Archaeologists find 'oldest' habitation

October 26, 2000 - Japanese Times - Sendai, Kyodo

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of what they believe to be Japan's oldest human habitation in a layer of earth about 600,000 years old in Kamitakamori, Miyagi Prefecture.

The archaeologists -- from the Tohoku Paleolithic Institute, Tohoku Fukushi University and other institutes -- said Monday they believe that the finding may be one of the oldest in the world.

There are only a few remains of human dwelling structures from the Early Paleolithic period in the world, as early humans such as the Peking Man lived in caves.

Similar remains found in Germany are believed to be 400,000 years old.

At the site, the archaeologists found several pits into which the pillars for two buildings were likely placed, the archaeologist said.

The latest finding predates by 100,000 years one in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture, that had been considered the country's oldest.

Hiroshi Kajiwara, professor of archaeology at Tohoku Fukushi University, said: "The pits may be similar to the ones in Chichibu. We would like to investigate the findings carefully."

The archaeologists found five pits at one location and eight pits at another.

The site with five pits, which measure 15 cm to 20 cm in diameter, showed evidence of a round building measuring 2 meters in diameter, they said.

The other site, located 5 meters east, had eight pits measuring 20 cm to 30 cm in diameter, which surrounded a hole in the center. The hole contained seven stone tools.

The dwellings are believed to have been built by primitive man, or Homo erectus, who appeared some 1.6 million years ago and likely reached Japan 600,000 years ago at the latest, according to the archaeologists.

The buildings could have been used as a place to rest, a lookout for hunting, a place to store hunting tools or to conduct religious rites, researchers said.

Some of the Earliest Homes are discovered in Israel's Jordan Valley

October 4, 2000 - Discovering Archaeology

A major archaeological discovery emerged from the Sea of Galilee recently as sealevel fell in the wake of a brutal drought. The receding water revealed the well-preserved remains of the oldest brush huts ever found. The rudimentary homes are 19,400 years old.

The prehistoric campsite in Israel's Jordan Valley contained the dirt-packed foundations of six huts, a grave, several hearths, and an area believed to have been used as a garbage dump. Preservation, because it was submerged under water for millennia, was incredible considering its age, said archaeologist Dani Nadel of the University of Haifa.

Radiocarbon dating shows the huts to be among the oldest surviving structures in the world. The floor of one hut yielded a unique array of artifacts, including chipped stone tools, animal bones, and burned fruit and seeds. Excavations near another of the structures revealed the grave of an adult male who was buried with a carved gazelle bone.

The largest hut, an oval some four meters (13 feet) on its long axis, apparently consisted of thick oak branches covered with grass and leaves. No postholes were found. "For the first time," Nadel said, "we have artifacts that tell us about the daily indoor activities of the people that lived here 19,000 years ago."

Scientists Find Man's First Beachtown

May 6, 2000 - Discovery

Early humans may have developed a fondness for oysters on the half shell, say scientists studying stone tools found within fossil reefs near Africa�s Red Sea coast.

The stone tools, dated to approximately 125,000 years ago, are the earliest evidence of hominids living in a coastal environment and indicate a significant change in early human behavior that helped our ancestors adapt to a changing climate, according to a report in this week�s Nature.

Although the remains of the toolmakers living on the coast in East Africa have not yet been recovered, the date coincides with the apparent transition from archaic to modern Homo sapiens based on available fossil evidence from other sites in East and South Africa, said project director Robert Walter, a geology professor at the Center of Scientific Investigation for Graduate Education in Ensenada, Mexico.

Without bones, researchers can�t be 100 percent sure who made the stone tools, Walter said, but based on fossil remains from that same time, the tool users were anatomically close to modern Homo sapiens, if not fully modern.

Severe climate changes during the last interglacial period may have been enough to push early humans from previously stable interior habitats near the East African Rift Valley to new areas on the coast where they would have found an abundance of edible marine life, Walter said.

Stone tools and fossil remains of anatomically modern humans previously found at Klasies River Mouth and Harold�s Bay in South Africa indicated a human adaptation to marine environments by 115,000 years ago. The Eritrean tools - handaxes and obsidian blades - indicate that learning to live off the sea�s bounty was a widespread strategy that started 125,000 years ago, and spread from the northeast coast of Africa down to the southern tip.

For proponents of an African origin of modern humans 200,000 to 100,000 years ago, these Paleolithic artifacts open up the possibility that early humans migrated from Africa into Eurasia and Australia by expanding slowly along the coasts of the continents. During periods of low sea levels, these populations could have moved quite quickly, said Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, London.

An alternate theory for the geographic origin of modern humans - the multiregional hypothesis - contends that we evolved separately in Europe, Asia and Africa between 100,000 and 40,000 years ago. Paleontological finds, such as the Eritrean tools, combined with further archaeological and biological evidence are necessary to solve the mystery of modern human origins.

"For those of us who believe that modern humans originated in Africa, this discovery gives an explanation for the appearance of early modern humans in Australia 60,000 years ago," Stringer said. "We now need to look at exposed fossil beaches in Arabia and India for further examples of early coastal migrations."

World's oldest building discovered

March 2, 2000 - BBC

Previous oldest hut was found in France

Japanese archaeologists have uncovered the remains of what is believed to be the world's oldest artificial structure, on a hillside at Chichibu, north of Tokyo.

The shelter would have been built by an ancient ancestor of humans, Homo erectus, who is known to have used stone tools. The site has been dated to half a million years ago, according to a report in New Scientist.

It consists of what appear to be 10 post holes, forming two irregular pentagons which may be the remains of two huts. Thirty stone tools were also found scattered around the site.

Important discovery

"It does sound important," says Chris Stringer, head of the human origins group at London's Natural History Museum. "If this is correctly dated and correctly interpreted, it is the first good evidence from 500,000 years ago of a hut structure made by these people."

Before the discovery, the oldest remains of a structure were those at Terra Amata in France, from around 200,000 to 400,000 years ago.

The Japanese site was discovered during the construction of a park. After digging through about two metres of river deposits, archaeologists found a layer of volcanic ash in which the shallow post holes were dug. Ofer Bar-Yosef, an anthropologist at Harvard University, says Japanese dating techniques using volcanic ash are usually reliable.

The holes were clearly distinct from the volcanic layer, says Kazutaka Shimada, curator of the Meiji University Museum in Tokyo. "They had well-defined edges."

Temporary accomodation

The remains could help explain how Homo erectus lived and hunted. "It's evidence that they built structures but how permanent this was we don't know," says Dr Stringer. "Who knows whether this was a shelter they stayed in for one week, or one month."

John Rick, an anthropologist at Stanford University, says that, if the find is confirmed, it will be interesting because it shows that hominids could conceive of using technology to organise things.

"They had the idea of actually making a structure, a place where you might sleep. It represents a conceptual division between inside and outside."

Remnants of Stone-Age Shelter Found in South Africa

January 14, 1998 - AP - Midrand, South Africa, Jan. 14, 1998

Traces of the oldest manmade shelter in sub-Saharan African, built by Stone Age hunters at least 10,000 years ago, have been found in northern South Africa, an archaeologist reported today. Nomadic bushmen used the shelter, located in a field amid waist-high grasses about a half-mile from a river, to hunt game, archaeologist Revil Mason said as the discovery.

Evidence of Stone Age man--tools, traces of fires, gnawed animal bones-- have been found in caves. But this is the first discovery in sub-Saharan Africa of a shelter that Stone Age man actually built himself, said Mason, the retired head of the archaeology research unit at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg.

The discovery is significant because it helps researchers understand what structures of the period looked like, said Rick Potts, director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. A Home Base "The search for a home base in the archaeological record has one of the most important issues in the archaeology of human beings," Potts said in a telephone interview. Potts confirmed that if the remains of the structure are 10,000-15,000 years old, it would be the oldest found in sub-Saharan Africa.

At the site, north of Johannesburg in South Africa's Silicon Valley, the only remaining evidence of the shelter itself were watermelon-sized boulders found in a semi-circle. Mason said the hunters carried the boulders from a field about 100 yards away. Then they probably wedged limbs cut from saplings into the earth and anchored them with the boulders, bending the branches toward the center and lashing their ends together overhead to form a roof. All around the site are primitive stone knives and adzes.

Prehistoric cave uncovered in southern France

October 17, 1998 -Nando - Paris

A road crew in southern France on Friday stumbled across a prehistoric cave bearing ancient human skeletons and artifacts. Two workers were clearing the way for the construction of a new highway connecting the cities of Millau and Beziers in the Languedoc region when they discovered the cave Friday about 25 miles west of Montpellier, police said.

Skeletons of three adults and a child were preserved in the cave as well as cooking pots, an ax and a vase, which could date from the Neolithic era, 8,000 to 3,500 B.C. The area has been sealed off and work stopped on that part of the new highway. The nation's most famous prehistoric cave is Lascaux in the Dordogne region in south-central France, where magnificent paintings of animals have been preserved.