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WillSmith456

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ncient Corral Shows Horse Domestication
Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News
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Oct. 20, 2006 —New evidence from soil inside the remains of a 5,600-year-old corral indicates that the ancient Botai people of Kazakhstan were among the earliest to domesticate horses. But equine romantics might be disappointed to learn that the Botai probably ate and milked their horses as often as they rode them.

The corrals are part of an archeological site in northern Kazakhstan known as Krasnyi Yar, once a large village occupied by the Copper-Age Botai, said Sandra Olsen, curator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Penn.

Olsen leads a team that has been investigating horse domestication for several years. One of her colleagues, Rosemary Capo, will present a poster with some of chemical soil evidence for horses on Oct. 23 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Philadelphia.
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"We really don't understand any major signs of changes in horses with domestication," said Melinda Zeder, an archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution who specializes in the origins of animal and plant domestication.

Zeder was referring to physical changes in horse bones from ancient middens. Nor, so far, is there a direct way to determine what people were doing with their horses that early on, she said. For these reasons she and her colleagues have been building their case with less direct evidence.

"Here's an approach to documenting horse domestication that's extremely new," said Zeder. "Sort of like Perry Mason, they're building circumstantial evidence."

That evidence comes from circular arrangements of posts and the soil differences found inside and outside the corral. Inside the corral, the soil contained up to ten times the phosphorus as outside soils, but lower concentrations of nitrogen. That's what you'd expect if the soil there was enriched with horse manure.

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WillSmith456

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Modern horse manure, for comparison, is loaded with phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen. The nitrogen is the easiest to lose to groundwater or the air.

Phosphorus, on the other hand, can be held in place by calcium and iron, says Capo, a geologist who did the soil analyses with Michael Rosenmeier and undergraduates Andy Stiff and James Gardiner of the University of Pittsburgh.

"High phosphorous could also indicate human occupation," said Capo, "but that's usually accompanied by other geochemical signatures, which we didn't find in the corral samples."
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There was also high sodium concentration in the corral samples, which could be from urine, suggested Olsen.

The real smoking gun, said Olsen, will be if they can detect long-lived molecules of lipids, or fat, in these samples that can be attributed specifically to horses. That analysis is now being arranged.

So what were the Botai doing with those horses? They probably ate them and used them as pack animals, and they may have milked the mares to create a vitamin-rich, mildly alcoholic beverage that's still consumed today in Kazakhstan, said Olsen.

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Ancient Stonehenge Houses Unearthed
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
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Oct. 13, 2006 —Nine Neolithic-era buildings have been excavated in the Stonehenge world heritage site, according to a report in the journal British Archaeology.

The structures, which appear to have been homes, date to 2,600-2,500 B.C. and were contemporary with the earliest stone settings at the site's famous megalith. They are the first house-like structures discovered there.

Julian Thomas, who worked on the project and is chair of the archaeology department at Manchester University in England, said Stonehenge could have been a key gathering place at the Neolithic era's version of a housing development.
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The buildings all had plaster floors and timber frames, and most had a central hearth. Two, including a house possibly inhabited by a community chief or priest, were enclosed by ringed ditches, the largest measuring 131 feet across. Postholes indicate a wooden fence would have surrounded the smaller of the two structures.

"If the structure inside the large ditch was indeed a chief's house, this individual would have been living rather humbly like the rest of the population, since the building itself wouldn't have been elaborate," Thomas said. "It's like a humble house that was meant to be separated and secluded from the outside world."

Near the buildings were remnants of grooved pottery characteristic of the period, along with stone tools. The findings suggest many people lived at the site around 4,600 years ago.

Thomas thinks many more residences could have once stood there.

"People at that time were probably mobile and living in flimsy buildings, which would have since eroded," he explained.

Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology and a leading expert on Stonehenge, told Discovery News the two isolated buildings at the site may have been shrines and not residences, but he thinks it's also possible the buildings were home to Stone Age VIP's.

"Perhaps these did house chiefs, or powerful priests," said Pitts. "Work is continuing, but it is clear that at last we are starting to see the exceptional archaeology we would expect to find in a landscape that until recently was (thought to be) almost empty except, at its center, for Stonehenge."

Excavation work is expected to continue over the next three summers.

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Wildfires Expose Ancient Artifacts
Allison Hoffman, Associated Press
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Oct. 13, 2006 —An oak tree was still burning nearby when Margaret Hangan made her way across a wildfire-scorched landscape and spotted to her delight a set of flat-topped granite boulders that served as kitchen counters in an ancient village 2,000 years ago.

In the rocks were manmade oval depressions in which acorns were ground into flour.

"This place was happening," said Hangan, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist. "They had water, food, grass for baskets — everything they needed."
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For all the damage they do, wildfires can be a boon to archaeologists, laying bare the traces of long-gone civilizations.

Around the country, government archaeologists often move in to see what has been exposed after the flames have burned away the underbrush; sometimes they accompany firefighters while a blaze is still raging to make sure artifacts are not damaged.

"Fires are a double-edged sword," said Richard Fitzgerald, an archaeologist for California state parks. "They can be very destructive, but after a big fire you can find new sites, even in areas that have been surveyed before."

During a gargantuan fire that burned for nearly a month this fall in the Los Padres National Forest north of Los Angeles, fire crews found an abandoned gold mining camp and an adobe homestead from the 1800s. After a smaller fire there in June, they discovered a cave with rock art and a site with unusual beads made from freshwater shells.

David Jurney, an archaeologist in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest in Arkansas, estimated his teams make four times as many finds during post-fire surveys than they do digging through overgrown stretches of forest.

Most finds are small, rock flakes left behind by hunters sharpening arrowheads, or piles of rich brown earth, called midden, that remain from prehistoric kitchen scraps.

In rare instances, fires unveil large structures. Archaeologists discovered fortress-like stone walls after a 2003 fire ravaged Cuyamaca State Park northeast of San Diego.

During fires, archaeologists sometimes move with firefighters to help prevent damage to already recorded sites. Bulldozers are often directed to work around settlements, and helicopter pilots are warned against dropping fire retardant on rocks with ancient drawings on them.

"The No. 1 goal is to put the fire out, but there's flexibility in how that's done," said Paul Claeyssens, a Forest Service archaeologist in Oregon.

Fire crews working near known archaeological sites can also set backfires that can burn away fuel at lower temperatures than wildfires, which can get so hot that rocks simply explode, obliterating traces of ancient settlements

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Find: Ancient Humans Hunted Giant Camels
Albert Aji, Associated Press
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Oct. 11, 2006 — Hunters stalked giant camels as tall as some modern-day elephants in the Syrian desert tens of thousands of years ago and archaeologists behind the find are wondering where the camels came from and what caused them to die off.

The enormous beasts existed about 100,000 years ago and more of the bones, first discovered last year, have been found this year in the sands about 150 miles north of the capital, Damascus.

The animal, branded the "Syrian Camel" by its Swiss and Syrian discoverers, stood between three and four yards high — about twice the size of latter-day camels and the height at the shoulder of many African elephants.
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"The camel is a dromedary but extremely big and extremely tall — about double the size of a modern day camel," said Jean-Marie Le Tensorer, who led the Swiss side of the team.

The camels did not appear to have been bred by humans as beasts of burden, the scientists said, raising questions about its provenance — and disappearance.

"What we want to know now is: where did it come from, and why did it disappear never to be seen again? Was it migrating from Asia to Africa?" said the team's Syrian leader, Heba al-Sakhel.

Le Tensorer said humanoid bones were discovered at a nearby site and stone tools used by early humans were found with the camel's bones, which are thought to be up to 100,000 years old.

"The bones — a fragment of an arm and a tooth — are, of course, of the hunter of the giant camel. He probably stalked his prey to a water spring where he came to drink," said Le Tensorer.

"Ordinary camels appeared in the (Middle East) region some 6,000-7,000 years ago and, for the first time, we have a wild form and very, very old," he said.

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Ancient Necropolis at Vatican Opens
Frances D'emilio, Associated Press
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Oct. 10, 2006 —Visitors to the Vatican soon will be able to descend into an ancient world of the dead, a newly unveiled necropolis that was a burial place for the rich and not-so-affluent during Roman imperial rule.

The necropolis, unearthed three years ago during construction of a parking lot, will open to the public this week. One archaeologist said on Monday that sculptures, engravings and other objects found entombed with the dead made the find a "little Pompeii" of cemeteries.

The burial sites, ranging from simple terra-cotta funerary urns with ashes still inside to ornately sculptured sarcophagi, date from between the era of Augustus (23 B.C. to 14 A.D.) to that of Constantine in the first part of the 4th century.
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From specially constructed walkways, visitors can look down on some skeletons, including that of an infant buried by loved ones who left a hen's egg beside the body. The egg, whose smashed shell was reconstructed by archaeologists, might have symbolized hopes for a rebirth, officials at a Vatican Museums news conference said Monday.

The remains of the child, whose gender was not determined, were discovered during the construction of the walkways, after the main excavation had finished, said Daniele Battistoni, a Vatican archaeologist.

Buried there were upper-class Romans as well as simple artisans, with symbols of their trade, offering what archaeologists called rare insights into middle- and lower-middle-class life.

"We found a little Pompeii of funeral" life, said Giandomenico Spinola, a head of the Museums' classical antiquities department.

"We have had the mausoleums of Hadrian and Augustus," Spinola said, referring to majestic monuments along the Tiber in Rome, "but we were short on these middle- and lower-class" burial places.

The burial sites help "document the middle class, which usually escapes us," said Paolo Liverani, an archaeologist and former Museums official who worked as a consultant on the site. "You don't construct history with only generals and kings."

Among those buried in the necropolis was a set designer for Pompey's Theater, notorious for being near the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. Decorating the designer's tomb were some symbols of his trade — a compass and a T-square.

An archivist for Emperor Nero's private property and mailmen also were buried in the necropolis.

Unearthed were black-and-white mosaic flooring and other decorations, including figures of a satyr and Dionysus, an ancient god of fertility and wine, along with a scene of a grape harvest.

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A male member of ancient Rome's class of knights, who died as a teenager, was remembered in death with a sculptured figure with hands outstretched as if in prayer. The kind of figure, known as an "orante," was widely taken as an early symbol of Christians.

However, Liverani noted that the necropolis spans an era "when it was difficult to document Christianity" as the religion of the deceased because Christians were still persecuted in the empire. Thus mourners were unlikely to leave clear Christian symbols for fear of persecution.

Battistoni pointed out a layer of churned up stone running horizontally through the upper part of the necropolis, a sign of a 2nd century landslide that covered part of the hilly burial ground.
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The necropolis ran along the edges of an ancient Roman road, Via Triumphalis, and is distinct from another necropolis that followed the lines of another ancient road, Via Cornelia, whose ruins can be seen under St. Peter's Basilica.

The Via Cornelia necropolis is considered to hold the tomb of St. Peter, the first pope.

Another part of the Via Triumphalis necropolis was dug up in the 1950s during work to build another Vatican garage. Asked whether the construction of the parking facility meant not all of the necropolis was uncovered, Spinola shrugged.

"This didn't start out as an excavation to study the area but as an emergency excavation to save what one could save," from the bulldozers, Spinola said.

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Oracle Inspired by Low-Oxygen Delirium
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
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Oct. 9, 2006 —A lack of oxygen might have inspired the prophecies at the Temple of Apollo in the Greek town of Delphi, according to a new study.

Published in the current issue of the journal Geology, the research contradicts a previous study suggesting that the Delphic priestess, known as pythia, who issued the prophecies was high on ethylene gas rising from bedrock cracks at the intersection of two faults directly beneath the temple.

According to Giuseppe Etiope, a geologist at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome, the pythia's altered state was likely due to methane-induced hypoxia — oxygen deprivation caused by methane gas leaking into the temple's small, non-aerated chamber.
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Perched in the mountains of Phokis on the foothills of Mount Parnassos 100 miles northwest of Athens, the Delphi sanctuary was one of ancient Greece's most sacred sites from 700 B.C. until A.D. 381, when it was destroyed by the Romans.

The biographer Plutarch (A.D. 46-120), who served as a priest in the temple for many years, left a detailed account of how the oracle worked.

Prophecies were delivered by the pythia, a woman who held the position of oracle and would act as the sun god Apollo's mouthpiece. During her trance, she sat upon a tripod in the Adyton, a small underground chamber bathed in sweet vapors.

Various excavations failed to find any sign of gases emanating from the earth. But in the late 1990s, a U.S. team led by geologist Jelle De Boer of the Wesleyan University in Connecticut, found traces of methane, ethane and ethylene.

De Boer concluded that ethylene, a central nervous system stimulant that can produce euphoria and delirium, was a probably an essential agent in the pythia's consultation.

But the authors of the new study aren't so sure.

"We did discover signs of gas exhalation in Delphi, but the possibility of ethylene intoxication is very unlikely," Etiope told Discovery News.



Odorless and colorless, ethylene is generated by bacteria fermenting at low temperatures. According to the Italian team, this gas could not be produced in the deep carbonate rocks of Delphi — at least not in the amount necessary to induce neurotoxic effects such as trance and delirium.

Etiope and colleagues detected small amounts of carbon dioxide, ethane and methane in the limestone beneath the temple.

Etiope and colleagues concluded that if any gases had neurotoxic effects on the pythia, they were most likely carbon dioxide and methane, which together would have caused oxygen depletion.
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Ronald Klusman, emeritus professor of chemistry and geochemistry at Colorado School of Mines, agreed that oxygen depletion could have caused unconsciousness and occasional deaths in Delphi.

"I do agree with Etiope's conclusions, but final conclusions require additional, more sensitive measurements of a wider range of hydrocarbons," Klusman told Discovery News.

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