Archaeologists discover world’s oldest axe

The world's oldest axe fragment, seen here under a microscope, is the size of a thumbnail.  (Australian Archaeology)

The world’s oldest axe fragment, seen here under a microscope, is the size of a thumbnail. (Australian Archaeology)

It’s less than half an inch long, but a small stone chip discovered in western Australia is a piece of the world’s oldest ground-edge axe, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney reports.

In fact, the axe’s creation likely coincides with the general time period when humans arrived on the continent, tens of thousands of years ago.

The axe fragment, which weighs just .16 grams, is nearly 50,000 years old, and was first unearthed at a site in Australia called Carpenter’s Gap in the 1990s. But it’s only recently that, after analysis, archaeologists have announced the significance of the discovery. The results are published in the journal Australian Archaeology.

Peter Hiscock, a professor at the University of Sydney and the lead author on the paper, said that the axe fragment dates to between 45,000 to 49,000 years old.

“This fragment is small, but it’s very distinctive,” Hiscock said in a videoexplaining the find. “It has a smooth surface, a high polish, that doesn’t occur naturally. It doesn’t occur by accident. Someone has to sit and grind the edge in order to make an axe.”

Hiscock said that before this discovery, the oldest known Australian axe was about 35,000 years old.

“This discovery is part of the grand out-of-Africa narrative,” Hiscock said. “Modern humans emerge from Africa, they spread across South Asia, and when they reach Australia, they create the oldest edge-ground axes in the world.”

Scientists used radiocarbon analysis to date the age of charcoal found at the same level of the archaeological site as the axe fragment, which is how they arrived at its age.

“The ancestors of Aboriginal people, arriving on the Australian shores, were adapting to the continent,” Hiscock added. “They were inventing new forms of tools to enable them to explore and settle the landscape.”

Experts unearth new ‘mythical beast’ Nazca lines

(Yamagata University)

(Yamagata University)

Researchers from Japan’s Yamagata University working in the Nazca Pampas of Ica, Peru have announced the discovery of a geoglyph with quite a story to tell.

In the central area of the Nazca Pampas, near the Majuleos gully, the team discovered an image thought to be the depiction of an animal with its tongue sticking out, spotted markings on the body and many legs. The team believes that it represents an imaginary or mythical creature, and the scene is one of a decapitation.

Related: Buddhist sculptures discovered in ruins of ancient shrine

According to the team, the image was created using a technique from the Late Paracas Period, (400-200 B.C.) where darker surface stones are removed to expose the lighter ground beneath them. The removed stones are then piled up in order to shape the image.

The team was in its eighth season on location and had discovered another geoglyph nearby in 2011. Both images are located on the slopes and the team said they were easily identified at the ground level.

Related: Shackled skeletons could be ancient Greek rebels

Masoto Sakai and Jorge Olano, of Yamagata University, wrote on the University’s website, “Between these two geoglyphs was found an ancient path leading to the ceremonial center of Cahuachi. We suspect that the geoglyphs were probably related to the pilgrimage to Cahuachi.”

Dutch dreamer hopes to bring Noah’s Ark replica to Americas

The ark is a major tourist attraction in Holland, but could be bound for the Americas. (Ark of Noah Foundation)

The ark is a major tourist attraction in Holland, but could be bound for the Americas. (Ark of Noah Foundation)

A Dutch carpenter inspired by a dream to build a massive replica of Noah’s Ark has a new and equally daunting vision – to bring the 410-foot vessel to the Americas in time for this summer’s Olympic Games in Brazil.

Johan Huibers’ impressive boat, built at a cost of nearly $4 million, is currently moored in Dordrecht, some 60 miles south of Amsterdam. A popular tourist attraction drawing as many as 3,000 visitors a day, the ark is an interactive museum and event center. Hauling it across the ocean in time to reach an international audience would cost an estimated $1.5 million, according to a California nonprofit recently established to help Huibers realize his latest dream.

“If we are able to purchase a barge, that will make taking it to every port in South and North America a very real possibility,” David Rivera, of The Ark of Noah Foundation, told

The group needs a miracle to achieve Huibers’ latest goal, as just under $1,800 has trickled in to date. But Huibers’s history of overcoming long odds is testament to his tenacity. His life’s work began with a dream, which he was later able to achieve after his contracting business made him a multimillionaire.

“[I hope] to see happy faces, explain the story of the Ark as a tool of God to give hope to mankind.”

– Johan Huibers

“In 1992 I had a dream about the Netherlands being underwater [due to] a flood,” Huibers, 57, told “A short time after, I saw a book and I read it to my children. It showed pictures of the Great Flood. I said then that I want to build the ark. Thirteen years later, I had the means and time to do it.”

At 410 feet long, 95 feet wide and 75 feet high, the ark is half the size of the specifications described in the Bible. It is made of cedar and pine and was built atop a steel barge in the river port of Schagen, some 30 miles north of Amsterdam. Since its completion, it has been towed by canal tugboats to Rotterdam and Arnhem, as well as to its current base.

Completing the 2,500-ton ark took more than four years, during which time Huibers and a crew that included random volunteers, his son and even the local butcher, often slept aboard the 95-foot-wide, 75-foot- high vessel. Given the time and money that went into building the ark, as well as its popularity, Rivera believes bringing it more than 5,200 miles to Brazil is a prophecy that can be fulfilled.

“The price point is actually low,” Rivera said optimistically. “It’s been reduced a bit because of falling oil prices.”

Rivera, an Air Force veteran and retired 3M executive, became involved with the effort to bring the ark to the Americas after visiting it in the Netherlands.

“I was just in awe of the size,” said Rivera, who worked with Huibers to establish the tax-deductible charity to raise funds. “The dimensions. The scale of it. I found it overwhelming, in a good sense.”

The to-date vastly underfunded plan would have the ark docked in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza for as long as four years, with trips penciled in to cities along the South American coast, through the Panama Canal and to U.S. cities along the West Coast.

“I hope that visitors will learn of true hope,” Huibers said.  “[I hope] to see happy faces, explain the story of the Ark as a tool of God to give hope to mankind.”

Although the ark can hold up to 5,000 people, there are no live critters aboard, much less two of everything. But models of the animals the Bible says Noah saved from a devastating flood are part of the museum experience. If they can get it to Brazil, they hope to use proceeds from admissions to create more interactive exhibits, including ones that would feature hologram animals.

“Once in Fortaleza, we will make upgrades to allow visitors of seeing a Bible story come to life,” Rivera said.

Time is running out for Huibers and Rivera to raise the money needed to get the ark to Brazil by early August, when the Olympics begin. But as the foundation’s motto states, above a logo showing a sea of umbrellas opened against an epic downpour, “There is always hope.”

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at@perrych

Archaeologists discover 4,800-year-old fossil of mother cradling a baby

A view of a fossil of a mother and baby in Taichung City, Taiwan, April 26, 2016 in this still image taken from video. (REUTERS/via Reuters TV)

A view of a fossil of a mother and baby in Taichung City, Taiwan, April 26, 2016 in this still image taken from video. (REUTERS/via Reuters TV)

In a discovery perfectly timed for Mother’s Day, archaeologists in Taiwan have unearthed the 4,800-year-old human fossil of a mother cradling an infant in her arms.

The mother and child were found among 48 sets of remains in the Taichung area, Reuters reports. The remains are the earliest evidence of human activity in central Taiwan.

Officials at Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science announced the discovery Tuesday.

Related: Shackled skeletons could be ancient Greek rebels

“When it was unearthed, all of the archaeologists and staff members were shocked. Why? Because the mother was looking down at the baby in her hands,” explained Chu Whei-lee, a curator in the Anthropology Department at Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science.

Reuters reports the excavation project in Taichung started in May 2014 and was finished about a year later. Carbon dating technology was used to find the age of the fossils, which included five children.

Other archaeological sites around the world have also thrown up surprises.  A mass grave uncovered outside Athens, for example, includes a group of skeletons bound with iron shackles. The remains may be followers of Cyclon, who staged an unsuccessful coup against the leader of ancient Greece in 632 B.C.

Related: Pharaoh Ramesses III killed by multiple assailants, radiologist says

Earlier this year experts reported that Pharaoh Ramesses III was likely killed by multiple assailants and given postmortem cosmetic surgery to improve the appearance of his mummy.

Shackled skeletons could be ancient Greek rebels

A mass grave found outside of Athens may contain the burial of followers of Cylon, a tyrant who sought to take over the Acropolis in 632 B.C.

A mass grave found outside of Athens may contain the burial of followers of Cylon, a tyrant who sought to take over the Acropolis in 632 B.C. (Greek Ministry of Culture)

A trove of shackled skeletons unearthed in a mass grave near Athens may have once belonged to the followers of a tyrant who sought to overthrow the leader of ancient Greece.

“These might be the remains of people who were part of this coup in Athens in 632 [B.C.], the Coup of Cylon,” said Kristina Killgrove, a bioarchaeologist at the University of West Florida, in Pensacola, who was not involved in the current study.

Ancient burial complex

The mass grave was uncovered as archaeologists were excavating a huge cemetery in the ancient port city of Phaleron, just 4 miles from Athens. Over the last several years, archaeologists led by Stella Chrysoulaki, of Greece’s Department of Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, have unearthed a huge complex filled with ancient skeletons dating to between the eighth and fifth centuries B.C. [8 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

“For the most part they are anomalous burials — the shackled people and people buried facedown, but also a lot of kids and a lot of nonelite individuals,” Killgrove said.

Some of the graves at Phaleron, including those of shackled individuals, have been known for about a century, but in the last four years, newer excavations have uncovered a huge trove of additional bodies. All told, the burial site is about 1 acre in area and holds at least 1,500 skeletons.

“This is just a massive number of burials, which is absolutely fantastic,” Killgrove told Live Science.

Doomed to die

Among the skeletons found were a group of about 80 people who were lined up in the mass grave, with 36 whose hands were bound with iron shackles,according to the Greek Ministry of Culture.

A few pieces of pottery found near the skeletons suggest that these ancient prisoners died between 650 B.C. and 625 B.C., the Greek Ministry of Culture said in a statement.

That date could tie the prisoners to an ancient coup. In 632 B.C., the former Olympic champion Cylon tried to take over the Acropolis in Athens. His revolt was put down, and though Cylon may have escaped, his followers were put to death, after an initial promise to let them live was broken, according to “The Date of Cylon: A Study in Early Athenian History” (Harvard University Press, 1982).

However, it’s not certain these ancient prisoners are in any way connected to Cylon, Killgrove said.

“One of the problems is that historical records are really spotty for that century, so we really have no history and so it might be a stretch for them to connect these shackled skeletons with this coup,” Killgrove said.

Other skeletons at the site were buried in jars, in open pits, or in funeral pyres. The site even contains a horse burial, the researchers said.

While the backstory of these doomed prisoners is fascinating, the site is also unique because of what it may reveal about the lives of the average Joe (or “Ioseph”?) in the centuries before the golden age of the Greek city-states, between the fifth and the third centuries B.C., Killgrove said.

“We don’t have information about people who aren’t in historical records,” Killgrove said. “Learning more about the lower social classes in Athens tells us a lot about the rise of the city-state in Athens.”

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Grand Roman villa discovered in the UK

The Roman mosaic (Wiltshire Archaeology Service).

The Roman mosaic (Wiltshire Archaeology Service).

Archaeologists in the United Kingdom have unearthed the opulent home of a Roman-era ‘Kardashian’ family.

A dad in Wiltshire, England, dug up a lot more than rocks and dirt as he was laying electric cables from his home to an old barn so that his kids could play pingpong there.

Luke Irwin, a London-based rug designer, discovered a mosaic that archaeologists say was part of a grand Roman villa built between 175 AD and 220 AD and was repeatedly remodeled into the 4th century.

The villa, one of the largest ever found in the U.K., would have belonged to a family of extraordinary wealth and importance, said archaeologists from Historic England and Salisbury Museum.

Related: Strange giant sphere in Bosnia sparks debate

“This site has not been touched since its collapse 1,400 years ago and, as such, is of enormous importance,” said Historic England archaeologist David Roberts.

“The discovery of such an elaborate and extraordinarily well preserved villa, undamaged by agriculture for over 1,500 years, is unparalleled in recent years. Overall, the excellent preservation, large scale and complexity of this site present a unique opportunity to understand Roman and post-Roman Britain.”

Experts said the discovery will likely offer insight into the period between the start of the 5th century and the completion of Saxon domination in the 7th century, and how people responded to the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Related: Were key biblical texts written earlier than previously thought?

Other artifacts discovered on the property were discarded oyster shells, which would have had to be transported by foot for over 45 miles; a perfectly preserved Roman well; and an out-in-the-open stone coffin of a Roman child that was holding geraniums until it was identified.

“I was overwhelmed by the realization that someone’s lived on this site for 2,000 years,” Irwin said. “You look out at an empty field from your front door, and yet 1,500 years ago there was the biggest house, possibly, in all of Britain.”

New Viking site in North America? Experts eye satellite data for potential discovery


An overview of Point Rosee/Rosie, taken from the western end and looking along the headland/peninsula toward the mainland (Photo: Greg Mumford).

An overview of Point Rosee/Rosie, taken from the western end and looking along the headland/peninsula toward the mainland (Photo: Greg Mumford).

Archaeologists have used satellite imagery to identify a site in Newfoundland that could be the first new Viking site discovered in North America in over 50 years.

Satellite imagery, magnetometer surveys, and a preliminary excavation of the site at Point Rosee in Southern Newfoundland last year could point to a potentially fascinating discovery.

The only other Viking site in North America was found in the 1960s at L’Anse Aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland, about 300 miles from Point Rosee.

Related: 2,500-year old slab unearthed, offers glimpse into the ancient Etruscan world

The archaeologists’ investigation will feature in “Vikings Unearthed,” a special of PBS’s NOVA science series, co-produced with the BBC, that premieres online on April 4. The special will air on PBS April 6.

Archaeologist Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, used high-resolution satellite imagery to spot ruins as small as 11 inches buried below the surface, according to NOVA. Satellites positioned around 478 miles above the Earth enabled Parcak and her team to scan a vast section of America and Canada’s eastern seaboard.

Related: Experts doubt claims of ‘hidden chambers’ in King Tut’s tomb

The satellite images, two magnetometer surveys, and preliminary excavations suggest “sub-surface rectilinear features,” according to the experts, who also identified possible evidence of ironworking in the form of roasted iron ore. Radiocarbon technology has dated the site to between 800 and 1300 AD.

The project was led by Parcak and co-directed by Gregory Mumford, an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Frederick Schwarz, of Black Spruce Heritage Services. Douglas Bolender, an archaeologist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and historian Dan Snow also participated in the investigation.

Related: Colon cancer found in 18th-century Hungarian mummy

Experts will now be conducting further excavation and analysis of the site. “If confirmed as Norse by further research, the site will show that the Vikings traveled much farther in North America than previously known, pushing the boundary of their explorations over 300 miles to the southwest [of L’Anse Aux Meadows],” explained NOVA, in its press release.

Initial signs certainly hint at a fascinating discovery. “A ‘Norse’ date and ‘affiliation’ do look rather promising, at this still early stage in the project, but we simply need more work at this site and more specialist input and peer-reviewed data before being confidant in stating this as ‘fact’,” explained the archaeologists, in a report of their research.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

2,500-year old slab unearthed, offers glimpse into the ancient Etruscan world

The Etruscan stele was embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been for more than 2,500 years. (Credit: Mugello Valley Project)

The Etruscan stele was embedded in the foundations of a monumental temple where it had been for more than 2,500 years. (Credit: Mugello Valley Project)

Archaeologists have unearthed a rare text from an ancient temple in Italy that could reveal new details about the Etruscan civilization.

The text is inscribed on a large sandstone slab from the 6th century B.C. and may provide insight into Etruscan worship of a god or goddess.

“This is probably going to be a sacred text, and will be remarkable for telling us about the early belief system of a lost culture that is fundamental to western traditions,” said archaeologist Gregory Warden, in a statement released by Southern Methodist University.

Related: ‘Hobbit’ found in Indonesia may have gone extinct earlier than thought

Warden, professor of archaeology at Franklin University, Switzerland, is professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University and co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project, which made the discovery.

The Etruscan civilization existed from approximately the 8th century B.C. to the 3rd century in what is now central and northern Italy. Etruscans influenced many aspects of the Roman Empire, such as religion, government, art and architecture, according to experts.

Weighing about 500 pounds, the slab is nearly four feet tall and more than two feet wide. Warden notes that the slab has about 70 legible letters and punctuation marks.

The slab, or stele, was found in the foundations of an Etruscan temple northeast of Florence, where it had been buried for more than 2,500 years.

Related: Experts doubt claims of ‘hidden chambers’ in King Tut’s tomb

“We hope to make inroads into the Etruscan language,” said Warden, in the statement. “Long inscriptions are rare, especially one this long, so there will be new words that we have never seen before, since it is not a funerary text.”

Photogrammetry, which takes measurements from photographs, and laser scans, are being used to analyze the inscriptions. Although the sandstone is chipped and abraded and one side is reddened, possibly from burning, archaeologists expect to read the inscription after cleaning.

Rex Wallace, professor of classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an expert on the Etruscan language, will study the text.

Related: Colon cancer found in 18th-century Hungarian mummy

“We know how Etruscan grammar works, what’s a verb, what’s an object, some of the words,” Warden said. “But we hope this will reveal the name of the god or goddess that is worshiped at this site.”

Organizations involved in the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project include Southern Methodist University, Franklin and Marshall College, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy at The University of Texas at Austin, The Open University in the U.K., and Franklin University.

King Tut tomb scans reveal hidden rooms, sparking speculation about Nefertiti’s remains

FILE - In this Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015 file photo, one of Egypt's famed King Tutankhamun's golden sarcophagus is displayed at his tomb in a glass case at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

FILE – In this Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015 file photo, one of Egypt’s famed King Tutankhamun’s golden sarcophagus is displayed at his tomb in a glass case at the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Scans of King Tutankhamun’s burial chamber show hidden rooms that could contain metal and organic material, Egypt’s antiquities minister said Thursday, intensifying speculation that the chambers may contain the remains of Queen Nefertiti.

However, Mamdouh el-Damaty declined to comment on whether treasure or mummies are inside the chambers during a Cairo press conference. The minister explained that analysis of scans made by a Japanese team showed chambers that would be scanned again at the end of the month to get a better idea of what may lay inside.

Related: Is this the face of Tutankhamun?

“It means a rediscovery of Tutankhamun … for Egypt it is a very big discovery; it could be the discovery of the century,” el-Damaty said. “It is very important for Egyptian history and for all of the world.” El-Damaty said last year he was convinced a  hidden chamber may lie behind King Tut’s tomb.

Mystery surrounds the remains of the famous Queen Nefertiti, who was one of the wives of Tutankhamun’s father, the Pharaoh Akhenaten.

Related: Ancient 4,500-year-old boat discovered in Egypt

Experts have long discussed the possibility that Nefertiti’s final resting place is next to Tutankhamun’s 3,300-year-old tomb in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor. Last year, for example, Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves wrote an article in which he claimed that Tutankhamun’s tomb contains two hidden doorways. The “ghosts” of the hitherto unrecognized doorways could lead to an unexplored western storage chamber and Nefertiti’s final resting place behind the chamber’s northern wall, he said.

Reeves argues that Tut, who died suddenly at the age of 19, may have been rushed into an outer chamber of Nefertiti’s original tomb. The archaeologist told the Times of London in 2015 that he discovered the bricked-up doorways after examining digital scans of the walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile River from Luxor.

Related: Teen illegally climbs Egypt’s Great Pyramid

Thursday’s announcement sparked plenty of chatter on social media about whether Nefertiti’s remains are in the hidden chambers.

However, el-Damaty said it was too early to tell what the metal and organic material could be, saying only that he thinks the new chambers could contain the tomb of a member of Tutankhamun’s family.

Related: ‘Space archaeologists’ show spike in looting at Egypt’s ancient sites

At the news conference, el-Damaty highlighted radar scans that showed anomalies in the walls of the tomb, indicating a possible hidden door and the chambers, which lay behind walls that were covered up and painted over with hieroglyphics.

The discovery of King Tut’s nearly-intact tomb by Howard Carter in 1922 sparked a renewed interest in Egyptology and yielded unprecedented Pharaonic treasures, including the boy king’s sarcophagus and iconic golden burial mask.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Hiker in Israel finds rare gold coin dating back 2,000 years

NOW PLAYINGHiker finds one of the rarest coins in existence

A hiker in Israel has found a rare, 2,000-year-old coin bearing the image of Emperor Augustus that is identical to one in the British Museum’s collection

Laurie Rimon was hiking with friends at an archeological site in the eastern Galilee when she saw a shiny object in the grass. After realizing it was a coin, the group’s guide, Irit Zuk-Kovacsi contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority. Within hours, an IAA representative joined the group of hikers in the field and took possession of it.

“It was not easy parting with the coin,” Rimon said in a statement. “After all, it is not every day one discovers such an amazing object, but I hope I will see it displayed in a museum in the near future.”

Related: Archaeologists discover ancient Anglo-Saxon island in UK countryside

It was quickly determined this was not just any coin. It dates to 107 AD and was part of a series of nostalgic coins that Emperor Trajan minted and dedicated to the Roman emperors that ruled before him. The only other coin of this kind is believed to be the one held by the British Museum.

Two other gold coins of this emperor have been registered in the State Treasures, one from Giv‘at Shaul near Jerusalem, and the other from the Qiryat Gat region, Donald T. Ariel, head curator of the coin department at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement. But the details on both are different to those that appear on the coin found by Rimon.

“This is an extraordinarily remarkable and surprising discovery. I believe that soon, thanks to Laurie, the public will be able to enjoy this rare find,” Nir Distelfeld, an inspector with the IAA Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, said in a statement.

Related: Rare discovery: Archaeologists find woman’s 2,500-year old seal in Jerusalem

Danny Syon, a senior numismatist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said one side of the coin shows symbols the Roman legions next to the name of the ruler Trajan. On the other side, there is a portrait of the emperor Augustus Deified.

A coin like this could illustrate the Roman army was in the region as far back as 2,000 years ago, “possibly in the context of activity against Bar Kokhba supporters in the Galilee – but it is very difficult to determine that on the basis of a single coin,” Ariel said.

“Historical sources describing the period note that some Roman soldiers were paid a high salary of three gold coins, the equivalent of 75 silver coins, each payday,” Ariel said. “Because of their high monetary value soldiers were unable to purchase goods in the market with gold coins, as the merchants could not provide change for them”. Dr. Ariel added, “Whilst the bronze and silver coins of Emperor Trajan are common in the country, his gold coins are extremely rare.”