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Archaeology News

2014 Search for Lost Franklin Expedition Vessels Targets New Location

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of the 1845 British Arctic Expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin is the most enduring in polar exploration history. This summer, the Government of Canada’s search for the lost Franklin ships, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, will be enhanced by the inclusion of Canadian leaders in exploration, assembled with the help of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS).

This unique partnership, which includes The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, One Ocean Expeditions, Shell Canada and the Arctic Research Foundation, will add resources, technologies and expertise to the hunt and focus on the Victoria Strait, which up to this point has largely not been targeted by search teams. The focus on the Victoria Strait is significant, as the area includes the last reported location of the missing vessels and crews.

The W. Garfield Weston Foundation has been a catalyst for the innovative partnership. With the support of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, the Society has partnered with One Ocean Expeditions to provide an Arctic-rated vessel (One Ocean Voyager) that will enhance the many projects underway by all partners. It will enable experts, researchers, and others to be in the search area for a 10-day period during the field season. It will also enable the RCGS to analyze and communicate the important links between the original Franklin expedition, the modern search efforts led by Parks Canada, and a host of issues currently facing the Canadian Arctic.

“The W. Garfield Weston Foundation is delighted to be a part of the hunt for the Erebus and Terror. The Franklin Expedition discovery will raise awareness and increase understanding of the North and Canada’s rich history,” says Geordie Dalglish, Director of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. “We are proud to support scientists as they uncover such an important piece of Canada’s history.”

With the addition of the One Ocean Voyager, the search capabilities of the expedition team will be significantly enhanced. “One Ocean Expeditions will fly the Canadian and RCGS flags with great enthusiasm, whilst exploring the waterways of Canada’s high Arctic as we’ve done for almost a quarter century,” explained Andrew Prossin, Managing Director of One Oceans Expeditions. “This will be a very proud Canadian effort at exploration, discovery, and scientific survey. It would be a very special Canadian moment indeed, to rewrite one of polar history¹s most storied chapters. This would showcase Canadian know-how and innovation to the world.”

The search for Franklin’s lost ships has opened a unique window into the history and heritage that has defined the Canadian experience, and the research provides a strong learning opportunity for Canadians across the country. With the vital support of its partners, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, One Ocean Expeditions, Shell Canada and the Arctic Research Foundation, the RCGS will be developing and disseminating an educational program to Canadian schools, so that educators and students can develop a stronger knowledge base and engagement with the Arctic, linking this great historical mystery to important contemporary themes such as Northern science and Arctic sovereignty.

“Exploration has been important to the success of our business for over 100 years,” said Lorraine Mitchelmore, President and Country Chair of Shell Canada and Executive Vice President Heavy Oil. “We are proud to lend our support to the recovery of these vessels and look forward to sharing our experience along with our country’s rich history of exploration with Canadian students.”

In its 2013 Speech from the Throne, the Government of Canada announced an expanded partnership would join the Parks Canada-led initiative to locate the Franklin vessels. Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, announced the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition on June 20. The Royal Canadian Geographical Society and its partners are key to the plans for this summer. “As Canada’s pre-eminent leader in exploration and geographical education, we are proud and honoured to join with Parks Canada, other federal and Nunavut government partners, and our private sector and non-profit colleagues and take up the call,” stated The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s CEO, John Geiger.

The fate of the Erebus and Terror and their crews has become one of the most enduring mysteries in maritime history, and the search for Franklin’s lost ships has over time cemented Canada’s understanding and connection with the North. Moreover, much of Canada’s claim to sovereignty over its Arctic islands can be traced to the significant geographical advances made because of the Franklin search era. This year’s search will continue to strengthen Canadian awareness and understanding of its northern heritage and sovereignty over the land and its resources.

“The RCGS’ unique ability to directly reach classrooms from across Canada will ensure that information about the North will be easily accessible to thousands of Canadian students,” said Jim Balsillie, founder of the Arctic Research Foundation. “The Arctic Research Foundation is pleased to participate in a partnership that will connect young Canadians with information about their country’s Northern communities and heritage.”

For up-to-date information about the Franklin search expedition and much more, visit the Franklin 2014 search website at canadiangeographic.ca/franklin-expedition.


DOWN TO EARTH: EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT CRASH SITES OF THE MOJAVE

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Since the dawn of the jet and space ages, Edwards Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles, has been the principal place for testing experimental aircraft. As a result, the landscape around it is peppered with crash sites. These crash sites represent the meeting of the apogee of American technological sophistication, with the perigee of failure – the intersection of lofted ambition and terrestrial tragedy.
 
The eleven crashes described in this exhibit were selected from among the more than six hundred that have occurred in the western Mojave Desert, and cover the range of experimentation and advancement of aircraft over the past 70 years of jet-propelled flight. With one exception, all of these flights originated at Edwards, where they were expected to return. Instead they crashed outside, in the public realm, where they remain as accidental monuments to one of the most advanced forms of technology and human endeavor.

This CLUI exhibit was based on the work of Peter W. Merlin who, with Tony Moore, founded the X-Hunters Aerospace Archeology Team, the nation’s experts on locating crash sites of experimental aircraft. Merlin and Moore have studied and documented aerospace accidents and incidents for more than 25 years, and have located and visited more than 100 crash sites of historic aircraft from Edwards Air Force Base and Area 51.

Explore the online gallery here.


Dig it: Hawks’ online course set to start in three weeks

In just three weeks, John Hawks’ Human Evolution: Past and Future is set to begin.  For those unaware of this valuable online learning tool, I’ve conveniently copied and pasted all of the information below.  Anything not covered in my CTRL-C CTRL-V can head to his site or the course information page.

Human Evolution: Past and Future

Introduction to the science of human origins, the fossil and archaeological record, and genetic ancestry of living and ancient human populations. The course emphasizes the ways our evolution touches our lives, including health and diet, and explores how deep history may shape the future of our species.

About the Course

This course covers our evolutionary history across more than seven million years, from our origins among the apes up to the biological changes that are still unfolding today. If you enroll, you’ll encounter the evidence for the earliest members of our lineage, as they begin the long pathway to humanity. You’ll see how scientists are learning about the diets of ancient people, using microscopic evidence and chemical signatures in ancient teeth. We will explore together the exciting fossil discoveries of the last ten years, which have shaken up our notions of the origin of human culture and our own genus.Genomics has fundamentally transformed the way we understand our evolution, in many ways opening the direct evidence of our history to anyone. The course will teach you how to look inside the genomes of humans, Neandertals and other ancient people. If you have used personal genomics to get your own genotypes, the course will guide you in connecting genetics to your ancestry among ancient humans.The course brings a special focus on the rapid evolutionary changes of the last 10,000 years. You’ll learn about the consequences of our shift to agriculture, and the ways that people of industrialized nations are still changing today. At the end, we trek forward to anticipate what evolutionary changes may be in store for humanity in the future, using our knowledge of history and scientific understanding to inform our speculations.

Recommended Background

All are welcome to participate and view materials, which assume no special background. To complete some exercises, a basic knowledge of high school-level biology and algebra will be necessary.

Course Format

The materials are designed to guide students on their own distinctive paths of discovery. Short documentary videos highlight the most up-to-date science and bring students virtually into some of the most famous archaeological sites. With a series of interviews, students will hear about new ideas from many of the world’s leading experts. A series of activities give students an opportunity to see their measurements next to those provided by the worldwide group of students. Students can dig deeper by investigating ways that humanity may evolve into the future.

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“Archaeology is the peeping Tom of the sciences. It is the sandbox of men who care not where they are going; they merely want to know where everyone else has been.” – Jim Bishop


Spain claims top spot for world’s oldest cave art

It’s no Mona Lisa, but a smudged red disk in northern Spain has been crowned the world’s earliest cave painting. Dated to more than 40,800 years ago, the shape was painted by some of the first modern humans to reach the Iberian Peninsula — or it may have been done by Neanderthals, residents of the Iberian peninsula for more than 200,000 years.

“There is a very good chance that this is Neanderthal,” says Alistair Pike, an archaeological scientist at the University of Bristol, UK, whose team dated dozens of paintings in 11 caves in northern Spain. But Lawrence Guy Straus, an expert on the caves who is based at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, calls that “a pretty wild speculation,” because it is based on a single date that could overlap with human occupation.

Until now, Chauvet Cave in central France, which is plastered with images of bears, lions and horses, held the title of the world’s oldest cave paintings. The oldest images there are dated to around 39,000 years old, but this is controversial as the assessment relies on radiocarbon dating of charcoal pigments, which are susceptible to contamination from other sources of carbon.

Cave art is notoriously difficult to date because, unlike bones and tools dug up from the ground that can be carbon-dated directly or by their association with nearby bones, it is “not associated with anything but itself”, says Pike.

To solve this problem, Pike’s team dated the calcite patinas that slowly form over cave art as mineral-rich water trickles over the paintings. The water contains trace levels of radioactive uranium, but not the water insoluble thorium into which the uranium steadily decays. The relative levels of uranium to thorium thus form a clock that records when the calcite layer was formed. The layers can take anywhere from several hundred to several thousand years to form, providing a minimum date for the art, Pike says.

His team collected 50 calcite scrapings from 11 caves, and came up with dates as old as 40,800 years, a minimum age for the disk in El Castillo cave1. That image, as well as other slightly younger disks from Castillo and a club-shaped image from Altamira cave, would have been painted at around the time the first modern humans, called the Aurignacian culture, reached the Iberian Peninsula. Younger paintings in the Spanish caves, including handprints and figurative drawings of animals, date to later human occupations.

Just as impressionism gave way to expressionism in nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, Pike’s team sees artistic trends that correlate with different periods. The first European painters favoured simple geometric shapes such as dots, disks and clubs, whereas their successors painted more graphically complicated handprints and figures.

“You clearly see distinct styles arriving and leaving at different periods,” Pike says, although he cautions against making any interpretations about the minds of the artists. “I don’t think one can say these are multicoloured and these are monochrome to make judgements about the art or even the cognitive abilities of Neanderthals or humans.”

Determining just who created the earliest cave paintings will factor into debates over the relative mental capacities of the two species. Cave paintings appear in Palaeolithic Europe before anywhere else in the world. But beginning around 100,000 years ago, humans in Africa began making shell beads and other ornaments that have been interpreted by archaeologists as evidence for the symbolic thinking that underlies language, art and even religion. There is a lot less evidence, such as beads and ivory pendants, for symbolic behaviour among Neanderthals in Europe, and some archaeologists have raised fresh questions over whether Neanderthals created these artefacts.

The only way to determine who created the earliest paintings is to do more dating, Pike says. If his team can find cave art that predates the arrival of modern humans in northern Spain, currently pegged at around 42,000 years ago, there can be little doubt that Neanderthals dabbled in art. “If we can really nail it, you can walk into El Castillo cave and gaze upon the hand of Neanderthals and that’s really exciting,” Pike says. His team plans to return to the caves to sample calcite on more disks and other early-looking art.

However, Tom Higham, an archaeological scientist at the University of Oxford, UK, points out that only the oldest date, 40,800 years old, butts up against that start of modern human occupation in Iberia. “I think it is far more likely that all of the art in European sites was simply being made by modern humans,” he says.


Artifacts reveal Amelia Earhart survived as castaway on remote Pacific island

For decades, pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart was said to have “disappeared” over the Pacific on her quest to circle the globe along a 29,000-mile equatorial route.

Now, new information gives a clearer picture of what happened 75 years ago to Ms. Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, where they came down and how they likely survived – for a while, at least – as castaways on a remote island, catching rainwater and eating fish, shellfish, and turtles to survive.

The tale hints at lost opportunities to locate and rescue the pair in the first crucial days after they went down, vital information dismissed as inconsequential or a hoax, the failure to connect important dots regarding physical evidence.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), a non-profit foundation promoting aviation archaeology and historic aircraft preservation, reported new details Friday leading researchers to this conclusion: Earhart and Noonan, low on fuel and unable to find their next scheduled stopping point – Howland Island – radioed their position, then landed on a reef at uninhabited Gardner Island, a small coral atoll now known as Nikumaroro Island.

Using what fuel remained to turn up the engines to recharge the batteries, they continued to radio distress signals for several days until Earhart’s twin-engine Lockheed Electra aircraft was swept off the reef by rising tides and surf. Using equipment not available in 1937 – digitized information management systems, antenna modeling software, and radio wave propagation analysis programs, TIGHAR concluded that 57 of the 120 signals reported at the time are credible, triangulating Earhart’s position to have been Nikumaroro Island.

“Amelia Earhart did not simply vanish on July 2, 1937,” Richard Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News. “Radio distress calls believed to have been sent from the missing plane dominated the headlines and drove much of the US Coast Guard and Navy search.”

“When the search failed, all of the reported post-loss radio signals were categorically dismissed as bogus and have been largely ignored ever since,” Mr. Gillespie said. But the results of the study, he said, “suggest that the aircraft was on land and on its wheels for several days following the disappearance.”

In addition, several artifacts found years ago – some of it discovered by Pacific islanders who later inhabited the island – seem to confirm TIGHAR’s conclusion.

These include broken glass artifacts showing evidence of secondary use as tools for cutting or scraping; large numbers of fish and bird bones collected in, or associated with, ash and charcoal deposits; several hundred mollusk shells, as well as bones from at least one turtle; bone fragments and dried fecal matter that might be of human origin.

A photo taken three months after Earhart’s flight shows what could be the landing gear of her aircraft in the waters off the atoll.

“Analyses of the artifacts, faunals and data collected during the expedition are on-going but, at this point, everything supports the hypothesis that the remains found at the site in 1940 were those of Amelia Earhart,” according to TIGHAR.

Other artifacts (some of them reported in 1940 but then lost) include a bone-handled pocket knife of the type known to have been carried by Earhart, part of a man’s shoe, part of a woman’s shoe, a zipper of the kind manufactured in the 1930s, a woman’s compact, and broken pieces of a jar appearing to be the same size and unusual shape as one holding “Dr. Berry’s Freckle Ointment.” (Earhart was known to dislike her freckles.)

In July, TIGHAR researchers will return to the area where Earhart and Noonan are thought to have spent their last days, using submersibles to try and detect the famous aircraft they believe to have been swept off a Pacific reef in 1937.


Douglas County’s Lamb Spring archaeological dig could rewrite human history

Molly the Columbian mammoth lived, grazed, and died, about 13,000 years ago near a spring in what is now a fast-developing chunk of Douglas County. Five thousand years later, early North American humans spent time at the same spring, where they killed and butchered bison.

We don’t know if humans visited the spring at the same time as Molly, but if the Lamb Spring site produces evidence that they did — and it tantalizes with hope — the site could rewrite the scientific and cultural history of North America. And perhaps offer the Denver area a new attraction.

Lamb Spring sits in the Chatfield Basin, between South Platte Canyon Road and Chatfield Reservoir. “Stand on that site (Lamb Spring) and look around. You realize you are in the middle of one of the fastest-developing areas in Colorado,” said Jim Walker, southwest regional director for The Archaeological Conservancy, an Albuquerque nonprofit that buys archaeologically promising land and safeguards it from development. The conservancy bought the Lamb Spring site in 1995. “The fact that we were able to find that site, buy it and preserve it, at the time we did, was a miracle. I’ll bet within 10 years that area is going to be covered in houses.”

Walker believes further excavation of Lamb Spring could show human activity between 13,000 and even 25,000 years ago, in which case “there would be a lot of rewriting of the peopling of North America.”

“I would place Lamb Spring really high, in terms of its importance,” he said. “If I were ranking Lamb Spring among the other 450 preserves we have, it would be in the top 10.”

Evidence of Pleistocene megafauna like mammoths makes the Lamb Spring dig compelling in its own right, but mammoth sites pepper the West. Early-human findings, in contrast, are rare. Placing both in the same location sets Lamb Spring — the largest “mixed dig” in the country — apart.

The findings may do more than just embellish what we already know: that humans roamed North America as far back as 11,200 years ago. Some archaeologists believe Lamb Spring could provide solid evidence, instead of just speculation, that people lived in North America much earlier.

Today, the Lamb Spring dig amounts to little more than a weed-choked and trash-sprinkled depression in the ground, a cavity surrounded by 35 acres of undulating, fenced-in prairie. An informational plaque sits beside the gated dirt path that leads to the site. Once a month for half the year, people can watch a video about the site andthen follow a tour guide to the swale to observe the grass.

If it weren’t for a rancher’s desire for a stock pond 50 years ago, the bones of Molly and 30 other mammoths — the largest find in Colorado, and the third- biggest in North America — would likely remain buried. But in 1960 Charles Lamb decided to use a spring on his land to make a fishing pond, and while digging he struck some big bones. Geologists identified them as mammoths.

In 1981, Smithsonian Institute archaeologist Dennis Stanford excavated the site and found many more mammoth bones, as well as camels, horses, sloths, llamas and wolves.

Stanford also found a 30-pound rock. Marks on the stone suggested it had been used as a butcher block. Geological forces could not have brought the stone to the site. Instead, Stanford theorized, early humans must have done it, and based on its location in the sediment, that could have happened 16,000 years ago. If the theory can be proved, it will mean humans dwelled at Lamb Spring at least that long ago.

For North American archaeologists, the faintest whisper of “paleo-Indian” usually sends hearts racing. Walker said he’ll “drop everything” if he hears of a site that could be purchased. Signs of early humans in North America are scarce, largely because the population was small and nomadic. Most evidence amounts to a scrap here, a smidgen there.

But in addition to Lamb Spring’s threat to upend the history of the peopling of North America, it also shows clear signs of a 9,000-year-old “Cody complex” bison kill, a site, similar to one found in Cody, Wyo., where humans camped, slaughtered buffalo, cut the meat, and hammered at bone with rocks to withdraw marrow. That alone makes Lamb Spring beguiling to archaeologists. But Lamb Spring, too, holds hints that the site was more than a quick way station for early hunters.

“I think Lamb Spring could yield what would be a jackpot — a campsite or village,” said Walker. “That would be incredible.”

“The site tells us about the ancient environment, about the environment of the Front Range and the foothills, what they were like in the past, how it has changed, how climate has changed,” said James Dixon, a University of New Mexico anthropology professor who has been active in Lamb Spring. “And it has the archaeological story, a later chapter. It has a lot of potential.”

That potential seems to spread beyond Lamb Spring, too. Just three-quarters of a mile away, archaeologists from the Denver Museum of Nature & Scienceare unearthing mammoth bones and signs of early humans at a site they call Scott Spring.

“It’s like a mini-Lamb Spring,” said Steven Holen, curator of archaeology for the museum. “At Scott Spring we are seeing bones even older (than at Lamb Spring) that appear to have been broken by humans. That’s what we are doing there — looking for evidence of humans older than Clovis (11,200 years ago).”

The team began excavating the site in 2010, and dug a test bed where a prairie dog had burrowed down into a mammoth tusk.

“There was ivory lying all around,” Holen said. So far, they have identified a mammoth, a camel and a Pleistocene horse.

“These spring sites have great promise,” he said. “They used those springs and hunted around those springs for thousands of years.”


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