Launch for Tudor boat exhibition


An Elizabethan boat has gone on display in north Wales, years after being discovered lying beneath a lake.


The 16th century craft, which is already being hailed as a national treasure, appears in the Llanberis exhibition following decades of restoration work.


The pieces stayed there for seven or eight years because we could not get people interested in her


Named the Llyn Peris after the lake in which it was found, the boat was unearthed in 1979 by construction workers at the Dinorwig power station.


It then lay in the back garden of a local archaeologist, before carbon dating revealed the boat was from the Tudor period, between AD1547-AD1549, which made it a contemporary of the Mary Rose.


A research project also discovered the well-preserved boat, of oak construction, was large for the lake and would probably have transported passengers and animals as well as goods.


Local archaeologist Owain Roberts, who looked after the planks of wood for years after they were dredged up, explained how he helped restore the boat.

"I tried drying out a piece out and it dried out perfectly, so I decided to dry the entire boat out in pieces in a barn," said Mr Roberts.


Owain Roberts looked after the boat after it was found

"The pieces stayed there for seven or eight years because we could not get people interested in her."


But now people are queuing up to see the ancient craft.


John Roberts, Headmaster of Park View School, brought children to the boat to bring them out of their world.


"It shows them a comparison of life somewhere else in a different time and in a different culture," he said.


In the exhibition, the Llyn Peris lies alongside a smaller but older boat, also found during the construction of the power station, which dates from AD1187-AD1205.

It is believed this second boat, named the Llyn Peris Log boat, may have played a significant role in Llywelyn the Great's power over the 12th century waterways of north-west Wales.           



Crown returns to UK for first time since 1468


A medieval crown not seen in Britain for centuries has returned to the Tower of London for a Golden Jubilee exhibition.


The crown is studded with pearls and gems and left England in 1468 and never returned.


It belonged to Margaret of York who was sister of Edward IV and the aunt of the Princes in the Tower.


The Times says she took it abroad when she married Charles the Bold of Burgundy.


The crown is on loan from Aachen Cathedral in Germany and is part of an exhibition called The Castle and The Crown.


It bears Margaret's name in coloured enamel and is on loan from Germany's Aachen Cathedral.


Other ancient pieces of royal regalia have been reunited at the Tower for the exhibition. These include the travelling cases used to transport the Crown Jewels and the menu from Richard III's coronation banquet in 1483.


Other items include Mary II's Coronation Ring of 1689 and the long dagger thought to have been used by Colonel Thomas Blood in 1671 in the only attempt to steal the Crown Jewels.


Entry to the exhibition, running until September 29, is included with the usual 11.50 adult and 7.50 child tickets to the Tower.


Story filed: 07:36 Thursday 30th May 2002


Run-down cow shed turns out to be Tudor treasure

By Peter Foster

(Filed: 24/05/2002)


Until the men from the ministry told him otherwise, Percy Jones had considered the dilapidated, old barn on his 25-acre Welsh hill farm as a convenient place to house his dwindling herd of Charollais cows.


But what Mr Jones, 85, had always thought of as his "tatty old shed" was, in truth, an "exceptional example of a sub-medieval two-cell Tudor farmhouse, dating from 1550".


To his even greater surprise, the teetering structure was deemed worthy of starred Grade II listed status and, more importantly, worthy of a 50,000 grant for its reconstruction.


"I was somewhat amazed," said Mr Jones yesterday from his farm in Mamhilad, near Pontypool, Gwent. "It has been a cow shed for as long as anyone can remember. It has always been run-down - we were just waiting for it to fall down."

Officials of the monuments group Cadw - the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage - traced the property back in local archives and discovered it to be Ty Asch House, built in 1550 for a wealthy Tudor family.


"It has never been renovated and that's what makes it such a treasure, apparently," added Mr Jones, who lives with his son, Raymond, 52, in a 1960s bungalow on the farm.


With the promise of a 50,000 grant, the pair are now planning to sink all their capital - about 100,000 - into renovating the property as heritage holiday accommodation for tourists.


"We were planning to spend the money doing up the bungalow," Mr Jones added, "but the man from Cadw told us, 'Forget the bungalow, it's trash. You're better off putting the money into the old building'."


There are some losers in all this - namely the Jones's eight Charollais cows who have long preferred the barn to their own purpose-built shed because of its proximity to a nearby brook.


"The cows had a choice of barns but they always preferred the old cottage. I'm sure they had no idea they were staying in a historical treasure. The heritage people said the cows had to be out right away. They were very distressed. We didn't get any milk for a week."


The sandstone building has the original spiral stone staircase, an 8ft fireplace, some original oak doors and diamond mullion window frames.


Some of the 400-year-old rendering stills clings to the walls, but the original stone roof has been replaced by corrugated iron sheets. According to Cadw, a bakery was added to the property about 100 years after the original homestead was constructed. There was also a three-acre pear orchard which supplied fruit for cider making.


The six-month renovation project is due to start in July. The original features will be preserved but modern facilities will be installed under the watchful eye of official architects.


A spokesman for Cadw said yesterday: "It is a classic example of the vernacular building style. Somewhat extraordinarily, it has been almost completely unaltered since the time of its construction and retains most of its original features.


"It was still used as a farmhouse until 1930 but hadn't been altered. It then became a house for the cows.


"We approved the 50,000 in principle and will work closely with the farmer to ensure that it is properly preserved."


Saturday, 25 May, 2002, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK


Bones found at Tsar's murder site


Human remains have been found at the site where the last Tsar of Russia and his family were murdered in 1918.


It is thought that the bones - two skulls and a leg bone - could be those of Tsarevich Aleksei and Tsarevna Maria, two of Tsar Nicholas II's children, Russia's Ren TV reports.


It is difficult to say how such a grave happened to be here

Archaeologist Vladislav Svyatov


Their bodies were not among those buried in the mass grave after the Romanov family were executed by Bolsheviks, following the Russian Revolution the previous year.


Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and three of his five children, Tatiana, Olga and Anastasia, were reburied in the imperial tomb in St Petersburg's St Peter and Paul Cathedral in 1998, along with their doctor and three of their servants.

But the bodies of the two other children have never been found.


The discovery was made by construction workers in Yekaterinburg, 20 metres from Ipatyev House - the spot where the Tsar's family were shot.


A Russian Orthodox church, the Saviour-of-the-Blood cathedral, is being built on the site.


A church marks the spot of the Romanov killings


The bones have been sent to a regional forensic laboratory and initial analysis suggests that the remains are of a woman and child.


This could fit the age profile of Tsarevna Maria and Tsarevich Aleksei.


Archaeologist Vladislav Svyatov told Ren TV: "A fragment of a leg, presumably a human leg, was found. It is possible that it may be related to the skulls, but maybe not.


"Before excavations have been conducted, it is impossible to say."


A similar discovery was made two years ago during the excavation of Ipatyev House.


At the time, it was thought that the bodies might have been those of the Tsarevich and Tsarevna, but tests showed that the bones had been buried there before the killing of the Tsar's family.


"It is possible that this case will be similar. It is difficult to say how such a grave happened to be here. But the fact that somebody was buried here has been established," Vladislav Svyatov said.


Scientists say the bones found in the mass grave are highly likely to be those of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, but their identities have not been conclusively established.


The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Russia, Alexei II, disputed the authenticity of the findings and refused to officiate at the family's reburial ceremony.


Ren TV reports that the Yekaterinburg clergy have already informed Patriarch Alexei II of the latest discovery.


Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK


Faces from the Ice Age

By Dr David Whitehouse

BBC News Online science editor  


What could be the oldest lifelike drawings of human faces have been uncovered in a cave in southern France.


The images were first recognised over 50 years ago, but were then lost after doubts were cast on their authenticity.


Now, one German scientist, Dr Michael Rappenglueck, of Munich University, says it is time the pictures were reassessed.


And there could be other surprises awaiting archaeologists, he believes, when they look not at the walls of prehistoric painted caves, but at the floor.


The faces on this page were discovered carved on the floor of a cave at La Marche in the Lussac-les-Chateaux area of France.


The cave system was discovered in 1937 by French scientist Leon Pencard, who excavated it for five years. Over 1,500 slabs were found on which images were etched.


The pictures are difficult to interpret. Sometimes several images are superimposed on one another. But to the trained and expectant eye they reveal extraordinary wonders.


From the La Marche caves there are lions, bears, antelope, horses - and 155 lifelike human figures.


These images of "real people" - male and female faces, people in robes, hats and boots - may date back 15,000 years. This was long before the rise of the great civilisations and a time when Europe was firmly in the grip of an Ice Age.

If correct, this would make them far older, for example, than the symbolic face recently recognised, carved into a rock at Stonehenge.


Some pictures are difficult to interpret


"They have been completely overlooked by modern science," Dr Rappenglueck told BBC News Online. "They were mentioned in a few books many decades ago and dismissed as fakes - and since then nothing."


The portraits were carved into limestone slabs that were then carefully placed on the floor.


The illustrations are not the stick-like figures seen in prehistoric cave paintings such as the images in the more famous Lascaux cave system that probably date back 17,000 years; or at Chauvet that go back more than 30,000 years.


However, it has sometimes been asked why the animals painted on the walls of such caves are so much more lifelike than the human forms depicted with them.

Could it be because the more sophisticated human pictures were placed on the floor, asks Dr Rappenglueck?


If so, such treasures on the floors of other prehistoric caves may have been accidentally destroyed.


One of the first things that archaeologists used to do when examining such caves was to level and strengthen the floor, not thinking that what was under their feet could be just as significant as what was on the cave walls.


In Lascaux, for example, the floor was obliterated to make way for visitors in the 1950s. There is no way of knowing if anything significant was destroyed.

Stars in the ground


Dr Rappenglueck speculates that many archaeological wonders could have been covered up.


"On the floors of one cave I noticed a series of pits arranged in the shape of the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters) star cluster," he said.


Drawings of the Pleiades have been found by Dr Rappenglueck on the walls of many Neolithic caves in several parts of Europe, but until now no cosmic marks had been found on cave floors.


He speculates that the small holes could have been filled with animal fat and set alight mimicking the flickering stars in the sky.


"Perhaps this is the origin of the candlelit festivals of the Far East where lighted candles are held in the shape of the Pleiades. Perhaps it is a tradition that stretches back tens of thousands of years into our Stone Age past."

The early, early show


When did humans first make tools?

And when, asks Tom Lubbock, did they first see them as beautiful as well as useful? A new display at the British Museum spotlights the cloudy origins of our creativity

28 May 2002


An interest in cavemen is a form of secular piety. In a world without gods, we look to the earliest humans as our great representatives. In a world without creation myths, the original members of our species are key figures. The stone age is a heroic age, full of great inaugural deeds. We're cheered by our beginnings, and we cheer back. We applaud our remote ancestors every step of the way along the road to becoming recognisably like ourselves. Their remains are not only evidence of achievements. They're trophies of the tremendous success story.


The oldest things in the British Museum are some roundish bits of rock, about the size of cricket balls, found in Tanzania in 1931. They wouldn't catch your eye if you came across them on a beach. They aren't obviously shaped. They don't have human hand written all over them. But they are hand-sized, and if you take a closer look you can see that they've been sharpened. This was done around 1.8 million years ago. A new thing in the world: an artefact. Hurrah!


These three pieces of quartzite and lava are among the exhibits in Prehistory: Objects of Power, a new permanent display at the museum. It's an early, early show, featuring tools, vessels, weapons, ornaments, images, totems and objects of obscure design. The story starts in Africa, but the catchment area is mainly Europe. The time span covered is boggling, from 1.8 million years ago right up to about 1200BC from chipped rocks to cast bronze and beaten gold. But 1200BC is getting a bit late for really heroic earliness. The human race is by then a fully established enterprise. The pioneer spirit has passed.


But the beautiful flint Acheulian hand-axe, shaped like a teardrop this is more like it. It's also a milestone in archaeology, in the modern understanding of just how old things could be. It was found in 1797 by the antiquarian John Frere at Hoxne, Suffolk. He remarked that the object must date from "a very remote period indeed; even beyond that of the present world" (wryly referring to the then standard Bible-based calculation that the world was created in 4004BC). The object is now reckoned to be 400,000 years old.


I called the hand-axe beautiful. Was it supposed to be? That's the kind of question this exhibition is specifically trying to raise. Its emphasis is not on utilitarian technology as such, but on the step beyond utility. The flint has a symmetry and an even finish to its glinting-faceted surface which suggest that its cutting power was not the only consideration. The look of it was important, too. And its still very fine point doesn't seem to have been blunted by any use at all.

So we're asked to have an eye here for the gratuitous, the impractical. Surely that axe there is actually too large to wield. Surely this carving is a pattern. We're to wonder what these things are art-works, luxuries, prestige goods, ritual objects? We're to see, even at this very remote period, another great leap forward for mankind the beginnings of the aesthetic or the symbolic.


But it must be admitted that for us the power of these Objects of Power is partly the power of the unknown. They glimmer with suggestiveness. They lurk on the edge of the comprehensible. We can well imagine the skill, the know-how, the transmission of knowledge, that must go into the making of leaf-like, flake-thin spear-tips. We can see their makers had minds. But what went on in them we can't really imagine. Did they make a distinction between the useful and the more-than-useful? Did they make it in anything like the way we would?


By the Upper Paleolithic period (35000-10000BC), the aesthetic, the symbolic or whatever you call it were well under way. Beads were worn, caves painted, wood whittled into reindeer and mammoths, female figures carved, pebbles marked with red ochre dots and stripes that might well be signs. The art of this time speaks with baffling (deceptive?) familiarity. Look at the little image of a fallen bison scratched onto a stone. It doesn't look like a stiff, rule-bound, abstracted "primitive style". This sketch is fluent, spontaneous; an instance of a highly practised drawing culture, one able to improvise and assimilate new information, a language not a code. So it seems. And then, perhaps, you feel: but no, it can't be. It was so long ago. We can't possibly understand these people. Our sense of affinity must be an illusion, an anachronism to do, surely, with the influence of modern art.


When Frere examined that teardrop hand-axe in 1797 he was doubtless moved by various feelings, but not by a feeling for its beauty. His eyes had not been educated by 20th-century design to admire the simple, contained form and the mottled surface. But us: we can look around this show and see Modernism everywhere. You could happily take any of these stone knives, scrapers, axe-heads, enlarge them, and set them on a plinth in the middle of a plaza.

Not a coincidence, of course. This is where modern art got many of its ideas from. The Judean carving of two lovers locked together in a single piece of stone might easily be a model for Brancusi's The Kiss. The smooth, polished mace-head with an empty hole where the shaft went looks just like a miniature Hepworth (such shaft-holes are certainly behind Moore and Hepworth's use of voids). Someone who knows the work of the sculptor Peter Randall Page may be surprised to see how directly it draws inspiration from some small carved stone balls, about 3000BC, found in Scotland, function unknown.


The point was stated explicitly more than 50 years ago by an exhibition at the ICA entitled 40,000 years of Modern Art, in which very ancient and very modern artworks were juxtaposed for resemblance. At the time, that idea was treated sceptically. We could imitate their look, we could be deliberately "primitivist", but what genuine common ground could there be between us and our hunting fathers?


But the curator of this show, Jill Cook, is rather more willing to see a distant mirror. The likenesses are not so deceptive, she thinks. Looking at the abundance, sophistication and variety of its creations, she describes the Upper Paleolithic as an era of artistic freedom without parallel until, indeed, our own 20th century. It's the kind of claim at which one can only gawp, not really having a clue what it would mean, what would be evidence for or against. But it is clear that after that period, art straightened up considerably and, in some places, vanished. As for standards of draftsmanship, it is not obvious that European art has ever improved on what was done in the caves.


We always want something out of the cavemen. We want to learn about who we humans really are, how we started, why we're so special, where it all went wrong, origins, falls, the usual stuff. But the cavemen and their remains can't answer. First things are always elusive, retrospective. The earliest tools, the earliest ornaments, are evidence that tools and ornaments had already begun to be made. The British Museum only takes artefacts. It draws a clear line between the human and the natural worlds. But evolution doesn't. Try to go back to source and you go back to slime. There is much to learn about human beginnings and they will always be a mystery: like a bottomless well, irresistibly absorbing.

'Prehistory: Objects of Power', British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1 (020-7323 8000) free