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Reuters has reported that archaeologists in Serbia have discovered a Roman sarcophagus that was intact and had been undisturbed for almost two thousand years. It was unearthed in Viminacium, an ancient Roman city, located in modern-day Serbia, some 75 miles (120 km) from Belgrade. The find is important but is also leading to questions, regarding what other treasures are yet to be unearthed at this unique archaeological site.
Part of the excavated Viminacium archaeological site. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
The Roman Base at Viminacium
The site was originally a Roman military base that was located on an important road. The original army camp grew in size and eventually became a significant city with a population estimated to be some 40,000 people. Vimiacium had its own bathhouse and hippodrome and it became the provincial capital of the important province of Moesia (Serbia). The city was destroyed by the Huns in the 5 th century AD but was later re-built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian . After a century of prosperity, the Slavs razed the city in the 7 th century and it was never reoccupied.
Viminacium was one of the few Roman urban centers that were not overbuilt with a modern city such as is the case with London or Strasbourg. The site was not properly excavated until the 19 th century. It has yielded some remarkable artifacts such as mosaics inscribed with enigmatic magical charms and spells. Serbian archaeologists have discovered some 13,500 tombs and sarcophagi at the site down the years but most of the area has not been investigated. According to Reuters ‘so far, only about 4 percent of it has been explored’.
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Ruins of the mausoleum at Viminacium. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )
A team from the Archaeological Institute of Serbia discovered the sarcophagus as part of an ongoing campaign at the Viminacium site. They discovered the tomb, opened it and were amazed at what they discovered. This is because the site has often been looted in the past and farmers have plowed the area for centuries. Finding a sarcophagus that is intact is regarded as remarkable. The artifacts and the skeletons were taken to the Serbian capital to be examined by experts.
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The sarcophagus was discovered intact and seemingly undisturbed for 2000 years. ( Youtube Screenshot )
In the burial, there were two complete skeletons, who had been laid side by side. There was no evidence of physical trauma on the bones. One of the skeletons belongs to a man and he was middle-aged and tall for the time. The other skeleton belonged to a woman who was slim and somewhat younger than the male. It is possible that the two skeletons are those of a married couple, but this has not been established definitively.
Two skeletons were found in a sarcophagus uncovered at the Viminacium archaeological site. Image: Youtube Screenshot
The female skeleton was still adorned with jewellery. There were golden earrings in the shape of flowers and some beautifully crafted hairpins found. A golden necklace was also discovered by the archaeologists on the remains of the woman. Laid alongside the female skeleton were a silver mirror and three perfume bottles made of glass. The male skeleton had a silver belt buckle and was still wearing some shoes. Other items found inside the grave included a ring.
The grave goods are telling experts a great deal about the individuals who were buried in the sarcophagus. The goods found would have been of great value and beyond the means of ordinary people and probably belonged to the more affluent members of Viminacium society. Live Science reports that Ivan Mikic of the Archaeological Institute of Serbia has stated: " we can conclude that these two people surely belonged to a higher social class".
The surprising find of an intact sarcophagus at the site indicates the wealth and sophistication of Viminacium. It also demonstrates the standard of living in a Roman provincial capital. Perhaps the most important aspect of the discovery is that it raises the possibility of many more finds at the site. However, there are concerns that the find will lead to looters digging at the huge site and stealing precious artifacts.
2,000-year-old sleeping beauty buried with silk and ornate mirror discovered in Siberia
Archaeological investigation in the southern part of Siberia has brought to light the mummified remains of a woman, buried in silk and surrounded by riches. Discovered on the bank of the Yenisei River upstream of the gigantic Sayano-Shushenskaya dam, near the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk, the grave remained untouched on account of being underwater for several decades.
Dubbed as the “sleeping beauty”, the mummy – wearing a silk skirt – dates back to circa 1st century AD, archaeologists from the Institute for the History of Material Culture at St. Petersburg stated. She was found buried inside a stone coffin, which incidentally was what kept her remains intact despite being underwater since the 1980s. Speaking about the findings, archaeologist Marina Kilunovskaya said –
The mummy of a young woman was found inside a grave at the burial ground Terezin on the shore of a water reservoir. The lower part of the body is well-preserved. It is not a classical mummy, though. The grave remained tightly sealed under the stone cover all along. The body underwent natural mummification.
Interestingly, the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam – located near Sayanogorsk in Khakassia – is currently the largest power plant in Russia and also the ninth largest hydroelectric plant in the entire world. Every year during May and June, the waters around the reservoir recede, thus making the archaeological sites in the area accessible to archaeologists. The tomb of the sleeping beauty in Siberia was opened and surveyed for the first time this May.
Sleeping Beauty Buried With Silk Clothing, Chinese Mirror
Apart from the skeletal remains, researchers exploring the site also uncovered soft tissues, fabric fragments and a range of other funerary goods, still perfectly intact. Based on the clothing adorning the deceased, the team concluded that the 2,000-year-old grave belonged to a young nomadic Hun, possibly of higher social status. She could also have been a noble, the archaeologists added. Elaborating further, the Institute’s Deputy Director Natalya Solovieva stated –
On the mummy are what we believe to be silk clothes, a beaded belt with a jet buckle, apparently with a pattern. Near the head was found a round wooden box covered with birch-bark in which lay a Chinese mirror in a felt case.
Among the burial goods recovered from the site were two vessels, one of which was a typical Hun-style vase. Ceramic utensils often accompanied the deceased, as per Hun burial practices. Both of the vessels, according to the researchers, contained the remnants of what appears to have been a funeral meal. Additionally, a small pouch of pine nuts was also found on her chest.
The 2,000-year-old skeleton has already been removed from its burial place in Siberia, with its restoration currently underway. The researchers are hopeful that further analysis of the remains found inside the grave will reveal more information about her life and times.
Like the sleeping beauty, there are several other instances of natural mummification, where the skin and organs of the deceased person/animal were accidentally preserved without the use of chemicals. Historically, natural mummification has generally been the result of lack of environmental oxygen, extreme cold or arid conditions. Discovered quite accidentally by a group of hikers in 1991 in the Oetztal Alps (in modern-day north Italy), Ötzi the Iceman, for instance, had been entombed underneath an alpine glacier for nearly 5,300 years.
Interestingly, a research done in 2015 also established how Ötzi (or Oetzi) is the oldest known tattooed human in history, with as many as 61 markings spread across 19 parts of his well-preserved body. More recently, researchers reconstructed a ‘fairly reliable approximation’ of the Iceman’s voice in accordance to the vocal components of the mummy.
Earlier this month, archaeologists working at the site of Viminacium, an ancient Roman city located in present-day Serbia, discovered a well-preserved sarcophagus containing a variety of treasures, including a silver mirror, glass perfume bottles and gold jewelry. The rectangular sarcophagus, as per reports, houses the skeletal remains of two upper-class Romans.
According to Ilija Mikic, an anthropologist overseeing the excavation, the skeletons belonged to a tall, middle-aged man and a slim younger woman. The latter was found adorned with golden earrings, a necklace as well as several ornate hairpins. Additionally, researchers uncovered a silver mirror and three delicate glass perfume bottles around the female inside the sarcophagus. A silver belt buckle, along with the remnants of shoes, were discovered on and around the male skeleton.
Initial Neanderthal from Serbia
The Neanderthals were a group of ancient humans who lived in western Eurasia during the Pleistocene epoch. Their earliest ancestors lived in Spain almost half of a million years ago, and their range gradually expanded eastward through European countries as well as the Levant and as far as Siberia.
But around 100,000 years back, contemporary people (like us) began to migrate out of Africa and into Eurasia. By 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals began to disappear completely from European countries, retreating westward as contemporary humans relocated in on the territory. And, around 30,000 years ago, the final staying Neanderthals in Spain not survived.
The timing of the Neanderthal demise additionally the modern peoples conquest of European countries can&rsquot be considered a coincidence. 10 years ago, many paleoanthropologists would have told you our two groups had been competitors: Neanderthals had been bigger and more powerful, but we had been smarter, and in the battle for success within the harsh landscape, brains beat down brawn.
Attitudes quickly changed in 2010 if the Neanderthal genome was sequenced for the first time, and along with it we discovered that all living humans outside of sub-Saharan Africa carry a small amount of Neanderthal DNA. More recently, we&rsquove discovered that they carried a number of our genes too.
This means that, at the least a few of the time, our two groups had been fans rather than fighters. We&rsquove never found contemporary human and Neanderthal skeletons together during the same website, so it&rsquos possible these romantic flings had been rare exceptions. But we don&rsquot have actually any clear evidence of violence involving the two groups either, so that the question remains open.
Untouched for 3,600 years, ‘royal’ tomb may change what we know about Canaanites
Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.
A 3,600-year-old undisturbed Canaanite burial chamber fit for a king has been unsealed at Tel Megiddo.
Revealing opulent burial goods, the chamber gives invaluable insight into the civilization’s funeral customs — and just may shift scholars’ conceptions of the era’s religious rites.
The surprise find, labelled Tomb 50, was unearthed during the 2016 dig season at Megiddo. Once opened, the mouth of the burial chamber revealed three intact skeletons adorned with gold and silver jewelry. Surrounding the intact skeletons were luxurious grave goods from all corners of the Middle East, and a feast of food offerings for the afterlife. In the back of the masonry-constructed chamber tomb was a “bone heap” of disarticulated relics with six other co-mingled individuals, and some jewelry.
Excavation co-director Prof. Israel Finkelstein was filmed during the exciting exposition of the tomb. His initial reaction was that the impressive burial chamber was obviously used for royalty.
“When you’re here,” he said to his colleagues, gesturing to the ground, “and the [Bronze Age] palace is 15-20 meters from us, and you don’t have 125 [tombs] like these around us, so this may be ‘the’ nobility. I mean, what else can it be?” asked Finkelstein in a short movie about the 2016 dig season.
After unsealing the tomb, the team saw findings which appear to confirm this hypothesis: The archaeologists discovered the intact remains of a middle-aged male bedecked with a skillfully-made gold diadem, along with other well-crafted jewelry. The two other full skeletons on display were also adorned and were of a 8-10-year-old child and a woman in her mid-30s, according to a National Geographic article, which first publicized the new find.
Finkelstein has since dated the untouched tomb to the summit of the Canaanite civilization, the later phase of the Middle Bronze Age (around 1700-1600 BCE). He told The Times of Israel in a recent email it was “easy” to date, based on the vessels discovered in it and those found in the layer above it, dating to ca. 1550-1500 BCE.
Also pointing to the possibility of a royal tomb is the fact that it is adjacent to a Bronze Age palace uncovered in the 1930s. Finkelstein said the chamber “must have been used for a while, perhaps several decades. With the data at hand for now, we cannot say more.”
The team will resume excavation there in a few months, during the 2018 summer dig season. Currently, DNA testing is being done on the human remains. The results will be compared with DNA from other tombs at Megiddo, as well as other ancient Canaanite DNA, such as that used in British study released this summer which found that 93 percent of modern Lebanese ancestry comes from the Canaanites.
As to why the tomb was sealed and left untouched after the final three burials, Finkelstein said, “We have no idea. [There was] no clue from the dig, at least not for the time being.”
But for the Megiddo Expedition‘s expert on Canaanite funerary rites, Melissa Cradic, there are many dots that can already be connected to paint a preconception-shattering picture of these “pagans” and their rituals.
Revelation at Armageddon
Known for its apocalyptic name Armageddon (a corruption of the Hebrew Har Megiddo, Mount Megiddo), the northern Israel site hosted a continuously inhabited settlement from 7,000 BCE to circa 500 BCE.
According to Tel Aviv University’s Finkelstein, Megiddo appears in “all the great archives of the Middle East.” In addition to the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, it is mentioned in Assyrian, Egyptian, and Hittite documents. Even in more modern periods, the ancient military and trade routes were still in use until the end of the Ottoman Empire’s rule there in 1918.
“When a site is mentioned in so many historical records, you can make a link between the site and historical processes,” said Finkelstein in the 2016 season’s video. As an archaeologist who “wished to resolve problems” concerning the historical and archaeological records of the Bronze and Iron Ages, for Finkelstein, “this is the place.”
Ahead of his initial excavation season in 1994, Finkelstein wrote about his site choice in a Biblical Archaeology Review article: “Because Megiddo is a cornerstone in the archaeology of Israel, the unresolved issues at the site are in many ways critical for the archaeological and historical study of the entire Levant.”
The current bi-annual dig is the fourth scientific excavation of the site. It began in 1994, headed by archaeologists Finkelstein and David Ussishkin. Currently, in addition to Finkelstein, Matthew J. Adams, director of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem, is also a co-director of the Megiddo Expedition, as well as Tel Aviv University’s Mario Martin.
The team works with experts in subsets of the field of archaeology, including Tel Aviv University’s Dafna Langgut (archeobotany), Lidar Sapir-Hen (archeozoology), Meirav Meiri (ancient DNA), and Brown University’s Rachel Kalisher (osteology).
California-based Cradic is responsible for burial rites. Her currently embargoed doctoral dissertation focuses on Canaanite funerary rituals, using recently excavated material from Megiddo.
Back in 2016, she was onsite at the exposition of the intact tomb, which she called an “exhilarating and truly thrilling experience from start to finish… It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we all felt incredibly lucky and privileged to have unimpeded access to such an incredible context.”
“The incredible state of preservation of Tomb 50 offers an important opportunity for comprehensive scientific study of the ancient population and their funerary practices. We are studying diet and health, mobility and migration, ancient DNA, organic residues, environment, and issues of identity using the osteological and material remains. We took great care to excavate extremely carefully and to collect samples for a wide range of studies in consultation with specialists at the top of their fields,” said Cradic.
In a series of lengthy emails, Cradic enlightened The Times of Israel to the implications of the “royal” tomb’s finds in her field of funerary rites.
Not just a heap of bones
Cradic, whose dissertation is under a publication embargo through 2019, recently published an article, which deals with funerary rituals from a similar “although less elite” tomb at Megiddo, in the Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research titled, “Embodiments of Death: The Funerary Sequence and Commemoration in the Bronze Age Levant.”
The article, based on Megiddo’s Tomb 100, is revelatory on a number of fronts, but especially in addressing the significance of “bone heaps” that are found in a number of tombs of the era. Based on several points, including what appears to be the practice of continually moving and displaying relics of the deceased, Cradic writes that these heaps are hardly refuse that was casually “swept away.”
Cradic proposes that, in fact, these bones could represent a life cycle transition in which the deceased passes into the status of “ancestor.” The relics of ancestors, as opposed to normative skeletal remains, were regularly used in religious rites.
In her recent article, Cradic writes, “The commingling of skeletal remains represents the end result of a series of highly ritualized, symbolic depositional episodes in which mourners actively handled and removed deceased bodies from their original placements.”
A testing ground frozen in time
The intact Tomb 50 gives Cradic an unprecedented chance to observe — Pompeii-like — a burial frozen in medias res.
Cradic said that at the mouth of the chamber, there is “abundant evidence of care and feeding of the dead through food deposits (animal bones, charred organic remains) found in situ in plates and bowls that were positioned carefully near the three intact bodies.”
She also describes “relatively dense deposits of fragmented animal bones, charcoal, cooking installations, and imported Cypriot pottery directly above the tomb, which could indicate ongoing commemoration at the grave-site after it was sealed.”
Perhaps, much like some Jews who gather together on a yearly anniversary of a loved one’s death, these ancient Canaanites also memorialized their ancestors with a graveside meal or ritual.
But it is her theory about the significance of the co-mingled relics that is most interesting. Cradic postulates that the bone heap at the back of the tomb are in the “‘ancestor’ category for two reasons: (1) the ritualized encounters with the original bodies after burial (2) the special investment in the construction of the chamber and material assemblage,” said Cradic.
In the “royal” tomb, we find what she calls a “ritualized deposition.” “The bones became jumbled together due to being moved around within the chamber at least once,” said Cradic.
In observing the jumbled relics, she said it is quite possible that they were moved before full decomposition of the flesh.
From observing the physical evidence, Cradic paints a grim, graphic picture of the environment and what took place in Tomb 50, the royal tomb, during its use.
“From the evidence of Megiddo’s chamber tombs, it appears that it was an acceptable and perhaps important component of the funerary ritual to interact with corpses before full decomposition. This also allows insight into the conditions of the tomb from the perspective of the survivors, and what they may have experienced in terms of sights, smells, and tactile experiences with the corpses/skeletons.”
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The centerpiece of today’s presentation in Melbourne is a gladiator’s helmet, left in the ruins of Pompeii. The 2,000-year-old bronze helmet is one of 250 items brought together at the Melbourne Museum to illustrate life in the ancient city.
Brett Dunlop, the museum curator, says the helmet survived the Vesuvius and was recovered 200 years ago.
In the most likely storeroom in the gymnasium region, a large number of gladiator helmets and shoulder guards were found, “he said. ‘Most definitely the gladiators who were able to would have fled away when the volcano was erupting and a large number of pieces of their equipment were left behind.
The helmet would have been worn by ‘murmillo’, a type of gladiator during the Roman Imperial age. The distinguishing feature of the murmillo was the high crest of his helmet which, together with its broad rim, was shaped somewhat like a fish. The murmillo took his name from this fish-shaped helmet the word comes from the Greek word for a type of saltwater fish.
Otherwise, he wore a loincloth, belt, short greaves on the lower parts of his legs, a linen arm protector to protect his right arm, and the curved rectangular shield of the Roman legionary. He also carried the legionary’s short, straight sword, or gladius, from which gladiators derived their name.
The murmillo usually fought gladiators styled after ancient Greek fighters, with whom he shared some of the same equipment (notably arm guards and greaves).
A galea was a Roman soldier’s helmet. Some gladiators, myrmillones, also wore a bronze galea with a face mask and a decoration, often a fish on its crest.
The exact form or design of the helmet varied significantly over time, between differing unit types, and also between individual examples – pre-industrial production was by hand – so it is not certain to what degree there was any standardization even under the Roman Empire.
Originally, Roman helmets were influenced by the neighboring Etruscans, people who utilized the “Nasua” type helmets. The Greeks in the south also influenced Roman design in the early history of Rome.
For instance, the ancestor of the Chalcidian helmet, the Attic helmet, was widely used by officers until the end of the empire. Lastly, the Gauls were the peoples who most impacted the design of the Roman helmet hence the popular “Imperial Gallic” type helmets. In addition to this, it is commonly thought that the Gauls also introduced chainmail to the Romans.
The primary evidence is scattered archaeological finds, which are often damaged or incomplete. There are similarities between form and function between them.
A number of ancient authors, including Valerius Maximus and Quintillian, assert that he also regularly battled the net fighter. It would certainly have been a logical pairing, contrasting a slow but heavily armoured gladiator with a fast but lightly equipped one.
Examples of the pairing between murmillones and other gladiator types can be seen in frescos and graffiti in Pompeii. In one well-preserved example, a murmillo named Marcus Atillus, who is credited with one match and one victory, is depicted standing over the defeated figure of Lucius Raecius Felix, a gladiator with 12 matches and 12 victories.
His opponent is shown kneeling, disarmed and unhelmeted. The graffiti records that Felix survived the fight and was granted his freedom. A gladiator (Latin: gladiator, “swordsman”, from gladius, “sword”) was an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals.
Some gladiators were volunteers who risked their legal and social standing and their lives by appearing in the arena. Most were despised as slaves, schooled under harsh conditions, socially marginalized, and segregated even in death.
Irrespective of their origin, gladiators offered spectators an example of Rome’s martial ethics and, in fighting or dying well, they could inspire admiration and popular acclaim. They were celebrated in high and low art, and their value as entertainers was commemorated in precious and commonplace objects throughout the Roman world.
The origin of gladiatorial combat is open to debate. There is evidence of it in funeral rites during the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BCE, and thereafter it rapidly became an essential feature of politics and social life in the Roman world. Its popularity led to its use in ever more lavish and costly games.
The games reached their peak between the 1st century BCE and the 2nd century CE, and they finally declined during the early 5th century after the adoption of Christianity as the state church of the Roman Empire in 380, although beast hunts (venationes) continued into the 6th century
Archaeologists believe it was part of a burial ritual for 'extremely wealthy families'
The director of the Institute of Archaeology Marko Dizdar said that it was a sensational discovery which is unique in Croatia.
He said: 'After this comes a long process of restoration and conservation of the findings, but also a complete analysis of the findings.
'In a few years we will know a little more about the family whose members were buried in this area 1,800 years ago.
'We are more interested in the horses themselves, that is, whether they were bred here or came from other parts of the empire, which will tell us more about the importance and wealth of this family.
'We will achieve this through cooperation with domestic as well as numerous European institutions.'
Archaeologists say the discovery will allow them to know a little more about the family whose members were buried in this area 1,800 years ago
The discovery is estimated to be from the third century AD but the team of scientists are working to confirm its age
THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN CROATIA:
Early inhabitants of Croatia were the Illyrians, an Indo-European people, who moved into the region in approximately 1000 BC.
The Celts invaded in the 4th century BC pushing the Illyrians towards what is now Albania.
In 168BC the Romans conquered the last Illyrian king, Genthius, and took over the region.
They slowly grew the Roman province of Illyricum through wars, taking over most of the Dalmatian coast, renaming Illyricum as Dalmatia (covering most of today's Croatia), and extending their empire to cover much of the area below the Danube river by 11BC.
Romans ruled Dalmatia for five hundred years, building roads linking the Aegean and Black sea with the Danube river for trade purposes and using Solin as their capital.
Other towns of importance to the Romans within 'Croatia' were Jadera (Zadar), Parentium (Poreč), Polensium (Pula) and Spalato (Split).
As the Roman Empire began to crumble in the late 3rd century AD the region was divided into two Dalmatia Salonitana and Dalmatia Praevalitana (with its capital now part of modern Albania).
This laid the path for the division of the Eastern and Western Roman Empires.
In 395 AD the empire was divided into Eastern and Western Empires with modern day Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina in the West and Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia on the East - later becoming the Byzantine Empire.
A Neanderthal tooth discovered in Serbia reveals human migration history
FILE - This Friday, March 20, 2009 file photo shows reconstructions of a Neanderthal man, left, and woman at the Neanderthal museum in Mettmann, Germany. A new study released by the journal Science on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2016 says a persons risk of becoming depressed or hooked on smoking may be influenced by DNA inherited from Neanderthals. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) (AP)
This article was originally published on The Conversation.
In 2015, our Serbian-Canadian archaeological research team was working at a cave site named Pešturina, in Eastern Serbia, where we had found thousands of stone tools and animal bones. One day, an excited Serbian undergrad brought us a fossil they had uncovered: a small molar tooth, which we immediately recognized as human.
A single tooth may not seem like much, but a lot of information can be drawn from it. We knew it was about 100,000 years old, because the layer it was found in had previously been dated. We were able to build a high-resolution 3D model to study the shape of the crown, roots and internal structure. We made detailed measurements and performed statistical analyses which are published in the June 2019 issue of the "Journal of Human Evolution."
3D modelling of the discovered Neanderthal tooth.
The results of our analysis are clear: our little tooth belonged to a Neanderthal. Neanderthal fossils have been found in Croatia and Greece, but they are still relatively rare in the Balkans, compared to Western Europe and the Middle East. This is the first Neanderthal ever found in Serbia.
The first Neanderthal from Serbia
The Neanderthals were a group of ancient humans who lived in western Eurasia during the Pleistocene epoch. Their earliest ancestors lived in Spain almost half a million years ago, and their range gradually expanded eastward through Europe and the Levant and as far as Siberia.
But around 100,000 years ago, modern humans (like us) started to migrate out of Africa and into Eurasia. By 40,000 years ago, Neanderthals began to disappear from Europe, retreating westward as modern humans moved in on their territory. And, around 30,000 years ago, the last remaining Neanderthals in Spain died out.
The timing of the Neanderthal demise and the modern human conquest of Europe can’t be a coincidence. Ten years ago, most paleoanthropologists would have told you that our two groups were competitors: Neanderthals were bigger and stronger, but we were smarter, and in the battle for survival in the harsh landscape, brains beat out brawn.
Attitudes quickly changed in 2010 when the Neanderthal genome was sequenced for the first time, and along with it we discovered that all living humans outside of sub-Saharan Africa carry a small amount of Neanderthal DNA. More recently, we’ve discovered that they carried some of our genes too.
This means that, at least some of the time, our two groups were lovers and not fighters. We’ve never found modern human and Neanderthal skeletons together at the same site, so it’s possible these romantic flings were rare exceptions. But we don’t have any clear evidence of violence between the two groups either, so the question remains open.
The crossroads of Europe
The Central Balkans could hold the key to answering these questions. Sitting at the “crossroads of Europe,” the Balkan Peninsula represents the intersection of several important migration corridors. Rivers like the Danube cut paths through mountain ranges, creating highways for migrating animals and people to follow. Modern humans followed these routes when they first migrated into Europe, funnelled through the same valleys the Neanderthals called home.
Pešturina Cave sits along one of these migration routes, in the side of Jelašnica Gorge, facing out towards the great floodplain of the Nišava River near the modern city of Niš. Even though no one had ever found a Neanderthal fossil in Serbia before now, we were pretty sure they lived there because we have found the remains of their culture: the so-called “Mousterian” stone tool tradition. We also know that early modern human migrants made Pešturina their home later on, because we find their unique stone tool traditions as well. This makes Pešturina Cave one of very few sites in Serbia where we know that both groups lived in the same place, albeit at different times.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know very much about the early prehistory of the Central Balkans, despite the long tradition of archaeological research in the region. Twentieth century archaeologists concentrated on early farmers, Roman palaces and Medieval fortresses. Less visible and more difficult to interpret, Palaeolithic archaeology took a back seat, until now.
Filling in the gaps
Led by archaeology professor Dušan Mihailović of Belgrade University and Bojana Mihailović, curator at the National Museum of Serbia, our international team of researchers has been identifying and excavating caves throughout Serbia, trying to fill the gaps in our knowledge of this important region. Along with our coauthor Predrag Radović, our role on the team is to study fossil human remains.
A decade ago, in a cave not far from Pešturina named Mala Balanica, we found a human jawbone which would later be dated to about half a million years old — the oldest human fossil from the Central Balkans and one of the oldest from Europe. This jawbone did not belong to a Neanderthal, but to an older (and different) kind of human called Homo heidelbergensis. But we expect to find even older remains: human fossils have been dated to 1.8 million years ago in Georgia and to 1.4 million years ago in Spain the Balkan crossroads lies right in the middle.
Pešturina Cave has also given up other gifts as well. In the same level as the tooth, our team found a cave bear bone with a series of parallel cut marks made by stone tools. They’re not butchery cuts, and it looks like they might have a symbolic purpose. This would be a big deal because until recently, most researchers thought symbolism and artistic expression were uniquely modern human behaviours. This attitude is shifting, since we’ve recently discovered that Neanderthals probably adorned themselves with feathers, talons and shells and even painted their caves.
The tooth from Pešturina is a small but exciting step towards reconstructing the complex prehistory of human migration and cultural contact in the Central Balkans.
In a collaboration between Belgrade University and the University of Winnipeg, we have been able to offer hands-on field experience to Canadian and international students. Through this collaboration, the Central Balkans will continue to give up more and more clues about our early ancestors and their relationship with the mysterious Neanderthals.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Stone made of Pure Oxygen found in Africa
In 1990 a strange type bluestone was found in Sierra Leone, West Africa by geologist and archeologist Angelo Pitoni, named the Sky stone (12000 BC).
The enigmatic stone was sent to research laboratories worldwide, The tests were carried out in laboratories of the University of Geneva, Rome, Utrecht, Tokyo, and Freiberg, Germany.
This was discovered in an old village outside of Freetown, Sierra Leone.
All experts agree that the bluestone isn’t similar to any type of rock known in nature so it must be artificial.
The Italian geologist believed that this is an extraordinary object: a strange crystal found in Sierra Leone diamond fields that resembles a pure turquoise similar to some found on the pectorals of Egyptian priests. Analyses performed on this “Stone of Heaven”, as he calls it, revealed that it is different from any other gemstone known to man.Angelo Pitoni
This story continues with a trip to Asia during a rare gem and mineral sourcing trip by the American artist and designer, Jared Collins.
The dealer replied, “when I received several pieces of the stone, I too was thinking this story has no credibility, so just for the hell of it, I cut off a small sample from my larger piece and sent it over to Dr. Preeti at GRS Swisslabs to see what he had to say about it through testing. Dr. Preeti called me back to ask what this stuff was because he couldn’t determine its composition and ended up returning it as “unidentifiable.” Dr. Preeti only mentioned that he did not believe that the material itself was natural, but the element creating the blue color might be organic. – Jared Coins
In 2007, the National Geographic award-winning fine-art portrait photographer, Jared Collins, relocated his studio from New York City to Ubud, Bali where he set out to create a dramatic series of images documenting the most distinctive Balinese women adorned in ornate ceremonial costumes.
The actual sample of Sky Stone (above) submitted to GRS Swisslabs for testing and analysis.
Intrigued, but highly skeptical of the stone actually being anything it was claimed to be, Collins proposed to buy the small cutaway piece from the dealer so he could study it further, but the dealer just shrugged it off and refused to sell it.
He wouldn’t even name a price for the larger full stone. Collins was somewhat taken back by this as the dealer’s business was solely based on buying and selling stones, not collecting them.
As it turned out that night, Sky Stone was the only thing in the entire room not going to be made available for sale, and the only thing he was interested to take out of there. Collins ended up leaving Hong Kong with a haunting feeling that something important may have just slipped through his fingers and he never forgot about that bluestone.
Its composition was found to be composed of 77% oxygen, along with traces of carbon, silicon, calcium, and sodium.
The composition makes the “Sky Stone” similar to a kind of concrete or stucco and seems to have been artificially colored. The natives living in the area where the stone was found, already knew about its existence because this stone-like artifact used to pop out during the digging in the area.
Another mystery related to the stone of heaven is that this artifact is always found in soil layers dating to at least 12000 BC. The stone was certainly produced by an unknown, highly advanced civilization lost in time.”
Sky Stone material was also claimed to have made a brief appearance at the weekend market in Marakesh, Morroco (where they also specialize in meteorites.) It was going by the name of “kryptonite.”
The floor of the chamber was lined with oak and silver fir planks. By dating the wood and examining its tree rings, the researchers determined that the trees were felled in the fall of 583 B.C.
This date firmly places the grave with the Hallstatt culture &mdash a name that has been given to the people who lived in central Europe during that time, the researchers said.
It's rare for timber to survive 2,600 years, but the grave's contents persisted because the Danube River routinely flooded, and clay in the soil around the grave helped keep the water inside the burial site. Just like the ocean can preserve a wooden shipwreck, the water from the Danube preserved the timbers and most of the grave's organic contents, with the exception of the textiles and furs (which were in bad shape) and some of the grave's iron and bronze objects, the researchers said.
However, the surviving objects are especially revealing. The elite woman's jewelry is similar to the jewelry that was worn by a young girl whose remains were discovered in 2005, and whose grave was just about 6.5 feet (2 m) away from the elite woman's grave. The similarity in their jewelry suggests that the girl and the woman were buried during the same time period, the researchers said. [In Photos: Boneyard of Iron Age Warriors]
Moreover, the style of the elite woman's jewelry and chanfron matches that seen in cultures south of the Alps, including Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Sicily, Krausse said. Other excavations suggest that the gold filigree was made at Heuneburg, showing that artisans there were influenced by styles in cultures south of the Alps, Krausse said.
"By knowing this new grave, we see the context between the region south of the Alps and this city at the Danube River," Krausse said. "They were much closer, there was much more traffic and interrelations between these areas than we thought before."
The findings were published in the February issue of the journal Antiquity.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct the record on who discovered the 2005 grave of the young girl. A team led by archaeologist Siegfried Kurz, who died in 2014, found the brooch in a plowed field and later led a small-scale excavation of the grave. Previously, the story incorrectly said that the farmer who plowed the field discovered the brooch.