Non-invasive tools key to first mapping of early Louisiana culture

Contact: Andrea Lynn, Humanities & Social Sciences



University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign




Archaeologists have hit pay dirt at Poverty Point, La.

Using a variety of advanced non-intrusive instruments, an Army Corps of Engineers team has for the first time geophysically found and mapped "subsurface architecture and cultural features" that were constructed by the area's early residents, the Poverty Point Culture (about 1730 to 1350 B.C.).

Tad Britt, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said his team produced "very accurate maps" of man-made ridges and trenches just below the surface of the ground. They surveyed ridges 1-5 of the southwest sector of Macon Ridge, above the Mississippi River floodplain.

The maps document the precise arrangement of and spacing between the concentric semicircular ridges and trenches. Ridges range from 65 to 115 feet apart, with the outermost being three-quarters of a mile in diameter -- all "indicative of a carefully designed and well-executed plan," Britt said.

The earthworks may have been used as a marketplace, and three circular anomalies found on the ridges may be post holes for roundhouses, built at different times. "The site was occupied for almost 1,500 years and was continually being modified. What remains is a palimpsest of human occupations."

One of the goals of the project, in addition to collecting data about the hidden features, was to determine which non-invasive instruments worked best at detecting subsurface anomalies "indicative of cultural features," Britt said. Magnetic field gradiometry and electrical resistivity proved most successful. In addition to Britt, the principal investigator, team members were Michael Hargrave and Janet Simms; all three work for the Corps' Engineer Research and Development Center.

Previous non-invasive surveys by other archaeologists were inconclusive. Similarly, traditional excavations at the site over the past 100 years have failed to provide "a clear understanding of the nature, distribution and density of archaeological features such as pits, hearths, post holes and other structural remains," Britt said.

Despite the latest discoveries, the huge, 400-acre site remains "unique and enigmatic" -- much of the current understanding regarding its evolution and its inhabitants' subsistence, lifeways and social order "still speculative and largely based on data recovered from surface finds and limited test excavation."

Nevertheless, Poverty Point is a critical archaeological site in the United States and a textbook case for the evolution of a non-agricultural, socially complex culture.

Elsewhere during the same time period, American Indians lived "a much simpler lifestyle as hunter-gatherers," Britt said. "There are some exceptions, all in Louisiana, that predate Poverty Point by a couple thousand years. But they do not possess the level or scale of the Poverty Point site."

Recent archaeological studies in the area indicate that the earliest mounds in the Americas also are in northeast Louisiana. Those mounds are earlier than the Olmec mounds in Mexico, he said, and even the Egyptian pyramids at Giza.


Earliest New World writing revealed

19:00 05 December 02

NewScientist.com news service


The discovery of a fist-sized ceramic cylinder and fragments of engraved plaques has pushed back the earliest evidence of writing in the Americas by at least 350 years to 650 BC.

Rolling the cylinder printed symbols indicating allegiance to a king - a striking difference from the Old World, where the oldest known writing was used for keeping records by the first accountants.

Archaeologists uncovered the cylinder and fingernail-sized fragments among debris from an ancient festival at San Andres, an Olmec town on the coastal plain of the Mexican state of Tabasco.

Carbon dating of layers in the rubbish heap gave age of the artefacts. The next-oldest writing from the region is on a monument at a site of the Zapotec culture 300 kilometres to the west. But its date is poorly constrained, to sometime between 300 BC and 200 AD. Three later cultures in the same area used similar writing, the well-known Mayan, and the lesser-known Isthmain and Oxacan.

The cylinder shows two glyphs linked by lines to the mouth of a bird, giving the impression the glyphs are being spoken. One is "ajaw," meaning "king," and the other "three ajaw", a day in the sacred 260-day calendar used throughout the region for over a millennium.


"It's a kind of royal seal, used in decoration," Mary Pohl, an  anthropologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, told New Scientist. People in San Andres probably wore it "to show their fealty to the king" who resided at the main Olmec city of La Venta nearby.

The Olmec were the first American culture with a distinct ruling class, and Pohl believes they developed writing for rituals and rulers. Later Mesoamerican writing retained the links to kings and rituals, including the sacred calendar. Pohl says that writing could have originated at the start of the first Olmec culture in 1300 BC, but no evidence has survived.

In contrast, Old World writing is far older and traces back to tokens placed in clay envelopes to keep account of animals or other possessions. By about 3000 BC, symbols written on tablets replaced the tokens, becoming the world's first writing.

Journal reference: Science (vol 298, p 1984)




Preparing for Olympics, Athens Really Digs In

Construction Often Becomes Archaeology

By Amy Shipley

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, December 1, 2002; Page A01



At the edge of a muddy construction site sits a rec- tangular, weather-proof box, the size of a trailer. The box, surrounded by a chain-link fence, remains undisturbed as nearby bulldozers push mounds of red clay and debris, but it will be opened like a giant present when the Summer Olympic Games get underway in August 2004.

The contents of the box will become the centerpiece of the Olympic Village. Inside is a portion of the Roman Emperor Hadrian's aqueduct that dates from about 100 A.D. When the Games begin, 10,000 athletes will greet something that is 1,900 years old.

Throughout Athens, the birthplace of the Games, government and Olympic officials are rushing to finish some three dozen construction projects. The partially built venues, highways and railways are intended to bring Athens soaring into the new millennium -- preferably in time for the Summer Games. But even as officials strain to meet deadlines, they must tiptoe around delicate remnants of the ancient past, tangible pieces of history that tend to turn up in Greece whenever a shovel strikes earth.

At the equestrian site in Marcopoulo, archeologists found a number of ancient dwellings and tombs, including remains of what is believed to be a 2,500-year-old temple to the love goddess Aphrodite -- and which may also have served as a brothel. At the rowing and sailing site at Schinias Beach, the site of the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C., the foundations of three 4,500-year-old homes were discovered.

"Not only will the Olympic Games be done in places where the Olympics were born in antiquity, but in areas where antiquity is there," said Nicoletta Valakou, the directorate of prehistoric and classical antiquities at the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. "We have the modern and antiquity together in a very good combination."

After the beautiful and smooth-running Sydney Games in 2000, many wondered how Athens, then mired in pollution and endless blueprints, could present a Games that did not look flawed by comparison. Greek sports deputy minister Giorgos Lianis, when asked to name Athens's greatest challenge, replied with one word: "Sydney." Athens officials would greatly have preferred to follow the oft-criticized '96 Games in Atlanta, marred by a bomb and rampant commercialism.

But Athens officials are more optimistic these days. They say they will do what no other Olympic host can: present Athens's extensive history -- actual pieces of it -- with care and grace. Not only will television cameras pan the Acropolis, the Roman Agora, Hadrian's Arch and the other well-known monuments of Athens, but just about every significant artifact discovered while digging or bulldozing will be displayed near the site of its excavation.

"We are very fortunate to have this unique heritage," said Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the president of the Athens Organizing Committee for the 2004 Games. "We are the ones, even if it causes some delays, who have found a way to expose these findings. We are very proud of all of this."

Construction projects throughout Greece, no matter how maddeningly behind schedule or egregiously over budget or internationally important -- all of which generally have applied in the case of the Olympics -- are required by federal law to proceed with a rigid adherence to archaeological guidelines rather than modern deadlines. Work snakes around ancient finds, but never over or through them. When an instrument strikes an artifact, construction stops. Authorities are summoned. Excavations are undertaken by archaeologists from 25 districts throughout Greece. The Central Archeological Council assesses the value of discovered artifacts and makes recommendations about how to deal with them. The Hellenic Ministry of Culture ultimately calls the shots.

Plans are often changed. Delays of months are not uncommon. The builder -- not the archaeologists -- is responsible for picking up the tab. Nobody is expected to complain.

"It's a very strict law," said Panos Protopsaltis, the organizing committee's transportation general manager. "Whenever you discover something, you don't just improvise, you call the archaeologists and they come and impose their own rules. We may not like their pace, but we respect their mission. This is inevitable."

In the case of the equestrian site, some 10 miles southeast of Athens, government officials demanded that plans be revised before a single scoop of earth had been moved to avoid apparent sites of antiquities. Even so, archaeologists found the temple, houses, tombs and various items of interest that warranted the commencement of 20 digs. Olympic construction eventually resumed -- but only where the archaeologists weren't working.

At the rowing and sailing site 25 miles outside of Athens, building continued only after the Greek government agreed to dismantle and move the remnants of the Neolithic homes 50 yards, a laborious and expensive process. Archaeologists, environmentalists and government officials debated the necessity of moving the artifacts, which the Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos had at first deemed of little value. Not surprisingly, the voice of the preservationists won out.

The portion of Hadrian's aqueduct found at the Olympic Village was unearthed by archaeologists before construction had begun. It was enclosed in a protective trailer, where it will remain until the building is complete. Then it will be displayed, incorporated as a central component of the design of the village square.

Officials say it is impossible to put a price tag on the archaeological work, which has been absorbed into the overall construction costs. All told, the government and organizing committee have budgeted more than $6 billion to prepare for and stage the Games.

Despite all of the delays, Athens officials say the venues are on schedule. (Other venues, such as those slated for the old airport grounds at Helliniko, are further behind.) The International Olympic Committee, which two years ago threatened to move the Games if Athens did not speed up its glacier-paced Olympic construction, has accepted the antiquity-related challenges with little grumbling.

"You can't really turn around and say, 'Keep the bulldozer going and don't tell anybody,' " said IOC marketing director Michael Payne. The finds "will be part of the beauty of these Games. You will see an incredibly beautiful city in 2004."

It was in Athens that the first Olympics were staged in about 776 B.C., and it was here that the modern Games resumed in 1896. When the IOC awarded the Olympics to Athens in 1997, members admitted they did so largely as an apology for not having given Athens the centennial Olympics. Had the '96 bid been better organized, Athens likely would have won the Games then.

"The 3,000-year heritage is unique," Payne said. "The visual presentation [of the city] to what the athletes will experience in walking in the footsteps of their predecessors three millennia ago is an incredibly powerful cocktail."

The laborious process of tilling the earth for antiquities is far from unique to Olympic preparations. At various stops on the gleaming, meticulously clean Athens metro, which opened in early 2000 and is being extended for the Summer Games, archaeological exhibits greet riders. Artifacts up to 3,000 years old, which were discovered in the very earth through which the metro trains speed, are displayed in glass-enclosed cases.

Such museum-like displays, or roped-off areas for larger artifacts, are likely to welcome Olympic visitors in 2004.

"We do feel pride because a lot of things were there, and the archaeological service had no opportunity and funds to do its job," said George Kazantzopoulos, the Games' environment chief. "The problem with Greece is there are so many archaeological findings; they don't have the funds required to protect and reveal everything. This is a very good opportunity for them.

"Thank God they were there. The end result has made us all proud."

2002 The Washington Post Company


Archaeologists celebrate ancient sea wall find at prime development site

Yorkshire Post 29/11/02


THE discovery of ancient flood defences on the banks of the Humber could change the shape of a proposed 12m waterfront office complex.

Two weeks into the dig at Island Wharf, in Hull, archaeologists from Humber Archaeology Partnership have uncovered two walls the oldest of which could date back to the beginning of the 17th century.

At the time the area from the Marina to Hessle was a series of shipbuilding yards and slipways. In the 1680s a major pier was built to the west of where the men are now digging.

Head of Humber Archaeology Partnership Dave Evans said: "One of the walls we have excavated looks like it is heading out to meet that pier.

"There were flood defences along the banks of the river to stop it being eroded away, but we have no idea which form they took.''

The walls are the only examples from the period in the whole region and need to be preserved, said Mr Evans.

This means the designers are going to have to go back to the drawing board on the proposals which included low-level parking.

"If the car park was above the ground it would be alright," said Mr Evans. "They could place the piles to avoid the walls.

"However they won't be able to have one floor below the ground.''

If planners give the go-ahead, more than 2,000 square metres of high quality office accommodation will be built on the site, with new public walkways and a public square.

In response to demand for public access, there will also be a new promenade along the Humber and "extensive" areas of public open space.

Hull-based Northern Foods has been earmarked as the tenant for a new 22,000 square feet office complex at the heart of the development.

The proposal which will be funded by the taxpayer via Yorkshire Forward is the latest in a long line for Island Wharf, a prime city site at one time earmarked for the University of Lincoln's new campus in Hull.


Sixteenth-century fort is discovered at Leith



REMAINS of a sixteenth century fortress have been uncovered during building work by developers in Edinburgh.

Last night, archaeologists described the discovery of parts of the military stronghold as being of "national significance".

The 30-metre wall discovered in Leith - at part of a Bryant Homes development - is thought to belong to Ramsay fort, built between 1548 and 1559 to repel the English.

Two walls were discovered last year and are thought to represent a fortification of 1649 and an eighteenth-century sea wall built against it. Exploratory trenches were then dug in the summer by archaeologists employed by Bryant.

They have now uncovered the older wall, which is two metres wide and 1.5 metres high.

Graeme Wilson, a partner of EASE Archaeology who has been examining the site, said: "It is rare to uncover something so significant and so substantial in the city, so we are excited by the find.

"The remains of these walls are in a much better state of preservation than we expected and are of national significance."

Seven cannonballs, believed to have belonged to French defenders of the fort, were found on Monday, providing near-certain proof that the wall is part of Ramsay fort, Mr Wilson said. "It is designed by an Italian and built by French labourers to repel English invaders," he added.

James V's widow, Mary of Guise, built the fortress and employed about 2000 French soldiers to defend it against an English army led by Earl Somerset during the 1560 siege of Leith.

The English won the siege and ordered the fort to be demolished, leaving the exact whereabouts a mystery.

A map dating from 1563 and drawn from the top of Arthur's Seat shows the fortification surrounding Leith but is not clear enough to pinpoint its location. It was thought that the wall extended along what is now Bernard Street next to the Forth, but the find in Tower Street confirms a 10-year-old theory that it was further inland.

Bryant Homes, Historic Scotland and Edinburgh Council are in discussions over how best to preserve the wall in the complex of residential buildings.

Most of the wall is due to be buried under a car park after being lined with a "geotextile membrane" and topped with a layer of sand.

Archaeologists believe that, if it was left exposed to the elements, it would gradually decay as it was worn down by the weather. However, it is hoped that a portion of the wall may be left exposed and open to the public.

John Lawson, archaeologist for Edinburgh Council, said sections of the wall would be preserved "in situ" and protected from further decay.

He added: "The important thing is that it will now be preserved for future generations."

-Dec 4th



Wisconsin archaeological digs turn up fur trader's cabin, Indian village

Associated Press

Published Dec. 2, 2002       ARCH03



Archaeological digs in western Wisconsin uncovered the site of an Indian village, various artifacts - and even the foundation of a fur trader's cabin near Prairie du Chien.

``The foundation is a big find,'' said Ryan Howell, a researcher with the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center that was involved in the summer digs. ``There are very few left in Prairie du Chien, and even less excavated for archaeological purposes.''

The foundation was found in July under about a foot of soil on a private landowner's property on the southern end of Prairie du Chien during survey work for a proposed U.S. 18 highway bypass.

Howell said the limestone slabs were probably from the cabin of a small-scale fur trader, dating back to the end of the 1700s or early 1800s.

Along with the intact foundation, the dig unearthed such items as musket balls, buttons, jewelry and clothing pieces, personal items, a sword or dagger blade, brass thimbles, brass kettles, pipe pieces and French gun flints.

``This was my biggest find this summer and the most interesting because it is such a rare find,'' Howell said.

The state Transportation Department and an engineering firm sponsored the dig.

Two other digs over the summer at communities along the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin were at a farm site in Onalaska and on land owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Stoddard.

At Onalaska, a 27-member crew including University of Wisconsin-La Crosse students, regional archeologists and community volunteers worked at a farm that is planned for redevelopment as a residential neighborhood. The work at the Meir Farm continued for six weeks.

After scraping away a layer of earth with a bulldozer, the students discovered remnants of a village from 500 years ago. Pot remnants were used to date the site.

``We found a lot of refuse and ceramic pots,'' said Danielle Benden, a UW-La Crosse senior and teaching assistant for the field work.

Regional Archaeologist Ernie Boszhardt said the remnants were from the Oneota, who probably were ancestors to the Ho-Chunk and Ioway tribes.

Among the finds was the shoulder blade of a bison, which had been used as a garden hoe, indicating the land's former occupants where not only hunters and gatherers but also farmers, Benden said.

The students' finds are being analyzed by the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center.

At Stoddard, the center's laboratory director Constance Arzigian and educators from the La Crosse School District worked on a dig at a site where a resident wanted to put in a septic tank on land owned by the Corps of Engineers.

A dig done last year in Stoddard found signs that Mississippian and Woodland peoples had lived there in the past.

This summer's dig allowed researchers to learn how spread out the early inhabitants were, Arzigian said.

``With the teachers we got much better evidence of what they (Mississippian and Woodland peoples) were doing there and also added another component - the Oneota,'' she said.

The dig uncovered pots, stone tools, stone knives, scrapers and clam shell fragments.

``The pottery was the most distinct feature,'' Arzigian said.


World heritage bid a step closer

Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 10:52 GMT


Plans to secure the same world heritage status for former mining areas in the South West as enjoyed by Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China have moved a step closer.

A local firm of planning and regeneration consultants has been appointed to prepare an Economic Impact Assessment, as part of the bid submission to the United Nations.

The study has been commissioned by the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site Bid project.

In 1999 the government nominated Cornwall's mining heritage as one of 25 sites it would like to put up for World Heritage site status.

Roger Tym & Partners' assessment will consider the potential economic impact of a successful bid on heritage, green tourism and local businesses.

The report is due for completion in June 2003.


Dear All,


Some of you may have been following news of the deal between the UK Government and a Florida-based company, Marine Odyssey Exploration Inc, for salvage from the wreck of the warship Sussex which sank off Gibraltar in 1694.


Edward O'Hara, Labour MP for Knowsley South, has lodged an "Early Day Motion" noting concern about the purpose and terms of the deal which I copy at the foot of this message. The motion has been co-sponsored by Richard Allan MP (Lib Dem, Sheffield Hallam) who has also placed a series of eleven parliamentary questions about the deal.


"Early Day Motions" (EDMs) are a means to raise attention about an issue within Parliament. Once lodged, Members of the House of Commons are free to sign-up to signify their endorsement. They remain "open" for sign-up for the duration of the parliamentary Session. EDMs are not normally directly debated, but may be refered to in debate.


The Council for British Archaeology wholeheartedly endorses Mr O'Hara's motion and intends to write to MPs to ask that they support it. You too can help very greatly in fostering support for the motion by writing to your MP requesting that they sign the motion.  You can find some background information setting out the CBA's concerns about the Sussex deal in our original press release of 8th October 2002 which can be found on our website at:  http://www.britarch.ac.uk/conserve/sussex.html.


Very many thanks in advance for any support you can give.


Best wishes


Alex Hunt

Research and Conservation Officer

Council for British Archaeology

Tel: 01904 671417

Fax: 01904 671384

Web: http://www.britarch.ac.uk




This is Leicestershire

10:30 - 29 November 2002







A shortage of skilled workers is threatening the upkeep of the UK's historic buildings.


Leicester restoration company Norman and Underwood admits it is struggling to keep up with its order books.


John Castleman, director of the roofing division, said: "We try not to turn work away. But there's a concern that no-one is coming through the ranks."


The warning follows the publication of The State of the Historic Environment Report, a survey of the nation's landmarks. It shows a shortage of bricklayers, stone masons and scaffolders.


Norman and Underwood, in Freeschool Lane, is working on a contract to restore oak beams and stonework at the medieval Salisbury Cathedral.


Mr Castleman said the company has seven apprentices out of its total workforce of 240. It tries to take on two or three apprentices a year, but finds it difficult to attract interest and some drop out after the first year.