The link below is to an article examing the archaeological work being done on the Assyrian city of Tushan, which is soon to be lost to a dam in Turkey.
Tag Archives: archaeology
We often associate virtual reality (VR) with thrilling experiences we may never be able to have in real life – such as flying a jet fighter, exploring the oceans or going on a spacewalk. But researchers are also starting to use this technology to study and open up access to archaeological sites that are difficult to get to.
An archaeological site can be inaccessible for a range of reasons. It might be in a remote location or on private property, the archaeological remains may be fragile, or it might just be difficult or dangerous to get there.
Just over an hour’s drive north from Los Angeles is the Wind Wolves Preserve. At nearly 100,000 acres, the preserve protects a wide range of endangered and threatened species in the heart of the most populous state in the US.
It also hosts two remote archaeological sites situated in the San Emigdio Hills. Pleito, one of the most elaborately painted rock-art sites in the world, and Cache Cave, with one of the most significant in-situ collections of perishable objects, including baskets, ever discovered in the American West. The oldest of the rock paintings and baskets appear to be over 2,000-years-old. However, exploring it is problematic. The paintings at Pleito, found on exfoliating sandstone, are extremely fragile. Meanwhile, the Cache Cave is a complex, narrow cave system.
Yet these sites are of great cultural importance to local Native Americans, especially the Tejon Indian Tribe. The hands of some of their ancestors painted the rock art, while other highly skilled basket makers worked for hours on making some of the world’s finest basketry. Until recently, the majority of the Tejon tribes people were unable to visit the Pleito cave site due to its inaccessibility and fragility.
Now our team of researchers from the University of Central Lancashire in the UK has created a VR model of the sites. We did this by taking images with a digital camera and performing laser scanning of the site. Using “reality capture” techniques like photogrammetry – which helps make measurements from photographs – we could then develop a VR prototype.
We tested the prototype at the offices of the Wind Wolves Preserve and the Tejon tribe, respectively, in the summer of 2017. The response was profound, with younger tribal members responding particularly well in an environment similar to “gaming”. Equally, the simulation proved effective for use by the elder members of the tribe, some of whom have mobility issues visiting the preserve and its rugged terrain.
We also tested the software at the actual site of Pleito with the Tejon Indians. Two tribal members who could not make the climb to the cave instead used the VR headset on flat ground nearby. This allowed them to experience the environment and to “be” in the landscape while still exploring the paintings. This, as far as we are aware, was the first time Native Americans have used VR in the field to reconnect with their own past.
The research provides an innovative platform for tribal members to engage with sites and practices no longer in living memory as a form of cultural restoration. Importantly, it also provides an effective way to engage young tribal members within ancestral spaces and practices.
As well as opening access to remote archaeological sites, we are now able to construct what we term an “enhanced reality” experience. Cutting edge archaeological image processing techniques such as DStretch and Reflective Transformation Imaging can be used to overlay digitally enhanced textures directly over the cave geometry. This allows people to view details of the site that are difficult to see with the naked eye.
For example, research investigating pigment recipes used within the different layers of painting on the site helped us to display the separation of the layers on the cave. It also enabled us to show the site as it would have looked through different points in time.
This really shows how VR simulations of archaeological sites can offer unique ways to experience, engage and explore scientific data.
As a visualisation tool, new opportunities are now arising to use immersive technologies like VR to conduct research. Innovative work at the Allosphere – a facility at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which helps make visual representations of data – has enabled researchers to analyse multiple data sets in ways not previously possible.
In our work in California, we are investigating how to use VR to help field research by using immersive reconstructions of previous season’s excavations to aid in new ones as we dig deeper within the cave deposits. That way, we can actually see previous layers that we have removed and better contextualise the new layers we are exposing.
The technology can also be of great use in teaching. We are sharing the models of the Californian sites with our archaeology and anthropology students, offering unique and novel opportunity to explore the rock art, handle and inspect the baskets and even use native technologies such as the bow and arrow.
VR technologies are starting to open up remote access to other sites around the world too. From the British Museums documentation of African rock art sites to the Scan Pyramids Project opening access to the iconic monuments of Giza, to an immersive interaction with Nikola Tesla and his laboratory, the application of immersive technologies are proliferating across the globe.
The most creative of these projects include scientific information to make them more than simple replications – enhanced learning environments where scientific knowledge can inform the public about the past. Excitingly, this offers entirely new ways to learn from old sites, without damaging them.
Over the past two decades Australian archaeologists have been slowly uncovering the World Heritage-listed ancient theatre site at Paphos in Cyprus. The Hellenistic-Roman period theatre was used for performance for over six centuries from around 300 BC to the late fourth century AD. There is also considerable evidence of activity on the site after the theatre was destroyed, particularly during the Crusader era.
The excavation of the site, and of the architectural remains in particular, is contributing significantly to our understanding of the role of theatre in the ancient eastern Mediterranean and the development of theatre architecture to reflect contemporary performance trends in the ancient world.
As incongruous as this relationship sounds, the project is part of a wider momentum in contemporary Australian art that lauds working across disciplines. And the link between antiquity and today allows for fascinating insights to the benefit of both.
At the birth of archaeology as a discipline in the 19th century, it was a common practice to take artists on expeditions. Illustrations of exotic sites and impressive archaeological finds filled journals in Europe and the United States, such as the Illustrated London News. These reports allowed an eagerly awaiting audience to participate in the rediscovery. The rediscovery of ancient artist traditions had a profound effect on art movements of the 18th and 19th century too, from Neoclassicism to French Realism.
By the 20th century, however, archaeology as a discipline had become very focused on objective observation and detailed evidence-based analysis. Archaeological illustration became a form of technical drawing or scientific illustration, and the archaeological photograph developed clear standards for accurate recording. Any creative and emotive response to the past was pushed aside.
Recently, however, there has been something of a renewal of this relationship between the scientist and the artist. Mark Dion in 1999 used archaeological finds from London as the basis of his work Tate Thames Dig, arranging found objects in a cabinet for display.
The responses of artists working in Paphos are often compelling, enabling ways of thinking that archaeologists had not previously considered. Media artist Brogan Bunt, for example, speaks of the irony of ephemeral digital platforms that cause what was new technology in 2006 to be unusable by 2017. For him, the ancient theatre site has maintained its identity for millennia, while digital virtual heritage is far more fragile than the places it sets out to document and preserve.
“My photographs combine visual exploration of actual sites and objects with original research into the quantum leap made by digital photography.” – Bob Miller
“I perceive the photography of sites as a memory aid, as a historical resource, as well as a reflective form of art.” – Rowan Conroy
“By mixing artistic and archaeological images we get a new grammar of looking.” – Derek Kreckler
“My research proposes a relationship between material landscapes and the immaterial and invisible spiritual, psychological and intellectual landscapes created through the artist’s gaze.” – Lawrence Wallen
“In my work I approach memories somewhat like an analyst, but perhaps more like a reflective archaeologist.” – Jacky Redgate
“Animation is for me, the physical, material perception of time.” – Hannah Gee
“The artistic motif crosses between eras, travelling back and forth in a temporal instability.” – Angela Brennan
“Drawing is a tool of thought allowing a larger framework for other meanings to emerge.” – Diana Wood Conroy
“My casting and patination process makes a connection to the narratives of archaeology.” – Penny Harris
“Digital ephemerality draws into curious relation with the loss and disappearance affecting the ancient world.” – Brogan Bunt
The Paphos Theatre Archaeological Project conducts its excavations and research under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus.
The links below are to articles reporting on various archaeological discoveries and news out of China (the latest stories are at the top).
For more visit:
The link below is to an article reporting on ruins found near Hadrian’s Wall.
Archaeological excavations in a remote island cave off northwest Australia reveal incredible details of the early use by people of the continent’s now-submerged coast.
Out latest study reveals that at lower sea levels, this island was used as a hunting shelter between about 50,000 and 30,000 years ago, and then as a residential base for family groups by 8,000 years ago.
As the dates for the first Aboriginal arrival in Australia are pushed back further and further, it is becoming clear how innovative the original colonists must have been.
The earliest known archaeological sites so far reported are found in inland Australia, such as Warratyi rock shelter in the Flinders Ranges and Madjedbebe in Arnhem Land. These places are a long way from the sea, and were once even more so when past sea levels were lower and the coast even more distant.
But we do know that the earliest Australians were originally seafarers. They came from island southeast Asia and no matter which route they followed had to make sea crossings of up to 90km to get here.
The earliest landfall on the continent is now likely to be at least 50m below the present ocean. Until now we have known very little about these first coastal peoples.
Our research, published this week in Quaternary Science Reviews, begins to fill in some of these gaps.
For the past five years an international team of 30 scientists has been working in collaboration with the Buurabalayji Thalanyji Aboriginal Corporation and Kuruma Marthudunera Aboriginal Corporation on Boodie Cave, a deep limestone cave on the remote Barrow Island, off the Western Australia coast.
Since the initial early dates for Boodie Cave were reported in 2015, our team has been forensically analysing the archaeological and palaeoenvironmental remains, as well as re-dating the site to build up a robust picture of the lives of the people who lived here.
The results from radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence dating techniques from four independent dating laboratories show that Boodie Cave was first occupied between 51,100 and 46,200 years ago.
These dates make Boodie Cave one of the earliest known locations in the settlement of Australia and the earliest site anywhere near the coast.
When Boodie Cave was first occupied, Barrow Island was part of the mainland, with the shoreline between 10km and 20km further west.
The shoreline became even more distant as the planet moved into an ice age and sea levels dropped to 125m below present, around 20,000 years ago. Shortly thereafter global temperatures warmed and, as the ice melted, sea levels rose quickly.
Throughout this long period people returned again and again to Boodie Cave. The limestone that forms the cave provides ideal conditions for preservation, giving us incredible details about the people who lived there.
The cave contains one of Australia’s longest dietary records. These animal remains provide us with profound insights into what people were hunting and collecting from initial settlement onwards, and how they adapted to a new and ever-changing arid landscape.
Besides wallabies, kangaroos and other terrestrial animals, the archaeological deposits contain marine shells transported from the distant coast.
In the deepest levels, when the shoreline was 20km or so distant, there are only four different types of shellfish that we have directly radiocarbon dated to 42,300 years ago. These shells represent the first direct evidence of marine resource use in Australia, and some of the earliest in our region.
With rising sea levels the coastline came closer to the cave and the number and variety of marine resources increased exponentially.
By 8,000 years ago, there are 40 different types of marine shells as well as exceptionally well-preserved remains of sea urchin, mud crab, reef fish, marine turtle, marine mammal and a variety of small and medium-sized terrestrial animals.
By 6,800 years ago the cave and the whole island was abandoned as rising sea levels finally cut it off from the mainland.
We argue that Boodie Cave was used as an inland hunting shelter between about 50,000 and 30,000 years ago before becoming a residential base for family groups by 8,000 years ago.
Dietary remains in addition to shell artefacts, incised shells, shell beads and thousands of stone artefacts show that Boodie Cave was a frequently visited location on the landscape.
Our study clearly shows that not only were Aboriginal people continuing to use marine resources across a period of dramatic environmental change, but they were also exploiting a range of desert resources. This demonstrates a successful adaptation to both the coasts and deserts of northern Australia.
Recent genetic studies suggest that colonisation was coastal, with people rapidly moving around the east and west coasts of Australia before meeting up in modern South Australia.
But the coasts along which the earliest Australians traversed were very different to today’s, not only in terms of ecology but also in distance. In some places the earlier coastline would have been hundreds of kilometres from its present position.
Sea levels rise
Over the past 20,000 years sea level has risen 125m, submerging the continental shelves surrounding Australia and separating the mainland from New Guinea and Tasmania.
Our findings provide a unique window into the now-drowned Northwest Shelf of Australia.
Boodie Cave provides the earliest evidence for coastal living in Australia and gives us an indication that coastal resources have been important to people since initial colonisation.
Nearly one-third of Australia’s landmass was drowned after the last ice age and along with it evidence for coastal use by some of the earliest Australians.
Thousands of archaeological sites have been recorded on the continental shelves of Europe, Asia and the Americas, but no submerged prehistoric sites have been reported anywhere off Australia.
These submerged landscapes of Australia open up an entirely new frontier of archaeological research and will shed even further light on the lives of the first people to arrive on Australian shores.
Sean Ulm, Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, James Cook University; Ingrid Ward, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow on the ARC DP Deep History of Sea Country project administered by Flinders University, Flinders University; Peter Veth, Professor of Archaeology, University of Western Australia, and Tiina Manne, ARC DECRA Research Fellow, The University of Queensland
As often happens, this announcement was the result of a surprisingly long process, and yet it has shocked some archaeologists. The response to it reveals much about the nature of archaeological argument and about the way we think about the past.
The paper reported on an axe fragment found at a site in the Kimberley region in Western Australia. It wasn’t a case of the discovery being a single event, a sudden moment as the object was dug from the ground and revealed for what it was.
Instead, the “discovery” spans almost 20 years.
The story began in the 1990s, when my colleague Sue O’Connor – now Laureate Professor at ANU – excavated into the deposit. She uncovered a remarkably rich record of human activity spanning the last 50,000 years.
She retrieved thousands of artefacts and bones, and found impressively early evidence of painted art. But when she and her colleagues catalogued the artefacts, they did not recognise that one small specimen had polished surfaces.
In 2014, Sue and her PhD student, Tim Maloney, were relooking at the collection, and they spotted the polish on this object.
To archaeologists, this is like a neon light: it shouts that the object has an unusual history. As a specialist in ancient stone artefacts, I was brought into the investigation.
It was obvious on first view that this was a flake broken from the edge and a ground, or polished, axe. I have seen hundreds of similar archaeological specimens, and made them myself experimentally.
What was unusual about this one was its age. It came from the same level as a piece of charcoal that was dated to 44,000 to 49,000 years old. Thus, by association, we believe the axe fragment to be about the same age. Exciting stuff.
We knew that made this the oldest axe in the world!
A high bar
But how would we convince others of this discovery?
I set about making a detailed description of the specimen, while Tim Maloney provided me with measurements of other artefacts he had measured from the site.
I have four decades of experience, and it was really straightforward for me to describe this axe flake: it had the same edge angle as more recent Australian axes; it was made on the same material used for Australian axes; and it had the polished surfaces preserved with clear indications of the abrasion that created the edge of the axe from which it came.
Equipped with my description, we sat down and wrote a paper. We sent it off. It was sent back.
Some reviewers were not convinced the specimen was a piece of an axe. They wondered if the abrasion could have been natural and they said our photographs were not clear enough.
Disappointed, but not dismayed, the co-authors and I understood this was the job of a good reviewer; a high bar should, indeed, be set for such a significant discovery.
I corresponded with the journal editor and established what would be needed to make the case: a high resolution photograph and a demonstration that the smoothed surface must have come from an axe.
I took the piece to our new 3D digital microscope. It eventually gave me extraordinary photographs of the specimen and quantitative measurements of the roughness of the polished surfaces.
I compared the roughness indices to natural surfaces, to flaked surfaces and to the surfaces of Australian axes. I did experiments abrading the surfaces of Kimberley basalt. No surprise. The only match was the surface of other axes.
We re-submitted the paper. It was reviewed, again. We still got the same question: could the smoothness be the outer weathered surface of a cobble? The answer was no.
In fact, we had already explained in the paper how the smoothing process ground down the highpoints of other manufacturing surfaces, and so the axe was shaped all over and then ground. It couldn’t be a natural surface, and the reviewer had simply missed this point.
I don’t mind a high threshold of evidence, but I like reviewers to actually understand the paper.
But now, several reviewers began a second line of criticism. They said this was only one specimen, so how can we be sure it is real?
I am an experienced academic and I am used to the argy-bargy and politics of journal reviews, but how could I respond to this? Isn’t it to be expected that the first discovery of something will usually be a singular instance?
Of course, we would want this to be a repeatable observation, and no doubt it will be repeated as future archaeologists do further work. At heart I am a Popperian, and so I made the case to the editor that surely what counted was the quality of our demonstration that the specimen came from an axe, not the number of times an axe had been broken at the site.
I pointedly wrote to the editor saying that, if it were a more fashionable object – one pyramid, one statuette, or one hominid tooth instead of one axe fragment – it would be published to inform the discipline that it existed.
They corresponded with the reviewers, who merely suggested we go back and dig more. Going back to dig again would take years, hundreds or thousands of dollars and in the end may produce nothing. Because, perhaps, it was simply the only axe fragment in the site.
Our final approach to the editor of the journal Australian Archaeology met with a positive response. Yes, we only had one specimen, but we had demonstrated it must have come from an axe. There were no other production systems known in Australia that would create these features.
They accepted the paper.
Of course, it’s possible there might be some problem with our announcement revealed in the future. But on balance, the current evidence shows our conclusion is likely to be true, and surely that’s all we can ask for.
The announcement is significant. It reveals technological and cultural novelty and innovation in the anatomically modern humans dispersing from Africa, in the ancestors of Aboriginal people.
We have had a lot of press coverage today. Much of it good, much of it fair. And there have been some criticisms.
The BBC quoted American archaeologist, John Shea, saying:
The evidence is essentially one flake – one piece of stone out of hundreds and hundreds that they’ve excavated from this rock shelter site […] They would make a stronger case if they could show that similar chips with edge abrasion occurred at a greater number of sites.
Obviously, one pyramid isn’t enough for some people.
Young researchers reading this can take away the obvious message: while tough reviewing is a proper part of academia publishing, many reviewers’ comments may be way off the mark.
Be reflexive and self-critical, but you may also need to be resilient because dramatic discoveries can be challenging to academics and the public alike.