Monday, 9 October 2017
Eyecatching belt buckles worn by Xiongnu female invaders is found buried on the banks of the Yenesei River in modern-day Tuva Republic.
Women buried in a unique ancient necropolis went to the afterlife wearing intriguingly decorated belt buckles made of coal, new archeological finds have shown.
They were also adorned with flame-shaped bronze decorations on their shoulders.
In addition, they wore magnificent bronze buckles on their belts, while Xiongnu men wore buckles mainly of iron.
The buckles are artistically decorated depicting fantastical animals such as dragons as well as leopards, panthers, horses, yaks and snakes.
'The most interesting and richest finds are in the women's graves', said Dr Marina Kilunovskaya, who led the expedition to the Ala-Tei burial ground on the Yenisei River in the Republic of Tuva.
The women-only buckles made from coal are large - up to 20 cm in diameter, decorated with carved animal images or beautifully encrusted with semiprecious coral, carnelian, turquoise, and jade.
'On one of the buckles you can see engravings,' said the scientist.
On one side are two goats and arrows that pierce them. On the other, a horse is depicted in Scythian style.
'Another was encrusted with carnelian, jade, coral and turquoise.'
She said: 'Evidently, their owners were very rich people who came from Trans-Baikal region or Mongolia. They found this material, it was interesting for them, and they used it for their decorations.'
'Most of the remains here belong to women.
'My colleagues often describe Xiongnu as big warriors, invaders.
'But these invaders, as you can see, are women in fact' - and they came northwards from the borders of modern-day China.
The coal belt decorations worn by the women warriors 'were not for everyday use, of course, but for some special occasions, like weddings or funerals', she believes.
There are only ten such coal buckle decorations in the world 'and here we have four', with all being native to Siberia, said Dr Kilunovskaya, of the Institute for the History of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences, in St. Petersburg.
'I started excavations in 2015, and there are 80 burials here with no mounds,' she told The Siberian Times.
'Most of the ancient people are buried in rectangular stone boxes, sometimes boat-shaped, or in wooden coffins or frames, with a stone covering.
'Some burials are without any construction inside.
'Many include the heads of horses.
'Obviously, there was horse skin, too, which has not preserved - so only the skull and hooves survive.'
'First of all, in the central element of the belts are large bronze buckles with the image of animals - bulls, camels, horses, and snakes.
'Other details of the female belt, in most cases, are also made of bronze - these are rectangular hexagonal plaques, bronze imitations of cowrie shells, simple and openwork rings, and Chinese Wu Shu coins.
'We found whole bronze mirrors or their fragments.
'Most of them are the early mirrors of the Western Han Dynasty (II-I centuries BC), but there were fragments of two earlier Chinese mirrors belonging to an earlier period.'
On male remains there were 'iron buckles on the belts'.
Finds included buckles for shoes, knives, iron rings and hooks.
'Another interesting find in the graves were strange small flat vessels separated in the middle by a septum with an opening in the centre,' she said.
'These were located right above the graves. I believe these were kind on lamps.'
Dr Kilunovskaya admitted: 'Actually... I'm afraid to give this interview, because when the general public learns about such an archaeological site... we may find 'black diggers' coming.
'The only hope is that it is hard to reach this place.
'There are quite a lot of burial grounds in this area - dated from Scythian times to the Middle Ages (2nd century BC to the 12-13th centuries) and they are being destroyed by water.
'When we came here for the first time, we saw a lot of skulls under a steep river bank and green bones there.
'Green because there was bronze items in burials. This looked terrible... So we try to save what we can.'
Due to climate conditions, work here can only go ahead during the summer months and more research will be undertaken next year.
She describes the finds as 'the richest belt decorations'.
'The belt is the main attribute of the nomads, so it was richly decorated with various plaques - mostly of bronze, but also coal.'
The Xiongnu were confederation of nomadic peoples who, say ancient Chinese sources, inhabited the eastern Asian Steppe from the 3rd century BC to the late 1st century AD.
Sunday, 8 October 2017
Conserving Vulture Peak | Episode 9: Turning the Embroidery
In this week's episode, Hannah and colleagues from the rest of the conservation team flip the embroidery so that we can see the right side up again.
Conserving Vulture Peak | Episode 10: Stitching the support fabric
In this episode Hannah describes how they go about stitching the support fabric to the front of the embroidery to keep things in place.
Conserving Vulture Peak I Episode 11: The results
In the final episode of the series, Hannah and Monique discuss their thoughts on the effectiveness of the conservation project as a whole. Dr Diego Tamburini also shares some of the findings from the dye analysis.
If you missed the previous 8 video's you will find them below
Banner with Sakayamuni, Tang dynastie,found by Aurel Stein (1862- 1943) in cave 17 in the Mogao caves in Dunhuang
This embroidery dates from China’s Tang dynasty (AD 618–907). It depicts the Buddha preaching at Vulture Peak – in Buddhist tradition a favourite retreat of the Buddha and his disciples, located in what is now north-east India.
It was discovered by archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein (1862–1943) who, while exploring the many caves at Dunhuang, discovered a walled up cave. Behind this wall was a library full of manuscripts paintings and textiles, including this astonishing embroidery.
Watch the rest of the ‘Conserving Vulture Peak’ series here: https://goo.gl/FXoBK2
The tapestry is part of a collection donated to the British Museum by the archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein (1862–1943).
Monday, 18 September 2017
The Siberian Times by Olga Gertcyk
14 September 2017
Time for rethink on capabilities of lost species of ancient man as academics ponder amazing DNA link between today's Aboriginal people and Altai cave dwellers.
The distance from the only currently known home of the Denisovans in Altai region to the nearest point of Australia is roughly akin to the length of the Trans-Siberian railway, and yet it is looking increasingly likely that these ancient species of humanoids somehow made this epic journey deep in pre-history, perhaps 65,000 years ago.
Separate evidence from the Denisova cave in southern Siberia certainly shows they had myriad talents at least 50,000 years ago, even if their ultimate fate was extinction.
Yet remarkably their DNA lives on in the Aboriginal people of Australia and the Melanesians of Papua New Guinea to a far greater extent than in any other modern-day populations worldwide.
Moreover, on their way towards Australasia, they appear to have interbred sufficiently with other early humans to have provided Tibetans with the EPAS1 gene that enables them to survive in high-altitude low oxygen environments.
Pictures shown here illustrate their remarkable Paleolithic handiwork from artifacts - for example a stunning green-hued chlorite bracelet, a marble ring, and beads from an ostrich eggshell necklace, all at least 50,000 years old, but possibly soon to be revealed by scientists as significantly older - found in a cave they shared variously with Neaderthals and Homo sapiens.
Now Professor Richard 'Bert' Roberts, director of the Centre for Archaeological Science at the University of Wollongong, has urged deep study of ancient migration routes to understand how the Denisovan DNA exists to this day in the native people of Australia.
'Many of ancient people's migration routes went through the territory of Russia, via the Altai mountains,' he told gazeta.ru. 'If we don't get to the bottom of what happened regarding human evolution in Altai, we will never understand evolution in say, China.
'The first migration wave of Homo erectus left Africa about two million years ago, moving in two main directions: via the Middle East to the south of Europe, the Caucasus, to the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, and through the western areas of Asia.
'To the east they most likely moved via two routes as well. One must have gone south of Himalayas and Tibet via Indostan to Eastern and South-Eastern Asia. The other, Northern one, most likely went via Central Asia and Siberia.
'Perhaps two of these streams met at some point. We will learn it by meticulous dating of all finds...
'To me personally the most interesting question is how 4% of Denisovan' DNA got into the Aboriginal people? Look where Australia is, and where Altai is! How is it possible?!'
The distance as the crow flies is some 8,500 kilometres, and doubtless any such Denisovan migration happened over multiple generations and many millennia - yet there is also the question of a treacherous sea crossing long before boats or rafts were known to have been invented, even if sea levels then were 110 metres lower than today because of the Ice Age.
People first came to Australia some 65,000 years ago, but who were they, and how did they cross the so-called Wallace's Line separating Asia from Australia, which at the time involved eight separate sea crossings?
'That's a very interesting and controversial question,' said Prof Roberts, a regular visitor to Russia, whose pioneering dating methods are being used to fix the Denisovans in time.
'We assume they were modern humans, that is members of our species, Homo sapiens, because we have no evidence to the contrary.
'We don't have any fossil remains of the humans, we have only the stone tools left behind, pigments, ochres, all the other attributes that are very typical of what modern humans use whenever they arrive somewhere,' he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
'And it came with the whole kit and caboodle. All these sites come with the sorts of things we imagine modern humans are using to make all the symbolic things we associate with ourselves.
'But the reality is we don't actually know who were the first people into Australia by species.'
He cannot rule out Denisovans, he said, because of the presence of their DNA in Aboriginal people.
'We know that Aboriginal people in Australia contain both Neanderthal DNA, as do you and I, we have Neanderthal DNA, but neither you nor I have Denisovan DNA, which is another group of people actually the home base, as it were, up in Siberia, Denisova Cave in southern Siberia in Russia.
'But it's miraculously in Aboriginal people at the present day in much greater quantities than any other people around the world. How did it get into Aboriginal people?
'That's still very much a moot point and we're not sure.
'Did Denisovan people themselves make it across Wallace's Line, a big biogeographic boundary separating Asia from Australasia? We don't know.
'These are very much still questions that we want to get a handle on, so who were the first people into Australia? We still think it's modern humans but perhaps it might have been Denisovans. It's a question mark still hanging there.'
Scientists Professor Alan Cooper, of the University of Adelaide in Australia, and Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum in the UK, have already suggested in a Science opinion article that this is precisely what happened.
'In mainland Asia, neither ancient human specimens, nor geographically isolated modern Indigenous populations have Denisovan DNA of any note, indicating that there has never been a genetic signal of Denisovan interbreeding in the area,' said Professor Cooper, Director of the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.
'The only place where such a genetic signal exists appears to be in areas east of Wallace's Line and that is where we think interbreeding took place - even though it means that the Denisovans must have somehow made that marine crossing.'
Prof Stringer said: 'The recent discovery of another enigmatic ancient human species Homo floresiensis, the so-called Hobbits, in Flores, Indonesia, confirms that the diversity of archaic human relatives in this area was much higher than we'd thought...
'The morphology of the Hobbits shows they are different from the Denisovans, meaning we now have at least two, and potentially more, unexpected groups in the area.
'The conclusions we've drawn are very important for our knowledge of early human evolution and culture. Knowing that the Denisovans spread beyond this significant sea barrier opens up all sorts of questions about the behaviours and capabilities of this group, and how far they could have spread.'
For him 'the key questions now are where and when the ancestors of current humans, who were on their way to colonise New Guinea and Australia around 50,000 years ago, met and interacted with the Denisovans.
'Intriguingly, the genetic data suggest that male Denisovans interbred with modern human females, indicating the potential nature of the interactions as small numbers of modern humans first crossed Wallace's Line and entered Denisovan territory.'
The Denisovans also influenced modern Tibetans, according to Rasmus Nielsen, a faculty member of the Center for Theoretical Evolutionary Genomics, at Berkeley, University of California.
He investigated how Tibetans can withstand the effects of hypoxia in low-oxygen environments. Seven years ago his team published a paper indicating the EPAS1 gene was the cause of this this beneficial mutation.
The gene regulates the body's reaction to low oxygen environments, allowing Tibetans to produce fewer red blood cells and less hemoglobin, it was reported.
Yet it did not originate from Neanderthals but there was an exact match with Denisovans.
Back in Denisova cave, some 150 km km south of the city of Barnaul, finds like the bracelet, a ring, and beads as well as the world's oldest needle, were all made in layers of this underground complex identified as being occupied by Denisovans, after tiny fragments of these archaic humans were found and analysed.
Initially this jewellery and other artifacts was dated as being between 40,000 and 50,000 years old, with the latter currently the officially accepted figure.
Now, however, as previously disclosed by The Siberian Times, scientists from Russia, the UK and Australia are reexamining the dates of these objects amid suspicions that they are as old as 65,000-to-70,000 years.
At 50,000 years the know-how involved in these items - the bracelet has a hole made by drilling and rasping devices - are already breathtaking. Any older, and it challenges our entire understanding of the technological development of man.
Russian scientists say the bracelet was found in 2008 in a layer that contained remains of Denisovans (homo altaiensis) rather than Homo sapiens or Neanderthals, although all these groupings shared the cave at various times, and interbred.
'The bracelet is stunning - in bright sunlight it reflects the sun rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green,' said Professor Anatoly Derevyanko, former director of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, in Novosibirsk.
'It is unlikely it was used as an everyday jewellery piece. I believe this beautiful and very fragile bracelet was worn only for some exceptional moments," he said.
The manufacturing technology used in the bracelet is seen as being more typical of a later period, for example the Neolithic era, which began around 12,000 years ago.
His successor Professor Mikhail Shunkov has suggested that the long-extinct Denisovans were significantly more advanced than Homo sapiens and Neanderthals.
Did this technological superiority also help them reach Australia before anyone else?