Openness in former Persian empire drawing scholars
After an absence of a quarter-century, Western archaeologists are trickling back into Iran, encouraged by local officials seeking wider scientific contacts with foreigners.
In the last three years, a few American and European archaeologists have quietly resumed excavations primarily at ruins of the ancient Persian empire, which flourished 2,500 years ago. Their numbers are expected to swell in coming months as a result of a new openness toward foreign scholars, proclaimed by Iranian cultural leaders.
"We were told that Western researchers are welcome to Iran," Dr. Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, said in a telephone interview. "Part of Iran at least is very interested in improving relations with the West, and believes that scholarship and research play an integral role in that."
For those with subscriptions, a more complete summary of a recent conference on Iranian archaeology can be found here or in the print version: Science 7 November 2003; 302: 970-973 [DOI: 10.1126/science.302.5647.970] (in News Focus).
Fire in the hole! Charred remains may be earliest human fires
Archaeologists in Israel may have unearthed the oldest evidence of fire use by our ancestors.
The site, on the banks of the Jordan River, dates to about 790,000 years ago. There are older sites in Africa, but the evidence from these is much more hotly contested.
The moment that our ancestors discovered how to control fire has long occupied an iconic place in the popular imagination. Chimpanzees, our closest living ancestors, have demonstrated impressive feats of language and tool use, but fire use "is the most human skill that we have", says Nira Alperson an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Finding direct evidence for ancient fire use is extremely difficult and the new study is applauded by Derek Roe an archaeologist at Oxford University, UK: "Any small fact you can find is a great triumph."