Herodotus Returns

Extinct aurochs will be resurrected
January 24, 2010, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Pre-history | Tags: , , ,

Aurochs, the massive species of extinct cattle that were depicted in prehistoric cave paintings and marveled at by Julius Caesar for their ‘elephantine’ size, will be brought back by geneticists.

The huge cattle with sweeping horns which once roamed the forests of Europe have not been seen for nearly 400 years.

Now Italian scientists are hoping to use genetic expertise and selective breeding of modern-day wild cattle to recreate the fearsome beasts which weighed around 2,200lb and stood 6.5 feet at the shoulder.

Breeds of large cattle which most closely resemble Bos primigenius, such as Highland cattle and the white Maremma breed from Italy, are being bred with each other in a technique known as “back-breeding”.

At the same time, scientists say they have for the first time created a map of the auroch’s genome, so that they know precisely what type of animal they are trying to replicate.

More on the resurrection of aurochs.


Ancient arrowhead found in abandoned school in Scotland
January 19, 2010, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Pre-history, Scotland | Tags: , ,

A prehistoric arrowhead was recently stumbled upon on the grounds of a school in Scotland.

Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (Guard) said it may have been dropped by a hunter.

It added that it may have arrived from elsewhere and then been lost by a local collector or a teacher at the former parish school in Durness.

The 3cm relic was made from a sedimentary rock called black chert.

In a report by Guard made available on Highland Council’s Highland Historic Environment Record, archaeologists said the find had “cast an unexpected light” on the area’s prehistoric times.

The spot on rocky ground between two lochs was a perfect place to stalk game, they said.

But the archaeologists added that it could have been lost from a private collection after being found somewhere else locally.

More on the find.

Earliest permanent settlement found at Tel Aviv
January 12, 2010, 6:26 am
Filed under: Neolithic, Pre-history | Tags: , , ,

Israeli archaeologists have found remains of an 8,000-year-old building as well as hippopotamus bones and pottery shards in the Tel Aviv area.

“This discovery is both important and surprising to researchers of the period,” said Ayelet Dayan, who led the excavations.

“For the first time we have encountered evidence of a permanent habitation that existed in the Tel Aviv region about 8,000 years ago.”

That places it in the Neolithic period when man went from a nomadic existence to living in permanent settlements.

Flint implements ascribed to earlier periods were also discovered at the site, including the point of a hunting tool from the Middle Paleolithic period or about 100.000 years ago.

Animal remains, including hippopotamus bones, were found at the site.

More on the story here.

Neanderthal shells suggest symbolic thinking
January 9, 2010, 10:14 am
Filed under: Pre-history | Tags: , ,

Recent studies of 50,000-year-old shells suggest that Neanderthals, contrary to previous belief, were capable of symbolic thinking. If the evidence presented in this study holds, it will completely change the way we think of cognitive evolution. The ability to associate, to affix meaning to an object, to recognize and create symbols – these were apparently what made us different from Neanderthals. They were, in essence, what made us human. This study may force us to redefine our humanity.

Neanderthals were different from you and me, the thinking goes, because they were cognitively inferior. For one thing, they appeared to be incapable of symbolic thinking, of using something to represent something else.

Some humans in Africa, for example, adorned their bodies with stained seashells more than 100,000 years ago. To them, a shell wasn’t just a shell, but a way to signify individuality. But evidence of similar behavior by Neanderthals has been discounted.

Now, though, archeologists working in the Murcia region of southeastern Spain report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have found solid signs that Neanderthals were using seashells in a decorative and symbolic way.

João Zilhão of the University of Bristol in England and colleagues studied shells found in two caves far from the shoreline and dating from about 50,000 years ago, 10,000 years before modern humans showed up in Europe.

More on the Neanderthal symbolic thinking study from the New York Times.

Were ancient hominids seafarers?
January 9, 2010, 6:55 am
Filed under: Pre-history | Tags: , , ,

Excavators on Crete believe they have found evidence that ancient hominids came to Europe from Africa by boat, passing through Crete 130,000 years ago.

Stone hand axes unearthed on the Mediterranean island of Crete indicate that an ancient Homospecies — perhaps Homo erectus — had used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between, says archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island.

Several hundred double-edged cutting implements discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete date to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier, Strasser reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology. Many of these finds closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus, he says. It was around that time that H. erectus spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe.

More on the story here.