Huge prehistoric settlement exposed near Jerusalem

A huge settlement from the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age), the largest known in Israel from that period, and one of the largest of its kind in the region, has been discovered during archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority near Motza Junction. The project was initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel Company (the National Transport Infrastructure company). The excavations are conducted as part of the Highway 16 Project which includes building a new entrance road to Jerusalem from the west, connecting the National Highway 1 from the Motza area to the southern part of Jerusalem («Bayit VeGan» area), including two double tunnels.

Huge prehistoric settlement exposed near Jerusalem
The huge settlement from the Neolithic Period that was discovered in the archaeological excavations at the Motza
intersection near Jerusalem by the Antiquities Authority [Credit: Eyal Marco, Antiquities Authority]

Amongst others, thousands of arrowheads, pieces of jewelry and figurines produced by the people of the site have been unearthed during the excavations.

Huge prehistoric settlement exposed near Jerusalem
Excavation works on the Motza Neolithic site [Credit: Yaniv Berman,
Israel Antiquities Authority]

The Motza excavation site is situated 5 km west of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sorek Stream, near water fountains and close to a fertile valley and to the ancient way that led from the Shefela (foothills) region to Jerusalem. These optimal conditions are a central reason for long-term settlement on this site, from the Epipaleolithic Period, around 20,000 years ago, to the present day.

Huge prehistoric settlement exposed near Jerusalem
Thousands of flint knives were found on the site [Credit: Yaniv Berman,
Israel Antiquities Authority]

According to Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Dr. Jacob Vardi, excavation directors at Motza on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, «this is the first time that such a large-scale settlement from the Neolithic Period – 9,000 years ago – is discovered in Israel. At least 2,000 – 3,000 residents lived here – an order of magnitude that parallels a present-day city!» The excavations exposed large buildings, including rooms that were used for living, as well as public facilities and places of ritual. Between the buildings, alleys were exposed, bearing evidence of the settlement’s advanced level of planning. In the buildings, plaster was sometimes used for creating floors  and for sealing various facilities.

Huge prehistoric settlement exposed near Jerusalem
Many bracelets were found at the Motza excavation site. Their size shows that they were probably
given to children [Credit: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority]

According to the researchers, «In a place where people live, there are dead people as well: Burial places have been exposed in and amongst the houses, into which various burial offerings have been placed – either useful or precious objects, believed to serve the deceased in the next world. These gifts testify to the fact that already during this ancient period, the residents of this site conducted exchange relationships with faraway places. Amongst others, unique stone-made objects were found in the tombs, made of an unknown type of stone, as well as items made of obsidian (volcanic glass) from Anatolia, and sea-shells, some of which were brought from the Mediterranean Sea and some from the Red Sea. During the excavations, artistic hand-made stone bracelets in several styles were found. «Due to the size of the bracelets, we estimate that they were mainly worn by children», the researchers say. «We also found carefully crafted alabaster beads, as well as medallions and bracelets made of mother of pearl».

Huge prehistoric settlement exposed near Jerusalem
9,000-year-old figurine of an ox, discovered during archaeological excavations
at Motza near Jerusalem [Credit: Clara Amit, Antiquities Authority]

In all excavation areas, many flint tools manufactured on the site were unearthed, including thousands of arrowheads that were used for hunting, and possibly for fighting as well, axes used for tree-felling, and sickle blades and knives. In the settlement, built storage sheds were exposed, which contained a huge quantity of legumes, especially lentils. The fact that the seeds were preserved is astonishing in the light of the site’s age. This finding is evidence of an intensive practice of agriculture. Moreover, one can conclude form it that the Neolithic Revolution reached its summit at that point: animal bones found on the site show that the settlement’s residents became increasingly specialized in sheep-keeping, while the use of hunting for survival gradually decreased.

Huge prehistoric settlement exposed near Jerusalem
9,000-year-old figurine depicting a human face, discovered during archaeological
excavations at Motza near Jerusalem [Credit: Clara Amit, Antiquities Authority]

According to researchers, «the exposure of the enormous site in Motza awakens extensive interest in the scientific world, changing what has been known about the Neolithic period in that area. So far, it was believed that the Judea area was empty, and that sites of that size existed only on the other bank of the Jordan river, or at the Northern Levant. Instead of an uninhabited area from that period, we have found a complex site, where varied economic means of subsistence existed, and all this only several dozens of centimeters below the surface. All findings were recorded using an innovative three-dimensional technology, so that we can continue to research the site at the end of the excavation as well.»

Huge prehistoric settlement exposed near Jerusalem
A spear from the Middle Bronze Age that was buried as a burial platform in a fighting tomb
[Credit: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority]

According to engineer Gilad Naor, Head of Projects Department at the Netivei Israel Company, «It is a huge privilege for us, as the Israel National Transport Infrastructure Company – Netivei Israel – that tomorrow’s transportation infrastructure projects facilitate such special discoveries in the splendid history of our country».

According to Amit Re’em, Jerusalem District Archeologist of  the Israel Antiquities Authority, along with the excitement and importance of the finds, the IAA is aware of the vital need to create an additional access road to Jerusalem. In preparation for the release of the excavated area, the entire site was documented using advanced 3D technology that will enable research of every detail digitaly. It is important to know that significant percentages of the prehistoric site around the excavation are preserved. In addition, the IAA plans to tell the story of the site at the site by means of a display and illustration. At Tel Moza, adjacent to this excavation, archaeological remains are being preserved for the public at large, and conservation and accessibility activities are being carried out in Tel Bet Shemesh and Tel Yarmut.

Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs [July 17, 2019]

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Virtual Testing One of the biggest problems with tackling…

Virtual Testing

One of the biggest problems with tackling Alzheimer’s disease is that the condition is often diagnosed so late that symptom-reducing therapies aren’t effective. Right now, the best test is to look at levels of an abnormal protein in the brain called amyloid, which can only be detected with an expensive brain scan or lumbar puncture. In search of a simpler solution, researchers realised that the first bit of the brain affected in Alzheimer’s is the part involved in navigation. Rather than getting people to wander the real world, they’ve monitored the movements of volunteers as they make their way through this virtual landscape. People with early stage dementia and high amyloid levels did a worse job of navigating around this virtual landscape than dementia patients with normal amyloid levels or healthy counterparts, revealing a potentially new way of spotting Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages when treatments are more likely to work.

Written by Kat Arney

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Community size matters when people create a new language

Why are languages so different from each other? After comparing more than two thousand languages, scientists noticed that languages with more speakers are usually simpler than smaller languages. For instance, most English nouns can be turned into plurals by simply adding -s, whereas the German system is notoriously irregular. Linguists have proposed that languages adapt to fit different social structures.

Community size matters when people create a new language
Credit: iStockphoto, Kronick

«But we actually don’t know whether it is the size of the community that drives the difference in complexity,» says lead author Limor Raviv from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. Perhaps the bigger languages have simpler grammars because they cover larger geographical space and speakers are far from each other, or because large communities have more contact with outsiders. Together with her colleagues, Antje Meyer from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and Radboud University and Shiri Lev-Ari from the Royal Holloway University of London, Raviv set out to test whether community size alone plays a role in shaping grammar.

‘Wowo-ik’ and ‘wowo-ii’

To test the role of group size experimentally, the psycholinguists used a communication game. In this game, participants had to communicate without using any language they know, leading them to create a new language. The goal of the game was to communicate successfully about different novel scenes, using only invented nonsense words.

A ‘speaker’ would see one of four shapes moving in some direction on a screen and type in nonsense words to describe the scene (its shape and direction). The ‘listener’ would then guess which scene the other person was referring to, by selecting one of eight scenes on their own screen. Participants received points for every successful interaction (correct guesses). Participants paired up with a different person from their group at every new round, taking turns producing and guessing words.

At the start of the game, people would randomly guess meanings and make up new names. Over the course of several hours, participants started to combine words or part-words systematically, creating an actual mini-language.

For instance, in one group, ‘wowo-ik’ meant that a specific shape was going up and right, whereas ‘wowo-ii’ meant that the same shape was going straight up. With such a ‘regular’ system, it becomes easier to predict the meaning of new labels (‘mop-ik’ meant a different shape going up and right). Participants played in either ‘small’ groups of four participants or ‘large’ groups of eight participants. Would the large groups invent ‘simpler’ (more systematic) languages than the small groups?

Variability promotes structure

By the end of the experiment, the large groups had indeed created languages with more systematic grammars. «The pressure to create systematic languages is much higher in larger groups,» explains Raviv. This is because there are more word versions in the larger groups. In order to understand each other, members of a large group must overcome this variability and develop systematic structure. So the more variability, the more it pushed people to make their language even simpler.

The researchers also found that the size of the group predicted how similar that group was to the other groups. All large groups reached similar levels of structure and communicative success. However, the small groups differed a lot from each other: some never developed systematic grammars, while others were very successful.» This might mean that in the real world, larger languages are potentially more similar to each other than smaller languages,» Raviv says.

«Our study shows that the social environment in which languages evolve, and specifically the number of people in the community, can affect the grammar of languages,» concludes Raviv. «This could possibly explain why some languages have more complex grammar than others. The results also support the idea that an increase in human population size was one of the main drivers for the evolution of natural languages.»

The study is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Source: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics [July 17, 2019]

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