Hi-tech view of Stone Age flint mine


September 10, 2002 16:54


An insight into the life of Stone Age miners in Norfolk has been unearthed with the help of laser equipment.


For the last week, archaeologists have been working with surveyors to produce a 3-D model of a 4000- year-old flint mine at Grimes Graves, near Thetford.


The mine on the English Heritage site has never been open to the public and was described as a "time capsule" by those uncovering its Neolithic secrets.


It is the first time that a flint mine will have been surveyed in such detail, from the axe cuts made in the walls by miners to the antler picks left on the floor.


Grimes Graves is one of only 10 flint mines in England and the only one to have an excavated shaft open to the public.


While Greenwell's Pit is not likely to be opened to the public, it is hoped to put together a virtual reality model of what it was like.


English Heritage archaeological investigator Cathy Tuck said the work was important for its future management and maintenance.


"This shaft was first excavated in 1868, until then it would have been untouched.


"It was re-excavated in the 1970s by the British Museum and later sealed for preservation." she said.


"We think it was used for about 500 years, with a team of 15 miners at a time.


"They only worked in the summer and would have been crawling on their stomachs in some parts."


The pioneering work has been made possible only by the development of portable laser scanning equipment, costing about £150,000, small enough to fit down tunnels that can be less than two metres in size.


It was also used in the aftermath of the Potter's Bar rail crash in May.


So far, 433 mining shafts have been identified at Grimes Graves, most of which have filled in, creating a landscape of bumps and dips.


They were used to dig for flints, a valuable commodity in the construction of Neolithic tools and weapons.


Hertfordshire surveyor firm Plowman Craven Associates (PCA) was commissioned to carry out the scan of the shaft and adjoining tunnels.


"It's an absolute time capsule," said Ms Tuck, adding that the shaft was also used ritually.


"There has been the ritual deposit of two or three antler picks and carved chalk balls," said Ms Tuck. "Maybe they left a shrine at the bottom encouraging the fertility of Mother Earth if the shaft had not been as successful as they had hoped.


"The Earth, to Neolithic people, was a goddess. They were asking permission to extract the flint."


The completed 3-D model should be available to view in about six months and will include a similar virtual reality of the surface and what it was like in the Stone Age.


Derry Long, from PCA, said two- thirds of the pit had been surveyed.


"We've scanned up to 15-20m out from the main shaft. It's mind blowing when you're down and seeing a 6000-year-old antler. You do stop and wonder how they did it."


The project has cost about £12,000 so far and the team will be back again in a few weeks to finish off the surveying.



Source: Stanford University Medical Center (http://www-ed.stanford.edu/school/)

Overlapping Genetic And Archaeological Evidence Suggests Neolithic Migration

Posted 9/11/2002



For the first time, Stanford researchers have compared genetic patterns with archeological findings to discover that genetics can help predict with a high degree of accuracy the presence of certain artifacts. And they say the strength of this link adds credence to theories that prehistoric people migrated from the Middle East to Europe, taking both their ideas and their way of life with them. "The recovery of history is really a jigsaw puzzle," said Peter Underhill, PhD, senior research scientist in the department of genetics and one of the study's authors. "You have to look at genetics, material culture (archeological findings), linguistics and other areas to find different lines of evidence that reinforce each other."

The researchers' mathematical analysis showed that a pair of mutations on the Y chromosome, called Eu9, predicted the presence of certain figurines from the Neolithic period with 88 percent accuracy and the presence of painted pottery with 80 percent accuracy. The study is published in the September issue of Antiquity.

"The strength of the association is very surprising," said Roy King, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford who co-authored the study. "The genetic measures are very precise, and archaeology is pretty precise - either a figurine is there or it isn't. The strength of the correlation is driven by the strength of our measures."

It is known that agriculture spread from the Middle East to Europe during the Neolithic period about 12,000 years ago, but for many years archeologists have debated how this occurred. Was it due to the movement of people or to the movement of ideas? Previous genetic analysis of people living today suggests a migration - that the people moved - but critics have questioned this view. The latest study reinforces evidence of a migration in which people brought their ideas and lifestyle with them.

Genetics can answer the question in a roundabout way. Human DNA sequences today may shed light on our ancestors because some portions of the human genome change very slowly. One of these is the Y chromosome. Women carry two X chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y. The X and Y cannot exchange DNA like the 22 pairs of non-sex chromosomes in humans or the paired X chromosomes in women. As a result, a man should have a carbon copy of the Y chromosome of his father, grandfather and so on. But sometimes a harmless mutation, a misspelling in the genetic code, occurs. The mutation will be passed on to all the man's male descendants. If millions of men have the same mutation, then they all share a distant paternal ancestor.

Underhill studies pairs of mutations on the Y chromosome in current populations. He combines data about the geographic distribution of the mutations with information about when the mutations arose to trace historical migrations.

While reading a previous paper on Y-chromosome mutations in Science that Underhill co-authored, King thought the geographic distribution of some pairs of mutations paralleled that of Neolithic decorative ceramics. King, a psychiatrist with a PhD in mathematics and a deep interest in art history, called Underhill and suggested they compare the two sets of data.

Critics argue that the contemporary gene pool does not reflect what happened thousands of years ago because people have moved around too much since then. Many also see genetics as an entirely separate line of investigation from archaeological work. Researchers had compared genetic studies to language evolution, but no one had attempted to link genetics and material culture. Underhill agreed to undertake the analysis with King.

The Science paper Underhill co-authored described the Y chromosomes of more than 1,000 men in 25 different Middle Eastern and European geographic regions. They found that the frequency of four pairs of mutations was highest in the Middle East but also significant in eastern and southern Europe. While it is likely that all the mutations studied originated prior to the Neolithic period, the distribution suggested a westward migration.

The researchers took the distribution of the four pairs of Y-chromosome mutations found to originate in the Middle East and compared it to the regions where certain decorated ceramics have been found in Neolithic sites. They focused on figurines and pottery with painted geometric and abstract designs. Most of the figurines are female; researchers have speculated that they were used for magic or religious purposes, as amulets or charms, or even as dolls for children, King said.

The researchers found a strong correlation in their study between the Y-chromosome mutations and the presence of certain artifacts. Nonetheless, Underhill remains cautious. "No gene on the Y chromosome is going to program you to make pottery," he said. Instead, the Y-chromosome mutation pairs used in the study are simply population markers that in this case were compared to ceramics. The same mutations could be compared to many different types of artifacts.

King and Underhill hope that archaeologists will follow them in trying to blend these two lines of historical evidence. They are continuing to gather genetic data from areas in Greece near Neolithic archaeological sites and in western Turkey, which researchers believe to be the jumping-off point for Neolithic migration.

Stanford University Medical Center integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. For more information, please visit the Web site of the medical center's Office of Communication & Public Affairs at http://mednews.stanford.edu.



Archaeologist to open up secret of Great Pyramid on live TV

The National Geographic television channel is to broadcast live the opening of what could be Egypt's oldest stone coffin.

The event will be broadcast around the world on September 17 from the Great Pyramid in the programme called: In Egypt: Secret Chambers Revealed.

National Geographic's Explorer-in-Residence Dr Zahi Hawass is searching for answers to how the pyramids were really built.

He believes the coffin contains the oldest mummy ever to be found in Egypt and it could hold vital clues about how this amazing civilisation lived and died.

Dr Hawass and fellow archaeologist Mark Lehner are working to solve one of the great riddles of our time.

Inside the Great Pyramid - the largest pyramid ever built - Dr Hawass will explore a narrow shaft in a bid to find out why it's there and why a blocking stone is lodged some 200 feet up preventing anyone from discovering what's on the other side.

National Geographic is sending a custom-built robot, fully fitted with the latest imaging and sensory technology, to get a first glimpse of what lies beyond the stone.


Bronze Age observatory to be rebuilt in Germany

September 10, 2002, 20:15


Archaeologists hope to rebuild as a tourist attraction a Bronze Age observatory where ancient priests in Germany divined the right days to sow and harvest crops 3 600 years ago.


They said the site on a hill in the middle of a forest is the world's oldest surviving astronomical observatory. The location has been kept secret so artefacts robbers will not disturb it, but the media are to be granted a first glimpse September 25.


Treasure hunters stumbled on the site four years ago and dug up the world's oldest astronomical map, a 32-centimetre bronze disc, but the first scientific excavation of the site only began last month.


Harald Meller, head of the Halle Prehistoric Museum, said the dig had shown the structure was probably built of logs, not stone. Dating of artefacts suggested the ancients used it for more than 1 000 years. "The structure and the map told them the date, which they had to know to sow and harvest crops," said Meller. "Here they could track the sun's variation from the winter to the summer solstice."


The circular site, 200 metres across, has features that line up with rising points of the sun. The circle, somewhere near Nebra, 180 kilometres southwest of Berlin, had a wall and ditch around it. The site's significance for world history is such that a replica observatory is being planned to show visitors how it worked.


Since August 20, archaeologists have found more than 100 artefacts including half a ring with a spiral decoration. It has been dated to 2 700 years ago. "It would have been worn on the neck," said Meller. The bronze-and-gold map of the heavens was seized by Swiss police in February in a sting operation. Two German treasure hunters face charges of failing to declare treasure trove. The stash included two swords, two axes, a chisel and a set of arm-rings.


The identity of the Bronze Age people of Europe has been lost in the mists of time, with only their hut sites, graves and treasures left. It is impossible to guess the language they spoke. - Sapa/DPA



This Europe: Marathon battle over Olympic rowing site

By Lisa Orkin, in Athens

10 September 2002


There is "nothing significant" about Stone Age finds at the 2004 Olympic rowing venue near the site of the ancient Battle of Marathon, a respected archaeologist has said.

The venue, in Schinias, 18 miles north-east of Athens, has been the subject of an international campaign by environmental groups and archaeologists. They say the development would endanger birds, fish and a rare species of pine, and encroach on the site of the 490BC Battle of Marathon, which gave its name to the Games' signature race.

The government insists the rowing centre will be built on land that was under water at the time of the battle. Some archaeologists dispute this.

A month ago, government archaeologists found foundations of two houses dating back to the Stone Age, at the beginning of the second millennium BC. "They have nothing to do with the Battle of Marathon, they are much older ... it is nothing significant," said Georgios Steinhauer, head archaeologist at the site.

He said the antiquities were found beyond the 1.4-mile-long artificial lake and the excavations would not delay the construction of the venue, which also includes grandstands and other facilities.

The Culture Ministry said the finds had no relation with the time or the site of the Battle of Marathon. The 26.2-mile distance of the modern marathon pays homage to the messenger Pheidippides, who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greeks had defeated Persian invaders. Legend says he then collapsed and died.

Activists pleaded with the Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, to abandon work at the site. Four organisations signed a joint statement saying: "Mr Simitis, if you let the work continue, the spectators of the sport of rowing at the 2004 Olympics will sit on the ancient history of Marathon and the debris of the most important wetlands in the broader Athens area."



Schinias antiquities confirmed

Remains of five-millennia-old buildings have been discovered on a major Olympic construction site near Marathon, the government confirmed yesterday, playing down the significance of the find which could jeopardize tight project schedules.

Responding to an article in Saturday’s Kathimerini, the Ministry of Culture published a preliminary report by its archaeologist in charge of the Marathon area, Giorgos Steinhauer, saying the remains “are not unique finds or monuments whose form or historical import would be significant enough to excuse the interruption of the project, which has already been completed as far as the earthworks are concerned.”

Steinhauer said the foundations of two “isolated” buildings dating to the early Helladic age (roughly 3,000-2,000 BC) had been found at the northern end of one of the two lakes dug for the Olympic rowing center at Schinias, a few kilometers east of the modern-day village of Marathon.

“It is likely that they were built on the verge of the ancient marsh and were linked to the still unexcavated early Helladic site located long ago about one kilometer from the rowing center.” He did not clarify when the ruins were found.

The 2004 project has been attacked by archaeologists and environmentalists, who observe that the site occupies land where the final stages of the 490 BC Battle of Marathon was fought and argue that the venue will disrupt the environmental balance of the Schinias wetlands. The government counters that the area was under the sea in ancient times. And in response to environmentalists’ complaints, it has declared Schinias a national park.

Yesterday’s ministry statement said work has stopped where the remains were found, and will not recommence until archaeologists have completed their investigation.


Roman quarrymen 'ate like emperors'

Archaeologists say Roman quarrymen employed in the Egyptian desert may have worked like slaves but they ate like emperors.

It had been thought that the workers who toiled in the remote Red Sea Mountains, and the soldiers who supervised them, endured a bland diet of cereals, pulses and dates, with occasional meat.

But the discovery of well preserved rubbish dumps at two large quarry complexes dating to the first four centuries AD shows this was very far from the truth.

Researchers found evidence of some 55 different food plants and 20 sources of animal protein.

Staple diets were wheat, lentils, dates, onions, garlic, olives, coriander, donkey meat and wine - all brought in from the Nile valley - as well as fish from the Red Sea.

There were also luxuries which included artichoke, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, pomegranate, almonds, grapes, figs, melon, cucumber and even black pepper imported all the way from India.

The most surprising find was seeds of lettuce, mint, cress, leaf beet and cabbage which showed that fresh vegetables were grown locally.

Dr Marijke van der Veen, senior lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Leicester, told the British Association Festival of Science: "The workers and soldiers must have preferred their greens fresh, rather than wilted after a week's journey through the desert."

Documents confirmed the presence of gardens, but all evidence of the garden plots themselves was thought to have been washed away by floods.

The two sites are known as Mons Claudianus and Mons Porphyrites, where stone was quarried for majestic Roman buildings and temples.

Story filed: 09:48 Monday 9th September 2002


Scientists believe Teotihuacan may have been ruled by a king. File Photo,

King's tomb mystery nears solution, archeologists say


DPA - 9/11/2002


Archaeologists working in Teotihuacan - the "City of the gods" - are closing in on a mystery regarding the form of government at this major ancient pre-Hispanic city that could be resolved by October or November, press reports said Monday.


Quoted by Reforma daily, scientists said excavations inside the "Pyramid of the Moon" at Teotihuacan, located 50 kilometers northeast of Mexico City, are pointing to the presence of the tomb of an important personality, possibly a king.


Mexican archaeologist Ruben Cabrera and Japanese scientist Saburo Sugiyama, who are leading the expedition, believe that Teotihuacan, a city of 150,000 inhabitants at its height between 200 and 700 A.D., could have been a kingdom. The discovery of a royal tomb would confirm that theory.


"If a tomb of a king or of a person of high rank exists in Teotihuacan, we believe this would be the most logical place where it could be found," said Sugiyama, referring to the Pyramid of the Moon.


Cabrera said excavations were aimed at throwing light on the kind of government that prevailed in Teotihuacan, still an enigma for archaeologists.


The two archaeologists differ with another scientist, Linda Manzanilla, who believes Teotihuacan was ruled by a collective leadership made up of four lords, Reforma said.


The Pyramid of the Moon Project, begun in 1998, is backed by Mexican institutions and has also received funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society.


To continue excavating the tunnel, located midway up the pyramid about 35 meters above ground, archaeologists are now awaiting that work to place special steel girders be completed to ensure the structure does not collapse.


Persian Coins from Sassanid Era Discovered on Swedish Island

From the Tehran Times 7/9/02:



Archaeologists discovered 23 old Persian coins from the Sassanid era on the southeastern Swedish island of Gotland, the press reported here Friday.

The latest find, regarded as the biggest archaeological sensation of the century, contained Persian and Byzantine coins in a Viking treasure box which was hidden on the island.

The oldest Persian coin in the Viking treasure goes back to 538 A.D. and was specially designed for a king of the Sassanid empire.

The discovery is vivid proof that Vikings did sail as far as the Middle East region.

Arabian coins were also the common currency in Scandinavia for 1000 years.