Ancient palace discovered in central China

Story Filed: Sunday, August 18, 2002 8:21 AM EST

ZHENGZHOU, Aug 18, 2002 (Xinhua via COMTEX)


Archaeologists have discovered what is believed to have been the largest palace of the ancient Shang Dynasty (c.1500 BC - c.1000 BC) at Anyang, in central China' s Henan province.


The ruins were found near the site of the ruins of Shang's capital, Yin Ruins.

The rectangular building, measuring 173 meters long and 90 meters wide, is the biggest pre-Qin Dynasty building ever found. Corridors and doorways of the main hall indicate the building once housed royalty.


But burned floors and walls and charcoal remains reveal its collapse in a fierce fire.


"Fortunately, the palace suffered no more damage since the fire, " said Dr Tang Jigen, an expert from the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


The original appearance of the palace can be discerned from its well-preserved foundations, pillar holes, steps and door paths.


"The discovery will also provide valuable clues in the study of ancient China's urbanization process and the link between social development and environmental change," said Tang.


The ancient Shang migrated many times, leaving behind eight recorded capitals.

The capital in Anyang is considered the Shang Dynasty's largest and one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th Century.


A major palace group ruins was found there in the autumn of 2001 and 25 foundations have been excavated since.


Copyright 2002 XINHUA NEWS AGENCY.

Copyright © 2002, Xinhua News Agency, all rights reserved.


China to repair ancient suspended coffins

XINHUANET 2002-08-16 18:03:19


CHENGDU, Aug. 16 (Xinhuanet) -- China's cultural relics department has decided to renovate the ancient suspended coffins in Gongxian County of southwest China's Sichuan Province.


The coffins contain the remains of the extinct Bo ethnic people.The Bo set up an ancient State of Bo in what is now Yibin City. Ondeath, their bodies would be put into a coffin which then was laidby a cliff. The Bo are believed to be the pioneers of the Silk Road leading to southeast Asian countries.


To date, suspended coffins have been found at 18 counties in other provinces. Gongxian County, known as the "natural museum of suspended coffins", has the most with more than 290.


The majority of the suspended coffins in Gongxian County were put up in the period ranging from the Jin Dynasty (265-420) to theMing Dynasty (1368-1644).


Many coffins were placed on wooden stakes. Others were either put up in caves or on cliffs. They are unique in the region, attracting tens of thousands of Chinese and overseas visitors annually.


Four large-scale repair works on these coffins have been conducted previously.


The new renovation project will be launched to restore the rockpaintings, consolidate the cliffs holding the suspended coffins and build drainage system around the area where the suspended coffins are located.


The new repairs will cost two million yuan (241,830 US dollars)to be provided by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage. Enditem


Underground museum plan for imperial relics could shake Forbidden City's core

By Noah Smith in Beijing

19 August 2002


Custodians of the Forbidden City have drawn up secret plans for a three-storey museum under the sprawling palace in central Beijing to display masses of imperial artefacts that have never been shown to the public.


But as news of the plans began to leak, critics said the scheme could weaken the foundations of the city's most famous landmark.


Officials of the Palace Museum Management Office have put five years' work into the plan, which they say will allow them to display for the first time some of the 1,052,653 imperial relics now in low-tech storage, susceptible to the ravages of heat and humidity.


Seeking to avoid criticism, museum officials had kept quiet on the proposals, choosing to lobby behind closed doors with the powerful State Council for approval and a budget.


In March, Sun Jiazheng, the Minister of Culture, declared that a £24m plan had been approved to renovate some of the compound's more dilapidated sections and "rekindle the brilliance of Emperor Qianlong's golden age"– the 18th-century height of the Qing Dynasty. But he neglected to mention the underground museum plans.


China's most aggressive weekly news magazine, Southern Weekend, exposed the scheme, warning that it would compromise the soundness of the imperial halls above.


The palace compound is built on a foundation of crisscrossing bricks and clay originally intended to keep the "earth dragon" at bay (to limit damage from the earthquakes that occasionally strike Beijing) and to allow rainwater to dissipate. Tampering with the foundation would only put the structure at risk – and without good reason, critics say. "When it comes to ancient architecture, the key principle for preservation is: keep the structure strong," said He Shuzhong, founder of the non-profit China Cultural Heritage Watch.


Officials involved in the project dismiss the criticism. "These techniques have been proven, both at home and abroad," said one director, asking not to be named. "Look at the Louvre in Paris, and our own subway system here in Beijing."


An underground museum was the best option because it would not distract from the halls above ground and would save costs on air conditioning and external decorations. Besides, he pointed out, the plans called for excavation underneath the less exalted architecture of the imperial stables, which, like more than half the compound's 9,000 halls, had never been open to the public.


Forbidden City officials say that even the 8,000 artefacts currently on display suffer because the ancient halls cannot be fitted with the necessary lighting, air conditioning or effective door and window fittings without irreparable harming the architecture.


Mr He of Heritage Watch says the Palace Museum cannot be trusted anyway, as the Forbidden City is not currently fulfilling its role as showcase for China's cultural heritage. He points out that the Palace Museum does not have the resources or the skilled personnel to handle the relics properly. "It would be better to put them in a safety deposit box," he added.


Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK


Prehistoric skull had splitting headache


The remains of a Bronze Age man, who survived having a hole cut in his skull to relieve a headache, are to go on display in London.


The piece of skull dating back to 1750 BC was dug out of the River Thames at Chelsea in west London last October.


It is just one of hundreds of prehistoric skulls, most found without accompanying skeletons, recovered from the river.


It is thought to be the first skull found in London that shows evidence of trepanation - a prehistoric surgical procedure.


It is one of the oldest forms of surgery known


It was still practised in the South Pacific islands in the 1920s


About 40 trepanned skulls have been found across Britain


The theory is that prehistoric man believed carving a hole in the head would release evil spirits and would relieve fractured skulls.


In this case it is thought it was used to cure a headache or migraine.


The bone had grown back around the hole, showing the patient survived without modern antiseptics or anaesthetics, say historians.


Dr Simon Mays, English Heritage's expert on human skeletal remains, and Jane Sidell, the archaeological science adviser, are discussing the discovery at English Heritage's London headquarters.


Dr Mays said: "Trepanning is probably the oldest form of surgery we know.


"The skull shows that there were people in Britain at the time with significant anatomical and surgical skills, ones not bettered in Europe until Classical Greek and Roman times more than a thousand years later."


Historians have suggested that the skull may have been placed at a spiritual burial site before coming to rest at the bottom of the Thames.


Only about 40 trepanned skulls, dating from the Neolithic to post-medieval times, have been recovered from across Britain.


The surgery appears to have had a "remarkable level of survival" in ancient Britain, according the English Heritage.


This is thought to be because the bone was carefully scraped away, whereas in Europe skulls were drilled, sawed or gouged.


The skull was discovered by Fiona Haughey of the Institute of Archaeology.

Weapons such as swords, shields, rapiers, daggers and spearheads have also been recovered from the Thames.


The skull will go on display in the Museum of London's new Prehistoric Gallery, London Before London, which opens in October.


August 21, 2002


Hole in the head beat a Bronze Age ache


Our correspondent reports on brain surgery on a 4,000-year-old skull


A NEWLY discovered Bronze Age skull admirably demonstrates the skills of one of Britain’s earliest brain surgeons. The skull belonged to the survivor of a gruelling operation to remove bone from his head.


“Chelsea Man” — an adult male skull retrieved from the banks of the Thames at Chelsea — has a hole measuring 1.7 inches by 1.1 inches at the top, made by a gruesome and primitive surgical procedure known as trepanning or trepanation. It was probably conducted in an attempt to relieve headache or migraine symptoms, epilepsy, or in a ritual to exorcise a demonic possession.


In the operation, conducted almost 4,000 years ago, the surgeon would have lifted a flap of flesh and slowly scraped away at the bone using a sharpened flint, while his patient was alive and, almost certainly, conscious.


While the procedure would have been excruciatingly painful, lasting for between 30 minutes and an hour, bone regrowth shows that the patient survived, even in an age without effective antiseptics or antibiotics.


Chelsea Man would have had to rely on leaves, dried grass or thin bark to protect his wound, and he may have enjoyed some pain relief from alcohol or herbal preparations.


He died in his mid-40s, about six months after the operation, but probably of an unrelated cause: there are no signs that the wound became infected. The surgeon’s skills would also have made long-lasting brain damage highly unlikely.

Simon Mays, English Heritage’s expert on human skeletal remains, said that the painstaking technique was much safer than the alternative: punching or scoring a hole by repeatedly striking the same spot with a sharp point. It was not improved upon until Greek and Roman times more than 1,000 years later.


“If I was to have the operation, I’d have insisted on it,” Dr Mays said. “The surgeon, probably some kind of shaman, would scrape away bit by bit, so he could be sure to stop before you get to the brain. If you’re scoring a hole in the skull the tool can pop through into the brain. A skilled trepanner would also try to avoid the mid-line of the brain, where there are major blood vessels, and that’s exactly what this surgeon has done.”


Trepanning has been known since the Stone Age, making it one of the oldest known forms of surgery, and a modern variation of the procedure is still used today to relieve pressure on the brain.


“The conceptions of medicine that people had in the Bronze Age would have been very different from our own, and superstition and magic were indistinguishable from it,” Dr Mays said.


Chelsea Man’s burial, however, may have had a ritual element to it. The skull was discovered in peat in a part of the river from where several hundred prehistoric human skulls, along with unused bronze weapons, have been found.

About 40 other trepanned skulls have been discovered in Britain, the oldest stretching back to the Stone Age 1,000 years before Chelsea Man.


British surgeons appear to have been remarkably skilled — their patients are, unusually, likely to have survived — when compared with those from continental Europe. The likeliest explanation is the more widespread use here of the scraping technique, as opposed to gouging, sawing or drilling.


In Ancient Greece, the procedure was recommended by Hippocrates and it was used by tribes in the South Pacific and East Africa as recently as the 1920s. Anthropological accounts describe a surgeon peeling back flaps of skin, scraping away the bone, and then dressing the wound with coconut shells and banana leaves.


Dr Mays said: “Trepanning is probably the oldest form of surgery we know. This skull shows that there were people in Britain at the time with significant anatomical and surgical skills, ones not bettered in Europe until Classical Greek and Roman times more than 1,000 years later.”


The skull, only the upper half of which survives, was discovered in October by Fiona Haughey, of the Institute of Archaeology in London, during a routine archaeological survey of the Thames foreshore, from where many Stone and Bronze Age remains and artefacts have been recovered.


It has been radiocarbon dated to between 1750 BC and 1610 BC, by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.


Dr Haughey said: “The finding and dating of the skull is another demonstration of the archaeological importance of the Thames foreshore.”


The skull will be displayed at the Museum of London’s new Prehistoric Gallery, London Before London, which opens in October.


Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK


'Treasures' found at ancient site


A Celtic Iron Age fort site in west Wales has been giving up its secrets - a collection of pickaxes made from antler horns which date back 2,500 years.

Experts say the finds at the bottom of defensive walls at Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire, reveal the talents of our ancestors.


Archaeologists believe the pickaxes were the main tools used to build huge ramparts, with thousands of tonnes of material being moved in the process.

The tools were found by students from York University, which has been conducting a summer dig at Castell Henllys for 21 years.


Dr Harold Mytum, who is directing the work, said: "The location of the pickaxes is very significant - suggesting they were discarded when the work was completed, possibly for a ritual purpose.


"Animal bones were also found, most likely the remnants of meals."


The relics will be taken to York for further analysis.


Site manager Phil Bennett said these finds had explained a lot about the people who had used the tools.


He said: "These help to bring the site alive.


"We can imagine Iron Age people some 2,500 years ago working on the ramparts using these simple and primitive, but very effective, tools.

"We have reconstructed some antler pickaxes and they work extremely well - another example of the sophistication and talent of the Iron Age people."

Castell Henllys has been owned and operated by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority since 1991.


It is the only Iron Age settlement in the UK to be reconstructed on a genuine archaeological site dating from that period.


Roman villas found under playing field

By Catherine Milner, Arts Correspondent

(Filed: 18/08/2002)


The remains of two Roman villas have been found under a football pitch in Wiltshire in what is believed to be one of the most significant archaeological discoveries since the early 1960s.





The houses, which were built for Roman aristocrats in about 350AD, have 40 rooms each and feature an extensive mosaic which is thought to be one of the biggest and best-preserved Roman examples ever found in Britain.


Archaeologists from Bristol and Cardiff universities, who are carrying out the excavation, have also exhumed the body of a Roman teenage boy, whose head had been cut off and placed at his feet.


The excavation, which began last week on the sports fields of St Laurence's School, Bradford-on-Avon, is expected to last for five years and will be conducted by a team of 40 academics and their assistants.


Dr Mark Corney, a lecturer at Bristol University's archaeology department, who is leading the dig, said that the villa complex was akin to the Blenheim Palace of its day.


"It is the most significant site since the discovery of a Roman palace at Fishbourne in West Sussex in the early 1960s. The condition of the mosaic is the most incredible feature. The walls of the original building and roof tiles collapsed on top of it, so it has been preserved in mint condition for more than 1,500 years," he said.


"The people who lived in these houses had a lot of money. The mosaic is very high quality, made, we think, by the top workshop of the day that was based in Cirencester."


So far only a small part of each villa has been excavated, although aerial photographs reveal that they cover an entire football pitch.


The mosaic, which measures 16ft by 30ft, covered the floor of a large hall which joined the two houses. Made up of tesserae - tiny tiles - of different coloured limestone, it features an interlocking design of squares and a vase flanked by dolphins - symbols of rebirth and good luck in the ancient world.


Fragments of some delicate glass cups imported from the Rhineland have also been dug up, while the academics are especially interested in the discovery of the remains of a teenage boy. He was buried on his front with his head, which was removed after death, placed by his feet.


"This was a late Roman burial rite," said Dr Corney. "However, the reasons behind it are far from clear. The current interpretation is that it was for people who had particular powers in life. The Romans believed that the head was the seat of the soul and so they had to chop it off to ensure that those with these special powers didn't come back to haunt those still living."


The villas are thought to have been part of an estate that stretched across about three miles and included a family cemetery. Flanking the houses are traces of formal gardens - possibly including ornamental pools - and the remains of raised structures that could have been flowerbeds.


Dr Corney said that the complex was likely to have been built on profits from the wool trade, which in the fourth century made the West of England one of the most affluent parts of the country.


"The villas also seem to have had three separate bath houses," he said, "suggesting that there were separate, though probably related, family units dwelling in the same complex. It could have been occupied by grandparents, parents and children, or two brothers and their families.


"There may have been smaller buildings further afield. In some aerial photographs you can see track marks and the networks of old fields and the remains of buildings like barns."


The decision to excavate was taken after teachers noticed how, in the summer, the football pitch became scored with yellow lines of parched grass which corresponded with the Roman walls beneath.


Ian Bolden, the school's bursar, said: "Children at the school often used to graze themselves on bits of Roman brickwork or pottery sticking out from the ground while they were playing football. The remains were remarkably close to the surface - just one foot or so below ground."


Public access to the excavation is currently limited and the mosaic has been covered with earth to protect it. English Heritage, the school and the local council are, however, in discussion about how they can open the site to the public.

Mr Bolden said: "At the moment, we are liaising with the universities and other archaelogical experts, but if there is a way to make it profitable and also for the children to benefit from learning about archaeology, too, then that is what we will try to aim for."


Roy Canham, the archaeologist for Wiltshire county council said: "This is a major find. It appears to be a much larger site than we first thought and is in superb condition."


Mr Canham added that the Cotswolds appeared to be popular among the rich Romans. "Perhaps the views reminded them of Tuscany," he said.


August 19, 2002


Rochester opens door into medieval times



WHAT is “probably the oldest door in Britain” has been identified at Rochester Cathedral. According to Tim Tatton-Brown, the cathedral’s archaeological adviser, the “Gundulf Door” dates from shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066, and one of the two trees from which it was made was growing before the time of Alfred the Great.


The door was first noticed in 1990, when Mr Tatton-Brown was surveying the cathedral fabric: it had been attached to the back of the later door leading into a stair-turret in the northeast transept. Dr Jane Geddes, an expert on medieval ironwork, placed the door’s decoration, of three circles each spanned by a cross, in the 11th or 12th century.


The door’s woodwork has now been dated by analysing the tree-rings in the four oak planks of which it is comprised: a grant from the Society of Antiquaries of London paid for Daniel Miles of the Oxford University dendrochronology laboratory to drill out a pencil-thick core across the planks, and then to match the pattern of thin and thick rings caused by the fluctuating English climate with a dated master sequence.


“Three of the boards matched so well together that they probably came from the same tree,” Mr Tatton-Brown said. “They all had a last measured ring date of 1066. A minimum number of outermost rings were trimmed, confirmed by the presence of a heartwood/sapwood transition on one of them.


“Because sapwood can build up for anything from nine to 41 years, the tree was felled between 1075 and 1108. The fourth plank was from a tree felled after 1045: it had grown much more slowly, and the oldest measured ring was for 822, so the tree would have been almost three centuries old when it was felled.”

The dating of “Gundulf's Door” shows that it was part of the building put up by Gundulf when he was Bishop of Rochester from 1077 to 1108. He founded a new Benedictine priory in 1083, and shortly after that the cathedral was completely rebuilt, although only a few portions survived later reconstruction.


“This door is the earliest to be scientifically dated,” Mr Tatton-Brown said. “The only ones investigated that are likely to be even close in date are two at Hadstock in Essex and one in Westminster Abbey.”


'Robin Hood's escape tunnel found'


Experts believe they've found a tunnel that allowed Robin Hood to escape from the Sheriff of Nottingham.


The secret passageway found under the Galleries of Justice museum in Nottingham is eight feet below street level.


Archaeologists excavating 14th-century manmade caves beneath the museum stumbled upon it accidentally when they broke through a rotten wood floor.

The museum's curator Louise Connell says the tunnel leads towards St Mary's Church, where ancient documents say Robin sought sanctuary from the Sheriff 's men.


The Evening Post says it's believed he used the tunnel to escape from the church, which they'd surrounded.


Experts from the University of Nottingham will now try to date the four feet wide and five feet high passage by clearing rubble blocking it. It's thought to date to the 12th century.


Archaeologist Gavin Kingsley said: "This is an amazing find and goes some way to substantiating the theory that Robin Hood was trapped within St Mary's Church and used the cave system to escape."


Story filed: 20:21 Friday 16th August 2002


A walkway of bones

Aug 20 2002

South London Press







LONDON'S streets are supposed to be paved with gold - but in Borough people are more likely to have bones underfoot.


Archaeologists working with Berkeley Homes have spent a fortnight digging up Tabard Street and uncovered a cobbled street made entirely of animal knuckles. And along with the creepy find, they have also discovered a prehistoric axe and the remains of a 17th-century house complete with fireplaces.


Archaeological digs are routinely carried out before companies begin new developments, but rarely supply such fascinating discoveries. It is believed the 'bone walkway' started out life as a 19th-century wall made out of the skeletons left over by leatherworkers employed in the area.


At some point it was laid flat to create the carpet of bones. All the finds - including scraps left over from two hundred-year old packed lunches - will be analysed in the hope of building up a picture of old Southwark. Archaeologists have permission to spend the best part of a year working on the site, but it is not expected to take that long.


And history buffs will soon be able to visit the area and observe the work through specially designed 'viewing holes'.


Does 'lost' Ark exist in Ethiopia?


Associated Press


Thanks to Hollywood's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the Ark of the Covenant is one of the most famous objects in the Bible. It's also one of the most mysterious, since the Bible doesn't say what happened to it.


Ethiopian Christians, however, believe the ark still exists in their country.

The biblical ark signified God's presence among his people. It was a wooden box containing the two tablets of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.


In accord with God-given specifications (Exodus 25:10-22), the ark measured about 4 by 2.5 by 2.5 feet. There were two cherubs with outstretched wings on the lid, or "mercy seat." The ark was covered with gold and carried on poles inserted into rings as the Israelites migrated through the wilderness and Holy Land.


Divine powers rested with the ark. It dried up the Jordan River so the Israelites could cross (Joshua 3:14-17) and brought plagues upon the Philistines when they seized it in battle (1 Samuel 4:11-5:12).


King David installed the ark in a tent amid great rejoicing after he established Jerusalem as his capital (1 Samuel 6:1-19) and King Solomon ceremonially placed it in the Holy of Holies when the Temple was built (1 Kings 8:1-9). The ark still existed under King Josiah in the seventh century B.C.


Then it vanished.


The sacred box was somehow lost or destroyed when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 587 B.C., or before that since it wasn't listed with the spoils the conquerors took from the Temple (2 Kings 25:13-17). Israel never built a replacement ark, in accord with God's command in Jeremiah 3:16.

So runs the standard Jewish and Christian story. But Ethiopian Orthodox Christians disagree.


Raymond Matthew Wray of the American Catholic magazine Crisis, who wrote about his own search for the lost ark, said there are five ark scenarios:

The Hollywood version had the ark sitting in a U.S. government warehouse. Some think ancient Israelites hid it under the Temple when the Babylonians invaded. Others say the Babylonians stole or destroyed it. The amateur archaeologist Ron Wyatt, who has since died, claimed he rediscovered the ark under the hill where Christ was crucified.

There's no evidence for any of this.


Then there's No. 5, the Ethiopian scenario.

The Bible reports that the Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon. Most scholars say she came from present-day Yemen. But Ethiopian legend maintains she was from that country and gave birth to Solomon's son Menelik, who founded a monarchy that lasted until 1974.

This tradition says when Menelik visited Solomon, his aides stole the ark and brought it home. It was kept for centuries in other locations but is now said to be held under strictest secrecy in the town of Axum (or Aksum).

Wray trekked to Axum to see what he could find.

The ark site is St. Mary of Zion Chapel, a modest stone Orthodox sanctuary, roughly 40 feet square, on the grounds of the town's main church.

In the past the ark was brought forth from the chapel annually but was never seen and was covered with a cloth, supposedly to protect the people from the ark's power. Today, a replica known as a tabot is paraded instead, to protect the ark.


Tabots are important in Ethiopian churches, filling a place similar to icons in Greek and Russian Orthodoxy.


Wray met with Abba Welde Giorgis, described to him as the guardian of the ark.

The guardian's lifetime appointment is a great honor but also a burden, since it prohibits him from leaving the chapel compound.


Unfortunately, Wray's article tells us nothing about the Ethiopian ark itself, either because he did not probe or because Giorgis was reticent. Nor did an Associated Press reporter find out anything on a previous visit. The ancient mystery lingers.

We do learn from Wray that Ethiopians believe the ark has helped protect their country, as it did ancient Israel. For instance, Ethiopia is almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims, who are in conflict in neighboring Sudan and elsewhere.


But "everybody in Ethiopia is living peacefully," Giorgis said. "The ark is having an impact on everyone."


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