Panama Discovers More Sunken Spanish Galleons

Mon Sep 16, 3:38 PM ET


PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - New research has doubled the number of wrecks of Spanish, Portuguese and British Conquest-era galleons, some laden with treasure, thought to be scattered along Panama's seabeds, the National Culture Institute said on Monday.


Some 30 wrecks were initially believed to be lying off Panama's Pacific and Caribbean coasts, but now researchers say there are as many as 59 sunken galleons, according to Panama's de factor Culture Minister Rafael Ruiloba, who heads the institute.


"New historical documents and deep water reconnaissance have helped us greatly to improve our knowledge in recent months of the whereabouts of the wrecks," Ruiloba told Reuters.


Wrecks recently located include those from the fleet of a 17th-century Scottish adventurer William Paterson, who founded the disastrous colony of New Edinburgh in Panama in 1698.


Attempts to set up a Scottish colony were ruined by tropical fevers and dissension among settlers, at a cost of some 2,000 lives.


Earlier this year Panama located the sunken San Jose galleon off its Pacific coast. The San Jose, which foundered in 1631, is filled with 700 tons of gold and silver ingots valued at some $50 million.


Interest in Spanish wrecks resurfaced after vacationers diving off Panama's Caribbean coast last November chanced across the shell of the Vizcaina, a ship that was part of the fleet used by Christopher Columbus on his final voyage to the Americas in 1501.


During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Panama served as a key point for gold and silver shipments between the mines of Peru and imperial Spain.


Many galleons sank in the choppy waters of the Pacific before their booty could be offloaded in Panama City and moved overland to Caribbean ports. British pirates often attacked ships leaving the Caribbean ports for Spain.


British Archaeology News August 2002

Native village that dabbled in Roman culture


Evidence of the limited impact of the Roman occupation of Britain on remote rural settlements has been produced at North Cave, on the north bank of the Humber west of Hull.

Excavations at part of a large agricultural village of up to 20 small farms produced a few 'Roman'-style small finds - such as personal ornaments and coins - amid plentiful evidence of continuing native fashions in architecture, pottery and burial practice. Some five miles from the nearest Roman military base at Brough (Petuaria), and about two miles from the nearest Roman road, the marsh-edge village must have had occasional contact with the Roman culture of the towns while passing its life generally unaffected by the Roman presence.

The village, excavated by Humber Field Archaeology, consisted of two nucleated clusters of farmsteads linked by a trackway. Within the house-plots were native-style roundhouses and a number of burials placed in the traditional pre-Roman 'crouched' posture, as well as a few cremations. Hints of rectilinear buildings raise the possibility that the village may have switched to more Roman architectural styles in the latter part of the Roman period. Stack bases and corn driers - stone-lined channels with a stoke-hole and flues, which were used to dry grain before storage - indicate, along with the absence of animal bones, that the village subsisted mainly by arable farming.


More unusual were exceptionally large quantities of locally-made pottery, including several complete vessels, suggesting the village may have used the nearby River Humber to take part in trade. Several large pieces of iron slag suggest the village was self-sufficient for iron tools, perhaps using 'bog iron' as raw material - the hard concretion of iron and other substances often found in hollows in marshy areas.


The Roman-style finds include a solid glass bracelet, a long-handled perforated copper-alloy spoon for straining sauces, a few enamelled brooches and a small number of coins. A few pieces of high-quality imported 'Samian' tableware were found on site, and some of the local pottery was fashioned in Roman styles.

Roman mosaic found inches below ploughsoil


A large 4th century Roman mosaic has been found only about 8 inches (10 cm) below the surface of a potato field at Dinnington, near Ilminster in Somerset. The mosaic has been deeply scarred by a modern plough.


The landowner, Mike Holloway, realised he might have a mosaic underneath his field when a similar Roman pavement was discovered last autumn, with wide publicity, at the village of Lopen a few miles from his land. Small mosaic pieces had been appearing in the soil for some time.


The complete mosaic was revealed during a short excavation by Channel 4's Time Team earlier this summer. It has been dated by mosaic expert David Neal to about 350 AD. Geophysical survey of the site indicated that a large courtyard villa lies beneath the soil, and excavation produced glimpses of two further mosaics - of even finer quality, with figurative designs - buried deeper below the surface.

Somerset county archaeologist Bob Croft said he was 'amazed' to find the mosaic, relatively well preserved, so close to the surface. The discovery of two major Roman villa sites over recent months alongside the former Fosse Way had underlined the appeal of the area for wealthy retired people in the 4th century AD. Some things, perhaps, never change.


The discovery emphasises the risk to archaeological remains in ploughsoil. The Dinnington villa cannot be scheduled without the payment of large compensation for loss of income. Instead, archaeologists are seeking to persuade the farmer to convert the field to pasture in return for grants under the Government's Countryside Stewardship scheme.


Egyptian seal and a 'cave of jewels' at Scottish mansion


An ancient Egyptian seal of the 15th century BC, and a highly-decorated 18th century garden grotto are two of the major discoveries made by archaeologists at Newhailes, a 17th-18th century country house near Edinburgh.


The highly-polished cylindrical seal of blue-grey stone, with hieroglyphics denoting pharaoh Tuthmosis III (1483-29 BC), is thought to have been brought to Scotland by a traveller as a souvenir of the Grand Tour - perhaps by Sir William Dalrymple, owner of Newhailes, in the 1780s. The 2in (45mm) high cylinder seems to have been hollowed out to form the handle of a riding-crop or cane, before being thrown out and burnt near the stable block in the 1970s. It seems to have been inside a piece of furniture, so may have been discarded by accident.

The Shell Grotto, close to an ornamental pool, suffered partial collapse after a fire in the 1950s, but excavations on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland have revealed something of its spectacular original design. Its walls must have sparkled, as they were decorated with thousands of semi-precious stones, shells from around the world, shiny pieces of china and broken glass - including the stems of early-mid 18th century wine glasses and glass decanter stops.

Its floor of polished sandstone and black marble was found almost intact. A flue system seems to have been designed to blow a smoky mist into the building, making it seem even more mysterious and atmospheric, especially when seen from across the pool.


Newhailes was built in 1686 by the architect James Smith for himself and his 34 children. However, the house nearly bankrupted him and it was bought in 1707 by the Dalrymple family, who dominated Scottish law in the 18th century. East and west wings were added in the 1730s and 40s, including a series of ornate state rooms and a massive library, described by Samuel Johnson as 'the most learned room in Europe'.


The last of the Dalrymple line, Sir Mark, died in 1971. The house and 80 acres of grounds were given to the National Trust in 1996, and were opened to the public in June.


The 7,700-year-old woman who ate like a wolf


The thighbone of a woman who died about 7,700 years ago, found in a dried-up channel of the River Trent in Nottinghamshire, has undermined some of the cherished clichés of the Mesolithic era. The poor lady, it seems, never saw the sea, and never ate a shellfish or perhaps even a hazelnut in her life.


It is sometimes argued that Mesolithic people in Britain generally stuck to the coastlines, while the ubiquitous hazelnuts and shellfish shells found at campsites have produced a standard view of Mesolithic diet. The Lady of the Trent, by contrast, ate almost nothing but meat - and none of it came from the sea.

Stable isotope analysis - a laboratory technique for measuring the source of protein in bone - conducted by Mike Richards of Bradford University found that the woman's diet was virtually as meat-rich as that of a carnivorous wild animal. Nitrogen levels were measured as 9.3, on a scale running from herbivore cattle at 6 to carnivore wolves at about 10. Carbon levels showed that her diet had been purely terrestrial, involving no marine food.


The bone, radiocarbon dated to between about 5735-5630 BC, was excavated from a gravel quarry at Staythorpe near Newark by Glyn Davies of the Sheffield University-based unit, ARCUS. Mesolithic human bones are exceptionally rare in Britain, and its discovery in a former channel of the Trent may lend support to the theory that bodies were disposed of in 'sacred' rivers - either floated on rafts or thrown directly into the water. A collection of Neolithic skulls was found in the Trent a few years ago.


Close to the thigh bone, archaeologists found a group of butchered Mesolithic animal bones, including aurochs, roe deer and otter. Elsewhere, in a river channel dating to the Bronze Age, a cut-marked deer antler was found which had been used as raw material for tools.


Rare Iron Age temple excavated near Cambridge


A rare example of a Late Iron Age/early Roman native temple site has been excavated on top of a chalk knoll at Duxford near Cambridge. Only about half a dozen such sites have previously been excavated in Britain.


The site, ringed by a triple-ditch enclosure, contained wooden temple structures, numerous ritual deposits in pits, and burials containing 'Belgic' pottery of the 1st century AD. Many of these features are shared with other excavated 'Celtic' temple sites at Danebury hillfort and Hayling Island in Hampshire, Heathrow in West London and Stansted in Essex.


A few hundred years after the temple was built - when, presumably, it had fallen into a state of disrepair - the site was reused as a cemetery in the Anglo-Saxon period, and a dense early-mid Anglo-Saxon settlement was excavated a short distance down the hill.


Ritual deposits found in pits across the site by Cambridgeshire's Archaeological Field Unit include articulated bone, some human, off-cuts of metalwork and quern stones. A number of adult human bodies and a horse were found deep inside some pits - presumably ritual deposits in character as they differ clearly from the ordinary Iron Age inhumation burials in graves elsewhere on the site. A deep chalk-cut shaft has also been found but its contents have not yet been fully excavated.


According to contemporary writers such as Caesar, Iron Age religions were mostly celebrated in woodland glades and other natural places. They required few buildings. The special function of the 20-odd temples known in Britain (most of them unexcavated) remains, therefore, something of a mystery. The Duxford enclosure, however, stood at a significant point in the landscape, in a raised position overlooking the point where the Icknield Way - the major trackway from Wessex to East Anglia - crosses the River Cam. The area formed part of a border zone between the territories of the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni tribes, and an important Iron Age settlement at Wandlebury hillfort lay a few miles to the north.


The excavated part of the Anglo-Saxon settlement downhill consisted of perhaps two large timber halls and three or four 'sunken-featured buildings', or lower status structures with floors below ground level. In the midst of these was a mortar-mixer - a hole cut in the chalk surrounded by a circular walkway, where lime mortar would be mixed up by human or donkey power.


This immensely rare discovery has only one known parallel, found in the 1970s in Northampton associated with a mid-Saxon Mercian royal palace. Assuming an Anglo-Saxon date, its presence at Duxford strongly suggests that a substantial Saxon building lies undiscovered nearby - either a 'palatial' hall or a major church. Duxford is known to have been a wealthy royal holding in the Saxon period.


Interestingly, among the Anglo-Saxon graves at the former Iron Age temple site on the knoll, a well-preserved lime kiln was excavated containing a few shards of late Roman pottery. It seems likely that the kiln and the mortar-mixer were used together.


In brief

Ice Age Butchery

The best-preserved Neanderthal butchery site yet found in Britain has been excavated in a quarry in Norfolk. Eight bout coupé-style handaxes, datable to 59-40,000 years ago, were found with the remains of three or possibly four mammoths, including a number of huge teeth and 2m-long tusks.

Over 120 pieces of flint waste show that Neanderthals had made butchery tools on site to carve up the mammoths. Environmental evidence suggests the site was once a series of ponds used as a watering place, although it is unclear whether the mammoths died of natural causes and were later scavenged, or were killed by Neanderthal hunters. One of the mammoths was a juvenile. Teeth from a woolly rhino were also found, with a reindeer antler and a deer bone that had been split to extract the marrow. The work is being funded by English Heritage from the Aggregates Levy, a new tax on aggregate extraction (see BA, June).


Roman Arena

Parts of London's Roman amphitheatre were put on public display in situ for the first time in June, in a basement some 20ft below Guildhall Yard in the centre of the City.

Scant remains survive of the arena's ground surface and curved inner perimeter walls - which stand only a few feet high and lack their original facing stonework - but the site retains some of the atmosphere of the past with computer-generated images of seating around the walls. Visitors enter the site by the route taken by gladiators, condemned prisoners and wild animals from AD 70 until the 4th century.


Saxon Watermill

The remains of an Anglo-Saxon water mill have been excavated at Ebbsfleet, near Gravesend in Kent, during work on a station for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology found two large timber chutes, which directed water onto the wheel. The mill is thought to date from about 700 AD, making it the earliest horizontal watermill yet found in England. The timbers were lifted out of the ground intact and taken to conservation facilities at Chatham Historic Dockyard.


15.09.2002 11:27:02

Bride's grave from the Early Iron Age discovered in Bashkortostan

UFA. Sept 15 (Interfax) - The grave of a bride dressed in wedding clothes dating back to the Early Iron Age (about 2,400 years B.C.) was discovered outside the village of Shipovo, 70 kilometers south of Ufa, the capital of Russia's internal republic of Bashkortostan.


   Professor Niyaz Mazhitov of the Bashkir State University's Department of Archaeology told Interfax that the university's expedition has been studying 329 graves on the eastern limits of the village of Shipovo on the bank of the river Belaya for ten years now.


   But it wasn't until this year that the department discovered an untouched grave of a bride who died at the age of about 12 years. Some 50 well-preserved jewelry pieces of great historical significance have been found, including bronze, gold and silver belts representing the heads of gryphons, horses and rams; a belt buckle decorated with small round metal mirrors, a beautiful ring, clothing ornaments in the form of bear heads and heavy earrings.


   After restoration, these objects will be displayed at a museum in Ufa, where jewelry pieces from the world famous Sarmat Gold collection, discovered by Bashkir archaeologists in the late 1980s, 400 kilometers south of Ufa, have been exhibited since June. [RU EUROPE EEU EMRG ENT SCI] sd mg <>


Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK

Steelworks houses historic ship timbers


Steel giant Corus has stepped in to provide a temporary home for the medieval ship which has been rescued from a Newport building site.


The timbers from the ancient boat, which is older than the Tudor ship the Mary Rose, are to be stored at the Llanwern steelworks outside the city until preservation work can begin.


The ship, uncovered during construction work on a new arts and theatre complex, has been saved by a £3.5m cash injection from the Welsh Assembly.

The politicians intervened after a high-profile campaign to save the boat was mounted by local people, with the support of actor Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The steel company is offering storage facilities for the timbers which have been lifted out of the mud of the River Usk where they have been preserved for more than 500 years.


Dr Mark Carr, the steel firm's managing director of said: "Corus are delighted to offer practical assistance to help preserve the foundations of the past."


The company contacted Newport City Council after they appealed for a large fresh water facility to store the timbers safely.


The timbers are being stored in fresh water tanks which have been purposely built to protect them from exposure to the air.


They could be kept at the steelworks for up to three years while the council takes advice on preservation techniques.


Glyn Jarvis, cabinet member for culture and recreation from the council said he was delighted that Corus had offered their help.


"The facilities that they are providing are ideal and have helped us to solve a practical problem of how to keep the timbers safe whilst we wait for them to be preserved.

"This type of support demonstrates the commitment that the local community have to the ship."


The medieval ship was discovered on the construction site of the theatre and arts centre in Newport in July.


Archaeologists first thought the discovery was wharfage, but further investigations established that it was a 15th Century ocean going ship of national significance.


Thousands of people queued for hours to view the ship when it briefly went on public display on the construction site last month.


In time the plan is to display the ship inside a basement under the ground floor gallery and main foyer of the new arts centre which is due to open in autumn 2004.


Visitors will be able to see it through a glass floor, and there will also be a viewing gallery on the lower level.


But the medieval ship may not be the only significant find to be unearthed at the site.


Earlier this week, while carrying out initial investigations into the planned basement where the ship will be displayed, workmen found another set of historic timbers.


Tests are being carried out on these timbers, but a council spokesman said it was too early to say what their significance is.


Later this year artefacts uncovered alongside the medieval ship will go on display in the Newport Museum and Art Gallery.


The Cave Bears wars

Author: Wladyslaw Jan Kowalski


The longest war ever fought by humans was not fought against other humans, but against another species -- Ursus spelaeus, the Cave Bear.


For several hundred thousand years our stone age ancestors fought pitched and bloody battles with these denizens of the most precious commodity on earth -- habitable caves. Without these shelters homo sapiens would have had little chance of surviving the Ice Ages, the winter storms, and the myriad of predators that lurked in the dark.


The cave bears, Ursus spelaeus and their cousins Ursus deningeri, were fierce, 20-foot long versions of Grizzly bears with huge teeth and razor sharp claws. Until Neanderthals, and the later Cro-magnons appeared on the scene in Europe and the Mid-east, these giant carnivores infested every cave from sea level to altitudes near 10,000 feet.


One by one, our ancestors destroyed these deadly creatures, driving them out of caves in a progressive northward movement, and then working their way up into the mountains. The last cave bear was slaughtered high up in the mountains of what is now Yugoslavia some 10,000 years ago.


Unlike modern grizzly bears and brown bears, the cave bear was not a loner, but lived in packs. Driving them from the caves surely involved the coordinated efforts of many skilled fighters. Evidence of their habitation is seen in countless caves where they haitually scraped their claws against the walls of the caves. This was apparently to create more room, but perhaps kept their claws sharp.


Evidence of the violent deaths of cave bears is seen in the many bone piles, often notched with marks from spearpoints or arrowheads. Sometimes bits of broken spear tips are found embedded in the rib cages -- likely a prime target of any cave bear killer.


 A chronological map can be drawn showing when human habitation of caves across Europe supplanted the cave bears. One can see a slow, grinding process of gaining new caves from the bears as one tribe outgrew their old habitats. The evidence suggests that stone age man did not simply use caves for occasional shelter, but inhabited them continuously, or at least seasonally, for millenia.


One cave in particular gives us tantalizing evidence of the cave bear wars. A stone structure had been covered and topped with the skull of a cave bear. The structure had evidence of numerous spears having been tossed at it, evidently for practice. No doubt our ancestors passed on their learned or acquired skills in cave bear fighting by spending time training younger fighters.


A less tenable interpretation of the cave bear structure is that it represented some complex religious ritual, although such rituals are, admittedly, peculiar only to modern man. Stone age man lived in a real world and had practical needs. Only modern man invents complex religious rituals.


The last battle with the cave bears, in the mountains of Yugoslavia, involved at least twenty bears, and perhaps at least twice as many men. No one know how many died in this final battle but certainly there were casualties. These men were heroes before the word was invented and they knew exactly what they were fighting for. The cave bears had been a scourge for as long as the memories of man could carry.


Cave bear skulls were found in caves by ancient man in caves from Europe to Asia. They were mis-interpreted as the skulls of dragons and gave rise to many local legends. On Middle Age maps the common phrase “Here be dragons” often referred to mountainous areas with caves where skulls had been found. In Austria the first attempt to reconstruct one of these dragons from a cave bear skull resulted in the famous sculpture shown imaged here. The original stone sculpture was made about 1400 AD.


Cave bears inhabited caves in Europe throughout the Pleistocene, from about 300,000 to 15,000 BC, disappearing by the end of the last ice age. Their population seems to have diminished upon the arrival of Cro-magnon in Europe. No doubt the Neanderthals had hunted cave bears, but the superior tools and skills of our direct ancestors would have given them the capability of hunting cave bears to extinction.


Why would the cave bears be hunted to extinction and not the brown bears? Perhaps the sheer size of cave bears made them better game. The skin of a single cave bear could have made a tent all by itself.


Most cave bears seem to have died off well before the Weichselian glaciation, but survivors lasted in parts of Europe up to the end of the last ice age. Among the caves in the Caucasus, six or seven caves have been identified as having been inhabited by humans, after the cave bears were gone. Among the varieties of bones left over from meals were the remains of between two and six cave bears. The date of these remains may even be post-glacial.


In a study of fifteen Swiss caves that contained cave bear remains, only two could be associated with man, and these were clearly Magdalenian. In the German Alps also, cave bear remains are found as late as the late ice age and are associated with Magdalenian industry.


The extinction of the cave bear was a gradual process that spanned several thousand years, although the struggle for occupancy of the caves had probably been going on for much longer. Some sites have been identified that were alternately occupied by both humans and cave bears. The possibility exists that cave bears returning to hibernate may have killed humans to retake the caves, and that humans may have, in turn, killed cave bears, perhaps attacking during hibernation, to retake the caves.


Cave bears inhabitated caves in the mountains of Poland, with no evidence that humans supplanted them. High elevations, however, are not the ideal choice for human habitation, although some cave bears populations appear to have adapted to them.


The precursor of Ursus spelaeus was called Ursus deningeri and this species appeared about 700,000 BC, during the Cromerian interglacial.


Cave bears are estimated to have weighed near 1000 pounds, for males, while the females were much smaller. A typical cave bear skull is about 50 cm long as opposed to typical brown bear skulls of some 20-25 cm.


Alternate theories of cave bear extinction exist. There has been suggestion that cave bears were simply a genetic dead end, although such theories are hardly tenable for any species. An alternate suggestion is that the post-glacial climate became unsuitable, although the cave bears had survived several long interglacials.


The extinction of the cave bear seems more directly tied to the appearance of modern man as the replacement for Neanderthals in Europe. Furthermore, the cave bear was not the only species to disappear at the end of the last ice age. Mammoths, cave lions, wooly rhinos, steppe bison, giant deer, musk ox, and others all vanished. This phenomenon occurred worldwide and all the animals were either large game animals or dangerous predators.


Both Cro-magnon and Neanderthal man seems to have actively sought out and destroyed cave bears. Some hunter groups also hunted brown bears, but these creatures seem to have been less fearful to most prehistoric populations.


Cave bear bones and skulls have been found in caves in Choukoutien (near Beijing, China), along with the bones of numerous game animals and large predators, and evidence of hearths and campfires over which the hunters cooked their meat. Cave bear remains have been found in Brundon, Sudbury, Suffolk, along with bones of other game animals and predators, and in association with the Levalloisian stone tool technology.


Cave bear remains have been found in many other caves that contained evidence of human habitation, including La Grotte de l'Hortus, Herault, France, Weimar-Ehringsdorf, Germany, Sirgenstein, Germany, Rouffignac, France, and Drachenloch, Switzerland.


In Drachenloch, meaning Dragon's Lair, a stone cist was found that housed a stack of cave bear skulls, while several others were found arranged side by side or stacked nearby. Were these trophy rooms for victorious cave bear hunters? Some have argued that this may have been a natural occurrence, however, this practice was found to occur in several other caves across Europe.


At Petershohle in Bavaria ten bear skulls had been arranged neatly on a ledge. At Wildenmannlisloch in Germany, 310 bear teeth had been amassed. At Les Furtins in France, six bear skulls had been placed in line on a stone slab. At Veterinica, Yugoslavia, cave bear bones had been placed in grotto-like enclosures. At Isturitz in the Pyrenees, bear bones were found aligned in caves. Similar sites have been found in Russia.


In Rouffingnac, whole colonies of cave bears inhabited deep parts of a large local cave complex. Here, over 1 kilometer from the entrance, were found hollowed-out nests where the cave bears had clawed away the walls.


The last cave bear was killed about 10,000 years ago high in the mountains of Yugoslavia. The 100,000 year old war had ended, and from then on man would only fight other men for habitation, a practice that continues to this day.




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