Find puts arts centre at sea
by Mike Buckingham
FOUR-and-a-half centuries after its sails last billowed before a Bristol Channel sou'-wester Newport's very own Mary Rose has run into troubled waters of a different kind.
"Them as dies will be the lucky ones!" was the cry of pirate captains at the helm of such vessels converted for privateering purposes.
"Them as gets their arts centre on time and within budget will be the lucky ones!" is the modern cry.
As the Argus exclusively revealed yesterday Newport City Council is hailing the discovery of an 80-foot 16th or 17th trading vessel in the Usk mud - right where building the city's theatre and arts venue should be taking place - as `internationally important'.
But it could also turn out to be a real problem. Already, delays to the £13million theatre and arts centre, due to open in 2004, have cost £250,000. This figure could be dwarfed if, as looks likely, the 25-metre long ship proves to be of archaeological merit.
Merchantmen and men-o'- war in the 16th and 17th centuries were at the mercy of the winds and constantly in danger of being driven onto shoals.
But galleons which make it through to the 21st century tend to ground themselves on a complicated reef of funding, intra-departmental budgets and red tape.
After ploughing its own funds in to the project, Newport council is to ask the National Assembly for cash to assist with the project.
The excavation of the Newport Mary Rose is likely to take at least another six weeks, at a cost of approximately £650,000.
So far Newport council has spent approximately £250,000 on the operation and a search is under way to find funding to continue work.
Newport museums and heritage officer Ron Inglis said: "The archaeologists would like a further six weeks to complete their work. They've been here for three weeks already.
"The majority (of finds) will be recorded and then moved from the site but no museum could retain a vessel of this size.
"We're contacting the usual suspects about funding including the Assembly. I wouldn't like to say who, but we'll leave not stone unturned. What is required in terms of the work is time to record where everything is, but the whole ship isn't preserved here anyway."
A spokeswoman for Newport council, said: "The money that has been spent so far is public money. We don't want to cross the bridge of what will happen when it runs out yet."
The Newport ship is being described as being of national and international importance with no direct parallel in the whole of the UK.
Clinker-built, it lies with its prow pointing towards the city centre. The top of the hull is chopped away, possibly to remove an obstruction to the building of a jetty.
Fragments of Spanish pottery have been found in the oak-timbered hull, while cloth, leather and pottery will assist experts in dating the ship.
However the finances resolve themselves, those who wish to see the new city rapidly establish itself around a new arts centre are in the Doldrums.
"We need an arts centre. And if there's a boat underneath, so what?" is the trenchant view of Terry Underwood, the Newport impresario who has been one of the arts centre's stoutest defenders.
"We could excavate the whole area which would set the arts centre back and costs thousands and thousands. We're up to here in boats. Let's get on with life. Sometimes the historians can get too obsessed with the past."
18 July 2002
ARTS MINISTER ACTS TO PROTECT HISTORIC SHIPWRECK
Arts Minister, Baroness Blackstone, has today ordered urgent action to protect a North Yorkshire shipwreck believed to be the 18th Century American warship Bonhomme Richard.
The ship, lying off Flamborough Head in Filey Bay, has caught the eye of salvors and there are concerns that it may be stripped within days. Tessa Blackstone has today made an urgent Designation Order which prevents interference with the site without DCMS permission.
Tessa Blackstone said:
"Designation of shipwrecks ensures their protection and helps to safeguard our rich marine heritage for the future. I felt it was vital to urgently protect what is believed to be the Bonhomme Richard while further investigations take place by our experts.
"This designation does not mean that divers will never be able to visit this wreck. It is our policy to protect the best examples of underwater heritage while encouraging greater access to them. We, however, need to ensure that any activities carried out on or near historic wrecks are appropriate."
The Bonhomme Richard, commanded by John Paul Jones, was part of a small fleet of ships fighting the British in UK waters during the American Revolution. It was involved in the 1779 Battle of Flamborough Head with the Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough. After a long engagement, Jones captured the Serapis but the Bonhomme Richard sank. The engagement led to Jones becoming a national hero in the United States. He is now considered the 'father of the US Navy'.
Today's Order, made under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, will be reviewed before the end of this year, and enables the wreck to be protected while further investigations take place and while wider consultation is held on whether the ship should be permanently designated as a historic wreck.
As a result of the Order it is an offence to interfere with the wreck, or to carry out diving or salvage operations within the protected area, without the authority of a licence granted by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Licensed divers are able to visit the site following the approval of written applications to DCMS.
The protected area extends 300 metres radius centred on Latitude 54E 11'.502 North, Longitude 000E 13'. 481 West.
Notes to Editors
1. The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 gives the Secretary of State power by order to designate as a restricted area, the area around a site, if she is satisfied that:
i) it is or may prove to be, the site of a vessel lying on or in the seabed; and
ii} on account of the historical, archaeological or artistic importance of the vessel, or of any objects contained or formerly contained in it which may be lying on the seabed in or near the
wreck, the site ought to be protected from unauthorised interference.
The DCMS is advised in its work by the Archaeological Diving Unit of the University of St Andrews and the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites.
2. Diving on a designated site is only possible under a licence issued by the Secretary of State. Applications for licences are available from: The Department for Culture Media and Sport, Branch AHED 2, 2-4 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5DH, telephone 020 7211
6935. Further information on the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and the designated wrecks can be found on www.adu.org.uk and www.culture.gov.uk/heritage/archaeology.html.
3. It is a legal requirement that any material recovered from a wreck (of any age) is reported to The Receiver of Wreck, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Spring Place, 105 Commercial Road, Southampton, SO15 1EG, telephone 023 8032 9474.
Drills and axes ravage ancient Greek site
Helena Smith, Athens
Monday July 15, 2002
In Greece's haste to build a museum so magnificent that Britain will finally bow to its demand to return the Parthenon (Elgin) marbles in time for the 2004 Olympic games, authorities have begun destroying a unique archaeological site at the foot of the Acropolis.
The antiquities, which include the impressive remains of an ancient Christian city and Roman baths, date from the late Neolithic era to the post-Byzantine period. As proof of Athens' continuous habitation they are said to say more about the historic evolution of the birthplace of democracy than any other findings.
But video clips seen by the Guardian show men armed with pickaxes and pneumatic drills beginning to destroy the site.
"The selected location for the new Acropolis museum is fatal," said Professor Giorgos Dontas, the president of Athens' renowned archaeological society and a former director of the Acropolis.
"What is happening is a crime, the effects of which will only be visible when this museum is half built and people begin to really understand the magnitude of the mistake."
As bulldozers continued razing buildings surrounding the site yesterday, some 300 prominent Greek archaeologists and architects, and other leading lights in the arts and sciences, denounced the "cultural vandalism" in a petition.
The Greek government's zeal to construct a museum that would house the fifth century BC Parthenon marbles - some of the most enduring symbols of the values of classical Athens - far exceeded the duty of care, they said.
Last week the conservative MP Petros Tatoulis launched a lawsuit in Greece's supreme court against "those destroying our cultural heritage".
Prof Dontas said it was a "scientific sin" that none of the remains had yet been properly catalogued or assessed. "Huge, deep holes will have to be dug for the foundations and that will be catastrophic for the site. How can we ask for the Elgin marbles back when, in effect, we are destroying other marbles to house them?"
Greece has already reserved several halls in the building to display the Parthenon sculptures, the vast majority of which have been in the possession of the British Museum since 1816.
With criticism mounting, the Greek culture minister, Evangelos Venizelos, last week put off the long-awaited laying of the building's foundation stone. But speaking to the Guardian recently, he rejected the accusation that the findings were too significant to delay the museum's construction. "Wherever you excavate in Athens you come across antiquities and research has shown that these are not invaluable. The museum will be built by 2004."
Chris Price, deputy chairman of the London-based committee for the return of the Parthenon marbles, said the museum not only offered an unrivalled view of the Acropolis but would incorporate most of the finds on the bottom floor.
"In terms of presentation and display this is a brilliant and imaginative solution that takes both the classical antiquities and the excavation into account and ought to satisfy all concerned," said the former Labour MP who will hold talks with Mr Venizelos in Athens today.
"The advantage of this site is that if the marbles are ever returned, visitors will be able to see the friezes looking out of their left eye and, looking up, see exactly where they would have been on the temple. It offers the best possible way of reuniting the sculptures in the environment of the Acropolis."
But opponents say the proposed glass structure is totally unsuitable. The museum's floor space will exceed that of the Parthenon in size and, critics argue, commits the cardinal sin of "antagonising" the Acropolis.
"There'll be no space for all those cars and coaches whose fumes will, anyway, destroy the marbles," said Prof Dontas. "The museum could be built on at least three other sites."
Meanwhile, on the Acropolis conservationists have also come under unprecedented pressure to complete restoration works by the 2004 Olympics. There are now more restorers seconded to the site than at any other time in 150 years of repair works on a monument that took less than 50 years to build.
Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Historical site holds scientific key
Geologists believe an area of north east Wales could hold the key to when mammoths, elephants and rhinos used to roam the country.
Caves near Denbigh have been named a Site of Special Scientific Interest by the Countryside Council for Wales(CCW).
Huge mammals such as the hippopotamus, rhinoceros, bison and straight-tusked elephants roamed the Welsh countryside
The site, called Coedydd ac Ogofau Elwy a Meirchion has examples of events that took place in the area between 15,000 and 250,000 years ago.
Pontnewydd Cave is the most widely known of the Denbighshire cluster.
A tooth believed to be more than 200,000 years old was discovered during an archaeological dig there.
The object is believed to be the oldest human remain discovered in Wales.
Raymond Roberts, spokesman for the CCW said not everything has changed over the years.
"Around 125,000 years ago Wales enjoyed similar environmental conditions to those we have now.
"However, huge mammals such as the hippopotamus, rhinoceros, bison and straight-tusked elephants roamed the Welsh countryside."
Fossil remains of these animals have been found in a number of caves throughout north east Wales.
People have been digging the site since the 1800s and the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff has done a lot of work there.
The private landowner has been notified that the area in Denbigh has been highlighted as important and he has agreed to make sure the site is protected.
Mr Roberts said the area is of great importance to both archaeological and geology students of the future.
There are more than 1,000 areas of Special Scientific Interest in Wales including Pistyll Rhaeadr, a spectacular waterfall near Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant in mid Wales.
Mr Roberts added: "There is a wealth of sites throughout the country that shows us exactly how important Wales is in geological terms."
Iron Age finds won’t delay road
TWO Iron Age settlements have been uncovered on the route of the new A1 expressway to the east of Edinburgh.
However, the discoveries will not delay work on the new road, archaeologists claimed.
The settlements were discovered at Phantassie Farm, near East Linton.
Archaeologist Dr Olivia Lelong said the finds, including pottery made by local tribes as well as Roman artefacts, were "very interesting".
She added: "We have discovered a lot of examples of ancient local pottery manufacture and there was also some early metal work in the settlement. It is not unusual to find these things around here but it has been a very interesting dig for us."
The first site was uncovered when initial investigations into the new road took place, while the second was found when digging work began two weeks ago.
The archaeological dig is now complete and experts are satisfied that they have recovered everything of interest from both sites.
Work on the road will continue as normal despite the discoveries. Dr Lelong said: "The digs on the expressway have now finished."
The new road is being built to replace the existing A1 in East Lothian and should speed up journey times for commuters coming into the city from the east.
Last year, the delicate remains of an Iron Age chariot were discovered by experts to the west of Edinburgh. The chariot was described as one of the most important historical finds made in Scotland.
Lost 'angels' take a bow
Monday July 15, 2002
A hoard of "angels", Tudor gold coins, goes on display for the first time today at the Museum of London.
They were found by the museum's archaeologists this year in the former grounds of the hospital of St Mary Spital, now a development site in Spitalfields, east London.
They were buried when the great hospitals, run by the religious orders, were facing financial disaster or closure as Henry VIII disestablished the monasteries and confiscated their lands and wealth.
The "angels", coins with an image of the archangel Michael trampling the devil, were regarded as having near magical powers of healing and as talismans against evil. Coins with holes pierced so they could be worn around the neck were presented by Tudor monarchs as charms against the skin disease scrofula, also known as "king's evil".
Remains of Roman town threatened by plough
By Louise Jury Media Correspondent
17 July 2002
The remains of one of the UK's most important Roman towns are at risk of being lost because of a threat from the farmer's plough, archaeologists have warned.
Verulamium, a settlement near St Albans, Hertfordshire, was the only British town the Romans regarded as a municipality, wrote the historian Tacitus, suggesting a site of great size and potential splendour.
The scale of the town has been indicated by archaeological digs revealing a theatre, now open to the public, and a number of mosaics. A further investigation is likely to unearth streets and several buildings, private and public.
About 100 acres of unexcavated remains lie on farmland on the estate of the Earl of Verulam, John Grimston, protected by a voluntary moratorium on ploughing that has prevented further damage to the site for several years.
But talks between the estate and the Government have failed to conclude a permanent deal about the land and archaeologists are concerned the landowner might exercise his right to resume ploughing.
Harvey Sheldon, of Rescue – The British Archaeological Trust, said: "It's absolutely vital for a proper understanding of Roman Britain that we get a thorough excavation. There is an awful lot to learn, particularly from sites that haven't been ravaged by urban development."
Hugh Reeves, of Strutt and Parker, the estate's managing agents, said they were reluctant to resume ploughing as they were very proud of their heritage. But they had been in talks with English Heritage and the Department for Culture for 15 years without an agreement. "We are certainly not out to make a profit but we don't see why the estate should bear the whole cost," Mr Reeves said. "It is expensive to change from one system of husbandry to another and if this is going to be a permanent pasture, we need to have the costs offset."
The site is "scheduled" – given protection – under the 1979 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act. But the same act gives an exemption that permits the continued ploughing of land that has already been farmed, as long as no further damage is caused.
The department could take the radical step of withdrawing permission to plough. But that would be the first time in the history of the act and the decision would probably entail compensation to the landowner and tenant farmers affected.
A department spokesman said negotiations were continuing with the estate to reach an arrangement that satisfied everyone. "We are considering all options, such as withdrawing the right to plough, but would have to consult out of fairness to everybody," he said.
Mr Sheldon said that until a large proportion of a site had been excavated, there was a risk of drawing inaccurate conclusions about Roman life. Even if ploughing were prevented, money would still have to be raised to cover the costs of a full excavation.
Tony Robinson, presenter of Channel 4's Time Team programme, which investigates ancient sites, visited Verulamium yesterday with Mr Sheldon.
Group Hopes To Protect Great Wall
Wednesday July 17, 2002 5:00 AM
Built 2,000 years ago to keep out Mongol marauders and Manchu militias, the Great Wall of China now faces a more modern threat. And this time, it's from the inside.
City dwellers on holiday strew garbage over the wall's battlements and carve their initials into its bricks. Villagers cart away pieces to make sheep corrals and developers are leasing land at the wall's base to build tract homes.
``The wall is already in grave, grave danger,'' said William Lindesay, an Englishman living in China who hiked along 1,530 miles of the wall in 1987 and has written a book about it, ``Alone on the Great Wall.''
Hoping to beat back the threat, Lindesay on Tuesday announced a new conservation group that will try to protect the most spectacular sections of the wall located around Beijing.
Restored sections of the wall around Beijing account for only about a dozen of the 390 miles inside China's capital. Lindesay wants other parts kept in their current weathered state and hopes to safeguard the spectacular vistas around the wall from what he called ``view pollution.''
With the backing of Beijing's Cultural Heritage Administration and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Lindesay's group plans to hire Chinese farmers to pick up garbage and make sure pieces of the wall aren't carried off.
The International Friends of the Great Wall will place signs along trails leading up to the wall reminding visitors not to smoke, litter or otherwise disturb the environment. They eventually hope to lobby local governments to ban development that would tarnish the wall's natural setting.
Lindesay has organized several trips to clean up trash around the wall, and in 1998 China awarded him its friendship medal, given to foreigners who make substantial contributions to the country, for his dedication to preserving the wall.
Beijing's legislature has agreed to consider a draft law on preserving the wall, Lindesay said.
The wall, built over 2,000 years ago, is about 1,800 miles long and stretches from the seacoast east of Beijing to Gansu province in the western desert. The modern sections around Beijing date from the Ming Dynasty, which lasted from 1368 to 1644, and some parts have been restored since the Communist Party took power in 1949.
China boasts thousands of historical monuments from its 5,000-year history and hundreds of major archaeological finds are uncovered each year. But funds and preservation know-how are stretched thin. That makes it even more important for nongovernment groups to help, Lindesay said.
While the wall is already ``considerably damaged,'' it isn't possible to continue the rebuilding done over the past decades, said Kong Fanzhi, deputy director of Beijing's Bureau of Cultural Relics.
He agreed, though, that efforts must be made to preserve the wall and keep surrounding areas from being overwhelmed by new buildings.
``We want the 90 percent of the Beijing wall that is in its natural state to stay that way,'' Kong told Associated Press Television News. ``We want to prevent any rebuilding - and any new buildings in the area around the wall. We don't want a newly built, 21st-century wall.''
Add 1,000 years to humankind's chocolate love affair
Humankind's love affair with chocolate began 1,000 years earlier than was previously thought.
The findings come following a US study of 2,600-year-old Mayan pottery from Belize.
It identifies cocoa residues thought to have been left by an ancient form of drinking chocolate.
The discovery pushes back the earliest chemical evidence of cocoa use by about 1,000 years.
Jeffrey Hurst, a researcher at Hershey Foods in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and his colleagues analysed spouted vessels found at an archaeological site at Colha, in northern Belize.
Historical records written at the time of the Spanish conquests show that the Mayans and Aztecs used the teapot-like vessels to pour liquid chocolate.
The chocolate was poured from one vessel to another to produce a foam, which they considered the most desirable part of the drink.
At the time of the conquests chocolate was consumed with most meals by native populations in Mexico and other parts of Central America.
But the sensitive chemical analysis techniques used by Hurst's team found evidence of chocolate in much older vessels, dating back as far as 600BC.
Previously the earliest evidence of chocolate consumption came from 1,500 year-old ceramic vessels found in a Mayan tomb at Rio Azul in Guatemala.
Story filed: 22:18 Wednesday 17th July 2002
Stained teapot reveals an ancient love of chocolate
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
A teapot has provided evidence that our love affair with chocolate began 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Archaeologists have shown that cocoa was cultivated in the land between the Americas - including what today is Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize - for thousands of years.
Now a study of brown stains on 2,600-year-old Mayan pottery from Belize has identified cocoa residues thought to have been left by ancient drinking chocolate.
The discovery, reported today in Nature, pushes back the earliest chemical evidence of cocoa use by about 1,000 years, according to Dr Jeffrey Hurst, a researcher at chocolate maker Hershey Foods of Hershey, Pennsylvania.
He analysed spouted vessels found at an archaeological site at Colha, in what is now northern Belize.
Dr Hurst and his team used a technique called high performance liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (HPLC/MS) marking the first time this highly sensitive method has been applied to stained crockery, in this case what are thought to be chocolate pots.
Historical records written at the time of the Spanish conquests show that the Mayans and Aztecs used the teapot-like vessels to pour liquid chocolate.
The chocolate was poured from one vessel to another to produce a foam, which they considered the most desirable part of the drink. At the time of the conquests chocolate was consumed with most meals by native populations in Mexico and other parts of Central America.
But the sensitive chemical analysis techniques used by Dr Hurst's team found evidence of chocolate in much older vessels, dating back as far as 600BC.
Previously the earliest direct evidence of chocolate consumption came from 1,500-year-old ceramic vessels found in a Mayan tomb at Rio Azul in Guatemala.
"The presence of cacao (cocoa) in Maya spouted vessels at Colha indicates that its usage pre-dates evidence from Rio Azul by almost a millennium," said Dr Hurst. "Cacao wood charcoal dating to the same period has been found at several sites in the region, indicating that this part of northern Belize may have been one of the main production areas for cacao during this period."
Chocolate was a key part of elite Mayan culture, notably in weddings. "It was a drink consumed by people of substance," said Dr Hurst.