Excavating Ancient Elephants in Italy





Some 300,000 years ago, ancient elephants trudged into a shallow river to drink, but found their legs stuck in the mud. Eventually, they fell and died there, attracting scavenger animals and pre-humans, who fed off the meat and made tools from the bones.

    After 17 years of excavations, the site, packed with thousands of animal bones and tusks the length of station wagons, opens to public for the first time this month. Visitors can stroll along walkways above the half of the site that has been excavated, a little larger than an Olympic swimming pool, to view the bones while excavators use metal instruments and brushes to continue the dig.

    Archaeologists have unearthed a nearly complete skeleton of an ancient elephant with only a few parts disconnected and dispersed as well as the skeleton of an ancient wolf that researchers at the site believe ventured into the muck to feed on the plentiful meat.

    Fossilized bones from ancient forms of deer, oxen, horses, rhinoceros, mice, birds, small reptiles and fish all lie in the hardened earth of the prehistoric swamp. No pre-human skeletons were found, although excavators discovered 500 primitive instruments made of flint and bone.

    The archaeologist heading the project, Anna Paola Anzidei, says the site was particularly important for fossils of the species Elephas antiquus, an ancestor of the modern elephant.

    "We can look at the teeth of the elephants to discover more about their diet," she says. "We can look at the chemicals in the bones and see changes in the environment."

    Though there are several other similar sites in Italy, La Polledrara di Cecanibbio holds the oldest, most plentiful and best-preserved bones due to the abundance of the gas fluorite in the region, scientists say.

    "The site preserves the best sample from anywhere in the world of Pleistocene elephants [Palaeoloxodon] from that period of time," says professor of palaeobiology Adrian Lister at University College London, who visited the site in October 2001. "The study of skulls, for example, will help us better understand the relation of this population to other fossil elephants. That work has not been done yet."

    From this site, researchers are also studying the climate and environment of the region during the period and the ways in which pre-humans in the area began interacting with big game.

    In terms of the order Proboscidea, which includes elephants, mammoths, oxen, hippopotamuses, rhinoceroses, lions, leopards, and brown bears, the site holds the second-best collection of bones in the world for their abundance and level of preservation. The Hot Springs Mammoth Site in South Dakota is famed as the best for its museum that contains the remains of 49 Columbian mammoths.

Treasure in Kythnos sanctum

On one of the least developed Cycladic islands, archaeologists have hit on one of the most coveted prizes of Greek archaeology — the unplundered inner sanctum of an ancient temple replete with offerings in precious metals and luxurious pottery items.

A team led by University of Thessaly Associate Professor of archaeology Alexandros Mazarakis-Ainian discovered the treasure chamber in a ruined temple of a female divinity at Vriokastro on Kythnos, on the western fringe of the archipelago.

The sanctum — called adyton by the ancient Greeks — was forbidden to all but the priests of the temple and contained sacred statues of the divinity as well as offerings brought by worshippers. These could include precious jewels, gifts donated by dignitaries to enhance their own prestige and spoils of war.

“Behind the cella (main hall) of the temple, and on the other side of a wall with a threshold in its middle, where nobody would have expected it, we discovered the adyton,” Mazarakis-Ainian said in an interview published in yesterday’s Vima daily. “On the earthen floor and in the destruction layer covering it, in other words, practically on the surface, we found some 1,500 precious objects.”

The opulence is impressive. Finds, which dated mostly from the seventh to the fifth centuries BC — thus defining the life span of the temple — included 70 golden artifacts, 150 in silver, 450 in bronze, 70 terracotta figurines, 50 intact and many smashed vases. The majority of the pottery was painted, and some pieces have been linked to master painters.

There was also a small stone bead incised with a boat, dating from Minoan times, which could have been a family heirloom. The temple, which may have belonged to Hera or Aphrodite, was probably destroyed by earthquake.


"Journey" Redraws Humans' Family Tree

Hillary Mayell

for National Geographic News

December 13, 2002


By analyzing DNA from people in all regions of the world, geneticist Spencer Wells has concluded that all humans alive today are descended from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 years ago.

Modern humans, he contends, didn't start their spread across the globe until after that time. Most archaeologists would say the exodus began 100,000 years ago—a 40,000-year discrepancy.

Wells's take on the origins of modern humans and how they came to populate the rest of the planet is bound to be controversial.

His work adds to an already crowded field of opposing hypotheses proposed by those who seek answers in "stones and bones"—archaeologists and paleoanthropologists—and those who seek them in our blood—population geneticists and molecular biologists.  






Over the last decade, major debate on whether early humans evolved in Africa or elsewhere, when they began outward migration, where they went, and whether they interbred with or replaced archaic species has moved out of scientific journals and into the public consciousness.

Wells addresses these issues in a new book, The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, and a National Geographic documentary of the same title. In a straightforward story, he explains how he traced the exodus of modern humans from Africa by analyzing genetic changes in DNA from the y-chromosome.

"As often happens in science," he said, "technology has opened up a field to new ways of answering old questions—often providing startling answers."

Of course, not everyone agrees with him.


The use of population genetics and molecular biology in human origins research has been extremely important in helping to resolve a long-running debate on where modern humans first evolved.

According to a now widely discredited multi-regional model, an archaic form of humans left Africa between one and two million years ago, and modern humans evolved from them independently and simultaneously in pockets of Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Wells's work and that of others confirms the more widely accepted Out of Africa model, which says that all modern humans evolved in Africa and then left in several waves of migration, ultimately replacing any earlier species.

"Genetic evidence tells us that Homo sapiens are of recent origin and arose in Africa," said S. Blair Hedges, a molecular biologist at Pennsylvania State University.

"African populations have the most ancient alleles [gene pairs that code for specific traits] and the greatest genetic diversity, which means they're the oldest," Hedges explained. "Our species probably had arisen by 150,000 years ago, with a population of perhaps 10,000 individuals."

Chris Stringer, director of the Human Origins Program at the Natural History Museum in London, said: "The multi-regional model of Homo sapiens evolving globally over a long time scale is certainly dead."

Whether archaic humans and modern humans interbred is another point of debate.

"Given the uncertainties, it isn't yet possible to establish whether we are entirely recent African in origin—certainly my preference—or whether there was a little bit of hybridization/assimilation" between modern and archaic species," said Stringer.

Wells says there is no genetic evidence that supports the idea of intermixing, and several DNA studies actually argue strongly against it.


Today, there is general agreement that Homo erectus, the precursor to modern humans, evolved in Africa and gradually expanded to Eurasia beginning about 1.7 million years ago.

By around 100,000 years ago, several species of hominids populated the Earth, including H. sapiens in Africa, H. erectus in Southeast Asia and China, and Neandertals in Europe.

By around 30,000 years ago, the only surviving hominid species was H. sapiens.

But when did we leave Africa and where did we go? Here's where opinions diverge widely.

Wells says his evidence based on DNA in the Y-chromosome indicates that the exodus began between 60,000 and 50,000 years ago.

In his view, the early travelers followed the southern coastline of Asia, crossed about 250 kilometers [155 miles] of sea, and colonized Australia by around 50,000 years ago. The Aborigines of Australia, Wells says, are the descendants of the first wave of migration out of Africa.

Many archaeologists disagree, saying the fossil record shows that a first wave of migration occurred around 100,000 years ago.

"Archaeological evidence suggests that there were modern humans in at least two places in the Levant region of the Middle East 90,000 years ago," said Alison Brooks, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. "They disappear from the Levant about 10,000 years later, but could have survived further south in Asia—we just have no evidence."

"There's also evidence," she added, "of Homo sapiens in Australia 60,000 years ago, and they'd have to go through India and Southeast Asia to get there."

Wells agrees that there may have been early human forays into the Middle East, but argues that the Levant of 100,000 to 150,000 years ago was essentially an extension of northeastern Africa and was probably part of the original range of early Homo sapiens. These early settlers were replaced by Neandertals in the region about 80,000 years ago.

"There's a roughly 30,000-year gap in the archaeological record of Homo sapiens outside of Africa," said Wells. "The real expansion occurred in the Upper Paleolithic (around 40,000 years ago) into the uncharted territory of Asia proper."

Brooks agrees there's a gap, but puts it closer to 20,000 years.

Richard Klein, an anthropologist at Stanford University, has one explanation for the gap and the subsequent waves of colonization beginning around 45,000 years ago.

Klein thinks Homo sapiens may have been anatomically modern 150,000 years ago, but did not become behaviorally modern until about 50,000 years ago, when a genetic mutation related to cognition made us smarter.

He theorizes that this change in thinking ability enabled modern humans to craft sophisticated tools, build permanent lodgings, hunt more effectively, and possibly develop language. It also led to greater travel.

Other possible triggers for the burst of migration 45,000 years ago include an increase in population, which spurred competition and innovation; a change in diet, with consumption of more meat and fish; the acquisition of language; and climate change.


Wells says a second wave of hominids left Africa around 45,000 years ago, reproduced rapidly, and settled in the Middle East; smaller groups went off to India and China.

Isolated by mountains and the sea for many generations, and exposed to a colder climate and less sunlight than in Africa, the Asian populations became paler over time.

Around 40,000 years ago, as the grip of the Ice Age loosened and temperatures briefly became warmer, humans moved into Central Asia. Amid the bountiful grassy steppes, they multiplied quickly.

"If Africa was the cradle of mankind, then Central Asia was its nursery," said Wells.

Around 35,000 years ago, small groups left Central Asia for Europe. Cold temperatures kept them there. Cut off from other groups, these migrants became paler and shorter than their African ancestors.

From there, around 20,000 years ago, another small group of Central Asians moved farther north, into Siberia and the Arctic Circle. To minimize physical exposure to the extreme cold they developed, over many generations, stout trunks, stubby fingers, and short arms and legs.

Finally, around 15,000 years ago, as another Ice Age began to wane, one small clan of Arctic dwellers followed the reindeer herd over the Bering Strait land bridge into North America.

According to the genetic data, says Wells, this initial group may have included as few as two or three men—perhaps 10 to 20 people in all. Also isolated, they too acquired distinct physical characteristics.

Many archaeologists, however, believe that Australia, the Middle East, India, and China were inhabited much earlier.

"The dates don't compare well to the order or the geography of the migration patterns revealed by the fossil record," said Brooks. "Y-chromosome data give consistently younger dates than other types of genetic data, such as mitochondrial DNA."

Hedges said that "the dates of expansion and colonization discussed by Wells may be correct, but they almost appear to be too recent. Most geneticists are getting data that agree with most archaeological and fossil data." He noted, however, that all of the different methods used for dating can generate errors.

"If you step back a bit and look at the bigger picture, there is a lot more agreement in this field today than there was a decade ago," Hedges said.

Common Ancestors

Wells's work is based on studies of DNA in the y-chromosome. The y-chromosome is a good candidate for population studies such as this because it doesn't recombine as other parts of the genome do (each parent contributes half of a child's DNA, which join together to form a new genetic combination).

Thus, the y-chromosome is passed on as a chunk of DNA from father to son, basically unchanged through generations except for random mutations.

These random mutations, which can happen naturally and be harmless, are called markers. Once a marker has been identified, geneticists can go back in time and trace it to the point at which it first occurred, which would be the most recent common ancestor.

As in any scientific work, there are caveats.

The point at which a single common ancestor is found "can vary based on which gene you're looking at, the mutation rate, and population size, and on factors such as whether a bottleneck in the population occurred," said Sarah Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Maryland. "Natural selection also plays a significant role."

There is another chunk of DNA that also passes through generations relatively unchanged; it is found in a part of the cell called the mitochondria and is transferred from mother to daughter.

While the most recent male common ancestor identified through the y-chromosome lived 60,000 years ago, the most recent female common ancestor traced through mitochondrial DNA lived around 150,000 years ago. Whether an individual can be identified as our single common ancestor is open to debate.

"There's almost certainly not an Adam or Eve," said Tishkoff. "Each of our genes have their own history, which could be passed on from different ancestors. It's more likely that a lineage can be traced back to a population of 50, 100, or even several thousand people."

Others agree.

"The fact that one man apparently gave rise to the y-chromosome genes of all moderns does not mean he was our only male ancestor," said Stringer. "What it means is that his male progeny were more prolific breeders or luckier, and their Y genes survived while those of his contemporaries didn't. But those contemporaries could have passed on many other genes to present-day peoples."

That's "absolutely correct," said Wells, adding: "The real significance of the date of our common Y-chromosome ancestor, is that it effectively gives us an upper limit on when our species began to leave Africa."

One point of wide agreement among those who study human origins is that more and more insight will come from closer collaboration between disciplines

"Greater discussion and collaboration between geneticists and paleoanthropologists would be good for both," said Stringer.

"It's worth bearing in mind," he said, "that studies of recent DNA are studies of the genes of the survivors. Such studies can't tell us anything about non-survivors, such as the Neandertals and Solo Man in Java. We still require fossils, archaeology, and, where possible, ancient DNA for the whole picture of human evolution."

Wells's work described in Journey of Man draws on genetics, palaeoanthropology, palaeoclimatology, archaeology, psychology, and linguistics.

"I really see the field as a collaborative, synthetic effort to make sense of our past," he said. "The notion that any single area of investigation, operating in isolation, could have all the answers is ludicrous."



Graves dating back to 3000BC discovered


MUSCAT — Ancient graves dating back to 3000BC have been discovered by chance during excavations carried out by a company involved in laying pipelines for Al Massarrat water project in the wilayat of Yanqul recently, a local Arabic newspaper reported yesterday.


Bayoba bint Ali Al Sabri, director of the department of archaeology at the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, told the newspaper the graves were rectangular in shape, 3 metres in length and 70cm deep.


She said the shallow style of the graves belongs to Samad era which dates back 3000BC. Remains of that period were earlier discovered in Samad Al Shan in the wilayat of Mudhaibi.


Burial customs of Samad era include burying the dead with all personal belongings including potteries, metal items, swords, daggers and sometimes even pieces of meat for use in afterlife.


Sultan bin Saif Al Bakri, an archaeologist at the department, said items found in the graves included pieces of pottery and items made of alabaster and copper, arrows, knives and ornaments. — ONA


Experts Raise Sunken Roman Ship in Pisa

Tuesday December 17, 2002 9:30 PM

PISA, Italy (AP)


Archaeologists cautiously raised a 2,000-year-old Roman ship on Tuesday from a muddy former riverbed packed with more than a dozen ancient boats just a short walk from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The 40-foot long ship is the largest and best-preserved of about 20 Roman vessels discovered by chance in 1998. The ships sank, probably due to floods, between the second century B.C. and the sixth century A.D. while docked on a long-vanished river tributary.

The vessel hauled up Tuesday - the second boat to be removed from the mud - is remarkable because it is believed to be the only warship among those discovered. However, it is just one part of an extraordinary find that project director Andrea Camilli described as ``an encyclopedia of ancient navigation.''

In the still-buried merchant ships, experts have found almost-intact shipments of wine, food, clothes and construction materials from all over the Mediterranean. Among the most exotic finds were the remains of a North African lion, probably destined to delight spectators at a gladiatorial spectacle in a Roman town.

``We often have the wrong idea about ancient peoples: They traveled and traded just like we do today,'' Camilli said. ``Although this harbor was relatively unimportant, we have found here products originating in faraway places such as North Africa or the valley of the Danube.''

The ship raised Tuesday was covered in a protective fiberglass cast for its trip to the restoration laboratory, but it revealed the sleek shape of a fast oar-powered vessel, armed with a reinforced prow designed to ram enemy ships.

``It's the best preserved ship of antiquity ever found,'' Camilli said.

It will need to undergo a painstaking restoration process over the next four years before being displayed in Pisa's newly opened Museo delle Navi, the Museum of Ships.

One key puzzle for researchers has been why layers of ancient ships sank over eight centuries in the same place, a one-time harbor on a long-vanished tributary of the River Arno, on whose banks Pisa and Florence are built.

Archaeologists now believe that at least five catastrophic floods, which periodically destroyed the harbor throughout the centuries, were responsible. Until the fall of the Roman Empire, the harbor was stubbornly rebuilt after each tragedy.

The silt that covered the ships was the key to their preservation, providing for an airless environment that prevented decomposition. But in Roman times, the waves of mud that obliterated the harbor meant certain death for anyone caught in the flood.

An extraordinary testimony to this has already been transferred to the Museo delle Navi: the complete skeleton of a drowned Roman sailor who was trapped under fallen ship rigging and died clutching his pet basset hound, whose bones also survived.


On the Net:

Ancient Ships of Pisa Web site, www.navipisa.it


Ancient ship rises from the mud



ARCHAEOLOGISTS cautiously raised a 2000-year-old Roman ship yesterday from a muddy site packed with a score of ancient boats just a short walk from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


The 12m-long ship is the largest and best-preserved of about 20 Roman vessels found by chance in a former river bed in 1998.

The ships sank, probably due to floods, between the second century BC and the sixth century AD while docked on a long-vanished river tributary.

The vessel hauled up yesterday - the second boat removed from the mud - is remarkable because it is believed to be the only warship among those discovered.

However, it is just one part of an extraordinary find that project director Andrea Camilli described as "an encyclopedia of ancient navigation".







In merchant ships still buried, experts have found almost-intact shipments of wine, food, clothes and construction materials from the Mediterranean.

Among the most exotic finds were the remains of a North African lion, probably destined to delight spectators at a gladiatorial spectacle. "We often have the wrong idea about ancient peoples: They travelled and traded," Mr Camilli said. - AP


Group to Survey for China Emperor's Tomb

Saturday December 14, 2002 3:20 AM



Archeologists will use mine surveying technology in an attempt to pinpoint the location of the sprawling underground tomb of China's first emperor, a project leader said.

Sensors placed on the ground and aboard aircraft can detect chambers and tunnels that could betray the location of the 2,000 year-old mausoleum, said Song Dewen, a researcher with the Shaanxi Remote Sensing and Archaeology Center.

The tomb of emperor Qin Shihuang, credited with unifying the first Chinese empire in 220 B.C., is believed to lie somewhere near the famed terra-cotta army site outside the city of Xi'an in western China's Shaanxi province.

Once the mausoleum is located, further surveys will attempt to determine how far underground it lies, what structures it contains and what objects might be inside, Song said. Archeologists may then consider whether to open the tomb, he said.

``The results of this survey could give us surprises beyond imagining,'' Song said.

Admired and reviled for his ruthless determination, Qin Shihuang is one of the overarching figures of Chinese history.

Hundreds of thousands of workers are said to have labored for 36 years to build his mausoleum, which was sealed after the emperor's death in 210 B.C.. Legendary accounts tell of underground rivers and lakes filled with poisonous mercury and of great treasures buried with the emperor.

The mausoleum's layout is said to mirror the street plan of the Qin capital, of which the vaults containing the terra-cotta warriors are believed to have been a part.


London Site Yields Old Roman Bathhouse

Friday December 13, 2002 11:40 PM



A construction crew uncovered the remains of an 1,800 year-old Roman bathhouse at a building site in London, archaeologists said Friday.

Developers unearthed the buildings at a site in Shadwell, east London, where new apartments are to be built.

The remains, which include a series of stone and tiled rooms, were exceptionally well preserved, said Nick Truckle, archaeology adviser at the conservation agency English Heritage.

``It's the most significant find in greater London and the best preserved I have seen in the last 10 years,'' he said.

The construction company delayed plans to develop the site and is funding research of the find.

Archaeologists found two buildings, one of which housed a hot bath and the other a cold plunge pool. They also uncovered a furnace, an under- floor heating system and various pieces of pottery, jewelry and coins.

Bathhouses were common in Roman times. Bathers would work their way through a series of rooms, scraping off dirt and sweat before plunging into a cold bath to seal the pores.

``You would go to a bath to get clean, do business, meet people. They were very social places and every Roman town had one,'' Truckle said.


On the Net:





'Unluckiest church in the world' is found

A British archaeologist has uncovered what is probably the unluckiest church in the world.


The church was wrecked by two earthquakes, a flood, and a landslide - all of which happened while it was still being built.

It later became an opium den and after it was abandoned most of the remains were washed into the sea.

St Phocas' Church was founded on what is now a clifftop at the Turkish city of Sinop, on the shores of the Black Sea, because this is where its patron saint was martyred.

The site was discovered when the Sinop museum found pieces of late Roman mosaic washed up at the coastal village of Chiftlik in the mid-1990s.

Dr Stephen Hill, from the University of Warwick, was asked to investigate by the museum and he found not just a mosaic, but the site of a large, previously unknown 4th century church.

"It will survive into next year but its long-term future is not good. It probably won't see too many more Friday 13ths," he said.

The church's founder, St Phocas, the patron saint of gardeners and sailors, was a Christian hermit who dug his own grave the day before he was martyred by Roman soldiers in the 2nd century AD.

Story filed: 00:44 Friday 13th December 2002


Friday, 13 December, 2002, 06:33 GMT

Demolition may unearth city's history


Archaeologists are hoping to unearth important traces of medieval life in Edinburgh as fire-damaged buildings in the city's Old Town are dismantled.

Work is under way to demolish properties gutted by the blaze which broke out in Scottish capital on Saturday.

The Old Town is one Edinburgh's most historic districts.


Several buildings were damaged by fire

People have lived and worked in the area for hundreds of years.

The properties damaged in the blaze mostly date back only to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

However, beneath them are remains which are thought to be at least one or two centuries older.

Demolition work is continuing on an eight-storey building on South Bridge.

Experts believe that they will discover artefacts and parts of dwellings from the 15th and 16th centuries or even earlier as the block is cleared.

Unique archaeology

Records are to be made of what is revealed on the site.

Edinburgh City Council's archaeologist John Lawson said the Old Town is an area of major interest.

He believes that any redevelopment will have to take account of its unique archaeology.

Fire ravages historic city centre

Click here to see pictures of the area

The blaze which swept through part of the World Heritage Site at the weekend destroyed 11 properties and damaged six more.

The city council has agreed to study the economic impact of the fire before approving any redevelopment of the area.

It is estimated that the cost of the damage will run into millions of pounds.

The cause of the fire is currently being investigated by the emergency services.

13 December 2002 23:55 GMT

Home   > News  > UK  > This Britain


Blaze in city centre may yield medieval secrets

By Paul Kelbie, Scotland Correspondent

14 December 2002


The fire that swept through the historic heart of Edinburgh last weekend might lead to the discovery by archaeologists of medieval secrets buried for centuries when damaged buildings are demolished.

A spokesman for Edinburgh City Council said: "This part of the old town has been a centre of city life for centuries. The Cowgate over the years has been built on in various stages as it developed.

"We expect to find the foundations of early houses at the very least and possibly various artefacts of medieval life. It's a case of just digging in and seeing what we can come up with."

The area, in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, is a World Heritage Site.

Many of the properties damaged in the blaze, which started last Saturday, date back to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The narrow cobbled streets and grey stone buildings evolved from a warren of homes and businesses that flourished beneath the South Bridge, built in 1788, which links The Mound and the rest of the city.

A series of 18th-century workshops where tanners, sailmakers and cobblers made wares to be sold in the open market on the bridge have left their mark on the area. Beneath these known remnants of a bygone age are thought to be the remains of a thriving community at least one or two centuries older.

Archaeologists believe that they will discover artefacts and parts of dwellings from the 15th and 16th centuries, or even earlier when the block adjacent to the South Bridge is cleared brick by brick.

Edinburgh City Council's archaeologist, John Lawson, has said the Old Town is an area of great interest, and fellow experts involved in sifting the debris to record discoveries acknowledge that the fire has presented them with a unique opportunity.

"There is so much history here that it almost feels as though the ground is saturated by it," said a member of the team yesterday. "The fire has been a tragedy for the city but it has also presented us with an opportunity to look even further into the past and perhaps find out a little more about life in Edinburgh during medieval times."

The blaze that swept through the area destroyed 11 properties and damaged six more. It is believed to have started in a nightclub and worked its way up through the buildings in the Cowgate, along Guthrie Street and onwards towards Chambers Street.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated. The cost of the damage is expected to run to millions of pounds.


Experts hope to solve mystery of 'lost' village


ARCHAEOLOGISTS at work at a North Yorkshire farm hope to solve the mystery of a village "lost" for almost 1,000 years.


Experts from English Heritage have been carrying out the first intensive survey at Griff, near Helmsley, one of the Yorkshire villages sacked when William the Conqueror brutally crushed a Northern rebellion in 1069.

At Griff Farm there is a

puzzling collection of earthworks which have links to nearby 12th century Rievaulx Abbey but may also belong to the earlier lost village, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

Griff was deserted at the time of the "Harrying of the North" in 1069, when William I savagely crushed opposition by slaughtering rebels and burning crops. On his deathbed the king is said to have expressed remorse for his actions.

The Norman lord Walter L'Espec later endowed Rievaulx with "nine carucates" of land at Griff.

Farmer Jonathan Fairburn invited archaeologists to investigate the remains – sharply-defined humps and bumps across 16 acres – after his in-terest was stirred by archaeology programmes on TV.

The site, where Mr Fairburn runs a bed and breakfast as well as sheep, pig and arable farming, was one of the largest of the many "granges" owned by monks from Rievaulx.

Lay brothers worked large tracts of land across the North from the 12th century to raise the money to build the Cistercian abbey. At Griff Farm they farmed sheep and may have made glass.

"The long-term aim is to provide interpretative boards for walkers on the Cleveland Way, which runs just 100 yards away," said Mr Fairburn, whose family has farmed at Griff for generations.

"It's a really puzzling relic and to my layman's eye it's difficult to understand the way all the features knit together.

"We're hoping the experts can provide the answers."

Surveyors using electronic equipment are mapping out the terrain to try to locate the mystery settlement. English Heritage field investigator Chris Dunn said the remains are very well preserved.

"There are clear indications of buildings, enclosures, track ways, ponds and even a quarry," he said.

"Finding the remains of the ancient village and distinguishing them from the monk's work is a tall order. But we're hopeful the survey will help."

Mr Fairburn is improving public access to the earthworks as part of a Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which gives landowners grants to improve the environment and wildlife.


Treasure trove verdict on precious finds

December 19, 2002 01:54


Three important ancient discoveries by metal detectors across Suffolk have been officially declared treasure and handed over to the British Museum.


The declaration was made at a series of three treasure trove inquests, held in Bury St Edmunds yesterday.


The finds include a collection of Roman silver coins, found at Worlington, near Mildenhall, and two medieval silver brooches, found at Wyverstone and Shimpling, near Diss.


All three finds were found to be treasure, under the 1997 Treasure Act, under which it has to be more than 300 years old and of more than 10pc silver or gold.


All the artefacts will now be handed over to the British Museum where they will be valued, that value will then be split between the finder and the landowner.


It is thought local museums in Bury St Edmunds and Mildenhall have already expressed an interest in having the pieces as exhibits and they will then have to raise the money set by the experts at the museum in London to purchase the artefacts.


The hearing heard how a gilt silver 13th Century brooch was discovered by metal detector Michael Watcham in Wyverstone, in September last year.


John Newman, field officer for Suffolk County Council's archaeology service, described it as 15mm in diameter and shaped in the form of four dragon's heads interconnected.


"It has two garnets, red semi-precious stones in, dates from the 13th Century and would have been worn by some affluent person of the time," he said.


"The pin is missing, which could be the reason why it was lost," he said.


The second brooch was discovered by Linda White who had been metal detecting in Shimpling, near Sudbury, in April last year.


Smaller, at 13mm diameter, Mr Newman said the gilt silver brooch dated from the same period and both had a high silver content.


The third find, by Steven Foster and John Brown, was of 31 silver Roman coins in Worlington, between October last year and March 2002.


Dating from around AD355, the small coins had been clipped around the edges, possibly be people taking pieces of silver from the coins.


Mr Newman said the coins could have been in circulation from the time of Julius Caesar into the Dark Ages, the 5th Century, and are of good silver.


"This amount of money could have brought a good cloak," he said, "but it would not have been enough to buy a slave."


"They are important finds," he added, especially the coins which come from the same area as the famous Mildenhall treasure.


"The coins come from the large late Roman population around the Fen edge, where inhabitants had access to coinage and wealth and the find falls in with the general pattern we have," Mr Newman added.


Medieval dig in market town

December 18, 2002 06:56


Archaeologists are set to carry out a further dig at a central Aylsham site after discovering rare evidence of medieval buildings.


Experts believe the finds may indicate that the town was more important than previously thought.


The remains have been discovered during a first excavation on the site of the former Coopers garage, in Red Lion Street, which is due for redevelopment.


But after other evidence of activity dating back to the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman times another dig is planned in the New Year before the shops and flats development goes ahead.


Norfolk Archaeological Unit dug seven trenches on the site and found evidence of medieval buildings dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, later than expected.


The dig was carried out to assess the importance of the Conservation Area site before it is built on by its new owners, Colchester-based Anglia Secure Homes.


Planning permission for three shops, six retirement flats and nine retirement cottages has been given, with the condition that an archaeological investigation was first carried out.


Andy Hutcheson, development control archaeologist with Norfolk Landscape Archaeology, said the evidence uncovered by the first dig had been extremely interesting.


"It's the first time medieval buildings have been discovered in a small town in the county. There is almost no information on building structures from that period in towns like these.


"We've found them in urban centres like Norwich, Thetford and King's Lynn but not in somewhere the size of Aylsham so this is very rare.


"They may tell us quite a lot about Aylsham's importance - it might be that Aylsham was more significant than we have given it credit for," said Mr Hutcheson.


"The site will be pretty much completely destroyed by the development and we feel that it's important to do this excavation while we have the opportunity."


During the medieval period Aylsham grew on the strength of its linen production, or Aylsham Web, as it was called.


The second dig, likely to take place early in the new year, will concentrate on the Red Lion Street frontage.


One theory is that the buildings found there are the remains of semi-permanent stalls, shops or workshops set beside the market to exploit passing trade following the expansion of St Michael's Churchyard towards the east in the later 12th to 13th centuries.


This church expansion could have severed the main north-south route - from Hungate Street to Cromer Road - through the town, creating the dog leg now formed by Penfold Street and Red Lion Street, shifting the market place eastwards.


Before the excavation the only evidence of life in Aylsham before late Saxon times came from two chance finds around the town.


A Claudius II Roman coin was discovered in the back garden of a house on Cromer Road and hoards of late Bronze Age metalwork were found in a garden on Sir William's Way when homes were being built there in 1968.


But this year's two-week dig also revealed a ditch of possible Iron Age date and a number of Bronze Age and Roman pottery sherds.


Andy Shelley, senior project manager with the Norfolk Archaeological Unit, said the site stood on a promontory overlooking the River Bure and was the perfect location to find Iron Age activity.


The discoveries were not enough to prove that the site had been settled but were a useful addition to the little that was recorded about the town's past.


"We don't have much information about Aylsham. Dr Sapwell summarised everything known about the town in his book the History of Aylsham," said Mr Shelley.


"Quite a lot is known about the post-medieval period and beyond but the documentary evidence shows that the parish dates from late Saxon times and there has been no archaeological work in Aylsham prior to September.


"Little is known about the size of these small market towns and what was going on there. To actually go out and do some digging in the centre of Aylsham has been very useful and it's given us some good stuff."


The dig also showed clear evidence of the former New Inn and the Bull Inn, both demolished in the last century.


Paul Edmondson, director of Anglia Secure Homes, said his firm specialised in developing brown field plots which had been in former use so they were accustomed to archaeological digs on their sites.


He recognised the importance of the information to Aylsham and the firm had donated the finds from the dig to Norfolk County Council's Norfolk Museums and Archaeological Service.


Thursday, 19 December, 2002, 10:58 GMT

Film team finds wreck of Ark Royal


Divers filming a BBC documentary have found the wreck of HMS Ark Royal, the famous wartime aircraft carrier.

The aircraft carrier became famous when its torpedo planes hit the German battleship Bismarck during the Second World War, allowing other British warships to close in and sink her.


HMS Ark Royal sank in the Mediterranean

But after that 1941 victory, the vessel herself was torpedoed by the German submarine U-81, 30 miles off Gibraltar.

A BBC spokesman said on Wednesday the wreck of the Ark Royal would not be raised.

Ministry of Defence personnel gave film makers a rough idea of the location of the Ark Royal.

Divers found her lying in 3,500ft of water - where she had been resting for the past 61 years.


When she sank she had been returning Hurricane aircraft fighter crews to Malta.

One sailor died while the rest of the 1,500 crew were picked up by other ships as the famous ship went down on November 13, 1941.

The ship was was commissioned on 16 November 1938 and took up a name famous in naval history.

The wreck of the ship was discovered as part of a project looking into the marine archaeology of great battles in the history of the Royal Navy.

A BBC spokesman said: "We do not intend to try to raise the ship. It still belongs to the MoD."

The programme was made by producer Mike Rossiter who filmed the raising of Donald Campbell's Bluebird boat, in a BBC1 documentary.