Trenches France Schist Plaque

Archaeology News - Discovery of possible 6th century musical notes etched on schism plaque in Renne, France

31 August 2017

In 2011 an ancient temple was discovered under a Jacobin Convent in Rennes, France. The discovery was made by a team of archaeologists from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) and led by Gaëtan Le Cloirec of INRAP.

The team found a number of schist plaques with various etchings including an etching of four lines of diamond shapes that likely make up a section of musical notes from a song or chant possibly dating from the 6th century.

You can listen to the ancient music specialist and soprano, Dominique Fontaine, sing the melody here on the Archaeological Institute of America's website.

Photograph: Françoise Labaune-Jean / INRAP

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Federal Court recognises exclusive Yindjibarndi Native Title claim

27 July 2017

The Federal Court has recognised an exclusive Yindjibarndi Native Title claim over an area north of Karijini National Park that includes Fortescue Metal Group's Solomon Hub mine. The decision has significant implications for royalty payments made to traditional owners and has been a source of conflict both within the Yindjibarndi community and between the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation and Fortescue Metal Group. FMG controversially supported and allegedly funded a 'splinter group', Wirlu-Murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, who separated from the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation in 2011 ostensibly to negotiate with FMG for royalty terms that were apparently favoured by FMG. 

A videolink of Justice Rares handing down his decision was broadcast via videolink to the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation offices in Roebourne and were greeted with enthusiastic shouts and cheers. FMG have announced that they intend to appeal the decision.

A report on the ruling can be found at the ABC here and a follow up piece here



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Evidence of human occupation of Australia by 65,000 years ago

27 July 2017

There is much excitement in Australian archaeology about the recent publication of the results of exhaustive OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dating of sediments associated with various artefacts at celebrity archaeological site Madjedbebe (formally known as Malakunanja II), located in western Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia.

OSL dating of artefacts excavated at the site in 1973 and particularly 1989 had suggested that occupation dated to between 50 and 60 ka (kilo annum, meaning thousand years). Concerns were raised, however, about the stability and disturbance of sediments at the site and the artefacts associated with these dates were not described in detail. 

A team led by Dr Chris Clarkson excavated a staggering twenty 1 x 1 m squares adjacent to the original excavations to a depth of 3.4 m. Their detailed analysis concluded that there was no size sorting or significant movement of artefactual material vertically through the deposit. The initial occupation occurs at a depth of 2.60 to 2.15 m and includes flaked stone, grounding stones and whole and fragmented ground axes, ground ochre and fragments of sheet mica. Most importantly, they argue that their detailed analysis of sediments focusing on OSL dating suggest a conservative date for this initial occupation of Madjedbebe of around 59.3 ka. 

The very early date of human occupation at Madjedbebe has wide reaching implications for understanding not only the occupation of Australia (and Sahul generally) but also the movement of anatomically modern humans out of Africa and across south Asia and the interaction of modern humans with Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo floresiensis. It also suggests that humans and the now extinct megafaunal species of marsupials cohabited for around 20 kyr.

Additionally, the results of the dating at Madjedbebe has all sorts of implications for our understanding of the archaeology of Pleistocene Australia. For example, why have so few sites been excavated that suggest such an early chronology for human colorization of the Sahul land mass? Does this simply reflect a lack of large scale excavations and OSL dating of suitable deposits? Is the site a relic of an ecological tethered initial colonising population that remained restricted to the region? Is it possible that humans simply did not cross over the arid zone of Australia? Alternatively, was the population so small outside of the tropical north that it left little archaeological trace? 

The article is currently only available through a paywall at the Nature website here. There are good reviews of the project at the ABC here and at the Guardian website here



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Archaeology News - Tower of human skulls excavated at Aztec site Templo Mayor

11 July 2017

Ongoing excavations at Templo Mayor (Great Temple), a now buried structure built by the Aztecs in their capital city Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City), have uncovered a large tower of at least 650 human skulls. The tower is thought to be the structure recorded by the invading Spanish conquistadores as the Huey Tzompantli. The skulls are mostly of men although the remains of women and children are also present. It has long been thought that the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican peoples performed ritualistic human sacrifices as offerings to the sun although there has been some argument about the veracity of this claim.

The Guardian website included a brief article about the finds here and there is a nice review of the Templo Mayor site at the open online journal Omics International here.

Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters

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