Trust attacks Stonehenge tunnel

Friday, 4 October, 2002, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK


The National Trust has condemned government plans for a "cut-and-cover" tunnel at Stonehenge.

The trust has instead called for a longer 4.5-kilometre bored tunnel to minimise archaeological damage to the area.

The controversial "cut-and-cover" option for the A303 in Wiltshire has brought protests from the Wiltshire Association of Taxpayers.

It is asking people in Wiltshire to write to the government, English Heritage and the National Trust stating their opposition to the plan.

'National disgrace'

The National Trust's chairman, Charles Nunneley, said a 4.5 kilometre (2.7 mile) tunnel would be preferable on archaeological and landscape grounds.

"But we need to know more about whether this can be built and its impact on the environment.

"The current situation has rightly been termed a national disgrace.

"Our objective is the longest tunnel achievable that protects and enhances the integrity of Stonehenge and its setting."

The trust's council is urging the government to undertake further analysis of the tunnel option to examine its feasibility and environmental impact.

Mystical significance

Opponents say the government scheme would disturb sensitive archaeological landscape, destroy ancient sites and disfigure the wider setting of the stones.

Much of the land involved belongs to the National Trust.

Experts believe the famous stones, which attract about one million visitors a year, were placed there 5,000 years ago.

The stones carry mystical and religious significance for druids and other groups who go to observe alignment with the first rays of sunlight on midsummer's day every year.


Celestial Bronze Age disc recovered

Sensational archaeological find from eastern Germany returned to safety after three years

by Heidi Sylvester


Journalists last week received their first opportunity to inspect the site where an Early Bronze Age disc with gold foil ornaments - perhaps the oldest cosmological picture ever found - was abruptly ripped from the earth three years ago by local looters.


The archaeological sensation was unearthed in a forest near the village of Nebra in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt. The site was located after one of a band of shady treasure hunters confessed where the artifacts had been unearthed. Seven persons are currently involved in a court case surrounding the illegal excavation and selling of treasures that belong to the eastern state.

The disc is around 30 centimeters in diameter and weighs approximately 2 kilograms. It is thought to be around 3,600 years old. On the face of the disc is a strikingly familiar representation in gold of the  moon's phases, the stars and the constellation of the Pleiades along with a curved object which could be the depiction of a celestial bark of the sun, such as that which figured prominently in Egypt's ritual art.

Equipped with a metal detector and basic household tools, the two local looters stumbled upon one of the greatest archaeological finds this century. The disc shows that northern Europeans, probably Celts, made a science of astronomy at roughly the same time as the Stonehenge astronomical cult site was built in Britain.

“The find gives us a whole new puzzle to figure out. It depicts a journey through the heavenly bodies, examples of which are well known in ancient Egypt but not in the middle of Europe and not at this time,“ said Harald Meller, an archaeologist who was mostly responsible for the recovery of the treasure. A number of other bronze objects were also among the booty dug out by the men who are now in court.

The Bronze Age artifacts received considerable damage during their crude plunder. In unearthing the archaeological site, the thieves hit the side of the disc with a hammer, causing the outer rim to splinter. With the next blow, a star shot out from its astronomical position and in their hurry to secure their booty, the thieves managed to chip a large part from the main astronomical object.

The retrieval of the disc is the stuff of which first-class detective stories are made. It was offered under dubious circumstances, first to the Berlin Museum for Pre-History and later to a Munich museum. Since the illegal nature of the goods was clear to professionals, a sale was never transacted.

When rumors emerged that the whole treasure was about to be offered on the international underground market, Meller with the help of Saxony-Anhalt state officials stepped in, taking measures to rescue the collection. The authorities succeeded in contacting the illegal owners and arranged a meeting with them to purchase the objects. During the bogus sales meeting late last February, Swiss police swooped in, taking the finders into custody.

The disc is now safely stored in the city of Halle. Authorized archaeologists have been busy excavating the site near Nebra since Aug. 20, and have already unearthed more than 100 treasures. Once the excavation of the site has been completed, a visitor's center will be established near the area. The forest where the site is located is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe.

Oct. 4


© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2002

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'Treasure' unearthed at Oxford

By Holdthefrontpage Staff

Archaeologists have discovered 4,000-year-old artefacts while doing excavation work for Newsquest Oxfordshire's new £20m press hall.

Irrigation gullies and pottery dating from the Bronze Age have been unearthed as well as coins which are thought to be medieval.

The work at the Osney Mead base in Oxford was undertaken because it is known that there was a Bronze Age settlement in the area.

A Bronze Age sword had previously been found and archaeologist Stephen Hammond said the new finds were significant.

He said: "It's not unusual to find something around a place like Oxford, where there's been a lot of activity over time, but it's always exciting to find something like this."

The artefacts will be given to Oxfordshire County Council's archaeology department for further analysis.

•  The new hall will see a new press replace outdated machinery, allowing faster production and increased type and colour quality in the titles printed at the Osney Mead site. These include The Oxford Mail, The Oxford Times, Oxford Star, Swindon Evening Advertiser, Herald series, Bicester Advertiser and Witney Gazette.


Scientists recreate the perfume of the pharaohs

Scientists in France say they have recreated the perfume of the pharaohs which they believe was used by the ancient Egyptians to boost their love-lives.

But as the ingredients of Kyphi perfume, said to be an aphrodisiac which helps wearers relax, include cannabis it cannot be commercially produced.

Experts from L'Oreal and C2RMF, the Centre for Research and Restoration of French Museums, succeeded in recreating the legendary Kyphi perfume.

French researcher Sandrine Videault, who for years had attempted to recreate the aroma, was finally able to do so with the help of Greek historiographer Plutarch.

The Greek writer had written that Kyphi had the power "to send someone to sleep, to help them have sweet dreams, to relax them, to drive away the worries of the day and to bring peace."

The numerous ingredients include pistachios, mint, cinnamon, incense, juniper and myrrh.

Videault says all previous attempts to use traces of the perfume found in Egyptian museums had failed because not enough was provided for analysis.

The expert says the recreation of the aroma is a long process because there are many different recipes for it: "In some samples only ten ingredients are used, in others up to 50," she said.

According to written documents the perfume, which came in block form and unlike modern-day scents was not alcohol based, was worn by ancient Egyptians in their hair and in intimate places to boost their sex lives.

But Videault said: "Kyphi will never be sold because some of the ingredients are illegal substances. In any case the smell is probably much too pungent for the modern world."

Story filed: 14:35 Monday 7th October 2002


Clues to Roman Illnesses in 2,000-Year-Old Cheese

Oct. 9

By E. J. Mundell


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A tiny piece of cheese, carbonized in the volcanic eruption that killed the citizens of Pompeii, is yielding up secrets as to how ancient Romans ate, lived and died.

Using an electron microscope, anthropological researcher Dr. Luigi Capasso of the State University G. d'Annunzio in Chieti, Italy, has been able to pinpoint goats' milk cheese as a prime source of brucellosis--a debilitating joint disease that ravaged the ancient world.

"Roman cheese was an important and continuous source of possible infectious disease in the Roman world, including brucellosis," he told Reuters Health.

The findings are published in a recent issue of the Journal of Infection.

One night in late August, 79 AD, inhabitants of the great Roman city of Pompeii and the nearby coastal city of Herculaneum were woken by one of the most devastating volcanic eruptions in history as Mount Vesuvius hurled tons of lava and searing ash upon the coastal plain. In Herculaneum, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of 250 people who huddled in caves as they attempted to flee to the sea, their escape cut off by a 25-foot wall of volcanic mud.

The intense heat and then rapid cooling of the mud has left the bones--and even outlines of organs--of these victims in a remarkable state of preservation, allowing medical archaeologists much insight into diseases afflicting Romans in the first century.

According to Capasso, the bones of nearly one in five (17%) inhabitants of Herculaneum display lesions indicating a disease of the joints called brucellosis, caused by infection with the Brucella melitensis bacterium.

Brucella, primarily found in animals like sheep or goats, can be passed to humans via milk or milk products. The disease is relatively rare today, although it remains a source of debilitating arthritic illness in countries such as Yemen or Oman that rely heavily on goat or sheep herding for their milk supply.

But why did so many Romans suffer from this disease? The answer may come from a tiny dehydrated and carbonized piece of cheese, measuring 5 centimeters in diameter, unearthed in Herculaneum and dating from the time of the eruption.

"The cheese is perfectly preserved," Capasso said, so much so that he could still distinguish on the cheese's surface an impression of the basket in which it had been contained.

Capasso used an electron microscope to examine the internal structure of the cheese, and identified two distinct types of bacterial colonies. One, long and arranged in chains, is obviously the common Lactobacilli necessary to the cheese-making process. The other appears spherical, "arranged in large colonies"--very similar in form to Brucella.

Although the carbonization of the cheese makes it impossible to definitely identify the bacterium as Brucella, Capasso says his study "reveals, for the first time, a quantity of bacteria that shows food could, as is now the case, be the reason for human (carriage of Brucella) in an ancient time."

This type of medical archaeology has yielded up other secrets as to ailments afflicting everyday Romans two millenia ago. According to Capasso, "studies of ancient human bones can provide a vivid picture of the state of health of an ancient population."

In a previous study, human remains from the Herculaneum disaster have confirmed that many Romans suffered from head lice, lung ailments due to air pollution, and bone disorders linked to slave labor, as well as numerous diseases and nutritional deficits.

SOURCE: The Journal of Infection 2002;10.1053/jinf.2002.0996.


Dig unearths a settlement for rich Romans

Oct 5 2002

By Tony Henderson, The Journal


A picture of a well-off and cosmopolitan civilian settlement outside the gates of a Roman fort overlooking the mouth of the Tyne is starting to emerge.

A dig has just ended in the grounds of Hadrian Junior School opposite Arbeia fort in South Shields.

The remains of the civilian area, or vicus, remain in a remarkable state of preservation two metres below ground level - deep enough to have escaped damage by ploughing or the building of Victorian houses.

The dig centred on a cobbled courtyard around a stone-lined well and produced large amounts of pottery, bronze and silver coins, and other items.

They include a bronze brooch decorated with panels of blue enamel with white dots in each corner, and a polished gemstone from a signet ring which bears the image of a stork.

The stork is holding a small animal in its beak and research has shown that this portrayal was acted as a good luck token.

In 1993, development work gave archaeologists the chance to examine part of the cemetery attached to the settlement and the school dig has added to the fund of knowledge.

"We had a tremendous amount of pottery and small finds from what was a muddy courtyard and well, which was probably a busily-used area," said archaeologist Margaret Snape.

One of the pots found in the courtyard, which dates from the middle of the Second Century, was decorated with a human face.

"We have evidence of quite exotic imported goods, including a marble-like stone which would have been used in quite an elaborate building," said Margaret.

"It seems to emphasise the wealth and cosmopolitan nature of what was a very extensive vicus."

The settlement would have grown up to take advantage of the trade coming through a gateway fort at the river mouth and of that generated by the garrison itself.

But the mystery facing archaeologists is that by the late Third Century it appears that the civilian settlement is no more and the land is cultivated as fields or allotments, presumably by the garrison.

This is a pattern which is repeated at other forts along Hadrian's Wall, said Margaret.

* An exhibition of finds from the dig will run at the fort from today until October 26.


Sand-covered Huns city unearthed




Chinese archaeologists recently discovered a unique, ancient city which has lain covered by desert sands for more than 1,000 years.

It is the first ruined city of the Xiongnu (Huns) ever found, said Dai Yingxin, a well-known Chinese archaeologist. The Xiongnu was a nomadic ethnic group, who for 10 centuries were tremendously influential in northern China.

The unearthed city occupies 1 square kilometre in Jingbian County, in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, adjacent to the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in the north of the country.

It is believed that the city was built by more than 100,000 Xiongnu people in AD 419. Named "Tongwancheng," which means "to unify all countries," the city is composed of three parts: the palace walls, the inner city and the outer city. Watchtowers stand at the four corners of the complex.

The 16 to 30 metre thick city walls are made with sand and white-powdered earth, mixed with glutinous rice water. This intriguing concoction made the earthen walls as hard as those made from stone.

From a distance, the white city looks like a giant ship. The southwestern turret, the highest of the four, is 31 metres high and resembles a ship's mast. The ruined city is now fenced with brush-wood, trees and grass.

"It is the most substantial, magnificent and well-preserved city to be built by any ethnic group in the history of China," said Zhu Shiguang, president of the China Ancient City Society.

Tongwancheng used to be a prosperous city on the upper reach of the Wuding River, a major tributary of the Yellow River. It remained the political, economic and military centre of the southern Ordos Plateau for over five centuries. It was as the river continued to dry up, that the ancient city was buried by moving sands, said Xing Fulai, a research fellow at the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology.

Its discovery provides vital information for the study of the Xiongnu tribesmen, who have, to date, remained a mystery to both Chinese and foreign archaeologists because of a lack of adequate historical material and evidence relating to their culture.

Xing said the city ruins will be considered for world heritage status by UNESCO.



Legendary Viking home site found

Thursday, October 3, 2002 Posted: 1423 GMT


LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a Viking longhouse that many believe was the home of Snorri Thorfinnsson, thought to be the first European born in the New World.

The 1,000-year-old ruins were found in a glacial valley in northern Iceland during a survey of Viking-era buildings led by archaeologists at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Preliminary results suggest the ruins date between 1000 and 1100, or during the lifetime of Thorfinnsson, the son of Viking explorers.

"The house, I am almost sure, is Snorri's," said UCLA research associate John Steinberg. "I don't know how it could be anything else."

According to Viking sagas written in the early 13th century, Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir and Thorfinn Karlsefni traveled to North America in 1004, settling in a place known as Vinland, probably the Canadian province of Newfoundland. There, a year later, their son Snorri was born.

While few dispute that Vikings traveled to North America, as borne out by Norse archaeological finds at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, not all are convinced any children were born in the New World to those early European pioneers.

The archaeological team identified the perimeter of the nearly 1,500-square-foot (135-square-meter) house last year using equipment that sends electrical current through the ground. Buried turf walls can be found because they resist the electrical current, unlike the surrounding clay soil.

This summer, the team excavated about 10 percent of the longhouse, which got its name because such houses were usually oblong in shape. Researchers found 5-foot-thick (1.5-meter-thick) turf walls, raised benches and various artifacts, including some associated with iron working.

The age and location are consistent with descriptions of the farm given in the sagas, Steinberg said.

"All the textual evidence says this is where it's supposed to be," Steinberg said of the longhouse.

Terje Leiren, a professor of Scandinavian history at the University of Washington who was not connected with the Icelandic dig, said the sagas have steered archaeologists to other Viking sites, including L'Anse aux Meadows, where a colony of eight sod buildings was found in the 1960s.

"In the 13th century, they knew where that farm was," Leiren said of the saga's authors. "The sagas can be very reliable. I would tend to trust them."



Britain and U.S. Launch Deep-Sea Treasure Hunt

By Pete Harrison

LONDON (Reuters)


Britain and the United States have agreed to launch the world's biggest-ever sunken treasure hunt -- a joint mission in search of the gold on a warship that went down more than 300 years ago.

The Royal Navy's HMS Sussex was engulfed by ferocious storms in the Strait of Gibraltar in February 1694 on a secret mission to bribe a fickle ally in its Nine Years' War against France.

All but two of its 500 men were lost, as was the million pound pay-off, now worth close to $4 billion. The Navy said that if fully recovered it would be the largest ever haul of treasure.

Britain's Ministry of Defense said Tuesday it had struck a deal with U.S. salvage firm Odyssey to recover nine tons of gold coins lying half a mile under the sea.

"Odyssey has determined through a combination of historical research and archaeological survey that a wreck in the western Mediterranean is most probably that of the HMS Sussex," the ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

"It's too deep to reach with divers and will have to be done with remote operated vehicles (submarine robots)," Lieutenant Commander Sue Lloyd of the Royal Navy told Reuters.

The wreck has huge historical value. Admiral Sir Francis Wheeler, captain of HMS Sussex, had been given orders to buy the fluid loyalty of the Duke of Savoy against France's King Louis XIV, whose global ambitions were opposed by many countries in Europe.


Historians suggest the bribe's failure to arrive prompted the fickle duke to change sides, leading to a stand-off between Britain and France and contributing eventually to the American Revolution.

Lloyd said that the proceeds from the salvage would be split between the British treasury and Odyssey.

Odyssey would take the bulk of the proceeds during the "cost recovery phase," but after $45 million of treasure had been raised, the rest would be split almost evenly.




The Council for British Archaeology(1) today voiced their extreme concern about a commercial treasure hunting contract between the UK Government and an American underwater salvage company to recover bullion from a 17th century wreck off Gibraltar(2).  Through this deal the British Government are engaged in a joint venture selling antiquities to pay for an investigation of doubtful archaeological feasibility, while also lining its own pockets and those of a foreign company(3).  The wreck is said to be under threat from several salvage companies wanting to get their hands on the booty, though few have the technical expertise required to recover such deeply sunk material.  The CBA fears that Governments all over the world will now be pressurised to sign up to similar or worse deals, putting their own underwater heritage, as well as Britain's, at peril.


Commenting on the recently signed deal, Dr Francis Pryor, President of the Council for British Archaeology said:


"This is getting UK heritage policy into some very murky waters.  It is Public Private Partnerships gone mad.  It contravenes UK commitments to international conventions(4),(5) as well as basic principles of the Government's own heritage policy(6).  If you applied these principles to on-land archaeology it would drive a coach and horses through hard-won foundations of responsible heritage management."


The CBA believes that instead of promoting - and benefiting from - commercial treasure hunting under the guise of archaeology, Britain should sign up to the UNESCO Convention on Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage(5) and use the nearby naval base at Gibraltar to develop and demonstrate ways in which governments might patrol and monitor their historic wreck sites in international waters.  This would do far more to promote better international collaboration to protect the underwater heritage in international waters. 


George Lambrick, Director of the CBA said:


"This is a blatant piece of heritage asset stripping.  It is saying to the rest of the world 'if the price is right, come on down'.  We now have to question whether the British Government have any real commitment to protecting British and international underwater heritage across the world's oceans, or are just in it for the money(7). 


"It is questionable, to say the least, whether a government agency responsible for selling off defence equipment should be in charge of such a sensitive heritage issue(8).  If the Government believes this deal is ethical, it should publish full details of the agreement and its policy in this matter(9)."


Notes for editors


1. The Council for British Archaeology is an educational charity that promotes knowledge, appreciation and care of the historic environment for present and future generations on a UK-wide basis.  It has an institutional membership of over 500 heritage organisations encompassing the state, professional, academic, museum and voluntary sectors at national and local level, and c.10,000 subscribing individuals of all ages.


The CBA facilitates a number of committees and other bodies that bring experts together to advise on heritage policy, including the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee with 17 NGO members (including the CBA) and 7 observer bodies from Government.


2. The deal is for the salvage of bullion from HMS Sussex, which sank on its way to provide British financial support to the Duke of Savoy during the war against Louis XIV in 1694.  The treasure that went down with her is alleged to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars on the open market.  The wreck is also likely to contain human remains of the sailors lost with the vessel.  The wreck is understood to be in waters that are disputed as being either Spanish or International.  It is over 2,500ft down and can only be investigated using robots.  It is not proven that properly recorded archaeological investigation is feasible for an ancient vessel of this age at this depth using current remote technology. 


3. The British Government has signed an agreement with Florida based "Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc.". The deal recognizes the UK as the owner of the wreck but entitles the commercial salvage company to a share of the proceeds of the artifacts sold from the salvage operation, rising from 40% to 60%, depending on value.  The Government has committed itself to joint marketing for the sale of artifacts, together with handing over exclusive rights to merchandise traded under the name HMS Sussex in return for a royalty.  All UK Government expenses are to be paid from the sales of artefacts or commission on merchandise - or failing that, from a deposit of £250,000 made by the salvage company. 


4. The UK ratified the Council of Europe's Valletta Convention on Protection of the Archaeological Heritage in 1999.  The explanatory text of the Convention states explicitly that "excavations made solely for the purpose of finding precious metals or objects with a market value should never be allowed".


5. The UK Government has been in international negotiations concerning the world-wide UNESCO Convention for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage which seeks to outlaw commercial exploitation of the underwater cultural heritage.  It has not ratified it because of concerns over issues of sovereign immunity for military wrecks in international and territorial waters, and because the breadth of protection offered was considered administratively too burdensome.  But the Government has explicitly endorsed the principles of the Convention, including the procedures set out in its Annex (see appendix below for details).  The United States (the parent state to the salvage company) is not a member of UNESCO.


6. Under the Treasure Act the Government is prepared to reward finders of precious metals and some other artifacts discovered on dry land - usually up to the full market value of the find - in order to secure it for deposition in a museum for the benefit of the public.  The Government does NOT seek to profit itself from the sale of antiquities on the international market, nor fund archaeological research through the sale of antiquities. 


For Highways and other PPPs it applies very strict rules to its contractors to ensure they abide to basic principles of undertaking archaeological research to record threatened sites for the public benefit:  they are not to allowed to benefit by selling off antiquities for private gain.  Under planning conditions designed to protect the archaeological heritage, developers are strongly encouraged to deposit finds and records as a publicly accessible archive, not to sell off antiquities in order to make money.


7. The protection of wrecks in international waters - and of foreign nation's military or national ships within other countries' territorial waters - is poorly regulated, which is why UNESCO has sought to develop an international convention on the subject (see above).  The arrangement adopted in this deal could set a precedent that could be used not only to legitimise the exploitation of other countries' wrecks for commercial gain, but is also likely to jeopardize British wrecks in the territorial waters of other countries.  This is particularly likely to apply to countries with weak underwater heritage laws and/or a need for ready cash.  Britain is likely to end up with little or no say, and even less moral influence on such deals.  Britain has made good progress in recent years recognizing the international problem of archaeological sites being severely damaged by illicit excavation, fuelled by the international market in antiquities - but that cause would be set back indefinitely if the HMS Sussex approach were to be adopted to 'save' sites threatened by terrestrial treasure hunters.


8. The agreement has been negotiated and established by the Ministry of Defence's Disposal Services Agency.  The Department for Culture Media and Sport is responsible for International heritage policy.  Under its statement The Historic Environment: A Force for our Future (DCMS/DTLR 2001) the Government is committed to ensuring that the historic environment comes within the remit of Green Ministers in relation to departmental policies and of Departmental Design Champions in relation to management of Government-owned assets.


9. But it seems very unlikely that the Government will publish any details:  a brief note of the terms of the confidential agreement has been published by Odyssey (http://www.shipwreck.net/pam/) which states "This Memorandum sets forth the principal terms of a confidential agreement titled "Agreement Concerning the Shipwreck HMS Sussex" (the "Agreement").  This Memorandum is qualified in its entirety by the Agreement."  The memorandum states that the detailed terms of the actual agreement (including all archaeological provisions under it) are covered by a confidentiality clause.


Captain Cook's legacy safe for now

Thursday October 10, 03:47 AM


SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian historian who claimed to have found a Portuguese shipwreck that predated the arrival in eastern Australia of explorer Captain James Cook says he jumped the gun.

History teacher Greg Jefferys thought he found cannons from a 17th century Portuguese Man 'O War under a beach off northeast Australia but they have turned out to be hoisting apparatus from a 19th century ship that plied the coast of colonial Australia.

"They're definitely not cannons," said a contrite Jefferys, whose claim threatened to unseat Captain Cook from his pedestal as the first European to "discover" eastern Australia when he landed at Botany Bay, now part of Sydney, in 1770.

Jefferys said divers used high-pressure water jets to remove sand from the buried wreck on Fraser Island, around 125 miles north of Brisbane, and what they had thought were cannons turned out to be cast-iron davits, equipment used on ships to raise and lower boats.

"It was disappointing," the archaeologist told Reuters on Thursday.

But Jefferys continues to search for proof that Cook was not the first European to arrive on Australia's eastern seaboard.

He said he had received many calls from old-timers with information about shipwrecks, and one from an Aboriginal woman who said her tribe's folklore traced its ancestry on the tourist resort of Fraser Island back to European shipwreck survivors.

"I don't give up very easily," he said.

Captain Cook is credited with being the first European to arrive in eastern Australia during voyages of discovery that also took in New Zealand and much of the Pacific Ocean.

Spanish navigator Luis Vaez de Torres travelled around the north end of Australia in the early 1600s and the Dutch are credited with charting the west of the continent shortly after.

The Portuguese were famed seafarers long before Britannia ruled the waves, and many historians suspect they mapped Australia. Their maps, if they ever existed, are thought to have been destroyed in the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

Jefferys is also researching the possibility that legendary Chinese Grand Eunuch, Admiral Zheng He, who led seven voyages of exploration from 1403 to 1433 in ships that dwarfed their future European counterparts, might also have explored Australia.


Mystery wreck discovered in the Baltic Sea

UPI Science News

From the Science & Technology Desk

Published 10/8/2002 3:06 PM

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Oct. 8 (UPI) -- The Royal Swedish Navy said Tuesday it has discovered an underwater mystery shipwreck with skulls littering its centuries-old wooden decks.

The sailing ship, which marine archaeologists think is more than 200 years old, was found standing upright on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The reason for why it sank is so far an enigma, because its hull and masts remain perfectly intact.

"We don't have any clues whatsoever right now on what made it sink. We don't have any hints whatsoever," marine archaeologist Bert Westenberg of the Swedish National Maritime Museum in Stockholm told United Press International.

The Swedish rescue ship HMS Belos was searching for a lost dredger in the middle of the Baltic Sea when a sonar sweep picked up signs of a wreck more than 300 feet down in early 2002. The crew then deployed a remote controlled robot Sjöugglan -- Swedish for "sea owl" -- to check out the murky sea floor.

Their TV monitors revealed a beautifully preserved 85-foot-long ship, with twin 65-foot-tall masts standing upright and a gilded seahorse on its prow -- a pony's head with human hands instead of front hooves clasped under its belly and instead of rear legs, a fish's tail.

"Everything's in mint condition," Westenberg said. "It must have went down very fast. Everything looked the way it did when it was sailing. Perhaps it met some bad weather, or it started leaking and then went down very fast."

In an unusual detail, skulls are lying on the ship's deck from at least two crewmen. Normally, casualties float away as their ships sink into the deep. "They could have been trapped," Westenberg speculated.

What appear to be gunports are visible on each side. No guns, however, are seen. "We're not sure they're gunports. They could be decorations to make this ship to look like a naval vessel, maybe to fool pirates and keep them away," Westenberg said.

Researchers at the Swedish National Maritime Museum said that judging by its rigging, the twin-masted vessel appears to be a snow brig, a type of fast sailing vessel from the 18th century. Westenberg said the low salinity of the Baltic Sea, coupled with its far-off, deep-down location, have helped preserve the ship.

"What a wonderful find. It's a great discovery," said marine archaeologist Kevin Crisman at Texas A&M University in College Station. "It's pretty rare to find 18th century wrecks with the masts still standing and the carvings still preserved. You get that in few parts of the world, and the Baltic's one of them."

The identity of the ship is a mystery, researchers said. The ship appears to be a naval or postal ship and is not any known Swedish vessel. It could be from Russia or elsewhere, Westernberg added. The researchers hope archive searches will reveal more about the ship's history.

"We haven't been able to go down and look in the cargo holds and see if there's any post that are late for delivery by several hundred years," Westenberg said.

At present, neither the Swedish National Maritime Museum nor the Royal Swedish Navy has the money for an investigation.

"I hope they can do more with it," Crisman said. "This is a magnificent find. A wreck like this offers a great window to life in the 18th century. We can research it in libraries, but there's no substitute for an actual ship like this."

(Reported by Charles Choi, UPI Science News, in New York)

Copyright © 2002 United Press International