Site dig points to rich historical seam


October 2, 2003 14:26


It will soon be a shrine to the modern age of commercialism, where shoppers park their cars as they head into the city.


But excavation work on the new park-and-ride site at Harford, south of Norwich, has revealed an insight into a rich and intriguing period of the area's ancient history.


The discoveries made at the site, next to the junction of the A140 and A47 Southern Bypass, have been described as “one of the most important” finds ever recorded in Norfolk.


As well as evidence of settlements from a number of different ages, exciting finds relating to the Neolithic age between 4000 and 2300BC were made. Among them was a Neolithic timber structure.


Gary Trimble, project manager, said: “We already knew this was a very rich Bronze Age site but this is the first time we can push back time to the Neolithic age. It is tremendously exciting and a once-in-a-lifetime dig.”


Archaeologists were also excited by the discovery of what is believed to be a mortuary site - the first of its kind in Norfolk. Massive holes show where huge wooden poles would have been and indents reveal where timber walls would have run alongside.


The find has great similarities with a site discovered in Hampshire in the 1950s but, unlike that one, there was no mound at Harford, although it is possible it has been ploughed away.


Another major find was a rectangular enclosure, about 35-40m by 60m, which is also thought to have been used in mortuary activity. At the southern entrance there was a pit containing a broken flint axe.


And the finds did not end there.


The dig took place over four months during spring and early summer this year, and items unearthed have now been removed from the site for restoration and cataloguing.


According to David Gurney, principal archaeologist for Norfolk Museum Service, what is particularly exciting about the site was the time-scale covered by the finds.


“It would have been good to have found just the Neolithic finds but to get the rest from the Bronze and Roman Age too is just remarkable. It is the sort of find you get once every 100 years,” he said.


Arrowheads and examples of Beaker pottery dating back the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age were also found, as was a cremation burial site containing two bronze axes and bits of burnt bone.


Close to the burial at the highest point of the site was the remains of a Roman aisled building that was possibly used for storage.


Mr Trimble, whose special interest lies in prehistoric archaeology, said the immediate area of the finds, close to a confluence of rivers, was very sensitive, with Arminghall Henge and the Roman fort at Caistor St Edmund nearby. “I think it was when we found the mortuary structure that we realised we had something very significant and exciting because it was so different for the region. This was an important area where people would probably meet to trade and congregate or for a multitude of different reasons,” he said.


But he said it was difficult to be precise about the lifestyles of people from the Neolithic era from these finds. “What the settlement looked like is more complicated than we first thought and it is difficult to know how people lived,” he said.


It is now his job to write up his finds in a book.


The site is currently being turned into a 1100-capacity car park and in January, the area of land which has been rich in archaeological pickings will begin its new phase.



Back garden find could be Picts’ capital


October 02 2003


ARCHAEOLOGISTS digging in a back garden in a village in the north-east coast of Scotland, believe they may have discovered the ancient capital of the Picts.

Professor Ian Ralston and colleagues from Edinburgh University unearthed a Pictish rampart in Burghead, in the Moray Firth.

The area is already home to a large Pictish fort site, but experts believe the newly discovered fortification may pre-date the original settlement.

Professor Ralston said the find could shed more light on the origins of the people dubbed Pictii, or painted, by the Romans.

He said: "We were digging in people's gardens to try and find old lines of ditches and ramparts and, after this discovery, we now know that they have survived despite the large amount of construction that took place in the village in the 1800s.

"The rampart could be older than the fort, dating from the pre-Roman Iron Age. Unfortunately, there were no objects or charcoal to give a specific date. It could definitely be older than the fort, making it the grandest Pictish settlement of its time, and it was certainly a very important Pictish settlement.

"We know there were a series of fortified sites in the dark ages in places such as Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle, but Burghead is the biggest. This also ties in with the archaeological record of the area.

"A number of fine objects, including Pictish metalwork, were found in the nineteenth century and have now been lost. The recent find would seem to confirm that this was a very important place."

Burghead's street plan evolved during the "planned village" scheme which held sway in Scotland between 1745 and 1845. The old fisher village of Burghead was demolished at the beginning of the nineteenth century, along with the major part of its antiquities.

However, Professor Ralston believes more evidence may be awaiting discovery and his team still hopes to find objects or wood that can be analysed by radiocarbon dating.

He said: "The site may date back even earlier, to pre-Roman times, and it is heartening that, despite the rebuilding work in the 1800s, the archaeological evidence still survives."

Burghead's location, its accessibility by sea and sheltered anchorage, may have tempted the Picts to settle there in large numbers. Excavations at the fort in the nineteenth century recorded a wall eight metres thick and six metres high, with a foundation of large boulders.

The construction of these massive walls, which evidence suggests were erected around 400AD, would have required a large labour force to collect timber, stone and iron from the surrounding countryside.

Professor Ralston and his team carried out the dig on behalf of the Burghead Headland Trust, custodian of the fort, which is protected as an ancient monument.

Ken Millar, of the trust, said: "It was a very exciting find and emphasises the importance of the area at that time. It would have been good if they had also found some artefacts that could have been dated. We opened a visitor centre in June and we have already had about 2200 visitors.

"Hopefully, this will heighten the importance of the site and we may attract even more visitors."

Villagers in Burghead still celebrate the annual ceremony of Burning The Clavie, on the day of the Pagan New Year, January 11, which is believed to date back to the time of the Picts and fire worship.


Romans called these pre-Celtic people Pictii, or Painted. They were known as Cruithni to the Scots.


According to legend, Rome's Ninth Legion was never heard of again after facing them in battle.


From the sixth century onwards, they came under pressure from Dalriadan Scots in the west and Vikings in the east. They defeated Dalriada, but intermarried with the royal house of Dalriada until, in AD 843, Kenneth MacAlpin became king.


Gaelic culture gradually supplanted their own.



Discovered: Europe's biggest amphitheatre after the Coliseum

By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid

27 September 2003

Archaeologists in the Spanish city of Cordoba have uncovered beneath the university's old veterinary faculty Europe's biggest Roman amphitheatre after the Coliseum.

The find, considered to be "of transcendental importance", dates from the first century AD, when Corduba, as it was then known, was the provincial capital of Betica, today's Andalusia, in imperial Hispania. "We initially thought it was a circus, the circular arena the Romans used for horse races and chariot rides," says Desiderio Vaquerizo, professor of architecture at Cordoba University. "But we discovered it was an immense oval amphitheatre - 178m by 145m and up to 20m high - that would have been used for gladiatorial contests and other bloodthirsty spectacles." The find reveals Cordoba as an imperial city built in Rome's image.

"The amphitheatre shows that Cordoba symbolised Rome's authority in the west: it was the setting for imperial ceremonies, the place where the emperor showed himself to the plebs and displayed all his power and authority before up to 50,000 spectators," Mr Vaquerizo told The Independent yesterday.

Less than one tenth of the arena is visible, but archaeologists plan to uncover one sixth of it - 2,000 square metres - in coming years.

The rest of the vast stadium - bigger, more sophisticated and elegant, than even that at Italica outside Seville - is likely to remain buried under buildings piled on over the centuries.

In bloodsoaked contests popular between the first and fourth centuries, gladiators were set against each other, or against lions or other wild beasts, or - with the huge space flooded with water - engaged in gigantic naval battles.

Archaeologists have found a plaque marking the seats reserved for a prominent Cordoban family honoured by imperial Rome. They also found 20 carved gravestones of fallen gladiators, the biggest such collection outside Rome, prompting experts to conclude that Cordoba was an important training school for gladiators. "Combatants were between 20 and 25, and their comrades, their concubines or their families carved epigraphs on stone tablets laid on the graves where the fallen were buried inside the amphitheatre," Mr Vaquerizo explained.

The inscriptions record the category of the gladiator, his victories, the laurels and prizes awarded, and the age he died.

Cordoba's amphitheatre was abandoned in the 4th century, when Emperor Constantine, influenced by Christianity, banned the murderous sports as immoral.

Then in 711, Muslims originally from Damascus occupied Cordoba and for the next 200 years built an entire neighbourhood upon the handsome curved terraces, plundering the stonework for buildings of their own. "The discovery is of transcendental importance for the city. It recovers the importance of Roman games, a key aspect of popular daily life," Mr Vaquerizo said. It shows the continuity of mass spectator sports from the Roman empire to today's fiestas and bullfights.

"The bullring originated in an amphitheatre; it is the historical thread linking today's popular fiestas to ancient times."

The university and the city authorities plan to turn the site into an archaeological park.



Secrets of Roman pump revealed

Oct 2 2003

By Alison Powell

A TEAM of atomic scientists and engineers from Aldermaston needed 21st century technology to unlock the secrets of a Roman water pump.

The pump, discovered during excavations of the Roman town of Calleva at Silchester, is one of Reading Museum's prized exhibits.

And although it may look just like a block of wood, 2,000 years ago it was the latest in high-tech water management.

Archaeologists believe similar pumps were used at the bottom of wells to raise water for domestic use and small-scale irrigation.

Staff at Reading University wanted to discover how the pump would have worked and called in the Atomic Weapons Establishment radiography

team from Aldermaston to use its mobile equipment to scan the pump.

Engineers from AWE worked in the museum basement with the university's Richard Stein to produce a 3-D virtual reality model of the pump to show how it might have worked.

Jill Greenaway, the museum's curator of archaeology, said: "It's fantastic to see the pump operating as it may have done originally and in such amazing detail.

"It's often difficult for our visitors to understand how the pump would have worked. The virtual reality model brings it to life and makes it a lot more accessible."


Unique Roman souvenir reveals Hadrian's Wall secrets.

The vessel, a bronze pan, was discovered in the Staffordshire Moorlands by Kevin Blackburn and his detecting partner Julian Lee. Kevin recalls ‘when we found the object we knew it was important and should be recorded by an archaeologist. Immediately we contacted Jane Stewart our local Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, who is based at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.’

Figure 1: Detail of vessel, showing the inlaid coloured enamel in its full glory.

Elaborately decorated with ‘Celtic-style’ motifs the vessel is inlaid with coloured enamel. Ralph Jackon (Curator Romano-British Collections, British Museum) describes the vessel as ‘a patera, a handled pan which was rather like a small saucepan in appearance. Its base and handle were made separately and soldered on, but both are now missing. To judge from other finds the handle would have been flat and bow-tie shaped and also inlaid with coloured enamel. These ostentatiously colourful pans, made in the 2nd century AD, had varied decorative designs but the present example is unusual in its curvilinear scrollwork – a balanced design of eight roundels enclosing swirling six-armed whirligigs. It is also notable for the fine preservation of so much of its enamel inlay and for the large number of colours used – blue, red, turquoise, yellow and (possibly) purple.’

Undoubtedly the most exciting feature of the vessel is the engraved inscription, which runs around the pan in an unbroken sequence of letters just below the rim. It lists four forts located at the western end of Hadrian’s Wall; Bowness (MAIS), Drumburgh (COGGABATA), Stanwix (UXELODUNUM) and Castlesteads (CAMMOGLANNA). Until the discovery of this pan only two other examples were known with inscriptions naming forts on Hadrian’s Wall: the ‘Rudge Cup’, discovered in Wiltshire in 1725, and the ‘Amiens patera’, found in Amiens in 1949. Between them they name seven forts, but the present pan is the first to include Drumburgh. All three are best explained as souvenirs of Hadrian’s Wall, which was a unique type of frontier in the Roman Empire, perhaps as remarkable then as today.

Figure 2: Composite image demonstrating the enamelled cup frieze.



Figure 3: The inscription shown above, enhanced for legibility.

Roger Tomlin (Wolfson College, Oxford University) adds ‘The bowl confirms the ancient names of four forts in sequence from the western end of the Wall, and for the first time suggests what is likely to be the correct ancient form for the name for Drumburgh. In addition, there are further important differences from the other examples; it incorporates the name of an individual, AELIUS DRACO and a further place-name, RIGOREVALI which may refer to the place in which Aelius Draco had the pan made.’

Sally Worrell (Prehistoric and Roman Finds Adviser for the Portable Antiquities Scheme) says ‘Aelius Draco was perhaps a veteran of a garrison of Hadrian’s Wall and on retirement  had this vessel made to recall his time in the army. His Greek name suggests that he or his family originated in the Greek-speaking part of the eastern Roman Empire.  An individual’s name on an object often records the maker, but in this case it is more likely to refer to the person for whom the object was made. This is an absolutely wonderful find - the most important Roman object recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme’.

It is hoped that the pan will be acquired by a museum.


On 30th September 2003 at 10am there will be a press launch in the Staff Room, 6th Floor, Institute of Archaeology, 31-4 Gordon Square, London. The Staffordshire Moorlands Cup will be on display and there will also be an opportunity to ask Sally Worrell questions about the find and its circumstances of discovery.

Notes to editors:

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (www.finds.org.uk) is a voluntary scheme for the recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public. It was established to promote the recording of chance archaeological discoveries and to broaden public awareness of the importance of such finds for understanding our past. Since 1997 the Scheme’s Finds Liaison Officers have recorded over 150,000 objects.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is managed by a consortium of national bodies led by Resource: the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, and includes the British Museum, English Heritage, the National Museums & Galleries of Wales and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, together with the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers, the Council for British Archaeology, the National Council for Metal-detecting, the Society of Museum Archaeologists and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme, in conjunction with Oxford ArchDigital, has developed a new database based on cutting edge, open source technology. The accompanying press release from OAD outlines in more detail the system and its benefits. The database can be reached at http://pas.toadhms.com; it contains approximately 53000 records and 9300 images.

On 11th October 2003, in conjunction with BBC Hidden Treasure, ‘finds roadshows’ will be held at eight venues across the country (in Cambridge, Cardiff, Liverpool, London, Market Harborough, Taunton, Worcester and York) where Finds Liaison Officers will be on hand to record archaeological finds discovered by members of the public. Further information can be found on the BBC History website at www.bbc.co.uk/history/archaeology/treasure or by calling the BBC helpline on 08700 101 616.


Sally Worrell (Portable Antiquities Scheme, Finds Adviser, Roman and Prehistoric) is based at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.  

Jane Stewart is the Finds Liaison Office for the West Midlands and Staffordshire and is based at Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery and Stoke Potteries Museum.



Urswick discovery believed to be Roman Fort

By Gazette News Desk

THE remains of what is believed to be a Roman fort dating back almost 2,000 years have been discovered beneath fields in Great Urswick.

Archaeologist Steve Dickinson, of Trinity Gardens, Ulverston, predicted the presence of the site in a report he wrote about Urswick church last year.

He said he suspected there were remains of a permanent Roman military base in the area because of the large amounts of unusual sandstone masonry that kept appearing in Urswick.

Mr Dickinson spent months researching the project on the Internet before discovering an old aerial photograph of the Urswick site which convinced him there was a fort in the fields.

“This is a major find and it is really exciting,” said Mr Dickinson. “For more than 100 years Roman coins have been found in the Furness area and this find could explain why they have been popping up.” Earlier this month, English Heritage visited Urswick and asked for a more detailed survey and excavation of the site to be carried out.

Mr Dickinson said: “They didn’t confirm that it was a Roman fort but I am 90 per cent convinced that it is. We just have to prove it now.” Mr Dickinson is planning to set up a voluntary archaeology group, which will survey the area, at a public meeting in Urswick Recreation Hall on Friday, October 3, at 7.30pm.

It is also hoped that during the next two years a small excavation of the area will be carried out.

“We have got to create a big fuss about it. Archaeology is very expensive so the more local people we can get involved the better,” he said.

Mr Dickinson is also working with a group of archaeologists from all over the North West researching other Roman sites in the country. He said the Urswick find would be included in the project, which could “really put Furness on the tourist map.” For more information about the Urswick project, Mr Dickinson can be contacted on 01229-586446.


Roman baths threatened by water

Emergency work is under way in Somerset after water leaks at Roman baths were found to be destroying an artefact more than 1,700 years old.

The water was seeping through a road outside the entrance to the Stall Street entrance in Bath, and destroying a third century cold plunge bath.

Roman remains beneath York Street, Stall Street and Kingston Parade were also found to be under threat.

Cobbles will be lifted and a damp proof course put in, with work expected to end by early November.

Outstanding importance

Stephen Clews, curator of the Roman baths, said: "It may seem odd that water should be a problem for a bath.

"But what is happening is a cycle of wetting and drying has developed as the condition of the road above deteriorates and leaks form.

"Over time salt in the water causes problems with the structure of the ancient stonework and Roman renders," he added.

The baths contains the remains of a major religious spas from the ancient world, and a Roman museum collection of "outstanding national importance".




10:30 - 20 September 2003


A 1,500-year-old Anglo-Saxon "warrior queen" has been found buried just two feet under the surface of a county field.


Lincolnshire's own 6ft tall "Boadicea" has been described as one of the best Anglo-Saxon finds of its kind in the county.


She was still holding her shield and had a dagger at her side when she was found. On either side of her at the site just outside Lincoln were the remains of a man and a woman who were possibly her attendants.


The woman was wearing an amber necklace and had her feet bound together with rope. The male companion was buried with his hand over a pot.


The exceptional discovery was originally made by a man with a metal detector.


Mystery surrounds the identity of the 6ft tall warrior queen.


Her ancient Briton predecessor Boadicea led a rebellion against the Romans in 61AD. After the Romans left England in 410AD tribal conflict was rife and the mystery queen might have fallen victim to this.


All the bones and artefacts discovered at the scene are now being examined by independent conservator Wessex Archaeology and at a later date will be brought back to the City and County Museum in Friars Lane.


Lincolnshire County Council archaeologist Adam Daubney said that there was an enormous sense of excitement when the bodies were unearthed.


"Any discovery from Anglo-Saxon times is important for Lincolnshire because this era of history is not as well documented as other periods," he said.


"In other parts of Lincolnshire we have found two large Saxon burial sites at Loveden Hill and Ruskington.


"But one of the interesting things about this is that a total of four shields have been found.


"The shield would have been originally made from wood but the boss - which held the handle in place - was made of iron and this has survived."


The Channel Four television programme Time Team carried out the excavation and the programme is due to be broadcast next spring.


The owner of the land on which the burial site was discovered asked not to be named to avoid the venue's location becoming common knowledge.


He said: "Two years ago a discovery of a brooch was made on the site which was unmistakably Anglo-Saxon. It was incredibly exciting to discover the burial site."


Councillor Marianne Overton, a member of Navenby Archaeology Group which assisted Time Team with the excavation, helped out at the three-day dig which took place between Tuesday and Thursday last week.


"What struck me was that there are possibly a great many more sites like this across the county," she said.


"When you actually see the venue and are able to imagine what life would have been like then you get a strong sense of the history of the county in which we live."



Remains Of Xena-Like Woman Found

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Oct. 1, 2003

The remains of a six-foot tall woman, buried with a shield and knife, were recently discovered in an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Lincolnshire, England.

The body and artifacts, which date to A.D. 500-600, suggest that more women than previously believed may have fought alongside men during the turbulent years following England's Roman period.

Archaeologists made the discovery while working on a program for Britain's Channel 4 "Time Team."

Ben Dempsey, assistant producer of the show, told Discovery News that the shield had been placed on top of the woman before burial. The knife rested alongside her unusually tall body. Even most men at the time measured several inches shorter.

Another unusual aspect of the burial was that the feminine jewelry and clothing accessories normally found in women's graves from this period were not present. Instead, her feet were bound with rope, and the only adornment was an amber necklace draped around her neck.

While some locals are calling the woman a "warrior queen," Dempsey doubts she had any royal connections, like the fictional character Xena, or the real life war hero Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, who led a successful rebellion against the Romans in A.D. 60.

"Nothing to suggest a high social rank was found at her gravesite," Dempsey said. "However, she may very well have fought in battle, since many people at the time served as warriors at some stage."

When the last Roman legion left Britain in A.D. 409-410, tribal warfare increased in England. The unstable political conditions, combined with invading forces from all directions, led to many individuals arming themselves for protection.

The Anglo-Saxon woman's shield, while not ornate, is of interest to British researchers.

Lincolnshire County Council archaeologist Adam Daubney told the Lincolnshire Echo newspaper, "The shield would have been originally made from wood but the boss — which held the handle in place — was made of iron and this has survived."

Daubney added, "One of the interesting things about this [site] is that a total of four shields have been found."

In addition to the shields, remains of two other individuals — a man and another woman — were unearthed. None of the individuals appears to have been related or otherwise connected to one another.

According to Dempsey, the second woman was of average height and wore the wrist clasps, girdle hangers, and little pieces of bronze jewelry more commonly found in female graves of the time.

The man was discovered in a fetal position with one hand wrapped around a pot, a form of burial that has never before been documented among Anglo-Saxons for this period. Archaeologists speculate that the pot could have contained wine or grain, and was meant to ease the individual's passage into the afterlife.

Next month, Wessex Archaeology will further analyze all of the remains and items found at the Lincolnshire site. The artifacts then will be housed in the City and County Museum of Lincoln.



Prehistoric Long Man is '16th century new boy'

By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent

(Filed: 02/10/2003)

The origins of England's tallest chalk hill figure, the Long Man of Wilmington, have puzzled historians and archaeologists for generations.

Carved into a steep slope on the South Downs in Sussex, the imposing figure has been claimed as an Anglo Saxon warrior, a Roman folly and an Iron Age fertility symbol.

But according to a team of researchers, the Long Man may be a relatively recent addition to the landscape. Tests carried out this summer have produced compelling evidence that it dates from the mid-16th century.

The findings have surprised the experts and will cast doubt on the age of other supposedly prehistoric carvings, including the Cerne Abbas giant in Dorset.

Standing 226 feet tall, the Long Man of Wilmington is one of the largest carved figures in the world. It dominates the grassy downland at the village of Wilmington near Eastbourne, holding a stave in each hand.

Although the earliest known record of the figure comes from 1710, many scholars have argued that it already existed when the Romans invaded Britain.

The new findings come from a team of researchers led by Prof Martin Bell, an environmental archaeologist at Reading University. Their research is part of Figures in the Chalk, broadcast on BBC2 tonight at 7.30pm.

"I didn't expect this date at all," Prof Bell told The Daily Telegraph yesterday. "I expected it to be no later than Anglo Saxon."

Prof Bell's conclusions come from an analysis of chalk fragments washed down the slope over the past few thousand years.

The analysis revealed little activity on the hillside during the Iron Age, Roman occupation or Medieval times. But about 500 years ago there was a sudden change when a layer of chalk rubble swept down the slope. Prof Bell believes that the chalk debris may have been come from the freshly cut Long Man.



Channel 4 TV filming resumed wreck dive

Report by Jamie O'Keeffe


Channel 4 television are filming divers who have resumed their explorations of what's believed to be the wreck of the 17th century `SS Great Lewis' - once the pride of the Cromwell's fleet - in the Waterford estuary near Creaden Head.


An exclusion zone around the site on the western side of the shipping channel has been preserved while divers from the Underwater Archaeology Unit of Martin Cullen's Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government continue their excavations.


While local fishermen say they'd known for years about the wreck, it didn't come to the attention of archaeologists until the main shipping lane was being dredging four years ago.


Its exact resting place - a mile south-west of Duncannon and on shallow mud just eight metres below the surface of the water - was pinpointed in 2001, with inspections carried out by a private firm on behalf of the Port of Waterford company.


History has it that the British flagship was sent to the assistance of the besieged Fort of Duncannon - then in the possession of Confederate forces - after Royalists besieged it in 1645.


A combination of heavy cannon fire, high tides and winds and the rocky coastline saw her drift into shallow water on the Woodstown side of the channel, before sinking with the loss of most of the crew and 200 soldiers on board.


Historians are comparing its importance to the discovery of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship, which sank near Portsmouth exactly 100 years before. Along with skeletal remains, Duchas divers - who've already discovered guns and other artefacts - expect to find other artillery and possibly the personal "booty" of the ship's skipper, Captain Beale.


Cromwell's attack on Waterford, which involved three other ships, gave rise to a famous saying when the Lord Protector declared he would take the town "by Hook or by Crook" - a reference to the two headlands which surround the so-called `graveyard of a thousand ships'.


The recovery operation, which started in July, was delayed while dredging of the harbour took place during August. Divers have now returned with plans underway to eventually have the ship raised though that's unlikely to happen for some time yet.



Found: Afghanistan’s Bactrian hoard of 20,000 gold objects

Hundreds of works from the Kabul Museum, believed to have been destroyed by the Taliban, are also thought to be safe

By Martin Bailey


LONDON. The Bactrian gold, Afghanistan’s greatest treasure, escaped destruction from the Taliban and has been found in a locked vault beneath the presidential palace compound.


The gold hoard was originally excavated in 1978 in the north of Afghanistan and was immediately sent to Kabul for safekeeping, but within months the country was plunged into war and occupied soon afterwards by Soviet troops. The treasure was locked away. In the last 25 years it was only seen once, in 1982 by Viktor Sarianidi, the archaeologist who discovered it and who compares it to the treasures of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. There have been reports that, in the late 1980s, it was shown to a small group of foreign ambassadors in Kabul.


The fate of the Bactrian gold has been a matter of considerable speculation. There were fears that it had been sent to Moscow, taken by senior government officials, stolen by thieves or destroyed by the Taliban. The greatest concern was that the gold might have been melted down.


The Bactrian gold was found a month ago, almost by chance, when government officials opened a vault which they believed would contain bullion bars belonging to the central bank. This secure area set in concrete beneath


a treasury building in the presidential palace compound had been sealed in 1989, when the Afghan government was still backed by the Soviet Union. Successive regimes, including the Taliban, made numerous attempts to gain access, but all failed to open the seven locks which secured the thick steel door. The keys were each held by different people, who by this time were dispersed around the world.


Eventually, on 28 August, specialist locksmiths brought from Germany managed to gain access. President Hamid Karzai and Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani then entered the vault, but significantly the Culture Minister and Kabul Museum director were not present—because the $90 million of bullion was regarded as the major find. President Karzai then announced that the Bactrian gold was also safe. This good news, however, is only part of the story.


The Art Newspaper can reveal that an important part of the Kabul Museum’s collection seems also to have been preserved. The museum, on the outskirts of the capital, has suffered severe looting over the past decade. In 1993 fighting began between government forces and Hezbe Wahdat troops, and after various attacks, part of the museum building was breached and looting began. Pillaging continued on a number of occasions until September 1996, when the Taliban seized control. Although the Taliban initially respected the museum, in February 2001 extremists systematically vandalised its entire contents, battering statues into piles of dust. It was then assumed that Afghanistan’s national museum had lost almost its entire collection.


Last month we spoke with an informed source who revealed that in 1989, with growing security threats, president Dr Najibullah ordered that the finest objects from the museum should be packed for safekeeping. They were put in tin trunks, many of which were moved to the presidential vault, and these probably contained several hundred of the most important items. It is assumed that the contents include objects from the Bamiyan area, where the Taliban blew up the two giant Buddha statues in March 2001.


Our source is optimistic that the museum trunks in the presidential compound are safe, along with the Bactrian gold. Very few people were informed about the 1989 safeguarding operation and until now it has never been spoken about publicly. Our source commented: “The best thing will be for the Bactrian gold and the museum trunks to be left in the presidential compound vault until security conditions improve.”



Biological Weapons Date To Classic Age

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Sept. 24, 2003 — The legendary Trojan War was won with the help of poisoned arrows, in one of the first attempts of biological warfare, according to the first historical study on the origins of bio-terrorism and chemical weapons.

"In this celebrated epic poem about noble heroes fighting honorable battles, both sides actually used arrows dipped in snake venom," said Adrienne Mayor, author of "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World" (published this month by Overlook Press).

Mayor, a classical folklorist in Princeton, N.J., gathered evidence from various archaeological finds and more than fifty ancient Greek and Latin authors, revealing that biological and chemical weapons — horrible even by modern standards — did see action in antiquity.

Toxic honey, water poisoned with drugs, scorpion bombs, choking gases, conflagrations and incendiary weapons similar to modern napalm were widely used in historical battles. Among victims and perpetrators of biochemical warfare were prominent figures such as Hannibal, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

"The first place we see the use of any kinds of poisons is in the story of how Hercules, the super hero of Greek myth, slew the gigantic, poisonous water-serpent Hydra. He dipped his arrows in the monster's venom, creating the first biological weapon described in Western literature," Mayor said.

The "Iliad" provides several clues to primitive biological warfare. Written about 700 B.C., the poem centers on the war between the Greeks (or Achaeans) and the Trojans, thought to have happened around 1250 B.C.

Through memorable episodes, the poem tells the legendary 10-year siege of Troy by King Menelaus of Greece, who sought to rescue his wife Helen from her abductor prince Paris.

"Several passages hint strongly that poisoned weapons were wielded by warriors on the battlefield, although Homer never said so outright. When Menelaus was wounded by a Trojan arrow, for example, the doctor Machaon rushed to suck out the "black blood." This treatment was the emergency remedy for snake bite and poisoned arrow wounds in real life," Mayor wrote.

Indeed, snake venom does cause black, oozing wounds. The snake species used in the Trojan War were vipers as their dried venom remains deadly for a long time when smeared on an arrowhead.

"I think it is entirely possible that what we would now call biological weapons were used by warriors in antiquity. My favorite example is Odysseus, whose weapon of choice was arrows smeared with poison," Robert Fagles, chairman of the Department of Comparative Literature at Princeton University, and translator of the "Iliad," told Discovery News.

Indeed, Odysseus, the archer renowned for crafty tricks, was the first mythic character to poison arrows with plant toxins, Mayor said. Homer recounts that he sailed to Ephyra, in western Greece, on a quest for a lethal plant — probably aconite — to smear on his bronze arrowheads.

According to Mayor, the possibilities for creating arrow poisons from natural toxins were myriad in the ancient world: "There were at least two dozen poisonous plants that could be used to treat arrows. The most commonly used toxins came from aconite (monkshood or wolfbane), black hellebore (the Christmas rose of the buttercup family), henbane (Hyoscamus niger), hemlock, yew berries and belladonna (deadly nightshade)," she said.

Other toxic substances used for arrows and spears included venomous jellyfish, poison frogs, dung mixed with putrified blood, the toxic insides of insects, sea urchins and stingray spines. Odysseus himself was killed by a spear tipped with a stingray spine, wielded by his estranged son by the witch Circe.

"This is an important contribution to the history of chemical and biological weapons. Mayor makes a convincing case that these weapons have roots deep in human prehistory, and that they were actually used," biochemical warfare expert Mark Wheelis of University of California, Davis, told Discovery News.