Mammoth ivory carvings found
Thursday December 18, 2003
Three small ivory figures from a cave in Germany may have been carved by the first modern humans in Europe 33,000 years ago. The first Europeans were "astonishingly precocious artists", scientists report today.
The figurines are small, made of mammoth ivory, and have been sifted from the debris in the Hohle Fels cave in the Swabian Jura in south-western Germany. One represents a bird, one a horse, one a half-man, half-animal figure.
They could have been used by shamans among modern human invaders who colonised Europe from the east, perhaps moving up the Danube to gradually take over from the original Neanderthal settlers.
According to Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen and Anthony Sinclair, writing in Nature, the carvings are not primitive representations. They were fashioned by skilled craftsmen from a culture known to archaeologists as the Aurignacian.
Prof Conard and his students had been excavating at the cave for years, sorting through human detritus and animal bones and bits of ivory.
One day he drove to the cave at lunch time, and asked: "Anything new?" A student from the Philippines showed him the head of a bird, to match a carved avian body found much earlier. A few moments later, a student from Mexico showed him what looked like the carved body of a half-man, half-lion.
"And it was one of those rare instances where, at least to me, even though the piece was very small, and in some respects very modest, it was sitting there in such a way that the light was on it: I immediately recognised it as a lion-man and that I have to say was a bit of a thrill."
Modern humans - Homo sapiens - emerged in Africa only about 150,000 years ago, and began a kind of world takeover.
"If you could go back 35,000 years ago to the Swabian Jura you'd have to learn a new language, you'd have to learn how to knap flint, you'd have to learn how to do a few things. But those people were just like you and me," Prof Conard said.
The Hohle Fels is one of the biggest caverns of the Swabian Jura. But it is more or less only this single big chamber, which is entered by a short passage which is high enough to walk upright. The cave has no speleothems, but a little moonmilk. Its main feature are the archaeologic remains found here.
A big excavation took place from 1977 to 1979 by Prof. JOACHIM HAHN from the Institut für Urgeschichte in Tübingen in cooperation with the Landesdenkmalamt Baden-Württemberg. Famous finds were chiselled petrified wood, a harpoon amde of an antler and needles from the Magdalénien. From the Gravetien some javelin heads and ivory jewelry items.
The highlight during the excavation seasons in 1997-99 made by the Institut für Urgeschichte, Tübingen, was the finding of a painted rock. This find was well published, not even in scientific papers but also in the yellow press. Its was called the first proof of cave paintings north of the Alps.
This spectacular publications made the cave Hohler Fels well known. But not alone the way it was published is a little strange, the finding itself is not as unique as the headlines told: already in 1988 JOACHIM HAHN discovered painted rocks in the nearby Geißenklösterle bei Blaubeuern beschrieben.
Copies of the finds of the Hohler Fels and other nearby caves of the Blau valley are on display in the Urgeschichtlichen Museum in Blaubeuren, in the Heimatmuseum Schelklingen and in the cave itself.
Iron age treasure could stay in Norfolk
December 16, 2003 18:58
Hopes have been expressed that an Iron Age hoard of gold coins, which were found in Norfolk, could eventually have a permanent home in the county.
The mud-filled end of a cow's leg bone containing 20 Gallo-Belgic E coins or staters, which date from 60-50 BC, was unearthed at the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP), near Hunstanton, in the summer.
Nineteen other coins have been discovered at the site of the annual excavation – 11 this year and eight in previous years – making 39 in total.
The hoard, brought by light by metal detectorist Kevin Woodward, has caused widespread interest in archaeological circles and is being hailed as the most important find in the dig's history.
Today King's Lynn coroner William Knowles established it as treasure, having been satisfied that the coins were made of gold and more than 300 years old.
The verdict means the hoard is officially the property of the Queen - but the owner of the land where they were discovered, Professor Bernard Campbell of Sedgeford Hall, and the finder are entitled to their value, which will be decided by a committee at the British Museum.
Although the coins are still being analysed, they could be worth around £200 each.
Speaking after the hearing, SHARP co-director Chris Mackie revealed that the British Museum had not expressed a particular interest in acquiring the hoard and it was also unlikely to go the Castle Museum in Norwich.
"What we would dearly love is for Professor Campbell to give it to Lynn Museum at King's Lynn," he said. "That would be the ideal solution. So many things have disappeared from West Norfolk. But we are still evaluating everything and nothing is final."
Mr Woodward, who was spending his third year as a volunteer worker on the project, came across the bone in the water-logged end of the dig on August 12 – just a few days before the end of the eighth SHARP season.
An X-ray at the Sandringham Hospital in Lynn subsequently showed up its remarkable contents.
Coins were found stored in a bone in Yorkshire in the early 1800s but these were a mixture of Roman and Iron Age varieties, making the Sedgeford discovery unique.
It is not yet clear why the staters, which were struck in northern France, ended up in their unusual resting place.
They could be interpreted as a votive offering to the gods - or the mercenary payment to chieftains and warrior bands who had returned to Norfolk after fighting the armies of Julius Caesar.
SHARP, which aims ultimately to build up a complete history of Sedgeford, began in 1996 and has involved the extensive evacuation of a Saxon cemetery in the valley of the Heacham River.
Around 200 skeletons – and evidence of an Iron Age settlement – have so far been uncovered.
Work resumes at Carrickmines Site
December 16, 2003 (18:57)
The National Roads Authority and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council have resumed work at the controversial ruins of Carrickmines Castle in south Dublin.
A team of archaeologists moved onto the medieval site this morning to prepare for the removal of the Castle's stone perimeter wall and clear the way for the completion of the M50 motorway.
Last week the High Court lifted an injunction placed against the NRA and the Council which had prevented them from conducting any work at the ruins of the site.
Protestors, who want to keep the Castle site intact, had told the Court they were going to bring new legal proceedings and later warned against any resumption of work.
The key focus of the work will be on investigating what is underneath the Glenamuck Road, which runs through the Castle site, before clearing the way for actual road construction of the M50. The motorway is due to be completed by September 2005.
Conservationist Ruadhan MacEoin said he was shocked at the resumption of the work given the revelations on Prime Time last Thursday over an EU-commissioned report into the Environmental Impact Statement.
Mr MacEoin suggested that the section of the M50 interchange - which would run through the Carrickmines Castle site – did not have proper planning permission.
Ancient disc declared treasure
A Bronze Age gold disc used as an item of adornment at a burial 4,000 years ago has been declared treasure trove by a coroner at Aberystwyth.
The disc dating back 4,000 years was discovered at Cwmystwyth Mines near Aberystwyth- and is only the third known piece of gold from the Bronze Age discovered in Wales.
In November, the inquest had to be adjourned because the disk was not presented in court by representatives of the National Museum of Wales.
The find - roughly the size of a milk bottle top - is said to be as significant as the famous Mold cape - thought to have been worn as a garment for religious ceremonies by a great authority.
Similar items have been found in Ireland and Europe, but never before in Wales.
The National Museum of Wales will try to buy the sun disc for its collection, once its true value has been independently assessed.
Adam Gwilt, the museum's curator, said: "Gold sun-discs are one of the very earliest kinds of metal objects ever to have been made and used in Britain and Ireland."
The sun disc was found by archaeologist Simon Timberlake when he was digging on the site of a Roman and medieval lead smelter in October 2002.
Crete's Minoan ship goes to sea
SPRINKLED with holy water and to a fanfare of trumpets from a white-helmeted naval brass band, a newly built, 17-metre-long Minoan-style open rowing vessel slid sweetly down the slipway in Hania's old Venetian harbour at noon on December 1. President Costis Stephanopoulos had cut the blue-and-white ribbon tying her up, broken a bottle of champagne and announced her name, Minoa.
Hordes of schoolchildren were among the enthusiastic Haniots crowding the quaysides, the Venetian mole embracing the harbour seawards and lofty vantage points to watch the ceremony. As if in benign blessing, the sun shone through the clouds after a morning of intermittent rain beginning ominously before dawn with window-rattling claps of thunder.
"To pio paraxeno karavi sto limani" (the strangest boat in the harbour), said a bearded old salt gazing at the vessel rocking in the sheltered water by the stone quay in front of the sole surviving operational pair of vaulted Venetian neoria (shipbuilding premises) where the boat has been taking shape since December last year.
Under the aegis of the culture ministry and the expert supervision of Vice-Admiral Apostolos Kourtis, the vessel has been constructed to be as exact a replica as possible of a Bronze Age Aegean vessel of about 1500BC. Ancient building methods have been observed and materials identical to those of antiquity have been used.
Advising Kourtis in the design have been seven other members of the Ancient Shipping and Technology Research Institute and the Naval Museum of Crete. Of particular help, says Kourtis, has been a precious wall-painting of a Bronze Age vessel at sea miraculously preserved for over 3,000 years under volcanic ash and pumice in the town of Akrotiri on Thera (Santorini), buried in the great Late Bronze Age eruption. Invaluable practical boatbuilding input to the project has come from Hania's last living master boatbuilder, Haralambos Kokkinakis.
Cypress trees were felled in the village of Anoskeli, about 25km from Hania, using a Bronze Age type of serrated, two-handled saw. The central beam (tropida) is from a single 22m cypress tree given a gentle curve by the warmth of a suitably distant fire. Overlapping timbers were put together using bronze tools: a bow-drill (toxotrypano), hammers and chisels.
To make the vessel watertight, a mixture of lard (from cows) and resin (from pine trees) was applied to the timbers like varnish, then covered with linen canvas, the whole plastered with lime. The timbers are expected to swell as the vessel lies moored in the harbour over the winter, awaiting spring weather next year to embark on her maiden voyage via Kythira and Monemvasia to the Saronic Gulf. The Minoa will skim over the sea powered by a crew of two dozen rowers clad in the dark-blue and white Greek Olympic Games uniform. Helmsmen will stand on either side of the skipper seated in the stern in an enclosure protected up to shoulder level by animal hides. As in antiquity, the vessel will stick as much as possible in sight of land and confine sailing to daylight hours.
A hope is that the Olympic flame en route from Olympia to Athens might be carried aboard the vessel on visits to some of the Greek islands. The Minoa's maiden voyage is being billed as part of the cultural build-up to the Olympic Games. Historians are clear that the Minoans of Crete were the earliest naval power in the Aegean. "The first person known to us by tradition as having established a navy is Minos," wrote Thucydides in the late 5th century BC. "He made himself master of what is now called the Greek sea, and ruled over the Cyclades, into most of which he sent the first colonies, expelling the Carians and appointing his own sons as governors."
Today's inhabitants of Hania - Kydonia of Minoan times - are joyfully confident of the truth of this tradition. An exhibition of magnificent photographs recording the building process is being held in the huge old neorio where the vessel was built. Admiral Constantine Manioudakis, chairman of the Naval Museum's board of directors, stood there surrounded by swarms of eagerly questioning, exuberant small children, delightedly explaining the details to them.
Out on the quay, the limniotes (harbour folk - sailors and fishermen) strolled up and down all day admiring the handiwork. Along the mole a small kingfisher perched for a moment to survey the scene and the vista inland beyond the linked row of seven neoria now converted to modern usages, above which rose an old Turkish minaret silhouetted against the White Mountains, their peaks shrouded in thick grey clouds
Rain came again, but the town is full of exhibitions for the week celebrating the Minoan ship, and December 1, in any case, was festive for the 90th anniversary of Crete's union with Greece. Just before sunset, nature smiled again: the sun burst from behind clouds and a complete rainbow soared almost to the zenith of the sky above Halepa and craggy Akrotiri - a fitting climax to a memorable day in one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns on earth.
New battle over terracotta warriors
Three Chinese villagers are fighting to be recognised as the discoverers of the famed terracotta warriors, one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th Century.
Yang Xinman, Yang Peiman and Yang Peiyan asked the museum where the 2,200-year-old clay statues are housed to record their names in the institute's literature, China's state news agency Xinhua reported.
But the Qin Shihuang Terracotta Warriors and Chariots Museum in northern Xian province said it was not authorised to do so, Xinhua said.
According to the Chinese web portal, Sina.com, the three farmers want recognition before they die.
"In recent years, as they are getting old, their desire for an acknowledgement and safeguarding of their discovery rights is becoming stronger and stronger," Sina.com said.
It said that the men also wanted a certificate for their discovery.
The villagers said they would pursue their claim, if necessary in the law courts.
Nine people have claimed to have discovered the warriors, five of whom are now dead, Xinhua said.
The models of warriors and horses in battle formation were discovered in 1974 by peasants digging a well.
Qin, who created the first unified Chinese empire around 220 BC, is regarded as one of the country's most ruthless rulers.
The terracotta army was buried around his tomb, possibly in the hope of gaining protection in the after-life.
Labourers who worked on the tomb and childless concubines were interred with him to safeguard its secrets.
Qin's dynasty collapsed shortly after his death.
Archaeologist finds treasure of a lifetime
By Larissa Mulkern
University of New Hampshire archaeologist William Saturno will grace the pages of the December 2003 edition of the adventurous full-color journal - his second time in his two years since discovering a 2,000-year-old Maya mural in Guatemala.
Saturno, now 34, discovered the oldest known intact wall painting of Maya mythology while hiding from the hot sun during a dig in San Bartolo.
He was tired. He was dehydrated. He thought he was going to die in that jungle, in fact, when lo and behold, he shined his flashlight up in the cave and saw a piece of the mythological puzzle that another scientist has dubbed the "Sistine Chapel" of the pre-Classic Maya world.
"It just struck me as silly at the time. Sitting in the dark after two days. Sitting in bat droppings, in fact, thinking, ‘I’m an idiot first of all. Hardheaded. We should have turned around,’" he said, referring to the first expedition to the site for which the crew was unprepared and ran out of food and water.
"I thought, ‘I am going to die here.’ Then I shined the flashlight on the wall and there was this mural ... I laughed because it was ridiculous ... I thought someone up there must be messing with me because just before you die, you make this discovery," Saturno said.
He knew by looking at the style of the mural that it was more ancient and the figures were reminiscent of contemporary sculptures of the same time period.
"It was obvious how early it was ... I thought here I was, literally, I made the discovery of a lifetime, but I’m in the middle of nowhere with no food or water."
Obviously, he made it out alive and returned last spring to chip away at the rubble packed around the mural that portrays the corn God’s journey from the underworld to Earth - the tale of creation.
"Imagine you didn’t know the Sistine Chapel existed or that Christianity existed that long ago," he said. "Then one day you poke through the roof and see the finger of God touching the finger of Adam. What we’ve found is the Sistine Chapel of the pre-Classic Maya world," he said.
The "Sistine Chapel" analogy is attributed to project iconographer Karl Taube of the University of California, Riverside. But the analogy is on target.
"Here it is in Technicolor on the wall, creation mythology. The more I think about it, the more he really nailed it. It’s that moment we’re seeing, a representation 2000 years old of a moment of time they thought was important," he said.
Saturno waited two years before returning this past March to begin the tricky task of uncovering other pieces of the mural. The mural is in a small temple that was added, onion-layer style, over the back of a pyramid. He credits the mural’s excellent condition to the care the Mayans had taken in sealing up the room, covering the art with layers of mud topped with a layer of rubble. The room remained sealed off from the elements for almost 2,000 years, until looters punched through the wall in recent years. The looters presumable were looking for ancient pottery they could sell on the black market, he said.
The mural appears to wrap around the entire room. One part depicts the creation myth; another section depicts a man becoming a king. Between the scenes, however, lies eight meters of unexcavated wall space.
Digging was halted until this past March to allow researchers to take readings on humidity, and other factors that may affect preservation of the mural.
"We needed a baseline so we could do this the best way possible," he added.
Saturno said he’s eager to return to Guatemala with his wife and two young sons. He will spend January to August 2004 working on the mural project and return to UNH in the fall.
"I’m itching to go back," he said. "I think about it every day. For every question I answer, there are five more," he said.
As for his appearance this month in National Geographic, Saturno said this is nothing compared with the initial discovery in 2001.
Back then, he made the cover of The New York Times and every major news outlet in the nation, including the Discovery Channel. But it will be far from his last television appearance. National Geographic is producing a program for public television called "Maya Dawn," expected to air this spring. The program includes the mural project.
The countdown is on for Saturno’s return to Guatemala. This time, though, he’ll be more prepared. The site itself is protected round-the-clock by a security team and a road has been cut through the jungle. There is a permanent water supply.
"It’s now established as a place on a map," he said. Plus, this trip he’ll have company. A team of UNH students will join him as part of a new study abroad program approved this month.
"Our trip back in January can’t come soon enough."
Ancient burial ground discovered
AN archaeological site of national importance has been uncovered at Partney, after being hidden for hundreds of years beneath the soil.
Burial sites were revealed during the digging of an evaluation trench in a field next to the A158 for the village bypass.
Lincolnshire County Council contacted the archaeological field unit, whose work revealed remains of the Chapel of St Mary Magdalen - a Benedictine cell of Bardney Abbey - a cemetery containing 44 bodies, and a medieval hospital dating back to the 11th century.
Excavation of the site, carried out over six weeks, also uncovered evidence of a Romano-British farmstead and an early Iron Age enclosure.
Site manager Bob Atkins said: "It is more than a job when you make finds like this.
"I have been digging for 15 years across the country and this ranks among the top two or three in terms of impact."
Mr Atkins said there were only about 60 of such minor hospitals in the country, and this was the first to have been excavated.
Some of the bodies had been buried with chalices of gold and silver and others with pewter, a symbolic metal signifying the deceased's status as a priest.
Their bones will be interred a later date, and the finds, including coins, clasps, and fragments of medieval pottery will be held for research at the City and County Museum, Lincoln.
Once excavations are complete the site will be hidden again, covered over by the bypass - which will mark another chapter in Partney's history.
17 December 2003
Site under siege to uncover past
ARCHAEOLOGISTS hope a new housing development could help uncover hidden secrets of the 16th century siege of Leith.
The site for two blocks of flats on Duke Street lies to the east of post-medieval fortifications, built by the French army to repel English invaders during the Reformation in the 16th century.
The development, which lies in the Leith conservation area, has been given the go-ahead by planners providing a full archaeological survey is carried out.
Council archaeological officer John Lawson said today: "The existing evidence indicates that the site has the potential for containing archaeological remains associated with the mid-16th century sieges of Leith and the post-medieval development of the town." The aim of the survey will be to preserve any archaeological remains on the site, if possible. Anything else must be excavated and recorded by a professional archaeologist to ensure it is not lost forever. But local historian David Valentine is uncertain if anything of real significance will be unearthed by the dig.
He said: "The old siege wall ran up Constitution Street, along Great Junction Street and down Coburg Street to the sands of Leith.
"While this site will have been inside the siege area, it seems a little removed from the wall itself to contain anything of particularly great value.
"Most of the truly significant finds would be made on the site of the old wall itself, although I suppose in an open area they could perhaps find remnants of old artillery posts like those nearby at Giants Mount."
The fortifications were built between 1548 and 1559 by the French army, under the command of General D’Esse.
The historic maps of Leith, including Nash’s 1709 survey of Leith and Alexander Wood’s 1777 Plan of the Town of Leith, show the proposed development lying just to the east of the siege wall.
Thousands of French troops had been stationed in Leith to help drive out a large number of English garrisons left in Scotland by the Duke of Somerset following the Battle of Pinkie.
A 1573 engraving of the siege shows Leith surrounded by a series of huge siege works - massive towers used to breach the fortified wall. While no accurate plan exists, the location of the site is so close to the line of the town fortifications and to the nearby artillery mount on Leith Links, it suggests that remains may be found across this development site.
The fortifying wall was so well constructed, following principles of military science practices at the time, that every attempt to destroy it by forceful assault failed.
Some forces can never be defeated, however, and the wall was torn down in 1560, under orders from Edinburgh Town Council, immediately following the Earl of Hertford’s siege of Leith and Edinburgh.
The post-medieval town was largely demolished or built over by the mid-18th century.
The development, by Stewart Milne Homes, will see 30 flats created in two buildings, one of them a five-storey block on Duke Street, the other a four-storey building.
Parking spaces will also be created, as well as a stone wall to the east of the site which will link with an existing stone wall and screen the south side of the private car park.