Pottering of potters: archaeologist traces the migration of ancient Greek potters

Pottering of potters: archaeologist traces the migration of ancient Greek potters

Archaeologists have been keen in recent years to apply all kinds of modern methods for monitoring prehistoric migration; they analyze DNA and strontium isotopes in human remains.

“To illuminate the migration of potters in ancient Greece about 3200 years ago by more traditional methods,” says Dr. Bartłomiej Lis, who carries out his research at the British School at Athens as part of a grant obtained thanks to the EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions program.

His analysis shows that around 1200 BC, potters from the island of Aegina (near Athens) left their homes and began to make characteristic vessels in many places scattered along the Gulf of Euboea, north of Aegina.

Aegina seen from the shores of Attica

Dr. Lis drew his conclusion on the basis of meticulous analysis of ceramic vessels in terms of methods of their manufacture, from the moment of obtaining clay and its preparation for firing the vessels.

“Thanks to this, I understood the process of making ceramic vessels in Aegina and I was able to compare these vessels with those found in other Greek regions”, the scientist says.

It turned out that the potters working on the island of Aegina were making their vessels in a very different way from other potters operating at the same time in Greece.

These differences concerned both the method of building the walls of the vessel without using a potter`s wheel, as well as other details of the production process.

In addition, potters from Aegina used to mark their products, which was probably associated with the fact that they shared kilns, but could also be their trademark.

“These observations led to the identification in many places along the Gulf of Euboea, the water corridor leading from Athens and the Saronic Gulf to the north, of the same characteristic vessels, but made of ceramic pastes different from those used in Aegina”, says Dr. Lis.

The analysis of ceramic pastes was deepened by the use of petrography, a technique borrowed from geology, in which the Fitch Laboratory at the British School specializes.

Dr. Lis learned this method under the guidance of the laboratory director, Dr. Evangelii Kiriatzi. Petrography allows to both determine the origin of the vessels and better understand the techniques of their manufacture.

The Polish scientist emphasizes that both aspects were crucial for the success of his project.

Dr. Lis during petrographic analysis

The researcher believes that the potters from Aegina left the island in at least two stages over the course of several decades.

In turn, the large variety of used pottery pastes clearly indicates the acquisition of raw material from various places and thus the production of vessels typical of the island of Aegina in many locations along the Gulf of Euboea.

“The first stage of migration may have resulted from problems with the sale of manufactured vessels. During this period, we observe a collapse of trade in pottery, which probably also affected the potters from Aegina. Seasonal wandering could be a way to take fate into their own hands”, the archaeologist speculates.

Pottering of potters: archaeologist traces the migration of ancient Greek potters
Examples of Aegina-type vessels made outside of Aegina, Pefkakia.

According to the researcher, the second stage was associated with the permanent relocation of potters, supposedly as a result of economic and political changes ca. 1200 BC. At that time, Aegina, as well as its immediate surroundings, were not a safe place to live.

“Many of the previously flourishing settlements were deserted, and people apparently moved to safer areas. In fact, the only trace of these movements are vessels made by potters who were part of these migrations”, Dr. Lis emphasizes.

Microscopic images of ceramic fabrics of the vessel made on Aegina (left) and near Pefkakia (right)

The scientist failed to unambiguously determine the sex of ceramics makers in Aegina.

“However, both the specialization visible in the production of vessels and the fact of their itinerant production, which according to ethnographic sources, women never undertook, suggest that they were men” – the scientist believes.

PERU: Well-Preserved Dog Remains Unearthed in ancient Peruvian temple

PERU: Well-Preserved Dog Remains Unearthed in ancient Peruvian temple

In an ancient pre-Hispanic Peruvian site, the “unprecedented” well-preserved bones of a 1000-year-old dog are found.

In the main building, described as a temple in the reports, researchers from the Sechin Archeological Project found dog remains from the Casma Valley in northern Peru.

The Casma-Sechin culture is a concentration of pre-Hispanic ruins in the valleys of the Casma River.

PERU: Well-Preserved Dog Remains Unearthed in ancient Peruvian temple
The dog remains found in Peruvian archaeological site

Researchers said the dog (Canis lupus familiaris), whose breed and age are yet to be determined, is from the late occupation of the Sechin culture around 1,000 A.D.

The temple complex is believed to be much older, however, with scientists finding a staircase reportedly dating back some 4,000 years.

Project director Monica Suarez told reporters the dog is so well preserved its fur can be determined as “yellow and brown” and even the pads on its paws have been preserved.

She added that the dog “could be a native breed from the pre-Hispanic era” that had settled in the temple, adding: “It is believed it belongs to the era of the reoccupation of Sechin, specifically to the Casma culture, around 1,000 AD.”

Local media report the find has been described by the researchers as “unprecedented”.

The remains will be sent to the Peruvian Ministry of Country after being analyzed by the researchers.

The project is in the middle of its first phase and the researchers will take a break in November before starting again before the end of the year.

How white skin evolved in Europeans: Pale complexions only spread in the region 8,000 years ago, study claims

How white skin evolved in Europeans: Pale complexions only spread in the region 8,000 years ago, study claims

Humans around the world display myriad skin tones and eye colors that are fascinating and wonderful in their variety. Research continues on to see how people have acquired the features they have now and when to complete our puzzle of ancient human history.

New anthropology research now suggests that light-colored skin and the tallness associated with European genetics are relatively recent traits to the continent.

An international team of researchers as headed by Harvard University’s Dr. Iain Mathieson put forth a study at the 84th annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists recently.

Based on 83 human samples from Holocene Europe as analyzed under the 1000 Genomes Project, it is now found that for the majority of the time that humans have lived in Europe, the people had dark skin, and the genes signifying light skin only appear within the past 8,000 years.

This recent and relatively quick process of natural selection suggests to researchers that the traits which spread rapidly were advantageous within that environment, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

This dramatic evidence suggests modern Europeans do not appear as their long ancient ancestors did.

Spreading Genetics

The samples are derived from a wide range of ancient populations, rather than a few individuals, and they supplied researchers with five specific genes associated with skin color and diet.

AAAS reports that the “modern humans who came out of Africa to originally settle Europe about 40,000 years are presumed to have had dark skin, which is advantageous in sunny latitudes.

And the new data confirm that about 8500 years ago, early hunter-gatherers in Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary also had darker skin: They lacked versions of two genes—SLC24A5 and SLC45A2—that lead to depigmentation and, therefore, pale skin in Europeans today. 

Then, the first farmers from the Near East arrived in Europe; they carried both genes for light skin. As they interbred with the indigenous hunter-gatherers, one of their light-skin genes swept through Europe, so that central and southern Europeans also began to have lighter skin. The other gene variant, SLC45A2, was at low levels until about 5800 years ago when it swept up to high frequency.”

This differed from the situation farther north. Ancient remains from southern Sweden 7,700 years ago were found to have the gene variants indicating light skin and blonde hair, and another gene, HERC2/OCA2, which causes blue eyes.

This indicated to researchers that ancient hunter-gatherers of northern Europe were already pale and blue-eyed. This light skin trait would have been advantageous in the regions of less sunlight.

Natural Selection

Mathieson and colleagues do not specify in the study why the genes were favored and spread as quickly as they did, but it is suggested that Vitamin D absorption likely played a role. Ancient hunter-gatherers in Europe also could not digest milk 8,000 years ago. The ability to do so only came about 4,300 years ago.

Paleoanthropologist Nina Jablonski of Pennsylvania State University notes that people in less sunny climates required different skin pigmentations in order to absorb and synthesize Vitamin D. The pale skin was advantageous in the region, as well was the ability to digest milk.

“Natural selection has favored two genetic solutions to that problem—evolving pale skin that absorbs UV more efficiently or favoring lactose tolerance to be able to digest the sugars and vitamin D naturally found in milk,” writes AAAS.

This new research follows related studies on pre-agricultural European genomes and modern humans in Europe before the rise of farming.

Artist’s depiction of Stone Age peoples

DNA taken from the wisdom tooth of a 7,000-year-old human found in Spain in 2006 overturned the popular image of light-skinned European hunter-gatherers. The study revealed that the individual had dark hair and the dark-skinned genes of an African. However, the man had blue eyes, an unexpected find by researchers. The hunter-gatherer is the oldest known individual in Europe found to have blue eyes.

Artist’s impression of a blue-eyed hunter gatherer

Previous research published in 2008 found that the earliest mutations in the eye-color genes that led to the evolution of blue eyes probably occurred about 10,000 years ago in individuals living in around the Black Sea.

The surprising aspect of the findings is that while it is fundamental to natural selection that advantageous genetic attributes spread, it is not often a speedy process. The study shows that these genetic pale skin traits swept across Europe speedily, and that phenomenon is of particular interest to researchers.

The preprint study “Eight thousand years of natural selection in Europe” by Mathieson and colleagues has been published in the online journal BioRxiv. These new findings shed light on humanity’s genetic past, giving us a clearer vision of our ancient origins.

What Discovery of Oldest Human Poop Reveals About Neanderthals’ Diet

What Discovery of Oldest Human Poop Reveals About Neanderthals’ Diet

Neanderthals have consumed vegetables — we know that it has definitely been put under the microscope, thanks to the oldest piece of human fecal matter ever found.

The site where the poop was sampled from

Five soil samples from a known Neanderthal site in El Salt in Spain are thought to be obtained and are estimated to date back around 50,000 years.

The find puts to shame the previous oldest hominid poop discovered in the Western Hemisphere, a 14,000-year-old piece of shit found in an Oregon cave (that particular fecal find is in dispute).

Some brave souls from MIT and the University of La Laguna (“samples were collected by hand,” the researchers said) analyzed the makeup of the samples and found that Neanderthals ate a diet dominated by meat, but definitely ate some plants, as well.

That’s because lead researcher Ainara Sistiaga and his team were able to identify, for the first time, the presence of metabolites such as 5B-stigmastanol and 5B-epistigmastanol, which are created when the body digests plant matter.

The existence of those metabolites “unambiguously record the ingestion of plants,” Sistiage writes in a study published today in PLOS One.

Obtaining the poop wasn’t as gross as you might expect—Sistiage and his team took soil samples, crushed them into a fine powder, and used laboratory equipment to identify tiny pieces of fecal matter.

And direct evidence from something like poop is much better at painting a picture of what Neanderthals ate than analyzing their tools or dental records.

“Except for the evidence of entrapped microfossils and organic residues in Neanderthal teeth, all previous palaeodietary reconstructions have been based on indirect evidence where preferential or selective preservation plays a key role,” Sistiage wrote.

In other words, our previous analyses had a bias toward identifying proteins, because they are easier to detect.

Recent dental records suggested that Neanderthals probably ate plants, but now we know for sure.

We also know, thanks to various biomarkers found in the poop, that Neanderthals had a pretty advanced digestive system that is similar to modern humans.

Advanced digestion, healthy diets, and smarts—Neanderthals are beginning to look a lot more like us than we ever could have expected.

Archaeologists Discovered a Hidden Chamber in Roman Emperor Nero’s Underground Palace

Archaeologists Discovered a Hidden Chamber in Roman Emperor Nero’s Underground Palace

Archaeologists Discovered a Hidden Chamber in Roman Emperor Nero's Underground Palace
Archaeologists working on the restoration of Emperor Nero’s palace in Rome have stumbled upon a hidden, underground room.

Nearly two thousand years ago, the massive palace designed by the Roman emperor had been hiding a secret.

A hidden underground room adorned with panthers and centaurs has been found by archeologists working on the restoration of the palace in Rome earlier this month.

According to a statement from Colosseum Archeological Park (Parco Archeologico del Colosse), the room, nicknamed “Sphinx Room,” is part of the remains of “Domus Aurea” (Golden House), the huge palace that Nero constructed during the fire of 64 AD, which devastated Rome.

The room was discovered accidentally, while researchers were setting up scaffolding for work on an adjacent room in the complex.

The room’s curved ceilings are 15 feet (4.5 meters) high, and much of the room is still filled in with dirt, the statement reads.

The figure of a centaur was found in one of the walls of the newly discovered room.

With the use of artificial lighting, crews uncovered a vault covered with colorful frescoes, featuring figures such as the god Pan, sea creatures, plant and water ornaments, a centaur, a panther attacking a man with a sword, and a “mute and solitary sphinx.”

One of the walls of the newly discovered room is painted with a little sphinx.

“[The Sphinx Room] tells us about the atmosphere from the years of the principality of Nero,” said Alfonsina Russo, director of the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum.

Nero was the fifth Roman emperor and the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. He is remembered as an ineffectual, neglectful and brutal leader, according to the BBC.

The figure of a panther attacking a man with a sword features in the newly-discovered Spinx Room.

When much of Rome was destroyed in the fire of 64 AD, Nero set about the necessary rebuilding of the city, appropriating a large area for a new palace — the Domus Aurea or Golden House — for himself.

The Domus Aurea complex covered parts of the slopes of the Palatine, Esquiline, Oppian and Caelian hills, completed with a man-made lake in the marshy valley.

That lake was eventually covered up by the Flavian Amphitheater — better known as the Roman Colosseum — in 70 AD.

Figures of sea creatures on one of the walls of the Sphinx Room. 

Scholars approximate the size of the Domus Aurea size to be over 300 acres, and it is believed to have included at least 300 rooms.

Experts said they will not excavate the newly discovered underground chamber further for fears for the stability of the complex. They dated the Sphinx Room between 65 and 68 AD.

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