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2011 News Contents :
=> Finding a hidden Africa in 1780s Maryland orangery (Africa, West Africa), 17 February
=> Earliest humans not so different from us, research suggests (Africa), 14 February
=> Lucy's feet were made for walking. Toe bone puts a humanlike arch in ancient hominid's step (), 10 February
=> Report From Saqqara: Contrary to Rumor, the Two 'Maya' Tombs Are Safe (Egypt), 9 February
=> Ben Ali's pillaging of Carthage must become a thing of the past (Tunisia), 9 February
=> Experts set to study state of footprints at Laetoli riverbed (Tanzania), 8 February
=> 'First-aid' needed for 5,000-year-old Somali cave paintings (Somaliland), 5 February
=> Work suspended at 4,600 year-old Seila Pyramid in Egypt (Egypt), 5 February
=> The enigmatic Mzora stone ring in Morocco (Morocco), 31 January
=> Damage reported at Giza Pyramids, Looters turned back at Karnak Egypt), 31 January
=> News from Cairo – ARCE Director Dr. Gerry Scott talks about the crisis and Egypt’s Antiquities (Egypt), 29 January
=> The Situation in Egyptian Antiquities Today (Egypt), 28 January
=> Humans 'left Africa much earlier' (Africa), 27 January
=> Stone quarrying threatens Uganda's rock art paintings (Uganda), 25 January
=> Success of Poznan archaeologists in Sudan (Sudan), 24 January
=> Archeologists discover ancient ruins along Tanzanian coastal area (Tanzania), 24 January
=> Data matrix codes archaeological artefacts (Africa), 19 January
=> Sailing into antiquity : BU archeologist unearths clues about ancient Egypt’s sea trade (Egypt), 11 January
=> Study Of Lice DNA Shows Humans First Wore Clothes 170,000 Years Ago (Africa), 7 January

In West African practice, placing metal and pointed objects at the doorway helps deter harmful spirits from entering. These were found buried at the entrance to the greenhouse slave quarters. Credit: UMD
Finding a hidden Africa in 1780s Maryland orangery (Africa, West Africa)
17 February 2011
Excavations by University of Maryland archaeologists at the 1785 Wye “Orangery” on Maryland’s Eastern Shore – the only 18th century greenhouse left in North America – reveals that African American slaves played a sophisticated, technical role in its construction and operation. They left behind tangible cultural evidence of their involvement and spiritual traditions.
Frederick Douglass, who lived there as a young man, made it famous through his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845). But the team concludes he failed to appreciate the slaves’ full contribution.
Excavations by University of Maryland archaeologists at the 1785 Wye “Orangery” on Maryland’s Eastern Shore – the only 18th century greenhouse left in North America – reveals that African American slaves played a sophisticated, technical role in its construction and operation. They left behind tangible cultural evidence of their involvement and spiritual traditions.
Frederick Douglass, who lived there as a young man, made it famous through his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845). But the team concludes he failed to appreciate the slaves’ full contribution.
“For years, this famous Enlightenment structure has been recognized for its European qualities, but it has a hidden African face that we’ve unearthed,” says University of Maryland archaeologist Mark Leone, who led the excavation. “Concealed among the bricks of the furnace that controlled the greenhouse temperature, we found embedded a symbol used in West African spirit practice. An African American slave built the furnace, and left an historic signature.”
His team also found African charms buried at the entrance to a part of the Wye greenhouse that once served as living quarters for the slaves who maintained the building.
“Ironically, these African symbols distinguish this building from its more elaborate European counterparts, and give it a unique American character,” Leone adds, who has uncovered other evidence of African spirit practice through his Archaeology in the Annapolis project.
African Contributions
The slaves were pioneers in early U.S. agricultural experimentation, the new research concludes. They did far more than manual labour, performing work that today might be conducted by skilled lab technicians, though under far different conditions.
“These greenhouses were for agricultural and horticultural experimentation in 18th century America, and African American slaves played a far more significant and technical role in their operation than they’ve been given credit for,” Leone says. “This work required sophistication and skill, and the slaves provided it.” For example, slaves began experimenting there with wild broccoli and other greens, seneca snakeroot as a cure-all, ginger root for tea, buckbean as an analgesic and antiemetic, and hardy bananas.
Pollen Analysis
Based on an analysis of centuries-old pollen recovered from the site – a rarely used procedure in historical archaeology – plus written historical records, Leone says the greenhouse started with a range of flowering plants, shrubs, and medicinal herbs. By the 1820s, more exotic plants were cultivated, including lemon and orange trees, and possibly tubs of pond lilies. This corresponds to Frederick Douglass’ descriptions in his autobiography.
The Wye “Orangery” stood on the thriving Lloyd Plantation, a large operation with several hundred slaves. The property, first settled by Edward Lloyd I in the 1650s, is still owned by his descendents. The family has encouraged the excavation for the historical and scientific knowledge it can provide.
The building’s fame stems, in large part, from the garden’s description by Frederick Douglass. In his book, Douglass wrote: “Colonel Lloyd kept a large and finely cultivated garden, which afforded almost constant employment for four men, besides the chief gardener,” he recalled two decades after leaving the plantation. “This garden was probably the greatest attraction of the place. During the summer months, people came from far and near – from Baltimore, Easton, and Annapolis – to see it. It abounded in fruits of almost every description, from the hardy apple of the north to the delicate orange of the south.”
Writing in 1855 (“My Bondage and My Freedom“), Douglass identified the greenhouse chief as Mr. McDermott, the “scientific gardener imported from Scotland,” and again, noting his team. Conclusions
* Slaves constructed the brick and mortar furnace that regulated temperature in the greenhouse. Evidence for this comes from the excavation’s discovery of a concealed West African-style charm cemented among the bricks at the rear of the furnace where it connects to ductwork – a spot where no one would see it, since spirit practice was conducted in secret. The African America builder of the furnace had placed a stone pestle there to control spirits. This corresponds to the Yoruba practice of placing an old, sharp object from the ground there, Leone says. The pestle was discovered by Drake Witte, who rebuilt the furnace and repaired the heating conduits.
* Slaves lived in the greenhouse, where they could operate the heating system – the “hypocaust” – and maintain the heat, light and water required by the plants. The team recovered evidence of domestic life in one of the greenhouse’s three rooms. Most recently the area has been used as a potting shed. But, buried underground were fragments of earthenware and other domestic objects. Leone says the loft in the room was likely used for sleeping. By the door, the team also unearthed another set of West African charms – a coin and arrowheads – placed there to manage spirits.
Systematic experiments were conducted in the 18th and 19th centuries to determine optimum light, temperature and water requirements of exotic plants, and slaves took an active role in this work. “These buildings were not only for beauty or display,” Leone says, drawing on historic records and modern scholarship. “Plantation owners like the Lloyds also were conducting agricultural experiments out of economic necessity and by the temperament of the times. They wanted to have access to exotic plants, and they wanted to learn how to make them thrive. They approached this in a systematic way, and it’s no stretch to consider this scientific experimentation.”
Furnace operators – the slaves – would have had to monitor conditions and maintain temperatures within the recommended range of 42 to 54 degrees F, Leone adds. Working under a Scots gardener, they would have to read the thermometer, understand each plant’s requirements, control the windows and monitor the furnace. The knowledge and skill acquired from these experiments became one of the slaves’ possessions, and helped create an African American tradition of gardening.
Harrison Roberts, born a slave at Wye House, continued the gardening tradition there and died in the 20th century. He mastered the skills while a slave and continued to use them after freedom. “The knowledge didn’t just go away – it endured longer than the plantation system,” Leone concludes, based on an oral history from the 1960s.
* Evolution from greenhouse to orangery – pollen analysis and Frederick Douglass tell the story. In the late 18th century, the greenhouse had a range of flowering plants, shrubs, and medicinal herbs. Over time, the plant arrays expanded, and by the 1820s citrus and more exotic species were cultivated. Lemons and oranges grew there, as did members of the rose family, lily, saxifrage, phlox, iris and members of the nightshade family. Evidence for this comes from pollen excavated from the greenhouse by the team and analysed by specialists. Historic records and descriptions also supplement the picture, especially the autobiographical writings of Frederick Douglass.
* Look of the greenhouse: Anything in the greenhouse would have been potted or in a trough of some sort, and these would have been in tiers or placed on risers, Leone explains. The plants would probably have been kept in groups, which was the preferred technique shown in gardening manuals at the time.
* The 1785 greenhouse was built on top of an earlier one. Around 1770, Edward Lloyd IV built his first greenhouse. In 1784 or 1785 he started again – the building that stands today, equipped with a hypocaust. At Leone’s request, Bryan Haley, of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Mississippi (now of the Tulane Department of Anthropology), used extensive soundings from a magnetometer and ground penetrating radar to discover evidence of the larger, earlier structure. Haley’s analysis showed what may be the underground remains of structures attached to the original greenhouse, which did not have a heating system within it. This would have been a garden pavilion that used either the heat of the sun or the heat from piles of dung kept inside.
Lloyd’s Descendants
The Orangery remains active today, maintained by descendants of Edward Lloyd IV, who first started construction on it even before the Revolutionary War. The excavation was launched at the request of the family, and preceded structural work to maintain the building.
“I’m committed to preserving the history of this building and the entire estate,” says Mrs. R.C. Tilghman, an 11th generation descendant of Lloyd. “This land has always been a part of my life, and its preservation comes as a duty.”
The Tilghmans had permitted Leone to conduct an earlier series of excavations on the property, which uncovered slave quarters and other buildings.
The Archaeology of Slavery and Maryland University
Three of Leone’s graduate students, Matthew Cochran, Stephanie Duensing, and John Blair, conducted the Orangery excavation.
For the past three decades, Leone has focused much of his work in nearby Annapolis, launching the Archaeology in Annapolis programme. “We’ve rewritten Maryland history in a number of cases by unearthing the activities of African Americans,” he reflects. “The formative years of Maryland’s history were shaped by a blending of European and African culture, and this helps us understand our modern experience.”
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Earliest humans not so different from us, research suggests (Africa)
14 February 2011
That human evolution follows a progressive trajectory is one of the most deeply-entrenched assumptions about our species. This assumption is often expressed in popular media by showing cavemen speaking in grunts and monosyllables (the GEICO Cavemen being a notable exception). But is this assumption correct? Were the earliest humans significantly different from us?
In a paper published in the latest issue of Current Anthropology, archaeologist John Shea (Stony Brook University) shows they were not.
The problem, Shea argues, is that archaeologists have been focusing on the wrong measurement of early human behavior. Archaeologists have been searching for evidence of "behavioral modernity", a quality supposedly unique to Homo sapiens, when they ought to have been investigating "behavioral variability," a quantitative dimension to the behavior of all living things.
Human origins research began in Europe, and the European Upper Paleolithic archaeological record has long been the standard against which the behavior of earlier and non-European humans is compared. During the Upper Paleolithic (45,000-12,000 years ago), Homo sapiens fossils first appear in Europe together with complex stone tool technology, carved bone tools, complex projectile weapons, advanced techniques for using fire, cave art, beads and other personal adornments. Similar behaviors are either universal or very nearly so among recent humans, and thus, archaeologists cite evidence for these behaviors as proof of human behavioral modernity.
Yet, the oldest Homo sapiens fossils occur between 100,000-200,000 years ago in Africa and southern Asia and in contexts lacking clear and consistent evidence for such behavioral modernity. For decades anthropologists contrasted these earlier "archaic" African and Asian humans with their "behaviorally-modern" Upper Paleolithic counterparts, explaining the differences between them in terms of a single "Human Revolution" that fundamentally changed human biology and behavior. Archaeologists disagree about the causes, timing, pace, and characteristics of this revolution, but there is a consensus that the behavior of the earliest Homo sapiens was significantly that that of more-recent "modern" humans.
Shea tested the hypothesis that there were differences in behavioral variability between earlier and later Homo sapiens using stone tool evidence dating to between 250,000- 6000 years ago in eastern Africa. This region features the longest continuous archaeological record of Homo sapiens behavior. A systematic comparison of variability in stone tool making strategies over the last quarter-million years shows no single behavioral revolution in our species' evolutionary history. Instead, the evidence shows wide variability in Homo sapiens toolmaking strategies from the earliest times onwards. Particular changes in stone tool technology can be explained in terms of the varying costs and benefits of different toolmaking strategies, such as greater needs for cutting edge or more efficiently-transportable and functionally-versatile tools. One does not need to invoke a "human revolution" to account for these changes, they are explicable in terms of well-understood principles of behavioral ecology.
This study has important implications for archaeological research on human origins. Shea argues that comparing the behavior of our most ancient ancestors to Upper Paleolithic Europeans holistically and ranking them in terms of their "behavioral modernity" is a waste of time. There are no such things as modern humans, Shea argues, just Homo sapiens populations with a wide range of behavioral variability. Whether this range is significantly different from that of earlier and other hominin species remains to be discovered. However, the best way to advance our understanding of human behavior is by researching the sources of behavioral variability in particular adaptive strategies.
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Lucy's feet were made for walking. Toe bone puts a humanlike arch in ancient hominid's step (Tanzania)
10 February 2011
A tiny 3.2-million-year-old fossil found in East Africa gives Lucy’s kind an unprecedented toehold on humanlike walking.
Australopithecus afarensis, an ancient hominid species best known for a partial female skeleton called Lucy, had stiff foot arches like those of people today, say anthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri in Columbia and her colleagues. A bone from the fourth toe — the first such A. afarensis fossil unearthed — provides crucial evidence that bends in this species’ feet supported and cushioned a two-legged stride, the scientists report in the Feb. 11 Science.
“We now have the evidence we’ve been lacking that A. afarensis had fully developed, permanent arches in its feet,” Ward says. Survival for Lucy and her comrades must have hinged on abandoning trees for a ground-based lifestyle, she proposes.
The new fossil confirms that members of Lucy’s species could have made 3.6-million-year-old footprints previously found in hardened volcanic ash at Laetoli, Tanzania (SN Online: 3/22/10), she says. A. afarensis lived from about 4 million to 3 million years ago.
Scientists have argued for more than 30 years about whether Lucy and her kin mainly strode across the landscape or split time between walking and tree climbing.
News of arched feet in these hominids comes on the heels of a report that a recently discovered A. afarensis skeleton, dubbed Big Man, displays long legs, a relatively narrow chest and an inwardly curving back, signs of a nearly humanlike gait (SN: 7/17/10, p. 5).
“There were far too many highly detailed adaptations in every part of the A. afarensis skeleton for upright walking and exclusive ground travel not to have emerged,” remarks anthropologist Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University in Ohio, who studied Big Man’s remains.
A foot much like that attributed to Lucy’s kind by Ward’s group had already evolved by 4.4 million years ago in the early hominid Ardipithecus (SN: 1/16/10, p. 22), Lovejoy says. Although Ardipithecus had an opposable big toe incapable of propelling a two-legged gait, this creature walked effectively using its other toes, in his view.
Based on the new find, A. afarensis does appear to have had arched feet, remarks anthropologist William Jungers of Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York. But other foot features, including long, curved fifth toes, indicate that a skeletal system for upright walking had not fully evolved in Lucy’s kind, Jungers asserts.
Considerable differences in foot anatomy may have existed among members of A. afarensis, Jungers says. An analysis of fossil ankle bones published in 2010 by other researchers concluded that Lucy had flat feet while many of her comrades had an arch at the back of the foot.
“Even if Lucy had lower arches than other individuals, she still would have had the stiff, humanlike foot structure that we see in people but not in apes,” Ward says.
Excavations at one of several sites at Hadar, Ethiopia, yielded the ancient toe bone in 2000. Since 1975, this location has produced more than 250 fossils representing at least 17 A. afarensis individuals.
Shape and design features of the fossil toe closely match those of corresponding toes on people but not chimpanzees or gorillas, Ward’s team says.
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Report From Saqqara: Contrary to Rumor, the Two 'Maya' Tombs Are Safe (Egypt)
9 February 2011
After looters swarmed the ancient burial ground at Saqqara on January 29, panic swept the world of Egyptology. One online group reported that looters had entered and “destroyed” the interiors of “many tombs.” On the Facebook group “Egyptologists for Egypt,” a contributor wrote that the tomb of Maya, in particular, “is destroyed and even the reliefs in the burial chamber have been hacked out.” As that rumor spread, there was confusion about which Maya tomb—there are two at Saqqara. Some reported that it was the tomb belonging to King Tutankhamun's wet nurse (whose name is often spelled Maia); others said it was that of Tut’s treasurer.
It turns out the reports were grossly exaggerated. The tomb of the wet nurse is still sealed with bricks. And on Tuesday, inspectors at Saqqara led me into Maya the treasurer’s burial chamber. “Nobody touched the tomb here, “ said Mohammad Mohammad Youssef, chief inspector for South Saqqara, as he and a colleague broke a wire and seal on the metal door leading underground. “We put seals on the lock about a month ago when we checked it for humidity and temperature, and the same seals were still here and the locks were not broken.” Youssef and I walked down a tight, sandy staircase of a dozen steps to an iron gate with another three locks on it, and another seal that was untouched after the looting. Then we entered three chambers, over 3,000 years old, shimmering with golden-yellow reliefs.
The reliefs are from the Amarna period, about 3,350 years ago, when wall paintings were more naturalistic than in other pharaonic eras. They show the treasurer and his wife with various gods, including Osiris, god of the afterlife; Isis, goddess of motherhood and fertility; Ptah, god of creation; and Anubis, the jackal-headed god who oversees mummification. Maya "is praying to these different gods, meaning that he has good relations with all of the gods, who will be with him in the afterlife,” said government Egyptologist Ashraf Mohiee.
Aboveground, looters broke into several small storerooms, which hold bones, shards of pottery, and other collected items. The treasure hunters rifled through a portion of this material, tossing items on the floor. “We’ll lose some archaeological information if it’s a mess inside,” Maarten Raven, who leads the Dutch expedition at the site, told me by phone from the Netherlands. “But it’s nothing major.” He expressed great relief that the tomb itself was fully intact.
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Ben Ali's pillaging of Carthage must become a thing of the past (Tunisia)
9 February 2011
One of the most interesting consequences of the recent political upheavals in Tunisia has been that Tunisian archaeologists have at last been able to speak out against the damage inflicted on the ancient site of Carthage by the regime of the former president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. It is a truly depressing tale of how greed and philistinism have come close to destroying large parts of one of the world's most important archaeological sites.
The site of the ancient city of Carthage has been fought over many times in its long and turbulent history – most famously in 146BC, when a Roman army captured the city and obliterated it in a shocking episode of brutal annihilation. Roman intent that their great enemy should never rise again was reinforced by the curse that the victorious Roman general Scipio placed on anyone who dared to rebuild the city. Yet Carthage did rise again. The city, with its excellent harbour, occupied far too important a strategic position to be left deserted for long. The new city went on to have a distinguished history as the capital of the new Roman province of Africa, and later as one of the great centres of ancient Christianity. In short, Carthage is an archaeological site of world historical significance. Yet once again, its very existence is under serious threat – this time not from the weapons of an invading army but the bulldozers of unscrupulous property developers.
Carthage's problem in modern times has been that it occupies some of the most expensive and sought-after real estate in the Maghreb. Since the 1960s the urban sprawl of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, has spread ever closer to the site of Carthage, which lies some 12km to the east across the Bay of Tunis. In 1972, alert to the dangers that such urban expansion posed, a few enlightened figures in the Tunisian ministry of culture and Unesco set up a campaign to safeguard the site of Carthage.
The strategy that was developed under the dynamic and ingenious leadership of Abdelmajid Ennabli, a Tunisian archaeologist who had been appointed conservator of Carthage, proved to be a highly effective one. Teams of archaeologists from all over Europe and the US were invited to excavate areas of Carthage that were under particular threat of appropriation. The spectacular nature of many of their archaeological discoveries, such as the famed Punic circular war harbour excavated by a British team, had the desired effect of placing Carthage firmly back in the spotlight. Vindication arrived in the form of the conferral of the prestigious status of Unesco world heritage site in 1979, followed six years later by national legislation that established the entire 400-hectare site as a protected zone where building was prohibited.
This high-profile success, however, proved to be something of a false dawn. In 1987, Ben Ali came to power in a palace coup and, despite official pronouncements to the contrary, the new regime quickly showed it had more interest in enriching itself rather than protecting Tunisia's rich cultural heritage. I started excavating in Carthage in the mid-1990s and it was clear that Ennabli and those who had strived for decades to protect Carthage were fighting a losing battle against a cabal of influential businessmen and politicians who all enjoyed presidential patronage. For these people Carthage was nothing more than a piece of prestigious real estate ripe for "economic development". The legislation that protected the ancient city was a mere inconvenience that could be ignored and brushed aside.
As an archaeologist one understands that the needs of the present have to be balanced against the preservation of the past, but the regular flouting of the planning laws by members of Ben Ali's family had little to do with solving Tunisia's severe housing shortage. One only has to look at the brochure for the "Residences of Carthage", a luxury housing development illegally built on protected land to see that. One can marvel at the chutzpah of the developers' boast of its proximity to Roman ruins when there is little doubt that they were probably built on top of Roman ruins. Other members of the ex-ruling dynasty have been accused of stealing priceless archaeological artefacts and appropriating historic state buildings for their own private use. In short, Ben Ali and his extended family, the Trabelsis, not only treated Carthage as if it were their own private property but also flouted the rule of law (that they were charged to uphold) to continue their pillaging of Tunisia's national patrimony.
With the removal of Ben Ali and his crooked regime from power, Ennabli and a number of like-minded professionals have once more stepped forward to lead a new campaign to safeguard Carthage. Their demands are straightforward. First, the new Tunisian government needs to urgently approve the protection and development plan for Carthage that the previous regime had been stalling on (for the nefarious reasons set out above) since its drafting in 2000. Second, all illegal building projects on the site of Carthage and its environs must be halted immediately. Lastly, it must as quickly and transparently as possible restore to the people of Tunisia the national heritage that was stolen from them. These measures are essential if the new government is to prove to a sceptical public that it really can provide a much-needed fresh start for Tunisia. If it delays for too long, the danger is that people will start taking justice into their own hands, and the consequences of that could be absolutely catastrophic.
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More information : Carthage on Wikipedia :


Experts set to study state of footprints at Laetoli riverbed (Tanzania)
8 February 2011

Arusha. Anxiety is building up of what would be of the famous hominid footprints at Laetoli in Arusha Region as they are being exhumed starting yesterday.
Scientific experts from across the world are converging at a remote site near the Ngorongoro crater to witness the event amid controversy on how the 3.6 million-year old footprints should be best preserved.
Mr Donatus Kamamba, the director of Antiquities in the ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism told The Citizen on the phone yesterday that the exercise would last for seven days.
He said archaeological experts from within and outside the country would oversee the digging of the ash bed with the footprints to get a clue of its state.
"After that the experts may decide on the best way they should be preserved either by relocating them elsewhere or leaving them at the same site," he added.
Mr Kamamba, who previously opposed the idea of moving away the footprint track way that was buried in 1995, said he was not sure of the next host for the famous archeological relics.
"It is upon the researchers to say what should be done after observing the condition of the bedrock," he said from the site, some 250 km from Arusha.
The footprints, believed to be the oldest known such historical relic of human ancestors, were discovered by Dr Mary Leakey in a Laetoli river bed in Ngorongoro in 1978.
The site continued to draw visitors and researchers from across the world until the 1990s when the track way was reburied at the same site in order to save it from erosion.
The move to be spearheaded by scientists from the Getty Conservation Institute in the United States has, however, been criticised by a cross section of experts.
While some say the buried objects cannot be seen by visitors and stakeholders, others hated being preserved in a grave like monument.
President Jakaya Kikwete joined the fray a few years ago when he directed that the footprints be exhumed and displayed for the public to view them.
But Mr Kamamba noted yesterday that the on-going excavation was not being done to implement what the President had suggested.
"We will only find out how best the footprints should be preserved. As you are aware, scientists have been divided over this for years," he stated.
His remarks were echoed by Dr Audax Mabula, a senior lecturer of Archaeology at the University of Dar es Salaam who spoke on the phone from Karatu en route to Laetoli.
He said the footprint track way would be reburied again this time and that a decision to relocate the archaeological relic was at the moment "not even in sight."
Experts involved include archaeologists and allied scientists from the UDSM, the Antiquities Department, Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA), Tanzanian experts in Diaspora as well as those from Spain, US, Korea, Germany and South Africa.
Adam Akyoo, a public relations manager with NCAA added that experts to be involved would also come from Unesco. Laetoli is within the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
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More information : Laetoli on Wikipedia :


'First-aid' needed for 5,000-year-old Somali cave paintings (Somaliland)
5 February 2011 (
Prehistoric paintings of antelope, snakes and giraffes that have survived for around 5,000 years are now under threat from looting and a lack of protection.
The rock paintings, which include renderings of dogs and sheep as well as human figures, were discovered at Dhambalin, in a unique sandstone shelter close to the Red Sea in Somaliland, a breakaway state from war-torn Somalia.
They were found by Dr. Sada Mire in 2007, in what she says was first ever survey initiated and led by a Somali archaeologist in the region. Since then, Mire has discovered 100 cave and rock art sites across Somaliland, but they need desperately to be preserved.
Mire said the sites are not only vital to the understanding of pre-history across the Horn of Africa, but also important in bolstering cultural pride in the people of Somaliland.
"That gives them a sense of dignity and that they are not totally desperate, they have something that the world thinks is very valuable," she said. You have a whole base of very, very poor people digging sites and getting peanuts for it.
But Somaliland is in need of help and infrastructure to safeguard its ancient heritage.
Although it declared independence from Somalia in 1991, Somaliland is not internationally recognized as a separate state. This means that its sites cannot be granted World Heritage status by UNESCO.
According to Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Culture, Somalia is one of the few member states not to have ratified its 1972 World Heritage Convention, meaning that its sites are not eligible for World Heritage status.
Heritage workers in Somaliland therefore face a dilemma, said Dr. Dacia Viejo-Rose, a Researcher at the Cultural Heritage and the Reconstruction of Identities after Conflict project at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, part of the University of Cambridge in the UK.
"They can choose to protect their heritage as Somalian and lobby the government and the ministry of culture in Somalia to present (their case) to UNESCO," she said.
Or, they can "stick to the fact that it's not Somalia's heritage but Somaliland's," in which case they can't then follow that path.
"The question is, which is the priority? To protect the distinctiveness of Somaliland or to protect the heritage no matter what and who is claiming it?" she continued.
Another problem faced by Mire is the lack of museums in which to store objects. Mire writes on her website Somali Heritage and Archaeology, that museums in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, and second largest city Hargeisa, have suffered severe looting during the ongoing civil war. Somaliland still lacks a museum.
"At the moment we do not do any excavations because we are not able to host objects," said Mire. She believes that there are many sites in Somaliland awaiting discovery.
"The best way to protect (objects) is to take them straight to a laboratory (in a museum) and give them first aid," she continued.
Educating Somalis about their heritage is another important task for Mire, who heads Somaliland's Department of Antiquities, a branch of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, which she helped establish.
While human sweat is enough to damage the delicate rock paintings, burial sites nearby are often looted for artifacts that are sold on to illicit antiquities traders. Looting tends to be done by locals, who are unaware of the archaeological significance of their sites, Mire said.
"You have a whole base of very, very poor people digging sites and getting peanuts for it," Mire said.
Despite these issues, though, progress is being made. Mire is creating an inventory of sites across Somaliland and drafting antiquities laws to protect them.
"We just drive away for weeks and disappear into the desert," she said.
"Usually we take albums and show locals pictures of the sites we are looking for," she added.
She has elected local Somalis to be custodians of the sites and hopes that they can benefit in future from tourism.
In her eyes, it is important for the people to feel that their heritage belongs to them.
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Work suspended at 4,600 year-old Seila Pyramid in Egypt (Egypt)
5 February 2011 (
Archaeological work has been suspended at the 4,600 year-old Seila Pyramid in Egypt.
Excavation and research at the site has been going on for nearly three decades now by a team led by Professor Wilfred Griggs of Brigham Young University.
Seila is one of four pyramids constructed by the pharaoh Snefru. The father of Khufu, this ruler revolutionized pyramid building by constructing the first “true” pyramids, with flat sides that angle up towards the sky.
There is a vast cemetery near the pyramid, estimated to hold nearly one million mummies. Most of the people buried there date to Graeco-Roman times (starting ca. 2,300 years ago) or later.
The past few days have seen widespread protests across Egypt, with demonstrators demanding that President Hosni Mubarak, a man who has led the country for 30 years, resign.
Professor Griggs said in a telephone interview from Cairo that antiquities officials are not permitting work to be done at the pyramid, “they’re worried about robbing and looting.” With the US government urging its citizens to leave the country, the Brigham Young team will depart in a few days. Griggs emphasized that he has no information to indicate that Seila and its cemetery has been robbed and thinks it unlikely. “I hope they have not been.” From his conversations with antiquities officials they are more concerned about the general area that the pyramid is located in – to the north looting attempts have been reported at the sites of Abusir and Saqqara.
Source :


Egypt Update: Rare Tomb May Have Been Destroyed (Egypt)
3 February 2011 (
Reports of damage to one of the few ancient Egyptian tombs devoted solely to a woman have tempered the news that most of Egypt's priceless antiquities have escaped damage and that teams of foreign archaeologists are safe amid widespread protests against the regime led by Hosni Mubarak.
One archaeologist present at the famous cemetery of Saqqara, south of Cairo, said that as many as 200 looters were digging for treasure in the area this past weekend before police resecured the area. The excavator, who requested anonymity, added that the tomb of Maya, the wet nurse of King Tutankhamun, was "completely destroyed." Another Western archaeologist said, "We still don't know the extent of the damage, but things have been bad and out of control."
None of the Molotov cocktails hurled yesterday around Tahrir Square, home of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities , damaged the building or its contents, according to Zahi Hawass, the minister of antiquities. His blog explains that he has been in contact with the museum control room and that there was no damage beyond last weekend's break-in, which damaged 70 artifacts. Hawass also vehemently denied that there has been heavy looting in Saqqara.
Hawass did say that six boxes were stolen from a storeroom at a site on the Sinai Peninsula but that many objects had since been returned. Concerns remain that the small museum at Memphis, the ancient Egyptian capital, has been thoroughly looted. There was good news at Giza, however. Mark Lehner, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based archaeologist who digs at the pyramid-builders town, said the site was not damaged, as was reported earlier in the week.
Foreign archaeologists in Luxor say the situation in that city far to the south was normal. W. Raymond Johnson, who heads the University of Chicago team there, said that after some weekend rioting all was quiet and that there was no damage to any site. His team resumed work on Sunday. He added that American, French, German, and Egyptian teams "are all checking up on each other." The situation is so normal, in fact, that he noted "there were 10 tour buses" in the parking lot of one ancient Luxor temple yesterday afternoon.
At Amarna, once the capital of Egypt under the pharaoh Akhenaten and his queen Nefertiti, all is "as peaceful as ever," says Barry Kemp, a University of Cambridge archaeologist who is still at the site. An attempt to loot archaeological magazines on the other side of the Nile River was thwarted by police, he said. "Order has not broken down in the countryside as it has in Cairo," he says.
Kemp said all foreign expeditions were ordered on Saturday to halt work and leave. Most of his team has since left, and he intends to travel to Cairo soon "to sit it out until I can come back."
Source :


The enigmatic Mzora stone ring in Morocco (Morocco)
31 January 2011 (
In Morocco, not far from the Atlantic coast and away from major tourist attractions, lies a remarkable and enigmatic megalithic site. The Mzora stone ring (also spelled variously as Msoura/Mezorah) is situated roughly 11km from the nearest town of Asilah and about 27km from the ruins of ancient Lixus. It is not easy to reach and a small display in the archaeological museum at Tetouan is the most the majority of visitors see or hear of this very interesting site.
Plutarch, in the first century CE, may have referred to Mzora in his Life of Sertorius. He describes the Roman General Quintus Sertorius being told by local inhabitants about a site they knew as the tomb of the giant Antaeus who had been killed by Hercules. There are many other ancient accounts that place the tomb of Antaeus in close proximity to both Lixus and Tangier and it is quite plausible that Mzora is the inspiration behind these stories.
The site itself is a Neolithic ellipse of 168 surviving stones of the 175 originally believed to have existed. The tallest of these stones is over 5m in height. The ellipse has a major axis of 59.29 metres and a minor axis of 56.18 metres. At the centre of the ring, and quite probably a much later addition, is a large tumulus, today almost disappeared. The bulk of the damage to it seems to have been done by excavations undertaken in 1935-6 by César Luis de Montalban. The only professional survey of the site was conducted in the 1970s by James Watt Mavor, Junior of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, USA. It is this survey that revealed Mzora to be not only remarkable in its own right but to have implications for the history of megalithic sites in Britain.
Mzora, incredibly, appears to have been constructed either by the same culture that erected the megalithic sites in France, Britain and Ireland or by one that was intimately connected with them. The ellipse is constructed using a Pythagorean right angled triangle of the ratio 12, 35, 37. This same technique was used in the construction of British stone ellipses of which 30 good examples survive including the Sands of Forvie and Daviot rings.
Furthermore it appears that the same unit of measure, the megalithic yard (or something remarkably close) used in the construction of the British sites surveyed by Professor Alexander Thom, was also used in the construction of Mzora. "If a 'megalithic yard' of 0.836 metres ... [is used] ... then the major axis and the perimeter of the ring take on values nearly integral," Robert Temple - visiting Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science at Tsinghua University in Beijing - wrote in his 'Egyptian Dawn' book.
Thom proposed that achieving a circumference measured in whole numbers was of paramount importance to the builders of megalithic rings. But there is more: according to studies by James Watt Mavor, at least seven stones of the Mzora circle mark different astronomical phenomena: winter and sumer solstice sunrises/sunsets, equinoctial sunrises and sunsets.
Mzora isn't the only stone circle in Africa to share its construction methodology with British sites. The Nabta Playa stone ring in Southern Egypt conforms to Alexander Thom's 'Type I egg' geometry. But at present Mzora is unmanaged, exposed and vulnerable, so this monument surely deserves better protection and further study.
Source :

See also : Mzora on Heritage Action


Damage reported at Giza Pyramids, Looters turned back at Karnak – Dr. Gerry Scott, ARCE director, provides an update from Cairo (Egypt)
31 January 2011 (
This morning Dr. Gerry Scott gave an update from Cairo on how the crisis is affecting Egypt’s antiquities, sharing what new information he had.
Dr. Scott is director of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), an organization that supports nearly two dozen projects throughout the country and aims to help conserve Egypt’s antiquities. Its work has attracted numerous grants including funding from USAID.
The past few days have seen mass protests, with Egyptian citizens demanding that President Hosni Mubarak, a man who has led the country for nearly 30 years, step down. He has responded by sacking his cabinet and naming new ministers. Among those named is Dr. Zahi Hawass, the secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), who takes on a new cabinet post dedicated to Egypt’s archaeological heritage.
Scott is in Cairo and has been telephoning project directors and archaeologists – collecting information and helping those who want to leave the country get out. His efforts have been hindered by the government’s decision to shut down internet access and cell phone service. Also, with the turmoil outside, he has been forced to work from his apartment.
He said that a number of archaeology teams are choosing to leave, including those at the Dakhleh Oasis and at the Temple of Mut in Luxor.
Dr. Scott has both good and bad news.
The bad news is that there is antiquities damage at the Giza Pyramids. Mark Lehner and his team are currently working there.
“I’ve heard that the team lost some equipment and that there was some damage to the antiquities but I do not know the extent of that at this point,” he said. He also does not know what exactly was damaged. The Egyptian army is now guarding the pyramids and access has been restricted.
Lehner’s team has halted their work for the time being. “The latest I’ve heard is that they are not working until the SCA has had a chance to record what’s happened there.”
One piece of good news is that looters attempted to enter Karnak temple last night but were turned back by local citizens.
“Apparently there was an attempt for some people to get into Karnak temple last night and loot – the local people came to the defence of the site and some of the men were apprehended by local citizens,” he said.
He also said that ARCE’s conservation work at Luxor continues on. Among the projects they are involved with is a ground water lowering project which prevents Luxor and Karnak temple from being partially flooded, it takes out nearly 30,000 cubic meters of water a day. “To the best of my knowledge it’s still operational,” said Scott. In addition scholars from the University of Chicago are continuing their epigraphic work at the site.
He also said that the SCA is still operational, at least in some areas of the country. “In Luxor I’m told the SCA is up and functioning, also in Abydos I’m hearing, it really kinds of depends on the site."
With the council still in operation at Abydos, Scott said that archaeological teams have decided to continue work there.
Source :


News from Cairo – ARCE Director Dr. Gerry Scott talks about the crisis and Egypt’s Antiquities (Egypt)
29 January 2011 (
This morning Dr. Gerry Scott, director of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), gave a telephone interview from Cairo itself.
He gave what information he had on how the crisis in Egypt is affecting its antiquities. ARCE supports nearly two dozen active projects in Egypt. Its mission focuses on conserving Egypt’s cultural heritage and has attracted numerous grants – including funding from USAID.
Over the past few days Egypt has been become embroiled in protests and unrest. The news has been changing by the hour and last night President Hosni Mubarak, a man who has led Egypt for nearly 30 years, ordered his cabinet to resign. The government has cut off internet access and cell phone service has been curtailed.
Dr. Scott said that for now ARCE intends to keeps its staff in the country. “At the moment, yes, we will stay and wait (and see) how things develop in terms of whether we can function or not,” he said.
Scott has been stuck in his apartment over the Egyptian weekend (Friday and Saturday) and has had only limited communication through a landline. He started the interview by praising the protesters who held hands to protect the Egyptian Museum.
“Everybody in the Egyptological community, I think, has been very heartened by the fact that the demonstrators sort of linked hands last night when they thought that the Egyptian Museum was in danger.”
They “made it clear that the Egyptian Museum was a place where Egypt’s treasures were and it belonged to the nation.”
The situation
The lack of communications, and the fact that the unrest has left him stuck in his apartment, has limited Dr. Scott’s ability to get a sense of how this crisis is affecting Egypt’s antiquities.
The fact that it’s the weekend means that the Supreme Council of Antiquities staff, in Cairo, is off work.
As far as he knows Zahi Hawass is still in charge of the council and he was not forced to resign even though he is a vice-minister. “What I have heard at this point is that it’s the cabinet that has resigned, I haven’t heard about people who are lower in office,” said Scott.
Furthermore the council still appears to be operational, at least on some level.
Scott said that he has been in contact with his staff in Luxor, where ARCE has several conservation and research projects that are ongoing. In that ancient city the council staff “advised not to work at the east bank at the site today (while) US and international teams were allowed to go out to their sites on the west bank.”
However he was quick to add that it’s still the weekend and we won’t know the full status of the council until the Egyptian work week begins tomorrow (Sunday).
He also cautioned that this is a fluid situation and communication needs to be established with other ARCE projects.
“There are US ARCE sponsored expeditions in the field and we will be in touch with them in the coming days as the situation unfolds. I don’t know that any of us at this point really have a sense of quite how things are going to happen.”
Source :


The Situation in Egyptian Antiquities Today (Egypt)
28 January 2011 (
On Friday, January 28, 2011, when the protest marches began in Cairo, I heard that a curfew had been issued that started at 6.00pm on Friday evening until 7.00am on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, on that day the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, was not well guarded. About a thousand people began to jump over the wall on the eastern side of the museum into the courtyard. On the western side of the museum, we recently finished something I was very proud of, a beautiful gift shop, restaurant and cafeteria. The people entered the gift shop and stole all the jewellery and escaped; they thought the shop was the museum, thank God! However, ten people entered the museum when they found the fire exit stairs located at the back of it.

As every one knows, the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, is naturally lit and due to the architectural style of it, there are glass windows on its roof. The criminals broke the glass windows and used ropes to get inside, there is a distance of four metres from the ceiling to the ground of the museum. The ten people broke in when I was at home and, although I desperately wanted to go to the museum, I could not leave my house due to the curfew. In the morning, as soon as I woke up, I went directly there. When I arrived, I found out that, the night before, three tourist police officers had stayed there overnight because they were not able to get out before the curfew was put in place. These officers, and many young Egyptians who were also there, helped to stop more people from entering the museum. Thankfully, at 10.00pm on Friday night, the army arrived at the museum and gave additional security assistance.

I found out that one criminal was still at the museum, too. When he had asked the people guarding the museum for water, they took his hands and tied him to the door that lead to the gift shop so that he could not escape! Luckily, the criminals who stole the jewellery from the gift shop did not know where the jewellery inside the museum is kept. They went into the Late Period gallery but, when they found no gold, they broke thirteen vitrines and threw the antiquities on the floor. Then the criminals went to the King Tutankhamun galleries. Thank God they opened only one case! The criminals found a statue of the king on a panther, broke it, and threw it on the floor. I am very thankful that all of the antiquities that were damaged in the museum can be restored, and the tourist police caught all of the criminals that broke into it. On Saturday, the army secured the museum again and guarded it from all sides. I left the museum at 3.00pm on Saturday, 29, 2011.

What is really beautiful is that not all Egyptians were involved in the looting of the museum. A very small number of people tried to break, steal and rob. Sadly, one criminal voice is louder than one hundred voices of peace. The Egyptian people are calling for freedom, not destruction. When I left the museum on Saturday, I was met outside by many Egyptians, who asked if the museum was safe and what they could do to help. The people were happy to see an Egyptian official leave his home and come to Tahrir Square without fear; they loved that I came to the museum.

The curfew started again on Saturday afternoon at 4.00pm, and I was receiving messages all night from my inspectors at Saqqara, Dahsur, and Mit Rahina. The magazines and stores of Abusir were opened, and I could not find anyone to protect the antiquities at the site. At this time I still do not know what has happened at Saqqara, but I expect to hear from the inspectors there soon. East of Qantara in the Sinai, we have a large store containing antiquities from the Port Said Museum. Sadly, a large group, armed with guns and a truck, entered the store, opened the boxes in the magazine and took the precious objects. Other groups attempted to enter the Coptic Museum, Royal Jewellery Museum, National Museum of Alexandria, and El Manial Museum. Luckily, the foresighted employees of the Royal Jewellery Museum moved all of the objects into the basement, and sealed it before leaving.

My heart is broken and my blood is boiling. I feel that everything I have done in the last nine years has been destroyed in one day, but all the inspectors, young archaeologists, and administrators, are calling me from sites and museums all over Egypt to tell me that they will give their life to protect our antiquities. Many young Egyptians are in the streets trying to stop the criminals. Due to the circumstances, this behaviour is not surprising; criminals and people without a conscience will rob their own country. If the lights went off in New York City, or London, even if only for an hour, criminal behaviour will occur. I am very proud that Egyptians want to stop these criminals to protect Egypt and its heritage.

At this time, the Internet has not been restored in Egypt. I had to fax this statement to my colleagues in Italy for it to be uploaded in London on my website.
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Researchers used a dating technique that relies on when the tools were buried

The tools from Jebel Faya (pictured) were made by modern humans, the researchers argue
Humans 'left Africa much earlier' (Africa)
27 January 2011 (
Modern humans may have emerged from Africa up to 50,000 years earlier than previously thought, a study suggests.
Researchers have uncovered stone tools in the Arabian peninsula that they say were made by modern humans about 125,000 years ago.
The tools were unearthed at the site of Jebel Faya in the United Arab Emirates, a team reports in the journal Science.
The results are controversial: genetic data strongly points to an exodus from Africa 60,000-70,000 years ago.
Simon Armitage, from Royal Holloway, University of London, Hans-Peter Uerpmann, from the University of Tuebingen, Germany, and colleagues, uncovered 125,000-year-old stone tools at Jebel Faya which resemble those found in East Africa at roughly the same time period.
The authors of the study say the people who made the tools were newcomers in the area with origins on the other side of the Red Sea.
The researchers were able to date the tools using a light-based technique, which tells scientists when the stone artefacts were buried.
Genetics questioned
So-called anatomically modern humans are thought to have emerged somewhere in Africa some 200,000 years ago.
They later spread out, migrating to other continents where they displaced the indigenous human groups such as the Neanderthals in Europe and the Denisovans in Asia.
DNA from the cell's powerhouses - or mitochondria - can be used as a "clock" for reconstructing the timing of human migrations. This is because mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) accumulates mutations, or changes, at a known rate. Tools from Jebel Faya Researchers used a dating technique that relies on when the tools were buried
Studies of mtDNA had suggested a timing for the "Out of Africa" exodus of 60-70,000 years ago.
But scientists behind the latest study argue that the people who made tools at Jebel Faya 125,000 years ago are ancestral to humans living outside Africa today.
Professor Uerpmann said the estimates of time using genetic data were "very rough".
"The domestic dog was said to be 120,000 years old, and now it is 20,000. You can imagine how variable the genetic dating is," he explained.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist at London's Natural History Museum, said: "This archaeological work by Armitage and colleagues provides important clues that early modern humans might have dispersed from Africa across Arabia, as far as the Straits of Hormuz, by 120,000 years ago.
"This research augments the controversial idea that such populations could have migrated even further across southern Asia, despite conflicting genetic data that such movements only occurred after 60,000 years."
Multiple migrations?
The researchers say the toolmakers at Jebel Faya may have reached the Arabian Peninsula at a time when changes in the climate were transforming it from arid desert into a grassland habitat with lakes and rivers.
These human groups could later have moved on towards the Persian Gulf, trekking around the Iranian coast and on to South Asia.
Indeed, Dr Mike Petraglia at the University of Oxford has uncovered tools in India that he says could have been made by modern humans before 60,000 years ago. Some tools were sandwiched in ash from the eruption of the Toba super-volcano in Indonesia that geologists can date very accurately to 74,000 years ago.
However, other researchers suggest that the people living in India at this time could have died out and been replaced by a later wave of humans.
Anthropologists already knew of an early foray out of Africa by modern humans. Remains found at Skhul and Qafzeh in Israel date to between 119,000 and 81,000 years ago.
But the Skhul and Qafzeh people are generally thought to have died out or retreated south, perhaps because of climatic fluctuations. They subsequently disappear, and their sites are re-occupied by Neanderthals.
Professor Stringer said the fact that the tools found at Jebel Faya did not resemble those associated with modern humans at Qafzeh and Skhul hinted at "yet more complexity in the exodus of modern humans from Africa".
He posed the question: "Could there have been separate dispersals, one from East Africa into Arabia, and another from North Africa into the Levant?"
Source : - By Paul Rincon Science reporter, BBC News


Stone quarrying threatens Uganda's rock art paintings (Uganda)
Like other rock art paintings across Africa, some of Uganda’s rock art is severely threatened by theft and vandalism representing the most serious dangers to the continent’s unique heritage.
In addition, human development and settlement, and the exposure to the sun, rain and wind over the millennia have taken their toll on this ancient art form.
Some of these rocks are adorned with paintings made more than a thousand years ago by Twa hunter-gatherers for rainmaking and other reasons. This is the art that was painted, curved or engraved on the rock surfaces.
Using fire and water local “entrepreneurs” are now breaking up and destroying rocks and boulders that have been there for millions of years at the Nyero Rock Painting site found in Kumi district, 400 kilometers east of Kampala.
A national monument, Nyero is beautiful place with gigantic rocks balanced one upon the other. It is also a very sacred place and some local religious groups still hold ceremonies in the place. However, visitors now find piles of granite chips everywhere giving the impression of arriving at a stone quarry rather than a sacred or cultural site.
Eking a living from an illegal stone quarry within the famous Nyero site for Moses Omoding and Benjamin Isomet is all about their daily survival than the preservation of the heritage.
“I know that crushing stones here is bad but then poverty is forcing me to do this,” the 34-year-old father of four Moses Omoding says.
“It is the easiest way of getting money besides growing sweet potatoes and millet. I need the extra income from the stones to look after my family when they fall sick and improve our diet with fish,” Omoding adds.
On his part, Benjamin Isomet says: “I engage in this stone quarry to earn a living besides digging sweet potatoes and cassava. It is the easiest way to get money in a month if I have a poor harvest. So I can easily sell the stones.”
Nyero Site has a group of massive granite outcrops where extraordinary geometric art, believed to be the work of Twa hunter-gatherers, is found. The Itesot (Teso people) in the area are the current inhabitants of the region having arrived with their livestock about 300 years ago, but the paintings may be much older than this, the Trust for African Rock Art (TARA) says.
“The caves are not well protected, you can enter at any time with sweat and oil in your hands and touch the paintings,” the Nyero and Ngora site attendant, Emmanuel Wocan admits.
“They know the value of the site and because they are not benefiting directly they think they can only gain through the stone quarry. And some even think government has abandoned the place,” the other site attendant, William Opio chips in.
Isomet knows the value of the Nyero site, saying, “I know the importance of this historical site but poverty and lack of any other economic activity in this area has forced us to go into the stone quarry which is also not a reliable source of income because it could even take up to six months without getting a buyer.”
One lorry trip of stones from the Nyero stone quarry 8 kilometers from Kumi town goes for Ushs40, 000 ($17) feeding into the construction industry in the area.
“We have advised the locals that instead of the stone quarry we should promote the site with tourism activities so that they can earn from tourism,” the acting commissioner in charge of museums and monuments in the ministry of tourism, Rose Nkaale Mwanja to says.
“The youth would, for example form a traditional dance troupe to entertain the visitors. The youth would still take on the role of site guides while the women can make handicrafts to sell to the visitors,” Mwanja added.
Nyero’s historic, cultural value has long been recognized (gazette in 1972 as a National Monument) and is on Uganda’s Tentative List for nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is a protected object in accordance with the Historical Monuments Act No. 22 of 1967.
In addition, a small Nyero rock shelter containing the now famous concentric painting (adopted by the Uganda Museums as their logo) has been smeared with oil, reportedly for ritual purposes, “and will be very difficult, if not impossible to restore,” TARA warns.
The 10-acre land at Nyero is not clearly marked showing the boarders of the national site. In the late 1980s and early 1990s rebels of the Uganda Peoples Army are alleged to have vandalized the site by removing the iron bars that protected the paintings and even excavated stones with the belief that they would find mercury in the ground.
“The only way is to fence the site off otherwise it is becoming difficult for our attendants to keep watch over the rock art sites,” Mwanja admits.
Another nearby Ngora cave painting site in the area, once used for rainmaking, is now covered with modern graffiti allegedly written by students from Ngora high school.
“Such activities have seriously scarred the natural and the cultural landscape of this exceptional area and have destroyed large quantities of priceless archaeological material,” TARA warns.
TARA and the Uganda Department of Museums and Monuments have come together to work with local communities to look for ways to preserve these sites which are part of Africa’s rock art cultural heritage. Most of Uganda’s rock art sites are located in the east and south east of the country and most are painting sites. There are many ‘cupule’ sites on the shores and important examples on Lolwe (also called Dolwe or Lolui) island of Lake Victoria.
The majority of the paintings in Uganda consist of symbolic, geometric art, often featuring concentric circles. Oral legend in these areas and anthropological research over the years suggests that some of these symbols represent fertility, weather, morality and the invisible world. In the Lake Victoria Basin local people recognize concentric circles and other symbols as channels to rain and peace.
In the past times, rock art sites were used as places for communicating with the supernatural world.
Many rock art sites in Africa are still considered to be sacred by local communities. In some places the sites are still used for ritual purposes and for contacting ancestors. For example, the sacred site in southern Ethiopia with carved anthropomorphic and phallic monoliths dating back around 2,000 years. Local people still ask the spirits in the place for good harvests.
Rock art can inform us about the relationships between people and animals, TARA notes. In the older periods wild animals were large and rendered in great detail whereas humans were small following domestication, animals became smaller and humans more intricately drawn. This form of painting can be found in northern Sudan showing a scene of people with long-horned cattle.
Africa’s greatest concentration of rock art is found in the Sahara and Southern Africa. Most of the art dates from when the Sahara was not a desert. Africa has the greatest variety of rock art of any other continent, and some of the oldest exposed rock art in the world.
About 30 countries in Africa have rock art with a total of between 10 and 20 million images. The art features different techniques and styles much is magnificent and is comparable with the work of modern artists.
Rock art is important because it offers tantalizing glimpses of early cultures and beliefs as well as into early morality and the development of imaginative abilities. “As such, it is irreplaceable,” TARA says.
TARA argues that, “Rock art is fragile and irreplaceable. All rock art, tumuli and archaeological remains are protected by law; they are unique, valuable and fragile…” “Protection of this heritage is a global priority…”
Source :


Success of Poznan archaeologists in Sudan (Sudan)
24 January 2011 (
Concentration of carvings with thousands of images, ancient burial grounds and several dozen terracotta figurines were found by archaeological team from the Department of Archaeology of Africa of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS Poznan Branch during a survey in the mountains on the Red Sea, north of Port Sudan.
North-east Sudan, where the archaeological mission conducts its activities, has never been surveyed for prehistoric settlement. In 1999, Krzysztof Pluskota accidentally discovered the first concentration of stone art and informed the archaeologists, which led him to sending an expedition. The head of the expedition is Dr. Przemyslaw Bobrowski.
"During December's expedition we discovered another, very rich concentrations of stone art - mainly images of cattle, but also humans and some animals of wild African fauna" - said Prof. Michal Kobusiewicz, one of the expedition members. "These images are concentrated near a characteristic of a lonely, conical mountain with phallic shape, suggesting that the concentration of the images of cattle, the main sustenance of the then population, is associated with the cult of fertility" - he added.
According to archaeologists, the mountain was a symbol of fertility cult, the proof of which are its miniatures are made of sandstone found near the carvings, remains of cemeteries and settlements, and its image carved in stone.
Cult nature of this place is also evidenced by the discovery of a deposit consisting of several terracotta figurines depicting humans, cattle and phallic symbols.
In the immediate vicinity of cave engravings, the researchers found many traced of prehistoric settlements in different periods.
According to the researchers, more close determination of the age of carvings looks promising with radiocarbon analysis, geomorphological and environmental studies.
In 2011, archaeologists plan to continue research with regard to these important discoveries. Previous activities were possible with grants allocated by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.
Source :


Archeologists discover ancient ruins along Tanzanian coastal area (Tanzania)
21 January 2011 (
Tanzanian archaeologists and historical experts have announced the discovery of dozens of ancient ruins along the coastal area, dating back to as far as the 13th century. The new finds will shed new light on life as it was then, the identity of coastal dwellers, and possible trade with other seafaring nations across the oceans, in particular the Gulf area. It is believed from initial assessment that Arabic traders, and also the Portuguese in later centuries, had made landfall in what is now Tanzania and established settlements able to provide water and food to the ships and also trade for commodities in demand back then.
The experts were following clues on slave trade routes and coastal centers, and during their exploration stumbled across some relatively well-preserved ruins partly buried under vegetation.
Tourism sources in Dar es Salaam are already excited over the prospect of soon being able to offer a new attraction for visitors to see while on holiday in the country, and the nearby aerodromes and airfields of Tanga and Pangani will be able to cater to tourists flying in from Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, and Arusha. Said a regular source: "This find is potentially priceless for us. Kilimanjaro and Serengeti, Ngorongoro, are well known abroad. So are our beaches from the mainland to Zanzibar and the other islands used for tourism. But now we can add a big component of history and culture, which should draw more visitors to Tanzania."
Only recently was mention given here to the extensive caves also found in the Tanga area, which in itself still await further exploration and interpretation of the finds made there, but for now, tour operators are already getting busy to gather enough information to include a trip to Tanga in regular itineraries.
Source : - By Wolfgang H. Thome


Data matrix codes archaeological artefacts A research team at the Centre for the Studies of Archaeological and Prehistoric Heritage (CEPAP) of Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) have created an innovative new system to register archaeological artefacts which eliminates problems with manual markings, such as errors or the data wearing off. (Africa)
19 January 2011 (
The system, based on direct labelling using bi-dimensional data matrix (DM) codes, has been used by the CEPAP team now for two years, during which numerous artefacts and bone samples from sites in Spain and Africa have been registered using this technique.
Marking of archaeological material, or coding, is the process in which archaeologists identify each of the artefacts discovered at a site through an unique identifier code which is currently applied manually to each item and which contains the name of the site, the archaeological level or context at which it was found and an inventory number. This information is essential because it contextualises each artefact individually.
Manual coding is a routine process which requires time and effort and unfortunately, due to both its’ repetitive nature and constraints of the type or size of the material, brings in a margin of error – in some cases up to 40%.
With the passage of time the coding becomes unclear which can hinder subsequent studies or even render the artefact or sample useless. For this reason the work done in museums, especially with important artefacts or collection items, consists of recoding the objects – but even then, if the original locational or contextual data is lost, the value of the object is diminished.
The CEPAP team achieved results that reduced coding errors to 1% by applying a new digital cataloguing system used on several dig sites to register all types of collections.
To identify each object, DM codes are applied directly to the artefacts. The codes adapt in proportion to the size of the identified artefact, up to a minimum of 3×3 millimetres.

There are many advantages compared to bar codes, a registry system which in past years was tested in different archaeological projects. Due to their size, in many cases bar codes cannot be applied directly to the objects and must be somehow attached to the bag containing the artefact.
DM codes are printed with a programme CEPAP designed for the firm Internet Web Serveis, one of the project collaborators, creating alphanumeric sequences, forming up to 20 digits to identify each object with a unique code.
Printed on polypropylene labels, the codes are attached to the artefacts by first placing them between two layers of Paraloid B72 – an acrylic resin – which is used because of its durability and long-term protection of the label itself. Even if the label is damaged – up to 30% of the code – the information can be reprinted fully.
Meta-data information can be read using specialist readers, video and photo cameras, even mobile phones. The data can include geo-referenced information of the artefacts, as well as several quantitative or qualitative variables which have been collected and stored on notebooks or PDAs.
The pilot project carried out at Spanish sites (Roca dels Bous and Cova Gran de Santa Linya in Lleida) and African sites (c in Tanzania and Mieso in Ethiopia) was directed by Dr Rafael Mora, director of the Centre and lecturer of Prehistory at UAB; Dr Paloma González and Dr Jorge Martínez Moreno. The new system demonstrates substantial advantages when compared to manual coding in terms of speed and reliability, as well as its easy incorporation into mundane archaeological research tasks.
That is why CEPAP researchers find it important for archaeologists and researchers to consider the possibility of adapting a unique automated registry and cataloguing system for archaeological material, easy to use and economical, which would allow unified systems of data across all projects.
At the same time it opens the door to the development of applications such as data consultation via internet through databases combining DM code information and visual representations (drawings, photos or 3D scans), and cyberspace access to museum pieces, which would make it easier for both researchers and the public to have access to archaeological information as never before.
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Sailing into antiquity : BU archeologist unearths clues about ancient Egypt’s sea trade (Egypt - from 1950 to 1480 BC)
11 January 2011 (

The archeological digs at Egypt’s Wadi Gawasis have yielded neither mummies nor grand monuments.
But Boston University archeologist Kathryn Bard and her colleagues are uncovering the oldest remnants of seagoing ships and other relics linked to exotic trade with a mysterious Red Sea realm called Punt.
“They were the space launches of their time,’’ Bard said of the epic missions to procure wondrous wares.
Although Nile River craft are well-known, the ability of ancient Egyptian mariners to ply hundreds of miles of open seas in cargo craft was not so fully documented.
Then the team led by Bard and an Italian archeologist, Rodolfo Fattovich, started uncovering maritime storerooms in 2004, putting hard timber and rugged rigging to the notion of pharaonic deepwater prowess.
In the most recent discovery, on Dec. 29, they located the eighth in a series of lost chambers at Wadi Gawasis after shoveling through cubic meters of rock rubble and wind-blown sand.
Only a few days earlier, Bard had been grading term papers in chilly Boston; now, with flashlight and trowel, she was probing a musty manmade cavern, one that might date back more than 4,000 years.
“When the last layer of sand was removed, stale, fetid air rushed from a crack,’’ Bard said by mobile phone from the dig site, a dried-out water course beside the Red Sea.
The reconnaissance of the room and its relics will take time and caution. The chamber’s most likely contents include ship parts, jugs, trenchers, and workaday linens, as well as hieroglyphic records.
“It’s a storeroom, not a royal tomb,’’ Bard stressed.
However prosaic they seem, the finds at Wadi Gawasis - including the ancestor of the modern package label - really speak of the glitter, gold, and glory of a long-ago civilization that bewitches us still.
The remote desert site at the sea’s edge was established solely to satisfy the cravings of Egypt’s rulers for the luxury goods of faraway Punt: ebony, ivory, obsidian, frankincense, precious metals, slaves, and strange beasts, such as dog-faced baboons and giraffes.
Starting in the middle of the last decade, the Bard-Fattovich team grabbed the attention of nautical archeologists with the unearthing of ship timbers, limestone anchors, steering oars, and hanks of marine rope. The precisely beveled deck beams, hull planks, and copper fittings belong to the oldest deep sea vessels ever found, dating back at least 3,800 years.
The craft appear to have been up to 70 feet long, powered by rowers and sail and capable of navigating deep seas.
“This is exciting stuff, important,’’ said Shelley Wachsmann, a top authority on Bronze Age ships at Texas A&M University’s Institute of Nautical Archaeology. He is not directly involved with Bard’s research.
“She’s found the first fragments of an ancient Egyptian seagoing vessel - a ship that actually sailed in pharaonic times,’’ Wachsmann said.
Now the privately funded work at Wadi Gawasis - and at the nearby port ruins, known as Mersa - is winning wider attention.
This month, Cairo’s Egyptian Museum will open a special exhibition, “Mersa/Wadi Gawasis: A Pharaonic Harbor on the Red Sea,’’ featuring, among other things, cargo seals, voyage accounts, and a shipping crate marked in hieroglyphic text: “Wonderful Things of Punt.’’
Said Rosanna Pirelli, curator of the exhibition: “This is an important scientific event, since the [discoveries] show a more advanced maritime technology’’ in ancient Egypt.
Meanwhile, the PBS science series NOVA tomorrow will broadcast “Building Pharaoh’s Ship,’’ a documentary detailing the reconstruction of a Wadi Gawasis vessel by archeologist Cheryl Ward of Coastal Carolina University. The film airs in Boston on WGBH (Channel 2) at 8 p.m.
The journeys upon the “Great Green’’ - as one hieroglyph-inscribed tablet found at Wadi Gawasis refers to the sea - involved fantastical feats of organization, navigational skill, and daring. Overland trade between Egypt and Punt dates to the third millennium BC. But by 1950 BC, the rival Kingdom of Kush had cut off traditional desert routes, forcing Egypt to find a new passage.
Egypt’s eastern coast - then as now - was too parched to sustain a full-time port and shipbuilding center.
So, using timber hewn from the mountains of Lebanon, Egyptian shipwrights built big vessels on the banks of the Nile, near modern Qift, according to archaeology-based theory.
“These were then disassembled and transported, with all other supplies, over the desert by donkey, a journey of 10 days’’ to reach Wadi Gawasis, Bard said. The site adjoined a lagoon, in which a port was built. The ship parts were marked and rebuilt by number or color code.
The lagoon has long since been swallowed by sand, but satellite images hint at the remains of a slipway or dock.
Sea voyages to Punt would have been so costly and required such a massive logistical effort - probably involving thousands of workers, scribes, quartermasters, sailors, and pack animals - that they probably were launched only a few times per century.
Punt’s whereabouts remain a mystery. Scholars can’t even pin the realm to a continent. Bard places it on the Horn of Africa, in the region of present-day Eritrea and parts of Sudan and Somalia. Other researchers put it on the Red Sea’s Asian shore, in today’s Yemen.
Voyages from the port appear to have been suspended for two or three centuries because of political instability. There is evidence that Queen Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh, dispatched a last sea mission to Punt around 1480 BC, partly to obtain “mortuary incense.’’
Wadi Gawasis held its secrets for millennia.
Then, on Christmas Day 2004 - Bard’s second season of exploring the site - she thrust her hand into an odd hole in a cliff’s wall. She was thrilled to feel nothing: the indication of a larger space beyond.
Removal of rock rubble revealed a room containing a mud brick, some beads, and a grinding stone. Antiquities, sure, but Egypt’s sands are littered with such millennia-old shards and scraps.
Instinct, however, told the professor from Boston that the sun-scorched slopes concealed more than broken pots and earthenware adornments. “It just felt like we were on to something,’’ Bard said.
Within days, the team had uncovered another human-hewn cavern - this one connecting to a series of underground storage rooms. Here were ships’ timbers. Here were sea anchors. Here were bundles of intact nautical rope.
Here was a tantalizing tale of ancient seafaring.
“The rope was neatly stored, coiled, and knotted, exactly as some sailor left it,’’ Bard said. “It was a moment perfectly frozen in time for 3,800 years.’’
Source : - By Colin Nickerson, Globe Correspondent


Study Of Lice DNA Shows Humans First Wore Clothes 170,000 Years Ago (Africa)
7 January 2011 (medicalnewstoday)
A new University of Florida study following the evolution of lice shows modern humans started wearing clothes about 170,000 years ago, a technology which enabled them to successfully migrate out of Africa.
Principal investigator David Reed, associate curator of mammals at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus, studies lice in modern humans to better understand human evolution and migration patterns. His latest five-year study used DNA sequencing to calculate when clothing lice first began to diverge genetically from human head lice.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study is available online and appears in this month's print edition of Molecular Biology and Evolution.
"We wanted to find another method for pinpointing when humans might have first started wearing clothing," Reed said. "Because they are so well adapted to clothing, we know that body lice or clothing lice almost certainly didn't exist until clothing came about in humans."
The data shows modern humans started wearing clothes about 70,000 years before migrating into colder climates and higher latitudes, which began about 100,000 years ago. This date would be virtually impossible to determine using archaeological data because early clothing would not survive in archaeological sites.
The study also shows humans started wearing clothes well after they lost body hair, which genetic skin-coloration research pinpoints at about 1 million years ago, meaning humans spent a considerable amount of time without body hair and without clothing, Reed said.
"It's interesting to think humans were able to survive in Africa for hundreds of thousands of years without clothing and without body hair, and that it wasn't until they had clothing that modern humans were then moving out of Africa into other parts of the world," Reed said.
Lice are studied because unlike most other parasites, they are stranded on lineages of hosts over long periods of evolutionary time. The relationship allows scientists to learn about evolutionary changes in the host based on changes in the parasite.
Applying unique data sets from lice to human evolution has only developed within the last 20 years, and provides information that could be used in medicine, evolutionary biology, ecology or any number of fields, Reed said.
"It gives the opportunity to study host-switching and invading new hosts - behaviors seen in emerging infectious diseases that affect humans," Reed said.
A study of clothing lice in 2003 led by Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, estimated humans first began wearing clothes about 107,000 years ago. But the UF research includes new data and calculation methods better suited for the question.
"The new result from this lice study is an unexpectedly early date for clothing, much older than the earliest solid archaeological evidence, but it makes sense," said Ian Gilligan, lecturer in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at The Australian National University. "It means modern humans probably started wearing clothes on a regular basis to keep warm when they were first exposed to Ice Age conditions."
The last Ice Age occurred about 120,000 years ago, but the study's date suggests humans started wearing clothes in the preceding Ice Age 180,000 years ago, according to temperature estimates from ice core studies, Gilligan said. Modern humans first appeared about 200,000 years ago.
Because archaic hominins did not leave descendants of clothing lice for sampling, the study does not explore the possibility archaic hominins outside of Africa were clothed in some fashion 800,000 years ago. But while archaic humans were able to survive for many generations outside Africa, only modern humans persisted there until the present.
"The things that may have made us much more successful in that endeavor hundreds of thousands of years later were technologies like the controlled use of fire, the ability to use clothing, new hunting strategies and new stone tools," Reed said.
Study co-authors were Melissa Toups of Indiana University and Andrew Kitchen of The Pennsylvania State University, both previously with UF. Co-author Jessica Light of Texas A&M University was formerly a post-doctoral fellow at the Florida Museum. The researchers completed the project with the help of Reed's NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award, which is granted to researchers who exemplify the teacher-researcher role.
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