Category Archives: Archaeology

Rejecting the Solutrean hypothesis: the first peoples in the Americas were not from Europe

A recent Canadian documentary promoted a fringe idea in American archaeology that’s both scientifically wrong and racist

Last month’s release of The Ice Bridge, an episode in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series The Nature of Things has once again revived public discussion of a controversial idea about how the Americas were peopled known as the “Solutrean hypothesis”. This idea suggests a European origin for the peoples who made the Clovis tools, the first recognized stone tool tradition in the Americas. As I was one of the experts appearing on the documentary, I want to share my thoughts about it and why I see the ideas portrayed within as unsettling, unwise, and scientifically implausible.

First, in addition to the scientific problems with the Solutrean hypothesis which I’ll discuss shortly, it’s important to note that it has overt political and cultural implications in denying that Native Americans are the only indigenous peoples of the continents. The notion that the ancestors of Native Americans were not the first or only people on the continent has great popularity among white nationalists, who see it as a means of denying Native Americans an ancestral claim on their land. Indeed, although this particular iteration is new, the idea behind the Solutrean hypothesis is part of a long tradition of Europeans trying to insert themselves into American prehistory; justifying colonialism by claiming that Native Americans were not capable of creating the diverse and sophisticated material culture of the Americas. Unfortunately, the producers of the documentary deliberately chose not to address this issue head-on, nor did they include any critical perspectives from indigenous peoples. While supporting the agenda of white nationalists was not the intent of the producers or of the scientists involved, it would have been appropriate for the documentary to take a stand against it, and I and many archaeologists are disappointed that they did not.

Continue reading…
Source: gad

Laser scanning reveals 'lost' ancient Mexican city had as many buildings as Manhattan

Groundbreaking lidar scanning reveals the true scale of Angamuco, built by the Purépecha from about 900AD

Archaeology might evoke thoughts of intrepid explorers and painstaking digging, but in fact researchers say it is a high-tech laser mapping technique that is rewriting the textbooks at an unprecedented rate.

The approach, known as light detection and ranging scanning (lidar) involves directing a rapid succession of laser pulses at the ground from an aircraft.

Continue reading…
Source: gad

Friends, Romans, naked wolf-men … why an ancient festival is still controversial

The annual Lupercalia festival turned society upside down – and the location of its starting point is still hotly debated

Scenes from films like Gladiator and series such as HBO’s Rome might lead you to think that the ancient Romans were liberal in their view of nudity. In fact the opposite was true. It was only during exceptional occasions that Romans were freed from their social norms – and the most spectacular occasion was the annual Lupercalia festival.

From the earliest days of Rome, 15 February was reserved for this strange festival. It was so unusual that Cicero disparaged the festival as savage and uncivilised remnants of primitive times. A closer look at the rituals might explain his attitude: men of the nobility stripped down to their underwear in order to strike women with strips of goatskin. Classed as priests, these were not men of the cloth as we would understand it – Roman religion was nothing like modern Christianity or Islam – but young men of military age who showed off their muscles running around the Palatine hill and the Forum, the city centre of ancient Rome.

Continue reading…
Source: gad

'He's one of us': modern neighbours welcome Cheddar Man

DNA tests suggesting man who lived 10,000 years ago had dark skin and blue eyes cause a stir

Rachel Andrews, who was tending the bar at the Black Dog Saloon, a wild west-themed cider pub at the foot of Cheddar Gorge, was not going to have a word said against the village’s most famous former resident.

“We’re very proud of Cheddar Man,” she said. “There’s a really good, strong community spirit around here. We all look after each other and he’s definitely one of us.”

Continue reading…
Source: gad

First modern Britons had 'dark to black' skin, Cheddar Man DNA analysis reveals

The genome of Cheddar Man, who lived 10,000 years ago, suggests that he had blue eyes, dark skin and dark curly hair

The first modern Britons, who lived about 10,000 years ago, had “dark to black” skin, a groundbreaking DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton has revealed.

The fossil, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset. Intense speculation has built up around Cheddar Man’s origins and appearance because he lived shortly after the first settlers crossed from continental Europe to Britain at the end of the last ice age. People of white British ancestry alive today are descendants of this population.

Continue reading…
Source: gad

Oldest known human fossil outside Africa discovered in Israel

Human ancestors left Africa far earlier than previously thought, discovery of prehistoric jawbone and tools suggest

A prehistoric jawbone discovered in a cave in Israel has prompted scientists to rethink theories of how the earliest human pioneers came to populate the planet, suggesting that our ancestors left Africa far earlier than previously thought.

The fossil, dated to nearly 200,000 years ago, is almost twice as old as any previous Homo sapiens remains discovered outside Africa, where our species is thought to have originated.

Continue reading…
Source: gad

Remains in Europe: mummified woman in Basel is Boris Johnson’s ancestor

DNA tests show Anna Catharina Bischoff is UK foreign secretary’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother

Scientists in the Swiss city of Basel have finally identified a mysterious mummified body after more than 40 years – and discovered that the woman was a relative of the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.

The corpse has been identified as Anna Catharina Bischoff, who died in 1787. Her body was first uncovered in 1975, while Basel’s Barfüsser church was being renovated. It was well preserved because of a high level of mercury in the remains, often a sign that a person had been treated for syphilis. The site of her burial, in front of the church’s altar, indicated that Bischoff was probably of high status.

Continue reading…
Source: gad