New road reveals Stone Age site

Archaeologists believe they may have stumbled upon a major Stone Age site - on the route of a new bypass.

The site dates back between 250,000 and 300,000 years and may even provide evidence of one of the earliest uses of fire.

Archaeologists discovered a range of items at the location in Harnham, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, including 44 "very rare" flint hand axes - the earliest form of tool used by man.

Yet the dig was only organised after the county council unveiled plans to build a relief road for the village.

One of the most exciting discoveries on the site has been evidence of charcoal - which could point to an early use of fire.

Roy Canham, county archaeologist, told BBC News Online: "It is always a bit tentative.

"We are dealing with a very early period of time and it may have to remain speculative. But the evidence is what it is and it looks ok.

"This discovery has come out of the blue. There is no evidence of the site from air photography and no history of fieldwork."

Helena Cave Penny, an archaeologist at the county council, added: "The presence of charcoal at the site suggests the people there made fires.

"This would seem natural when it is known that the climate was cold and damp at the time.

"It could be the earliest evidence of such fires in Britain - and probably in Europe."

Evidence suggests the site was next to a tributary of the River Avon, and may have been a seasonal camp used by hunters.

Wiltshire County Council is now consulting with English Heritage to decide what steps should be taken to safeguard the finds.



Weird rock carvings puzzle archaeologists

17:34 09 October 03

NewScientist.com news service


Mysterious rock carvings engraved into strange shapes are baffling UK archaeologists. One resembles a heart, another a human footprint.

Aron Mazel and Stan Beckensall, who stumbled across the unusual carvings close to England's border with Scotland, believe they are the first such designs to have been discovered in the UK.

"We have absolutely no idea what they are," says Mazel, an archaeologist at the University of Newcastle. "They are nothing like anything we, or anybody else we have talked to, have seen before." He believes the carvings were not created recently - in the last 15 to 20 years - and could be as ancient as 3000 years old.

The researchers were alerted to the etchings on an isolated boulder by a farm worker, while they were investigating the well-known "cup and ring" rock art in Northumberland. These prehistoric etchings have been found across the UK, and are particularly abundant in the county.


"The carvings we have found before - cup and ring - dated back to the Neolithic Bronze Age and were probably done by early farmers," Mazel told New Scientist. They were hacked into rock faces using stone pick axes.

But the new-found carvings are "very different", he says. "They are sharper on one hand, but also quite smooth." Metal tools are likely to have been required to make them.

"Also, the imagery reflected in the carvings are very different," Mazel says. "They are elliptical shapes, and something which looks like a footprint, and a heart."

Mazel and Beckensall are puzzled by their discovery and have consulted experts in the field such as English Heritage, but no one has been able to shed any light.

"We are keen to draw people's attention to them - seeing the pictures of the markings may prompt somebody to come forward with new information, perhaps relating to similar rock art samples they have viewed elsewhere," says Beckensall.

Shaoni Bhattacharya



Mystery markings baffle experts

Experts are calling on people to help them identify the markings

Experts are scratching their heads about a series of rock markings discovered in north Northumberland.

The markings - including a heart shape and one resembling a human footprint - are being investigated by archaeologists on rocks near Wooler.

The Newcastle University team, who were alerted to the carvings by a local farm-hand, have said they are baffled as to what they mean or who created them.

And fellow experts they have consulted are equally confused.

The markings found on isolated sandstone boulder, include a group of concave spherical shapes of around 20 cm in diameter.

Cup and ring

Another resembles an adult footprint, several deep scores and a heart-shaped marking.

People are now being encouraged to come forward with explanations and to help solve the mystery.

Dr Aron Mazel, research associate with the School of Historical Studies, has been investigating the markings with Northumberland and international rock art authority Stan Beckensall.

Despite having over 60 years experience of studying rock art between them, they have been unable to identify what they were.

One of the marks resembles a heart shape

Dr Mazel said: "They are not the cup and ring marks which we have been studying as part of the Northumberland prehistoric rock art project they appear to be more recent than that.

"There have been people in the Northumberland area since the start of the Mesolithic period around 10,000 years ago, but I would think that these markings were made after cups and rings, probably during the last 3000 years.

"Until we know more about these markings it would be hard to pinpoint which era they belong to."

Mr Beckensall said: "As far as I know, these markings are unique and nothing like them exists anywhere else in Northumberland or in the British Isles.

"That's why we are keen to draw people's attention to them - seeing the pictures of the markings may prompt somebody to come forward with new information, perhaps relating to similar rock art samples they have viewed elsewhere."



Press release Sep. 25th, 2003 at 2 p.m.

Late Iron Age silver deposit found at Nanguniemi, Inari, Finland

On September 19th, 2003 writer Seppo Saraspää was looking for lichen for his draft reindeer in Nanguniemi in Inari. While climbing on the rocks his eye was caught by something unexpected. At first glance it looked like a snake or a woman's hair holder. Saraspää decided to have a closer look. What he had found was in fact a silver neck-ring. Saraspää looked around and concluded that the ring had fallen down from the small cave above. He peeked inside the cave and noticed that there was still something else left, yet he decided to leave the treasure untouched. Saraspää contacted immediately Tarmo Jomppanen, the director of Sámi Museum Siida, and delivered him the ring that he had found.

Nanguniemi silver treasure in its hiding place before the excavation.

The deposit was researched on September 23rd together with the finder, Seppo Saraspää, museum curator Arja Hartikainen and archaeologist Eija Ojanlatva. Saraspää told the crew that he had seen some birch bark and also something else in the cave. The excavation team took proper documentation equipment and packing materials with them. Looking at the boulders from a distance, it was impossible to tell where the cave was. The big rock above the small hole or a cave was tilted downwards over the hole so that no one could actually see the hole unless bending on one's knees. The cave was perused with a flashlight, and the researchers discovered that there were at least three more neck-rings left. The rings were placed on top of each other over two small stones, and a birch bark plate was placed between the rings and the stones. The rings and the bark were lifted together carefully over a piece of cardboard, and the package was placed to the transportation box. The soil under the rings was collected to a plastic bag in order to examine it later in the museum's lab to ensure that there are no more artefacts to be found. The rings were carefully cleaned from the soil, and the birch bark was stored uncontaminated for the radiocarbon dating.

This silver deposit is the only one so far that has been found from the Inari region. The closest similar silver deposit is from a place called Lämsä in Kuusamo, and it was found in 1953. All the four silver neck-rings on the recent discovery are made from twisted silver wires. The neck-rings are woven so that they narrow towards the ends, and their geometric ornamentation consists mainly of triangular and circular stamps. There are very beautifully curved hooks at the ends of the rings. All of the rings are practically undamaged and very well preserved, only one of the hooks is broken. One of the four rings is different. It has altogether three axe-shaped silver pendants that are symmetrical and decorated by stamps. The silver deposit can be dated to the Late Iron Age, approximately between the 11th and 13th century, according to the typology and other similar silver deposits found from the Northern Finland.

All four silver neck-rings.

Late Iron Age silver treasures are among the most interesting archaeological find types in Northern Scandinavia. From Northern Finland alone there are five known silver deposits, and they are all dated between 1050-1200 AD. Similar silver neck-rings or fragments of them have been found from Tavajärvi and Lämsä in Kuusamo, Aatservainen in Salla and Lohijärvi in Ylitornio. Tavajärvi and Lämsä findings also contain axe-shaped silver pendants. Silver neck-rings have also been found from deposits, or places of sacrifice, in Norway and Sweden. Among these can be mentioned the following sites: Lenvik, Bothamn in Troms and Haukøy in Norway and Unna Sáiva and Karesuando Idivuoma in Sweden.

This exquisite silver pendant is part of the Nanguniemi silver treasure.

The research of Nanguniemi silver deposit has just begun, and thus the interpretation of the find is still open. The fence of the deposit has consciously placed the rings in the cave where they were protected from snow, melting waters, sunlight and, of course, from other people. The site is probably a hiding-place. It lacks bone and antler material, and there are no signs whatsoever of it having been a sacrificial site. At this stage of research it is difficult to tell if the treasure has belonged to a local inhabitant or to a foreign trader in the wilderness. Quite another problem is to define the place or region where the rings have been manufactured. During the Late Iron Age the same kind of silver rings have been used both in east and west, in a region reaching from Estonia and Novgorod to Finland, Sweden and Norway.

After the first announcement of the discovery at the Sámi Museum Siida in Inari the silver rings of Nanguniemi were delivered to the National Board of Antiquities in Helsinki. It is a normal procedure, where the artefacts will be indexed and documented by researches and evaluated by conservators. Sámi Museum Siida has already sent a loan request to the National Board of Antiquities in order to get the silver deposit permanently in their exhibition.


Further Information:

Museum Director Tarmo Jomppanen, Sámi Museum Siida, tel. +358 (0)16 665 222, GSM +358 (0)400 167 806

Archaeologist Eija Ojanlatva, tel. +358 (0)44 3395 113

Markku Torvinen, National Board of Antiquities, tel. +358 (0)9 4050 9265


Björkman, Tuomas 1957. Kuusamon Lämsän hopea-aarre. Suomen Museo 64.

Kivikoski, Ella 1973. Die Eisenzeit Finnlands. Bildwerk und text.

Koivunen, Pentti 1991. Suomen Tornionlaakson esihistoriaa, Tornionlaakson rautakautta (s.132-140). In Tornionlaakson historia I. Jääkaudelta 1600-luvulle.

Lehtosalo-Hilander, Pirkko-Liisa 1984. Keski- ja myöhäisrautakausi. In Suomen Historia I.

Serning, Inga 1956. Lapska offerplatsfynden från järnålder och medeltid i de svenska Lappmarkerna.

Zachrisson, Inger 1984. De samiska metalldepåerna år 1000-1350 i ljuset av fyndet från Mörtträsket, Lappland. Archaeology and Environment 3. Department of Archaeology. University of Umeå.

Text: Eija Ojanlatva. Images: Siida / Arja Hartikainen.


© SIIDA 2001, feedback: siida@samimuseum.fi



Ancient Tombs Reveal Bronze Age Civilization

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Oct. 6, 2003

Archaeologists could soon unveil the social structure of a mysterious Bronze Age civilization from northern Italy, according to ongoing anthropological and archaeological research.

The study centers on a large necropolis discovered in the Casinalbo village near Modena. Dating between 1500 and 1200 B.C., it consisted of more than 2,000 tombs belonging to the people of the "terramare" — prehistoric flat-topped mounds left by a Bronze Age pile-dwelling settlement built on dry land.

"No necropolis of this size and age has been found south of the River Po. So far we have brought to light about 400 tombs. They are cremation tombs and contain cinerary vases, often decorated with geometric patterns," project director Andrea Cardarelli, professor of prehistory and proto-history at Modena University, told Discovery News.

Scattered in the Po valley and used in the 18th century as a source for compost and often destroyed, the terramare mounds only recently have been systematically studied to reveal the site's well-organized civilization.

With their large, numerous, well-planned and densely populated villages surrounded by artificial channels, the people of the terramare colonized the once inhospitable Po valley. Through an intense use of natural resources which in the end may have caused their collapse, they produced the first artificial landscape in northern Italy.

Although it was first identified at the end of the 19th century, the Casinalbo necropolis has not been fully investigated until now. This "city of the deaths" was laid out in different sections containing a number between 10 to 80 tombs, probably organized following family ties.

"It is interesting that the tombs did not contain arms [weapons] but only female objects, mainly bronze items such as brooches and pendants. We found arms gathered in another area of the cemetery. They had been burned and broken, probably in a funerary ritual," Cardarelli said.

Despite the precariously preserved cremated bones, Cardarelli has begun an anthropological study which in the following months should reveal not only the sex and age of the buried people but — thanks to specific chemical signals (isotopic values) in bones — their diet.

"It is an interesting project. This cemetery is important because female tombs will help us understand how the terramare society was organized," said Mark Pearce, from the University of Nottingham, U.K. and a leading expert on this civilization.

"If Cardarelli can show that the cemetery includes both rich and poor female tombs, he will provide evidence for a complex, stratified society," Pearce told Discovery News.



Older Layers Of Pompeii Unearthed

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Oct. 2, 2003

After three years of research, the Pompeii that Mount Vesuvius did not bury is coming to light, according to Italian archaeologists.

Hidden in layers beneath the town overwhelmed by lava and ash by the most famous eruption in history, the ancient settlement dates back to the third century B.C.

"We noticed that some buildings in Pompeii have unusual features, such as walls showing different materials and techniques and walled, wrongly positioned windows. This strongly suggested that some of the houses that visitors admire today, were built on top of houses constructed previously," archaeologist Fabrizio Pesando of Naples's Oriental University, told Discovery News.

With his colleague Filippo Coarelli of Perugia University, Pesando investigated a series of houses in the Regio VI quarter in the northern area of the town, which carried several of those unusual architectural features.

"The result has been fascinating. We have found remains that reconstruct the entire history of the town, from traces of walls dating back to the sixth century B.C. to startling evidence of a third century settlement," Pesando said.

Pompeii was covered by nine feet of volcanic ash and pumice on Aug. 24 in A.D. 79. As a result, cobbled streets, homes, villas with superb mosaics and frescoes, amazing public spaces and daily life objects, have been preserved forever, fascinating visitors since excavation begun during the late 18th century.

The town that is coming to light is slightly different. It was characterized by steps and narrow streets accessible only with donkeys, while row of smaller houses lined larger streets.

"Pompeii was built on steps degrading toward [the] south. This is one of the reasons why the site was originally chosen to build a settlement. Given the town's position, rain water would have flowed down preventing floods," Pesando said.

In the following century, Pompeii slowly turned into the city that visitors admire today. The steps disappeared and new houses were built on top of the old ones, making the town more even and regular.

Pesando concentrated mainly on a large house between the streets Vicolo di Modesto and Vicolo della Fullonica. Extending over an area of more than 1,300 square feet, the house revealed three levels of floors. The oldest one, a third century mosaic floor, has been recovered almost intact.

Further digging also produced the first evidence of a third century house featuring an atrium — a large hall with an open roof in the middle to allow rainwater to collect in a pool.

The findings are now being covered to protect them. A new digging campaign will begin next year. In the future, the archaeologists hope to fully recover the third century rooms and make them accessible to the visitors.

"This is an important project as we know almost nothing about the oldest Pompeii. This digging could make it possible to understand how the city originated," Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, superintendent of archaeology at Pompeii and one of the main experts on the ancient Roman city, told Discovery News.



Space impact 'saved Christianity'

By Dr David Whitehouse

BBC News Online science editor

Did a meteor over central Italy in AD 312 change the course of Roman and Christian history?

About the size of a football field: The impact crater left behind

A team of geologists believes it has found the incoming space rock's impact crater, and dating suggests its formation coincided with the celestial vision said to have converted a future Roman emperor to Christianity.

It was just before a decisive battle for control of Rome and the empire that Constantine saw a blazing light cross the sky and attributed his subsequent victory to divine help from a Christian God.

Constantine went on to consolidate his grip on power and ordered that persecution of Christians cease and their religion receive official status.

Civil war

In the fourth century AD, the fragmented Roman Empire was being further torn apart by civil war. Constantine and Maxentius were bitterly fighting to be the sole emperor.

Constantine was the son of the western emperor Constantius Chlorus. When he died in 306, his father's troops proclaimed Constantine emperor.

 ...a most marvellous sign appeared to him from heaven...



But in Rome, the favourite was Maxentius, son of Constantius' predecessor, Maximian.

With both men claiming the title, a conference was called in AD 308 that resulted in Maxentius being named as senior emperor along with Galerius, his father-in-law. Constantine was to be a Caesar, or junior emperor.

The situation was not a stable one, however, and by 312 the two men were at war.

Constantine overran Italy and faced Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber a few kilometres from Rome. Both knew it would be a decisive battle with Constantine's forces outnumbered.

'Conquer by this'

It was then that something strange happened. Eusebius - one of the Christian Church's early historians - relates the event in his Conversion of Constantine.

"...while he was thus praying with fervent entreaty, a most marvellous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person.

"...about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the Sun, and bearing the inscription 'conquer by this'.

"At this sight he himself was struck with amazement, and his whole army also, which followed him on this expedition, and witnessed the miracle."

Spurred on by divine intervention, Constantine's army won the day and he gave homage to the God of the Christians whom he believed had helped him.

This was a time when Christianity was struggling. Support from the most powerful man in the empire allowed the emerging religious movement to flourish.

But what was the celestial event that converted Constantine and altered the course of history?

Jens Ormo, a Swedish geologist, and colleagues working in Italy believe Constantine witnessed a meteoroid impact.

Drill rig: Sampling the crater

The research team believes it has identified what remains of the impactor's crater.

It is the small, circular Cratere del Sirente in central Italy. It is clearly an impact crater, Ormo says, because its shape fits and it is also surrounded by numerous smaller, secondary craters, gouged out by ejected debris, as expected from impact models.

Radiocarbon dating puts the crater's formation at about the right time to have been witnessed by Constantine and there are magnetic anomalies detected around the secondary craters - possibly due to magnetic fragments from the meteorite.

According to Ormo, it would have struck the Earth with the force of a small nuclear bomb, perhaps a kiloton in yield. It would have looked like a nuclear blast, with a mushroom cloud and shockwaves.

It would have been quite an impressive sight and, if it really was what Constantine saw, could have turned the tide of the conflict.

But what would have happened if this chance event - perhaps as rare as once every few thousand years - had not occurred in Italy at that time?

Maxentius might have won the battle. Roman history would have been different and the struggling Christians might not have received state patronage.

The history of Christianity and the establishment of the popes in Rome might have been very different.



Team to excavate Afghan Buddhist ruins


KABUL (Kyodo) Japanese archaeologists plan to excavate a site in central Afghanistan that may have been an important center of Buddhism.

The dig will take place next spring at Kawfir Kowt in the Kharwar district of Lowghar Province, about 120 km southwest of Kabul.

Kazuya Yamauchi, chief researcher of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties of Tokyo, will take part in excavation work at the Kawfir Kowt ruins.

Some experts believe the place may have developed as an important center for Buddhism after the famous pilgrim Xuanzang stopped there as he traveled along the Silk Road from India to China between 629 and 645.

Yamauchi believes Kawfir Kowt was the site that Xuanzang described as the city of Fupina in the state of Gurizistaana (which means "highlands" in Persian) in his chronicle "The Records of the Western Regions of the Great Tang Dynasty."

Yamauchi suspects Fupina was situated at Kharwar, elevation 2,500 meters.

Kawfir Kowt means the "land of pagans," indicating it was an area where non-Islamic people lived.

Kawfir Kowt bears the remains of a Buddhist temple and a Buddha statue. The wood used for the temple was from the fourth century, according to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Yamauchi said the ruins are impressive and could become a showcase of Afghanistan's Buddhist culture.

A hill in Kawfir Kowt also has what appears to be the ruins of a castle and traces of seemingly unauthorized excavations, which Yamauchi believes were the work of professionals.

Protecting Afghan antiquities is a major concern.

Many relics were destroyed over the years, particularly during the 1979-1988 war with the former Soviet Union, the oppressive rule of the Taliban, which made deliberate efforts to destroy them, and the recent U.S.-led antiterror campaign.

Smuggling of antiquities is meanwhile rampant.

The Japan Times: Oct. 3, 2003



The miracle of the cockerel that escaped Henry VIII

by Gazette reporters


EXPERTS are crowing over a rediscovered cockerel that escaped the "fowl" deeds of Henry VIII's henchmen.

The unique piece of 13th century stained glass window from Rievaulx Abbey, featuring a striking red cockerel, re-surfaced at English Heritage's Central Science Laboratory in Portsmouth as part of an ongoing programme likely to take many decades to re-evaluate over 5m items in the national collection.

The cockerel's first great escape came in 1538 when Henry VIII looted the nation's abbeys, with the best quality glass being sent to London and lesser grades sold locally or melted. Experts believe the king's men discarded the cockerel as rubbish and it joined over 50,000 tonnes of masonry, soil and rubble that accumulated over the next four centuries, incredibly staying intact.

Just after the First World War, it saw sunlight once again. Famous archaeologist Sir Charles Peers used de-mobbed soldiers to clear Rievaulx's debris, which was up to five metres deep in places, and uncovered thousands of relics along the way. However, records were often incomplete and after being lifted from the rubble, the cockerel slipped the net and was soon entombed in an anonymous cardboard box for over 80 years.

For the Cistercian monks who built Rievaulx, the cockerel greeting the dawn every morning was symbolic of spiritual renewal and a new start. Set within the great eastern window, the chicken would have been strongly illuminated by beams from the rising sun.

John Lax, English Heritage head custodian at Rievaulx, added: "It's also possible that the supposedly austere Cistercians simply wanted something whimsical around the borders of the window to lighten its appearance. Whatever the motivation, it is a very high quality piece of work that would have been painted by a professional craftsman. It's a miracle it has survived and we hope to have it on display to the public soon."

To celebrate the cockerel's resurrection, English Heritage is also commissioning a range of china plates embossed with the cockerel to be sold at Rievaulx.

Updated: 10:46 Wednesday, October 08, 2003



Sex museum moving to former girls' school

A sex museum in Shanghai is moving to a former girls' school in the hope of attracting more visitors.

Despite exhibits like antique two-headed lesbian dildos, the number of visitors to the Museum of Ancient Sex and Culture has fallen to 30 per day.

Liu Dalin, the 71 year old curator, says with so few people showing an interest he just can't afford the rent.

The museum is moving to the century-old former Li Zi Girls School in Tongli in China's Jiangsu province.

Despite these setbacks Liu told the Shanghai Daily he will go on trying to transform the "Western stereotype of Chinese as people who are illiterate about sex".

The museum was also forced to move two years ago when a previous landlord refused to allow a sign saying "sex" to be displayed outside.

Story filed: 11:39 Wednesday 8th October 2003