gold and jewelry. The remains were placed one over the other, suggesting that the burial chamber would have been used for multiple generations. Most likely, it was the mausoleum of the city’s rulers.

“The finds indicate that these are family tombs for the ruling elite in the city,” excavation leader Peter Fischer, professor emeritus of historical studies at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, said in a statement.

“For example, we found the skeleton of a 5-year-old with a gold necklace, gold earrings and a gold tiara. This was probably a child of a powerful and wealthy family.”

A gold necklace found at the site. Image credits: Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge.

It’s pretty obvious that for the family, the mausoleum had a significant importance. It wasn’t just a simple burial chamber, it also served a ceremonial role. Testament to this is a particular artifact uncovered inside.

“We also found a ceramic bull,” Fischer said. “The body of this hollow bull has two openings: one on the back to fill it with a liquid, likely wine, and one at the nose to drink from. Apparently, they had feasts in the chamber to honor their dead.”

As if the jewelry pieces weren’t remarkable enough, upon closer analysis, archaeologists found that they belong to different cultures. For instance, there is a blue lapis lazuli gemstone from Afghanistan, a red carnelian gemstone from India, and amber from around the Baltic Sea — valuables from the trade partners of the kingdom at the time. Another notable find is a cylinder-shaped seal made of a mineral called hematite and inscribed in cuneiform, the written language of ancient Mesopotamia. The cuneiform text mentions three names: two historical kings (father and son) from the 18th century BC, as well as Amurru, a god worshipped in the Akkadian and Sumerian kingdoms. “We are currently trying to determine why the seal ended up in Cyprus more than 1000 kilometres from where it was made,” the researchers said in a statement.

For historians, the ceramics discovered at the same are almost as important as the jewels themselves, because they offer valuable cultural information.

“The way that the ceramics changed in appearance and material over time allows us to date them and study the connections these people had with the surrounding world. What fascinates me most is the wide-ranging network of contacts they had 3,400 years ago,” Fischer explains.

A large ceramic pot featuring Grecian war chariots. Image credits: Peter Fischer, Teresa Bürge.

All of the objects from the excavation that have been processed and studied are stored in museums in Nicosia and Larnaca in Cyprus.

Now, the next step for researchers is to carry out genetic analysis on the remains discovered there and piece together as much as possible about this dynasty.

“This will reveal how the different individuals are related with each other and if there are immigrants from other cultures, which isn’t unlikely considering the vast trade networks,” says Peter Fischer.

“The last necklace made by the Neanderthals” included eagle talons and is teaching us about our ancient cousins

A new study reports on the first discovery of eagle talons being used as ornaments by Neanderthals in the Iberian Peninsula (today’s Spain).

Imperial eagle falange with cut marks from Cave Foradada.
Image credits Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

Eagle talons are considered to be one of the first (if not the first) elements that Neanderthals used to make jewelry from. The practice was documented to be quite common and widespread throughout Southern Europe, based on archeological evidence from between 120,000 and 40,000 years ago.

Researchers have now found evidence of the same practice in the Iberian Peninsula, at the Foradada cave in Calafell, Spain. This is the most recent piece of its kind found, and the first one to be discovered in the region. The findings show that the Neanderthal practice of using of eagle talons in jewelry was much more widespread (both geographically and through historical time) than previously assumed.

Among the last of its kind

“Neanderthals used eagle talons as symbolic elements, probably as necklace pendants, from the beginnings of the mid Palaeolithic”, notes Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo, a researcher at the Institute of Evolution in Africa (IDEA) and the study’s lead author.

At the site, researchers unearthed the left leg bones of a Spanish Imperial Eagle (Aquila Adalberti) from 39,000 years ago. Marks on the bones suggest that the bird was retrieved and processed with the intent of making pendants, as the marks are indicative of efforts to remove the talons. By the looks of the marks, and analogy regarding remains from different prehistorical sites and ethnographic documentation, researchers determined that the animal was not manipulated for consumption but for symbolic reasons.

The findings correspond to the châtelperronian culture, typically-seen in the last Neanderthal groups in Europe. The châtelperronian culture was in full swing as our ancient cousins made contact with modern humans moving in from Africa and the Middle East. Juan Ignacio Morales, a researcher in the program Juan de la Cierva affiliated at SERP and signer of the article, presents this use of eagle talons as ornaments could have been a cultural transmission from the Neanderthals to modern humans, who adopted this practice after reaching Europe.

Eagle talons are the oldest ornamental items discovered so far in Europe. The team explains that they’re older even than the seashells modern humans (perforated and) wore while still inhabiting Africa. The current study deals with the most modern such talon piece from the Iberian Peninsula — where the last Neanderthals in Europe lived. To the best of our knowledge, this is “the last necklace made by the Neanderthals”, according to Antonio Rodríguez-Hidalgo.

The paper “The Châtelperronian Neanderthals of Cova Foradada (Calafell, Spain) used imperial eagle phalanges for symbolic purposes” has been published in the journal Science Advances.

Châtelperronian body ornaments and bone points from the Grotte du Renne in Arcy-sur-Cure. Credit: Marian Vanhaeren

Neanderthals used to make jewelry and symbolic ornaments, a find that puts an old debate to rest

Châtelperronian body ornaments and bone points from the Grotte du Renne in Arcy-sur-Cure. Credit: Marian Vanhaeren

Châtelperronian body ornaments and bone points from the Grotte du Renne in Arcy-sur-Cure. Credit: Marian Vanhaeren

Grotte du Renne is an archaeological site in Arcy-sur-Cure, France. It is here that for more than a century anthropologists have found countless artifacts and hominid remains, so many that they’ve called it the Châtelperronian industry. Among these artifacts we can remind beads of animal teeth, shells, and ivory, some of which are engraved and carefully shaped. But despite the jewelry — or what looks like it — and fragile bone tools were found in the same layers as fossils from Neandertals, most scientists refused to believe that our Neanderthalian cousins were capable of symbolistic expression.

Professor Matthew Collins, Director of BioArCh at the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, may have put this long-lasting debate to rest. He and colleagues from Unversity of York, in close collaboration with the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, used a novel technique that used protein amino acid analysis and radiocarbon dating to discriminate between modern human and Neanderthal remains.

The biological origin of the Châtelperronian people has been long disputed because the passage of time destroyed DNA beyond recovery. Absent our most reliable forensic tool for identifying and differentiating organisms, speculations ran amock. For instance, some scientists tried to explain the dilemma of Châtelperronian artifacts sourced from the same layer of sediments as Neanderthal remains by suggesting investigators accidentally mixed different layers. Few seriously entertained the possibility that Neanderthals were capable of such craftsmanship.

Collins and colleagues used their peptide mass fingerprinting technique to identify 28 hominin specimens from the bone fragments collected at the Grotte du Renne. But did these belong to modern humans or Neanderthals? To get to the bottom of things, the researchers determined the chemical composition of collagen in the bone fragments. The analysis suggests the collagen was once rich in an amino acid called asparagine. Modern human collagen contains high amounts of aspartic acid, though, and previous studies found Neanderthals had genes that code for specific collagen production of an asparagine-rich version.

“These methods open up new avenues of research throughout Late Pleistocene contexts in which hominin remains are scarce and where the biological nature of remains is unclear due to ancient DNA not being preserved. This represents a significant advance in palaeoproteomic phylogenetics and is of direct relevance to our understanding of hominin evolution,” Collins said in a statement.

Additionally, the collagen was found in bone that was still growing suggesting it belonged to a juvenile. A high concentration of nitrogen isotopes also suggests that the child was breast-feeding. So, at least part of the fragments from Grotte du Renne analyzed by the researchers came from a Neanderthal infant — a 42,000-year-old infant, based on radiocarbon dating, which corresponds to the dating made for the beads, tools and other artifacts found in the same place.

“The process of replacement of archaic local populations by modern humans in Eurasia is still poorly understood, as the makers of many palaeolithic tool-kits of this time period remain unknown. This type of research now allows us to extract unrecognisable human fragments out of large archaeological assemblages and to revisit the mode and the tempo of this major event in human evolution with fresh material,” said Professor Hublin, at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

More importantly, maybe, is that we have yet another study that shows Neanderthals were a lot more cognitively-gifted than many give them credit for.

Dutch designer creates device that turns smog into beautiful jewelry

Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde created a new air purifier that he hopes will be the answer to today’s smog-choked urban environments. All the particles that the device captures are then made into jewelry.

The Smog Free Tower.
Image credits wikimedia user Bic

Not so long ago a Canadian company started raking in money selling canned air in China. Everyone was talking about it, and it seemed to me that most conversations ended along the lines of “poor people, I wouldn’t want to live somewhere like that.” While China is an especially powerful example because the smog over Beijing is terrifying to behold, things aren’t much better in the US either. Air quality in most cities is just terrible — the American Lung Association estimates that about 4 in 10 of its people live in counties with “unhealthy” levels of ozone or particle pollution. In most cases, conditions are only getting worse.

Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde decided to do something about it. He created the Smog Free Tower, a 7 meter (23 foot) tall, six-sided air purifier. The tower-like structure is intended to be used in parks and acts like a vacuum, sucking in smog at the top and releasing squeaky-clean air through its vents. The device uses 1,400 watts of energy to clean more than 30,000 cubic meters (roughly 1,060,000 cubic feet) of air per hour. According to Roosegaarde:

“By charging the Smog Free Tower with a small positive current, an electrode will send positive ions into the air. These ions will attach themselves to fine dust particles,” the project’s Kickstarter page states.

“A negatively charged surface – the counter electrode – will then draw the positive ions in, together with the fine dust particles. The fine dust that would normally harm us, is collected together with the ions and stored inside of the tower. This technology manages to capture ultra-fine smog particles which regular filter systems fail to do.”

A simple and very effective method; however, the Tower isn’t just a cleaning device — Roosegaarde designed so that the fine carbon particles trapped by the filters can be pressed into tiny “gem stones,” to be embedded in jewelry. Each of the tiny stones is roughly equivalent to 1,000 cubic meters of purified air.

Image credits Daan Roosegaarde.

Roosegaarde got his funding via Kickstarter and spent three years researching and developing the Tower. The first prototype is currently in Rotterdam, but the designer aims to take his towers to Beijing, Mexico City, Paris, and Los Angeles.

Cleaner air and fancy jewelry from the same device? That’s saving two birds with one tower.

Neanderthal jewelry was much more sophisticated than previously believed

Recent archaeological and anthropological research showed that Neanderthals weren’t the mindless brutes we once thought they were – they were smart, organized, they had their own speech and interbred with early humans. Now, a new study has found evidence that 130,000 years ago, Neanderthals also designed elaborate jewelry, a degree of sophistication never seen before for that time.

Cuts and notches on the talons (shown above) suggest they were strung on sinew as a bracelet or necklace.

“It’s really a stunning discovery. It’s one of those things that just appeared out of the blue. It’s so unexpected and it’s so startling because there’s just nothing like it until very recent times to find this kind of jewelry,” said David Frayer, a professor emeritus of anthropology. “It’s associated with fossils that people don’t like to consider to be human.”

Archaeologists in Croatia found eight talons taken from a white-tailed eagle, and after analyzing them, concluded that they were used to create a necklace or bracelet. The talons were actually discovered 100 years ago, but the team that worked there initially didn’t even consider the possibility that Neanderthals turned them into something ornamental. Polishing and cut marks are evident, but despite this, no one gave them much attention, until now.

Smarter than we thought: the eagle talons shown above were found at a site inhabited by Neanderthals and are the earliest example of jewellery yet discovered, according to researchers who have re-examined them 100 years after they were found.

Frayer says there’s “no doubt” they were made by Neanderthals because they were dated 80,000 years before humans actually entered Europe, which means that only Neanderthals could be responsible. The pieces were likely strung on a piece of sinew and worn for symbolic purposes. Dr Frayer added:

“These talons provide multiple new lines of evidence for Neandertals’ abilities and cultural sophistication. They are the earliest evidence for jewellery in the European fossil record and demonstrate that Neandertals possessed a symbolic culture long before more modern human forms arrived in Europe.”

Still, it’s not clear if the jewelry was purely ornamental or also carried some spiritual importance; many archaeologists believe that Neanderthals did not develop any spiritual habits or rituals on their own, and this is only something they took from humans. If the jewelry did have a spiritual purpose, it would clearly refute that theory.

The talons were discovered at a site inhabited by Neanderthals close to the town of Krapina in northern Croatia.

“Some have argued that Neandertals lacked symbolic ability or copied this behavior from modern humans. These remains clearly show that the Krapina Neandertals made jewelry well before the appearance of modern humans in Europe, extending ornament production and symbolic activity early into the European Mousterian.”

Previously, the oldest found jewelry was dated 100,000 years ago, created by humans in Israel and Africa.

Dr Simon Underdown, an anthropologist at Oxford Brookes University, said the discovery of the talons forces us to change our understanding of Neanderthals even more. It’s clear that they were intelligent, adaptable and creative – perhaps even more so than humans, at least at one point.

“One, that they made symbolic objects which clearly means they thought in a very similar way to us, and two, much more importantly, that they were capable of making complex symbolic objects in complete isolation from us. Similar evidence from France dated to around 35,000 years ago is sometimes held up as an example of neanderthals copying us. But the date and location of the Krapina material means that this is clear evidence of independent Neanderthal innovation at its best. The last five years has seen our view of Neanderthals revolutionised – it is time to put the stupid cave man image to bed once and for all.”