Monuments unearthed in County Meath


Archaeologists have unearthed scores of new monuments at one of Ireland's most ancient religious and archaeological sites in County Meath.


Some of the discoveries at the Hill of Tara near Navan date back to 4000 BC.


One of the most spectacular finds has been a huge oval enclosure the same size as Dublin's Croke Park stadium. It is thought to have been constructed in about 2500 BC.


The monuments were uncovered by experts from NUI, Galway who were working on the most extensive and ambitious geophysical survey ever undertaken in Ireland.


Before the survey began, around 30 monuments had been located. That figure has now been trebled.


Tara was once the most powerful of Ireland's five kingdoms, and tribal disputes as well as peace and defence issues were once settled there at national assemblies held every three years.


Its importance diminished as Christianity became established in Ireland and little now remains to indicate the area's one-time eminence.


SUNDAY 10/11/2002 08:15:41                        

Ancient site threatened by road plans


Scores of new monuments have been uncovered at the Hill of Tara in County Meath, one of Ireland's most ancient religious and archaeological locations, but the area is now threatened by major motorway plans.    


The site, near Navan, County Meath, was the original cultural capital of Ireland, and still attracts thousands of history-seeking visitors each year.


But now experts attempting to unearth the secrets of the region have been outraged by plans to steer a 21st century motorway through the area.


Tara was once the most powerful of Ireland`s five kingdoms and tribal disputes as well as peace and defence issues were once settled there at national assemblies held every three years.


But its importance diminished as Christianity became established in Ireland and little now remains to indicate the area`s one-time eminence.


Currently though, it is the centre of the most extensive and ambitious geophysical survey ever undertaken in Ireland.


A team from the Department of Archaeology at Galway University, backed by funds from the Irish governmentís Heritage Council, have been researching the Hill of Tara for a decade, but more recently the examination has been expanded to cover a total of 13 hectares of state-owned land.


The discovery of the new monuments has resulted from that work and some date back to 4000 BC. But they have been made through what the experts call ``non-invasive techniques,`` permitting archaeologists to find out if people once occupied a particular area by recording the magnetic properties or electrical resistance of the soil.


Soil is permanently altered by human activity - a bonfire or burial will have enhanced the magnetism of the soil around it and a buried wall will act as a barrier to the movement of electric current passed through the earth and increase its resistance.


The technique being used at Tara allows underground features to be mapped and analysed as a preliminary step to excavating, which can then be carried out with precision, making the procedure much less of a shot-in-the-dark.


Before the County Meath geophysical survey was begun, around 30 monuments had been located - now that figure has been more than trebled.


One of the most spectacular finds has been of a huge oval enclosure the same size at Dublinís city centre Croke Park Gaelic Athletic Association stadium, thought to have been constructed in about 2500 BC and including a passage tomb.


Conor Newman, one of the Galway University team probing the Hill of Tara`s secrets, said: ``Every new monument discovered adds to our understanding of the complex.


``For the most part, the monument builders of each generation observed, preserved and accommodated all of the older ones in a way that contributed positively and sensitively to the developing authority of Tara as a place apart.``


It is the present-day motorway construction that is presently angering the archaeologists, however. Planners want to place the M3 route across part of the ancient hill.


Mr Newman declared: ``It is a reckless dereliction of our role as guardians of common cultural heritage to drive a motorway through it.


``If you dissociate a society from its past, it becomes rootless. Tara is a national treasure and a massive tourist attraction.


``It should be managed not simply as a hilltop site, but rather as a cultural landscape.``


Huge temple found under Hill of Tara

The Irish Examiner 12 Nov 2002

Evelyn Ring


A HUGE temple, once surrounded by about 300 huge posts made from an entire oak forest, has been discovered directly beneath the Hill of Tara in Co Meath. Conor Newman, an archaeology lecturer at NUI Galway, said the discovery at the ancient site made sense of the positioning of other graves and monuments in the area.

Mr Newman, who has been working on the Hill of Tara under the State-funded Discovery Programme since 1992, was delighted by the find. "It fills a very important place in the jigsaw because it allows us to make sense of the distribution of other monuments all around it."

The Discovery Programme, set up under the auspices of the Heritage Council, carried out a survey of the Hill of Tara between 1992 and 1996 when Mr Newman was director.

When Mr Newman moved to Galway he continued to be involved in the project Using sophisticated technology, he and his team of experts mapped what was underground. The work was slow and tedious because it yielded such a huge amount of information.

What they uncovered eventually at the crown of the hill was a huge, oval-shaped monument measuring about 170 metres at its widest point. Around it are 300 post holes measuring two metres wide, indicating a massive human effort involved in the construction.

"We think it probably dates from 2500 to 2300BC and still had a big physical presence even after the posts were taken out or rotted," Mr Newman said.

While the monument is located just below the ground's surface, there are no plans yet to dig it out.

"There was a time when excavation was the first step in archaeological research. That's not the case now because it really is the systematic destruction of a monument. When you are dealing with something as important as the Hill of Tara, you don't do something like that lightly."

Mr Newman reckons they will be able to learn more about the site from the data before the ground itself is finally excavated. "What we have is the clearest underground image I have ever seen. This one jumps off the page."

Mr Newman is concerned about a planned extension of the N3 motorway from Clonee to just north of Kells. One of the sections from Dunshaughlin to Navan runs along the east side of the Hill of Tara.

I have absolutely no doubt that they will be destroying dozens of monuments connected to Tara



Greeks offer deal to get marbles back

Britain likely to get pick of prized antiquities

Helena Smith in Athens

Monday November 11, 2002

The Guardian


Greece's campaign to shame Britain into handing back the Elgin Marbles comes to London this week when the Greek culture minister presents officials with elaborate plans of the new Acropolis museum where exhibition space will be left empty for the treasures.

The minister, Evangelos Venizelos, is expected to rachet up the pressure for the classical sculptures to be put on permanent loan to Greece - in exchange for all manner of rotating exhibitions - during a meeting with the new director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, today.

According to senior aides in Athens, the politician will formally outline how such an exchange could work, and benefit both countries. Mention of the marbles being "repatriated" or "returned" will be diplomatically dropped.

"The legal question of ownership of the Parthenon marbles is no longer important to us, and Mr Venizelos will make that very clear," said Eleni Kourka, a specialist on the carvings at the culture ministry.

Mr MacGregor will almost certainly be told that he can take his pick of Greece's vast collection of antiquities if the 5th century BC wonders can be shown in the new Acropolis museum by the time Athens stages the 2004 Olympics.

"The British Museum has financial problems as we have seen from the theft of certain Greek pieces because of inadequate security," said another aide requesting anonymity. "Our offer of rotating exhibitions could be profitable, they would have a huge choice."

Since acquiring the marbles from Lord Elgin in 1816, the British Museum has owned 56 sculpted friezes, 15 metopes and 17 pedimental statues - around half of the statuary that once adorned the Parthenon.

"The British Museum could cooperate in permanently displaying the marbles in Athens by, say, opening a branch here. We honestly believe the atmosphere is changing and that everything is possible," added Dr Kourka.

Greek officials, she said, had been especially encouraged by the findings of a recent MORI opinion poll in which 65 % of Britons expressed support for the return of the marbles to their natural setting.

The poll, commissioned by the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles and released last month, showed that 25% of respondents favoured the marbles being handed back provided they were properly exhibited.

Although the location of the new Acropolis museum, at the foot of the temples, has aroused acrimonious debate in Greece - experts contend its construction will destroy unique archaeological finds on the site - there are few who have criticised its design.

The Greek culture minister will unveil the $100m glass behemoth in Bloomsbury tomorrow. With him will be the architect Bernard Tschumi.

After raising the issue with Tony Blair in Downing Street two weeks ago, the Greek prime minister, Costas Simitis, said the museum "will be ready at the end of 2003, or early 2004."

"If you enter into dialogue, exert pressure and present arguments, goals can be achieved," said Mr Simitis. "Now that the exhibition space will be ready by 2004, it is an opportunity to remind the British that the time has come for some decisions to be made."



Ancient Athletes Knew Performance-Enhancing Tricks

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters)

13 Nov 2002 19:06 BST


Long before modern-day athletes started taking drugs to enhance their performance, ancient Greeks had a trick or two up their sleeve to maximize their chances of winning.

As far back as the 18th ancient Olympiad in 708 BC they were using hand-held stone or lead weights in the standing long jump event to improve on their natural ability.

If the weights were swung correctly and at precisely the right time during the jump, scientists at Manchester Metropolitan University in England calculated that the weights, known as halteres, could add at least seven inches to a three-yard jump.

"This could be considered the first passive tool that was invented to enhance motion and locomotion," said Professor Alberto Minetti of the university's department of exercise and sport science.

But unlike performance-enhancing drugs, halteres were legal.

"It was a way to better use the existing muscle. It is not like doping. It is a product of ingenuity, not fraud," Minetti told Reuters. The stone devices, which ranged in weight from 4-20 pounds, came in a variety of shapes, with and without handles. Ancient vase paintings depict athletes using them during competitions.

They were swung back and forth just before the athlete took off, thrust forward during the jump and then back before the landing for maximum effect. Using a computer model and taking into account elements such as the elasticity of tendons and ligaments as well as real life simulations, Minetti and his colleague Luca Ardigo calculated the take-off speed was two percent greater using a pair of halteres with a total weight of about 13 pounds).

But overall performance would begin to decline when the weight exceeded 22-26 pounds, according to the research published in the science journal Nature.

Judging by the size of archaeological specimens of halteres, Minetti said the ancient Greeks had already worked it all out for themselves and knew exactly what they were doing.


Cyprus, Greece Launch Ship Replica

By Associated Press

November 10, 2002, 2:28 PM EST



Cyprus and Greece on Sunday launched a replica of an ancient ship as a symbol of hope the Mediterranean island, divided between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, soon will be reunited.


The presidents of Cyprus and Greece, Glafcos Clerides and Costis Stephanopoulos, acted as godfathers at the christening and launching of the ship Kyrenia-Eleftheria, Greek for Kyrenia-Freedom. The Greek president was represented at the ceremony by Greek Minister of Shipping Giorgos Anomeritis.


The wreck of the 2,300-year-old Greek sailing ship was discovered 40 years ago off the town of Kyrenia in the Turkish-occupied north of the island.


"The original ship lay at the bottom of the sea for more than 2,000 years before it was discovered and recovered," Clerides told a crowd of more than a thousand people attending the launching ceremony conducted according to the ancient Greek tradition.


"The launching sends a message of optimism and hope for tormented and long suffering Cyprus. It is also a symbol of our determination to continue striving for a just and viable settlement that will benefit both Greek and Turkish Cypriots," he said.


The ceremony came a day before U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to present a detailed settlement plan to Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash to end the 28-year-long division of the island.


Cyprus has been split into a Greek Cypriot-controlled south and a Turkish-occupied north since Turkey invaded after an abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece. A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north is only recognized by Turkey which maintains 40,000 troops there.


"Just as the ancient ship resurfaced after hundreds of years we hope and pray that the Kyrenia-Eletheria will one day sail into the harbor of a free Kyrenia," said Constantinos Orologas, the Greek Cypriot mayor-in-exile of Turkish-occupied Kyrenia, who was the main speaker at the ceremony.


The Annan plan is intended to break the prolonged deadlock in U.N.-sponsored reunification talks between Clerides and Denktash.


The deadlocked is caused by the insistence of Denktash, who is backed by Ankara, for the recognition of his breakaway state before reunification as a confederation of two independent states.


Clerides insists on reunification as a single state with Greek and Turkish Cypriot federal regions, as demanded by Security Council resolutions.


On its first voyage, the Kyrenia-Freedom will carry ingots of Cypriot copper to Athens to be used for the casting of the bronze medals for the 2004 Olympic Games.


Several members of the International Olympic Committee and former King Constantine of Greece also attended the ceremony.


Amphitheatre excavation plans go before city leaders

Nov 8 2002

By David Harding, Chester Chronicle


CHESTER'S £7m court building, little more than a year old, has been earmarked for demolition as part of a plan to transform the city's Roman amphitheatre into a world-beating tourist attraction.

The multi-million pound scheme, which is due to go before councillors next week, would also involve demolishing the Grade II listed Dee House.

But it could face determined opposition from English Heritage over Dee House, while the Court Service has a 15-year lease on the county court, which was completed in October last year.

The proposals follow a two-year campaign by the Chester Amphitheatre Trust and The Chronicle, which have both pressed for progress towards full excavation.

If approved, the scheme would involve a two-stage excavation of the historic site, along with the construction of a visitor centre housing restaurants, cafes and shops.

The first phase of the scheme, costing £2.25m, could be carried out within the next two to three years and would involve the demolition of Dee House and the construction of the first phase of a two-stage building around the western f lank of the monument.

The building would house an interpretation centre, restaurant and cafe, with a roof terrace for the restaurant overlooking the amphitheatre. The proposals envisage an imaginative design using contemporary architecture.

The second phase, which has yet to be costed in detail, would involve the council acquiring the county court building, which covers another section of the site.

This could take 15 years, depending on negotiations to acquire the building.

Key parts of the second phase would include demolition of the county court off ices and car park and the construction of phase two of the visitor building, wrapping around the southern side of the monument and housing an extended interpretation centre, restaurants, cafes and shops.

Cllr Ann Farrell, portfolio holder for culture and heritage, said: 'I'm really excited about this. If we manage to get this off the ground, it will be a real achievement.'

She added: 'The amphitheatre is looking really sad at the moment, and yet people are still interested in it. With a visitor centre, it would be quite an attraction.'

The amphitheatre, which dates back to about 100AD, is the largest Roman military amphitheatre in the UK, with enormous potential as a visitor draw.

But it has only ever been partially excavated, with Dee House and the county court building standing in the way of full development.

Now the city council, which gave planning permission for the court in 1995, is looking to make rapid progress towards full excavation.

If it is successful, it could generate millions of pounds for the local economy every year, as well as enhancing Chester's reputation as a tourist destination of international importance.

The proposals were unveiled at a meeting of the Amphitheatre Steering Group on Monday. They will now go before the council's Amphitheatre Advisory Panel on Monday and then the ruling cabinet on Thursday.


Saxon urn found in back garden

Friday, 8 November, 2002, 10:04 GMT


Archaeologists digging in the back garden of a family home in Otford near Sevenoaks have found artefacts dating back almost 2,000 years.

The local council called in the team after the Taylor family applied for planning permission to build an extension.

Their semi-detached home is known to be on a Saxon burial site.

The archaeologists spent four days digging in the garden and unearthed a Saxon burial urn and an entire Roman wall.

Excavate carefully

The wall is going to be bridged over and the pot will be taken away for analysis.

Archaeologist Simon Mason said it added more to the history of Otford.

"We will excavate it carefully," he said.

"We will look at the contents and if there are any remains, we will take those out and they can be looked at and analysed to see what sort of individual was burned and buried there.

"Hopefully the pot will be put on display somewhere."


Lost city found in jungles of Nicaragua

Archaeologists have found what they believe to be a lost city in the jungles of Nicaragua.

The remnants are located near the town of Kukra Hill in the south of the country.

Preliminary studies suggest it was a settlement dating back more than 2000 years.

The place is only accessible by boat or plane.

The archaeological expedition was sponsored by the National University of Nicaragua, the University of Barcelona, the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and the Spanish Historical Heritage Institute.

Professor Ermengol Gassiot from the University of Barcelona told El Nuevo Diario newspaper: "We found architectural sites with structures and platforms that are very high and very old."

The first reports of the discovery came from Nicaraguan Nicolas Jarquin, who organized the expedition.

Story filed: 14:40 Tuesday 12th November 2002


'Carrickminders' celebrate archaeologists return

The Irish Examiner 08 Nov 2002

By Caroline O'Doherty


THE National Roads Authority has denied protestors' claims of victory after archaeologists resumed work on the controversial Carrickmines Castle site. Dozens of personnel have begun excavations at the site in south Co Dublin, which lies in the path of the South Eastern Motorway, the long-awaited last section of the M50 motorway.

Protestors calling themselves Carrickminders who have been occupying the site since the deadline for excavations ran out at the end of August have declared the return of the workers a "grudging acknowledgement" that recovery of the site's treasures is far from complete.

"It validates what we've said all along. There is a wealth of artefacts still in the ground, and now that the EU and Bord PleanŠla are questioning what's going on, they have slipped the archaeologists back in to try to look like they're doing a respectable job," said spokesman Ruadhan MacEoin.

But Michael Egan, spokesman for the National Roads Authority (NRA), said the latest work called finds' retrieval had always been planned and that it was in fact held up by the Carrickminders after they blocked machinery from accessing the site.

"It was always the intention after the initial manual phase of work was finished to move in with equipment and remove material for sifting to recover whatever coins or pieces of pottery or tools might be in the soil," he said.

He said the Carrickminders had blockaded the site and prevented the use of mechanical excavators and the work had been held up while mini-excavators were sourced and delivered.

"It's ironic. Various interests had indicated concern that this area of land needed further checks, but we had already identified that need and they delayed us doing the job."

The current team of archaeologists expect to have only a few weeks to finish the finds retrieval exercise, and road building contractors Ascon, now working either side of the site, are ready to move in when it is cleared.

But with An Bord PleanŠla and the European Commission both now probing elements of the project, it is believed Ascon will be encouraged to continue working around the site as much as possible without delaying the overall construction timetable.


Super-Sub scores a winner

1901 submarine wins top conservation award and highlights UK's conservation excellence

12 November 2002


A project to restore the Royal Navy's first submarine, Holland 1 - which first set sail in 1901 and lay on the seabed for 69 years - has won the UK's premier conservation prize. In a ceremony at the British Library tonight, conservator Ian Clark and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport were awarded the Pilgrim Trust Award for Conservation 2002 for their work in 'placing conservation at the very heart of the museum'.


The submarine museum rose to the top of a very strong shortlist that included entries from the National Trust, the Wallace Collection and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. The award judges considered how the entrants used their scientific, technological, aesthetic and historical knowledge to conserve materials and reveal their significance to a wide audience. 


Holland I's conservation story began following her salvage in 1982. At that point the submarine was cleaned, treated with anti-corrosion chemicals and put on display at the Museum. But by 1993 she was suffering from rampant corrosion and repainting proved futile. The anti-corrosion treatment had failed and a new solution was needed.


Led by conservator Ian Clark, the Museum built a giant glassfibre tank in 1994 to enclose the submarine, and filled it with 800,000 litres of sodium carbonate. Soaking the submarine in this way would remove the chloride ions that were the cause of the uncontrollable corrosion. In December 1998, the soaking tank was drained down and final tests carried out. Chloride levels were now found to be extremely low - the treatment had worked.


A specially humidity-controlled gallery was also built to display the submarine. When visitors enter the new gallery they breathe moisture into the dry atmosphere, which if it were allowed to build up could stimulate more corrosion. The gallery has been equipped with a powerful dehumidification system that keeps the humidity below 40% relative humidity - this low level of humidity prevents moisture from setting off the corrosion cycle.


Three further presentations were also made at the ceremony. Kathryn Hallett won the Student Conservator of the Year Award. Her innovative project at the British Museum showed that traditionally dim lighting levels in museums could be increased without harming ethnographic exhibits. Her findings will be of relevance to museums across the UK.


The Anna Plowden Award for Research and Innovation in Conservation was awarded jointly to Dr Andrew Calver of the Museum of London and Dr Lorraine Gibson of the University of Strathclyde. They received the prize for the development of a cost-effective technique for measuring air exchange rates of display cases and storage enclosures.


The ceremony also saw the presentation of a new conservation award open to members of the United Kingdom Institute of Conservation. Evening Standard art critic Brian Sewell handed Kenneth Watt of West Dean College the inaugural Nigel Williams Prize for ceramics and glass conservation. Kenneth received a trophy replica of the Portland Vase, donated by Wedgwood, for his lifetime achievement in this field.


Loyd Grossman, chair of the judging panel, broadcaster and member of the board of Resource, said, "Among an outstanding 2002 shortlist this amazing submarine project stands out.  It has everything: a fascinating story, pivotal to British naval prowess; a bold conservation procedure, based on sound scientific principles and carried out on an unprecedented scale; and a stunning display which brings the visitor a memorable experience.  Everybody should go and see it! We warmly congratulate conservator Ian Clark and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum on their tremendous achievement."


The Pilgrims Trust Conservation Awards are the UK's premier scheme to reward excellence in preserving our heritage - open to conservators for completed projects on individual artefacts, museum collections, historic buildings and library and archival treasures.

Among the 11 short-listed candidates was the Wallace Collection's entry focusing on the conservation of an 18th-century writing-desk - one of the jewels of its collections - restored using novel techniques to re-apply its marquetry and clean its surface. The restoration of historic wallpaper and paintwork at Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire - and the installation of environmental monitoring systems using computer technology and 5 miles of cabling - formed key parts of the National Trust's shortlisted entry.


The Award for Conservation carried a prize of £15,000. The Student Conservator of the Year Award nets a prize of £10,000 (£5,000 each for the student and their training institution), and the Anna Plowden Trust Award winner received a prize of £2000.

Sponsored by the Pilgrim Trust, the Awards are also supported by key organisations in conservation and restoration - English Heritage, the National Preservation Office (based at the British Library), Resource: The Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries and the United Kingdom Institute for Conservation. The Award for Research and Innovation is sponsored by the Anna Plowden Trust.