'Anglia Man' becomes earliest Ancient Briton
BY MARK HENDERSON, SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT
The Times: British News
June 04, 2002
RECENT discoveries are forcing scientists to rewrite the opening chapters of the history of mankind in Britain.
Research in East Anglia, and a new analysis of bones found two decades ago in a Somerset quarry, show that human beings have been living in Britain for up to 200,000 years longer than has generally been thought. Mankind’s ancestors may have migrated here as long as 700,000 years ago.
Until now, the oldest evidence of early human beings, or hominids, in Britain came from about 500,000 years ago, the date attributed to Boxgrove Man, a member of the species Homo heidelbergensis whose remains were unearthed at Boxgrove in West Sussex in 1993.
The first results of the £1.2 million Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, however, indicate that the first Britons are almost certainly much older. Animal remains found at a hominid settlement on the East Anglian coast have been dated to 700,000 years ago, indicating that “Anglia Man” is at least that old. A re-examination of animal bones and artefacts unearthed in the 1980s at Westbury-sub-Mendip, in Somerset, have shown evidence of early human activity 100,000 years before Boxgrove Man.
Scientists involved in the project are unwilling to disclose the precise location or nature of the East Anglian site because it is still being excavated; they are concerned that it will attract trophy hunters.
The revised date for Westbury alone, however, is being hailed as one of the most exciting developments in British archaeology and palaeontology since the Boxgrove finds.
“The evidence is starting to mount in favour of hominids having been here for a long time before Boxgrove,” said Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum, and director of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project. “We don’t yet have the hominid fossils, as we do for Boxgrove Man, but there are firm hints that settlement goes back as far as 700,000 years.”
Andy Currant, from the museum’s department of palaeontology, said: “We are getting big surprises. The dates are massively earlier than what we thought they were, by an order of 100,000 years.”
Human remains, such as the tibia and teeth found at Boxgrove, have yet to be unearthed from older periods, but cut marks on animal bones and flints shaped into primitive hand-axes have been found at the new sites. Both are firm indicators that mankind’s ancestors were present, because no other animal could account for them. At Westbury, for example, there are bones belonging to rhinoceroses, hyenas, wolves, bison and cave bears showing straight cut marks that could have been made only by butchery with a sharp cutting implement, along with shaped flints that have been newly identified as hand axes.
The dates involved are much too early for carbon dating — effective only to about 40,000BC — but scientists have been able to calculate good approximate ages from the known ages of animal fossils found at the sites.
In particular, the research centres on teeth belonging to a genus of prehistoric water vole, known as mimomys. About 700,000 years ago, these voles had rooted molars, similar to those of human beings, which grow once then get worn down through adult life. But by 500,000 years ago, the animals had evolved rootless molars that continue to grow — an advantage to creatures that eat tough vegetation.
The voles found at Boxgrove are from the later era, but the East Anglian ones have primitive molars, dating the site definitively to at least 700,000 years ago. Those at Westbury are of an intermediate form. “The dating still involves some guesswork, but the best estimate is about 600,000 years ago,” Professor Stringer said.
Simon Parfitt, a fossil mammal specialist at the museum and at University College, London, who analysed the vole fossils, said: “We can put everything in a relative order, and Westbury could be 100,000 years earlier than Boxgrove. The East Anglian finds go as far back as 700,000 years.”
The species of hominid which inhabited the sites remains unknowable without direct fossils. Professor Stringer said the most likely candidate is an earlier variety of Homo heidelbergensis. It was also possible they were examples of Homo antecessor, a potentially new species found at Atapuerca in Spain and the oldest known European hominid.
Homo heidelbergensis, as known from Boxgrove and continental sites, had a slightly smaller skull than modern man, but was more heavily built, at about 14 stone in weight and 6ft in height. “In my view, it’s a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens,” Professor Stringer said.
The five-year Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, which was started last year with a grant from the Leverhulme Trust, is also examining human habitation in Britain since Boxgrove and aims to shed light on when, how and where hominids lived in these islands. A key question will be an investigation of a 100,000-year period in which early human beings appear to have been absent, probably because of climate change.
The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain study has brought together researchers from many different disciplines with the aim of building up a comprehensive history of human habitation in England and Wales. As well as archaeologists and palaeontologists, it involves geologists, geographers and specialists on fossil mammals. Geological data, for example, give a good guide to dates and to local temperatures during particular epochs, while mammalian remains can be important for judging human lifestyles.
TUESDAY 04/06/02 15:59:07
Archeologist 'rewrites history' report
The discovery of a flint hand axe by an amateur archaeologist is helping to rewrite the history of the existence of early man in Britain, experts said today.
Scientists now believe humans may have been present in the UK up to 200,000 years longer than had been thought.
Research at sites on the East Anglian coast show they could have settled here as long as 700,000 years ago.
Experts had previously thought the earliest humans arrived in Britain 500,000 years ago after human teeth and bones were found at Boxgrove in East Sussex in 1993 and 1995.
Amateur collectors in East Anglia have now found stone tools and animal bones which show markings that can only have been made by humans using such tools.
Further analysis at Westbury-sub-Mendip in Somerset, where animal bones and teeth were discovered in the 1980s, show evidence of human activity 600,000 years ago.
The finds form part of the five year Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project launched last November.
Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum and director of the project, said animal bones and flint with cutting edges and hand axes have been found in East Anglia.
He said: ``It`s a combination of stone tools and animal remains that are pushing back the dates.
``There is existing evidence and new evidence that suggests humans were here at least 600,000 years ago and may have been here 700,000 years ago.``
Mr Stringer said the project includes specialists from universities and museums across Britain.
But it relies on the work of experts and amateurs in local areas to make new discoveries and help study material, he said.
The project is keeping the location of the East Anglia sites secret, but Mr Stringer said there are ``one or two`` which have evidence of the early existence of man.
Palaeontologists Nigel Larkin, of the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, is working with local archaeologists and collectors, feeding information about their finds to the project.
He said: ``We are almost certain this hand axe is from about 600,000 years ago, and this would make it the oldest site of human activity in north-west Europe.``
Mr Larkin said the axe was crafted from a large piece of flint and was used specifically as a tool.
Between 20 and 30 flakes of flint have also been found which show humans were manufacturing and sharpening the tools.
He said: ``We have a guy who lives locally to this site and a couple of other enthusiasts who made the first finds.
``One particular chap who collects in that area came to the museum service and it was recognised this (hand axe) was important because of where he found it.
``There hadn`t been anything like it before, and we knew it was older than Boxgrove Man.
``There are a couple of bones that have cut marks on them, one is a bovid (wild cattle) bone and we can`t tell what the other is from because it`s just a fragment.``
He said: ``It slowly dawns on you just how important a site like that is and we wouldn`t know about it if it wasn`t for amateur collectors bringing this to our attention.
``It could have been destroyed or not even noticed.``
The axe was found in sediment which had been uncovered due to natural erosion.
The finds are too old to be carbon dated, so experts work out their ages by studying the geology and other finds, such as bones, in the area.
Between 500,000 and 700,000 years ago the climate of East Anglia would have been similar to today, and two ice ages had taken place.
Mr Stringer said: ``It`s very exciting. Obviously the evidence is being examined by a lot of people so we have to wait for it to come together to give the whole picture, but it`s building into an exciting picture.``
The East Anglia research has also found evidence of a water vole, called mimomys, from about 700,000 years ago.
Tooth development shows the voles in this area could be 200,000 years older than those found at Boxgrove.
The type of human found at Boxgrove, and possibly that of the East Anglian man, is Homo Heidelbergensis.
He had a smaller skull than modern man, was more heavily built, weighing about 14 stone, and was 6ft high.
Leverhulme Trust awarded the Natural History Museum and its partners a £1.2 million grant for the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain study.
Experts are trying to find out when people first arrived in Britain, why people appeared to be absent between 170,000 and 70,000 years ago, and what caused extinction or survival.
4,000-year-old seal of Egyptian pharaoh found in stable ruins on Scottish estate
By Paul Kelbie Scotland Correspondent
05 June 2002
An ancient Egyptian seal belonging to a pharaoh who died almost 4,000 years ago has been uncovered in the rubble of a Scottish stable block.
The delicately carved soft blue-grey stone, which measures only 45mm (2in) in height, was found during excavations of Newhailes, a 17th-century country house in Musselburgh, near Edinburgh.
The seal is highly polished and bears a series of hieroglyphics inside a royal cartouche, which experts have been able to identify as an official seal of office issued to a member of the royal household for the funeral of Tuthmosis III, who reigned in 1500BC.
"It is a most extraordinary find. Objects like these are about as rare as hen's teeth and to find one in Scotland is remarkable," said David Connolly, senior archaeologist for Addyman Associates. The discovery was made as the company excavated the home on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland, which inherited the estate six years ago.
It is believed the stone may have been brought back to Scotland by Sir John Dalrymple in the 1780s as a souvenir of the Grand Tour.
"How it came to be discarded among the remains of a bonfire buried under the courtyard of the stable we can only guess," Mr Connolly said. "It appears to have been hollowed out and adapted as perhaps the handle of a riding crop and at some later stage discarded with the rubbish."
Newhailes, which is opening to the public for the first time this week, is a remarkable time-capsule of history. Built in 1686 by the architect James Smith for himself and his 34 children, the early version of a Palladian town villa nearly bankrupted him and was eventually sold, passing into the hands of the Dalrymple family, who dominated the Scottish legal system in the 18th century, in 1707.
It was they who added the east and west wings to Smith's more modest villa, to include a series of ornate state rooms that still retain their rocco interior decorational scheme.
The house is home to a wealth of paintings by Ramsay, Raeburn, de Medina and Vogelsang as well as an impressive library of more than 5,000 volumes, which was described by Samuel Johnson as "the most learned room in Europe".
The last of the Dalrymple line, Sir Mark, died in 1971 without an heir. Death duties and the increasing cost of maintaining such a house forced Sir Mark's widow, Lady Antonia, and the trustees of the estate to offer the house and 80 acres of grounds free to the National Trust in 1996.
Lost 'Atlantis of the north' emerges from Moray Firth
By Paul Kelbie Scotland Correspondent
05 June 2002
A freak low tide has uncovered a once-prosperous port that was at the centre of Scotland's international trade and commerce until it was lost to the sea almost 300 years ago.
Generations of historians have tried to solve the riddle of Findhorn in the north-east of the country, which for 500 years thrived as a gateway to Europe, the Baltic states, the Orient and the New World. Findhorn, which was created a Burgh of Barony in 1532, was home to some of the wealthiest merchants in Scotland as the principal harbour on the Moray Firth coast.
Shifting sands had already begun to silt the entrance to the bustling harbour before disaster struck, forcing some of the inhabitants to move their businesses one and half miles further along the coast. But the fate of the town was finally sealed on the night of 10 October 1702 when a devastating flood swept through the settlement, forcing the community to flee.
The river Findhorn, which for centuries had helped to build up the wealth of the town, swamped it. The river carved a new channel for itself through the centre of the town and gradually the sea and sand reclaimed what was left.
No lives were lost but the people were unable to rebuild the town and almost overnight it turned into a quiet fishing village. Now evidence shows that the port was constructed of sophisticated buildings akin to bonded warehouses, which would house a fortune in imported wines and brandy from France, pig iron from the Baltic and exotic spices from the Far East.
"All the evidence points to the old Findhorn as a thriving cosmopolitan port of importance," said Tim Nevus, a retired RAF surgeon who made the discovery while walking across the bay to his boat during an exceptionally low tide.
He noticed unusually large and regular stones in the sand, which had been expertly dressed and fitted with glass and iron bars. "I knew the story of the original Findhorn and could barely contain my excitement," he said. "I felt like I'd discovered Atlantis."
With the chairman of the local heritage society, Bill Anderson, Mr Negus ventured further into the bay and discovered an area of stone flags 200 metres long – believed to be the old wharf – and old masonry in the mud, a mile north-west of the modern Findhorn and on the spot where ancient maps placed the lost port.
Unfortunately the site of the discovery lies under the fastest-flowing section of the river channel in Findhorn bay, meaning further archaeological investigation would be extremely hazardous.
But Mr Anderson believes the stones are the clearest evidence that bonded warehouses holding a fortune in international imports from around the world formed part of the old port.
"It shows some weathering too, which means it was probably in place more than 150 years before the flood," he said. "The town was established in 1544, and it is likely the key buildings would have been built shortly afterwards."
Mr Negus added: "Findhorn's loss was an economic catastrophe for the whole of Moray."
Divers bid to bring up hull of Alabama
Jun 5 2002
By Stuart Dye Daily Post Staff
A TEAM of expert divers have launched a major salvage operation in a bid to recover one of Merseyside's most famous vessels.
Built in 1862 by Laird Brothers in Birkenhead, the CSS Alabama is the most notorious commerce raider in maritime history with near-legendary tales of her battle prowess during the American Civil War.
But after a 22-month career, she was lost following a battle with USS Kearsage off the coast of Cherbourg in the English Channel.
Since 1989 there have been several dives to recover artefacts lost at sea and to discover more about the history of the ship and its crew.
Everything above the sea-bed has been recovered, but now organisers want to excavate the remains of the hull which is buried.
Throughout June there will be three dives in a joint operation between the governments of America and France.
The Association of Friends of the CSS Alabama will lead the salvage attempt. President Robert Edington said: "The dives are excavations of the remains of the hull. There will be six US underwater archaeologists and about a dozen French volunteer divers, plus several French Navy divers."
The crew of the Alabama included 31 Merseyside sailors fighting for the south. They joined in one of the most destructive maritime episodes in which they boarded 447 ships, including 65 Union vessels.
The Alabama was commissioned in 1861 by James Dunwoody Bulloch, but unbeknown to Laird Brothers Bulloch had ordered her for the Confederate States of America.
She was built from the finest English oak with iron fastenings and her bottom was copper sheathed. The vessel was tall-masted with a mix of rig and screw-driven steam and two 300-horsepower engines that enabled her to travel at 10 knots which could be increased with raised sail.
In June, she undertook sea trials with a small crew under the command of Matthew Butcher, with Bulloch and a small group of dignitaries on board.
Only Butcher and Bulloch knew that there was no intention to return to Liverpool. They announced the trials were going so well that the men had decided to remain at sea overnight to complete them.
The £47,000 ship was, in fact, already on her way to the Azores where she arrived in August to become the Alabama and was handed over to the command of Raphael Semmes.
After a trail of destruction through the West Indies and the North Atlantic, Alabama eventually met her match in USS Kearsage in June 1864.
The admiral's great, great grandson Captain Oliver Semmes will be in Cherbourg for the dives...SUPL:
June 06, 2002
Explorers find lost Inca town
BY NORMAN HAMMOND, ARCHAEOLOGY CORRESPONDENT AND LEWIS SMITH
AN INCA town lost for more than 400 years has been discovered in the jungles of Peru by a team headed by a British explorer.
The ruins, believed to have last been inhabited by the remnants of Inca resistance to the Spanish conquistadors, are thought to be among the best-preserved discoveries from the ancient civilisation for decades.
Hugh Thomson, the Bristol-based explorer who co-led the expedition, described the discovery of Cota Coca as one of the most exciting of his career.
He said: “It’s only once in a lifetime that one’s likely to be present at the discovery of a genuine new Inca site; with so much of the world discovered and mapped, it’s reassuring to feel that there are still places we don’t know about.”
Mr Thomson said the ruins, thickly covered in vegetation, are twice as big and in better condition than another set uncovered by the British Inca expert Peter Frost in Peru earlier this year.
The Royal Geographical Society, which announced the find, said it was unlikely that the site had been visited since the fall of the last Inca emperor, Tupac Amaru, in 1572, and it may even have been uninhabited since followers of Manco Inca fled to Vilcabamba, after the failed 1536 rebellion against Francisco Pizarro.
The town, built at 6,069ft, lies in a remote valley in the Andes and centuries of erosion by the Yanama river meant the only way the team could reach it was by hacking through dense cloud-forest with machetes as they worked their way down from the mountain overlooking the site.
“The physical geography of southeast Peru is so wild, with its deep canyons and dense vegetation, that it is possible that there are even more ruins waiting to be discovered,” Mr Thomson, a Fellow of the society, said.
His team tracked down the town after Gary Ziegler, the American archaeologist co-leading the expedition, was tipped off by a mule handler about the possibility of ruins on a previous trip to Peru.
Cota Coca has about 30 stone structures clustered around a large central plaza. On one side is a 75ft-long kallanka, or meeting hall, which may have been used by administrators or to accommodate Imperial Inca troops passing along a nearby Inca highway.
Two large walled enclosures, each 175ft by 100ft, may have been holding pens for the llama trains that carried goods from the Pacific coast to the forest interior, and along the mountain chain.
Cota Coca was probably a smaller version of Inca towns such as the well-known Huanuco Pampa. It was not a royal estate, like Machu Picchu 31 miles away, or a major city like the capital, Cuzco.
Archaeologists unearth six ancient Egyptian tombs
Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed six 3,500-year-old tombs.
They believe the tombs reveal important details about the structure of government in a period considered Egypt's golden age.
Archaeologists working on the dig found the six tombs at the foot of the third dynasty Step Pyramid, believed to be Egypt's first pyramid, just outside Cairo.
The tombs belonged to government officials who worked in northern Egypt at the end of the 18th dynasty and in the 19th dynasty, around 1567-1200 BC.
One of the tombs is capped with a 37-centimetre block of limestone carved in the shape of a pyramid, a characteristic of New Kingdom burials that is unusual in northern Egypt.
The discovery is further proof of government decentralization during the New Kingdom.
"Those buried here were in charge of the Delta," a spokesman said.