World news: Assyrian art, Palaeolithic caves, and a Denisovan tooth

A round-up of some of the latest archaeological news from across the globe.

Assyrian art underground

A rare example of art dating to the Neo-Assyrian Empire (1st millennium BC) has been found in a subterranean complex below a house in the village of Başbük, in south-east Turkey.

The complex, which is carved into the bedrock, stretches for at least 30m and was discovered by looters in 2017. Rescue excavations the following year revealed an engraved panel measuring 3.96m long and depicting a procession of eight deities from the Aramean pantheon, including Hadad, the storm god, the moon god Sîn, and the sun god Šamaš.

While the deities depicted are Aramean, they are shown in distinctly Assyrian style, reflecting how the Neo-Assyrian Empire expanded across south-eastern Anatolia between c.900 and 600 BC. Full findings are published in Antiquity (

Denisovan tooth in Laos?

Archaeologists working in a cave in Laos have found what may be a molar from an extinct hominin species known as Denisovans.

The tooth was discovered in 2018 in the Tam Ngu Hao 2 cave, also known as Cobra Cave, in Huà Pan province. Analysis indicates that it belonged to a young girl aged 3½-8½ years old, and it has been dated to between 164,000 and 131,000 years ago using surrounding sediments and associated faunal material.

Image: Fabrice Demeter.

This is the first example of an unambiguous specimen from the Homo genus dating to the Middle Pleistocene ever discovered in mainland south-east Asia, and while hot and humid conditions made it impossible to extract DNA, morphological analysis suggests the tooth is most likely to belong to a Denisovan.

The results of the excavation and analysis have been published in Nature Communications (

Palaeolithic art by firelight

It has previously been suggested that fire was an important part of how people in the Palaeolithic experienced cave art, with flickering light bringing images on cave walls to life. Now a new project by researchers at the University of York and Durham University (published in PLOS ONE: https:// is investigating its impact on engravings on portable art.

The research focused on 50 limestone plaquettes from the rock-shelter site of Montastruc, which was occupied in the Magdalenian period (23,000-14,000 years ago). The plaquettes were excavated in the 1860s, and little is known about their archaeological context, but the researchers have used 3D modelling, virtual-reality (VR) software, and experimental archaeology to find out more about how they would have been used.

VR simulations showed how flickering firelight could have illuminated the engravings, blurring their shapes and giving a sense of movement, particularly where multiple animals have been superimposed on top of each other.