Neanderthals glued their tools together

Neanderthals glued their tools together

Enlarge / Neanderthals lived in Grotta di Sant’Agostino between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago. (credit: Degano et al. 2019)

Neanderthals glued their stone tools into place on wooden handles, a new study suggests. Archaeologists found chemical traces of pine resin on 10 stone tools from Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino, on the western coast of central Italy. That’s pretty solid evidence that Neanderthals living in Italy were hafting their stone tools and securing them in place with resin between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago—long before Homo sapiens set foot in Europe.

Getting a grip on stone tools

For around three million years, hominins had been shaping various cutting, pounding, and scraping tools out of stone, but something was still missing. Imagine trying to skin and butcher a deer using a knife with no handle, and you’ve got life for most of hominin history. Hafting tools was a major

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Ancient Peruvian engineering could help solve modern water shortages

Ancient Peruvian engineering could help solve modern water shortages

Enlarge / Diversion canals channel water into earth-bottomed infiltration canals like this one, where water can begin to soak into the ground on its way to a pond or basin. (credit: Musuq Briceño, CONDESAN, 2012.)

Rain seldom falls on the desert lowlands of coastal Peru, so people in the area have always depended on the water that flows down from the Andes during the rainy season. But streams in this part of the world come and go quickly, so indigenous people built a system of canals and ponds to channel excess rainwater and create groundwater. Now a group of researchers says that a scaled-up version could help improve Peru’s water management.

Ancient engineers (not aliens)

1,400 years ago, Chavin and Wari indigenous communities on the slopes of the Andes Mountains dug systems of stone-lined and earthen canals to channel excess rainwater from streams to areas where the ground could soak

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This 2,400-year-old bark shield took a beating in an Iron Age fight

This 2,400-year-old bark shield took a beating in an Iron Age fight

Enlarge / This is what the shield looked like after being excavated and conserved. (credit: Michael Bamforth)

When they found the shield, University of York archaeologists Michael Bamforth and his colleagues thought it must have been ceremonial, because surely bark couldn’t hold up against heavy iron-tipped spears and iron axes. After all, every other Iron Age shield archaeologists have found in Europe so far has been made of wood or metal. But it turned out that the tough, springy bark would have been perfectly capable of repelling arrows. Its lightness may even have made an Iron Age warrior more agile on the battlefield.

Welcome to the Iron Age; we’ve got swords and spears

By around 400 BCE, even small villages across Britain surrounded themselves with ditches, embankments, and palisades. At farmsteads scattered between villages, people grew wheat and barley or herded sheep and cattle. Local or regional chiefs ruled

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14,000-year-old footprints record an underground Stone Age family outing

14,000-year-old footprints record an underground Stone Age family outing

Enlarge / The clay-rich mud of Basura Cave preserved these footprints for 14,000 years. (credit: Emily Packer (Marcomms))

There was a lot more to Paleolithic life than hunting, gathering, and leaving well-preserved bones for archaeologists. A 14,000-year-old set of footprints and crawl tracks preserves a snapshot of an ancient family’s exploration of a cave in northern Italy—something they apparently did just for the heck of it. The tracks were left in an ancient layer of clay and record how a small group of hunter-gatherers, carrying makeshift torches, waded through ponds and sometimes crawled on their hands and knees to explore the cave. And they apparently brought their young children with them on the adventure.

“Most likely they were pushed into the cave by simple curiosity and a sense of wonder for unexplored places,” archaeologist Marco Romano of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa, told Ars Technica.

A dangerous idea

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Archaeologists find DNA in a 10,000-year-old piece of chewing gum

Archaeologists find DNA in a 10,000-year-old piece of chewing gum

Enlarge (credit: Kashuba et al. 2019)

The people who lived at Huseby-Kiev in western Sweden 10,000 years ago made their living by hunting and fishing. That doesn’t sound surprising until you consider that this was a landscape that had, until recently, been covered by ice sheets 4km (2.5 miles) thick. How they occupied the re-emerging landscape is a bit of a mystery. We don’t know much about who they actually were, where they came from, or how they made their way into Sweden as the ice receded.

In the 1990s, archaeologists recovered a few chewed-up lumps of birch bark pitch, some of which still held fingerprints and tooth marks left behind from millennia ago. Using this ancient chewing gum, archaeologist Natalija Kashuba of Uppsala University recently recovered DNA from two women and one man who had lived, worked, and apparently chewed gum on the shores of ancient Sweden. That

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How to brew ancient Wari beer

How to brew ancient Wari beer

Enlarge (credit: Donna Nash)

When the people of the Wari Empire (predecessors of the Inca) abandoned the southern Andes around 1100 CE, they made sure nobody else could enjoy their former home by destroyed the brewery that, for 400 years, had provided for lavish festivals held at the provincial center of Cerro Baúl.

“They intentionally and deliberately destroyed the site so that it couldn’t be used by successor societies when they left,” Field Museum Associate Curator & Professor of Anthropology Ryan Williams told Ars Technica. “The brewery itself was burned down at the end, and a great feast accompanied that burning, in which the special ceramic vessels from which the local lords would have been served were smashed into the burning flames.”

The smashed pots that were left behind, however, contained clues to the ancient beer recipe that once held an empire together.

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1,550 years ago, someone ate a rattlesnake whole—and we have poo to prove it

1,550 years ago, someone ate a rattlesnake whole—and we have poo to prove it

An example of Crotalus atrox, aka western diamondback rattlesnake. (credit: Wikipedia)

Sometime around 450 CE in the Chihuahuan Desert, one brave soul ate a whole rattlesnake raw. If you think that takes guts, imagine passing an 11mm (0.43 inch) fang afterward. The desiccated coprolite—archaeologists’ term for ancient poop—contained the scales and bones of the snake along with remnants of a small rodent and an assortment of edible desert plants. It’s a great example of how coprolites can give archaeologist a direct (sometimes unnervingly direct) look at what ancient people ate.

The dry desert climate preserves things we don’t always think about. When archaeologists first excavated the layers of sediment in Conejo Shelter, a rock shelter high on the wall of a canyon in Texas’ Lower Pecos Valley, they found nearly 1,000 coprolites buried in a corner near the entrance, which looks like it served as an ancient latrine.

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