Category Archive 'Archaeology'
10 Apr 2017

Roman Settlement of Cataractonium Discovered in North Yorkshire

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Silver ring in the form of a snake.

Live Science:

A rare silver ring shaped like a snake that wraps around the finger hints at the great wealth of the people who lived at Cataractonium.

Construction work to upgrade Britain’s longest road into a major highway has revealed a treasure trove of rare artifacts from one of the earliest and wealthiest Roman settlements in the country.

The findings include ancient shoes, cups, a rare silver ring, keys, a high-relief glass bowl and an elaborately carved amber figurine, archaeologists with the public group Historic England announced yesterday (April 6).

Archaeologists uncovered the artifacts in North Yorkshire along the A1, which stretches 410 miles (660 kilometers) from London to Edinburgh, Scotland, during a major project to improve the existing roadway.

“It is fascinating to discover that nearly 2,000 years ago, the Romans were using the A1 route as a major road of strategic importance and using the very latest technological innovations from that period to construct the original road,” Tom Howard, project manager at the government agency Highways England, said in a statement.

Indeed, the newly found artifacts include a plumb bob used to build straight roads, which was likely utilized in the construction of Dere Street, a Roman road following the course of the A1, the researchers said.

The excavations have also led to the discovery of a major Roman settlement at Scotch Corner, one of the best-known junctions in the country.

Taking its name from an old Roman road called Scots Dyke, Scotch Corner links Scotland with England and the east coast with the west coast.

Right there, the archaeologists with the professional consultant group Northern Archaeological Associates unearthed the remains of a large settlement dating back to A.D. 60, thus predating settlements in York and Carlisle by 10 years.

The discovery proves that the Romans “possibly began their territorial expansion into northern England a decade earlier than previously thought,” according to Historic England.

The settlement at Scotch Corner was unusually large compared to others in northern England, and stretched over 4,600 feet (1,400 meters) from north to south — roughly the length of 13 football fields positioned end to end, according to Historic England.

Artifacts unearthed there suggest that the people who lived at Scotch Corner were rather wealthy. High-status imported items include the figure of a toga-clad actor carved from a block of amber, which is believed to have been made in Italy during the first century A.D.

“A similar example was found at Pompeii. Nothing like this has ever before been found in the U.K.,” representatives with Historic England said.

The archaeologists unearthed more than 1,400 clay fragments of molds used for making gold, silver and copper coins, thus making the site the largest known and most northerly example of coin production ever found in Europe, the researchers said. Those findings suggest that the settlement might have served as a sophisticated industrial and administrative center, the archaeologists said.

“It shows that the Romans were carrying out significant industrial activity in this part of England and potentially producing coins of high value,” Historic England representatives said in the statement.

But it was a short-lived glory. The settlement was occupied for just two to three decades. Its demise seems to coincide with the rise of Catterick, a town south of Scotch Corner known by the Romans as Cataractonium.

Finds at Catterick abounded. The archaeologists unearthed several well-preserved leather shoes, along with large sheets of leather, perhaps used for producing clothes. The artifacts suggest that Cataractonium was an important leatherworking center that likely supported the Roman military, the archaeologists said.

A rare silver ring shaped like a snake, which wraps around the finger, and a number of keys of various sizes suggest that the people who lived in Cataractonium were wealthy and that they locked up their valuable possessions, the archaeologists suggested.

Moreover, the many styli (Roman pens) and a pewter inkpot found at the site indicate that most of these ancient people were able to read and write, the researchers said.

“The sheer amount of exceptional objects found on this road scheme has been extraordinary,” Neil Redfern, principal inspector of ancient monuments at Historic England, said in the statement. “This project has given us a unique opportunity to understand how the Romans conducted their military expansion into northern England and how civil life changed under their control.”

Photos

22 Mar 2017

Context 958 Lived in the 13th Century

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Facial reconstruction of Context 958 burial.

Gizmodo reports on the reconstruction of the face of a man who lived 700 years ago by Cambridge scientists.

[H]ere’s what we know about Context 958.

He was just slightly over 40 years old when he died. His skeleton showed signs of considerable wear-and-tear, so he likely lead a tough and hard working life. His tooth enamel stopped growing during two occasions in his youth, suggesting he likely lived through bouts of famine or sickness when he was young. The archaeologists found traces of blunt force trauma inflicted to the back of his head, which healed over before he died. The researchers aren’t sure what he did for a living, but they think he was a working-class person who specialized in some kind of trade.

Context 958 ate a diverse diet rich in meat or fish, according to an analysis of weathering patterns on his teeth. His profession may have provided him with more access to such foods than the average person at the time. His presence at the charitable hospital suggests he fell on hard times, with no one to take care of him.

“Context 958 was probably an inmate of the Hospital of St John, a charitable institution which provided food and a place to live for a dozen or so indigent townspeople—some of whom were probably ill, some of whom were aged or poor and couldn’t live alone,” noted John Robb, a professor from Cambridge University’s Division of Archaeology, in a statement.

Strangely, he was buried face down, which is rare but not unheard of in medieval burials.

Full story.

15 Feb 2017

The Middleham Jewel

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Vintage News had a feature article on a major historic find.

The Middleham Jewel is a late 15th-cenutry diamond-shaped gold pendant made by the finest medieval goldsmiths in London. It was found in 1985 near the Middleham Castle in North Yorkshire which was the childhood home of Richard III.

It is a remarkable piece of jewelry because of the engraving of the two scenes of the Trinity and Nativity.

There is a blue sapphire stone set on the front face which is connected with the Virgin Mary and it was believed that the jewel was made to assist childbirth. Another belief is that the jewel was providing protection against illness curing headaches and poor eyesight. Also, the sapphire may represent heaven or have acted as aid to prayer.

The circle of the sun surrounding the sapphire is in the shape of the letter “o” and it’s connected with the Greek word ”omega” which symbolizes the end, the completion. There are holes on the side of the jewel which indicate that there was a frame around it, possibly once decorated with pearls.

On the front side, there is a scene of the Trinity, including the Crucifixion of Jesus and there is a Latin inscription which was a common recitation by the priest in mass. There is one particular word ‘ananizapta’ for which it was believed that it is a magic word, intended to protect people from drunkenness or epilepsy.

On the back side of the jewel, there is an engraving of the Nativity, with fifteen saints around the Lamb of God. Only a few of the saints can be identified as St George, Catherine of Alexandria, St Peter, St Barbara, St Anne, Dorothea of Caesarea and St Margaret of Antioch.

There is evidence from the late 15-th century that this kind of jewel was worn by noble ladies. It may have been owned by Richard III’s wife, Anne Neville, his mother or his mother-in-law because they all spent time at Middleham.

When it was first found, the jewel was declared lost and was sold at Sotheby’s in 1986. In 1992, with support from many fundraisers, it was acquired by the Yorkshire Museum. There is a replica of the Middleham Jewel at Middleham and the original can be seen in the Yorkshire Museum.

25 Jan 2017

Viking Ax Found in Danish Tomb

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Vintage News:

Inside an ancient Viking “death house,” a type of large tomb, Danish archaeologists recently made several important discoveries. The tomb, measuring 13 feet by 42 feet, was first unearthed in 2012 during a construction project in Denmark’s southwestern Hårup region.

Archaeologists have been studying the tomb ever since – burial sites are currently the only way archaeologists can study Viking history since remains of Viking settlements have yet to be excavated.

Constructed circa 950 AD, the “death house” contains three separate graves. Inside two of the graves, researchers found the remains of a male and female “power couple” likely of high birth or strong community influence. However, lead archaeologist Kirsten Nellemann Nielsen of the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark, cannot say for sure whether the “power couple” is a brother and sister or husband and wife. Clothing items found with the remains show that the man and woman were nobility.

The female’s clothing had silver threads in it, and she was buried with a key, which was a Viking status symbol.

The male remains found in the main tomb yielded an amazing discovery – one of the largest Viking axes found to date. The extremely heavy, giant ax could have been used in combat, but it would have taken two hands to fight with it. Experts believe it was probably used to terrify Viking enemies. As Nielsen explains, “People across Europe feared this type of ax, which at the time was known as the Dane Axe – something like the ‘machine gun’ of the Viking Age.” The ax did not have many decorative markings, which also suggests it was used in battle. The man it was buried with was probably quite strong to wield the ax successfully. The fact that he was buried with the ax and nothing else leads researchers to conclude that he identified himself solely as a strong and competent warrior.

23 Sep 2016

Ötzi the Iceman Speaks

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otzi

Science Alert:

We already know what Ötzi the Iceman was wearing when he died more than 5,000 years ago in the Italian Alps, as well as how many tattoos he had.

But now scientists have taken things one step further: they’ve managed to recreate the “best possible approximation” of his voice.

By using CT scans to measure the structure of the famous mummy’s vocal cords, throat, and mouth, scientists from Bolzano’s General Hospital in Italy have been able to digitally reconstruct what Ötzi might have sounded like while pronouncing vowels in Italian.

12 Sep 2016

Apparent Gold-Handed Bronze Sword Found Under Scottish Soccer Field

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bronzeswordgoldhandle

Daily Mail:

A suspected Bronze Age sword with a gold hilt that may be up to 4,000-years-old has been uncovered on the site of a new community football pitch.

Diggers moved into the site in Carnoustie, Angus, in Scotland after a collection of relics were unearthed while workmen began laying foundations for the new sports field.

Work to the playing fields has now been halted while archaeologists scour the site.

The find appears to be a sword with a gold hilt, or handle, dating back to the Bronze Age.

It looks as though it could be two items – possibly a spear point or a broken sword.

Early excavations have revealed a trove of ancient artefacts, which the archaeologists believe could date back thousands of years. …

Due to the fragile nature of the find it has to be specially lifted out in order to conserve it for experts to examine in a laboratory.

26 Aug 2016

Possible Crusader-Era Hand Grenade

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CrusaderGrenade
Centuries-old hand grenade found in the sea just off the coast of Northern Israel.

Fox News:

A centuries-old hand grenade that may date back to the time of the crusaders is among a host of treasures retrieved from the sea in Israel.

The metal artifacts, some of which are more than 3,500 years old, were found over a period of years by the late Marcel Mazliah, a worker at the Hadera power plant in northern Israel.

Mazliah’s family recently presented the treasures to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Experts, who were surprised by the haul, think that the objects probably fell overboard from a medieval metal merchant’s ship.

The hand grenade was a common weapon in Israel during the Crusader era, which began in the 11th century and lasted until the 13th century, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Grenades were also used 12th and 13th century Ayyubid period and the Mamluk era, which ran from the 13th to the 16th century, experts say.

Haaretz reports that early grenades were often used to disperse burning flammable liquid. However, some experts believe that so-called ancient grenades were actually used to contain perfume.

The oldest items found in the sea by Mazliah are a toggle pin and the head of a knife from the Middle Bronze, which date back more than 3,500 years. Ayala Lester, a curator at the Israel Antiquities Authority, explained that other items, such as two mortars, two pestles and candlestick fragments, date to the 11th-century Fatimid period. “The items were apparently manufactured in Syria and were brought to Israel,” she said, in a statement. “The finds are evidence of the metal trade that was conducted during this period.”

17 Jul 2016

Mayan Zoomorph

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Quirigua
Zoomorph B photographed at Quiriguá, Guatamala in 1902. This monument was dedicated in 780 by K’ak’ Tiliw Chan Yopaat, and is a multi-ton boulder sculpted into a half-crocodile half-mountain beast. The hieroglyphic text on this monument consists entirely of full-figure glyphs. Traces of red pigment have been found on the zoomorph, which is 4 metres (13 ft) long. A dedication cache was found buried in a pit under Zoomorph B, including seven flint blades between 14 and 46 cm (5.5 and 18.1 in) in length.

12 Jul 2016

Identifying the Philistines

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PhilistineCemetery

AP:

An archaeological discovery announced on Sunday in Israel may help solve an enduring biblical mystery: where did the ancient Philistines come from?

The Philistines left behind plenty of pottery. But part of the mystery surrounding the ancient people was that very little biological trace of them had been found — until 2013.

That’s when archaeologists excavating the site of the biblical city of Ashkelon found what they say is the first Philistine cemetery ever discovered. They say they have uncovered the remains of more than 200 people there.

The discovery was finally unveiled Sunday at the close of a 30-year excavation by the Leon Levy Expedition, a team of archaeologists from Harvard University, Boston College, Wheaton College in Illinois and Troy University in Alabama.

The team is now performing DNA, radiocarbon and other tests on bone samples uncovered at the cemetery, dating back to between the 11th and the 8th centuries B.C., to help resolve a debate about the Philistines’ geographical origins. The archaeologists have not announced any conclusions, saying they are taking advantage of recent advances in DNA testing to get the most accurate results.

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Times of Israel:

The discovery of a sizable cemetery, with over 210 individuals, at a site conclusively linked to the Philistines, was a “critical missing link” that allows scholars “to fill out the story of the Philistines,” said Master, a professor of archaeology at Wheaton College.

The cemetery, discovered just outside the ancient city walls and dated to between the 11th and 8th centuries BCE — a period associated with the rise of the Israelites — may contain thousands of individuals, providing an abundance of material to study, he said.

With that broad a population, “we’re going to be able to reconstruct what the Philistines as a group were like,” Master said.

The announcement was timed to coincide with the opening of an Israel Museum exhibit showcasing finds spanning 6,000 years from Ashkelon at the Rockefeller. Among the items on display are 3,800-year-old city gates, gold and silver jewelry demonstrating its commercial prominence, and a Roman marble slab etched with Crusader and Fatimid inscriptions.

Throughout much of its 22 layers of settlement, Ashkelon was a “great seaport,” situated on the Mediterranean and on the main coastal trade route,” Harvard University’s Larry Stager, co-director of the dig, said. It was significantly larger than cities inland during the Bronze and Iron Age, with 10-12,000 people, because it could sustain greater population through commerce.

Ashkelon was one of the five main Philistine cities for six centuries — , along with Gaza, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron — from the 1100s BCE down to Ashkelon’s destruction by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 604 BCE.

“We’ve uncovered their houses, we’ve uncovered their trading networks, we’ve uncovered all aspects of their culture,” Master said. With the discovery of the cemetery, “we’re finally going to see the people themselves.”

“There have been other random finds of people caught in Philistine destruction on occasion,” he explained, “but nothing like this. No systematic example of what they thought about death and how they treated people in that process.”

Isolated graves containing Philistine style pottery were thought to be possible examples of their practices, but the few cases were not enough to convince most scholars.

“What we needed for a Philistine cemetery was to find a large one that was directly connected to one of the cities we know as a Philistine city,” Master said. “And Ashkelon is exactly that.”

Scholars believe the Philistines were among a number of tribes of non-Semitic peoples who migrated across the Mediterranean — possibly from modern Greece and Turkey — and settled the Canaanite coast in the early Iron Age.

07 Jul 2016

Viking Saga Confirmed

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BodyinWell

Past Horizons:

Archaeologists working in Trondheim in Norway are amazed by the discovery of a human skeleton in the bottom of an abandoned castle well. The skeleton provides evidence that confirms dramatic historical events mentioned in the Sagas.

The location and contents of the well are mentioned in Sverre’s Saga. …

In 1197 King Sverre Sigurdsson and his Birkebeiner-mercenaries were attacked and defeated in his castle stronghold, Sverresborg, by his rivals, the Baglers. According to the Saga, the Baglers burned down buildings and destroyed the castle’s fresh water supply by throwing one of King Sverre’s dead men into the well, and then filling it with stones.

Now, following a trial excavation in the well, archaeologists can confirm this dramatic story. Archaeologists managed to retrieve part of the skeleton they found in the well in 2014. A fragment of bone produced a radiocarbon date that confirmed that the individual lived and died at the end of the 12th century, the same time as the incident described in the Saga.

Whole story.

05 Jul 2016

The Ribchester Helmet

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RibchesterHelmet
The Ribchester Helmet is a Roman bronze ceremonial helmet dating to between the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD, … now on display at the British Museum. It was found in Ribchester, Lancashire, England in 1796, as part of the Ribchester Hoard. The model of a sphinx that was believed to attach to the helmet was lost.

Wikipedia:

The helmet was discovered, part of the Ribchester Hoard, in the summer of 1796 by the son of Joseph Walton, a clogmaker. The boy found the items buried in a hollow, about three metres below the surface, on some waste land by the side of a road leading to Ribchester church, and near a river bed. The hoard was thought to have been stored in a wooden box and consisted of the corroded remains of a number of items but the largest was this helmet. In addition to the helmet, the hoard included a number of paterae, pieces of a vase, a bust of Minerva, fragments of two basins, several plates, and some other items that the antiquarian collector Charles Townley thought had religious uses. The finds were thought to have survived so well because they were covered in sand.

The helmet and other items were bought from Walton by Townley, who lived nearby at Towneley Hall. Townley was a well-known collector of Roman sculpture and antiquities, who had himself and his collection recorded in an oil painting by Johann Zoffany. Townley reported the details of the find in a detailed letter to the secretary of the Society of Antiquaries, intended for publication in the Society’s Proceedings: it was his only publication. The helmet, together with the rest of Townley’s collection, was sold to the British Museum in 1814 by his cousin, Peregrine Edward Towneley, who had inherited the collection on Townley’s death in 1805.

In addition to the items purchased by Townley, there was also originally a bronze figurine of a sphinx, but it was lost after Walton gave it to the children of one of his brothers to play with. It was suggested by Thomas Dunham Whitaker, who examined the hoard soon after it had been discovered, that the sphinx would have been attached to the top of the helmet, as it has a curved base fitting the curvature of the helmet, and has traces of solder on it. This theory has become more plausible with the discovery of the Crosby Garrett Helmet in 2010, to which is attached a winged griffin.

21 Jun 2016

Rome Has a Hill Made Up Entirely of Ancient Amphorae Shards

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MonteTestaccio

The Vintage News:

Monte Testaccio or also known as Monte dei Cocci (literally meaning “Mount of Shards”) is an artificial mound in Rome composed almost entirely of testae, fragments of broken amphorae dating from the time of the Roman Empire, some of which were labelled with tituli picti. It is one of the largest spoil heaps found anywhere in the ancient world, covering an area of 220,000 sq ft at its base and with a volume of approximately 760,000 cu yd, containing the remains of an estimated 53 million amphorae.

The huge numbers of broken amphorae at Monte Testaccio illustrate the enormous demand for oil of imperial Rome, which was at the time the world’s largest city with a population of at least one million people. It has been estimated that the hill contains the remains of as many as 53 million olive oil amphorae, in which some 61.3 billion imperial gallons/1.6 billion U.S. gallons of oil were imported. Studies of the hill’s composition suggest that Rome’s imports of olive oil reached a peak towards the end of the 2nd century AD, when as many as 130,000 amphorae were being deposited on the site each year. The vast majority of those vessels had a capacity of some 15 imp gal; 18 U.S. gal; from this it has been estimated that Rome was importing at least 1.6 million imperial gal/2 million U.S. gal of olive oil annually. As the vessels found at Monte Testaccio appear to represent mainly state-sponsored olive oil imports, it is very likely that considerable additional quantities of olive oil were imported privately.

Whole Story.

09 Jun 2016

A British Pompeii

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BritainPompei

Charlotte Higgins, in the New Yorker, describes a 3000-year-old archaeological site near Peterborough where Bronze-Age round houses on piles were abandoned due to a sudden fire that burned pilings and dropped houses and their contents into a river thus preserving their contents and consequently offering an extraordinary picture of ordinary daily life in Britain 1000 years before the Roman Invasion.

[F]rom time to time, the soil pushes up clues, particularly in the fens, where the waterlogged earth creates anaerobic conditions that slow decay. One summer day in 1999, a local archeologist was walking at Must Farm, along the edge of a disused clay pit; at one time it was filled with water, but the water level had dropped enough to reveal some wooden stakes poking out. The Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which operates out of the university, an hour’s drive away, did some exploratory work and found, through radiocarbon dating, that the material dated from about 900 B.C. The site was monitored for several years, until Historic England, a government agency devoted to preserving the country’s heritage, began to press for it to be properly excavated. Last September, with funding from Historic England and the brick-making company Forterra, a team of about a dozen archeologists went to work.

Each day, they are making discoveries that are radically expanding the knowledge of Bronze Age Britain. The site is unparalleled in the U.K. for its wealth of artifacts and the pristine state of their preservation. Three thousand years ago, it was a settlement of wooden roundhouses, but life there ended abruptly: a fire tore through it, and the buildings collapsed, sank into the marshland, and were quickly entombed by silt and mud. “In archeology, very occasionally, there is the feeling that you have turned up just a week too late, that the people who were here have just moved on,” Mark Knight, the archeologist in charge of excavation at Must Farm, told me when I visited for a day in April. “This site has that feeling to it. Normally in Britain, when you dig, three thousand years of history seems manifest in the remains, because the most you tend to find is a few postholes and a potsherd. Here, somehow, the time span feels short. It’s so intact, so three-dimensional.” Inevitably, perhaps, the site has been nicknamed the Pompeii of Peterborough.

Read the whole thing.

03 Jun 2016

The Dog, Domesticated Twice

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wolf

The Atlantic has news about the (dual) origin of man’s best friend.

On the eastern edge of Ireland lies Newgrange, a 4,800-year-old monument that predates Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza. Beneath its large circular mound and within its underground chambers lie many fragments of animal bones. And among those fragments, Dan Bradley from Trinity College Dublin found the petrous bone of a dog.

Press your finger behind your ear. That’s the petrous. It’s a bulbous knob of very dense bone that’s exceptionally good at preserving DNA. If you try to pull DNA out of a fossil, most of it will come from contaminating microbes and just a few percent will come from the bone’s actual owner. But if you’ve got a petrous bone, that proportion can be as high as 80 percent. And indeed, Bradley found DNA galore within the bone, enough to sequence the full genome of the long-dead dog.

Larson and his colleague Laurent Frantz then compared the Newgrange sequences with those of almost 700 modern dogs, and built a family tree that revealed the relationships between these individuals. To their surprise, that tree had an obvious fork in its trunk—a deep divide between two doggie dynasties. One includes all the dogs from eastern Eurasia, such as Shar Peis and Tibetan mastiffs. The other includes all the western Eurasian breeds, and the Newgrange dog.

The genomes of the dogs from the western branch suggest that they went through a population bottleneck—a dramatic dwindling of numbers. Larson interprets this as evidence of a long migration. He thinks that the two dog lineages began as a single population in the east, before one branch broke off and headed west. This supports the idea that dogs were domesticated somewhere in China.

But there’s a critical twist.

The team calculated that the two dog dynasties split from each other between 6,400 and 14,000 years ago. But the oldest dog fossils in both western and eastern Eurasia are older than that. Which means that when those eastern dogs migrated west into Europe, there were already dogs there.

Here’s the full story, as he sees it. Many thousands of years ago, somewhere in western Eurasia, humans domesticated grey wolves. The same thing happened independently, far away in the east. So, at this time, there were two distinct and geographically separated groups of dogs. Let’s call them Ancient Western and Ancient Eastern. Around the Bronze Age, some of the Ancient Eastern dogs migrated westward alongside their human partners, separating from their homebound peers and creating the deep split in Larson’s tree. Along their travels, these migrants encountered the indigenous Ancient Western dogs, mated with them (doggy style, presumably), and effectively replaced them.

Today’s eastern dogs are the descendants of the Ancient Eastern ones. But today’s western dogs (and the Newgrange one) trace most of their ancestry to the Ancient Eastern migrants. Less than 10 percent comes from the Ancient Western dogs, which have since gone extinct.

Read the whole thing.

newgrangeAerialCU
Newgrange, the white facade is modern.

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