11:09 - 15 October 2002


This 5,500-year-old lump of stone is proof that the British love affair with blemish-free chips and crisps could be costing us our heritage.


It looks like an ordinary rock but it is, in fact, a rare ceremonial mace dating to 3500BC, which was dug up by a potato-harvesting machine.


According to leading West archaeologist Dr Keith Ray, it shows that layers of history dating to Neolithic times are being destroyed in the quest to grow bigger and better spuds.


The rare find, spotted by an eagleeyed agricultural worker, is all that remains of an ancient tribal burial site destroyed by a harvester at an unnamed farm in Herefordshire.


But Dr Ray believes it is the tip of the iceberg and experts rarely get to hear about the thousands of years of historical artefacts which are being destroyed by potato ploughs every day.


He predicts the obsession for blemish-free chips and crisps means the situation will only get worse.


More and more farmers are turning their fields over to the crop to ensure a plentiful supply of the nation's favourite vegetable.


Dr Ray, county archaeologist for Herefordshire, said: "Growing potatoes involves multiple processes using heavy machinery and digging deeper into the ground. It means you are reaching archaeology not reached in the past, ranging from neolithic landscapes to Bronze Age settlements, Iron Age hill forts to Roman towns.


"There are 6,000 years of history out there and people like me who are employed to look after it are getting increasingly agitated by this." The county is best known for its rolling pastures, apples and soft fruit.


But over the past three years, the percentage of agricultural land used for growing spuds has nearly tripled to more than five per cent.


It has become the fastest-growing crop in Herefordshire but Dr Ray believes this is only the start. He said the region's heritage was being threatened by a spud-growing explosion.


He said: "Our obsession with chips and crisps is sucking in everything that can be grown. In 2004, a new potato processing plant will open in the Midlands which will need an extra 380,000 tonnes of potatoes.


"The trouble is the supermarkets want perfect potatoes. They think the shopper will leave them on the shelf if they have the slightest blemish.


"Growing them in old arable land increases the risk of blight so they are always on the lookout for new pastures.


This is accelerating the destruction.


"Potatoes are being grown in fields which until now have been left to pasture." Archaeological sensitive sites such as hillsides and meadows which have been left virtually untouched are being dug up by half a metre.


Dr Ray is appealing for supermarkets and potato processors to call a halt to the march across virgin countryside. He said: "They need to get the message that slight blemishes will not stop people buying their products." Rob Burrow, of the Potato Council, confirmed Herefordshire farmers were growing more potatoes than a decade ago, adding: "Customers do demand clean potatoes free from blemishes."



Archaeology is new target for Ukraine's mafia gangs




HITMAN, enforcer, bag man... archaeologist. Experts in ancient antiquities have become the latest recruits to the notorious Eastern European crime families.


Mafia groups in the Ukraine are pursuing a lucrative sideline in archaeology, looting valuable artefacts to be sold on the black market, in addition to their traditional criminal enterprises such as selling drugs, prostitution and protection rackets.


Their latest target is Crimea, in the southern Ukraine, which is host to vast quantities of buried treasures from Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Bronze Age settlements.


Some of the mafia families have employed archaeologists to work directly for them, after making them an offer that they can’t refuse. Others wait patiently, vulture-like, for the experts to carry out their work before swooping on their finds.


Professor Viktor Myts, of the Crimean Institute for Archaeology in Simferopol, said: "It’s incredible. You can actually see them waiting, hovering in the distance. As soon as our teams pack up for the night the thieves come along and try to strip the site bare of everything."


In other cases, archaeologists employed by the mafia gangs move in on promising historical sites with diggers, floodlights, and armed guards to keep out concerned academics, rival gangs, and Ukraine’s under-funded police force.


Professor Vladimir Golenko, an expert in Classical archaeology in Simferopol, said: "In a way you can understand why some people do it. The economy here is very depressed, people need the money. But it’s very sad. We are in danger of losing a lot of our heritage.


"We are having to pick up the pieces after the criminals have robbed archaeological sites. "


A half-mile square section of the ancient Hellenic city of Olvia was recently cleared out by thieves looking for valuables to sell. Fortunately, experts have managed to salvage a number of priceless relics, including a huge hoard of Ancient Greek gold in Kerch .


However, the authorities are failing to stem the rising tide of valuables being smuggled out of the country.


Dr Neil Brodie, of Cambridge University’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, said: "The key to this is cutting off the demand for stolen items and insisting on proper records so we can trace where things have come from."


Since the fall of Communism in 1991, organised crime has flourished in Eastern and Central Europe, with some Ukrainian towns being dominated by the mafia.


Found: Earliest Roman plaque of London

Marker refers to "Londiniensium"

Friday, October 11, 2002 Posted: 1603 GMT


LONDON (Reuters) -- Archaeologists excavating an ancient site in London said on Friday they had unearthed the oldest known plaque inscribed with the city's Roman name.

"This is hugely important," Francis Grew, curator of archaeology at the Museum of London told reporters. "It is the first real monumental inscription with the word Londinium on it.

"It is also visually the most important inscription we have even found in London. The words are just as clear as people would have seen them 2,000 years ago," he added.

The Italian marble plaque, found in the Southwark area of London at the junction of three key Roman roads, is dedicated to the Roman emperors and the god Mars from London-based merchant Tiberinius Celerianus.

It refers to "Londiniensium" which Grew said could either be a variant of the more usual "Londinium" or, more likely, a reference to Tiberinius as being "of the people of Londinium."

Gary Brown of Pre-Construct Archaeology which is carrying out the major dig on the one hectare site on the southern banks of the River Thames said the plaque was found in a pit near the remains of two large Roman brick buildings.

"The buildings could have been trading guild houses or even villas. We just don't know yet," he said.

Helps establish the emergence of a merchant class

Grew said the plaque probably dated from between 50 and 150 AD and would have been placed prominently either on a building or in a shrine.

"The whole purpose of this was to advertise the importance of the man who by his name was from northern Gaul, probably in the Champagne region of Rheims, and who in Rome would have been treated as a yokel but who had made it in London," he said.

He said that in cities like the French river port of Lyon there was plentiful evidence from inscribed plaques of the important merchant classes.

But to date, despite much anecdotal evidence of the importance of London as a trading center, little actual physical evidence such as the Southwark plaque had been discovered.

"This is in part what makes it so important. It is clear evidence of the emergence of the merchant class in London," Grew said.

Brown, who is just six weeks into a 40-week dig on the site before it is covered by a housing development, said Southwark had been a bustling commercial center.

The site is on the river at the junction of Watling Street bringing people and goods up from the port of Dover and Stane Street coming up from the garrison town of Chichester to the south west.

As Southwark lies on the other side of the river from the walled Roman city of Londinium, there is another main road connecting Watling and Stane streets to the city proper.

"I can't stress how important this site is. We have already gone back to the pre-historic occupation of the site and we have found vast quantities of artifacts," Brown said.

"We have so far only dug 15 percent of the site and we have already found this plaque, so the potential for more staggering finds is there. Who knows what more we will find?"


Complete tomb unearthed at Inca citadel

14:35 14 October 02

NewScientist.com news service


The first complete burial site to be discovered at the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu since its discovery has been revealed. Peruvian archaeologists have found bronze pins, a stone pan and a clay pot buried along with the remains.


"Studies will confirm the sex and determine the age of the person who was buried, but the objects that were found around the body point to it having been a young woman," Fernando Astete, Machu Picchu's administrator told Reuters.

The citadel of Machu Picchu was built about 500 years ago. Its vegetation-covered ruins were rediscovered in 1911 by US archaeologist Hiram Bingham. Bingham's team found 172 tombs with human remains. But since then, archaeologists have found only bones. "It's only now that a complete burial site has been uncovered," Astete said.

Machu Picchu, which means Old Mountain, is about 1100 kilometres southeast of Lima and close to the city of Cuzco, which was the Inca capital from the 13th to 16th centuries. The citadel contains three distinct sections: agricultural, urban and religious. About 80 per cent of the human remains discovered so far are female.

The new burial site was found in a sector of the site used by the Incas as a viewing platform, said Astete. He expects further surprise discoveries from other as yet uninvestigated parts of the site. But geologists at Kyoto University, Japan, warned in 2001 that a landslide could split the ruins in two at any time.


Emma Young


This story is from NewScientist.com's news service - for more exclusive news and expert analysis every week subscribe to New Scientist print edition.


Shipwreck adventurer's fiction revealed as true after 270 years

British writer of a stirring adventure tale is unmasked as its real hero

Robin McKie

Sunday October 13, 2002

The Observer


An eighteenth-century adventure story involving slavery on a desert island, violent death and escape became the literary sensation of its day and has been pronounced by experts since as exciting stuff but utter fiction.

Now a British archaeologist has discovered the startling truth about Robert Drury and the story of his escape from Madagascar. The experts were wrong. His fantastic, graphic tale of torture, enslavement, battles between rival tribes and shipwreck was true and has opened an unexpected new window on a lost period of history.

Drury's captain and crewmates were indeed slaughtered by violent islanders, while he survived only after enduring years of slavery before escaping, a tale that Drury detailed in his 1729 book, Madagascar: or Robert Drury's Journal During 15 Years' Captivity on that Island.

The truth of Drury's encounter, which he called a plain, honest narrative of matters of fact', has been pieced together by British archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson, who last year uncovered the wreckage of the East India Company ship Degrave in which the young midshipman sailed to the island. On the same field trip, Pearson, of Sheffield University, dug up the remains of the village in which Drury was a captive.

It is a remarkable piece of detective work, in which Pearson - in keeping with the Boys' Own nature of his material - was himself captured by local people and freed only after complex negotiations. 'Today white people are suspected by locals of being head-hunters who want their brains to find cures for Aids,' said Pearson, whose account of his expeditions, In Search of the Red Slave, was published last week. 'Once we convinced them we were no such thing, they let us get on.'

Drury's original story was published several years after Daniel Defoe achieved widespread success with Robinson Crusoe, the fictionalised account of the adventures of the Fife sailor Alexander Selkirk. Selkirk's tale, though, was relatively benign. By contrast, Drury had a very different, far more violent story to tell, as Pearson outlines in the current issue of British Archaeology.

In 1703 Drury and his 180 shipmates were washed up on the southern shore of Madagascar after the Degrave was wrecked. They were captured by the warlike Tandroy people who still inhabit much of the island, conscripted into the local army, and ordered to join the Tandroys in battles with local tribes.

The captive crew decided to escape. They seized the Tandroys' king and held him hostage while they fled in the hope of finding a part of Madagascar more sympathetic to their plight. Pursued by 2,000 enraged warriors, the sailors headed eastwards but were eventually caught. Only a handful escaped. All except four boys were slaughtered. Drury was one of the four youngsters.

He was kept as a slave of the Tandroys in a village for eight years. Again he tried to escape, this time fleeing to the west. There he was recaptured, this time by the army of the neighbouring Sakalava people. Again he was enslaved, and released only when an English ship arrived. Drury returned home on it.

He later returned to Madagascar as, of all things, a slave trader, but spent his final years frequenting Old Tom's Coffee House in Birchin Lane, London, where he would tell of his adventures to anyone prepared to listen.

'We only learnt the truth about Drury a few years ago, when an American academic found proof of his birth and death, and of his record as a midshipman,' said Pearson. 'Before that, a lot of people thought he was merely a figment of an unnamed fiction writer's imagination.'

The fact that Drury was real did not mean his tale was true, of course, but Pearson was convinced. 'I'd become fascinated with his story, and when I joined an archaeological project in Madagascar I decided to prove Drury was telling the truth.'

After several trips to the area, Pearson has found the sites of both the ancient capital Fennoarevo, and of Mionjona, where Drury spent eight years as a slave to the Tandroy king's grandson.

'We have also found the site of the wreck of the Degrave,' said Pearson. 'Two iron cannon of the period lie on the reef and lobster divers report seeing several others and an anchor on the seabed.'

The discovery that Drury's adventures are largely true is intriguing for several reasons. Apart from validating a highly dramatic narrative, it shows the importance of maintaining good historical records and knowing how to explore them. It has shed critical light on how Madagascar was settled and ruled in a long-forgotten period of its history.

'It has also been an adventure into the formation of the modern world, understanding how the period around 1700 was the moment at which the world "went global", with London the beating heart at its centre,' adds Pearson.

Now the archaeologist is planning to arrange for the reprinting of Drury's book, which was last published in this country in the 1890s.

One mystery remains about the work remains, however. Who wrote it? While Drury obviously supplied the facts, it is unlikely that an unschooled sailor actually provided the prose. Pearson believes he has also found the answer to this puzzle.

'In its introduction we are told that Drury's manuscript was "put in a more agreeable method" by an anonymous editor. The text reveals that the editor was a Dissenter, a political commentator, and a verbose scribbler - almost certainly Defoe!'


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