Missing Neanderthal baby skeleton found in French museum
Tim Radford, science editor
Thursday September 5, 2002
A French scientist has found the skeleton of a Neanderthal baby in a museum where it had been lost for 80 years.
Neanderthals - hulking, wide-nostrilled and adapted for survival in the Ice Age - were the first Europeans. They disappeared 30,000 years ago under competition from humans arriving from Africa as economic migrants.
The baby, known as Le Moustier 2, was four months old when it died, more than 40,000 years ago. It was first found in 1914 at Le Moustier in the Dordogne. That year France was invaded by Germany.
In 1921 a palaeontologist called Peyrony described the find. After that, the bones disappeared: they were thought to have been lost in Paris. Twenty years later, France was occupied by Germany again: collections were packed away, or looted, curators fled and museums closed.
It was not until 1996 that Bruno Maureille, an anthropologist at the University of Bordeaux, began a survey of the collections in the French national museum of prehistory in Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, in the Dordogne. There he found the bones of a newborn child, some still embedded in the telltale mix of garnets, mica and green hornblendes of the Le Moustier cliff. With them were flint flakes and fragments of ibex that could also help place the find.
He looked again at Peyrony's notes. There was no mention of the bones ever having been sent to Paris. More details confirmed his suspicions: this was the lost infant of Le Moustier, he reports in Nature today.
Furthermore, he confirmed that bones at another museum in France must originally have belonged to Le Moustier 2. Now the skeleton of the baby lacks only shoulder-blades and a pubic bone, making it one of the most complete Neanderthal skeletons ever found.
Robert Kruszynski of the Natural History Museum in London said the find was of enormous importance. It supported other evidence that Neanderthals grew up far faster than modern humans. "They matured around 11," he said. "Life was tough. I have totted up 12 Neanderthals who died below 16. The idea was to churn out kids as fast as possible."
Neanderthals take the name from the first discovery in the Neander valley in Germany; their culture, however, is often called Mousterian after the finds in France. Unlike Homo sapiens, who dined happily off fish and small mammals, the Neanderthals went only after big game, consuming perhaps 6,000 calories a day.
"They buried their dead. They had an idea of identity, of self," said Dr Kruszynski.
UNDERWATER FIND SHEDS LIGHT ON SCOTS ANCESTORS
UNDERWATER archaeologists in Perthshire have discovered ancient jewellery which sheds new light on the lifestyles of our wealthy ancestors.
The Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology, led by husband and wife team Dr Nicholas Dixon and Barrie Andrian, has spent the summer unlocking some of the secrets of the early iron age sites of Oakbank Crannog in Loch Tay.
Crannogs-loch dwellings which were a distinctive feature of Scotland for thousands of years-are among the most widespread but enigmatic aspects of the country’s heritage.
One of the finds just made at Oakbank is an elegant 10 cm long bronze swan-neck cloak pin, which is probably the only one of its kind in Scotland.
Dating back to 600 BC, only people of a higher status are likely to have had such a finely made possession.
The discovery is therefore most significant, as it suggests that those who chose to live on the water were among the well-off people of the time.
The pin, created at the end of the bronze age and start of the iron age, was uncovered in a submerged house flooring two metres below the surface of the loch by Jenny Dukes (22), a student from Florida.
"It was only my second dive on the site so it was a wonderful moment when I looked down and saw this piece of jewellery beneath me," Jenny said.
"To realise that I was the first person to see it in more than two-and-a-half thousand years was just incredible."
The team has also just found a wooden paddle which probably once belonged to the owner of one of the log boats which were used for trade, transport and fishing on Scotland’s waterways.
Thanks to the cold, dark conditions at the bottom of Loch Tay, many more clues to the lifestyles of our ancestors remain in a state of near-perfect preservation.
Earlier discoveries in the excavation have included a butter dish still with traces of butter and opium poppy seeds, which cast some light not only on trade routes from the east but also on the possible medicinal or recreational habits of our forebears.
According to Dr Dixon, who lectures in archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, the pin and other finds lend weight to the theory that the crannog people were probably well-to-do farmers.
"Oakbank is providing fantastic insights into the richness and diversity of the crannog-dwellers’ lives," he said.
"These were people who ate well, dressed well, had fine belongings and enjoyed comfortable accommodation in what is still one of the most beautiful imaginable settings.
"Far from having a primitive existence, what we are discovering is evidence that they were a sophisticated group who liked the finer things in life."
The Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology is best known for its authentic recreation of a crannog which forms the focal point of the Scottish Crannog Centre near Kenmore, Loch Tay, where some of the artifacts and timbers recovered in the underwater excavations are on display.
Saturday 31 August 2002
Dig could give insight into Roman Empire
The Roman army may have run the smelting site
An archaeological dig could reveal how the Romans used north Devon iron to maintain their world-wide empire 2,000 years ago.
Archaeologists have uncovered a massive iron site near Brayford, where thousands of tons of metal was smelted - far more than would have been needed locally.
Experts from Exeter University are trying to work out if the Roman army ran the operation. Another possibility is that it was traded with a local supplier.
A 20-strong team of archaeologists from the university has been working with local volunteers to excavate the site at Sherracombe Ford, between Simonsbath and South Molton.
Solid blocks of slag weighing up to 20 kilos have been found, along with pottery fragments, which show much of the iron production took place between the second and third centuries AD.
The dig is part of a four-year excavation at the site, which is thought to date back to the late Iron Age.
Excavation director Dr Gill Juleff said the amount of metal produced was far greater than would have been needed locally. It could have supplied markets throughout the Roman Empire.
Ancient Illinois village unearths lode of questions
Digging under a blazing sun in an Illinois cornfield, archaeologists this summer unearthed a fascinating anomaly: a 900-year-old square hilltop village. The discovery near Shiloh -- about 15 miles southeast of St. Louis -- challenges previous notions of the area's first people and adds a piece to the puzzle that was Cahokia, a huge "mother culture" that suddenly appeared, and just as suddenly vanished, leaving only traces of its majesty and meaning in the 11th century.
Until now, archaeologists believed that large Cahokian populations settled only on the floodplains and that their villages sprawled in free-form fashion. This "new" ridge-sitting village with four linear sides and a rigid orientation of buildings "was mind-blowing," said lead archaeologist Timothy Pauketat, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "I can't think of another village in this area that's like this." The great mystery: What was the purpose of this unique hinterlands village 12 miles from the major population center in Cahokia, and why did it have a large central residence and religious structures -- a plaza and four temples, all atypical of Cahokian villages?
Pauketat's hunch is that it was a farming village, a "feeder" for Cahokia, and an administrative outpost where a top official and, perhaps, functionaries, oversaw farming and "controlled that piece of the economy." The "evidence of authority" in the hinterlands "makes Cahokia look more like a centralized civilization and less like an elusive free gathering of Native Americans," Pauketat said.
University archaeologists have been digging near or at the so-called "Grossmann Site" for several years, but it was only this summer that Illinois graduate student and chief supervisor Susan Alt, Pauketat and a group of Illinois students found the third and fourth sides -- now only stains in the ground – of the village, the 75 small rectangular houses that lined the sides, and the four giant temples. In the center of each temple, they found the holes that once held the telephone-pole-sized roof supports. The temples had huge vaulted ceilings and thatched roofs, "something you usually see on a mound top. We were completely shocked."
They also found some temple "ritual debris," including a figurine -- fire-splintered into perhaps 2,000 pieces, plus crystals and burned tools. These probably are "the remains of annual ritual burnings, ceremonies called 'renewing the temple.' "
Cahokia was "drawing great numbers of people into it," Pauketat said. "It goes from 1,000 to 10,000 people in a matter of 50 years. Most went to Cahokia, but some ended up in places like this, sent to help administer the farmers." Why so many people relocated so rapidly is still a mystery, he said.
Some archaeologists, including Pauketat, think of Cahokia as a mother culture. "They do something that is entirely unique and they do it much earlier. Within a century or two, people up and down the Mississippi and across the coastal plain of the Southeast are copying them, so you get Mississippian mounds and large settlements, but you never get anything that rivals this. So, Cahokia is just a moment, an experiment in civilization, that falters and goes away and never really comes back."
The National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society also supported the dig.
Archaeologists forced to abandon Carrickmines site
The Irish Examiner 05 Sep 2002
By Caroline O'Doherty
A HUMAN skull and steps to a possible underground chamber were among significant finds made by archeologists at the Carrickmines Castle site hours before they were forced to abandon the excavation. They also uncovered a substantial new hoard of pottery and further evidence of a large mill with timber beams still intact, but could only partially examine the finds.
It is thought the steps may indicate the location of a washing area but they could also lead to a dungeon, burial chamber or storeroom containing other important artefact.
The 13th century site, which has already yielded the remains of a castle and huge quantities of pottery, coins, tools, personal effects and skeletons, lies in the path of the final section of the M50 motorway in south county Dublin.
Archeologists, who had their excavation deadline extended twice since it started in August 2000, were forced to leave last Friday when the land legally came under the control of the National Roads Authority.
There were emotional scenes as distraught workers who continued digging until the last minute had to be coaxed by colleagues to lay down their tools.
Construction of the road is now in limbo while the Minister for Transport Seamus Brennan considers a plea from An Taisce to re-route the road to allow a full
excavation and preservation of the finds, and a possible compromise proposal from the NRA which would see a section of the motorway raised to preserve some of the structures underneath.
A group of protestors who have been staging a sit-in at the site since last weekend, yesterday warned against further delays in moving to protect the excavations.
While the 'Carrickminders' are relieved bulldozers are staying away from the site, they say only their presence is safeguarding the finds.
"We're beside a public road and there is easy access, and while it's great to see the number of people interested enough to come down and see the site, it's a balancing act between trying to allow as many people as want to see the place and keeping discipline and order," said spokesman Ruadhan MacEoin.
Minster Brennan had been expected to inspect the site before excavations finished. His spokesman said he still intended to make a visit but had not set a date.
The spokesman said the minister was still considering the submissions from An Taisce and the NRA.
Carrickmines supporters, including An Taisce, the Carrickminders and Friends of Medieval Dublin, will hold a series of concerts to highlight the campaign and raise funds. The concerts are in the Temple Bar Music Centre tonight, September 14 and September 20
After 190 years the bones of Boney's army are unearthed in a mass grave in Lithuania
Tuesday September 3, 2002
Thousands of corpses of the footsoldiers who perished in Napoleon's disastrous 1812 retreat from Moscow have been discovered in a mass grave in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, offering a rich insight into the conditions and circumstances of history's most tragic military march.
Lithuanian archaeologists and French experts in forensic exhumation are poring over the remains of 2,000 young men of the imperial Grand Army who died of cold, hunger, disease and Russian retribution following the collapse of Napoleon's campaign on the scorched earth of Russia.
"This is a unique opportunity to prove some of the historical points about the retreat of the Grand Army," said Professor Olivier Dutour, a Marseilles university anthropologist who is in charge of the exhumation project. "We are looking directly at history."
The mass grave was discovered almost a year ago when building workers laying telephone lines at a former Soviet military base in Vilnius stumbled upon piles of bones in a 100sq-metre ditch.
Because of the area's association with the Red Army, it was instantly assumed that the corpses were of victims of communist or Nazi persecution from the 1940s or 50s. But fragments of buttons, clothing and other artefacts soon revealed that the dead were from 190 years ago when tens of thousands of Bonapartist troops passed through Lithuania in their flight from the Russians in December 1812.
"Not all the uniforms were French. There were also Portuguese, Italian, maybe Swiss, soldiers of perhaps 20 nationalities," said Olivier Poupard, charge d'affaires at the French embassy in Vilnius. "It's an exceptional discovery."
The cold weather last winter delayed exhumation and examination, but in recent months French and Lithuanian researchers have been examining skeletons, teeth and bone remnants from what is believed to be the biggest mass grave from the Napoleonic wars yet found in Europe.
The anthropologists and archaeologists have recovered the skeletons of more than 1,700 males, mainly aged between 15 and 25. In total, there were around 2,000 bodies buried en masse in the trench that Napoleon's men dug themselves to fortify Vilnius as the emperor gathered an army of 614,000 men to invade Russia six months earlier in June 1812.
It was a decision Napoleon came to rue. That army was destroyed. Of more than 614,000, only 50,000 survived. As with Hitler 130 years later, the Russia campaign proved the turning point leading to defeat in Europe. From Borodino outside Moscow to Waterloo took three years. Within four years of invading Russia in 1941, the Nazis were routed.
But Napoleon loved Vilnius which still boasts one of the most perfectly intact medieval city centres in Europe. Of the lovely late-Gothic church of St Anne's, the Emperor is said to have remarked: "If only I could, I would carry it back to Paris with my own hands."
Instead, routed by the Russians over several weeks, Napoleon abandoned his huge army and sped back to France escorted by a Lithuanian aide to whom he gave two pistols and ordered that he, Napoleon, should not be captured alive.
Ever since, historians have been divided over whether Napoleon made the weather an excuse for his defeat to cover up strategic and tactical blundering.
Prof Dutour says the Vilnius discoveries vindicate the diminutive megalomaniac. "The results confirm the extreme cold at this period. Napoleon claimed that he ordered the retreat because of the cold. And it's clear that some of the corpses really were frozen solid when they died in temperatures of -40C. It was like being in a deep freeze."
While the nationalities of the dead are not clear, it is assumed that the mass grave contained the remains of young men from all across Europe since the huge army assembled by Napoleon included Lithuanians as well as Poles, Germans, Austrians, Spanish, and Croats.
The Lithuanian and Polish aristocracies were quick to support Napoeleon's campaign against Russia since they detected an opportunity to recover their countries - which had been wiped off the map of Europe 17 years earlier in the partition by Russia, Prussia and Austro-Hungary.
But the pro-Napoleon hopes of the summer of 1812 quickly turned to despair, fear, and panic by the winter. Contemporaneous accounts provide graphic detail of the death and horror stalking the city as the remnants of the Grand Army took the Baltic route west.
Robert Wilson, a British officer attached to the Russian general staff, described the scene at a French military hospital in Vilnius: "The hospital presented the most awful and hideous sight: 7,500 bodies were piled up like pigs of lead over one another in the corridors. Carcasses were strewed about in every part; and all the broken windows and walls were stuffed with feet, legs, arms, hands, trunks and heads to fit the apertures, and keep out the air from the yet living."
The cold and hunger were exacerbated by the vengeance exacted by the Cossacks and Russian troops, who harried the retreating Napoleonic force and followed it into Vilnius.
The tsarist Polish prince Adam Czartoryski wrote to Tsar Alexander I of Russia complaining of the atrocities he witnessed: "You have no idea, Sire, of the evil that is being done in your name," he said. "The five Governments of Lithuania, instead of enjoying the benefits you wish to grant them, are suffering under an administration that is more unjust and arbitrary than any of those that have preceded it. No one's property, life or honour is safe."
The recovered remains are to be buried in a Vilnius cemetery, perhaps next month, although diplomatic and political considerations are delaying a decision. The French government has plans to supply a memorial.
The researchers intend to excavate elsewhere in Vilnius, expecting to locate a further 10,000 corpses from Napoleon's great defeat, although the French government does not look systematically for war dead from before 1870.
Analysis of the skeletons is providing much information on the diets, physical condition and illness at the beginning of the 19th century, says Prof Dutour.
"This was not a French army. It was a European army," he said. "So it gives us a chance to look at the condition of the population of Europe at the beginning of the 19th century."
• Huge blunder that sealed soldiers' fate
In what must rank as one of the greatest military miscalculations of all time, Napoleon Bonaparte crossed the River Niemen separating the French-controlled Duchy of Warsaw from Russian-controlled Lithuania on June 24 1812.
Tchaikovsky would later dedicate his famous overture to the year. Tolstoy devoted his longest novel, War and Peace, to the shattering events.
It is believed the Emperor headed the biggest army ever assembled at the time for a military campaign - 614,000 men of at least 20 different nationalities. Within six months at least nine out of 10 of them were dead.
The ostensible aim of the Russia invasion was to force Tsar Alexander I to join Napoleon's continental blockade of Britain. Napoleon's army was welcomed in Lithuania and Poland as liberators from the Russian despots who had gained control of most of both countries in 1795. Within three months and following the rout of the Russians at Borodino on the western approaches to Moscow, Napoleon was entrenched in the Kremlin. That was mid-September.
The Russians headed east, but not before torching their own city in an extravagant act of destruction that denied the Grand Army badly needed supplies and quarters.
Napoleon waited in Moscow for five weeks, expecting the tsar to capitulate and sign a peace treaty dictated by the French.
Then at the end of October he ordered the retreat from Russia, just as winter was setting in. That decision ultimately sealed his fate at Waterloo three years later.
The Grand Army troops died in their tens of thousands as they made their way west. It is reckoned that only 35,000 reached Vilnius on December 9, with as many having died in the previous four-day march to the undefended city.
The Russians arrived 24 hours later and vented their rage. But most of Napoleon's troops had died of cold, hunger, and disease by the time Tsar Alexander entered Vilnius on December 22.
The Emperor himself had already fled, abandoning his great army to the most tragic of fates.
On December 5 Napoleon sped back to Paris.
Tractor raid at historic site
September 4, 2002 06:51
Archaeologists condemned the theft of historical relics vital to the understanding of East Anglia's heritage.
Roman coins, a broach fragment and information pinpointing every find at the Anglo Saxon village at West Stow were stolen from the site office between 6pm on Friday and 7am on Saturday.
Thieves used a stolen tractor to drag the safe through a wall and up a bank at West Stow Country Park site near Bury St Edmunds.
They also shattered chains and padlocks to the park on Icklingham Road, before using the tractor taken from a nearby field.
The coins, found at West Stow, and the brooch, found at nearby Pakenham, date back to around 450-750 AD.
Site manager Alan Baxter said: "The Roman coins are interesting because they have been pierced by the Anglo Saxons and used for pendants. The broach is a fascinating thing made of bronze but with no marketable value."
Five notebooks represented seven years work.
"The most boring element of the three missing items is the historical documents as it is information recorded at the time of the 1965-72 dig here. Yet the notebooks show where everything was found, which is almost as important as what those objects."
Mr Baxter appealed for the return of the notebooks and said site security would be stepped up.
PC Mark Wakefield, of Suffolk police, said: "Although the items within the safe are of significant historical interest, they hold no financial value, and I would urge anyone who has them in their possession to return them immediately. It may be that the items have been discarded by the thieves"
Anyone with information ring PC Wakefield on 01284 774100 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.