Ancient carved 'faces' found

By Dr David Whitehouse     

BBC News Online science editor


A keen-eyed archaeologist claims to have found some of the oldest artwork ever - carved faces 200,000 years old.

The human images were found in 2001 by Pietro Gaietto on an expedition through the Borzonasca district of Italy.

He claims the rock has been sculpted into faces that look in opposite directions; one is bearded with what Gaietto calls an "expressive face".

If this is genuine, the artist would have been an extinct human species that died out about 150,000 years ago.

Local inhabitants say that prehistoric human faces are nothing new to the region and point to a rock cliff that they believe has been sculpted. They call it the Face of Borzone.

In 2001, in a pile of rubble collected for use as building material, Pietro Gaietto, from the Museum of the Origins of Man, saw something unusual in one particular head-sized rock.

"If I had not spotted it, it would have been covered in concrete and put into a wall," he told BBC News Online

Pietro Gaietto says it shows two heads, facing outwards and joined at the neck. One of the faces is bearded; the other is beardless.

"It has a very expressive face," he says. "The beardless face has two eyes, a mouth and a wide nose."

He says close inspection of the rock reveals that it has been carved and knocked into shape.

Gaietto believes the sculpture is 200,000 years old, and would have been used in rituals.

He says it would have been made by an extinct species of human called Homo erectus, of which there is evidence in the region.

Gaietto's claims are controversial because hominids such as Homo erectus are not thought to have been capable of the symbolic thought needed to create art.

The earliest examples of human artwork that scientists feel confident to describe as such are all less than 100,000 years old. The most notable items are probably the 70,000-year-old engraved ochre pieces found in the Blombos Cave of South Africa.

But there are items some researchers have claimed to be art that are even older than the faces of Borzonasca. The so-called Tan-Tan object unearthed in Morocco in 1999 is said to be a 400,000-year-old sculpted figurine.

Mainstream science, however, believes these items are not man-made at all. It argues the distinctive features have very probably been moulded by geological processes.



World's 'oldest' rice found

By Dr David Whitehouse

BBC News Online science editor


Scientists have found the oldest known domesticated rice. The handful of 15,000-year-old burnt grains was discovered by archaeologists in Korea.

Their age challenges the accepted view that rice cultivation originated in China about 12,000 years ago.

The rice is genetically different from the modern food crop, which will allow researchers to trace its evolution.

Today's rice is the primary food for over half the world's population, with 576,280,000 tonnes produced in 2002.

Rice is especially important in Asia, where it is responsible for almost a third of all calorific intake.

The oldest known rice was discovered by Lee Yung-jo and Woo Jong-yoon of Chungbuk National University in South Korea.

The rice DNA will aid evolution study

They found the ancient grains during excavations in the village of Sorori in the Chungbuk Province.

Radioactive dating of the 59 grains of carbonised rice has pushed back the date for the earliest known cultivation of the plant.

DNA analysis shows the early rice sample to be different from the modern intensively farmed varieties, thereby offering scientists the opportunity to study the evolution of one of the world's principal food sources.

The region in central Korea where the grains were found is one of the most important sites for understanding the development of Stone Age man in Asia.



Tiny hazelnut reveals secrets of Peeblesshire’s earliest people

Published on:  October 16, 2003


MEMBERS of Peeblesshire Archaeological Society were privileged to be among the first to hear some exciting news about the area.

For a recently processed radiocarbon date shows that a prehistoric hunting camp excavated at Manor Bridge, just outside Peebles, is one of the oldest yet known in Scotland.

The hot news was e-mailed to Trevor Cowie, chairman of the group, by Dr Graeme Warren, now of the Department of Archaeology, University College Dublin, and relayed to members of the Society at its meeting yesterday (Thursday).

Graeme reported that the date was obtained from a charred fragment of hazelnut shell which had been submitted to Glasgow University’s Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory as part of a dating programme sponsored by Historic Scotland.

The result shows that the hazelnut must date to between 8300 and 7960 BC — that is roughly 10,000 years ago, and early in what is known as the Mesolithic period.

Only two of the sites of this period known from Scotland are older: Cramond, on the shores of the Forth outside Edinburgh dates to 8600 - 8100 BC, and Daer Reservoir, Lanarkshire, excavated under the direction of Tam Ward, dates to 8550 - 7950 BC. Manor Bridge, along with Daer, shows that groups of hunter-gatherers were present in the interior of Scotland soon after our first evidence of their arrival in the country.

The site at Manor Bridge lies on a small rocky outcrop on the north bank of the Tweed, immediately downstream of its junction with the Manor Water.

Well-known local archaeological enthusiast Bob Knox first identified the site in the early 1980s.

Bob’s sharp eyes spotted tiny stone tools made of chert and flint, eroding out of the popular footpath along the river.

In July 1998, Graeme (then of the Department of Archaeology, Edinburgh University) and Bob excavated a small number of test pits on the rocky outcrop above the river junction and in the field above this.

The excavations showed evidence of structural remains including a stone setting and a pit or scoop from which the carbonised hazelnuts were recovered.

Much of the evidence from the site is in the form of stone tools, of which nearly a thousand have been found. Small amounts of flint and larger amounts of local deposits of chert were used to manufacture blades and tiny tools known as microliths.

Together, all the evidence points to a small campsite set above the Tweed.

The Manor Bridge date places this activity around 1300-1600 years after the end of the last Ice Age, and the landscape surrounding the site would then have been dominated by light woodland — with birch and hazel particularly important.

Plant remains from Manor Bridge include hazel, birch, willow, oak and rowan/crab apple family.

The location of the site, above a popular fishing location, seems to imply that salmon may have been an important resource.

As animal remains do not survive, it is difficult to be certain about the overall diet - but it certainly seems that hazelnuts played a part — as they did on many other Mesolithic sites in northern Europe. Collected in the autumn, they would have provided a useful source of nourishment especially if roasted and stored for the winter use.

Graeme’s fascinating report finished by stressing that further work is needed at this and other sites in the region, so that archaeologists can get a better picture of when and how people first settled the Borders landscape.

In the meantime, however, the Manor Bridge site shows that the Peebles area has long been a focus of human settlement in Scotland!

At the moment only one fragment of hazelnut has been dated — and further radiocarbon dates will be needed. Little did those early folk by the Tweed know that that their food remains would one day be used to throw light on their lives!



Debate erupts anew: Did Thera's explosion doom Minoan Crete?

William J. Broad NYT

Thursday, October 23, 2003

The New York Times

Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune


For decades, scholars have debated whether the eruption of the Thera volcano in the Aegean more than 3,000 years ago brought about the mysterious collapse of Minoan civilization at the peak of its glory. The volcanic isle (whose remnants are known as Santorini) lay just 110 kilometers from Minoan Crete, so it seemed quite reasonable that its fury could have accounted for the fall of that celebrated people.


This idea suffered a blow in 1987 when Danish scientists studying cores from the Greenland ice cap reported evidence that Thera exploded in 1645 B.C., some 150 years before the usually accepted date. That put so much time between the natural disaster and the Minoan decline that the linkage came to be widely doubted, seeming far-fetched at best.


Now, scientists at Columbia University, the University of Hawaii and other institutions are renewing the proposed connection.


New findings, they say, show that Thera's upheaval was far more violent than was previously calculated (many times larger than the 1883 Krakatoa eruption, which killed more than 36,000 people). They say the blast's cultural repercussions were equally large, rippling across the eastern Mediterranean for decades and perhaps centuries.


"It had to have had a huge impact," said Floyd McCoy, a geologist at the University of Hawaii who has studied the eruption for decades and recently proposed that it was much more violent than had been previously thought.


The scientists say Thera's outburst produced deadly waves and dense clouds of volcanic ash over a vast region, crippling ancient cities and fleets, setting off climate changes, ruining crops and sowing wide political unrest. For Minoan Crete, the scientists see direct and indirect consequences. McCoy discovered that towering waves from the eruption that hit Crete were up to 15 meters high, about 50 feet, smashing ports and fleets and severely damaging the maritime economy.


Other scientists found indirect, long-term damage. Ash and global cooling from the volcanic pall caused wide crop failures in the eastern Mediterranean, they said, and the agricultural woes in turn set off political upheavals that undid Minoan friends and trade.


"Imagine island states without links to the outside world," William Ryan, a geologist at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.


Scientists who link Thera to the Minoan decline say the evidence is still emerging and in some cases sketchy. Even so, they say it is already compelling enough to have convinced many archaeologists, geologists and historians that the repercussions probably amounted to a death blow for Minoan Crete.


Rich and sensual, sophisticated and artistic, Minoan culture flourished in the Bronze Age between roughly 3,000 and 1,400 B.C., the first high civilization of Europe. It developed an early form of writing and used maritime skill to found colonies and a trade empire.


The British archaeologist Arthur Evans called the civilization Minoan, after Minos, the legendary king. His unearthed palace was huge and intricate, and had clearly been weakened by upheavals, including fire and earthquakes. Nearby on the volcanic island of Thera, or Santorini, archaeologists dug up Minoan buildings, artifacts and a whole city, Akrotiri, buried under volcanic ash, like Pompeii. Some of its beautifully preserved frescoes depicted Egyptian motifs and animals, suggesting significant contact between the two peoples.


In 1939, Spyridon Marinatos, a Greek archaeologist, proposed that the eruption wrecked Minoan culture on Thera and Crete. He envisioned the damage as done by associated earthquakes and tsunamis. While geologists found tsunamis credible, they doubted the destructive power of Thera's earthquakes, saying volcanic ones tend to be relatively mild. The debate simmered for decades.


In the mid-1960's, scientists dredging up ooze from the bottom of the Mediterranean began to notice a thick layer of ash that they linked to Thera's eruption. They tracked it over thousands of square miles. McCoy of the University of Hawaii, then at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, took part in these discoveries, starting a lifelong interest in Thera. By the early 1980's, he was publishing papers on the ash distribution.


Such clues helped geologists estimate the amount of material Thera spewed into the sky and the height of its eruption cloud - main factors in the Volcanic Explosivity Index. Its scale goes from zero to eight and is logarithmic, so each unit represents a tenfold increase in explosive power. Thera was given a VEI of 6.0, on a par with Krakatoa in 1883.


The similarity to Krakatoa, which lies between Sumatra and Java, helped experts better envision Thera's wrath. Despite the power of Thera, the Danish scientists' evidence raised doubts about its links to the Minoan decline. Their date for Thera's explosion, 1645 B.C., based on frozen ash in Greenland, is some 150 years earlier than the usual date. Given that the Minoan fall was usually dated to 1450 B.C., the gap between cause and effect seemed too large.


Another blow landed in 1989 when scholars on Crete found, above a Thera ash layer, a house that had been substantially rebuilt in the Minoan style. It suggested at least partial cultural survival.


By 1996, experts like Jeremy Rutter, head of classics at Dartmouth, judged the chronological gap too extreme for any linkage. "No direct correlation can be established" between the volcano and the Minoan decline, he concluded.


Amid doubts about the tie, scientists kept finding more evidence suggesting that Thera's eruption had been unusually violent and disruptive over wide areas. Scientific maps drawn in the 1960's and 1970's showed its ash as falling mostly over nearby waters and Aegean islands. By the 1990's, however, affected areas had mushroomed to include lands of the eastern Mediterranean from Anatolia to Egypt. Scientists found ash from Thera at the bottom of the Black Sea and Nile delta.


Peter Kuniholm, an expert at Cornell on using tree rings to establish dates, found ancient trees in a burial mound in Anatolia, what now is in the Asian part of Turkey. For half a decade those trees had grown three times as fast as normal - apparently because Thera's volcanic pall turned hot, dry summers into seasons that were unusually cool and wet.


More intrigued than ever, McCoy of the University of Hawaii two years ago stumbled on more evidence suggesting that Thera's ash fall had been unusually wide and heavy. During a field trip to Anafi, an island some 20 miles east of Thera, he found to his delight that the authorities had just cut fresh roads that exposed layers of Thera ash up to 10 feet thick - a surprising amount that distance from the eruption. And Greek colleagues showed him new seabed samples taken off the Greek mainland, suggesting that more ash blew westward than scientists had realized.


Factoring in such evidence, McCoy calculated that Thera had a VEI of 7.0 - what geologists call colossal and exceedingly rare. In the past 10,000 years only one other volcano has exploded with that kind of gargantuan violence: Tambora, in Indonesia, in 1816, It produced an ash cloud in the upper atmosphere that reflected sunlight back into space and produced the year without a summer. The cold led to ruinous harvests, hunger and even famine in the United States, Europe and Russia.


"I presented this evidence last summer at a meeting," McCoy recalled, "and the comment from the other volcanologists was, 'Hey, it was probably larger than Tambora.'"


In scholarly articles, Jan Driessen, an archaeologist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, and Colin MacDonald, an archaeologist at the British School in Athens, Greece, have argued that changes to Cretan architecture, storage, food production, artistic output and the distribution of riches imply major social dislocations, and perhaps civil war.


By 1450 B.C., Mycenaean invaders from mainland Greece seized control of Crete, ending the Minoan era.


Thera's destructiveness was probably the catalyst, Driessen and MacDonald wrote, "that culminated in Crete being absorbed to a greater or lesser extent into the Mycenaean, and therefore, the Greek world."



Is this where Jesus bathed?

Wednesday October 22, 2003

The Guardian

Jonathan Cook


A shopkeeper running a small souvenir business in Nazareth has made a sensational discovery that could dramatically rewrite the history of Christianity.


Elias Shama's small souvenir shop in Nazareth, the town of Jesus's childhood, barely catches the eye. Tourists usually pass by it on their way to the neighbouring Mary's Well church, claimed by the Greek Orthodox church as the site where the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she was carrying the son of God.

Before the Palestinian intifada erupted three years ago, the shop did a steady trade selling the usual pilgrim fare - olive-wood crosses and Virgin Mary statuettes - to any tourist who strayed from the 100 or more coach parties briefly herded into the city each day from across Israel. Now, with constant stories of Palestinian suicide attacks in the news, the pilgrims are long gone.

This summer, though, Shama's shop, Cactus, attracted a handful of visitors prepared to brave the violence. A team of forensic archaeologists and biblical scholars have been poring over a network of tunnels Shama unearthed under his shop several years ago. They believe he has made a discovery so remarkable it will rewrite the history books, changing our understanding not only of the Holy Land but of the life of Jesus himself.

Shama began excavating the tunnels after he and his Belgian wife, Martina, bought the shop in 1993, and found a series of 4ft-high passages, separated by columns of small bricks supporting a white marble floor. In one corner they found a walled-off room where a residue of wood ash revealed it once served as a furnace.

The American excavators are convinced that what Shama has exposed is an almost perfectly preserved Roman bathhouse from 2,000 years ago - the time of Christ, and in the town where he was raised. In a piece of marketing that is soon likely to be echoing around the world, Shama says he has stumbled across the "bathhouse of Jesus". The effects on Holy Land tourism are likely be profound, with Nazareth becoming a challenger to Jerusalem and Bethlehem as the world's most popular site of Christian pilgrimage.

Professor Richard Freund, an academic behind important Holy Land digs at the ancient city of Bethsaida, near Tiberias, and Qumran in the Jordan Valley, says the significance of the find cannot be overstated. Over the summer he put aside other excavation projects to concentrate on the Nazareth site. "I am sure that what we have here is a bathhouse from the time of Jesus," he says, "and the consequences of that for archaeology, and for our knowledge of the life of Jesus, are enormous."

Freund's confidence has been shored up by radar and ground-penetrating surveys his team carried out showing the floor of another, older bathhouse under the one excavated by Shama. He hopes to use carbon-dating to establish whether the upper or lower bathhouse is Roman.

After originally identifying the site as Ottoman, dating back only 150 years, Israel's antiquities authority has now admitted that the bath's design means it must be much older. The hypocaust (an underfloor system of heating channels) and frigidarium (cold room) are typical of Roman bath layout. "What we are looking at now is probably Roman but even if it proves to be from a later period, then the bath underneath certainly is Roman," says Freund. "Either way, we know that under the shop lies a huge new piece of evidence in understanding the life and times of Jesus."

Freund, of the Maurice Greenberg Centre for Judaic Studies at Hartford University in Connecticut, says the discovery means that historians will have to rethink the place and significance of Nazareth in the Roman empire and consequently the formative experiences of Jesus. It has been assumed that the Nazareth of 2,000 years ago was a poor Jewish village on the periphery of the empire, where local families inhabited caves on the hillside that today contains the modern Israeli-Arab city. On this view, the young Jesus would have had little contact with the Romans until he left Nazareth as an adult; his father, Joseph, one of many craftsmen in the town, may have worked on a Roman palace at nearby Sephori.

But the huge scale of Shama's bathhouse suggests that Nazareth, rather than Sephori, was the local hub of military control from Rome. The giant bath could only have been built for a Roman city or to service a significant garrison town. That would mean Joseph and Mary, and their son Jesus, would have been living in the very heart of the occupying power. This is likely to have huge significance for New Testament scholars in their understanding of Jesus's later teachings.

Even more significantly, the bathhouse opens up the possibility of discovering a treasure trove of artifacts from the time of Jesus in his hometown. Surprisingly, given its central place in Christian heritage, Nazareth has been little mined for archaeological evidence in recent times. Israeli officials, possibly intimidated by the thought of trying to dig under an overcrowded city of 70,000 Arabs, have mostly sealed up and forgotten its subterranean world of secret passages and tombs. Other areas, including around the Cactus shop, have never been properly excavated.

This failure makes Shama's find all the more intriguing, since there is a dearth of archaeological material linked directly to Jesus. Generations of charlatans have exploited pilgrims by offering them "certified" pieces of the cross, but in practice archaeologists have nothing from Jesus's life, or from Mary's. Shama observes: "If we dig deeper there will be coins and trinkets and pottery. Who knows, maybe Mary or Jesus dropped such things while in the bathhouse."

Freund is more circumspect, though in support of Shama's hopes he produces a document written nearly 500 years ago by Rabbi Moshe Bassola of Ancona after he made a pilgrimage to the area. In his account the rabbi writes: "We came from Kfar Kana, arriving the next day in Nazareth, where the Christian Jesus lived. The citizens told me that there existed a hot bathhouse where the Mother of Jesus immersed herself."

Freund is sure that plenty remains to be found under and around Shama's shop. "We are talking about relics lying untouched, buried under the ground, for 2,000 years at the place where Jesus lived, and from the time when he was living here. It doesn't get much more exciting than that."

Further excavation of the site, however, is not yet assured: Shama's discovery is mired in financial difficulties and the sectarian acrimony that has blighted the Middle East for centuries. Given the find's significance, it is surprising to learn that Shama, a Christian Arab, is receiving no outside support, even from the state. Since he and his wife sank the last of their life savings in excavating and developing the site, the shop is close to collapse - and with it perhaps the bathhouse project.

The most powerful player in the Christian world, the Vatican, has so far refused to throw its weight behind the dig, possibly fearing that Shama's find threatens its own dominance where tourism in the city is concerned. Its Basilica of the Annunciation, the Middle East's largest church, is on the other side of town from Mary's Well. There has been a long-running dispute between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches about whose church is on the true site of the Annunciation.

The Catholics claim the Basilica is built over a grotto that was Mary's home; the Orthodox, basing their tradition on an alternative Gospel that Mary was drawing water from Nazareth's well when she was visited by Gabriel, say their Mary's Well church, half a kilometre away, is located over the original spring. Shama's bathhouse, next to Mary's Well church, poses a double threat to them: it strengthens the claim of the Orthodox church to be the true site of the Annunciation, and it will make the Mary's Well area the main tourist attraction in Nazareth.

Shama has had no help from Israeli officials either. But in a sign of what may be a turn-around, Dror Bashad, head archaeologist at the northern division of the antiquities authority, recently visited the site. Afterwards he wrote in Shama's visitors' book: "Make sure to continue executing all your work with the coordination and approval of the antiquities authority since it has become clear we are talking about an ancient bathhouse from at least the Roman period."

Despite his financial difficulties, Shama has big dreams for the bathhouse. He hopes one day to be able to fill it, or a replica, with water drawn from the spring at Mary's Well. "It can be done," he says. "We will make the bathhouse of Jesus live again, just like it was 2,000 years ago."



Dutch Cargo Ship Find Gives Clue to Roman Defense

Wed 22 October, 2003 15:35 BST

By Lucas van Grinsven


WOERDEN, Netherlands (Reuters) - Dutch archaeologists have discovered a Roman cargo ship equipped with oars, a unique find that explains how imperial Rome defended itself on its Northern frontiers, they said Tuesday.

The barge, dating from around 100 AD, was excavated in the Dutch town of Woerden which was once the location of the Roman military settlement Castellum Laurium on the banks of the Rhine.

The flat-bottomed boat was manned by at least 12 rowers. The oars would have allowed the Romans to navigate strong currents back to the German Eiffel region from where it had brought rocks to strengthen the forts along the frontier.

Until now, archaeologists and historians had thought the Romans could only sail downstream with their cargo vessels, which resemble today's bulky barges.

Exactly 100 Roman feet (about 100 feet) long, the ship would be dismantled and the wood used as building material together with its cargo, according to this theory.

"This is the first time we have evidence that these barges could sail back upstream," archaeologist Wouter Vos said.

The cargo vessels, some 30 of which have been discovered in northwest Europe, date back to an era when the Romans were improving their fortifications along the Northern borders of their empire.

The marshy estuary of the Rhine contained no rocks to replace the limestone walls and towers, so these had to be imported from Germany by boat. Each of the 15 to 20 Roman forts along the Dutch Rhine were run by some 500 mercenary troops from elsewhere in the empire, overseen by a 5,000 strong Roman legion in Nijmegen.



Roman ship sheds light on defenses

Dutch archaeologists work on an ancient Roman barge that was dug up in the center of the town of Woerden in the Netherlands. Woerden was once the location of the Roman military settlement Castellum Laurium.



WOERDEN, Netherlands, Oct. 21 —  Dutch archaeologists have discovered a Roman cargo ship equipped with oars, a unique find that they say explains how imperial Rome defended itself on its northern frontiers.


    THE BARGE, dating from around A.D. 100, was excavated in the Dutch town of Woerden, which was once the location of the Roman military settlement Castellum Laurium on the banks of the Rhine.

       The flat-bottomed boat was manned by at least 12 rowers. The oars would have allowed the Romans to navigate strong currents back to the German Eiffel region from where it had brought rocks to strengthen the forts along the frontier.


       Until now, archaeologists and historians had thought the Romans could sail only downstream with their cargo vessels, which resemble today’s bulky barges.

       The excavated ship appears to have been exactly 100 Roman feet long — which is slightly less than 100 modern feet, or about 30 meters. Archaeologists had thought such ships were dismantled, with the wood as well as its cargo used as building material.


       “This is the first time we have evidence that these barges could sail back upstream,” archaeologist Wouter Vos said.

       The cargo vessels, 30 of which have been discovered in northwest Europe, date back to an era when the Romans were improving their fortifications along the northern borders of their empire.

       The marshy estuary of the Rhine contained no rocks to replace the limestone walls and towers, so these had to be imported from Germany by boat. Each of the 15 to 20 Roman forts along the Dutch Rhine were run by 500 mercenary troops from elsewhere in the empire, overseen by a 5,000-strong Roman legion in Nijmegen.


       © 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.



Researchers zero in on 'new' Viking ship


Pulse levels are rising among Norwegian researchers who think they may have found the country's fourth intact Viking ship buried in a mound near Toensberg. The site is just next to the spot where the famed Gokstad ship was found in 1880.


Researchers from the University of Oslo have been using radar to examine the Viking burial site. Photos have revealed an oval shape lying about a meter under the pile of stones atop the mound, called a gravroeysa in Norwegian.

Newspaper VG reported Tuesday that the pictures may denote another Viking longship buried with its owners' possessions in the traditional manner.

Researchers also think the ship may be intact. Clay in the area preserved the Gokstad ship for more than a thousand years, so it's entirely possible that conditions have allowed the perservation of another ship as well.

The Gokstad Ship, now one of the crown jewels in Oslo's Viking Ships Museum on the Bygdoey peninsula, was found just a kilometer-and-a-half away. It's believed to have been built around 890 and likely belonged to a king or chieftain.

Archaeologist Trude Aga Brun of Vestfold County wants to examine the site as soon as possible. She said officials will try to undertake a focused excavation this autumn. "If we're lucky, we'll find some woodwork," she told VG.

Many Viking ship graves have been found in Norway over the years, but most of the vessels had rotted away and graves also had been plundered in earlier centuries.



Ancient cliff carvings discovered in Inner Mongolia

(2003-10-23 10:42) (Xinhua)


Archaeologists have found a large number of cliff carvings in the mountainous areas of the Alxa Right Banner in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Over 800 vivid and life-like pictures, depicting people and animals, as well as scenes of hunting, battles and sacrificial rites are carved or engraved on the rocks, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Cliff carving was common in ancient China, and large pieces in the Helan Mountains, at the juncture of Ningxia Hui and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Regions, and on cliffs along the Ancient Silk Road, are regarded as unique.

The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, once a nomadic area, alone is home to over 6,000 rock carvings by nomadic people going back 2,000 years.

Archaeologists said the latest discovery was of great historic, artistic and scientific value and the regional government would take prompt measures to protect the carvings.



900-year-old ship found beneath rice field


A sailing vessel that experts believe sank off the coast of southern India 900 years ago has been found buried in a rice field.

The ship is made of local Indian wood but the craftsmanship is not, leading experts to suggest it was made by ancient Chinese, Japanese, Egyptians or Arabs.

The government of southern Kerala state has excavated the 22-metre long, five-metre wide ship, after it was found in a rice field in Thaikal, a coastal village.

After centuries of land buildup, it was 50 metres deep in the inland field when workers tilling the field two years ago noticed some of its wooden planks protruding.

"Parts of the vessel that we have excavated are sure to throw up lots of light into the maritime activities in India centuries back. We are now going to organise an international conference of maritime and archaeological experts to unravel the mystery of the ship," PK Gopi, head of the Centre for Heritage Studies, said.

The centre conducted the excavation and will host the convention in January.

The base of the ship is intact, Gopi said. "We have also unearthed many wooden portions, seven small wooden shelves, different types of shells, pieces of ropes and bamboo from the vessel."

After carbon-dating tests on the ship's wood, a local variety called Anjili, Gopi said: "We believe the ship to be approximately 920 years old. But the techniques used in making this vessel are definitely not Indian."

He said he believed the builders were from China, Japan, Egypt or an Arab country.

"In the 12th century, lots of people from these countries used to come to the Kerala coast for trading," Gopi said.

© Associated Press



Builders unearth skeletons by river


Ancient skeletons which could date back as far as the 13th century have been unearthed in a medieval cemetery discovered in Shrewsbury, it was revealed today.

Builders creating a new private home on the banks of the River Severn, working alongside archaeologists, discovered the skeletal remains of a body earlier this month in one of the first archaeological finds of its kind in the town in decades. Archaeologists have now excavated a further two bodies.

One of the bodies is believed to be a priest holding a chalice in a rare find at the site of a former friary.

Simon Jeffery, from Clun-based Marches Archaeology, believes the house, off St Mary's Water Lane, is being built on the site of a medieval cemetery where hundreds of bodies could have been buried.

The bodies could date back as far as the 13th century. It is believed the cemetery was closed in the 16th century during the time of Henry VIII.

He said the archeological firm was working in tandem with building firm DGP Building and was in the process of excavating a further two skeletons - bringing the total to be excavated to five.

At least four other bodies have been identified but will not need to be excavated, he added.

All the excavations are being done following full consultation with town bosses and the county archaeologist.

Mr Jeffery said: "The bodies are all pretty well preserved. The bone is very well preserved so that interpreting them is going to be easier. We should be able to find out the age, gender and what diseases they may have had from the skeletal material.

"The firm has spoken to the Bishop of Shrewsbury and he is happy we bury them in a municipal ceremony after they have been studied by a human bone specialist.

"I do not know the last time anybody excavated any human remains in the town but it's one of the first times in recent decades that there has been a proper archeological excavation of a medieval cemetery in Shrewsbury itself."

He said the first body was excavated on the site a few weeks ago and archaeologists would remain on site for a few days to finish work.

Yesterday archaeologists Mr Jeffery and his colleague Vicky Sears were still clearing up the area around two of the sets of remains.

Work on preparing the base of the house has continued while the excavations have taken place.

The house is due for completion early next summer.