14,000-year-old human evidence found in Western British Columbia

ancient site

Photo: Joanne McSporran

A coastal strip of land in British Columbia has been occupied at least 14,000 years – back to the time of the last Ice Age, when warm water influences from the Pacific Ocean kept this area from freezing. A CBC report last month, detailing how a meters-deep excavation turned up evidence dating back at least that far, said the discovery lends credence to oral histories of the area by the Heiltsuk Nation, an aboriginal group there. The ancient site, uncovered last November, shows that people occupied this area long before the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the creation of the Pyramids in Egypt, the Vancouver Sun said.

The Triquet Island settlement, reachable only by air or sea, has produced a hoard of valuable artifacts, including pieces of bent wood, compound fish hooks and assorted stone tools. The site is one of the oldest evidence of human habitation ever found in North America.

William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, told Smithsonian.com that the validation by “Western science and archeology” of his people’s long-time occupation of the area can help the Heiltsuk people as they negotiate with the Canadian government over title rights to their traditional territory.


Significant Roman Inscription Found On Mediterranean Rock Off Israel


A large rock discovered on the Mediterranean seabed off Israel earlier this year has on its surface a 1,900-year old inscription naming a Roman ruler of Judea whose identity was unknown to modern researchers. The inscription bears the name Gargilius Antiques and mentioning the province of Judea, The Times of Israel reported yesterday (Dec. 1).

The paper said that archaeologists have been able to determine that Antiques ruled over the Judean province before the 132-136 A.D. Bar Kochba (or Kockba) Revolt of Jews against the Romans. Also known as the Third Jewish-Roman War, or the Third Jewish Revolt, this one was finally put down by a massive Roman force led by Sextus Julius Severrus, Wikipedia says.

The rock hearing Antiques’ name was discovered by Jewish divers working with the University of Haifa. Believed to be the base of a statue, the rock was found last January during a maritime excavation at the Tel Dor archaeological site. The city of Tel Dor was an important Roman port that was active until at least the 4th century, The Times said.

The rock, measuring 70 by 65 centimeters and weighing over 600 kilograms, was covered in sea creatures when it was discovered, according to Haaretz.

Not only were we able for the first time to identify with certainty the name of the ruler who oversaw Judea in the critical years the Bar Kochba revolt; this is also just the second time that the mention of Judea has been discovered in inscriptions traced back to Roman era,” said Prof. Assaf Yasur-Landau of Haifa University, who was in charge of deciphering the text.

Antiques’s name was first found in an inscription some 70 years ago, but mention of the territory he ruled over was not preserved.

At seven lines, the text discovered this year, Yasur-Landau said, “is the longest discovered in maritime excavations in Israel.”

It is missing a portion but is believed to read: “The City of Dor honors Marcus Paccius, son of Publius, Silvanus Quintus Coredius Gallus Gargilius Antiquus, governor of the province of Judea, as well as […] of the province of Syria, and patron of the city of Dor.”

3,800-Year-Old ‘Thinker’ Preceded Rodin by 3.5+ Millennium


A picture taken on November 23, 2016 shows a 3,800-year-old jug from the Middle Bronze Age, featuring a human sculpture, displayed at the Israel Antiquities Authority lab in Jerusalem after it was unearthed during an archaeological excavation ahead of the construction of new buildings in Yehud. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

‘The Thinker’, a sculpture conceived by Auguste Rodin in the 1880’s, has long been recognized – virtually since Rodin’s first sculpture with that name was unveiled in 1904 – as a striking work of art and as a symbol for the study of philosophy. But The Times of Israel recently reported that a much earlier ‘thinker’, from the Middle Bronze Age (about 3,800 years ago), has been discovered in Israel.

Now on display at the Israel Antiquities Authority lab in Jerusalem, this hardly-new ‘thinker’ is made of clay and is remarkably well preserved for its age.

The unique clay statuette, mounted atop a ceramic vessel, was found in the central Israel town of Yehud by a team of Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists, who were paired up with high school students in October.

News of the discovery was reported by the IAA last Wednesday (November 23rd).

Gilad Itach, the archaeologist heading the dig, said that on the last day of excavations, just before construction of a building commenced on site, they found the 18-centimeter (seven-inch) tall figurine, along with an assortment of other items.

It seems they first prepared a pot characteristic of the period, and afterwards they added the unique statue, the likes of which have never before been discovered in previous research,” he said. “The level of precision and attention to detail in creating this almost 4,000-year-old sculpture is extremely impressive. The neck of the jug served as a base for forming the upper portion of the figure, after which the arms, legs and a face were added to the sculpture.”


The 3,800 year old jug exposed in the field. (Credit: EYECON Productions, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists also found other vessels, as well as daggers, arrowheads, and ax head, as well as the bones of sheep and what may be ass bones. Itach suggested the items were funerary objects for a prominent member of the Canaanite community.

It was customary in antiquity to believe that the objects that were interred alongside the individual continued with him into the next world,” he said in a statement. “To the best of my knowledge such a rich funerary assemblage that also includes such a unique pottery vessel has never before been discovered in the country.”

One can see that the face of the figure seems to be resting on its hand as if in a state of reflection,” Itach added, “It is unclear if the figure was made by the potter who prepared the jug or by another craftsman.”

In addition to the Bronze Age finds, researchers involved in the salvage dig discovered 6,000-year-old remains from the Chalcolithic period, including a circular stone installation that may have served as an ancient well, as well as fragments of a ceramic butter churn from the same period.

Earlier this year, archaeologists operating in Yehud, not far from the statue’s discovery, found a Middle Bronze Age necropolis containing 94 pit graves containing men, women and children along with funerary offerings including pots, daggers and pins, scarabs, animal bones and jewelry. The site continued to be used as a burial ground for centuries thereafter.

Cancer a ‘Modern’ Disease? Hardly: 2 Million Year Old Version Is Found



A specimen of a 1.7 million year old cancer

Paleopathologists in South Africa have found two million-year-old evidence of cancer, long thought to be a modern, lifestyle-related disease. Separately, a 1.7 million-year-old example was found in another South African location. These oldest-by-far cancerous specimens were evaluated using advanced 3D imaging methods as diagnostic aids at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, South Africa. The researchers included Edward Odes, a doctoral candidate at Wits, and Patrick Randolph-Quinney, also of Wits and of Cambridge University in England. Randolph-Quinney was identified as the lead researcher in the paper published on July 28 in the South African Journal of Science.

“Modern medicine tends to assume that cancers and tumors in humans are diseases caused by modern lifestyles and environments,” Odes said. “Our studies show the origins of these diseases occurred in our ancient relatives millions of years before modern industrial societies existed.”

First, a 1.7-million-year-old foot bone with cancer was found at the Swartkrans cave in South Africa. The exact species is unknown, but it is a hominin, or bipedal human relative, the researchers said.

Scientists also found a benign tumor in the 2-million-year-old vertebrae of an Australopithecus sedibachild found in South Africa’s Malapa cave.

Until now, the oldest hominin tumor had been found in the 120,000-year-old rib of a Neanderthal, according to the researchers.

The cancer in the foot was an aggressive type called osteosarcoma, they said.

“Due to its preservation, we don’t know whether the single cancerous foot bone belongs to an adult or child, nor whether the cancer caused the death of this individual, but we can tell this would have affected the individual’s ability to walk or run,” said Bernhard Zipfel, in a Wits news release.

Zipfel, a scientist who is an expert on the foot and locomotion of early humans, added, “In short, it would have been painful.”

Another member of the research team noted that the benign back tumor was a first in several ways.

“The presence of a benign tumor in Australopithecus sediba is fascinating not only because it is found in the back, an extremely rare place for such a disease to manifest in modern humans, but also because it is found in a child,” said Randolph-Quinney, in the news release.

“This, in fact, is the first evidence of such a disease in a young individual,” he explained. Randolph-Quinney was lead author of the benign tumor paper and co-author of a separate cancer paper published at the same time, in the same journal, as the benign tumor one.

More information on this topic is available here.

‘Bottom Wipers’ Reveal Secrets of China’s Silk Road

bottom wipes

Photograph: Hui-Yuan Yeh/ Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

It wasn’t just merchandise that was hauled along ancient China’s ‘Silk Road’: Recently discovered ‘bottom wipers’ – bamboo sticks with grimy fabric and more ‘earthy’ remains on them – revealed that both disease and animal species were inadvertently transported by traveling traders.

The sticks, found in a 2,000-year-old latrine, provided the first solid evidence that various species of parasites made the trip along the road, spreading disease from east to west, according to a recent article in The Guardian.

Originally published in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (paywall), the report by Hui-Yuan Yeh, a researcher at Cambridge University, and several colleagues, notes that one of the parasites, found in feces stuck to the cloth on some sticks, was associated with the Chinese liver fluke. Because it needs marshy conditions to complete its life cycle, that 1 cm (.39 in) long parasite could not have come from the desert area around the ancient Xuanquanzhi relay station, the site of the excavated latrine.

In fact, the Guardian article said, “The Chinese liver fluke originated thousands of miles away from the arid Tamrin Basin, an area including the Taklamakan Desert – one of the harshest on earth, dubbed “the desert of death” by the Chinese. Two thousand years ago the parasite’s unfortunate host would have been a very unhappy traveler, producing symptoms including fever, griping pain, diarrhea and jaundice.

The Chinese liver fluke, which also has been associated with some kinds of cancer, presently is being studied as having potentially being useful in healing chronic wounds such as diabetic ulcers.

The Guardian noted that relay stations at oasis towns, where travelers could rest and buy food, were crucial for any traders on the Silk Road hoping to survive the desert crossing. The bone dry conditions at these sites have preserved a wealth of organic remains for archaeologists, the article said.

The large Xuanquanzhi station was excavated just over 20 years ago. It has been dated to the Han dynasty, and was in use between 111BC to 109 AD. The most celebrated finds from the site are fragments of letters and other documents – including some written on silk.

But the ‘bottom wipe’ sticks will undoubtedly prove to be among its most interesting revelations.