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News articles on Archeology
Mongabay.com news articles on Archeology in blog format. Updated regularly.
(11/10/2014) The first settlers of New Zealand killed off nine species of giant birds, known as moas, with a population no bigger than a few thousand people, according to new research published in Nature Communications. The biggest moas stood up to 3.6 meters (12 feet) tall, making these mega-birds the largest animals in the country and contenders for the biggest birds ever.
A garden or a wilderness? One-fifth of the Amazon may have been savannah before the arrival of Europeans
(07/09/2014) The Amazon is the largest tropical forest on the planet, covering about 6.5 million square kilometers, although much has been lost in recent decades.Yet new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) finds that quite recently—just 500 years ago—a significant portion of the southern Amazon was not the tall-canopied forest it is today, but savannah.
By the bones: herring populations were superabundant before commercial fisheries
(06/09/2014) Scientists analyzed almost half a million fish bones to shed light on the population history of Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii) in the North Pacific Ocean. Their paper reveals a decline of unprecedented scale, and suggests that while the abundance of Pacific herring does fluctuate naturally, their numbers have fallen precipitously since commercial fishing started targeting the species in the 19th century.
Through careful management, indigenous people have shaped Asian rainforests for 11,000 years
(01/28/2014) Humans have been actively managing vast areas of Southeast Asia's forests for longer than previously believed, according to research by paleoecologists from the United Kingdom presented in the current Journal of Archaeological Science. Strong evidence suggests that humans in Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Thailand and Vietnam have engaged in agricultural practices for the last 11,000 years. These findings may help bolster the claims of local indigenous peoples under threat of eviction from their traditional lands.
Madagascar occupied by humans 2,500 years earlier than previously thought
(07/22/2013) New research indicates that Madagascar was occupied some 2,500 years earlier than previously established. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests a more complex view of the human role in the extinction of the island's mega-fauna. A large body of research holds that village communities began to appear in Madagascar around 500 AD. These were established by people of Indonesian and East African heritage, according to past studies that found linguistic similarities between the Malagasy languages of southeastern Borneo as well as genetic markers tying modern-day Malagasy people to both Indonesia and East Africa. But there have been plenty of hints that people came to the world's third largest island well before 500 AD.
Experts dispute recent study that claims little impact by pre-Columbian tribes in Amazon
(07/05/2012) A study last month in the journal Science argued that pre-Columbian peoples had little impact on the western and central Amazon, going against a recently composed picture of the early Amazon inhabited by large, sophisticated populations influencing both the forest and its biodiversity. The new study, based on hundreds of soil samples, theorizes that indigenous populations in much of the Amazon were tiny and always on the move, largely sticking to rivers and practicing marginal agriculture. However, the study raised eyebrows as soon as it was released, including those of notable researchers who openly criticized its methods and pointed out omissions in the paper, such as no mention of hundreds of geoglyphs, manmade earthen structures, found in the region.
Humans drove rainforest into savannah in ancient Africa
(02/09/2012) Three thousand years ago (around 1000 BCE) several large sections of the Congo rainforest in central Africa suddenly vanished and became savannah. Scientists have long believed the loss of the forest was due to changes in the climate, however a new study in Science implicates an additional culprit: humans. The study argues that a migration of farmers into the region led to rapid land-use changes from agriculture and iron smelting, eventually causing the collapse of rainforest in places and a rise of grasslands. The study has implications for today as scientists warn that the potent combination of deforestation and climate change could flip parts of the Amazon rainforest as well into savannah.
Prehistoric Peruvians enjoyed popcorn
(01/18/2012) Researchers have uncovered corncobs dating back at least 3,000 years ago in two ancient mound sites in Peru according to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The ancient corn remnants, which proved residents were eating both popped corn and corn flour, are the earliest ever discovered in South America and may go back as far as 4,700 BCE (6,700 years ago), over fifteen hundred years before the early Egyptians developed hieroglyphics and while woolly mammoths still roamed parts of the Earth.
Better protection of cultural heritage sites could generate $100B in poor countries
(11/04/2010) Cultural heritage sites could play a key role in efforts to alleviate poverty provided they are protected from a growing range of threats, says a new report published by the Global Heritage Fund (GHF).
Destructive farming practices of early civilization may have altered climate long before industrial era
(08/31/2009) William Ruddiman has become well known for his theory that human-induced climate change started long before the Industrial Age. In 2003 he first brought forth the theory that the Neolithic Revolution-when some humans turned from hunter-gathering to large-scale farming-caused a shift in the global climate 7,000 years ago.
Examining monkey tools: archaeology expands to include non-human primates
(08/17/2009) Archaeology, the study of ancient cultures and their artifacts, has always been confined to the technology of humans and direct human ancestors. However, a new study recently published in the journal Nature examines the benefits of expanding the field of archaeology to include non-human primates.
Chocolate has been a delicacy north of Mexico for a thousand years
(02/02/2009) Chocolate, produced from cacao beans, has been a part of American culture for a thousand years according to new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Analyzing chemical residue from jars of native peoples in New Mexico, researchers Patricia Crown and Jeffrey Hurst discovered theobromine, a chemical signature of cacao. The jars have been dated from 1000 to 1125 AD, well over three hundred years before Columbus and the earliest recorded discovery of cacao north of Mexico. The cacao jars are from Pueblo Bonito, an archaeological site in Chaco Canyon, which is located in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Canyon, once home to 2,000-5,000 inhabitants, was composed of a dense group of pueblos, of which Bonito was the largest. Incorporating 800 rooms, Pueblo Bonito was the center of a number of towns and villages in Chaco Canyon.
Pre-Colombian Amazonians lived in sustainable 'urban' society
(08/28/2008) Researchers have uncovered new evidence to support the controversial theory that parts of the Amazon were home to dense "urban" settlements prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. The study is published this Friday in the journal Science. Conducting archeological excavations and aerial imagery across a number of sites in the Upper Xingu region of the Brazilian Amazon, a team of researchers led by Michael Heckenberger found evidence of a grid-like pattern of 150-acre towns and smaller villages, connected by complex road networks and arranged around large plazas where public rituals would take place. The authors argue that the discoveries indicate parts of the Amazon supported "urban" societies based around agriculture, forest management, and fish farming.
Ancient Amazon fires linked to human populations
(02/20/2008) Analysis of soil charcoal in South America confirms that from a historical perspective, fire is rare in the Amazon rainforest, but when it does occur, it appears linked to human activities. The research, published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, is based on dating of soil carbon, which provides a good indication of when fires occurred in Amazonia, according to lead author Mark Bush, head of the Department of Biology at Florida Institute of Technology.
Chocolate first used more than 3100 years ago
(11/12/2007) Cacao, the source of chocolate, was in use at least at least 3000 years ago according to evidence found by archaeologists working in Honduras. The discovery pushes back the earliest known use of cacao by 500 years.
Missing link between humans and apes possibly discovered
(11/12/2007) A 10 million-year-old jawbone discovered in Kenya may represent a new species very close to the last common ancestor of gorillas, chimpanzees, and humans, report researchers writing in the current issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Climate change drove human evolution
(09/03/2007) Climate change appears to have been a significant driver of human evolution, report researchers writing in this week's issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).
Peanuts, cotton, squash first farmed in Peru 6,000-10,000 years ago
(06/28/2007) Anthropologists have discovered the earliest-known evidence of peanut, cotton and squash farming. The study, which show that the crops were grown in the Peruvian Andes 5,000-10,000 years ago, is published in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
Polynesians brought chickens to Americas before Columbus
(06/04/2007) New DNS analysis shows that Polynesians introduced chickens to South America well before Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World. The evidence supports the theory that the Americas were visited by sea-faring groups from the East prior to the arrival of Europeans. Using carbon dating and analysis DNA to determine the origin of chicken bones discovered at El Arenal, an archaeological site in Chile, a team of researchers led by Alice Storey of the University of Auckland found that the birds were descended from Polynesian stock and were introduced at least 100 years before the arrival of Europeans on the continent. The findings undermine claims that chickens were native to South America or that they were introduced by Spanish or Portuguese explorers.
Global warming killed Neanderthals in Spain
(04/30/2007) New research fingers climate change, not humans, as the culprit for the extinction of Neanderthals on the Iberian Peninsula. The research condradicts prevailing theory which holds modern humans responsible for their demise.
Pre-Colombian Amazon rainforest not heavily populated
(03/06/2007) Much of the Amazon rainforest was not heavily populated by pre-Colombian indigenous cultures argues a new paper published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. The work challenges an increasingly accepted theory -- popularized in Charles C. Mann's 1491: 'New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus' -- the Amazon supported dense, sedentary populations prior to the arrival of Europeans.
Archeologists find oldest solar observatory in the Americas
(03/01/2007) Archeologists from Yale and the University of Leicester have identified an ancient solar observatory at Chankillo, Peru as the oldest in the Americas with alignments covering the entire solar year, according to an article in the March 2 issue of Science.
Chili peppers came from Ecuadorian rainforests 6,100 years ago
(02/15/2007) Chili peppers were first cultivated 6,100 years in South America according to research published in the current edition of the journal Science.
Photos of the ancient Romeo and Juliet skeleton
(02/07/2007) Archaeologists unearthed a pair of human skeletons lying in an eternal embrace at a construction site outside Mantua, 25 miles south of Verona, the city featured in Shakespeare's "Roeo and Juliet." The skeletons date are thought to be 5,000-6,000 years ago.
Lost civilization found in Peru
(01/20/2007) Explorers have found ruins of a little known civilization deep in the cloud forests of the Peruvian Amazon. The Chachapoya, as the group is known, was a fierce tribe that battled the mighty Inca empire before the arrival of European conquistadors in the 16th century.
Oldest juvenile skeleton discovered in Ethiopia
(09/20/2006) Discovery of a nearly intact 3.3 million year-old juvenile skeleton is filling an important gap in understanding the evolution of a species thought to be among the earliest direct ancestors to humans, says William Kimbel, a paleoanthropologist with ASU's Institute of Human Origins. Kimbel is part of the team that studied the skeleton of an approximately three-year-old female Australopithecus afarensis, the same species as the well known Lucy, from Dikika, Ethiopia.
Hobbits don't exist; ancient human skeleton not a pygmy
(08/21/2006) The skeletal remains found in a cave on the island of Flores, Indonesia, reported in 2004, do not represent a new species as then claimed, but some of the ancestors of modern human pygmies who live on the island today, according to an international scientific team.
Bison-hunting Plains indians more advanced than thought
(08/15/2006) A controversial new theory argues that ancient plains Indians may have developed complex tribal social structures far earlier than many researchers believe. Dr. Dale Walde, an archaeologist at the University of Calgary, says that evidence from bison kill sites together with ceramics found in Alberta and Saskatchewan suggests that pressure from agricultural societies from the Midwestern U.S. may have prompted Bison hunters to change their bison hunting strategies and to organize themselves into larger groups.
Ancient bison teeth provide window on past Great Plains climate
(08/07/2006) A University of Washington researcher has devised a way to use the fossil teeth of ancient bison as a tool to reconstruct historic climate and vegetation changes in America's breadbasket, the Great Plains.
Amazon Stonehenge suggests advanced ancient rainforest culture
(05/14/2006) The discovery of an ancient astrological observatory in Brazil lends support to the theory that the Amazon rainforest was once home to advanced cultures and large sedentary populations of people. Besides the well-known empires of the Inca and their predecessors, millions of people once lived in the forests and shaped the environment to suit their own needs. Archaeologists with the Amapa Institute of Scientific and Technological Research said they uncovered the ruin near Calcoene, 390 kilometers (240 miles) from Macapa, the capital of Amapa state, near Brazil's border with French Guiana.
Easter Island settled around 1200, later than originally believed
(03/13/2006) New evidence suggests that colonization of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) took place later than originally believed. The research is published in this week's issue of the journal Science. A later settlement supports the premise that human impact on the environment played a key role in the downfall of Easter Island society
Archaeologists make ancient Maya discovery in Guatemala
(12/05/2005) Researchers working in Guatemala have unearthed a monument with the earliest-known depiction of a woman of authority in ancient Mayan culture, according to an archaeologist at the University of Calgary. Kathryn Reese-Taylor said the 2-meter high limestone monument has a portrait of a female who could be either a ruler or a mythical goddess and dates 4th Century A.D. The statue, called a stela, was found at Naachtun, a Mayan city 90 km (55 miles) north of Tikal.
Elite women were alcoholic brewers in pre-Inca Peru
(11/14/2005) If the ancient mountaintop city in southern Peru was the vanished Wari empire's unique imperial showplace, the brewery was its piece de resistance.
Demise of passenger pigeon linked to Lyme disease
(11/14/2005) Traditionally, the passenger pigeon has been held as one of the more beloved animal species to fall prey to humankind's often relentless expansion into and disregard for the natural world and its creatures. Once abundant, the bird experienced a rapid decline in the late 1800s, due almost entirely to rampant hunting, and the last passenger pigeon died in 1914. In light of new findings however, this image of a naturally plentiful species laid to waste by man is now being tested. Evidence collected over the past few years from a significant number of Native American archeological sites is beginning to upset long-accepted beliefs about one of the most famous extinct species in modern history.
Pre-Columbian Amazon supported millions of people
(10/18/2005) Controversial evidence uncovered over the past decade suggests that the Amazon rainforest was once home to large sedentary populations of people. Besides the well-known empires of the Inca and their predecessors, the Huari, millions of people once lived in the forests and shaped the environment to suit their own needs.
Easter Island Mystery revealed using mathematical model
(09/01/2005) The history of Easter Island, its statues and its peoples, has long been shrouded in mystery. Some have suggested that aliens marooned on earth planted the statues as signals to their fellow aliens to rescue them. Others have said that the statues were constructed by a great race of guilders that were stranded on the island and built them before being rescued. Still others are convinced that an ancient society with the capability of flight constructed them along with the Nazca lines in Peru. However new evidence based on pollen analysis supports a much simpler theory, that the Easter Island inhabitants destroyed their own society through deforestation.